Scale Fail

Tuesday November 24th 2015, 9:39 pm
Filed under: Main

This past week I ate well, exercised a tad more than usual, and noticed that both the reflection in the mirror and the clothes on my body were showing that I was slimming down a bit. I even got a couple of compliments on my “new” haircut.(i.e. it’s not a new haircut, but I just look a little better).

So when I got on the scale at WeightWatchers last night I was certain I would be down at least two pounds (although I was hoping for 2.2, which would put me down into a new “decade”).

But the scale had other plans: no change.

What do you mean NO CHANGE? Nothing? Not even an ounce? I didn’t lose ANYTHING?

Oh man, I was disappointed.

And let me tell you that in my capacity as a WeightWatchers employee, I have had to deliver this news to others literally thousands of times. Not a week goes by without me showing someone their scale number and observing their crestfallen reaction.

My usual response is this: (1) reflect the person’s feelings back to them and (2) ask them to think about the best part of the prior week.

“I heard you let out a sigh and saw what I think was a disappointed look, is that right?” I want to make crystal clear that I’m reflecting the messages they are giving me, and not judging or imagining their response.

“Tell me something about this past week that you were particularly glad about and which led you to feel that you’d have successful weight loss today”. No one likes this question. No one. But it does get me a lot of information. Usually frustration, and sometimes even tears.

The point, obviously, is that we can’t rely on the scale to be the only arbiter of our success, or else we will feel enslaved to a device that doesn’t always pick up on our progress.

In my case, the looser clothes, the leaner look, the stronger sense of control – that’s what’s real, and that’s what matters.

Over the long run, I’m sure the scale will behave. But for now I need to be excited about true short-run progress.

And I am.

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Just Ten Pounds

Tuesday November 17th 2015, 11:09 pm
Filed under: Main

Recently a WeightWatchers member said to me, “I’ve been trying to lose this last ten pounds forever”. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard that, I’d have enough for a downpayment on an overpriced piece of San Francisco real estate!

“Why?” I asked. “What would it get you? What don’t you have now that you would have if you lost those ten pounds?” My goal wasn’t to doubt the value of her statement, but rather to dig into the reasons for coming up with this number.

Honestly, I have often wondered why we pick “ten pounds” and imbue it with so much importance. I mean, do people in Europe tell each other they wish they could lose 4.54 kilos?

But you know, here’s what’s funny: since the beginning of September, I’ve lost a little over ten pounds and it’s made this incredible difference! Ten pounds was just enough to help me go down two full pants sizes, and just enough to increase the visible definition in my torso. Those two things alone have made me feel so good about myself, that my motivation level has been greatly reinforced.

And the two-month long effort that it took to get this loss going meant that I had to establish a very consistent baseline of healthy eating, from which I didn’t stray very much. Which in turn helped me gain a greater sense of control and strengthened my healthier eating habits.

So I have to revise my thinking about this throw-away phrase. Perhaps there really is something to it. And I have to wonder if there’s any real difference in losing the “first” or the “last” 10. I mean, people tend to believe that it’s “easy” to lose weight at the beginning. I hear statements to that effect all the time.

Yet in my experience, even losing just 2 or 3 pounds can be an incredible challenge, no matter where I’m starting from.

In the end, maybe what we’re really saying is something along the lines of “if I could just eat better and exercise more for a couple of months” things would be better. Yet it’s that “couple of months” that is probably the biggest barrier to success. During the course of 8-10 weeks, we’re likely to face eating-out challenges, we might travel, we might experience undue stress — our schedules and lifestyle might not support consistent adherence.

What do you think? Would losing ten pounds make a difference for you?

Junk Removal

Tuesday November 10th 2015, 11:36 pm
Filed under: Main

At work I’ve been helping all year on a project that’s designed to find specific ways to measure how well Americans are doing overall – financially, socially, and physically. Our goal is to produce a scorecard on well-being in this country based on scientifically-reliable information.

Because I’m an assistant and NOT a researcher, my role is to provide support work. But it’s hard for me to be silent when the academics and authors begin talking about something I know intimately: eating habits and obesity.

So it came about that I mentioned that as far as measuring eating, we should look to consumption of sugary beverages and junk food as the source of what’s causing people to be overweight.

But my colleagues are skeptical. One even shared a report she found saying the opposite – that soda and sweets have nothing to do with weight gain. Another colleague wrote “the more I study the subject, the more I think it’s impossible to say” what causes people to be overweight. He seems to believe it has to do with something called the “gut biome”. (???)

I mean let’s get real.

Human beings become overweight by consistently consuming more caloric energy than our bodies can use. In America, this occurs not by overeating brown rice, chicken breast, and bananas, but rather by consuming sugary drinks, and tempting processed foods jammed with fat, sugar and salt that are almost impossible to resist.

