Saturday, March 31, 2012

Don't try to fight the Death Star -- Willpower is Over-Rated

Following up on last week’s post, I ponder the question:  so I wrote a book, but why???

Reason #2:  I’m pretty sick of hearing about will power

I wrote this book for every person who has ever had to listen to the sanctimonious admonition:  “Get some discipline, eat less and move more.  It’s simple!”

My response to this admonition:  put a sock in it.

It makes me more than a little crazy the way obesity is over-simplified.  Let’s start with some basic logic:  very few people struggling with obesity are particularly happy about that fact.  I know I wasn’t.  The notion that it’s easy if we were all just a little bit less lazy is a bad combination of being 1) wrong and 2) incredibly harmful.  If it was easy and straight forward, I think we can all reasonably expect that we would not have an obesity epidemic on our hands.

Fact #1:  obesity levels are much higher today than they were 30 years ago.
Fact #2:  the availability to food anywhere, anytime has expanded just as fast as our waistlines.
Fact #3:  We live in an environment that conspires to encourage us over-eat.
Fact #4:  our brains aren’t really helping the matter.

So if the answer is complicated, what can we do about it?

Most of what is written about dealing with weight is in the form of nutritional theory, usually in the form of regimented meal plans that are frankly hard to live with.  There is no shortage of diet books constantly streaming into the marketplace focusing on the finer points of nutritional theory.  Cut out fat.  No wait, cut out carbs.  Eat nuts.

Don't fight the Tractor Beam.  Find your
inner Obi Wan and shut the bad boy down.
This begs the question of why I bothered to write a book on the topic of weight.  My answer is that it’s not a diet book.  It’s a change your lifestyle/habits/brain book.  I would argue that the most interesting research happening in the field of weight management is much more in the territory of behavior and neurological science than it is in nutritional science.  Said differently, we eat for a thousand reasons that have nothing to do with actually being hungry.  We eat because we want a reward.  We eat because it’s an ingrained habit.  We eat, and we aren’t even fully aware that we’re eating.  When we get in the tractor beam of a trigger food, we find ourselves being yanked into the Death Star of eating mistakes.  What all of this research points to is a simple truth:  if we try to rely on willpower to stare down temptation, we will almost certainly fail.

Over the past few years, I’ve been pretty heavily influenced by a lot of different writers and researchers in this topic.  Some of them are the writers:  Tara Parker Pope, Mark Bittman, Michael Polan, and more recently, Charles Duhigg.  Many of them are behavioral economists and psychologists such as Brian Wansink, Richard Thaler, Kevin Volpp, B.J. Fogg and many others.

When it comes to what we really need to know about nutrition, I would argue that much of what we need to know is pretty uncomplicated.  The new Dietary Guidelines for Americans (aka MyPlate) got it pretty right:  fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables and the rest with lean proteins and whole grains.  Have low-fat dairy.  Minimize junk food.  Watch portion size.  Exercise daily.  Repeat.

If knowing what we should ultimately eat is straight forward, knowing how to make it happen in life is a lot trickier.  It’s not easy to make those noble decisions when we are staring down our most dreaded food temptation.

This brings me back to the book.  I started writing the blog when I became a Lifetime Member of Weight Watchers (i.e., reached my goal weight).  Everything I’ve talked about or thought about over the past three years has had to do with learning to live with my new lifestyle.  It wasn’t until I got to maintenance that I really began to understand what was necessary to try to change my life patterns for good (and better).  In fact, if I knew what I’ve learned in the last three years of maintenance when I started Weight Watchers, it would not have taken me nine years to reach my goal weight.

Therefore, in this book, expect to hear a lot more about changing habits, managing our personal environments and establishing new healthy routines.  The promise is to make healthy decisions easier, and ideally automatic.

Important announcement redux

As noted in the last post, all author proceeds of the book go to Share Our Strength ( to benefit their No Kid Hungry campaign.

Here are the Amazon and Barnes & Noble have links active for pre-order.  I’m told there will be electronic versions as of the on-sale date (I’m still confirming this…)

Here are the pre-order links...


Barnes & Noble:

Books a Million:



Friday, March 23, 2012

My great big giant secret

I have a confession to make.  Over the past few months, I have to admit that my blogging has become a little sporadic, and I feel a little guilty about that.  As luck would have it, I do have an excuse.  It’s not that I haven’t been writing, it’s just that I have been writing in a different venue.  In fact, I just finished writing a book.

