Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Social media: What's the point?

Have you ever tried explaining blogging (or, God help me, ) to someone who just doesn't get it? I did it yesterday, and it was like trying to explain yellow to someone who is colorblind.

"What's the point of typing all that stuff out?" For some reason, the word "typing" really bothered me there. As if we're all those monkeys chained to machines, hoping to randomly hit on something worthwhile. I noticed myself getting really defensive, really quick. Why did I feel the need to update my twitter status every few hours? Why would anyone want to read the stuff I write here?

It was an interesting question, though. For me, the blogs give me a place to stretch out my ideas and sometimes have an audience for them. Have you ever noticed how hard it is to have a serious conversation with anyone lately? None of us have the attention span to listen to someone else long enough to find out what they're thinking about, or what their daydreams are, or why they are frustrated with their favorite politician. Sad but true, it seems like people (me included) can only tolerate about a minute of serious conversation before there is the desperate need to insert a joke to lighten things up.

I try not to be boring when I blog but if I am, people can just skip ahead to the next thing in their RSS reader or click on a link. It doesn't seem as deadly as being boring in conversation. I also have more time to wind through my thoughts and figure out what I really mean, why something really bothers me, why I'm really feeling so happy.

When I was a teenager, I kept a journal, and felt really seriously hurt and angry when my father confronted me about something in there. I had actually never considered that someone might read it. I thought that my right to privacy was so sacred that it couldn't be questioned, but he thought that he had the right to read my journal and my mail and anything else he wanted if he was concerned about me and wanted to find out what was up. I understand why he did it, now, but I still would like to think I wouldn't do that to my daughter, if I had one. I wouldn't have ever started journaling if I had realized that what I was doing was creating a public record of my most private thoughts. I have never wanted to keep a journal since then, because I don't want someone somewhere to read it and misunderstand.

This is different because I know there is an audience, and I write with the understanding that these thoughts will be read. I like it when someone takes the time to comment (unless it's someone selling diet pills) and it's interesting to see which posts get reactions and which ones don't.

I do find blogs and twitter useful -- it's interesting to see what people share and I feel very connected to the people whose tweets and posts I read, sometimes more than to friends and family in real life. I'm still not sure I can make my friend understand what this stuff is all about, but at least I know why I bother with it, even if he doesn't.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Home improvement projects

I agree with Jennette, it is ridiculous that we've engineered all the physical work out of our lives and then have to spend time at an indoor facility picking things up and putting them back down again and/or running and biking to nowhere. It seems like such a waste. I even had a fantasy about a gym that would be able to hook all of those machines up to turbines and generate some electricity, but it's probably too impractical to ever work. It's a nice thought, though.

Being a homeowner helps a little, because there are always projects you could do, even if you really don't want to. Today, according to my little calorie counting program Lose It!, I burned around 500 calories spending a few hours scratching loose grout out of the shower stall. We also put up curtain rods earlier in the week, which probably did not burn significant calories but did make our bedroom darker at night so I can sleep. I actually like physical work because I can see what I've accomplished and it feels so good when I stop. My husband usually gets cranky when we have to spend time on a project like this, but today he was fine so I really had a good time, and enjoyed going out for a beer and some barbecued chicken knowing I could "afford" it, not only because of calories burned doing the physical work (the estimate seemed high to me) but because it kept me too busy to eat. I think I need to tackle some of the other cleaning/organizing projects I've been putting off while I'm on break.

I also got out for a run today with my husband during a break in the cleaning action. I try to avoid the treadmill at all costs because it's so incredibly dull. Whenever it's so terrible outside that I get stuck running indoors, I have to make up little games for myself to keep my mind occupied. I'll run at a certain speed for x minutes, then bump it up by 0.1 of a mile per hour every 3o seconds, then hold it steady when I get to y speed, then start dropping things back down again. I have lots of cold weather running gear so that I can avoid that little routine as much as I can.

Today it was sunny and warm (for Ohio in the winter) but there was ice everywhere. I had to run on the bike path, which is cleared, instead of the nice dirt trails I prefer. I was planning a 30-minute run but after 25 minutes decided to call it quits. Five minutes doesn't make a lot of difference, unless you're running and have no energy for it.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

After-Christmas bargains

Like most people, my family cut back for Christmas. I decided to go see if I could find some of the things Santa forgot to bring me after Christmas. I still had gift cards for my birthday and had some rewards certificates burning a hole in my pocket.

I got some nice things. At Ann Taylor I bought the sweater pictured here for $39.99 and a pair of jeans for half price, and had a coupon for 20% off and a $50 gift card. That meant I was only out about $29 out of pocket. I got a very soft v-neck, a black cashmere winter hat, and a cobalt blue long-sleeved T at the Gap. I had $30 in rewards certificates so that was only abotu another $20 from me. My big splurge was a brown cashmere shawl-neck sweater at Macy's, which was still $40 even after my $10 off coupon and the cost of a returned item.

That's going to be it for me shopping for awhile. I am still feeling nervous about my long-term job prospects and have had to buy some items for the house and also went on a little book-and-calendar splurge.

I'm not exactly making New Year's resolutions this year in the traditional sense, but my husband wants us each to spend 30 minutes a day on housecleaning, which seems like a fair bargain to make. One of the books I bought was The Joy of Appreciative Living, which promises to help readers start seeing their lives more positively and, consequently, start to find more joy in their lives. I want to do the exercises in this book, which take 5-15 minutes per day and should be both easy and rewarding. You can sign up for free to have the exercises emailed to you each day if you're interested. There are three exercises: Two daily, and one weekly. The daily exercises ask you to list three things you're grateful for and take a moment to really feel appreciation for them, as well as to list one thing you can do that day to increase your joy. The weekly exercise is a "visioning" exercise that asks you to imagine and describe your joy-filled life. I like the idea of working on joy and appreciation instead of the usual resolution-y things like weight loss, getting organized, etc. I think that feeling happier would also help move me in the direction of these goals anyway.

