Surprise, Surprise

Monday April 14th 2014, 5:33 pm
Filed under: Main

For the past two years, the office where I worked always celebrated every milestone with cupcakes in the conference room. Cupcakes for Birthdays, cupcakes for engagements, cupcakes for promotions, cupcakes for new hires, cupcakes for departures, cupcakes for holidays, etc. But in all that time I never had one, because I have a rule:

NO SURPRISE FOOD.

If on any of those occasions I had known ahead of time that we’d be having cupcakes, I might have factored it into my eating plan for the day. But it was always kept a secret until the last minute. So I became known as the guy who never eats cupcakes.

But here’s a fact: I love cupcakes; they’re one of my favorite treats!

So after I gave 3 weeks notice at my job, I sat back and waited. This time around, I would be ready for the cupcakes. Since they wouldn’t be a surprise, I would have one. Heck, maybe I’d have two!

I couldn’t wait!

Except, I did wait. And wait. And wait.

My closest friends at work ordered lunch one day to mark my departure, which was incredibly thoughtful. They picked a place that had amazing salads, and I ordered one that was super tasty. It showed that they understood my penchant for healthy eating, and it was very nice of them to take my wishes into account rather than just having pizza or whatever.

But cupcakes? Where were my cupcakes?

On my last day at work as I rode down the elevator with my boss at the end of the day, he apologized that the office as a whole never had a chance to do anything for me. I told him that it wasn’t necessary; that working with this team was a privilege and that I count myself lucky to have had such a good job at such an important time for me. (And that’s the truth).

Still, on my last day in New York City, I decided I really did need to celebrate by having a cupcake, even if my office mates weren’t involved.

And so, I did.

cupcakes



Block Head

Thursday April 10th 2014, 9:50 am
Filed under: Main

For the past couple of weeks, I have found myself wavering –always late at night. I open the kitchen cabinet and pull out a block of chocolate and begin carving away at it with a knife, nibbling it bit by bit until it’s gone. Sometimes when it’s gone I get up and walk to Whole Foods to buy another one.

Where is this coming from? It’s not about a hunger for chocolate, that much I know. What’s clear is that it happens when I’m feeling tired and vulnerable. Which is a great deal, lately.

choc

Many years ago, leaving Washington, DC for my move to California, I basically snuck out of town. No parties, no dinners, no farewells. Not even at work, since I was getting a promotion and being transferred. I can’t really recall a single goodbye.

Fast-forward to 2009 when my then-husband and I were preparing to leave California for the mid-west. There were a number of farewells — with WeightWatchers groups in particular. And though I was against it, a huge going-away party that my ex insisted on throwing at the tennis club. I found it depressing and heart-wrenching.

Again, leaving the mid-west, there was another farewell –this time a “fundraiser” at a piano bar. I was smart enough not to invite any of my own friends. It was much easier to do “goodbyes” with my ex’s colleagues and other folks I barely knew. We raised lots of money. I left early.

Now, once again and all too soon, I’m bidding adieu to folks. This time it’s my community in New York City that I’m leaving as I launch myself into my new life back in California. Older and wiser, I know I need to chart a middle-path. No parties, but I’m taking the opportunity at every occasion to acknowledge with friends and supporters that I’m leaving. Lots of hugs and fond remembrances. It’s been deeply moving. And terribly difficult.

Frequently I’m asked “Are you excited about the move?” And as I think of that block of chocolate, I reply, “Well, not exactly.”



Setting Sail

Monday April 07th 2014, 12:52 pm
Filed under: Main

I hate change.

There is almost nothing about the upcoming weeks and months that will be in any way similar to what I have known the past few years. Until now I’ve had a stable job, a steady income, an apartment all to myself, a set of routines around exercise, shopping, preparing food, cleaning, and even my quiet time for recharging.

As of next week, I’ll be a guest in a crowded and vibrant home that’s often a whirlwind of activity and where there will be almost no privacy. Anything I do will necessarily be with other people in mind, balancing the need to stay out of the way with the need to be participatory as socially necessary.

For the foreseeable future I will have no income and no job, no structured time and no “direction.” Instead of operating on autopilot (if today is Tuesday I’ll be doing x,y, and z) I’ll need to begin by being spontaneous and flexible.

And a big issue on my mind is that I won’t be making the standard items that I have at each meal, since availability of cooking facilities and food storage space is by no means going to be certain. Let’s face it, you can’t be discreet about a late night snack of microwaved popcorn!