There you have it.  I buried the lead.

My very first ever, giant leap into the world of book publishing is about to come to life.  In fact, it’s at the printer as we speak, getting ready to be bound into real-life hard back books that will be found in real-life bookstores (electronic and otherwise).

And the title is?  Don’t laugh.

My face looks like I ate a bad piece of fish...
Weight Loss Boss:  How to Finally Win at Losing--and Take Charge in an Out-of-Control Food World

So what is this book?  Why write it?  More importantly, why read it?  Who’s it even for?

Allow me to answer in several blog posts leading up to (drumroll please) the book launch date on May 8.  Each post will make a case for why I wrote it and why one might be inclined to read it.  So here it goes, reason #1…

Reason #1:  To put my life on sordid display so that others may succeed

So who is the book is for?

I wrote it for anyone who is struggling or has struggled with weight – that’s most of us.  I wrote it with Weight Watchers peeps in mind, but I also wrote it for people who have never or even may never darken the doors of Weight Watchers.  Without pandering too much, I wrote the book for everyone that reads or has read this blog, and I definitely wrote for everyone who has ever posted comments on the blog (even the harsh ones!).  In fact, it was the people (you) who frequent my little blog that motivated me to write the book.

My motivation to write it came down to my recognition of a very simple truth:  none of us is alone in either our struggles or our victories.

I originally started writing the blog as a bit of an experiment.  I wanted to start writing about weight because I felt that too many guys avoided talking about the subject.  I felt that there needed to be more male voices talking about the challenges of living the healthier path, but most of us dudes were a little too sheepish to do so.  I made the decision to start opening up about my own challenges with weight, and I made the conscious decision not to write as the CEO of a big company.

What transpired over the next three years was both fascinating and ultimately critical in shaping how I would ultimately think about the struggle with weight and the obesity epidemic.  As I would start to share my demons in my blog posts, others would jump in and talk about how they experienced similar challenges.  People seemed surprised that the CEO of a big weight loss company would have so many of the same weaknesses and issues.  They also found it encouraging (or they simply liked watching me bare my soul), so I was egged on.  The deeper I got into my own self-examination, the more others responded in kind.

I originally thought that my blog would primarily appeal to male readers, but it quickly became apparent that I was off the mark.  I had many more women commenting and sharing their own experiences.   It seemed that the challenges that we face, man or woman, are much more alike than they are dissimilar.

All of this brings me back to that very simple truth.  For myself, when I’m having a bad day/week/month with eating, I tend to hold myself in bitter contempt.  I cannot help but beat myself up for all of my crummy habits that seem so hard to break.  I get stressed that this process of dealing with food seems never ending.  It’s easy to feel pretty alone, as if everyone else in the world has all of the answers and the discipline while I have none.  Yet what I have learned is exactly the opposite:  we all struggle with the same challenges.  When we share them out loud, we not only help ourselves, we help everyone in earshot.  Through this realization, we can learn to lean on each other and become stronger in the process.   None of us is alone.

So this brings me to the first reason I wrote the book.  If the CEO of a giant weight loss company struggles with all of the same issues and is willing to blurt them out loud, maybe others will be inspired to do the same.  So in the book, I bare my soul, my crummy habits, my peccadillos, and other bits of data that never needed to see the light of day.  I did it for myself, and I did it for anyone willing to toil through the book.

Next week.  Reason #2:  I’m pretty sick of hearing about will power

Important announcement

In making a decision to spend your hard earned money to listen to me blather, there is one important fact that you can take comfort in.  I made the decision to give ALL of the author (that’s me!) advance and royalties of the book to Share Our Strength ( to benefit their No Kid Hungry campaign.  You heard it right.  Neither I or Weight Watchers will make one red cent on this book.  Share Our Strength will spend the money much more wisely that I could ever hope to.

And yes, Amazon and Barnes & Noble have links active for pre-order.


Friday, March 16, 2012

Time for a cleanse?

The other day, I was minding my own business and taking a quick spin through my calendar for the next few weeks.  Suddenly, it hit me like a brick in the head:  my annual physical was a mere two weeks away (Tuesday March 20).  I completely panicked.  I quickly got a weigh in and was horrified to discover that I was a full 4 pounds over my goal weight (horrors!!!).  

