Treat Time

Sunday October 04th 2015, 3:40 pm
Filed under: Main

At my office, as in many workplaces, we celebrate birthdays once a month – in our case with expensive and delicious cupcakes from a local bakery. I don’t necessarily look forward to these treats, but I do indulge in them since they are high quality and infrequent.

Last week was different, however. The team I work with is involved in a big project that holds both great promise and significant challenges. In fact, many of us feel that it could make or break our future there, and it’s not at all clear that we’ll make it.

In the midst of a very tense staff meeting in which there was a significant power broker in the room, our group leader plopped the birthday cupcakes down right in the middle of the table.

Given the heightened emotional state of the meeting, I couldn’t think of a WORSE time to “indulge” in a treat.

For over an hour the cupcakes sat there on the table, and while a few people tried them, most stayed focused on the topic at hand and turned down the treats, even when the box was passed around.

It took no willpower on my part to say “no”. Just the idea of combining the promised pleasure of a cupcake with the known discomfort of a bad staff meeting made my stomach turn. I watched as my boss (the birthday person) had her cupcake, with no sign of joy whatsoever, and that cemented it. “Nothing for me, thanks.”

As it happens, when I shop for groceries, I like to buy an individual slice of cake. For whatever reason, I am able to cut a slice in half and enjoy it without going crazy. Frequently a slice will sit in my fridge for 3 or 4 days before I manage to get to it.

So last week, after I got home from work and had a nice healthy dinner, I pulled out the slice of (last week it was) German chocolate cake and had half. It was really delicious and I savored it slowly. It was rich and chocolatey and very decadent. And, okay, it was from the supermarket but it was good.

As for the cupcakes, I’ll just wait until someone else has a birthday.


Down sizing

Wednesday September 30th 2015, 12:57 pm
Filed under: Main

One of the first things I did after losing 50+ pounds in 2002 was to get rid of all my “fat clothes.” From then on, I promised myself, I would never own clothes that were too big for me. This, I reasoned, would prevent me from gaining weight again.

Ah, such magical thinking.

Over the past 13 years, my weight has –of course– fluctuated. Sometimes much more than I wanted. Having only one set of perfectly-fitting clothes might have been a great ideal, but in reality, it didn’t work out that way.

At the moment, as I’m drifting slowly downward back to a healthier weight, I have several pairs of work pants that are sitting in a drawer in my closet, far too small for me to squeeze into. Meanwhile, the pants that DO fit are getting rather ragged from extended use.

Since WeightWatchers has been doing a lot of work around goal-setting lately, I decided to set a goal of fitting back into (at least a majority of) the work pants that I have by the end of October.

What I like about this goal is that it’s not some abstract number on the scale. Last night, after eating a large cookie, I contemplated having a second one. Pausing, I thought about what it would be like to achieve my goal of getting into those currently-too-tight clothes. So I took the dog for a walk instead and then brushed my teeth.

If my only goal had been “lose five pounds” I’m not sure that would have had the same effect. Maybe it would be okay to have the second cookie and only lose 4.8? It’s easy to let those scale numbers get inside my head and to play tricks.

But the work pants goal is tangible and practical. I’m reminded of it not just in the morning when I get dressed, but all day while I’m at work. It’s also meaningful because it’s about how I feel and how I look.

I still like the idea of only owning clothes that fit and having a body that stays the same size all the time. Maybe that will work out to be my future. But for now I’m okay with the goal of trimming down and getting into those skinnier pants.

I’ll keep you posted.

The Future is Now

Thursday September 24th 2015, 2:52 pm
Filed under: Main

A few weeks ago when I was filling in for a very dashing and charismatic WeightWatchers colleague, a member interrupted my standard “Sorry I’m not him” introduction to the meeting and said “Jonathan, you need to stop apologizing when you sub and start being confident about your own abilities.”

She was right.

When I think about it, “Sorry I’m not who you want me to be” is probably the least appealing way to address a group. Even if it’s true that the person I’m standing in for is really great, there’s no need to say anything other than that I admire them, and then move on.

Truth be told, last year’s dramatic weight gain, which I’m only now beginning to see progress in addressing, threw my self-image for a loop. Conciously or unconsciously, I began seeing myself as less attractive, less successful, less worthy. Despite being convinced on an intellectual level that one’s weight is not a measure of one’s value, I think the internal emotional message was there for me in spades.

