Cookie Confessional

Wednesday October 01st 2014, 6:25 pm
Filed under: Main

A couple of weeks ago a WeightWatchers leader friend of mine asked me to come and be a speaker at a “success stories” event designed to showcase people who have successfully lost weight and maintained that loss. I said “yes” precisely because everything inside me was shouting “NOOOOOO!”

I don’t feel at all successful right now. But I’ve been through a lot in life and understand that how we imagine success and how success looks are almost always completely different.

The day before the event, I texted Melanie that I was “just giong to talk about how I couldn’t run before I lost weight and now I can.” She texted me back that she wanted more out of me. More vulnerability. Damn her! (She’s fond of noting that “the magic only happens outside the comfort zone.”)

So, I showed up at the event slightly nervous. The speakers before me had all lost a lot of weight and appeared to me to have really changed on the inside and the outside. They were so motivating and inspiring, so what was I going to say?! The more I heard, the more heartbroken I became.

But in the end, I got up and –ham that I can sometimes be– I started off by asking the group how many people had ever lost some weight and then gained it back. (This is a crowd pleaser: I’ve asked it a thousand times and every hand in the room always goes up, along with laughter). So then I told my initial weight loss story up to the point where I joined WeightWatchers.
Then I stopped to ask the group “what are the kinds of things we learn to do as WeightWatcher members?” and filled a flipchart with their replies. When they were done, I wrote “55″ at the top and, pointing to the actions that were written on the chart, I said “this is how I lost 50 pounds.” No running marathons, no climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. Just real stuff.

After we were done with that, I mentioned that last year I had run over 2,000 miles! And then I paused, and told the rest of the story.

Last year my marriage ended, and by the beginning of this year, I was stuck in a place I didn’t love, and a place I didn’t love myself in. So I took a leap of faith and quit my job and flew home. But simultaneously a nagging foot injury began to really take a toll. And as a result, I was in a very out-of-kilter frame of mind. Lots of good things were happening, but it was a lot of change. And my normal stress reliever (running) was out of the question.

And so it was that I ate a lot of cookies (and chocolate and cake and etc.).

Taking charge of my life and starting over again was fun, but hard; exciting, but scary; and wonderful but occasionally depressing. I wanted to tell people that I had the tools to handle it. Except I didn’t.

So I crossed out the “55″ and wrote “40″ underneath, explaining that I’m now 15 pounds over my goal. It was embarrassing and heartbreaking, because I really judge myself on that score.

But the people in the room were warm and kind and responded very supportively.

Finally, I went back to the list of actions we had written on the board and said “The good news is that all any of us has to do is to take these steps. No running marathons, no climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. Just real stuff.”


Off the Scale

Tuesday September 16th 2014, 7:11 pm
Filed under: Main

Although I’ve done poorly with food and weight management for many months now, it does appear that I’ve come back from my heel injury and am now able to resume my active running schedule. Also, since moving to my new apartment, I’ve been biking about 8 miles a day as a part of my commute to and from the train.

And if anything “good” came of the time I was injured, it might be that I finally got back into the habit of going to the gym for strength training exercises, which I now do at work on my lunch hour either four or five days a week.

Earlier this month, as one of the many (many!) benefits I get working for Stanford University, I was paid to take a short “Fitness Profile” test at the school’s athletic center. In a way I was dreading it, because I was certain I would be told that I am overweight and have too much body fat. In fact on the way to the test I was doing a lot of positive self-talk (“Iit doesn’t matter what they tell me, I have the power to change!”).

Interestingly, however, the results of the test were that I’m in the “Fit” category for my age, weight, and height, and that my body fat (at 14.7%) is fine. Not only that, on the cardio test, where the scale ranged from a low of 14 points to a high of 53, I scored a 75. No, not a typo. I was literally off the chart!

Yet in a way this wasn’t really good news. Because since that time, I’ve been justifying a lot of bad eating habits (“Three more cookies? No problem, because I’m FIT!”). Not only that, due some scheduling issues, I’ve missed going to WeightWatchers meetings recently and have stopped getting weighed.

And this type of being “off the scale” isn’t healthy. I’ve noticed my clothes getting tighter and tighter, as well as all of the telltale signs of being at a too-high weight (fatigue, aches and pains, etc.).

