Monday, November 29, 2010

New again... What I want for myself from the new PointsPlus program.

At this point, I think I've written four or five different columns and pieces describing my official view of the new Weight Watchers PointsPlus Program, which launched officially today in the US.  For the latest, and most comprehensive manifesto, click this link...

Our new program: Taking Weight Watchers to the Next Level

Therefore, rather than provide yet more official love for this rocktacular new program, I thought I would use the time instead to reflect on the role I want it to play in my own life.


I'm still within five pounds of my goal weight, even after the debacle of Thanksgiving weekend.  I think knowing that there was a new program launching on Monday gave me license to indulge.  I swear I ate about 7 pounds of cashews and almonds.  In additional full disclosure, I had leftovers every day of the long weekend.

Emerging from my holiday binge, I went to a meeting in Stamford, CT on Sunday morning to get the new Getting Started Session for the PointsPlus program launch.  It was a big, busy meeting with about 20 more people than usual.  It was amazing to watch the atmosphere in the room change over the course of 60 minutes, going from fear-stricken to excited and optimistic.  For me personally, I've been involved with this new plan for close to four years in it's various incarnations of development.  There wasn't anything new in the delivery for me, yet I wanted an official kick-off anyway.

Our Leaders and Receptionists have been doing the PointsPlus plan for the past two months.  They have soldiered without the benefit of electronic tools, most notably eTools and the iPhone app.  They are now new veterans of the plan.  Was I right there with them?  Errr.  No.  I just couldn't make myself track on paper.

Therefore, I am officially announcing that as of today, I am now doing PointsPlus all-in.  I just tracked my breakfast and morning workout.  I found out that I have an insane Daily Target of 43 (!) (it's a tall man thing).  I am learning about the new values for all the things I normally eat.

So what do I hope to get out of the new program?  Two big things:

1)  A reconnection with Points

I have been "doing" Weight Watchers for over 10 years now.  I was an early POINTS person.  Yet, if I am being completely honest, I have not been regularly tracking for quite some time.  These days, I only track POINTS when I'm sure that I am falling off the program in spectacular fashion.  For the most part, I have been happily eye-balling foods and staying generally aware of their POINTS value, but I have been far from rigorous in actual tracking.

Is this a problem?  It hasn't been a huge problem as I've been at or close to goal for over two years now.  However, I cannot help but feel that I'm really starting the fudge my estimations and therefore my choices.  Funny how my eye-balling seems to be perpetually favoring the lower end of the estimation range.  It must be a special form of astigmatism.  As a result, I have this feeling that some non-awesome habits have been creeping back into my daily routine.

2) Cleaning my diet and snacking habits

One of my long term objectives is to continue shifting my food choices toward more non-processed food and to increasingly cut out junk foods.  As many of you know from my earlier posts, one of my ghostly habits is grazing.  I almost always graze on foods like baked chips, dips, etc.  I now do this with less caloric and lower fat versions of them, but I know intuitively that I would be better served if I replaced those choices with more use of fruits, vegetables and their derivative products.

For me, what I like about this new program is that it makes the following kinds of foods a great deal:  vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, whole grains and low fat dairy.  It makes high carb and high fat foods much less of a good deal.  In my own case, I think knowing this will get me to start nudging my regular choices, particularly snacking, toward the foods which are a great deal.  This will then result in more of my total caloric intake coming from foods that are loaded with nature-fed nutrition as being better at keeping me feeling full.  That seems like a good outcome.

People who are extremely healthy and active often talk about "eating clean".  They seem to use most of their calories on vegetables, fruit, fish, white meats, whole grains and low fat dairy.  They seem to eat a lot of it, and they seem happier and healthier for it.  Getting to this place is my aspiration.  PointsPlus will be my path for getting there.

As I look over the coming months, I feel like I get to be a new member again.  Of course, there is the nervousness of being a new member, but there is also the feeling of constant discovery as I learn this new plan.  I'm already learning how to ball-park grams of carbs into PointsPlus Values.  For me, this is the fun part of doing a new program.  I am a Lifetime Member, so I want to make sure that I avoid falling into a rut.  Therefore, bring on the new stuff!!  

How will you use PointsPlus to take your own efforts to the next level?



Sunday, November 21, 2010

Cage match: my weak mind vs. Thanksgiving

Where am I???  Oh yeah, I'm in London now.  I was in China last week, and I got into London late Friday night.  After five consecutive nights of 4 hours of sleep (Asian jet lag always gives me a beating), I slept for 9 hours last night.  Feeling very much the new man right now, I'm looking forward to spending the day bombing around this awesome city after I get my workout in.  Then I'm off to a three day wall-to-wall meeting blitz, flying back to New York late Wednesday night.  This in turn rolls me right into...  Thanksgiving!

