Thursday, March 31, 2011

My terrible breakfast secret.

No.  It does not involve cannibalism.

About a week ago, I was flying in on a redeye to London on a Sunday morning.  As the plane was approaching London, the crew came around offering breakfast.  Due to what I can only assume was a mind-distorting lack of sleep, I found my resolve melt away, and I went off the healthy breakfast reservation.  I had eggs.  And some meat.  I may have even had some toast with butter and jam.  The horrors of it all!!!  Given recent events around the world, this does not really seem to qualify as a source of national tragedy or even worth a tear-filled confession.   Yet, I still felt more than a little guilty and down on myself afterwards.

I have been on a breakfast roll for almost four years.  I am the self-proclaimed king of breakfast discipline.  I worship at the altar of regular oatmeal with fruit, 0-fat greek yogurt with grapes, and coffee.  While I have loudly touted my breakfast awesomeness for the past few years, I now have a confession to make.  I do once-a-weekend cereal splurge.

I grew up a big cereal eater.  When I say a big cereal eater, perhaps I should say a big bowl cereal eater.  As a kid, I used to hide the largest bowl in the kitchen (think small mixing bowl) so I could have it for myself to fill to the brim with cereal.  By the time I filled it with milk, my Oats of Cheery (see previous post on my use of generics food stuffs) would be spilling over the top.  Of course, I would compensate for the tastelessness of my fine generic cereal by using heaps of sugar.  It became my huge bowl of fake Captain Crunch.  And I loved it so.

Once a cereal eater, always a cereal eater I suppose.  Like all good Weight Watchers people, I discovered much later in life that a third of a box of cereal actually contains a great deal calories and that a third of a box should not be confused with what the manufacturers refer to as "serving size."  [As a side point, for whom is this serving size appropriate?  I'm guessing fasting Leprechauns.]  Like many dutiful Weight Watchers people, I made the shift to Oatmeal, and I've been very happy and satisfied with the change.

It doesn't look like such a terrible vice...
However, once a week, it seems I needed a secret splurge.  Most Saturday mornings I have a big bowl of cereal.  Second confession:  up to today, I haven't had the guts to calculate the PointsPlus values.  I was afraid just how many PointsPlus values would be in this huge serving.  It was time to man up and accept the consequences.  Here was the damage:

  • two cups Special K Red Berries cereal:  6 PointsPlus values
  • 1/2 cup Cracklin Oat Bran:  3 PointsPlus values
  • one cup of 1% milk:  3 PointsPlus values
  • Total damage = 12 PointsPlus values
This compared to 3 for my oatmeal with fruit.  Frankly, I thought the cereal damage was going to be worse, so I am somewhat relieved.  Nonetheless, it's obviously not an every day splurge.  Frankly, it feels a little disturbing to admit to inhaling 2 and 1/2 cups of cereal.  It's a little gross.  My only point of redemption is that I always get in a workout before I do the damage.  

This weekly indulgence aside, I have to self-administer back pats over the number of breakfast items that are now on my verboten list that used to be on my every day list:
  • Breakfast burritos.  My all time favorite early morning indulgence.  
  • Omelets with meat & cheese served with breakfast potatoes and toast.  I haven't tried to calculate the PointsPlus values on this and frankly I'm afraid to.  
  • Muffins and pastry of all sorts.  This was a big change for me when I got serious on Weight Watchers.  I used to knock back muffins the size of Brontosaurus eggs.  I was once a completely unrepentant coffee cake trollop, until I discovered that the crunchy top effect was achieved by infusing gelatinized butter with a gravel made of sugar.  Scones were another big favorite that I later learned were about 500 calories a pop.  
  • Toast.  Childhood favorite recipe:  spread butter on bread, coat with sugar-cinnamon mix and bake in the toaster oven.  It was my very excellent poor man's pastry.  These days, toast sort of feels like empty calories without enough taste (outside of the jelly) to justify.  
  • Granola.  This one made me sad.  I freaking loved granola.  But.  It.  Just.  Had.  Too.  Many.  Calories.  And no, I cannot be happy eating 1/4 cup of it and calling that a meal.  
These days, I almost always treat the items on my verboten list as though they were heroin.  One shot and I'd be re-addicted, so I avoid at almost all cost.  

It's funny.  I write out the list of things that I now avoid like a bad case of the plague, and they don't seem nearly as appealing as they once did (except the breakfast burrito).  That said, I do question the all-or-nothing approach I sometimes take toward certain foods.  It feels as though I should be better at managing my indulgences, and that I should not have to be so black & white.    

Maybe I'm over-thinking all of this (try not agree to quickly).  Frankly, I like my oatmeal breakfast.  It's a lot of food, it tastes good, and it easily keeps me full until lunch.  It's not as though I am deprived -- far from it.  It just sometimes feels that way when I put foods on the banned list.  