While it’s nice to have a piece of paper that says I’m doing well, I can’t ignore the evidence. I’m a short, older person with a history of weight fluctuations. As a runner, my body fat could be a little lower, and certainly I should be eating in a healthier way.

I’m not mad at myself for being in the position I’m in, I’m just realistic about it. I successfully navigated a TON of change this year, and if I haven’t had the oomph left over to manage my health in a better way, it’s not because I’m lazy, bad, or a failure.

It’ll take me a while to work my way back to the weight and body I deserve. But I can do it.

Isn’t it funny how the best things in life take so much work?!


Positively Possible

Tuesday September 02nd 2014, 5:45 pm
Filed under: Main

The topic in WeightWatchers meetings last week was “positive self-talk” which –if you know me at all– is definitely one of my all-time favorites. Although I don’t have any meetings of my own right now, I did sub as a leader at one meeting, and I also attended a meeting as a member.

I really needed that!

When it came to part of the meeting where we wrote down one of the beat-yourself-up phrases that runs through your head, I put “I will never be able to control my overeating of sweets.”

Ironically, I’m in this magical phase of life right now where many things are falling nicely into place, patience and perseverance are paying off, and long-held dreams are being made reality.

One of my favorites phrases of the moment is “Don’t pinch me, because if this isn’t real, I don’t want to wake up!” In addition to my job, which I really love, and connecting with my social network, I also finally found a place to stay. And it’s phenomenal.

The woman I’m renting from has a spacious and well-appointed condo in one of the best neighborhoods, and she’s even more of a health nut than I am, so the kitchen is loaded with only the best-for-you foods. And if the home-grown tomatoes my roommate shares with me aren’t enough, I’m only a two-block walk from either Safeway or Trader Joes!

Yet during this time of change and uncertainty, even though things have really been going my way, I still find myself pulled in by the siren call of sweet foods and treats. Donuts, cookies, chocolate, etc. seem to keep finding their way into my hands at the checkout counter (and then into my mouth later in the day!).

What’s so disheartening to me is this is exactly where I was (in terms of weight, food, eating, clothes, etc.) last year. All the progress I made getting back to goal last November? Poof! Vanished. As I ate my way through my move home to California, the months of recovery from my heel injury, and the start of a brand new life, I just piled the weight back on for the umpteenth time.

So while I felt like a phony leading a WW meeting given my current state of mind, the positive self-talk topic was a good wake up call. It’s *possible* that I’m doomed to lose and gain weight over and over for the rest of my life, but it’s not my destiny. It’s conceivable that I’ll never get a handle on my ravenous sweet tooth, but there’s just as good a chance I’ll figure it out.

And in the meantime, I’ll take the message that I got when we swapped notes of hope at the end of the meeting: “Plan your meals this week and don’t obsess!”


View from my new roofdeck!

Teensy Weensy Success

Thursday August 14th 2014, 6:37 pm
Filed under: Main

Among the many privileges of working at Stanford University (and there are MANY), each year we are allotted $800 in funding for education and development related to our work. Because I’m new and the fiscal year is running out, I signed up for a very inexpensive one-week course called Tiny Habits. Interestingly, the founder of the course, BJ Fogg, is both a Stanford professor and the inspiration behind a lot of official WeightWatchers strategies.

Basically, I was given a list of very small things to work on this week and asked to choose three. Then I check in with my coach each day via e-mail, who gives details, ideas, direction, advice, etc. The trick behind the whole approach is to tie the new behavior with something you already do every day. Makes sense, right?

The three I chose were:

- Upon waking up, write down the number of hours I just slept (I do this in my food journal, which is on my nightstand).
- Upon arriving at the office, after turning on the light, grab my water cup and fill it from the tap
- Before turning on my computer, write down two very small goals for the day on my whiteboard.

Oh, and lest I forget the important part: I am supposed to CELEBRATE every time I accomplish any of these tasks, each and every time.

While the truth is that I already know a lot about this kind of strategy, and have a fairly high-level understanding of the basics of behavior change, this is definitely a great exercise for me to be doing this week.