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday and are looking forward to an exciting new year. I am really very grateful for all of the people who read my posts and those who comment on them, because this blog has helped get me into a regular writing habit that I think helped me finish my dissertation. Maybe it will lead me to some other good things too.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Re-reading Oprah's January article

A few weeks ago, the cover story of the January 2009 Oprah inspired a flurry of posts in the blog world. Here are links to the first and the follow-up by Elastic Waist and the one Anne wrote for AFG. The focus of most of these was on the pull quotes, like "I'm mad at myself. I'm embarassed. I can't believe that after all of these yearss, I'm still talking about my weight," and "Standing between Tina Turner and Cher, I felt like a fat cow. I wanted to disappear." Anne came out and said what a lot of people were thinking, I think: "But honestly, Oprah. It makes me mad that you are apologizing for being me. You have nothing to apologize for -- and neither do I." What made people angry and set off a firestorm of comments on these posts was applying the transative property to the story: If A=B and B=C than A=C... The reader thinks, "If I weigh 200 pounds and Oprah weighs 200 pounds and Oprah thinks she's a fat cow, then that means that Oprah thinks I am a fat cow too." Oprah, who never even met this reader, is judging her and calling her names. That bitch!

The actual article itself is much less incendiary than the pull quotes, in fact, it seemed downright dull the first time I read it. But rereading it today, I saw this quote, which wouldn't sell ads or magazines so it didn't make the headlines:
What I've learned this year is that my weight issue isn't about eating less or working out harder, or even about a malfunctioning thyroid. It's about my life being out of balance, with too much work and not enough play, not enough time to calm down. I let the well run dry. . . Falling off the wagon isn't a weight issue; it's a love issue.
The other thing that is problematic (for many of us) is believing that there is a wagon and that you're either on or off. Oprah responded to her thyroid problems by giving up: She was having trouble maintaining her washboard abs and her marathon training schedule so she felt defeated. I know I compare my current tired self to the me who used to get up at 5 a.m. to take swim classes so I could do a triathlon and think, "Where did that girl go?"

I took a walk in the park today after two days of too much food, too much noise, and not enough sleep. I had Jillian on the iPod for company, and she was talking about how real change only happens when we can let go of the familiar and slip into an unknown, uncomfortable space. Even if we're not happy with the way things are, it's often hard to let go of the grudges and defense mechanisms and habits that we know. Taking that kind of risk is the only thing that leads to change. Oprah did this when she lost weight the first time, I did this when I signed up for my first triathlon and started training.

The thing that we both forgot, that most of us don't realize, is that we can't just grab onto the new set of circumstances and hold on for dear life. We have to keep moving forward, keep letting go, keep rolling with new circumstances. That's why weight maintenance is so hard, I think. It's easier to take risks to move toward a big exciting goal and an imagined better life. It's harder to keep living in the present when you realize it's not just one big shining moment where you feel great all the time. You can't "conquer this battle once and for all," you can just keep living and working through your new stuff.

I was thinking about the whole New Year's Resolution fad and how it's all about wanting to start fresh on a clean sheet of paper. That kind of freshness, as we all know, rarely lasts through the first weekend. Now that Christmas is over, I'd like to give myself the gift of a week of already working toward the things I want before the new year gets here. I'm not getting back on the wagon, though: I'm going on foot this time.

Monday, December 22, 2008

A second look at Ruby

Despite my initial annoyed review of "Ruby," I'm still watching the show. It was interesting because in last night's episode, her scary-fit trainer started voicing some of the same concerns that I had about Ruby's meal plan, namely that it's a temporary solution and she's giving over all of her power to other people. Of course, her trainer just wanted Ruby to hand her power over to him so that he could put her on a low-carb, high-protein diet.

I think Ruby is beautiful and even though she has a flair for drama, she's charming and has a great sense of humor. It's more fun to watch the show as you see Ruby taking her power back from other people. Sure, she has a team of people whose job it is to tell her what to do: a fitness trainer, a nutritionist, an obesity expert, and a psychologist (or psychiatrist). But in last night's episode she got frustrated with all the conflicting advice she was getting from them and arranged a "Summit" to get them all together in one room so she could get a more consistent message. I was impressed that she stood up for what she wanted and needed.

I have to say, I hadn't been impressed with the shrink until this episode, but he really stood up for Ruby and brought everyone else in line. My favorite moment was when he looked at the fitness trainer's associate (who seems to have invited herself along to the meeting), interrupted her tearful "share" about how she used to be overweight too and understands, and said, "This isn't about you right now. It's about Ruby."

If you're not watching the show, it's easy to catch up because the Style network seems to rerun every episode every single day. It's their biggest hit the network has ever had, which is funny, because Style is all about fashion, and we know how much the fashion industry sympathizes with the overweight. Ha.

Ruby also has message boards and a blog with videos like this one in case you can't get enough of Ruby from just watching the show.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Onion rings are not a Superfood

I have had a bad headache since this afternoon -- it's just now starting to let up. Not sure how Jennette lives every day with one. I took some Naproxen (generic version of Aleve) and took it easy and tried not to think about it. That seems to have helped.

Any of a number of things -- or a combination of them -- could have triggered this headache today. I did a half-hour run, but it was blisteringly cold outside, so I ran on the treadmill. The treadmill is so dull that I tend to play with faster intervals just to keep from boring myself to death. So the extra intensity could have been responsible.

I also visited my parents. They are both smokers and for a while, they had stopped smoking in the house. With the frigid weather, though, I am not surprised that they brought the smoke back in again. I had been having a lot of headaches on Sundays, the day I normally visit them, and then had stopped for a while. Last week and this week, I felt terrible. I remember having a lot of headaches as a kid, too. I think that cigarette smoke is a headache trigger for me, but I can't really say anything, since it's their house. I am hoping against hope that they air it out before people are there for the holidays. I also think that because I live in a 1920s house, I'm used to getting some fresh air even with all the windows closed. My parents' house is not quite as old as I am.