Suddenly the likely outcome of my upcoming physical became so very clear...  I would see my doctor who would have someone take blood samples.  She would then have me weighed and my blood pressure taken.  I would then be left alone, in a cold and antiseptic room equipped only with old issues of Highlights magazine.  I would be eagerly awaiting her return with the results.  However, she would never come.  Instead, the room will be stormed by four large men in suits and sunglasses who would whisk me away and have me remanded to a frightening third world country.  From there, I would be tortured horribly.  They wouldn't even ask questions.  They would then quietly dispose of my body.  Why?

Because I got failing scores in my blood work.  And I never even learned to read!  

OK.  Maybe this was a bit of an unlikely scenario.  I highly doubt that being four pounds over my goal weight would significantly alter my chemistry, and I can only hope the CIA has bigger fish to fry.  But what can I say?  I want a gold star, and the gold stars from my doctor are particularly shiny.    

Having survived this anxiety attack, I made the decision to clean up my act in the nine days leading up to my doctors appointment.  It was time for an intervention!  

One might fairly ask the question as to why I needed an intervention in the first place.  What was I doing that was so bad?  In truth, I wasn't being horrible.  I was just sliding a bit, and it showed up on the scale.  Frankly, I didn't even need to look at the scale as I new that I had gotten a little slack.  

Part of my strategy to maintain my weight loss has been to know when all of those little, itty bitty seemingly innocuous decisions are starting to go slightly sideways.  It's one of the reason that the scale is still helpful for me -- it's a pretty impartial judge (and a fairly sensitive one at that) about the cumulative effect of my habits.  

Another thing I have learned over the past few years on maintenance is that sometimes an intervention is needed when a habit slide occurs.  Sometimes I need to hit the reset button.  

I'm sorry, but really?  The idea of this
 for a week makes me sad.  
For this reason, I decided to do my equivalent to a cleanse.  However, rather than spending a week drinking green slime, I decided to make it a little more simple.  I wanted to execute a couple of changes and live with them for a full eight days.  These were:
  1. No more mindless eating/grazing, particularly after dinner.  The reasons for this are probably pretty self-evident.  
  2. I wanted to take a break from having a glass of wine at night.  The reasons for this one are less self-evident.  I like a nice glass of wine as much as the next guy (maybe more), but I also realize that they are pretty empty calories.  Further, I also realize that the daily pattern of having a glass of wine each night can become more about it being a mindless habit, and less about actually enjoying the wine.  With this in mind, I wanted to shake things up a little bit.  
I wanted to give myself an extra incentive to stick with this little eight day pledge by deciding to Tweet about it each day.  It's funny how well this works on me.  I truly do not want to let down the people who follow me.  I'm also enough of a narcissist to think that the people who follow me on Twitter wait with baited breath on my every stated action.    

So where am I in the challenge?

I'm now in day five of eight.  The no grazing pledge is going perfectly.  I would guess that I have eliminated about 500 to 600 calories per day in mindless consumption (seriously!).  Even better, I really don't miss these little post-dinner splurges.  I'm not feeling at all hungry.

What about the other one?  I happily went four nights with nary a fermented grape.  Last night I got home, and I made the decision to join my DSW, whom I hadn't seen in a couple of days, with a drink (bourbon -- technically a loophole!).  I'm OK falling off this part of the challenge as I felt like I had already achieved my goal of not treating wine as a mindless habit over the course of the week.  Anyway, that's my rationalization, and I'm sticking with it!  

What can I learn from all of this?

I find hitting the reset button incredibly helpful when I'm on maintenance.  At first, cutting out mindless snacking seemed like a big ask, but as the week has progressed, it has seemed less and less a big deal.   It has dawned on me that I really don't need the extra few (or more) bites after dinner.  Ever.  In other words, what seemed like a cleanse-like activity is actually more of a normal state of being (i.e., only eating at designated meal times).  

Beats drinking green slime any day!



Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Fast food optimism...

The other morning, I was watching the news, and I saw the CEO of the company that owns Hardee's and Carl's Burgers complaining about the cost of healthcare.  I had to admit that my first reaction was to be slightly irritated given the role of obesity in driving healthcare cost.  While it is hard to deny the impact of eating giant cheeseburgers to expanding waist lines, perhaps loading all of the responsibility for the obesity epidemic at the door step of fast food is a bit severe.  Reasonable people can disagree on this point.