What about my cereal splurge?  

Here's the thing for me.  I just weighed-in today, and I'm now 3 years at Lifetime at goal.  Throughout the past year, I have been having my little cereal blow-out once per week.  It obviously hasn't had any effect, so maybe I need to be a little less freaky-deaky (to use a technical term) and stop secretly beating myself up for this apparent vice.  I might also take a moment to laugh at my own ridiculousness for sweating an over-indulgence of Special K (you know, the diet cereal).  I mean really Dave, get a manly vice.  

In summary, I think I'm good with my effective ban on the aforementioned breakfast calorie bombs.  I'm also good with my weekly giant bowl of cereal.  It's a sad and un-masculine vice, but it's my sad and un-masculine vice.  

My learnings from this.  
  1. Don't be a baby when it comes to calculating PointsPlus values for known indulgences.  Knowledge is power, and hiding my head under a blanket won't make the bad numbers go away.  
  2. Openly acknowledge and incorporate my indulgences.  I recognize that if I ate my responsible breakfast seven days a week, I might run the risk of throwing the whole bit away. 
There.  I got the confessions off my chest.  Thanks for listening!  



Wednesday, March 23, 2011

I scream. You scream. We all fear the ice cream. (sub title: my Waterloo food)

Not too long ago, I was some how able to blame many of my over-eating failings on my dear, sweet and unsuspecting mother.  She took it in remarkably good spirits, mostly because she didn't buy any of my arguments.  Her failure to accept her blame has in turn led me to look for a new scapegoat in my over eating chronicles.  What about my dad?  He's much less agile than my mother and is therefore less able to defend himself.  There must be something about my unhealthy habit inventory that I can lay on his door step.

And there is.  Ice cream.

Can the sins of the father be passed along to the son?  I say:  most definitely.

My mom and dad came through last weekend to watch my older daughter perform in her middle school play (she was excellent, BTW).  We were having our normal Saturday morning coffee chat when we started talking about the blog post I used to heap blame on my mom.  We talked about how weird food habits seemed to be formed at a young age.  They both talked about the fact that I was a chronic food sneaker even as a little kid.  Their favorite story:

  • Once upon a time, there was a remarkable seven year old boy named David (OK, the "remarkable" adjective was my contribution)...  Mom and dad were getting ready to go out for the evening.  They had not quite closed the door to leave the house when they heard yours truly call out:  "Hey guys, mom and dad are gone.  Let's sneak!"  

Fine.  Guilty as charged.  I was a seven year old food larcenist.  Apparently, I was not a particularly bright one at that.  My folks have gotten more mileage out of that story than I could ever hope to convey.  Yet it all begs the question.  From where did this sneaking habit originate?

My dad was confessing this past Saturday that he still raids the ice cream coffers when nobody is around.  Apparently, to this day he cannot help himself.  If ice cream is in the house, it is wholly unsafe.

Lots of us sneak.  What I find interesting is that I have EXACTLY the same weakness.  Ice cream.  If ice cream is in a large container in the house, I will attack it like a crack-addled hun.  The second I pull the lid and wield my spoon-weapon, I get all fuzzy in the head.  My pulse jumps up to 140+, and I completely lose myself.  It starts innocently enough with a single layer removal.  Then I have to dig for a golf ball of cookie dough.  Then I have to evenly eat around the hole I just made.  Then I take another layer out.  And so it goes until at least half of a container is gone.  The sad part is that it does not even matter what size the container is.  When I was in high school, I actually ate an entire half-gallon of ice cream in a single sitting.
Could I eat this in one sitting?  Yes.  And I'd eat 
these two jokers if they got in my way.  

I really cannot think of a single other food that has the same kind of narcotic effect on me.  I really just cannot control myself around ice cream, particularly if it is in bulk form.  For the life of me, I cannot explain why I feel this way.  It almost seems animalistic when my ice cream frenzies happen.  Sure ice cream tastes great, but lots of foods taste great.  Ice cream has a unique emotional hold over me that I will never be able to explain or understand.

So how do I handle it?  I really push to make sure we do not have big containers of the stuff in the house, and certainly not in plain sight.  If I have an ice cream, it is almost always in the form of a Weight Watchers pre-packaged ice cream treat.  Even then, I often find myself having two.  When I take my kids to the ice cream shop, I almost never order my own cone.  Why?  I don't trust myself.  If I shoot up ice cream once, won't I become an addict?

I now treat ice cream a little bit the way ex-smokers treat cigarettes:  with as much avoidance and zero tolerance as can be mustered.  When I see an ice cream cone, I try to make myself think it is 423 PointsPlus values.  I may have to resort to imagining it being covered with elephant waste.  Clearly gross and immature, but whatever it takes, right?