In the past when I have made major moves, I have always sought to minimize change. I have this image of myself on a rocking boat with a hammer in my hand which I’m using to try and nail down everything that I can, while the waves crash around me.

ship

This time around, I know that it just can’t be like that. Even if I wanted to, there’s simply nothing about my life in Manhattan that can be replicated in a quiet little town on the peninsula.

That’s probably why when people ask me “Aren’t you excited about the move?” I don’t really have an answer. Because in fact, I’m kind of dreading it to the same degree I’m looking forward to it.

My practice during Lent has been to stop letting anxiety drive my decision-making. And I’ve been pretty successful about that. But I haven’t been quite as successful in lessening the amount of anxiety I feel every day. Worry has been my constant companion since childhood, so it’s not like I’m going to conquer that issue in 40 days.

For now, I’m visualizing what it would look like if I were to drop the hammer. Just let everything flow. See where the wind and the waves will take me.

It could be wonderful. Or horrible. I’m not sure.



Food Mood

Friday April 04th 2014, 7:29 pm
Filed under: Main

Walking to work the other day, I was noticing that I was in a terrible, crabby mood. It might have been the weather, or not enough sleep, or something on my mind – I can’t quite recall. But I had a revelation: I was so comfortable in feeling prickly that the idea of changing my mood, snapping out of it, cheering up, was really upsetting.

Leave me alone! Don’t mess with my bad mood!

And so I trudged onward for the rest of the four mile commute, stewing in my grumbling, negative thoughts.

Of course, moods change, and later on when I was in a good mood, I felt better and calmer and light-hearted, and I became comfortable with THAT feeling, too. And I wondered why it is that would EVER want to stay in a bad mood.

I’m wondering if this is related to the same phenomenon where I find myself in the middle of a spree of overeating and I just don’t want to stop. Sure I could call a friend, have a glass of water, turn off the kitchen lights, brush my teeth, sit down in another room and read, etc. etc. But in that moment, the driving force coursing through my veins says “don’t stop me now!”

A few months ago I wrote in my journal that I was proud of myself for easily moderating my intake of chocolate and teaching myself to be satisfied with just a little bit a day. Right now, however, I don’t feel that way at all –in fact I get the sensation of constantly being on a slippery slope.

Maybe the lesson from my grumpy walk to work was that there’s no way to be permanently in any kind of mood or groove. There’s just an opportunity to work at it so I can maximize the positive, and keep the negative to a minimum.

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Go West Old Man!

Thursday March 27th 2014, 4:54 pm
Filed under: Main

Perhaps it’s different for you, but I grew up with this image of God as an old white dude with a long white beard dressed in flowing robes and sitting on a huge throne riding in the clouds. And he was never smiling.

As a result, whenever I heard or read about God speaking to someone, I always imagined it to be in a clear, thunderous voice. In English, naturally.

god.jpg
Of course as an adult, and someone who is spiritually inclined, my beliefs have changed a great deal. In my understanding, God is not a gendered human being look-alike, and is certainly not floating away distantly in some cloud layer of the stratosphere.

Yet I think in the back of my mind I still felt that the voice of God must be very loud, and very scary. And most definitely something I had never experienced, nor had anyone in my acquaintance.

Nevertheless, at the beginning of the year I decided to listen more carefully –not with my ears, but with my heart, intuition, and inner being. I was helped along by a sermon given by a young seminarian who insisted that God was talking to all of us all the time, and you don’t have be a crazy weirdo or ancient hebrew prophet to hear the message.

Initially I figured I would be just listening to the voices in my own head, of my own ego. But it didn’t really work out that way.

Instead, by clearing some space in my mind through meditation and prayer, and by being open to whatever I experienced without judgment, God spoke.

And this is what God said:

“What are you doing in New York? Go to California. Just go.”

At first I had a lot of objections, most notably that I have no money, and no job lined up there, or apartment to live in. But as I’ve blogged about recently, I decided that during Lent I was going to set aside fear and anxiety as decision-makers in my life.

And again, God spoke:

“Go.”

It was a clear message; not in a frightening roar, but with complete calm and self-assurance.

So I resigned from my job and I’m getting things lined up to move. I have a short-term place to rest my head, and am simply trusting that a path will become clear bit by bit.

Now, I actually object to that old saw “Everything happens for a reason.” I don’t believe that for a minute. My friend’s cancer? The end of my marriage? The war in Iraq? No, there was no “purpose” for those things.

But I believe that God, or the universe, or the magnetic flow of the atmosphere, is guiding me west. And who am I to argue.

And so … I GO.



Believe-o-meter

Tuesday March 25th 2014, 4:35 pm
Filed under: Main

This week in meetings I’m asking members to visualize where they stand in terms of believing in their ability to be successful at weight management. That’s because it’s a core tenet of mine that behavior change takes not only a lot of work, but requires a clear sense of possibility.