“If I’m not at my correct weight, I’m no good.”

All of this is complicated by the fact that I am (once again!) in the job market, as my current fixed-term job is coming to an end. I’ve gotten a few phone interviews, but I’m convinced that once people see me in person with my hair completely gray (white!) at the temples, they think “too old” and take a pass. Add to that my feeling about not looking so great in my interview clothes (too frumpy), and it’s a recipe for shame and embarrassment.

So what’s the answer? Surely it’s not that I have to lose weight in order to feel good about who I am. Do I have to weigh less than I do today to believe in my physical attractiveness or my appeal as a person?

Everything I have read and heard points to the idea that one has to feel good now, in the moment, in order to make progress. Even when we’re not at the right weight, even when we have wrinkles, even when we dream of looking younger or thinner or more athletic.

It’s not easy to implement, this idea that “I’m okay just as I am.” Because it seems to take away the impetus to change. But I’m guessing that it’s only when I say to myself “I look great today!” that I’m willing to put in the effort to eat better and exercise right. It’s not intuitive at all.

But to reach my future best self, the only choice is to embrace the Jonathan of today.


How do you take care of you?!

Wednesday September 23rd 2015, 12:18 am
Filed under: Main

Lately WeightWatchers has been focusing more on asking people to examine how they are doing overall, and what they are doing to take care of themselves in general. In our new weekly record (now called “My Success Story”) not only do we monitor our weight, we are also asked to set four week goals, to identify our “why am I doing this” motivations, and specify what we’ll do for “me time.”

When we got the new booklets in a training a while ago, I put down for “me time” that I would meditate for 5-8 minutes a day. It’s something that has worked for me in the past, and something that my therapist really encouraged as a way to break through issues that might be holding me back.

After I wrote that down, however, guess how many times I actually meditated over the next month?

That’s right, ZERO.

Turns out that even though meditating is a great IDEA, it isn’t something I feel like actually doing. Which goes to show that not all strategies work all the time. And that’s not an indication of a problem, it’s just how life works.

So for my next “me time” I simply decided that once a week I would soak my feet.

Now, this clearly has a much lower barrier to completion than a daily meditation practice, but wasn’t I setting the bar too low? If I care about myself, wouldn’t I want to maximize the frequency and the duration of what I’m doing, in order to achieve the greatest results? Soaking my feet seems like such a cop out.

Except, no, it turns out that the best “me” exercise is the one I actually carry out. (Similarly, I often tell meeting members “The best vegetable for you is the one you’ll actually eat.”)

I’m not going to give up on the idea of meditating. But for now instead of dealing with my head, I’m sticking with the other end.


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Treat Driven

Wednesday September 16th 2015, 5:32 pm
Filed under: Main

This week, I became acutely aware of a pattern I’ve fallen into over the past 18 months (and a pattern that was probably in place most of my life). Namely, when I am out and about –whether taking the dog to the park, attending a meeting at church, or just picking up the dry cleaning– I’m strongly drawn to the idea of stopping by the market to buy a treat.

The part that’s troubling is that I’m telling myself that I need detergent, or apples, or seltzer water. I’m rummaging through my mind going over what I might possibly need, but the fact is, I’m at the market to buy cookies, or chocolate, or cake.

It’s a habitual state –I’m in the car, and before I head home, I plan out a route to stop by Safeway, or Trader Joes, or failing that, the little market on the corner by my place.

What brought this to the fore is that lately I’ve been living very close to the financial wire. I have to be careful of every single purchase, and I need to keep close track of each penny. I’ve been incredibly fortunate for most of my adult life in that I never had to worry excessively about the cost of my grocery list. It’s always been the case that I could just toss things into my cart based on whether I wanted it or not. Naturally I checked prices and wouldn’t buy things that were “too expensive” but not because I didn’t have money (e.g. I don’t buy raspberries if they’re over $3.99/pint).

But last Sunday at the market, I had a list of exactly what I needed to construct breakfast, lunch, and dinner meals for the next few days. And I knew that I had a few treats at home in the cupboard. So I reasoned that I could survive if all I did was buy healthy food.

Yet… it was HARD! The experience of going to the market and walking out without something sugary to treat myself with is so deeply ingrained that I had to practically drag myself out of there kicking and screaming.

And then, suddenly, the act of food shopping felt more like a chore. Like filling the car with gas. Necessary, but not interesting.