I was already feeling crummy when we went out. I had a soda and picked at some fries and onion rings, thinking that eating something might make me feel better. The grease and sugar, amazingly enough, did not help at all.

I'm feeling better but I know I have to take better care of myself than this. I don't plan to eat anything else today. Maybe a cup of tea would help.

Most of the blogs I follow have slowed down for the holidays, so I have been checking out the recommendations for me in Google Reader. (One of the blogs they recommend every time is "Perfect in Our Imperfections," because it seems like something I might like. It's nice to see that 129 people subscribe to my blog in Google Reader alone.) One I checked out was Eat, Live, Run. I don't know that I'd subscribe to it because it's mostly pictures of the food the writer, Jenna, eats, but she is thin and beautiful and eats great-looking food. I've read plenty of diet blogs where the writer photographs her food, but it's always so dull, mostly the same boring things every day. At least Jenna seems to mix it up a little and she seems to enjoy what she eats.

Sorry, I didn't have my digital camera with me, or I could have taken a snapshot of my onion rings. Or maybe I'm not sorry, because I don't think I would want to look at them right now.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The story that's not a story: Biggest Loser regains

Weetabix reported on weight regains among former contestants on "The Biggest Loser." She notes that Ryan from Season 1 has gained most of his weight back, and many other contestants have put on 30 or 40 pounds from their finale weights. To her, this suggests that the show hasn't helped the contestants:

does it speak to the fact that perhaps a crash diet and exercising for six hours a day to drop weight at alarming rates just might not be a good idea for your metabolism?
I see it differently. I looked at the slide show for myself and I think that at least among the people featured, the results were probably similar, or maybe even better, than your average successful dieter two years after goal. One person had gained almost all of it back, a few had regained significant amounts, and most had regained 20-30 pounds. A few had stayed pretty close to their finale weights. I was going to comment on the site and then I realized I had too much to say for just a comment.

"The Biggest Loser" is a television show, and dramatic results are the name of the game. Of course those kinds of results are unrealistic for people to maintain in their real lives, especially if they worked their way down to a really low number in the hopes of winning the big prize at the finale. If you read Jillian Michaels's book Making the Cut, you will see a lot of tricks for shredding out the last bit of water weight for a special event or big photo shoot. Jillian herself has said on her podcast that between seasons, she likes to relax a little, eat some chocolate, gain a few pounds, and then get shredded again for the show. To me, it's actually comforting to think that even Jillian doesn't always look like Jillian.

Besides that fact that the dramatic results are good TV, there is also an interesting theory behind them that I think deserves some thought:

Although most obesity doctors recommend losing weight slowly with moderate calorie reduction and moderate exercise, the physician and wildly telegenic trainers involved with the show are going about it differently. They think that their extreme, exercise-based diet plan may prove superior to slow-but-steady garden-variety diets at keeping weight off.

"Most of these people had never been told that they could go out and get aggressive with exercise," says the show's physician, Dr. Robert Huizenga, who works as an internist and sports physician in Beverly Hills, Calif. . . The goal is to get them close to a normal weight in a short period of time, while preserving as much muscle as possible. Because muscle burns more calories than fat, Huizenga thinks the contestants will burn more calories at their new goal weight than they would have following a traditional diet - and thus be better positioned to keep the weight off.

There is also the advantage that contestants get a chance to see how much different their lives can really be from what they have accepted for themselves. Many contestants are able to go off prescription medications for high blood pressure, prediabetes, and other serious health issues after just a week or two on the ranch. Some find they love physical challenges and go home to do marathons, triathlons, and cross-country bike rides. Sure, they don't keep off every pound that they lost in the hopes of winning thousands of dollars, but most have a dramatically different life after the show than they did before it. If the contestants lost the widely-accepted 1-2 pounds a week, and went home 25 pounds thinner, so from 355 to 330, would that really make a big difference in their lives? Enough to keep them motivated continue with exercise and healthy eating?

I don't think they have to get to look like fitness models to have a better quality of life than they did at 300+ pounds. I think Weetabix is right when she says, "without excessive fitness regimes and severely restricted caloric intakes, some people are just going to be heavier than others," I just don't agree, like she seems to, that it's better not to try to lose weight at all if you aren't going to keep every single pound of it off.

I speak from personal experience here. I've gained back about 20 pounds of the 60+ I lost. These aren't in the same league as "The Biggest Loser" contestants, but still, I definitely feel better now, at a fit but overweight 38, than I did at 25 when I was at my highest weight and very sedentary. I know I felt even better 20 pounds lighter, and having been there once at least lets me know it's possible. I think that it would have been easy to tell myself I would never succeed and not even start. I'm really glad I was willing to try to fail instead.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Super day

Frances sent me a book on SuperFoods and for the last few days, I've been trying to work more and more of them into my diet. It's fun and a new thing to focus on besides just calories. I tried some new things, like putting some frozen blueberries in my yogurt and adding flax meal to my breakfast toast. Unfortunately, I also had a lot of calories, about 2600. Even with a half-hour run, I need to work on bringing those down, because according to my little calorie counting program, that is a maintenance level and not a weight-loss level. Here's what a superfoods-heavy day looked like today. SuperFoods (or sidekicks) are in bold text:

2 slices wholegrain bread, toasted with
2 tablespoons homemade peanut butter
2 teaspoons ground flaxseeds
1/2 banana
12 oz. coffee with 1 1/2 tablespoons half-and-half and a dash of cinnamon

Post-run snack:
8 oz. greek yogurt
1/2 c. frozen blueberries, microwaved for 1 minute
1/2 c. rolled oats

1 c. egg drop soup
1 mini spring roll
3/4 c. kung pao chicken
3/4 c. brown rice
green tea
fortune cookie

2 glasses of white wine
8 wholegrain crackers
1 oz. cheddar cheese
1/2 apple
3 Dove dark chocolate Promises

6 oz. turkey breast, with some skin
3/4 c. mashed potatoes
1/2 c. celery sticks

I see some things to work on here, besides bringing the portions down and getting rid of the alcohol. There weren't a lot of veggies in there. I had the lunch at the Chinese restaurant already planned, but I could have made a better choice. I was hoping for some good vegetables in the Kung Pao chicken, but they were boring ones like water chestnuts, carrots and cucumbers. We had the snack while waiting for the turkey breast to finish cooking, so if I had planned things better, I might have been able to skip it.