The reason I gave for signing up for the course was to “enhance productivity and focus”. And while none of my three little tasks seems to address at first glance, in the end they are addressing the task head on. That’s because each of these teeny tiny things has a lot of repercussions.

For example, the other night I had five hours of sleep. (This was because I went out to dinner with friends, but still got up early to run the next morning.) While I’ve done this many times, the act of writing it down brought to a conscious level how getting too little sleep can easily affect my focus at work. The same goes for drinking water, and jotting down goals.

My life has been both wonderful and topsy-turvy lately. And this week’s Tiny Habits course is helping me see just why it is that I feel somewhat discombobulated, and how taking a few very small steps can truly help me get a stronger sense of balance.

And yes, this also explains very clearly why I have been making haphazard food choices the past few months. And what I can do to turn that around.


When No Means Yes

Tuesday August 05th 2014, 10:23 pm
Filed under: Main

Fear of rejection was always a potent force in my life, shaping a lot of the decisions I made from elementary school on up. Yet now I find that I’ve been going through much more than just a phase (an era?), where rejection is my touchstone.

What comes to mind obviously is getting divorced, which ultimately happened because I was “not enough” in my marriage. And then on the heels of that I began my insanely long and tortuous job search. (I’m still getting the occasional rejection notice — two this week!).

Putting myself out there again and again, approaching interviews from all angles (prepared! nice! relaxed! professional! engaging!) and attempting to turn my professional past into a seamless story of progression.

And I guess all of that wasn’t enough because for the past few weeks I’ve been going on Craigslist looking for a roommate situation. It’s just another log on that fire of “No Thanks.” In a white-hot rental market, people who have a spot to offer call the shots. And whether intentionally or not, they are more often than not dismissive or ridiculous or wildly restrictive in their requirements. And that’s just the 10% of people who actually reply.

But here’s the interesting thing: despite my loathing and fear of not being wanted, I’m finding a new capacity that I never had. Which is to realize that there are other paths. Other choices. Other solutions. Other questions to ask.

So here I am, having what is essentially the best year of my adult life, rediscovering the joy of community, the love of place, the warmth of being around what is so dear and familiar to me.

For example, after meeting a few folks who were looking for a roommate, I discovered that people live in all kinds of ways. Messy. Clean. Cluttered. Stark. Decrepit. Up to date. Modern. Classic. And since I’m lucky enough not to be under pressure (yes, I have the most generous friends in the world), it dawned on me that this searching for a roommate fit is just as much a part of the journey as any other.

I even realized that I needed to do some rejecting of my own (although of course I send a polite and complimentary e-mail, naming vague reasons for turning the spot down). It’s something I even did a few times in my job search —withdrawing from positions I had applied for that just weren’t right.

In the end, rather than seeing myself as being turned down at every step, I understand that it means there are many, many steps to take. Alleys to go down. Places to explore. The options aren’t ending, and my choices are not getting fewer.

And while this might not seem like a good topic for a weight management blog, trust me. It is.


It’s hard to believe

Friday August 01st 2014, 3:37 pm
Filed under: Main

One of the earliest lessons I learned as a young adult was that things would occur in my life that I never would have imagined on my own (jobs, relationships, challenges, journeys, etc.). In particular, I had to learn to trust that good things would indeed come my way if I could just look beyond the high walls of my imagination.

In essence, I learned to think of my hopes and dreams as being not protected by this wall of worry, but hindered by it.

The best example of this limitation was my inability to believe that I would ever get a job outside of government. I had landed in Washington DC to work for Uncle Sam right after college, but after five or six years I wanted out. At that time, all I could see was the safety and certainty of being employed as a public servant, and a slow progression through the ranks over time (to some mindless and unrewarding job as a manager).

In time, I “escaped” and eventually had a whole variety of jobs that I never thought possible. I worked for private companies and non-profits (and other government agencies), travelled the world, got laid off a few times, switched my career focus multiple times, and earned both a lot of money and very little.

I have regrets, of course, but quitting my guaranteed, safe job in 1995 is not one of them.

Lately I’ve been thinking about my crappy track record of weight maintenance. It seems to me that I’m always on a long trajectory of either losing or gaining. My impression is that I just am destined to struggle, struggle, struggle and never achieve a state of balance with my eating and my weight.

