Teensy Weensy Success

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

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

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

The three I chose were:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


When No Means Yes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


It’s hard to believe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because I’m …. (shhhhh)

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

I have a secret.

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

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

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

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

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

How do I know this?

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




And it’s not just my lunch time ride.

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Get the parallel?

You Better Work!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Survival of the Sweetest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Day 11: coffee with splenda!

On Day 11: coffee with splenda!

Feed me!

Sunday June 29th 2014, 5:25 pm
Filed under: Main

So after watching the documentary “Fed Up” I reluctantly took on the 10-day challenge of eliminating all processed foods that contain added sugar. My friend Melanie suggested cutting out sugar substitutes as well (my favorites being stevia and splenda) whether added by the factory or added by me.

Based on the documentary’s claim that fully 400,000 food products in America contain added sugar (or sweeteners), I wasn’t surprised to find my favorite things on the no-go list. The salsa and mustard in my cabinet were non-obvious offenders, but were easily replaced with non-sweetened versions. What shocked me was that there was added sugar in my low-fat cheese. Sugar, in cheese.

And to me, the most annoying discovery of all was that my no-salt spice blend had sugar listed as an ingredient. Sugar, in spices.


I’m on Day 7 of the challenge now, and I’ve been pretty much on-target. I decided to forgo any type of bread or cracker, or baked good like that. To compensate, I’ve been more generous with my protein servings (mostly chicken), healthy oil, and cheese (asiago). At breakfast, I stopped sweetening my yogurt, and I topped it with raw almonds that I crushed myself, instead of my usual granola.

For lunch, I usually have salad + protein. For dinner, steamed veggies + protein. For snacks, fruit.

And what’s it like?

Well for one thing, I can’t really enjoy coffee without splenda or yogurt without stevia. They’re okay, but they’re not “good.” I also find the veggies and protein to be monotonous, even though I go to salad bars every day and build gorgeous, beautiful meals. Eating in general is pleasant, but not that fun, and not that great.

On the positive side, eating no bread or cookies or crackers actually has not left me feeling deprived. I still WANT them, but that desire doesn’t lead me to BUY them. There have been times when I just wanted a sandwich or whatever, but cutting out sweets for a limited, short-duration period of time was easier than I’d thought.

My plan is to complete the ten days, and then re-evaluate. So far, this has felt like a “diet” in the sense of the kind of restrictive regimen that people put themselves on in order to lose weight. It doesn’t feel like a lifestyle. Part of the reason I’m able to avoid sugar-added products is that I know that I can have them again starting on Thursday.

So this sugar fast goes against my personal interpretation of what are long term, sustainable behaviors. As we say with the WeightWatchers plan, “Eat mostly healthy food, and save room for indulgences.”

And sorry, an orange is not a cookie.

Bitter Sweet

Monday June 23rd 2014, 12:45 pm
Filed under: Main

One of the things I know from my communications work in the healthcare field over the past 5 years is that obesity is a rapidly increasing concern, and it’s most pernicious manifestation is in young people. Type II diabetes is the most widespread issue, which is almost entirely attributable to diet.

Nevertheless, even with that knowledge, I was shocked and sickened by the portrayal of the American diet and its consequences, in the new documentary “Fed Up.” Urged to see it by my friend and WeightWatchers colleague, Melanie, I thought it might be a little boring and preachy. Instead, I found it to be startling and riveting.

Although I’m on board with pretty much all of the science and data that they provided, even if you accept just SOME of their statements, you’ll be shocked. Two-thirds of Americans are already overweight, and 51% have physical symptoms associated with obesity. Equally crazy to me is that the vast majority of school lunches in the U.S. are provided by fast-food companies.

As a fan of the food writer Michael Pollan, I already understand that the food industry’s drive to sell more food has had some dire effects. But what’s clearer to me now is that it’s not really “processing” of food that’s the problem, it’s the addition of sugar (in all of its forms) that’s present in EIGHTY PERCENT of supermarket products.

According to the studies that I’ve read, this processed food, whether a burger or a cookie, lays down neural responses that match those of drug addiction (an easy book to read on the subject: Dr. David Kessler’s “The End of Overeating”). The claim I’ve heard is that in lab rats, sugar is more addictive than cocaine.

I was saddened, but not surprised, that the very young kids (12-16 years old) in the documentary were unable to manage their weight, or stick with new food routines. That’s because their parents were themselves struggling with food issues, perhaps even worse than their children. Which, in turn, is a result of the astonishing oversupply of toxic foods that are thrust in our faces every single day.

Now, if you follow a healthy diet rich in fresh fruits, vegetables, and lean protein sources, you’re already a lot better off than the families portrayed in the movie, whose caloric intake is largely derived from things that arrive in boxes, bags, and bottles. Fat-free dairy products, and some whole grain foods may also be a safe bet (although I’m going to be reading a lot more labels!).

The most straightforward way to eat healthy is to prepare all of your food in your own kitchen. But if you’re like me and you either hate cooking and/or don’t have cooking facilities, it’s not the end of the world. Some of my favorite go-to’s are cooked whole chickens, pre-chopped vegetables, fresh fruits, and fat-free dairy products, none of which require much effort. When I eat out (lunch every day, and dinner several times a week), I just choose salads with added protein, or soups.

I sure do have a lot of other eating habits that need to be reformed, but I’m energized to put just a bit more effort into it now!

Screen Shot 2014-06-23 at 9.18.28 AM

Be of Good Cheer

Saturday June 21st 2014, 10:15 am
Filed under: Main

As someone concerned about eating right, exercising, and maintaining my weight, I’m lucky to have a great deal of support. I can think of at least three people off the top of my head I could text or e-mail any time day or night who would be happy to talk me out of eating a cookie!

There are also WeightWatchers groups in San Francisco, San Mateo, and Manhattan who allow me to be my imperfect, slightly crazy self, and take off my “staff member” hat to just sit in the chair and participate.

For this level of encouragement and assistance, I am profoundly grateful. There have been many times that I was either able to stay on track or get back on track because of these folks.

Yet I think we all know that at some point we have to be our own advocates. Just as you can’t really succeed if you are surrounded by only negative people around, you can’t really succeed if you have negative thoughts around all the time either.

As a meeting leader, I like to use Bravo stickers as a reinforcement not just for positive behavior change, but also for positive cognitive change. It might not be the case for everyone, but it is definitely true that MOST people who show up for a WeightWatchers meeting have in the past been self critical of their own efforts, and have engaged in some form of unproductive thinking.

Based on this experience and this knowledge, I adopted a strategy last year for reminding myself about what works (vs. just being mad about what doesn’t). Using a paper journal, I not only record what I eat, but I also write myself encouraging notes, give myself Bravo stickers, add inspirational sayings, and create a safe, positive, and fun place to go.

Even when I’m overeating, the one rule I always stick to is to grab my journal and write it down (preferably before I have it). Cake? Cookie? Peanut butter? No problem, as long as I keep track of it and remind myself that it’s perfectly fine.

It might seem a little strange to be my own one-man cheering section, but it sure as heck works better than the beat-yourself-up method. I tried that. It leads to excess chocolate consumption.