Fortunately, ice cream is pretty unique in that I almost have to treat it like a DEA Schedule III controlled substance (you know, like crystal meth).  It's kind of sad really, because the stuff really does taste good.  I generally don't endorse the practice of banning food groups, but sometimes desperate measures are required.  For this, I blame my dad for whatever horrible mutated DNA strand he passed along to me.

So that's my kryptonite.  What's yours?



Sunday, March 13, 2011

Weight maintenance and the Art of War. Using competition to keep my discipline on.

I was in Chicago this past Friday to do an interview.  As I usually do, I made my way to the hotel gym in the morning to get my day started.  Normally, exercise on Friday mornings means my fav spin class, but not when I'm on the road.  I walked into the hotel gym, and lo and behold, there stood a bonafide spinning bike.  I was happy that I would be able to do my normal spin class with me as instructor and student.  It was a decent workout, but at the end, I did not find myself heaving and gasping as I usually do in the actual class.  I just couldn't replicate the intensity.  What's up with that?

I have no doubt that there are people out there who are fully self-motivated and have the in-born engine to push themselves without external pressure.  These people irritate me.  Why?  Because I'm frigging envious, that's why.

So on Sunday morning, I was able to fight against Daylight Savings Time and make my 8:30 spin class.  I worked my tail off, and did everything I could to throw myself into cardiac arrest.  So what was the difference?  Throughout the class, I kept looking around to see who was working harder.  Who was sweating more.  Who seemed to be actually using their resistance knob on the bike and not faux turning.  When my awesome neo-fascist spin teacher asked people to bump up their resistance, who was actually doing it.  Who was better than me.

The great thing about a good spin class is that it has more than its fair share of obsessive exercise freaks, mutant cyborgs who seem to have no regard for their own pain and suffering.  People who grimly plow through each hideous workout.  Why is this a great thing?  Because it gives me human benchmarks.   When they push themselves, I push myself.  When they have the resistance so high that they can barely turn their cranks, I try to go to the same place.

In another example, I was flying back from Chicago Friday night.  I was upgraded to the front of the bus (there has to be some perk for travelling incessantly).  The flight attendent started the beverage and meal service.  I immediately found myself looking for the trim, hyper-disciplined looking serious lawyer types who would never deign to accept a glass of wine or a tray of junky airline food.  When the flight attendent got to me, I proudly said "Diet Coke, nothing else thank you!"  Well, I did eat the nuts she gave me (sadly without consideration for their unruly PointsPlus content), but I did say no to the calorie bomb meal service.  Just like that, I was able to be one of those hyper-competitive puritan freaks.  I felt good, responsible, and in control.  

So here is the deal with me.  I work at Weight Watchers, and I fully embrace the concept of group support. There is nothing I wouldn't do to help a fellow member in a meeting.  However, if I'm just being honest, I need a little blood sport with my weight loss/maintenance.  I need a little competition.  I need to surround myself with people who seem to have their act together much more than myself.  When I have it, I work harder, I push myself more, I stay engaged, and I stay focused.
The critical darling of its time...

I remember reading that Michael Jordan used to read the New York press before the Bulls played the Knicks so he could get irritated with the trash talking and then get fired up to play.  I get this implicitly.  I love competition.  It gets my juices going.  I love competition in just about everything I do (I can even beat you at being lazy -- don't test me!).  I love it mostly because I like to be challenged.  I need it to stay focused.

My love of competition does not mean I want to lose more weight than everyone else.  It's just that I can't stand the idea of people being better at it than me.  And believe me, lots of people are better at it, and their mere presence keeps me in the game.

Maintenance can seem like a long time.  I need those stimuli to keep me interested and to keep me engaged.  Sometimes it's the truly superficial (e.g., swim suit season is coming!), and sometimes it's for the right reasons -- I want to live a long time.  Competition is just another little tool in my motivational arsenal that I find pretty consistently helpful.  Applying it to my weight loss process seems a little weird, but it works for me.  I guess it's my inner Ares.

I'm told that the use of competition in weight loss is particularly popular amongst the men folk.  Our inner tribal warrior frequently gets the best of us, so the least we can do is to try to use our beastly tendencies for the good of our health.  Beyond the women are from Venus and men are war mongering freaks stereotypes, I suspect that many of us use competition on some level to keep our motivation going.  

As an interesting side point, I'm having a minor cat fight with @JackSht over college basketball while I write this blog.  Duke just won.  And Carolina just lost.  This pleases me greatly.  Now it's Final Four time.  Competition is in the air like a fresh Spring breeze.   Just in time for swimsuit season.

Superficially yours,


Sunday, March 6, 2011

Keeping the wolves at bay. Deterrence and the art of grazing control.

