Stupid Cupid

Monday February 02nd 2015, 1:29 am
Filed under: Main

I’ve been trying this online dating thing for 3 or 4 months now, and it’s been a bumpy road. Perhaps it’s just all too similar to the process I went through looking for a job — 12 months of desperately trying to seem un-desparate, of hoping against hope, presenting my best self, and constantly feeling rejected.

I’m currently listening to the audio book “Small Victories” by Anne Lamott, in which she nails this subject beautifully. It made me feel a lot better.

In fact, she inspired me to write this… the OK Cupid profile that I’ll never actually post:

I’m insecure, moody, and impatient. I want people to like me, and yet I find it exhausting to meet others’ expectations. I like being left alone. The most annoying thing a person can say to me is “Hey, smile! Cheer up.” In which case I usually un-friend them.

I don’t go to the gym enough, and when I do, I don’t work out hard enough. As a WeightWatchers leader, I sometimes feel like a fraud since I gained so much weight back last year when I was depressed and had a running injury.

Oh, I eat emotionally.

I don’t like sports, I don’t drink alcohol, and generally I assume that when a guy says he likes “masculine” men, he means not someone like me. When I’m out with my running club, I imagine that all of the straight guys dislike me. So I just talk to the women.

My career path has been erratic. I make less than half of what I used to, having never caught up from the two years I was out of work after the dot-com bust in 2002. Not to mention getting laid off again in 2009, and making three cross country moves for my (now failed) marriage.

I’ve been looking for a place to live for 7 months, including 3 months during which I rented a room from a woman who accused me of being difficult, messy, strange, and unfriendly. When I moved out she kept my deposit.

I go to church. A lot.

I like reading non-fiction books about ancient Palestine and/or the life in the time of Jesus to about the 2nd century. I also love “women’s fiction” like Jane Austen or anything about love and manners.

When I meet someone I’m interested in, I can’t think of anything to ask that doesn’t make me sound stupid, desperate, or completely incompatible with him. So then I talk about myself. Except I try not to reveal anything that would make me unappealing.

Like everything I’ve mentioned above.

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Who knows, maybe it would work.

Want my advice? Actually … you don’t.

Monday January 26th 2015, 1:27 am
Filed under: Main

My attempts to find a permanent place to live are still floundering in the stormy seas of the San Francisco real estate market. Although I’m able to scrape together enough money that would allow me to easily buy a home in almost any part of the country, it’s just not enough in these parts.

When I find one of the few places in my price range and bid on it, each time there is someone more desperate and with just enough more money to out bid me. None of these places is particularly wonderful or desirable, but the price of admission is so high that people are scrambling to get any kind of foothold they can.

It’s a tough reality, even though it’s tempered by the fact that, for now, I still have a warm, safe, comfortable place to sleep at night.

Frequently, well-meaning friend advise me to do this or that. Try looking in another area. Try asking people in your social circles if they can help. Try finding a different agent. “You should … blah blah blah.”

Recently, WeightWatchers had us do a great training based on the idea “Giving advice is not the same as helping someone.”

The point of the training is that staff members who really, truly want to help struggling people, very frequently say things like “When that happened to me, I just did so-and-so.” Or “Another member with this problem said that XY & Z were the answer.”

The problem with this is that outside advice, especially in the form of a ‘should’ is usually rejected by the listener as being…well, outside advice. The brain might hear it, and the soul might wish it, but more often than not, the advice falls short.

That’s because the true solution to our problems is often lies in examining the problem, breaking the problem apart, and finding the smallest piece of the problem that’s not working. It’s like saying “my foot hurts”….when upon examining the issue more closely and carefully, it turns out there’s a stone in one’s shoe. There can be a million answers to “How can I stop my foot from hurting” but none of them will work if they miss the pebble.

One of the things that I discovered in my current phase of food journaling is that it’s not so much that I’m eating out of control and that my emotions are running the show. For months that really seemed like my problem. “I can’t track my food because I feel so bad and I just want to eat everything in sight, there’s no hope, etc. etc. “

Yet in the end, when I pledged to simply track everything I ate from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., I discovered that there was only a short window each day during which my choices were emotion-driven and setting me back. By narrowing it down to just one part of the day, it feels more realistic to try and work on a better solution. Most of the time I’m okay. Most of the time I make good choices. Most of the time, I feel in control.

Let’s face it, sometimes we need a yes and no answer, and sometimes we need advice. But most of the time what we need is someone to help us take a deep breath and walk back from the ledge of despair.