Overweight people who wish to lose weight are often frustrated because old eating habits and patterns are hard to shake. It’s not because we don’t KNOW that it would be preferable to eat carrots, it’s because we WANT to keep eating potato chips.

When I think about the thousands of people I’ve helped over the past 13 years through WeightWatchers, the theme of successful people is always about keeping a consistent food journal, getting emotional support, and maintaining some kind of activity routine. And what I hear from people who haven’t been successful is that it’s about their challenge with eating habits more than anything else. “I lost weight before, but I fell off the wagon.” Meaning: I stopped eating reasonable portions of healthy food, and went back to eating the super-addictive, available-at-every-turn junk that is the staple of our society. (Certainly, this has happened to me!)

I’m resigned to losing my battle with the academics at work. But if there’s anything that all of my years as a meeting facilitator have taught me, it’s that the practical way to help people reach and maintain a healthy weight is by assisting them with long-term behavior change.

Get emotional support. Strategize about eating moderately. Keep a food journal. Be as active as you can. Learn about what makes you tick, and how you can make changes that last.

And yes, be careful of empty calories in sugary drinks and junk food!

Gut biome. Whatever.

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Sweet Dreams

Sunday November 08th 2015, 1:50 pm
Filed under: Main

First entry in my food journal for last Wednesday “Dreamt about scarfing down chocolate-covered cookies and pastry. Felt angst, despair, concern, failure.”

I don’t know if this experience is uniquely my own, or whether it happens to others. But frequently when I have been on track with healthy eating for a long stretch, I start having dreams about screwing up. Usually it’s about overeating a food that I am totally tempted by, but which I have been fairly in control about.

In a way, I can consider these to be dreams about “deprivation” although in an objective sense, it’s hard to pinpoint why they come about. On a regular basis, a preponderance of the food I eat is healthy, but I also have some kind of indulgent treat every single day.

Ironically, that very day that I made the journal entry, we ended up having free pastries at work (for a colleague’s going-away party). I took one look at that tray and thought “NO WAY!” I think the anxieties I’d had from the dream – particularly that sense of sadness about being out of control—made me completely uninterested in even having a taste.

A couple of years ago, we did a WeightWatchers staff training in which it was claimed that “research shows the average person makes 200 food decisions every day.” We weren’t given citations for this, so I can’t verify that it’s accurate. But I can definitely say that it feels like I tell myself “no” at least 100 times a day. Which means I’m thinking about food way more than I’m actually eating food.

The age-old question about this situation is whether it’s about the brain or the body. Is it just mental processes (memories, patterns, past behaviors) that lead to my thinking about overeating sweets, or is it physiology (chemical or neural processes that relate to biologically driven desires)? Or are those both the same thing?

Either way, I don’t expect to be cured any time soon. I think it’s just a fact of life that I’ll be drawn to thinking –and even dreaming—about forbidden foods, no matter how healthy my choices are or how much progress I’m making.

Having a thinner, healthier body is not something that just comes to me freely with no effort. In the grand scheme of things, I’d prefer not to have to live with temptation and anxiety. But life is filled with any manner of things which require discipline and tenacity – finding and keeping a job, buying a car or a home, getting a college degree, etc. If the cost of inhabiting good health means wrestling with temptation, I can accept that.

I just need a strategy for making sure to say “no” more often than I say “yes.”


Said “NO” to these!”

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Loosen up!

Sunday November 01st 2015, 7:56 pm
Filed under: Main

For my birthday recently, I bought myself a new pair of running shoes. I have lifelong distaste for all footwear, due to having short, extra-wide feet. (Don’t even talk to me about skiing). But very good running shoes are a must.

Even though my new shoes were identical to the ones they replaced (brand, model and size) and even though they are double-E’s, the right shoe was a bit tight when I first put them on out of the box. I was out doing my first long-ish run with them yesterday, and after about three miles I really began to notice it.

The only way I can describe the sensation is that it felt like the sole of my foot was being squeezed just enough to create a slight folding of the skin.

Finally, at mile 6, I just had to stop. The feeling was starting to move past uncomfortable and closer to pain.

I took the right shoe off, loosened the laces just a bit, readjusted my sock, and off I went.

The difference was immediately noticeable. It felt so much better.

The question you might ask (and of course it’s the one I ask myself) is “Why wait so long to loosen the laces? Why not just loosen them from the start?”

I had to think a lot about this. And the answer that seems most correct is that, having spent a lifetime failing to find great footwear for my misshapen feet, I generally just expect all new shoes to hurt. I have somehow conditioned myself to not even TRY to loosen the laces.