Sometimes, I really have to take a moment to laugh at myself and my own little bizarre methods to maintain a grip on eating reality.

For those that have been following my little chronicle of maintaining my weight loss on Weight Watchers, you have heard me talk about the fact that I have "mastered" the healthy lifestyle in many places, but that I still have my perilous zones.  One of my biggest is a special little cabinet in our kitchen that principally houses various ingredients for baking plus a few snack items.  This is the place where I go when I'm either getting home from work (before dinner) or when I'm aimlessly wandering in the kitchen on the weekends.

So what specifically is in this magical cabinet?  It's full of nuts, chocolate chips for baking, and most recently a very large bag of M&M's, also intended for baking.  My DSW is an active and proficient chef, presiding over Chez Kirchhoff.  Recently, my two girls have joined her staff, and my 11 year-old has  developed a love for baking cookies.  It seems that I have a love for pilfering her ingredients.

Which brings me to my story.  For quite some time, there has been a very large bag of M&M's sitting in the magic cabinet which was intended to be used for cookies for a school bake sale.  For some reason, there was a change of plans, and the M&M's went untouched.  Fortunately for me, they were sealed.  You see, there is a code among thieves, and I do not steal from un-open bags of ingredients.  Rather, my preferred method is to gradually take imperceptible quantities of chocolate chips and nuts in delta force-worthy sneak attacks.  However, if the bag stays closed or VERY tightly sealed, I leave it be.  This all works very well until the bag gets opened, which it did.  Sure enough I started making a routine of grabbing a small handful of M&M's ever three to four days. Not terrible, but this is exactly the kind of grazing habit I'm trying to quit.

Help us!  We're trapped and can't get out!
What could I do given that the bag of M&M's was fairly giant in size?  In a moment of utter brilliance, I put a bag of flour on top of it as a deterrent.  Seriously, I did this about a week ago, and I haven't had an M&M since.  It was as though the bag of flour would be heavy enough to ward off any mid-afternoon weekend raids.  Kind of like a safe.  Seriously.  How old am I?  What's more embarrassing is that this actually seemed to work.  Apparently, seeing the bag has been a useful reminder to me that I should not sneak.  Maybe I need to put little Post-it notes on each piece of snackware that says:  "Not for David to eat!!!!"

I guess it takes all kinds of efforts to control one's little private obesogenic environment.  This got me thinking.  Maybe I should also be more actively calculating PointsPlus values for my little evening indulgences.  I will be the first to admit that I can track with the best of them in the morning and afternoon, but that after three years on maintenance I have a hard time keeping the thread in the evening.  Particularly, those post-6 PM bites, licks and tastes.  Definitely a challenge on weekends.  At minimum, forcing myself to at least acknowledge the PointsPlus impact of these excursions could be helpful.

So, off I went this Sunday morning to fully accept the consequences of my actions by reminding myself of the number of PointsPlus values for some of my favorite not-so-friendly indulgences.  What are those these days?  In no particular order:  almonds, bourbon, wine and, in a special guest appearance, M&M's.

I keep forgetting how much of a giant bad deal liquor is on the program these days.  Quite some time ago, I developed a fondness for an evening glass of bourbon on the rocks.  I can nurse my one for the night for well over an hour, and it just seems so civilized and restrained.  Should be no problem from a PointsPlus perspective, right?  Apparently not.  It seems that one of those  short glasses, stuffed with ice, is still enough to hold 1/4 cup of bourbon.  What's the price?  10 bloody PointsPlus values.  Crud.  It makes the five ounce pour of wine at a 5 PointsPlus value seem like a bargain.  [Note:  thanks for the comment from Anonymous showing me my glaring math fail.  2 oz bourbon is only 5 POINTS.  I had inadvertently plugged in 4 oz.  All is good in the world again!]

But it seemed such a small bag?!
What about almonds?  They're healthy right?  Well, they are most definitely healthy, but that are also disturbingly dense with energy.  I started getting the pre-packaged Trader Joes almonds thinking that this could help me avoid my eat-em by the handful habit.  While this is true, a small pre-made bag is still enough to hold 38 of the little buggers which knocks up a 6 PointsPlus hit.  Not terrible if this is the ONLY thing I'm eating beyond dinner, but not really the stuff intended for a mindless bite before dinner.

The whole exercise was all a little sad, but I suppose that knowledge is power.  This gives me an extra reason to look into alternative strategies for both snacks and drinks.  I've been meaning to re-allocate my liquid allowances to light beer, and I now have a good incentive to do so.  I think it's also time to think about moving away from almond grazing forever and find some less energy dense evening snack alternative.  It's just not worth the hit.

Thanking you for joining another episode of Dave's Navel Gazing Adventures!