It’s somewhat disheartening, and it mirrors exactly the impression I had about my career when I was 29 years old — that ahead of me lay nothing but drudgery and disappointment.

But now I’m in my 50s, and if I have to be older then —dammit— I need to be wiser, too.

At the moment I see the challenges around my food behaviors, and I have in my mind the past experiences of gaining-losing-gaining-losing-gaining. But those realities are not the only realities.

New things will happen, no matter how hard it is for me to believe. Weight maintenance can be one of them.

Because I’m …. (shhhhh)

Tuesday July 22nd 2014, 4:40 pm
Filed under: Main

I have a secret.

I’m afraid to say it out loud, or commit it to writing. As if telling you, the world, will suddenly make it all vanish instantly into thin air like a startled hummingbird.

But what the hell. Here goes: I’m happy.

It’s scary for me to point this out, because I don’t actually know if I believe in happiness per se. I tend to concentrate on all the hard stuff in life (health, relationships, money, my weight, etc.) and get mired in the If Onlies.

If only I my foot was healed, I could run fast and easy again. If only I hadn’t messed up my marriage, I wouldn’t be single for the rest of my life. If only I hadn’t eaten those three chocolate chip cookies last night, my pants wouldn’t be arguing with my waistline today …

Yet, I have to admit, despite what every truth (or falsehood) lies in those statements, in the grand scheme of things, I’m actually happy.

How do I know this?

Well, nearly every day on my lunch break at my (amazing, wonderful, fantastic) new job, I hop on my bike and zip across the Stanford University campus to the gym. I have to tell you, this place is beautiful. So gorgeous and pristine. I jokingly refer to it as Disneyland but —no offense to Disney fans— it’s MUCH nicer than that. And while I’m riding my bike, more often than not, I spontaneously shout.




And it’s not just my lunch time ride.

I feel this way when I’m zipping on my bike through my temporary hometown, San Carlos. I feel it when I hop on the Caltrain to commute to work. I feel it when I’m driving on 280 and I see the fog crawling over the tops of the hills along the Pacific. I feel it when I lay down and night and think how grateful I am not to be homeless. Or still living in New York.

I’ve heard people say at WeightWatchers meetings in the past that UNHAPPINESS is what gets them to follow the plan and eat better. That when they are happy, they feel no incentive to make changes, they see no reason to grapple with the issue of weight.

I get it. And to some extent, I feel that way, too. But I also know that being happy and working on my long-term weight & eating are not mutually exclusive places to be.



Wednesday July 16th 2014, 8:16 pm
Filed under: Main

One of the reasons I like to keep a paper food journal (as opposed to using an app or an online one) is that it gives me a more tangible sense of what’s going on. For me, personally, it’s easier to flip through pages of a spiral-bound notebook than it is to scroll through screens of data.

Lately my practice is to start by writing the day of the week, and then one or two sentences about where my head and heart are at. Only after that do I record what I eat.

For example, this morning I wrote; “Wednesday. Feel like it’s all pointless and I should throw in the towel. But it’s not and I won’t” Then, “peach, plum, cup of yogurt, 1 oz. of granola.” And then I went off to work.

Life has been full of upheavals this year, and I am on the fence about being really pleased with myself for starting over again (new job, etc.), and really exasperated with myself (gained weight again? again? REALLY?).

My latest episodes have involved chocolate chip cookies, which is no surprise to anyone who’s ever spent 5 minutes talking to me. They are definitely my obsession. It boils down to this: I could either live my life with them, or without them …but the middle ground is shaky.

The result of overeating? Disaster, guilt, weight gain, etc. The result of cold-turkey deprivation? Disaster, anger, weight gain, etc.

Now that I’m fully employed again, I’ve started looking for a place to live. The only thing I know is Craigslist, so I very methodically check it every day for roommate ads in San Francisco that look like a good fit.

Every ad that I see, I try to respond in a factual, clever, friendly way, using all the communications techniques that I’ve learned over the years. And every day, I get ….NOTHING. No response.

As with my cookie obsession, I have to wonder, “is it worth it? should I throw in the towel?”