Now, before you get upset with me for being bad to myself, I want to say that I generally only wear comfortable running shoes, and I have had great success finding shoes that are the right fit for my gait and distance. I only buy running gear from stores that have treadmills and allow me to test what I’m getting. It’s just that this time I was doing a re-order and possibly taking some things for granted.

My point here is that I think it’s fairly common to get into a behavioral rut, even when the outcome is damaging (you should see the blister). Why do we buy that box of cookies when we know we shouldn’t? Order that extra-large burrito? Agree to meet a friend at a place where we know we’ll be tempted?

Just as we should all expect to buy and wear shoes that fit and are comfortable, shouldn’t we also demand of ourselves that we make smart and supportive food choices? When we identify that we are going down a familiar trodden path of bad habits, shouldn’t we stop and make a change?

This stuff is just a bit harder than it should be. The running shoes were a good reminder that I really have to be on my toes (see what I did there?). Making the right choice, taking the better action, holding the higher expectation – these might not come naturally or easily to me. I need to work at it.

And yes, I need to loosen the laces.


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Feeling Thin-kful

Thursday October 29th 2015, 4:27 pm
Filed under: Main

Here’s what I know about being on track with healthy eating habits — it’s a wonderful feeling, it’s not to be taken for granted, and (for me, anyway) it’s something that will never really be my auto-pilot setting.

I’ve written many times about my dislike of the old adage “nothing tastes as good as thin feels.” That statement just cannot be true. If it were, then once I reached my healthiest weight back in 2002, no amount of food would ever have tempted me to turn my back on being thin.

But the fact is, time and again over the past decade I have slipped up, and have gone back to old habits of overeating. Or as I like to say “A brownie tastes a *LOT* better than being thin feels.”

I think the real point, however, is that it’s really important to get in touch with how it feels to be you.

In my case, it’s been a rough 18 months, and many times it’s felt kind of rotten to be me. Not unbearable, but rotten nonetheless. And while I ultimately navigated the tricky waters of employment, housing, and social relationships without disaster, I just couldn’t seem to find my way when it came to managing my weight.

Adding to this sense of self was a physical sensation — that of having to squeeze into my clothes (and even abandon some things I couldn’t fit into). Too many times I got dressed in the morning with a sense of embarrassment and discomfort. It required a lot of effort not to be angry with myself (which would only have led to more eating), and instead just to accept the situation calmly.

At this point, however, I have been on track since the beginning of September, which feels great. The goal I set for myself was to slim down enough to fit comfortably back into at least the majority of my work attire. There are now only two pairs of pants I can’t get into. Some of the clothes are still snug, but I’m delighted to be at the point where I can reach into the closet in the dark and know that I can pretty much wear whatever I pull out.

(As a side note, I wish I had fought harder to have the contractor install a closet light when I renovated my condo in the Spring, but the price tag was too high!).

It’s so great to be in a place of healthy choices right now, and in particular I notice how much more confident I feel when I get dressed in the morning. I’m even dropping the practice of averting my eyes from the mirror when I get out of the shower in the morning!

But I’m definitely not cocky about this. I know that my propensity to turn to food when I’m struggling will be with me for the rest of my life. It’s not a matter of saying “Phew, glad I fit into my clothes again. Smooth sailing from here on out!”

I’m getting ready to set my next weight management goal for the month of November. I’ve been trying to find something more meaningful than just a number on the scale (even though that certainly matters). I’ll keep you posted.

selfie Here I am today…not at my highest weight, nor at my best. Kind of in-between.

What’s here, and now…

Tuesday October 20th 2015, 7:52 pm
Filed under: Main

Facebook has this interesting feature whereby when you log in to the site you are sometimes shown posts you made on the same date in a past year. Last week it was showing me my posts from six years ago, but this week it’s been from two years ago.

I’m somewhat ambivalent about this because the past six years have been among the hardest in my life. I went through a great deal of heartache, including multiple long-distance moves, my divorce, and a serious amount of both weight gain and weight loss.

For the most part, I put on a brave face in my social media life, which makes the posts both interesting and bearable to look at. But on the other hand I’m unable to look at that trajectory and NOT experience a sense of regret, loss, and even bitterness.

By contrast, one of my favorite things that WeightWatchers has been working on this fall is getting members to look at their journey in four-week increments. Rather than focus on the long-run, or get too bogged down in the past, the idea is to set small goals on a routine basis, and then assess afterwards whether the goals were reachable or not before setting the next one.

My only quibble with the way it’s done is that they printed “My weight goal: ______” in the membership booklet. Because really it’s not about the weight. I tell everyone in my meetings that I’d like them to set a weight OR A NON-WEIGHT goal. After all, not every weight management success story is about the scale.