Still, healthy stuff, mostly, and all delicious. I'm going to keep working on this and see if I can get Mary Lou to give me some better news.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Missed the finale of "The Biggest Loser"

We have a DVR and it is set to record all new episodes of "The Biggest Loser," but it didn't record last night's show. My only guess was that the name was different enough that the DVR didn't see it as the same show. I watched some of the highlight clips. It was good to see everyone looking so great, and of course I was happy that Michelle won. I was also happy that they let Jillian wear slacks this time. She always looked so uncomfortable when they made her wear a dress. I think the producers realize that Jillian is the reason for the show's popularity, and aren't in much of a position to make her wear skirts, shill for Jello, or do anything else she doesn't want to do.

As much as I didn't like Vicky's manipulative behavior, I think the people sending her hate mail should really get a life. It's a television show.

It looks like a new season is starting soon. Soon, NBC will be nothing but "The Biggest Loser" and "Law and Order."

No drama, please!

Did you miss me? I put up my little "Best of Jen" post last week because I knew I wouldn't be around much. I told myself I was not allowed to blog until I turned my grades in. This was the first time I taught this particular class and I had too many assignments due at the end of the term. That's the thing that students don't realize: The more work I make for them, the more work I make for me. I'm making some changes for next term.

I am still waiting for some development in my future work status and I've been making myself a little crazy worrying about it. There is a part of me that is rational and sane and a part of me that is screaming inside my head in fear. My husband has a good job but we need my income to pay the bills, and we've just been getting by on the money I'm making now -- there's no way to get ahead. And then there is Christmas, and the screen door is broken, and I accidentally washed a contact lens down the drain.... I go on and on like this, as if it does any good. I just have to trust things will be OK, while keeping an eye out for other opportunities.

I was listening to a Jillian Michaels podcast yesterday. One of her contestants was going through a tough time and he said, "I just want to win this battle within myself." She responded with, "What battle? There is no battle!" Basically, she was saying that casting yourself as the star of your own drama and losing perspective makes everything harder than it needs to be. It's just weight loss, it's not saving the world from evil.

Drama can be sort of exciting, and it can make us feel really important, and it has the added benefit of distracting us from taking action. I think it all comes down to acceptance. If we're still struggling with, "It's so unfair! I shouldn't be having this problem," then we can't really move ahead and actually work toward a solution.

I know several people who are living with serious illnesses. There are many people who are actually out of work and not just worrying that they might be. Everyone has problems. There's a Zen aphorism: "Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional." I'm going to have to learn to tolerate a little uncertainty without making a big production out of it.

In other news, Mary Lou says I'm still maintaining my weight. I've gotten to the point where I walk out of the room after I get the weight stat, cruelly ignoring her earnest advice. Poor thing.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Best of the old posts

Continuing the reflective trend from yesterday, I have gotten a couple of spam comments that prompted me look back at some older posts. Jennette has a page with links to her best entries, and that got me thinking: What were my all-time favorite posts? In no particular order, here are my top ten favorites:
  1. Where I've come from, where I'm going
  2. Fit and/or Fat?
  3. Do I really hate myself?
  4. The Potato Pancake Diet
  5. Stupid Weight Watchers tricks
  6. Meeting Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07
  7. Top ten diet tips from Jillian Michaels's podcasts
  8. Another look at Rethinking Thin
  9. Money worries
  10. Dressing for success
I also think I did some pretty good reviews of books, movies, television shows and products. Mostly, the posts I liked writing best don't just chronicle my own life, they use my experiences as a launching pad for a reflection on something larger than me and my own little problems. I find that is the kind of post I enjoy reading most on other people's blogs, too. Of course, sometimes it's nice just to catch up and find out how people are doing.

Things are getting quiet with the holidays coming up and everyone getting busier, but I'd like to see what other bloggers think are their top ten posts of all time -- if you do a post like this and would like to share, please link to it in the comments. Thanks!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Happy birthday to me

Originally uploaded by
I turn 38 today. I'm past the point where birthdays seem like a Big Fun Day and find that they feel more like a day of reckoning. The proximity of that number to 40 has me feeling like it's important to check in and think about what I want to have accomplished when I hit that next decade mark.

I've done a lot in my 38 years. I've gotten 3 degrees, had about 10 different job titles, gotten married, lived in 8 different residences, traveled to many U.S. states and 4 other countries. I've done 7 or 8 triathlons, 3 half marathons, and a few other races of varying lengths.

I'm pretty happy where I am right now. I have a wonderful husband and family. lots of friends real and virtual, and two oddball cats to love. I love my current job and the only sad note there is that I'm not 100% sure yet that I can keep it forever and ever. We live in a really wonderful house, even if we probably owe more on it than it's worth right now. Our family is close by and we have lots of restaurants and culture and fun things to do right nearby. We have enough money to pay our bills, eat regularly, have a little fun, and give some away to others who aren't as lucky.

So what else would I like to have done when I turn 40 (in 2010)? I would like to be out of debt. I would like to be fit and healthy and have reached a weight where I feel comfortable and happy with my body and know I can maintain it for the rest of my life. I would like to have written a publishable book and have at least a good lead on publishing it. I would like to have celebrated my 16th wedding anniversary and still be at least as happy in my marriage as I am now. I would like to have a couple more years of teaching in my current job under my belt and feel really confident about my work. I would like to have traveled to Europe again or at least have purchased plane tickets for an upcoming trip. I would like to have met with a financial advisor and figured out how to untangle all our different retirement accounts and have a good sense that we will be able to have the resources for a long, happy life. Most of all I would like to be happy with myself and my choices.

