Your choice

Saturday August 29th 2015, 10:44 pm
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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.


Do Over

Wednesday July 01st 2015, 5:24 pm
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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.


Fill in the blank

Monday April 27th 2015, 7:26 pm
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When I moved away from New York 13 months ago, I intentionally left everything behind. Along with my divorce, I wanted a new start, and I didn’t want to be weighed down emotionally with physical objects from the past. For the most part, I believe this was the best decision in terms of helping myself heal from that wounded time.

But now as I’m getting ready (fingers crossed!) to move into my own home in three weeks, it’s time to start thinking about starting over. I’ll need to buy not just the big stuff (like a bed, table, and chairs), but lots and lots of basics.

A while back ( 7or 8 years ago), WeightWatchers had a CD that came in a promo packet that gave tips on must-have kitchen utensils. As a non-cook, I watched it with some amusement, as I was pretty sure it wouldn’t be very helpful. But of the items they suggested, one stuck with me –the santoku knife, a cutting tool that’s great for vegetables.

So I know that will be on my list. But what other kitchen essentials will I need, especially since I’m pretty broke and don’t have a lot of cash to spare?

I already have a cutting board that I received as a gift (from WeightWatchers), and a bunch of plastic containers that I’ve acquired over the past year. I can probably get away without measuring cups, since I rarely cook, although I might get a digital food scale. A few weeks ago I bought some kitchen scissors since the place I’m staying right now didn’t have any. They’re really good for things like “chopping” salad or “dicing” lunch meat.

But what else should a budget-conscious, non-cook be thinking of when it comes to having just the right tools for eating healthy? My kitchen (which is still in the process of being built) will have a few empty drawers and cabinets to fill …


It’s so simple!

Thursday April 23rd 2015, 7:02 pm
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“Simple rules for healthy eating ….”

Why is is that news stories beginning with the sentence above are so popular? I just don’t get it. I mean if you’ve been awake for any part of the past 25 years you already know what they’re going to say.

Basically, the author(s) will have a set of prescriptive ideas about eating, perhaps throw in a little science about why the choices they are describing make more sense than anyone else, and then they’ll give you a plan for following whatever diet (or strategy) that they think works best.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I live in the REAL world. I am a healthy eater (okay, well, mostly) and I do spend a lot of time working on being a healthy person. But I eat at restaurants, I hang out with friends, I work in an office where there’s food a lot of the time, and I shop at a chain supermarket (Safeway, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods).

I also really, really enjoy foods that are “bad” for me (chocolate, cupcakes, donuts, ice cream, etc.). And I have no plans of any kind to permanently eliminate those foods (or any others) from my life.

Ironically –perhaps I should say hypocritically — three times a week I’m the one telling people about “simple rules for healthy eating” in my role as a WeightWatchers meeting leader. I trot out some basic guidelines and yes, I give them a little science.

But whether or not the higher-ups agree with me, for the past 12 years as a leader I’ve always said some version of the following: “This is your journey of self discovery to find out how satisfied you can be — balancing satisfaction with the food you’re eating, with satisfaction from the results you’re getting at the scale.” You can’t be satisfied with just one, and stick with it for the long run.

Eat too much food and the scale gets out of control. Be too scale-focused and eating becomes a stressful chore of unsatisfying choices.

The bottom line for me is to have a strategy that doesn’t involve throwing up one’s hands in surrender. Longevity is what matters –choices that I can make for the very long run. And there’s no way I’m sticking with ANY plan that tells me not to have chocolate, or the occasional slice of birthday cake. Even when it’s not my birthday.

I definitely want some guidelines that are simple to follow, and I don’t subscribe to crazy complex concepts about macronutrients and the phases of the moon. So start with “Let’s be realistic, let’s be reasonable, and let’s find a satisfying way to get results…..” and then I’ll read your article.


The Vision Thing

Friday April 10th 2015, 6:51 pm
Filed under: Main

I’m bogged down in Home Remodel Hell. It’s always the same – a cliché even. Things you planned can’t be done, the cost of everything is more than it initially seemed, and the timeline…well….the timeline…

The other day I was discussing with a colleague that the problem I have is that instead of being able to envision and focus on the end goal (a cute, modern, highly liveable apartment), all I can see are the dreaded calls from the contractor, the complaints from neighbors, the obstacles put in place by building management, the cost overruns of vendors, etc. In fact, I totally hate going over to the apartment to see the “progress”. It just makes me so anxious! All I can see are the things that AREN’T getting done!