So I have to wonder, is a big part of this treat-buying simply about taking care of a deep unmet desire to feel better ? Is my treat addiction about bringing color and joy into my life?

Most importantly, if I don’t bring cookies home from the market, how will I fix all the problems in my life?


Smile and Be Successful

Tuesday September 15th 2015, 7:17 pm
Filed under: Main

“Hey there, before you get on the scale today, I want to ask you to think about your past week in terms of the choices you made about healthy eating and tell me, would you give yourself a super smiley face, a smiley face, a medium face, a sad face, or a crying face?”

This is the question I’ve been asking WeightWatcher members this past week, as a part of our new drive to help people understand that “success” in weight management isn’t just about the scale.

Rather than asking “How are you?” and having someone reply “I’ll let you know after I get weighed,” I’m using this new approach to help people highlight the parts of their decision making during the week that work, and don’t work.

It’s funny. People react as if I’m testing them. Many pick the “medium face” because they think it’s a “safe bet.” I guess they don’t want to pick the happy face and then see the scale go the wrong way.

But that’s not what I’m asking.

What I need to know is whether you feel good about your progress and your choices overall. And yes, the scale is a factor that measures one aspect of it. But looking just at the number can blind us to what’s good, what’s sustainable, and what’s possible to change.

Personally, I gave myself a super smiley face. I journalled pretty solidly for the past two weeks, and felt more in control of my food choices than I had been in a long time. In turn, my good food choices have led me to feeling better physically. Out of all of that, came a sense of calm and positivity, a feeling that I can keep on doing what I’m doing.

And then I stepped on the scale.

Up 2.8 pounds.

So you tell me, successful, or not successful?


The Moment

Thursday September 10th 2015, 5:50 pm
Filed under: Main

For a long time I’ve been waiting for “the moment” when I would turn around my behaviors. I mean, it’s not like I was just sitting there eating cookies and wishing on a star. I’ve been exercising, making healthy meals, attending WeightWatchers meetings, and trying my best to dig up some motivation.

But unless things are all aligned properly, even my best efforts can get derailed. And I just couldn’t seem to get a handle on that endless stream of cookies!

Finally, last Saturday, I may have gotten myself back into a better groove. Okay so it was just six days ago, but it’s a start.

It’s been months since I have kept an accurate food journal, but from past experience, I knew that it wasn’t the empty journal per se that was the issue. It was whatever was stopping me from WANTING to keep the food journal. That reluctance to write, at least for me, is really what’s most telling.

So I decided that I would start up again by writing my feelings or thoughts or whatever else was on my mind. I’d probably write down the foods I was eating and maybe write in their PointsPlus values. But mostly I’d just get involved in the act of writing.

The first thing I discovered is that my handwriting is sloppy from being out of practice. So my thoughts are rushing out and I’m not getting them down very well. But I try not to let that discourage me. Often I have a long, involved phrase in mind with a number of important thoughts, but all I can scratch out is “I just FELT like eating.” Or “WANTED chocolate.”

Other times I realize that I’m feeling numb or blank or depleted. So I write that down too.

Sometimes this slows down my eating and sometimes it doesn’t. But I just keep scratching stuff down.

When I got to work after starting this emotional journal over a weekend, I noticed that I didn’t write anything down all day since I didn’t bring my journal to the office. So I decided that I would let perfectionism slide, and I will write at work on whatever I have at hand– a sticky note, a scrap of paper, whatever. And then I stick these in my back pack and put them in the journal when I get home.

Again, I’m not sure I can say for sure that I’ve turned a corner. But when I got up this morning the first thing that crossed my mind was how good it feels to wake up NOT regretting the day before.

And maybe that’s what a food diary is for, both in the moment and in the long run.


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Apple of My Eye

Wednesday September 02nd 2015, 3:13 pm
Filed under: Main

Advice-giving is rampant, and it is almost always well-meaning, but everything out there in the universe says this: DON’T DO IT!

Here’s what I mean: it’s true that people often need information, and it’s also true that personal experience often gives us insight that we are driven to share …but the moment the word “should” is included in one’s delivery of this knowledge, all bets are off.

“Here’s what you should do…” “People should ….”

Even telling someone “Next time, do this” is implicitly including that “you should” command.

But I hear this all the time in my WeightWatchers meetings, usually in the context of someone trying to be helpful when they’ve heard another person expressing a struggle, obstacle, or challenge.