This $1.295 million dollar condo accidentally showed up on my search results.

This $1.25 million dollar condo accidentally showed up on my search results.To be fair, it DOES have three bedrooms.

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Night Moves

Tuesday January 20th 2015, 1:19 pm
Filed under: Main

It’s been written about over and over and I’ve mentioned it time and again in this blog, but it’s worth repeating that small steps are the beginning of long-term behavior change. More than ever, WeightWatchers has been focused on this aspect of helping people succeed, so last week when my meeting leader Kelly asked us to commit to a small change for the week ahead, I agreed.

Last week’s topic was about meal/eating schedules and how they can affect our choices and our success. During the meeting I had an interesting revelation. Namely, I’ve been lamenting the fact that I consume about half of my daily calories between 5 a.m. and 5 p.m., and half between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. Frequently I’ve said to myself “If only I could stop all of that night eating, I’d be thin as a rail.”

But the truth is different, and perhaps better, than that.

As I thought over my eating habits from the time when I was last at goal (about 9 months ago now), I realized that even then I was doing just fine with my 50-50 split between the first 12 hours of my eating day and the last four. So it’s not that I have to ‘stop’ night time eating (something that sounds next-to-impossible to achieve). Rather, I just need to get to the proper total daily amount so that no matter how I divvy it up, I’m eating what’s right for weight management.

But how to get back to that stage, when I (to be honest) haven’t been tracking my food at all for the past four months?

Well last Thursday at the meeting I came up with a plan: keep a stricly honest and entirely inclusive food journal…..from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. That’s it. Anything eaten after 10 at night, or during the day before 6 in the evening, no tracking.

Over the years, being a WeightWatchers member has taught me that I frequently feel guilty about my food choices. And when I feel guilty, I don’t like to write these choices down because it makes me feel ashamed. As if there is a universal voice looking over my shoulder and saying “OMG! Bad, bad, bad!” It’s this shame and embarrassment that lead me to sneak eat, or be less than factual in my journalling efforts.

So my “track four hours a day” had to include a “no judgments” caveat. And it also needed to be an accurate kind of tracking. Which means, no more writing my food choices down on paper. For this exercise, I was going to go with the data from the online food database (which has something like 250,000 items in it), which I can use via the app on my phone.

Now, I have to admit I gave up on the WW app a long time ago because it never seemed to work on my phone (at the time, an android) and the connection was always shaky and the technology was clunky and impossible. But I bought an iPhone a few months ago, and I also know that WW upgraded the app several times recently to make it more relevant and useful.

As it happens the new app is great, and is able to identify almost every single food with a barcode on it that come from places like Safeway or Trader Joe’s. So I can only report that tracking is easier than it ever has been.

Interestingly, of the five nights I’ve been doing my four-hour tracking, one day I did intentionally eat a whole lot of junk before 6 p.m., and once I waited until 10:05 p.m. to have some crackers (!) but most of the time, the strategy has been pretty useful. The way my mind works, as long as I say to myself “I’ll just wait until after 10 to eat that cookie” it seems to calm me down. And when 10 rolls around I’ve usually either gone to bed or brushed my teeth.

I’m not sure I can officially endorse partial-day food journalling, but so far it seems like a good path for getting back on track!


By the Numbers

Thursday January 08th 2015, 9:02 pm
Filed under: Main

Thirteen years ago this week, disgusted with myself, how out of control I’d felt over Christmas vacation, and how much weight I had gained, I trudged off to my first WeightWatchers meeting, in a musty old church fellowship hall in San Francisco. The rest is, well if not “history”, at least prologue.

When I showed up at that meeting I was skeptical and resigned that this was just one more “diet” in a series that I would be trying for ever and ever. In my heart I felt that only “special” people got to be at a healthy weight, and that I just wasn’t one of them.

Of course, I did lose weight, I learned that all you need to be is human, and that I could get off the merry-go-round of fad dieting. But of course I am nevertheless
disappointed that the experience, no matter how transformational, didn’t “cure” me for life.

Although I reached a healthy weight that year in relatively short order, I’ve still managed to be above my goal more often than at my goal over the many years since. As much as I have always hoped this would be a blog about maintaining, it’s really been more of a journal of the process of being someone for whom food, eating, and exercise are complicated and very seldom logical.

At the same time, this journey has been remarkable, and I would say that the thirteen years POST joining WeightWatchers have been largely healthier than all forty years prior to joining.