It’s hard to keep trying and trying something and either getting bad feedback or nothing at all. (Hello, echoes of my 12-month long job search!).


But with the roommate ads, I don’t really have a choice. I need to find a place to live (not including sleeping in my car, or a highway underpass). So whether I like it or hate or feel exasperated, I need to keep looking, keep being optimistic, and keep presenting my best self.

Get the parallel?

You Better Work!

Sunday July 06th 2014, 5:10 pm
Filed under: Main

In June of 2013, I began in earnest my search for a job in California. For many months, I slogged away at digging up opportunities and pursuing them, and from time to time I flew from NYC to San Francisco for interviews. In June of 2014 —over 100 job applications later— I finally landed a good job.

During those 12 months, I experienced many false starts, lots of ups and terrible downs, seemingly unending uncertainty, doubts, and discouragement. I had just enough success in landing interviews that I never gave up, and on some deep level, I made a commitment to stick it out to the end. But it was very, very difficult.

The comparison is perhaps too obvious here, but this exhausting journey towards re-invention reminds me a lot of the weight management lifestyle. On the one hand, I had a long term goal that I was able to work towards, but on the other hand, there were no givens, no definite time frame, and no perfectly describable outcome.

Although I reached my weight goal (again) last fall and stuck it out through the winter, I wandered away from my healthy habits in the early spring, and very quickly packed on a number of extra pounds. As with the job search, I knew what I wanted in terms of my weight and on some level how to get it, but there was no guaranteed path to success.

The most critical elements to getting my life re-launched in California were self-belief, action, and getting support where I needed it. Trusting in the process, walking the walk (even when i didn’t want to), and relying on friends was all a real challenge. But it makes sense that these were the keys to unlocking my future.

Right now my eating is pretty much stable and positive, and my exercise (although greatly restricted) is at an acceptable level. I don’t know now long it’s going to take to get myself back into the groove (and into my pants comfortably). But experience tells me to stick with it.

And I have a great new mantra thanks to my long-time WW buddy Heidi: it’s to keep asking myself “A week from now, what will I be glad that I did today?”



Survival of the Sweetest

Thursday July 03rd 2014, 9:33 pm
Filed under: Main

I’ve been avoiding writing about my experience during the 10-day long “Fed Up” challenge, to eat foods with no added sugar (or artificial sweeteners). Partially because I’ve been super busy, but also because I want to be able to say something incisive about the experience. And I’m still not sure I can do that.

Now that the ten days are over, I’m wondering what the implications truly are. Throughout the period I was never hungry as long as I had access to fruit or a healthy meal. When I got home at the end of the day, if I was super hungry I would just microwave a yam and eat that to tide me over til dinner. I ate approximately $436 worth of cherries as my evening snacks, as well.

As I’ve mentioned in many blog posts over the years, when I’m in touch with my physical hunger signals, it takes very little (real) food to satisfy me. A single apple. Just 6 oz of yogurt. A hard-boiled egg. Anything like that.

But here’s the thing: cutting out all of those foods felt very much to me like a “diet”. That, in turn, led me to really feel deprived. It wasn’t just that I missed cookies and chocolate. Since the breads and grain products I like (e.g. wheat crackers) all have added sugar, I cut those out, too. And more than anything, I really (I mean REALLY) missed adding stevia to my plain fat-free yogurt and to my morning coffee.

And oddly, enough, eliminating chewing gum almost brought me to tears.

The question remains, however, as to what I might have learned or what behaviors to change. The 10-day challenge, in my view, was a useful way to understand the incredible impact of sugar-infused foods that are all around me every day, everywhere I turn. Even as a WeightWatchers member and employee, I learned a lot about processed food that I hadn’t understood before. (For example, sugar in spices?!).

Here’s what I’m thinking (for now): I’m going to continue avoiding processed foods that have NEEDLESS sugar in them (like mustard or cheese). But if a food is traditionally made with sugar as an ingredient in a sensible way, I’m going to keep on eating it as before.

I’ve proven to myself I can SURVIVE without sugar. But I haven’t proven to myself that it’s WORTH it.

On Day 11: coffee with splenda!

On Day 11: coffee with splenda!