Sunday, February 27, 2011

Life lessons from skiing. Loosening the coils of my inner spring.

It's Sunday morning, and I just got in from my family ski vacation late last night.  The vacation was fantastic, and the quality time with family and friends was superb.  That said, I have to admit that I always look forward to getting back into my regular, if not somewhat OCD, routines.

From a health perspective, I would say that the vacation was a solid performance on the personal responsibility front.  As planned, I ate a pretty healthy breakfast every day, even on the flights to and from Utah.  I was fairly responsible for lunch, and as planned, I lightened up for dinner.  I didn't really eat much, if any, junk during non-meal time.  I also kept it pretty reasonable in terms of being non-obsessive and even allowing myself indulgences such as dessert and (horrors!) non-light beer.  I know, what a wild and crazy guy!  I had fun, and I'm not returning feeling like a horribly nasty person.

Wait.  This was a ski trip, right?  Yes it was.  Utah got absolutely dumped with snow last week, putting on roughly four feet over an eight day period.  For the powder freaks (not me), it was manna.  For my part, I got on the slopes five of the six available days.  I spent one day off nursing a head cold and cranking out some accumulated procrastination work.  It was good exercise, and it was great to be outdoors, head cold or not.

As I noted on my earlier post, I am still a pretty inexperienced skier with this being my sixth year out on a mountain for any appreciable time.  It's not easy to pick up this sport at my older age (my rationalization, anyway), and I only get in one week per year.  As a result, I am not what anyone would call an effortless and proficient slope god.

In an effort to try to elevate to a higher level of competency, I did what I always do.  I looked for professional help, and I secured the services of a ski instructor.  I told him my goal and wish was to simply be able to cruise down the blues and double blus without a care in the world.  It was through the process of trying to improve my skiing game that I learned a little more about myself.

I was pretty envious as I watched men and women of all ages effortlessly swooping down the mountain, barely moving their bodies.  It was as if they were born with skis attached to their limbs.  They were able to ski the way I was able to ride a bike -- without even thinking about it.  Me?  I approached skiing with the intensity of an astronaut attempting to land on the moon for the very frist time.  Every muscle was tensed and on high alert.  I was always fully aware of the exact instructions being sent to my left and my right ankles.  Each new turn was a completely new thought process.  I would wrench my skis each time thinking that there was no possible way that they would respond and I would be sent barreling off a cliff into an endless abyss.  As far as my stance goes, I was tightly hunched over my skis, convinced that if I pulled myself up, I would fall over backwards.

My instructor watched me and said, "you must get really tired when you ski."  It's true, my quads would have a nice burn on every steep(ish) run.  He tried to convince me that I was relying too much on my muscles rather than my skeletal structure resulting in a massively inefficient and energy intensive process.  Sadly, my first reaction was:  awesome, more Activity Points!  Regardless of my obsessive want for calorie burn, I was there to learn.  I reluctantly started to stand up more and started using more of my ankles and knees to keep my torso pointed down the hill.  It was easier and it worked.  Go figure.

Next came the skis.  My default approach to turning was to treat each turn like a hockey stop, literally pulling my skis up so I could swing the tails out.  My instructor's next course of business was to get me to start using the tips of my skis to turn rather than the tails (it seems so obviously to write it, less so to do it).  He encouraged me to relax and to take more patient turns, letting the skis do the the work.  What do you know?  That worked too!  I'm not going to say that I was graceful by the end, but I looked less like a broken erector set snow plowing down the mountain.

I have to admit that I was pretty hard on myself for not being a better skier.  My instructor then reminded me that he had been skiing since he was 18 months old.  It was natural to him.  Me?  I was firmly stuck in my head and was completely over-thinking the entire process.  My natural instinct was to dig in harder, edge more aggressively, and use every possible muscle I could find to overpower the process.  Therein lies the story of me.

I don't even want to think about
what my K is ...
Most people who know me would fairly describe me as a pretty tightly wound and intense person (please stop snickering!), particularly when I'm immersed in what I consider to be an intense activity.  I naturally obsess and stress.  It's part of what has allowed me to achieve the things I have achieved.  However, I have increasingly recognized that it's also a bit excessive and unnecessary.

I will admit to the fact that I have taken the same kind of intensity and anxiety into my effort to become a healthier person on the Weight Watchers program.  I will admit to treating each meal selection process to the same kind of hyper-intense thinking that I put into each turn of my skis.  This approach was helpful to helping me avoid from wiping out on the mountain as well as from wiping out on the dinner table.  However, it's frankly exhausting and not really necessary anymore.  Eating healthily and exercising regularly need not be an olympic sporting event.  For me, I always run the risk of getting too much into my own head in staying on program.

I am now entering my third year of maintenance.  My goal for myself is for this process to become increasingly effortless and natural, not a high wire act.  With this in mind, I will seek to enter this new week with a calm resolve to simply track my PointsPlus values and to hit the gym.  I will simply make common sense and healthy food choices, and I will try to be mindful of mindless eating.  Simple.  Easy.  Common sense.  Exhale.

Of course, I second guess myself in healthy life for the same reason I second guess myself in skiing.  I have only been living this way for the past five to ten years just as I have only been skiing for the past six.  I didn't put on my first pair of skis at 18 months, nor have I lived healthily since leaving the nest.  Therefore, my tendency has been to assume a spectacular wipeout in both eating and in skiing, even though deep down I knew that I could calmly avoid it in either.