While I’m always grateful for anyone who is at least *trying*, and I want to encourage them as much as possible, my experience is that people who have a sense that it’s worth doing are the most successful.

whatittakes.jpg

Beliefs about weight loss are not only deep in our psyche, they are on the surface of everyday life in our culture. TV, film, and media figures are always rail thin, and ads for miracle diet cures are ubiquitous.

In my view, our culture tells us that weight loss should be dramatic, fast, painless, and life altering. And for anyone who has tried one of those crazy diets in magazines, and on TV and the intranet? They’re likely to believe that nothing works, you always gain weight back, losing requires deprivation, thin people have to eat weird things, and it’s impossible if it requires effort.

The good news is that if you can set skepticism aside and believe at least a little in yourself, the chances are that you can make change happen. Rather than saying “I’ll never be satisfied with those tiny portions”, you can say “I’ll try eating the recommended amount to see if it really does feel like enough.”

And research shows that once you perceive yourself as having had some success, you’re more likely to believe you can keep going. WeightWatchers’ new two-week Simple Start plan is based on that principle: provide a straightforward, do-able plan, and recommend following it for just 14 days. This approach provides near-term weight loss, which is what helps motivate people, but it also builds a foundation of good strategies that helps you keep going.

When I reflect on my return to a healthy goal weight last year, out of all of the strategies, tips, ideas, support, and tools I had at my disposal, the one thing that really worked was believing. In WeightWatchers, in lifestyle change, in myself. Even at my highest point of regained weight, I knew that following a weight management routine was possible, and that I wasn’t doomed to fail.

To be clear, I don’t think you have to be a “5″ to make it happen. There were plenty of times I was a “3″ and maybe even a “2″. But I never hit zero.

And no matter where you are on the scale, just know that you can move up to a better number. It might just take time.

Believe me.



Scared Tactics

Sunday March 23rd 2014, 7:34 am
Filed under: Main

A cool thing happened. As I’ve been consciously avoiding making decisions based on what I’m afraid of, I found out that I’m still afraid of stuff, it just matters less.

I’ve spent so much time accomodating and compensating for my anxiety, that just peeking around the corner at new horizons is pretty amazing. It’s also nice to know that I don’t have to solve everything at once. I can still acknowledge the reality that a lot of things scare me.

Since Lent began, I’ve kept a 3×5 index card on the dining table, and every time a different fear pops into my head, I just write it down. The card is filling up. But it does have a reverse side in case new things come to mind.

My goal isn’t to become fearless. It’s to learn a new way to think and make decisions.

It reminds me of when I started to lose weight 12 years ago, and had to embrace a lot of new foods, strategies, and beliefs. It’s not so much that I needed to stop craving sweets, or stop consoling myself with excess eating. Rather, I had to adopt some new habits that helped put me in the right place.

Obviously, 12 years later I’m not “cured” of the situations and habits that lead me to overeat. I just have a better set of options.

Equally important, when I slip up and eat an entire bag of malted milk balls (yes, again), it doesn’t mean I’m doomed to failure. It just means I’m human and can’t expect perfection.

So as I’m embarking on some decision-making that will impact my life in a lot of ways, I’m recognizing how scary it might sound, while focusing on being smart and intuitive about what steps to take.

Fingers crossed.



Now Wait Just a Minute!

Thursday March 20th 2014, 10:12 am
Filed under: Main

At my WeightWatchers meeting last night, my leader Melanie asked us to ponder a couple of questions, including “What mental tool (mantra?) do you need in order to be successful?”

The other questions were easy, but this one kind of had me stumped. Which is funny, because if you asked me, I would say that 94% of being successful in weight management is what happens in our heads.

While I wish I could say that I have a really inspirational mantra like “You can do it!” or “One step at a time!” the reality is that the main cognitive strategy I use is “Wait just a little bit.”

For example, at night when I’m feeling like I could snack on the entire contents of my kitchen cabinets, I frequently set a timer for 15 minutes as a means of slowing myself down. It often works (though not always), to give myself a little breathing room.

Also, I’ve been walking to work a lot lately, which takes about 75 minutes, and throughout whatever route I pick, I constantly see places to buy morning pastries and sweets. Since I find that kind of thing terribly tempting, I’ve just been telling myself that I would wait until the day after my WeightWatchers meeting to get something!