Thanks for reading. I'd love to hear your goals for the next decade in the comments.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Toughing it out

I have been finding it harder to get outside to run, or even haul myself to the gym for workouts with the longer dark hours and the cold. Things have gotten busy with the end of the term coming up, so that's also a good excuse when the cold and dark one starts to wear thin.

Today it was 22 degrees and I was all dressed to go to the gym. As I was getting into the car, I realized that it wasn't that bad, really. I went back in, got my winter running gear on, and went out to the park for a run. The air was perfectly still, so even though it was cold it didn't feel that bad. I also liked having the park mostly to myself, with snow and leaves crunching underfoot. I saw some squirrels and one deer who just looked up at me and kept munching. Toward the end of my run I decided to sprint out the last 40 seconds or so. It felt good to really push myself.

I'm still watching "Ruby" and last night something was said about a dream that she had but didn't really allow herself to think about, because she knew she couldn't really do it with the extra weight. It gave me something to think about: How many things do we not even dare to want because we think we'd fail?

I know I've been holding off on setting any big race goals for next year because I don't want to be disappointed if I am not able to train as hard as I'd like. And I've also been sort of halfheartedly bumping along with the weight loss efforts because I don't want to set myself up for failure. I'm not saying I should be beating myself up for not achieving those things, but wouldn't it be OK to let myself want it? Maybe if I thought more about what I really wanted, it might help motivate me to try for some of those goals. Just like the run, maybe some of those things would be easier once I got started than they seem just thinking about them.

I'm going to let myself think about it for a while, but I think it's time to set some serious goals again. Goals that will push me a little, and make me happier as I work toward them.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Working it

I went to a work-related holiday party today. The food was fantastic and everyone was nice. I got several compliments on a skirt I bought a few months ago (for $5, on final clearance at Ann Taylor) and wore for the first time today. I wore it with knee-high boots and tights, a bright silky blouse and a velvet jacket. I felt pretty confident about how I looked, which is nice, because I tend to get freaked out when I have to dress up for a special event. I even used a curling iron, which shows that I really was making an effort. I have a tiny blister on my thumb to prove it.

I got some compliments from various people on the job I'm doing. I was touched but a little embarrassed. I blushed, I think. I didn't want to look like I was trying to promote myself, though I know I have to do that, since I still am not in a permanent, full-time position. It's nice to get good feedback, though, and I appreciate that people think I'm doing a good job.

I just hope it's good enough. I really want that bike. :)

Saturday, December 06, 2008

The call of the WW

Ah, Weight Watchers. Somehow I feel I'll always carry a torch for you somewhere in my heart. As soon as I heard there was a new plan I thought, "Oooh, new materials! New rules!" I have been reading some of the early blog posts about it and it seems reasonable, sensible. There's a list of Filling Foods! I could go to a meeting just to get this list, I thought.

Then I thought, what? I frequent a Pilates and yoga studio that is right next door to a Weight Watchers center, and just last weekend I was watching the people filing in and telling my friend, "I'm so glad we're going to a yoga class and not a Weight Watchers meeting. I don't want to be obedient anymore." Why do I need someone else to tell me what foods are filling? I can see for myself what foods keep me satisfied for the longest amount of time. I can count calories if I want to manage my energy equation, because even Weight Watchers says, "After years of research, the answer to lasting weight loss continues to be the same. You must burn more calories than you take in; in other words, eat fewer calories and exercise more." So no magic. I would hope by this point I'm beyond magic, but there's always the allure of "maybe this will be the thing that works." I don't need someone to weigh me in to keep me accountable, I have Mary Lou (I'm starting to wish that platform had a "skip the advice and just tell me what I weigh" button, btw).

I'm not trashing the plan. I'm very glad I did Weight Watchers because I did learn a lot of things from it at first, not the least of which was I could lose a significant amount of weight if I just stuck with it. I'll be the first to admit the program, through each change I've experienced, has always worked when I did it, but I'm not sure I'd learn a whole lot from yet another plan. I'm even going to cancel my site membership -- not because I don't like it, but because I am not using it enough to justify the cost.

For now, I'd rather spend my time and money on Pilates Reformer classes. They are kicking my butt, but in a way that makes me suspect it will be a much tighter, more toned butt in a few weeks. They work on all the areas that computing and commuting tend to make weak: Shoulders, abs, butt, thighs. I am hoping that this will build a strong foundation so that I can really launch into some more intense cardio: Longer runs, Spinning classes, swimming.

If I get the job I want for next year, and we can manage to get caught up financially, I would love to help stimulate the economy by buying myself a better bike. My current one doesn't fit right and I can never ride comfortably. I tried one of these at a race once and it fit me like a dream. The price tag is YIKES, but a girl can dream...

Friday, December 05, 2008

Back to thinking about weight loss

With my 38th birthday coming up next week, I have been thinking more and more about what I really want, and one of those things is to drop some of this excess weight. If I'm really honest with myself, I would feel a lot more comfortable with my body if I could lose even ten pounds. I don't think I look terrible, but getting dressed still seems like such an effort. I spent some time recently with someone who is supposedly into "Fat Acceptance" but makes mean jokes about her weight that make me uncomfortable. It reminded me that I don't want to be that person. I'd rather gradually work on the change I want to make than live in angry denial.

I'm still playing with my weight platform. I was 1/2 pound below my starting weight today. As I said before, stepping on this thing is somehow less scary than The Scale, so I've been experimenting with it a little. A lot of the weigh-in rituals have proven pretty useless. The scale is accurate to half a pound. Before a trip to the bathroom and after, no difference. Clothes, mostly no difference. Before a run or after, no difference. It kills me to think of all the unnecessary stress I put myself through with Weight Watchers weigh-ins worrying about this stuff. I think that being at home and not having the possibility of a snotty receptionist also makes things easier. Since I'm weighing daily, I figure the little ups and downs from food choices and water retention will sort themselves out eventually if I focus on the things that make a real difference -- how much I eat and how often I exercise.