How do I think about Thanksgiving?

Politically correct answer:  Thanksgiving is a time for spending excellent quality time with family and friends.  It's a time for slowing down, reconnecting and being thankful for the fact that the Pilgrims were able to avoid the temptation of slaughtering the local denizens of Massachusetts for a nice moment of detente.  Really, the food is a there to to be a symbol of celebrating everything I'm thankful for.

Factual answer:  The part about spending time with family and friends is actually true.  I will have been out of the country for close to two weeks, and I miss my family terribly.  That said, I'm also thinking a lot about eating food.  My mind is on a continuous loop of clicking through each rich dish on the menu.  I'm thinking about wine, and I'm thinking about creating a giant depression in the couch while watching a feeble football game.  The Lions?  Really, why does this have to be a tradition?  [Actually, I'm liking the additional night game, and getting both a Jets and a Saints game is pretty great.]

There is nothing particularly wrong at all with enjoying a big food day on Thanksgiving.  I've been pretty good this past week on the road, which is always challenging for me.  One benefit of not sleeping is that it's given me time for some ridiculously involved workouts.  Other than a sleep-deprivation induced room service food bonanza last night, I've also been pretty disciplined/good on my food choices.  Therefore, I'm not really worried about Thanksgiving day.

However, spending lots of time thinking about what's on the menu for Thanksgiving day has led me to a very sad conclusion:  my brain is broken.  It seems to be stuck on a an endless do-loop (raising my geek flag here) of visualizing and obsessing about things I am going to eat.  It's an extreme example of something I do all the time:  I obsess about my next meal.

I have a sneaking suspicion I'm not alone on this.  I sometimes wonder if we humans are wired to constantly think about the next thing we are going to eat.  I just finished breakfast 10 minutes ago, and I'm already thinking about what I'm going to have for lunch.  Frankly, I already know what I'm having for dinner, but I'm thinking about that too.  Why do I do this?  Is it because I am channeling  a past life as a cold, emaciated hunter wondering where to find that damned mastodon herd?

It makes it a lot harder for me to think about eating in a normal and restrained way when I'm constantly thinking about eating.  I have a feeling that naturally thin people don't really think about food that much. I resent them all!

My brain is an overwrought and undisciplined place.  I would do anything to be much more in control of what I think about.  This is certainly true about food.  I believe it is what makes living the healthy life such a challenging journey.  It is why I get so frustrated when I hear people criticize others for not living up to the challenges of losing weight and then keeping it off.  It's difficult because our brains are unruly.

So what to do?  Increasingly, I find myself constantly reminding my brain how much happier it is when I make good choices.  I remind myself how irritated my brain gets when I over-indulge and binge.  I am starting to believe that my brain is capable of being gradually re-shaped over a period of time to reduce my obsession with food and therefore the reduce the likelihood of spectacular lapses in judgement.

The best tool I know of for this is planning.  So therefore, here are my two options for Thanksgiving:

The less good option:

  • Before dinner is even served, there will be a huge layout of appetizers in the form of dips and cheeses.  I will transform myself into a factory robot with my mechanical arm constantly lowing and raising from the spread until I'm pretty full.  
  • Then I will ignore the fact that I'm full and start heaping as much Thanksgiving dinner on my plate as I can possibly fit.  Are you a vegetable?  I'm sorry, there's no room for you on this paltry 12" plate.  Only starches are allowed for this trip.  
  • Dessert?  You bet.  With three different pies available, it would just be rude not to have some of each.  
  • From here I go home feeling totally bloated with a hideous case of heart burn.  
The better option:  
  • Avoid the appetizer tray.  The Pilgrims didn't nosh on dip, so I'm not offending history if I don't either.  That said, there will be a shrimp cocktail tray, and I will definitely hit that.  
  • For the actual Thanksgiving dinner, I will have a bit of everything, including the vegetables.  They create a nice volume barrier on the plate so I don't have that fifth scoop of stuffing.  
  • Dessert?  You bet.  One normal slice of the blue ribbon winner of the pie contest should suffice.  
  • From here I go home feeling happy and well fed, but not like a goose headed for the fois gras factory.  
And my brain?  I suppose my best option is to re-channel its obsessive tendencies toward hashing over my "better option" plan.  They call that mental rehearsing.  I hear it works.  

What are you doing to fix your respective brains for the holidays?



Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A thousand little dishes: friend or foe?

I got back from a weekend conference in San Francisco this past Sunday night.  I kept thinking about the words of a colleague as I was getting ready to leave New York in reference to one of my planned stops that weekend:  "For crying out loud, please have the common sense not to blog about it..."

To set the context of my tale, my wife kindly joined me for the conference.  She was a good sport to come, so I sought to reward her with a bucket list event on Saturday night.  We went to a "little" restaurant in Napa Valley called the French Laundry.  For those not familiar with it, the French Laundry is an over-the-top Michelin 3-star restaurant that has been blowing the hair of foodies back for many years.  It was started and is still run by one of the most creative chefs on Earth, Thomas Keller, who was reportedly the inspiration for the Pixar film Ratatouille.
The French Laundry.  It seems harmless enough from the outside...

For people who love good food, this place is a shrine.  They only seat 16 tables a night, and every dinner is a three hour culinary marathon.  It is horribly expensive, and almost impossible to get a reservation under two months in advance.  In fact, the general manager shared with us that there was a 900 person waiting list for that Saturday night (!).

So why did my colleague urge me to keep this little adventure to myself?  Either because she thought that I would sound like a complete spendthrift, blowhard-showoff (fair point) or that it would be a strange thing to share in a blog about weight loss.  Perhaps one could compare a weight-concerned person going to the French Laundry to a heroin addict touring poppy fields.  I have a very different view.

First off, the experience was amazing and surreal.  Nine perfect courses with incredible wines paired accordingly.  Every single bite was spectacular and amazing.  By the end of the three hours I was stuffed, yet I literally soldiered through the last petit four served.  It all seemed like fairly delinquent behavior for a member (let alone President) of Weight Watchers.  But was it?

The thing about a place like the French Laundry is that it truly is a bucket list experience.  The restaurant shared an interesting data point with me:  off all the people who go, only 3% come back more than once.  It's not because it isn't spectacular, but it's because it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  This isn't the kind of dining experience that I would call vaguely normal.  I'm not at risk of becoming a multiple-time per week (let alone lifetime) visitor given the minor and inconvenient fact that it would bankrupt me.  Beyond that, I think some of the magic would be lost in the process.

The second aspect about a place like this is that the food just isn't normal.  I tried cooking a full three course meal from a restaurant like this once (from Rick Bayless's original cookbook from Topolobompo in Chicago).  It took me 1.5 days to prepare, and it was about 45% of the quality that the chef would have served, and I had a wicked backache for my trouble.  Every single little dish that I had last Saturday night was a painstakingly prepared piece of cooking perfection.  It was as much artistry as eating.  Again, it was an experience, not a regular occurrence.

A third notable point about the meal last night was that each dish consisted of about 4-5 bites.  It was enough to savor and taste before the point of sensory dullness.  In my mind this is the way food is meant to be enjoyed.  Whether nine such dishes is really appropriate is a subject for a different debate.

For me, being healthy and on Weight Watchers is not about becoming a monk who swears off the celebration of food.  It's about living an existence that largely consists of healthy choices and real food.  To be clear, I did not save my Weekly POINTS Allowance for the occasion.  I just rolled with it.  I'm glad I did, and I'd do it again.   Maybe in 10 years.

All of this has spurred me to publish my field guide to restaurant decadence:

  • Fast food:  I rarely eat fast food.  When I do, I always go for the best option, usually salad with a low fat dressing.  I had enough Big Macs in my youth to last for my entire life.  
  • Breakfast and lunch joints:  I stay on the straight and narrow here.  I rarely blow out my POINTS on breakfast, and I don't like to do it for lunch either.  Again, I'm pretty disciplined if I see it as a regular meal stop.
  • Nice restaurants (dinner):  I will loosen up a little bit here, but I will still seek the least-bad option.  I might have dessert, but it is often just a few bites of a shared portion.  Seafood is usually my go-to option in these places.  
  • Bucket list restaurants (like last weekend):  No holds barred.  I have whatever and as much as I can handle.  I define a bucket list restaurant as a place I go to once every three to four years.  

I like that I follow a program that affords me flexibility to live my life and occasionally enjoy once-in-a-blue-moon crazy restaurants.  In my book, losing my mind once a year is not being off program.  We Weight Watchers people love food, which is precisely why we love Weight Watchers.

Postscript:  I weighed-in on Tuesday, and I was up 3 pounds.  If only there was some new program coming out that could help me wipe that slate clean... 

What constitutes a lose-you-mind-and-forget-your-WPA worthy dining event for you?