For me, when I hear myself trying to figure out whether I “should” or “shouldn’t” eat something, I need to step back. Am I staring down a healthy food that I feel I “should” eat because it’s better for me? Or am I contemplating an unhealthy food that I “shouldn’t eat” because I’m thinking about being a “good” versus a “bad” weight watcher?

Usually, the answer is more about what’s going to help me with my feelings more than what’s going to help me with my hunger. For that reason, I keep a bowl of apples on my counter at home (and a few in the office). When I’m in that mood where I simply feel like eating something, I look at the apples and ask “Would one of those satisfy whatever it is that I want right now?”

Sometimes the answer is “yes”, and sometimes it’s “no.”

Often, I simply walk out of the kitchen at that point, because thinking about the apple has given me just enough perspective to realize that I’m just bored (or tired or angry or sad or etc.).

At the same time, I do end up eating a lot of apples.

Not saying you SHOULD follow my example. Just want to point out something that’s helped.


Your choice

Saturday August 29th 2015, 10:44 pm
Filed under: Main

My WeightWatchers leader Kelly has frequently said “Life is hard. Choose YOUR hard.”

Lately, so many things have felt hard to me. My work life, my social life, my emotional life – it’s frequently seemed as though I’m teetering on the sharp edge.

In an ideal world, I’d be a little more settled at age 54, a little more sure of myself, a little more used to putting my life experience to good use.

But there’s ideal and there’s real.

Week after week, in the meetings that I lead, I ask people to think about a choice they made in the past week that they’re glad they made. My goal is to help people identify tools and strategies that work, even when they can’t necessarily see the progress at the scale.

For example, when I ruminate on my past seven days, I’m overwhelmed with annoyance at bad food choices I made (way too much sugar) and a lack of routine exercise. My clothes are tighter than ever, and I walk around at work feeling uncomfortable in my own skin.

But here are some things to note: I traveled across the country and back, and among the crappy food choices I made, I nevertheless managed to bring healthy food to the airport and on the plane with me – in both directions. In the unpleasant heat of an East coast summer, I completed a long run on a hilly course. Perhaps most importantly, I navigated some very tricky emotional experiences with potential long-term repercussions.

So, getting back to Kelly, what’s the “hard” that I’m going to choose this week?

Well for weeks I’ve been talking and thinking about doing something to “take care of me” but I haven’t been following through. One simple thing will be to call the health services line at work to see if I can line up an appointment to talk to someone. An even simpler thing will be to set aside 5 minutes at least two times this week to do some quiet contemplation.

And while these are straightforward enough, I hesitate to call them “easy” since I’ve been avoiding them. Isn’t it funny that self-care should be so “hard”?

But then again, life’s like that.


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Do Over

Wednesday July 01st 2015, 5:24 pm
Filed under: Main

Do you ever think about a do-over?

Most of my life I’ve done the best I could in making decisions, but I’ve frequently thought that if only I could have changed food choices, my past, present, and future would be so much better. After all, food choices inform my health and my body shape, and those two things affect a great deal of how my life plays out.

For the past year I’ve been carrying around some extra weight that I don’t need. My food choices have mostly fallen into the could-be-better-could-be-worse category. So I’m not gaining weight and I’m not losing.

Given all of this, I wasn’t super happy that the topic in WeightWatchers meetings this week was about gratitude. I’m not really in a gratitude mindset right now. More like in a regret-shame-frustration-exasperation mindset.

I’ve often felt that this emphasis on gratitude seemed like an imposition. I have a Facebook friend doing a 365 days of gratitude thing and it’s all I can do to keep from screaming every time I see another post about a rainbow or a found dollar or whatever. What about that homeless drug addict living on the street near me – is he supposed to have a “gratitude practice”?

Anyway, I decided to get over myself and present the topic to my meetings this week anyway. The suggestion was to think of something that we are grateful for this past week that helped move us forward in our journey in a positive way. And then to “write a brief note of gratitude to that person or thing” responsible.

So here’s what I wrote:

Dear Samson,

I’m grateful that you are so happy all of the time. You are always in a good mood even when I am crabby and I really appreciate it!

It made me realize that some decisions –like adopting my new dog– are good ones, even when all I seem to recall are the mistakes (like eating too many cookies). And maybe the one thing I need to DO, OVER AND OVER, is to remind myself that there are wonderful people and things (and dogs) in this world, ready to help.