I've also been playing with "Lose It!" an application for the iPhone/iPod Touch that counts calories for food and exercise. I really like it. It's a nice, simple application with a great interface. It's free for now, so if you have an iPhone and think you might want it, download it. There are some weird quirks -- for example, sexual activity and tobagganing are on the exercise list but yoga isn't. Overall, though, it's a great program. The problem with FitDay and other computer applications was that I don't carry my computer around with me. I do, however, carry my Touch with me just about everywhere I go. This program doesn't do anything but count calories and record weight. I'm not going nuts if I'm over my calorie target but it does help me see what I'm doing and where there's room for improvement.

For exercise, I've been running 20-30 minutes 3 days a week, doing the Pilates Reformer one day a week, an advanced yoga class another day, and walking in between. After the holidays, I want to get back into a Spinning class, but signing up now seems like a waste. I also want to see if I can swim at least one day a week. I'm trying to keep things reasonable right now because I have a lot of work at the end of the semester, and there are a lot of things going on around the holidays that make it tough to stick with a routine that's too structured.

Speaking of structure, I was briefly tempted to go back to Weight Watchers next week to see what this rumored new program is all about. Then I decided I'd just watch the weight loss blogs and see what people think of it. I'm not sure I need or want a Program with a capital "P" right now. I think I'm doing pretty well on my own with my toys.

By the way, I know I haven't blogged about "The Biggest Loser" in a couple of weeks, mostly because I've been frustrated at how it's going. All I can do at this point is root for Michelle. I thought the makeovers were fun to watch, but wondered if the contestants still did their own makeup. Vicky had a weirdly pale face and red lipstick, which made her look a little clownish. I can't imagine a professional would have put that look together. Be sure to watch next week, because apparently we get to vote on one of the contestants for the final three.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

First time I've heard the name "Mary Lou Retton" since her Wheaties days

Like many other , I was asked to try out the Mary Lou's Weigh platform, which is an alternative to the bathroom scale. The twist is that instead of a digital or dial readout, the platform talks to you in Mary Lou Retton's voice. It also doesn't tell you your actual weight, it tells you the difference between your current and starting weight. (For the geeks out there, my husband the math man, says, "It's a vector scale. It measures difference and magnitude." I am a geek, because I understood that.) It also gives a little daily snippet of advice.

I was skeptical of the idea that it would really be less "overwhelming or de-motivating" to hear how much my weight was changing than to see the actual number on the scale, but was surprised to find that it was actually a lot easier to step on the platform than a typical bathroom scale. I got mine right before Thanksgiving. My numbers have been -2.5, -1.5, -1.5, -1, -1, and 0 so far. I also tested it while holding various heavy objects. When I "gained" three or four pounds, I got a message not to give up. When I held my ten-pound cat, I got an error. This is intentional. There is a limit of a 10 pound change per day, so that if your dog or child steps on it, you will not lose your data.

I am very nearsighted, so one really nice and unexpected feature of the platform is that I don't need to put on my contact lenses or glasses to use it. I usually get on while my husband is in the shower so he doesn't have to listen to my little pep talk from Mary Lou. Even on the lowest volume setting, it is still pretty loud. That might be a problem if you're shy about others knowing how you're doing on your weight-loss program.

The platform has a slot for alternate advice cartridges (my contact says there are a few currently in development). It would be nice if they develop a maintenance cartridge, for those who don't want to lose weight but want to keep from gaining too much. There are also people who are trying to gain weight in a healthy way -- the platform could be useful for them if there was an appropriate cartridge. It would be nice to be able to change things up and have a different voice, too. Mary Lou Retton can be a bit much first thing in the morning. As much as I'd love an inspirational quote of the day from Jillian Michaels, or a recommendation from Stephen Colbert to try the new weight-loss products from Prescott Pharmaceuticals, I doubt that those cartridges would be profitable enough to be practical.

The advice is supposed to be one of the selling points of the platform, but it's mostly run-of-the mill stuff like shopping with a list and getting extra exercise when you're feeling blue. I don't think that it is going to be anything that long-time dieters will find surprising. I did like, however, the applause when I lost weight, and I liked the overall positive message of the website and the materials that came with the platform.

For those who are interested in trying the platform out and didn't win one from Roni's Weigh, I was offered a discount for the readers of my blog.
I'd give away mine... but I like it too much. Sorry! If you use the code perfblog at checkout, you can get one at a promotional rate of $39.99 (a 50% discount). I will be interested to hear what you think.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Ruby, Tim Gunn, and weird dreams

Last night, I was home alone, a rare event that I celebrated by making a big bowl of air-popped popcorn and watching a bunch of cheesy reality television shows that my husband might not be as enthusiastic to see as I was. After Jennette's review of "Ruby" on the Style network, I had watched the introduction online and gotten caught up in Ruby's story. Last night I watched two more episodes of the show. In one, Ruby gets frustrated with eating her prepackaged meals while her friends eat pizza in front of her. In another, a self-centered little man comes back from Ruby's past after she has lost the first fifty pounds and says she needs to "give him the chance she never gave him" to take charge of her fitness routine and dangles the promise of marriage in front of her if she loses the weight.

I have to say that after watching these three episodes, I feel very frustrated with Ruby's friends and her doctors. Her "obesity expert" doesn't have any chairs in his waiting room that are large enough for a patient Ruby's size. Her doctors put her on a prepackaged meal plan and tell her that if she goes off her diet, she will die. Her friends consistently seem to eat huge helpings of greasy food in front of her while Ruby is left with her diet food. Georgia, who seems to be the best of the bunch, does not have a chair Ruby can use in her dining room, even though meals together as a group seem to be a regular ritual. This means that each week, Ruby has to sit alone in the living room while everyone else sits at the table. Her friends combine their stunning lack of empathy with a tendency to lecture her through mouthfuls of pizza. Though Ruby acts childish at times, I don't think that a grown woman should be treated like a child by her doctors and friends. I would have liked to see Ruby's routine set up in a way that would empower her. Instead, she has a bunch of rules that she has to follow "or die." She seems to handle it all with good humor, which is the only reason the show is at all watchable.