My ski instructors last words to me were this:  "You know how to ski and you know what to do.  Get out of your head, and start enjoying yourself."  Good advice for skiing.  Good advice for living.




  1. Great post as usual. Just wanted to point out that the treat at the end of a meal is spelled "dessert." I've noticed you've spelled with one s the past few entries, and at the risk of looking like a jerk, my own obsessiveness (you can relate, right?) felt the need to let you know that you are referring to a hot, dry place, which I don't think is your intention. Glad you had fun on your vacation!

  2. I can totally relate to the over-thinking-older-skier thoughts.

  3. Thanks Leslie! I clearly need an editor. Or perhaps I was just thinking about being in a sunnier, drier place!

  4. " first reaction was: awesome, more Activity Points!"

    You are not alone! Indeed, isn't this why we seek out new activities anyway, because the ones we get good at suffer from the law of diminishing returns on APs?

  5. Fabulous metaphor. After a rough week, I think I will take a deep breath, relax, and point my tips toward a meeting this week. And, I look forward to enjoying being back on plan!

  6. Glad you had a great time in Utah. I hate the snow and never been skiing even though I live here! lol.
    Thank you for having a blog. I think it is amazing that you take the time to encourage us, yourself, everyone, with it.

  7. In my opinion the new ice cream desserts are living! Here's a quick video review and oh - I am planning to marry one of the products.

  8. I look forward to your blog. It was nice of you to take the time to write after just getting back from your vacation. I'm glad you enjoyed yourself. I tend to be hard on myself and want to succeed; only several pounds to goal and then I want to be under goal so I'm not stressed! Weight Watchers is a life time commitment for me not matter where I am - goal, maintenance or lifetime - it's a way of life and I don't want to every go back to the old me.

  9. Definitely get out of your head! In the martial arts, we have a zen saying "mizu no kokoro." It means "mind like water." Still the thoughts in your mind, and just let the movement flow from your body, and adapt! I am a "thinker," so I struggle with overanalyzing everything - this is a good lesson for me. Glad you had a good vacation.

  10. Happy to hear you had a wonderful vacation. Your instructor had great advice to get out of your head. That's true for many of us - we know what to do intellectually in so many aspects of our life (including eating healthy and exercising) and yet we over think it, making it way too difficult. Congratulations for being on maintenance for 3 years now!

  11. I've been on maintenance for nearly 6 years and I've been working on trusting what I know more. I was nervous at first, but it worked! I weigh weekly, read labels carefully, weigh and measure foods, and no longer track. As long as my weight is okay, I'm trusting myself - for 6 months now. And I've discovered that I'm pretty good at this!

  12. That's definitely good advice. Sounds like Utah was amazing!

  13. I had a bit of a wipeout-weekend. Weekends are hard for me. I get all caught up in family activities (swimming, soccer, classes, taxi-mom, parties, etc) that I slip with tracking. Last weigh-in I lost 2 lbs because I tracked all 7 days (go figure, LOL). I wasnt perfect with my food, but I did track.

    Your instructor was right on when he said " know what to do". I know what *I* have to do (track), but there are weeks I fall short. I have the exercise part taken care of.....that is routine, I just wish tracking was taken care of as well.

    Help !!

    Great blog as usual....glad to hear you had a great time !!


  14. I enjoy reading your blog and being with weight watchers.

    I just wish that the company had a better tech support in place. Myself, along with several others have been trying for a while to get the plan manager to work so we can track our points. I personally have tried on over 10 different computers, 3 different browsers at 4 different locations (including having someone at the 800 number try) and still I can't track my points. I have sent several e-mails to tech support with no answer. The lady on the 800 number was very nice and helpful but beyond telling me clear my cookies (which I have, several times) she couldnt do much more.

    I hate to bring this issue here, but I'm hopeful that maybe you can help (or tell me how to contact tech support by phone) It's been 2 weeks now that I have rejoined Weight Watchers and have not been able to use any of the e-tools (one person on the boards has been waiting for 2 months!)

    I can be contacted at

  15. David,

    Thanks so much for this blog. I have been an active WW member for 15 years and finally reached my goal in June. I think part of the reason it took me so long to get there, other than losing 196 lbs, is that I was afraid of getting to my goal. I was very comfortable knowing how to lose weight but terrified of having to change how I do things to maintain. I over think as well. The conversation in my head goes like this: How can I get 29 points if I want to lose weight and still get the same 29 points to maintain? 49 extra points, are you crazy? What do you mean I need to add a few points and see how my body handles them and how my weight reacts. TERRIFYING. But you know what, once I relaxed and didn't over think, my body responded. I am at goal. I love the new program! Yesterday I accomplished another goal. I interviewed with Diane Rose, Territory Manager for SC. I want to be one of the most outstanding leaders WW has ever had. My application will be sent to you by her for your approval. You see, I have lost 196.4 pounds but I am not at WW goal. I have had 3 different doctor tell me it would be physically unsafe for me to get to the WW goal and the only way I would be able to accomplish it would be to have surgery to remove all of my extra skin. Look for my application to hit your desk and approve it please. I promise you that you will not be disappointed! You can check out my blog to see my before and after pictures but be aware the before picture is not at my biggest because I didn't allow anyone to take my picture at 376 lbs!