It’s been difficult for me to reconcile that so many fantastic things happened in my life in 2014, and yet I just couldn’t get a handle on emotional eating. They say that knowledge is power, but I think “they” are wrong about that. If knowledge was all I needed to be at a healthy weight for life, I could just read a book.

In reality, ACTION is power.

Fortunately, even though my food journaling was sporadic at best during the past year, I did manage to keep good track of all of my running miles. So today when my running app sent me a year-end recap, I was eager to take a look.

What’s funny is that even though I recall quite well my period of being injured and the times when I was unable to run, seeing the actual numbers was quite eye-opening. So much so that I whipped up a small graph.

And what that graph tells me is this … right when I moved from New York back to California, when my whole life was turned upside down, and I most needed something to keep me feeling strong and in control, my running took a nose dive. I was deprived of this precious sanity-enforcing tool when I was most at risk.

In May and June when I was living with friends, watching my meager savings disappear, and looking for work, I had to stop running altogether (that’s when I was wearing “the boot”). Even in July, after I had found a new job and was getting my act together, it wasn’t until the end of the month that my ankle was well enough for me to start back up.

So….when I was at my goal weight in January, I ran nearly 200 miles (despite the often crappy weather), and I was walking 5-10 miles a day as well. During the summer, however, when I struggled with establishing my new life? Zero.

The truth is that I am a hopeless New Years Resolutionary….always hoping that I can start over again and make a new beginning. While that may be a bit of folly, I don’t think it’s far-fetched to imagine that 2015 will hold much more of a chance for me to get back to the eating habits that work best for me, and to bring myself back from the edge.

Time will tell. (And there will be graphs!)


The Year in Preview

Wednesday December 24th 2014, 7:03 pm
Filed under: Main

Lately I have been talking to my therapist about whether I am creating my own misery by desiring things that are impossible to obtain. Namely, I’ve been thinking about how much I want to live in the city of San Francisco, and yet how I haven’t been able to come up with a workable long-term solution. It feels wrong to want to find a place to live in a city where it’s notoriously expensive and difficult to find housing.

“So, Jonathan, you’re saying that you don’t deserve to be happy?”

Ugh, it’s not that. Or maybe it is. To me, it seems like the choices I’ve made in terms of my education and career have put me in a situation where I don’t really have the financial means to achieve what I want. So isn’t this apartment hunt just the equivalent of banging my head against the wall?

“Nonsense”, declared Dr. O (who is not prone to outbursts).

Somehow I just can’t get him to agree with my hypothesis that pursuing my dream is simply a waste of time and energy.

Of course when I put it that way ….I can see his point.

I have never been particularly good at imagining a wonderful future. Mostly I have learned to “set expectations” and be “realistic about what’s within my control.” Throughout the course of my adult life, I have spent a lot of energy on feeling anxious that things won’t turn out well and figuring out worst case scenarios.

This means that I haven’t had a whole lot left in me to feel good about things that might actually turn out great.

Why am I so afraid of disappointment?

It keeps me from being a healthier eater, it keeps me from thinking a lot about the future of my career, and it stops me dead in my tracks when I think about whether I’ll spend the rest of my life alone.

All I can say about this is that 2014 had plenty of disappointments, but it also had astonishingly great moments of transcendence and transformation. In ways that are a little hard to describe, I feel like a changed person –not only in external ways (where I work, where I live, etc.)– but inside as well.

Who knows what lies ahead in 2015? What can I even imagine about it? That I will return to my healthy weight? That I’ll find a place to live? That I’ll regain a sense of being satisfied with who I am and what I want?

A guy can dream, can’t he?

At Fort Funston, dreaming of the day I'll have my own dog again....

At Fort Funston, dreaming of the day I’ll have my own dog again….

Thanks for Nothing

Monday December 01st 2014, 1:38 pm
Filed under: Main

Patterns, routine, and repetition are a big part of human existence, whether it’s getting up to go to work in the morning, or the way we tie our shoes, or seeing certain genres of movies that we like. Over time, we develop a set of actions, systems, and beliefs that stem from our experiences, both good and bad.

It’s important for me to keep this in mind during major holidays (and other celebrations, like birthdays). Because (as you may have guessed), I’m not really big on them.

I have a few fond childhood memories of major holidays (mostly around food, like a cake I used to make at Easter when I was middle-school aged). But since I became an adult, I’ve found that most of the time I feel forced into a box. Like having to have a date and go out to dinner on Valentines Day. Or needing to be “home” for Christmas morning, unwrapping presents under the tree.