As I’ve mentioned previously, my personal goal for October has to do with fitting more comfortably into some work clothes. So far I’ve seen some preliminary success, even though my weekly weigh-in isn’t showing much (or any) scale movement.

I’ve got some ideas for a goal in November, but I’m going to wait until this month is over before I decide what to shoot for next. The key, it seems, is too look neither too far back, nor too far forward.

Ironically, I was recently asked to bring in my “before and after photos” to be placed on the staff display in the WeightWatchers meeting room. Digging them out of my electronic files was another reminder of all the places I’ve been on my weight journey, both up and down. I found the exercise a little disconcerting, but I eventually came up with something suitable.

And in the end, what all of this tells me is that –with all due respect to both Facebook and WeightWatchers– I think what matters most to me is NOW.

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Changing My Mind

Saturday October 17th 2015, 7:04 pm
Filed under: Main

On Saturday mornings, after a shift of working two WeightWatchers meetings, I always go for a seven-mile run around nearby Lake Merced. Unfortunately, since the start of my route is downhill, the end of the route is uphill.

During some unseasonably warm weather last month, there were several occasions when I was really sweating and struggling on the last mile, feeling burnt by the sun and almost too hot to go on. I made it every time, but it definitely planted a strong memory in my head of that difficult final stretch.

Today the weather was nice (overcast and not too warm, with a pleasant breeze). Samson (who naps in the car while I work) was loving every minute of it, pulling at the leash, tail wagging, huge tongue hanging out, looking like pure joy.

But about ten minutes into the run, I noticed that my mind was stuck on an image of what the last mile would be like. Never mind that we had just started and were running along nicely, the route was downhill, and the wind was in my hair, while peppy tunes were piped through my earphones.

All I could think about was the last, long hill.

It took a huge mental effort to clear my mind and and get out of my own way. Sometimes I chant a silly mantra (“a good mood is a good thing”) and that helped today for sure. I also tried to focus on the dog, who is pure happiness, particularly when we’re running. When we came across people on the route, many of them began smiling when they saw Samson’s goofy grin and flapping tongue.

The payoff, of course, is that once the “dreaded end” stops looming over me, my focus can be on the moment I’m in. The path around the lake, the pretty views, the passersby, the images of the past week that float through my mind, the fun songs I’m hearing. For an hour, I get to have a blast and tune into my happy place.

The final mile was still there, of course. And though I didn’t struggle with it, I can’t say it was easy. I passed the time with a little trick I’ve learned… staring no more than five feet ahead, I speak out loud what I’m seeing: “dandelion” “candy wrapper” “water main” “crack in the walk” etc.

The thing about running (and life in general) is this: you can change the route, or you can change your mind. The choice is yours.


What’s Hard vs. What’s Easy

Thursday October 15th 2015, 4:55 pm
Filed under: Main

Many years ago, I heard a WeightWatchers member say “Life isn’t easy, so choose your ‘hard'”.

This is the difficult truth of managing life-long behavior change. As much as we desire healthy change to become routine, life-long, and habitual, there will always be some element of effort involved.

Over the year-long period during which my weight management efforts were somewhat lackluster (or, to be honest, lacking altogether), the food choices became “easy” for sure. Just eat whatever I want, whenever and wherever I want. Sounds pretty simple.

But what became hard was: fitting into my clothes, feeling okay about my looks, the physical challenge of carrying around extra weight. In general, I spent at least some time every single day grappling with the question “am I a failure”, and spending a huge amount of emotional effort to calm myself down.

Now that I’ve been back on track with healthier eating for a couple of months, I need to be clear with myself about how HARD it was to be EASY with my eating choices. Because every day I continue to be tempted, and day after day in my journal I see both how my emotions play into my eating habits, and how the foods that I choose can easily become triggers for overeating.

I wouldn’t swear by this math, but if I were to venture a guess, I’d say that 75% of the calories I consume daily when I’m on track come from from healthy, whole foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, etc.) and 25% come from lovely junk (granola, crackers, chocolate, cookies, cake).

When I was younger, on several occasions I went for months when I would eliminate anything “bad” and try to be 100% all of the time. The result of that was always a disaster. I’d lose a ton of weight, and then the second I lost control, I’d find myself making up for all that deprivation by overdoing it. And then I’d gain back more than I lost.

But managing the 75-25 split between healthy and unhealthy food isn’t a great deal easier than the cold turkey approach.

I believe that there *could* be situations where it might make sense to give up added sugar or otherwise non-nutritious foods altogether. I’m not sure that’s right for me, however. Given my past experience, the most likely path to success will be managing a balance between what I know is “good for me” and what I feel is “fun for me.”

And that’s the HARD.

apples vs donuts

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.