Nonetheless, all of this got me thinking about how I generally feel about fast food, particularly as it relates to the way yours truly currently lives his life.  In truth, it's pretty unusual for me to darken the doors of a traditional fast food establishment these days.  It's not really a conscious decision that I make each day.  Rather, fast food just isn't really part of my daily patterns any more.  Again, this is not a value judgement, but rather a simple observation of what I do.

It wasn't always this way as my relationship with fast food has evolved quite a bit over the years...
  • The early years:  When I was a kid, we didn't go out to a lot of restaurants.  My folks were tending to a litter of four kids on the salary of a government scientist.  As well, it's important to remember that we were still in Olden Times when I was a kid.  In those days, people ate a lot more of their meals at home.  For me, fast food was generally equated with McDonalds, which I got to go to about four to five times per year.  Each of those visits was a wonderful, glorious occasion filled with Big Mac's, shakes and fries.  It's hard to describe how much I loved burping Big Mac's over the hours after a McDonalds trip -- it was like getting to go over and over again during a course of hours (I admit that this is a gross recollection, but I dare you to deny feeling the same way). 
  • College:  Fast food was a constant.  These were the years of Super Size gone horribly wrong.  I will admit to sometimes stepping up to a double Big Mac order.  These were also the years in which I worshiped at the alter of fried chicken (I went to school in NC after all).  Bojangles was a particular highlight.  There was nothing like fried chicken and a biscuit w/ sausage gravy to erase an evening of beer soaked hijinx. 
  • Early years of work, up to the day I started at WW:  I still hit fast food from time to time, but my menu tended to move to more sit-down-service burger joints.  Frankly, these were probably worse, nutritionally speaking, than any of my fast food indulgences. 
  • The healthier years (i.e., today):  As noted, I really don't see a lot of traditional fast food in my life other than the occasional visit during a road trip.  It's almost as though the frequency and occasions have returned to what was the case during my early years.  
So with all of the above in context, I started to think about how I do and could handle fast food today.  After feeling a little critical of the Carl's Jr burger guy, I went on their website to see what normal options could be had.  In fact, Carl's sells salads with low fat dressings.  This is the case for most fast food places.  In other words, if you need to go, you can absolutely stay on plan.  Pretty much the only places where I haven't figured out how to do this are the true dens of hedonism such as 5 Guys, IHOP and Dairy Queen.

From a broader social perspective, the basic value proposition of fast food is that it is:
  • Convenient:  fast food is everywhere
  • Inexpensive:  certainly compared to other dining out options
  • Tasty:  depending on your taste, they deliver a lot of satisfied taste buds.  
 It's the last bullet point where people have gotten into trouble with fast food.  Most of the stuff on the menu is not really ideally suited to be part of an every day healthy eating plan.  Most of the menu (I would guess 85% to 90%) is great for a treat or a splurge, but not really for five days per week.  The biggest issue with fast food is that while you can make the healthy choices (e.g., the grilled chicken-no mayo, the salad w/ low fat dressing, etc.), these good choices represent a narrow part of the menu, and most of us are tempted to fall into the choices that aren't so hot (nutritionally speaking).

My way of handling this kind of temptation is to mentally rehearse my order before I walk into the store.  I really don't want to be making my choice on the fly and at the counter -- too much risk of rash decision.

From a societal perspective, I think we can safely say that fast food is here to stay, so we cannot wish it away.  Further, I would not discount the value of convenience and price that these outlets provide.  My hope is that the big chains will step up and transition their platforms to much more fully embrace healthy choices on their menus, ideally representing 75% or more of what they sell vs. 10 to 20% today.  Is this wishful thinking?

View of the future?
Let me call attention to a relatively new chain, the Energy Kitchen, which is based in NYC.  The Energy Kitchen was founded by Mike Repole after he sold the Vitamin Water business he founded to Coke.  His plan is to open up 40 stores over the next two years.  Of note with this concept is that nothing on the menu is over 500 calories.  The Energy Kitchen has become my new go-to lunch spot in NY.  The food is great, and my lunch clocks in at 6 PointsPlus values for a cobb salad with a side of creamed spinach.  It's a great bit bunch of food for not a lot of calories.  BTW, it tastes great.

What I particularly like and admire about the Energy Kitchen is that they are trying to prove that you can sell nutrient dense, energy light food that is also great tasting and convient/fast.  I can only hope they these guys find success beyond belief and serve as a role model for the broader restaurant community that good taste, great nutrition, convenience and value can all be part of the same equation.