It’s as if between me and that beautiful future apartment there is a huge, dark, brick wall that I can neither see over or go around. Frequently I just assume the worst. It’ll never get done.

In WeightWatchers, we’ve spent a lot of time the past couple of years tackling the ‘baby steps’ approach to behavior change. Rather than get overwhelmed by the long-run challenge of the journey, think of one thing, anything really, that’s so small you know you can do it. We like to ask people to find a “laughably small” change.

Here’s the problem I’m having with that approach: it’s hard to make that small, tiny change if you don’t see the point.

For example, I have little or no motivation to go look at lighting fixtures (even though I really need to do that) because I’m so discouraged by the process and can’t imagine how they’ll look in an apartment I can’t even visualize.

With my weight goals right now, it’s the same thing. I can’t make the small choice (skip the cookie, pack an apple, drink extra water) because I’m so discouraged that my pants don’t fit, or my stomach is sticking out so much that it all kind of seems a waste of time.

Sure, I can imagine a time in the past when I was successful (hint: this is another HUGE focus of WeightWatchers right now). I was thin, I ate well, I exercised, fit great in my clothes, was on top of the world, yadda yadda.

But the recommendation to “get in touch with those feelings” rings hollow when I can no more imagine being at my healthy goal weight than I can imagine the day I’ll be going out to buy a bed for my new apartment.

This week, my leader Kelly asked me to promise myself I’d do one positive thing in the week ahead.

I agreed. I’m going to spend more time building up an image of what the future looks like. I’m going to envision SUCCESS.

It might not be a laughably small change, but I’m up for the challenge.

Remodel Hell

The once and future kitchen

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Don’t worry…. about being worried.

Thursday April 02nd 2015, 5:46 pm
Filed under: Main

There’s no getting around it. I’m a worrier. Just like I have blue eyes and brown (okay salt & pepper) hair, I’m also hard wired to be a little anxious.

Too much worry is a bad thing, and over the years I have suffered at times from an excess of it. But rather than trying to stamp it out and imagine myself as a completely different person, I think it’s more realistic just to be myself.

Last week, for example, I had to go to small claims court over a relatively minor matter that had gotten out of control. For two months I lost sleep and felt wretched over the prospect of the case, and spent many an hour mortified by the idea that I needed to stand and plead before a judge.

To manage this anxiety, I did a lot of things, including meditating, keeping up my exercise habits, talking to sympathetic friends, and developing a strategy for the court visit. In the spirit of honesty, I’ll admit that I medicated myself with food too. But overeating wasn’t the ONLY course of action that I took (a nice break from the past!).

After winning the case, I felt flooded with relief. I relished the idea that I was “in the right” and that my actions were vindicated. For at least 24 hours, I was suffused with a sense of peace and joy.

But it wasn’t long before worry began creeping back in around the edges. Concern about the non-progress of my new condo re-model (still waiting for it to begin), a sense of unease about my progress at work on the project I need to finish. Nervousness about spending money on renting a room from someone while I really need to save every penny.

Again, I’m implementing the usual strategies – visits to the gym, conversations with people, getting involved in church and other activities, and creating a plan of action. But I’m not perfect and there’s a little too much food in there as well.

My WeightWatchers leader Kelly told us today to find ways to be “less bad” rather than perfect about our eating when we face a challenge. I like this idea and I’m fairly certain it’s the only way I can be successful.

And let me say this: I’m NOT worried about having to do everything exactly right. Just being myself is good enough.

Even if that means being just a little bit worried about that chocolate bar I ate after lunch.

One Way

Friday March 27th 2015, 12:11 pm
Filed under: Main

On my morning run today I was ruminating about patience, and how the lack of it seems to be a permanent facet of my character. And yet at the same time, over the past year, I have been forced to be patient time and again, whether I wanted to or not. And I lived.

Did I mention, a year is a LONG time?

Later, after my run, when I switched on Facebook this morning, it reminded me that one year ago today, I posted I had just purchased a one-way plane ticket. Good bye New York. Hello California.

At the time, I was resolute but wary — getting divorced, quitting my job, starting over without any certainty about the future. It was a lot to swallow. I knew it was the right decision, but it was scary. More importantly, it was hard (or perhaps even impossible) for me to imagine what a successful future would look like.

In the end, every single thing about it was hard, and required lots and lots of waiting. But every single thing worked out.