Our DVR also had several unwatched episodes of so I thought I'd catch up on my fashion tips. The DVR makes watching reality television so much more pleasant. You can skim through the dozens of commercials and watch a half-hour show in twenty minutes or less. I watched Tim and Greta transform a really tall, beautiful girl and a pretty petite woman with more than 280 items of clothing in her closet. None of them had any figure flaws that seemed familiar to me. Being too tall and thin is not a figure problem I have, nor is having so many gorgeous clothes that I don't know what I have, let alone what to wear. I still enjoyed myself thoroughly watching these women find more confident in themselves and realize how beautiful they are.

I had weirdly vivid dreams which, like many of my dreams, start to vaporize when I try to remember them in detail. I woke up with the sense that part of the reason that I always seem to regain the weight when I get to my goal is because I don't know how to dress a thinner body. I always felt pressure wear things that were too skimpy and revealing, which made me feel awkward and self-conscious. It's as if I got the body I had when I was a teenager, so I started acting like a teenager again. When I regained the weight, I felt less conspicious so, even though I hated it, somehow more comfortable. If I ever get back there again, I'm going to take Tim's list of essentials and dress like a sensible person. Then I'm going to walk like the tall woman did: Head high, shoulders back, feeling confident. Maybe I'll even start that last part now.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Book review: Two Weeks Under

Full disclosure: This book was sent to me by a publicist to review. At first, when I read the concept, I was turned off. Then I read a sample chapter and got hooked by the story, so I agreed to accept a sample copy and review the book if I liked it.

This book starts with an idea that many women have had: What if you could go to sleep and wake up twenty pounds thinner? The plot of Two Weeks Under centers around lush, otherworldly Monarch Spa and Gym, which offers a "medically induced coma diet" in addition to a dizzying array of gourmet diet foods, health products, exercise options, and plastic surgery. Though the primary target audience is women who are at least 60 pounds overweight, Monarch also markets the "vanity coma" to average-sized women who want to trim down to model-like proportions.

The book is a thriller set in a near-future version of New York City, where a string of suicides among single professional women in Manhattan is attributed to nervous exhaustion and workaholism. Main character Elana Diamond finds out that the latest suicide is someone close to her and tries to figure out what happened. In the midst of this quest, she is also struggling to save her high-powered job at a marketing agency where her main rival is also her ex-fiancé. When Elana hears about Monarch, she decides that a contract with such a huge client is just what she needs to wow her boss and keep her job safe.

The day after the book arrived, I thought I'd sit down and read just a few pages. Four hours later, I was reading as fast as I could as if Elana was counting on me to help her find out the truth before it's too late. I was reminded of the Da Vinci Code, because even as my rational mind acknowledged that some things in the book seemed implausible to the point of being ridiculous, I was totally wrapped up in the plot and the world the author had created for me. The descriptions of Monarch are especially rich and vivid, and the characters are compelling (even the ones with hokey, romance-novelly names like Libra Hermes).

The one thing that marred the book a little for me was that I wasn't sure how we were supposed to take it when two women, both around 5'6" and 145 pounds, feel "disgusted" with their weight. Were we supposed to see this as part of the general craziness or were we supposed to agree with them? I am the same height and would feel skinny at 145, though maybe I wouldn't if I lived in Manhattan.
Author Rivka Tadjer's description of her own size and eating habits on her blog made me wonder. The descriptions of obese women, defined as at least 60 pounds overweight -- since ideal weight for 5'6" seems to be 125 in this book, they could weigh around 185 -- as having "chins wobbling" and "labored breathing" also makes me wonder. I am not sure if these opinions belonged to the narrator or the author, though I'd like to give Tadjer the benefit of the doubt. Other characters seem to find these women compelling at their "disgusting" weight and later Elana seems to have a different perspective on things.

For me, questions aside, the book was worth reading because through the crazy concept of the "vanity coma," Tadjer helps us to see the insanity in our agonies over the last twenty pounds and the common practice where women over 35 feel they should be able to have the bodies of the 17-year-olds who market products to them. I felt a little more empowered and happy with my own perfectly imperfect body after I finished reading. Besides, the book made my heart race enough that I'm sure I burned a few extra calories.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Quick Biggest Loser post

I can't believe the way the elimination turned out. I have been really unhappy with the continued gameplay by all of Bob's team members. Each season he seems to allow people to go further and further off the deep end. I'm impressed with Jillian and Black Team members Michelle, Reneé, and Colleen for continuing to show strength and sanity in a crazy environment. Ed is the only member of the Blue Team who seems to have a sense of perspective.

I have a couple of reviews coming up soon: Another book and a product that I'll be testing.

Friday, November 14, 2008

More on anger and recovery

I hadn't weighed myself for a couple of weeks after deciding to Not-Diet. It had given me the weird effect of not quite knowing where I stood, which suggests that I was relying much too much on the scale as a validation. It also gave me the weird sensation of feeling thinner, fatter, fatter, thinner, the same, depending on my mood. I finally weighed myself yesterday, fully clothed after breakfast, to see where I stood. Of course I had to then get a "real" weight this morning before breakfast. I've stayed right about the same, despite sharing the house with a ridiculous amount of Halloween candy and some testing of myself to see if I'm really "allowed" to have what I want. I think that once I stop testing and start really living the way I want to, I will have less need to eat half a stack of crackers just to prove I can. That is when I would expect to see myself settle in at whatever weight is really normal for me. It's hard to trust the process but I'm working on it.