In the past, when I went on diets, I would always tell myself “No, can’t have that!” and as a result would go sometimes for weeks and months feeling really deprived. I would always know I was in trouble when I dreamt about eating an entire chocolate cake! (Which happened more frequently than I’d like to admit.)
As long as my willpower / determination / stubborness won out, I could say no, no, no and keep going. But once I gave up, it would be like a dam bursting. Then I really WOULD eat a whole chocolate cake. By myself. In one sitting.

So while “Wait just a little bit” might not sound super inspirational, it does give me the opportunity to get out of the all-or-nothing mindset, and it gives me a greater sense of control and flexibility.

And for the record, today is the day after my meeting and I walked to work and didn’t stop to buy anything at all.

Go figure.

pastries.jpg



Superheroes Need Not Apply

Tuesday March 18th 2014, 12:18 pm
Filed under: Main

In Greek mythology and in modern usage, the “Achilles heel” is a weakness in a person or system that is otherwise very strong. Or, since I grew up on 1960s television serials, it’s akin to the way Kryptonite weakens and defeats the powers of Superman.

I always thought of it as something metaphorical until my own running abilities were taken down by an achilles tendon issue. That sucker can really hurt, and make it hard to run, walk, or even drive a car if it gets inflamed enough.

As far as kryptonite goes, well as a WeightWatchers member, something I learned a long time ago is that from person to person it can take on very different forms. It could be a particular food (typically chips, sweets, pizza, ice cream, alcohol, etc.) a situation (parties, workplace, holidays, etc.), or an experience (fear, excitement, sadness, anxiety, etc.).

In my own case, I’ve been able to identify a couple of things that trip me up: chocolate, cookies (with chocolate), sweet baked goods, and the experience of travel. I can be disciplined as a field marshall all day or week, but once that weakness shows up in my life, I’m a goner.

But long-time readers of my blog already know that my personal approach is to focus on strengths, rather than weaknesses. If I get too stuck thinking about how easily I can be thrown off track, it practically becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Yet the final balancing act comes here: it’s the need to feel strong, but vigilant. There’s very little “coasting” when it comes to weight loss management. It’s like when I’m running in Central Park and I see the racing cyclists heading up hill. They have powerful legs and lungs, but the second they stop using them, their momentum slows.

For my achilles tendon, the answer is to stretch, stretch, stretch, rest when necessary, and be aware of what can aggravate it. I don’t have to give up walking and running (my strengths) so long as I have strategies in place.

When it comes to weight and eating, it’s pretty similar. My strengths are making healthy meals at home and keeping good track of what I consume. I’ll never give up chocolate or cookies (or chocolate chip cookies!), but I need to have strategies that keep me feeling strong and able so they don’t become my kryptonite.

You know what? For the rest of your life you will see advertisements for special foods, treatments, tricks, exercises, and programs that promise to “fix” your weight issues for good –with no further effort. The thought of one-and-done is so tempting! Wouldn’t it be nice if it really all were so simple?

It’s not. But that’s okay. You don’t have to be superman or a greek god to be successful.
superman.jpg

Just be yourself, keep on trying, and know your own strengths –I guarantee that’s good enough.



What’s Happening?!

Monday March 17th 2014, 2:57 pm
Filed under: Main

A strategy that WeightWatchers teaches to staff is that when a member presents a problematic situation, to ask “What would you like to have happen?”

My understanding of this approach is that it gets the person to identify potential solutions or goals, and clarifies whether their expectations are do-able, realistic, and worthwhile.

Having used this tool many times when working with people, I have also learned to use it on myself. Frequently when I’m pondering a complex issue, I stop and wonder “What would I like to have happen?”.

Yet when I think about the difference in my life between what I’ve hoped for and what’s actually come to pass, it can be a little hard to swallow. I would have wanted my marriage to last, to never have left San Francisco, to never have regained any weight, etc.

Did I have control over any of these things? Maybe. At least a little. But not a lot. And did knowing what I wanted make it any easier to deal with?

Not really.

But I’m not giving up on this technique. Instead, the lesson I’m learning is that when I put too much store by things over which I have little control, I’m always going to be in for a surprise. Grand hopes and dreams are great as aspirational motivators, but the day-to-day reality of my efforts needs to be focused on things I can do.

When I’m out for a long run and I find my mind desperately wanting the run to be overwith, I instead focus my attention on the ground right in front of me and start saying out loud whatever I see … “crack in the sidewalk” “funny shaped stick” “white pebble” “parking meter” etc. And it’s remarkable that by focusing on the here and now, I gently settle myself back into where I am and what I’m doing.

Then I can say to myself, okay, “just to the end of this block” and “just to the top of this hill” etc. and in the end, I get all the way home.