Finding a job was incredibly stressful, emotionally painful, and intellectually challenging. There were tears, angst, despair, and a lot of never-hearing-back. But I found a job.

Much harder was working out a living situation. For months on end, I stayed with friends as a guest, I tried renting a place, then back to friends, and then embarked on a journey to buy an apartment (in the hottest real estate market in the country). But I found a place.

A year ago I was also suffering from bursitis in my right ankle, which hobbled my ability to walk and run, and which took several months to diagnose correctly. I went through a lot of anxiety and despair about whether I’d ever be able to run again, and the time it took to hit upon a strategy to get me back to health felt like an eternity. But I healed.

So here I sit, a year later, with this fairly astonishing string of successes behind me, and I wonder if I’ll ever be back at my healthy goal weight. I find myself questioning my ability to create a plan, stick to it, and get to where I want to go. As it was for me a year ago, I’m finding it hard (perhaps even impossible) for me to imagine what that successful future would look like.

I’ve tried in fits and starts to re-up my healthy eating and weight management strategies. A few strong attempts at journalling, a few not-so-strong tries at limiting unhealthy snacks, etc. For the past few months, the “only” thing I’ve done consistently, however, is go to meetings (as an attendee). Oh, and I’ve been getting on the scale every week. (*TRUST* me, this is a victory.)

When I think about how long it takes to make good, lasting changes in life, I’m no more patient today than I was a year ago. Or fifty years ago. This makes it hard to do weight management the right way (instead of making drastic, radical, short-term changes –the old quick fix approach).

The only thing I know is that I have succeeded at doing a lot of scary, hard things. I have overcome my own personal stumbling blocks time and again. Perhaps most significantly, I have gotten beyond that sense of failure, doom, and frustration that so often have dogged my efforts to create change.

Indeed, a year is a LONG time. But in my heart I know it will be worth it if I spend the next 365 days working on that healthy weight goal of mine.




Friday March 20th 2015, 1:35 am
Filed under: Main

At the meeting I attended tonight, my WeightWatchers leader Kelly asked the group “Why are you here? What do you need to get out of this?”

Members said things like “Motivation, inspiration, accountability, suggestions, information, re-start my week, group support” etc. And we engaged in a discussion of why we show up to the group and what we need to get out of it in order to be successful.

One of the group members spoke about her self-described “fear” of what would happen if she didn’t come, and how easy it would be to just return to old habits and gain all the weight back. I totally got that. In fact, I’m feeling a bit like I lost my mojo and often wonder if I’ll ever get back to my healthiest weight.

For me, it’s a little psychologically tricky to talk about stuff this deep when I’m attending a meeting, since most people know that I’m a meeting facilitator as well (in fact, I have subbed for my leader when she’s needed a night off).

And since I’m not that open about my actual weight, most people don’t realize how far over my goal I am.

In some ways blogging about it is easier because it feels a little more anonymous. Even though I personally know many of the readers of the blog. Somehow just posting the words on a screen feels a little safer to me.

At any rate, I told the group tonight that I made a specific effort to get there because I wanted to see them. (I wanted to see Kelly too, but I believe she knows that). The reality for me is that it helps me to be committed to a room full of people that I will see fairly frequently and who understand that I’m not perfect and am coming there for support.

In the end, what I got from the group was a sense of empowerment and honesty. I was going to skip weighing in because I knew I’d gained weight again, but after hearing people talk about acknowledging the truth and moving on, I understood that I had to get on the scale. And Kelly asked us to commit to something this week that would help us lose weight (leaving it to us to decide what that something would be, but strongly suggesting tracking!).

I’ll probably never completely shake the idea that if I want to reach a healthy weight I should just suck it up and do it on my own (“like a man”). But after tonight’s meeting, I’m feeling that a healthy dose of fellowship makes this whole thing seem a lot more reasonable.


Stupid Cupid

Monday February 02nd 2015, 1:29 am
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I’ve been trying this online dating thing for 3 or 4 months now, and it’s been a bumpy road. Perhaps it’s just all too similar to the process I went through looking for a job — 12 months of desperately trying to seem un-desparate, of hoping against hope, presenting my best self, and constantly feeling rejected.

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

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

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

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

Oh, I eat emotionally.

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

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

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

I go to church. A lot.

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

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

Like everything I’ve mentioned above.

Screen Shot 2015-02-01 at 9.22.13 PM

Who knows, maybe it would work.

Want my advice? Actually … you don’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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