Among the most pressing of these obligations is Thanksgiving. In the two decades or so before I was married, I frequently ended up being dragged off to people’s houses so that I could have the obligatory turkey and be surrounded by people and mounds of food.

Before you think I’m too mean, let me say that I understand these invitations were always issued out of concern and affection, and were meant to be inclusive and warm. But I’ll never forget how a friend of mine used to brag delightedly that on Thanksgiving he loved to “round up the strays.”

As if somehow being alone on Thanksgiving was akin to being a lost pet –out loose in the world without a home.

So it was that this year I was super careful to navigate my Thanksgiving strategy. I kept in mind that for my friends, family, and loved ones, this holiday was about togetherness, special foods, and strong memories.

When asked what my plans were, I was as vague as possible, and always tried to turn the conversation around. “Oh, I’m going to stay here for the holiday, tell me where are you going this year and what are you most looking forward to?” That kind of thing.

When pressed, I would always mention that I had plans “with friends that I enjoy spending time with.”

But here’s what I really did: NOTHING!

On Thanksgiving, I got up early, made coffee and had a nice breakfast. The friend I’m currently staying with got up and drove off to his family’s house, leaving me to me own happy devices. I went for a long run in Golden Gate Park and Point Lobos. Then I did some laundry, worked on a book I’m reading, and rested quietly. I had a nice salad for lunch, and in the afternoon I drove over to Fort Funston (a big park on a cliff overlooking the ocean) to go for a walk. As it got late, I walked over to the observation platform and watched as the sun slowly sank into the Pacific Ocean. After that, I went home, had a reasonable dinner, read for a while, and went to bed.

To me, THIS was a day to be thankful for. And during the long weekend I did manage to meet up with friends, go out for meals, and be sociable and have a good time in the company of others. But Thanksgiving itself was blissfully my own. Simple, restful, and utterly stress-free. The best day of doing “nothing” in a long, long time.

Oh, and by the way, in case anyone asks, I already have plans for next year.

The view from Fort Funston, looking East.

The view from Fort Funston, looking East.

Tools You Can Use?

Friday November 28th 2014, 12:09 am
Filed under: Main

For the past couple of months, WeightWatchers has been training staff members in a conversational model that is supposed to be better for helping people achieve lasting change. It involves, in essence, listening carefully to a person’s words, then asking questions that help the person discover for themselves what might work to change things up. To wrap up, the staff person reiterates the person’s commitment to change, so that they end up with a plan of action.

I have spent at least a dozen hours training to understand and use this model, and I’m really torn.

On the positive side, it builds on some knowledge and tools that we have been using for a long time, and it’s very action-oriented. I think people who ask for help often feel as though no one understands and they worry that there might NOT be a solution to what’s keeping them off track.

On the down side, it makes the person-to-person interaction very transactional. It may well be that the behavioral scientists are correct and that this method will work. But from the helper’s side of the equation, it feels formulaic and fairly robotic.

And what’s driving all of this in the background, is that meeting room attendance at WeightWatchers has been falling drastically year after year for quite some time now. (This isn’t a company secret, it’s in all of their public filings and it’s in the news. See this article for example)

Human beings have a fix-it nature. We are amazing at solving problems and using our higher-ordered brains to change our lives and the world. For the past 3-4 years, there’s been an astonishing rise in gadgetry that people are using to track fitness, eating, and overall health. (Personally, I use a Fitbit One to monitor my daily steps). The promise of this technology is that it will unlock answers that we can simply snap into place and then be done.

Recently, however, I had the good fortune to sit in on a lecture by the famous Temple Grandin about the nature of the animal thought process (another perk of working at Stanford University). She notes that animals think and understand through their senses (“thinking with pictures” is how she puts it, or with smells, or with other sensory inputs).

This type of thinking is one part of the way humans process thought as well, despite our higher-ordered brain. And what this means is that our emotional responses are strong and hard-wired, and are closely connected to clues in our environment.

In my own case, I became unable to ride the NYC subway because I began to develop panic attacks. They were triggered by an association I had that started on a crowded subway car one day, where we were stopped in a tunnel, and several people began arguing violently with one another. After that, every time I went down into a station, I started anticipating this fear, until eventually it became overwhelming.

So, I want to reiterate that the ‘action plan’ approach is potentially game changing, and I’m interested in using it at the right time and with the right people in the right situations.

But personally I overeat cookies for reasons similar to my subway panic attacks. It’s about patterns and habits that didn’t happen by accident.

And I’m not convinced that an “action plan” can fix it.

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Neverending Story

Monday November 10th 2014, 3:06 pm
Filed under: Main

I have an affinity for story-telling, and I like both creating and reading stories that have a clear trajectory. Sort of like the Hollywood movie with the proverbial happy ending.

Of course, real life is normally a continous web of storylines that begin, become interwoven with others, fade out, return, change, get confusing, and are never actually neatly and cleverly tied up.

When I tell my rehearsed “weight loss success story” in my role as a WeightWatchers leader, I have a 45-60 second spiel that adheres to a formula specified by our training:
How I felt before –> what got me to join WW –> what specific things happened and/or did I learn and/or did I do as a WWer member –> how much weight I lost –>
how I feel now.

Although it isn’t against the rules to alter this formula, I usually don’t go into the fact that I have regained weight and then gotten back on track multiple times. I also rarely mention to members when I am over my goal weight at the moment (or, as is the case right now, WAAAAAAAY over my goal weight). There’s a reason the story is told simply –our goal is to help people buy into a positive belief in themselves, that they CAN be successful. It muddies the waters to be overly complex or nuanced.

But life is messy.

A few months ago I began renting a room in a beautiful apartment in a beautiful neighborhood in San Francisco. In my mind, this was the “happy ending” part of a story that began a year earlier with me being unhappy and living in New York, and leading up to me moving back home, finding a job, and settling down.

But the housing situation turned out to be very unwelcoming and uncomfortable for me. As each week wore on, I felt increasingly stressed out and unhappy. There’s nothing like NOT wanting to go home at the end of a long day to make you feel out of place and depressed.

So here I am, re-writing the tale of the past 12 months, to accommodate the fact that a year ago I was at my goal weight and now I’m not, and a few months ago I had found a place to live and now I’m back to being a vagabond again. (Thank god I have kind and generous friends to stay with in times of need!).

It might not be the end I was looking for, but I suppose it’s not a bad place to begin.


The long, long run.

Monday October 27th 2014, 2:35 pm
Filed under: Main

I tried not to feel too bad when, on my birthday last week, Facebook “helpfully” pulled up an image I had posted on my birthday last year. You know, back when I had my eating and my weight under control. I’m not getting down on myself, but it’s hard to be on this particular side road of life’s long journey.

Ironically, I continually get compliments about “how young” and “how happy” I look these days. So what I see in the mirror isn’t what other people see. (Which I think is true for most people.)

In the end, what makes us feel vigorous? What makes us feel happy?

For me, it’s a combination of being in the right place, with the right people, with the right amount of physical health. So in that regard, reestablishing myself in San Francisco has been a win-win-win. There’s a connection I feel to the Bay Area, and to the widespread network of my acquaintances here, and to the beautiful challenge of walking and running up so many hills.

For my birthday this year, I decided to splurge on a one-year membership to a local running club (it’s about the cost of an expensive pair of running shoes). I’ve only run with them a few times, but so far everyone has been welcoming, and I’m enjoying their company on long runs ( I’ve been doing their 12 mile option on Saturday mornings).

Although this might sound like a no-brainer, in fact I put a lot of thought into it.

I’ve discovered that my long commute in the morning and the evening takes enough of a bite out of my free time on weekdays, that I’ve been pushing everything off to the weekends. I’ve been scheduling my waking hours on weekends with social things, church things, WeightWatchers things, and errands, and not finding anywhere near enough time for it all. Sunday nights keep rolling around and I feel like my batteries have run down.

So my biggest priority right now is to be very intentional about down time — free time where I’m not doing anything, not supposed to be anywhere, and not just resting between activities. In this time I go for walks, read a book, or perhaps just sit on the sofa and daydream. My goal is to arrive at Monday morning feeling refreshed rather than exhausted.

Joining a running club means that preserving my Jonathan time will require me to say “no” to other things. For example, I was asked to fill in at a WeightWatchers meeting this coming Saturday and I turned them down. (Trust me, that’s harder than it sounds.). And a really wonderful person from my church tried hard to recruit me to take on a more formal role on Sundays, which I also declined.

This boils down to taking care of myself. And my hope (expectation?) is that by attending to my mental, spiritual, and physical needs that I’ll stop feeling like I have to have a cookie (okay THREE cookies) before I go to bed. There’s no doubt that one component of eating is the comforting, soothing, de-stressing feeling it provides. So providing those feelings in another way is key to getting into the right groove.

I’m giving myself until my next birthday, plenty of time to get it all together!


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.”