This month's Yoga Journal has an article about "Uncovering Your True Self." The article opens with a parable about a sculptor who carves beautiful elephants out of marble. To do this, he tells an admirer, he lives with the raw stone for a while, then starts to see the living elephant in the rock. "How he yearns to be out! How he wants to live! It seems so clear now, for I know the thing I must do: With an utter singleness of purpose, I must chip away every last bit of stone that is not elephant. What then remains will be, must be, elephant." Author Eknath Easwaran suggested that we can do the same thing with our true self, that by really seeing the person we want to become, we can start to chip away the things that aren't compatible with that vision.

In a recent podcast, Jillian Michaels answered an email from a mother who was frustrated and worried about her son, who was overweight and seemed to be eating constantly. She had tried bargaining with him, yelling at him, showing him TLC specials about people who were too obese to leave their homes. She was at her wit's end and didn't know what to do. Jillian could understand her frustration but also was obviously feeling pain and empathy for the boy. All of this was only sending the boy the message, Jillian said, that his mother didn't love him for who he was. Jillian asked the mother to stop trying to scare her child and start focusing on the positive. The mother needed to stop harassing her son and focus on giving him positive role models, starting with setting the example herself. She should also find out what her son really wanted to do: Play an instrument, play sports, whatever. Instead of focusing on what she didn't want him to become, she could help him be the person he wanted to be.

Though the idea is simple, none of this is easy. One thing that's the hardest to do is to let go of the grudges and grievances and things that I've been blaming for not only the excess weight, but my neuroses and assorted character flaws. There's a difference between looking for the hidden reasons we do things and clinging to them as some sort of badge of honor and excuse. As Easwaran said in the Yoga Journal article, "Can you imagine a sculptor scurrying to pick up the slivers that fall from his chisel, hoarding them, trasuring them, ignoring the statue altogether?" I've heard that negative comments have five times the impact of positive ones. Everyone my life, no matter how wonderful, is going to say something once in a while that hurts me. I can hoard up those slights or I can take an adult role and start moving toward my true self, and remember that I've also been the one who inadvertently (or even some terrible times, on purpose) hurt someone I cared about. The goal shouldn't be to keep score in some kind of dramatic no-holds-barred cage match, but to work on becoming the person I want to be and letting the unwanted chips fall.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Biggest Loser and the No Asshole Rule

I don't want to give way too much about last night's show, but let me just say that I have been rooting against Vicky since the beginning of the show, and last night showed just how horrible she and her Mean Girl sidekick Heba can be. They need someone to pick on to keep their Terrible Twosome dynamic going, and from previews of next week's show, it is obvious who their next victim will be.

As usual on "The Biggest Loser," there are twists to the game whenever the contestants think they know how things are going to play out. Everyone is on their own now, and the eliminated players came back to have a shot at winning a place back on the ranch. Of course, drama ensued. I think that Phil played right into the hands of his tormentors by trying to be all macho and self-righteous. I don't know whether he did anything to deserve the nasty treatment he got on the show, but I know from junior high that you can't reason with Mean Girls.

I really admired the players who tried to rise above the drama and focus on their weight loss. I do think that the trainer sets the tone for the team, and Jillian kept her team solidly focused on their goals. Complaining about how unfair the situation was wouldn't keep them in the game -- only results would. I don't know what Bob is doing to encourage the dynamic on his team, but whatever it is, I don't think it will serve him or his team members well in the long run. His record hasn't been great on the show. His contestants will have to go home and face the fact that they acted like children on national television, and that will be embarassing, especially if it doesn't pay off in the end. I wanted to cheer when one player suggested that "The Biggest Loser" isn't life or death, and that eliminations didn't mean that players couldn't continue to work toward their goals. I wish more of the players had that attitude.

It's funny, because I just read a book called The No-Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One that Isn't. It's about the toll that jerks take on organizations and individuals. This show was a good case study on assholes in action and the way they impact not only the person they're targeting, but anyone who witnesses their behavior. Ultimately, "The Biggest Loser" is going to suffer as a show if it encourages these antics, because watching the show is uncomfortable when supposed adults are exhibiting childish and even, at times, completely antisocial behavior. If that's the way the show is going to be, I'm not interested in it. I haven't ever been a fan of "Survivor," "Big Brother," or any of the other reality shows where game-playing is the central focus. I only liked "The Biggest Loser" because it really seemed to help the people on the show achieve things they never thought were possible. I'm hoping that the producers will cast more carefully to avoid a jerk-infested house next season.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

the latest thing: Pilates

I went to a Pilates class today at a great local studio. I have done Pilates there on and off for a while. The owner of the place is great, and she hires really good instructors. Classes are a bit pricey but there are often special packages available. There was a deal this month for 3 private lessons and 5 Reformer classes. I can take them anytime over the next three months. My first private lesson is next week. I've never used the Pilates Reformer but it's supposed to be great for your posture and your overall strength and balance. The instructors are all beautiful, but not in a Barbie-doll way. They're fit and graceful-looking, and completely down-to-earth. I want to be them when I grow up.

I decided to spring for the package because I've been dealing with nagging hamstring, hip, and shoulder issues. I have been trying to get on a running program but continually run into problems with these chronically sore or achy areas, mostly because of weakness and imbalance in my muscles. My hamstrings are tight, my glutes are weak. My core is not as strong as it should be. My upper back needs to be stronger and my shoulders get tight from the computer. Everything got worse and tighter when I was commuting and it's been harder than I thought it would be to spring back. I've been feeling achier than a thirty-something should feel and wondering if I'm developing arthritis.

I'm hoping this will help me tune up over the winter so that I'm ready to set the world on fire in the spring. I want to feel like a triathlete again, and more importantly, I want to train like one again. At best, these classes will set me up to do that. At the worst, I figure I'll make some progress toward a stronger back and core and maybe a flatter tummy. Spending time around strong, fit, confident women won't hurt me, either.

Sunday, November 09, 2008


I got a weird bug on Tuesday that completely debilitated me for a full day. I won't go into gross details, but I didn't leave the house because I didn't want to be too far from a bathroom. Watching the election returns helped up my energy level, but I didn't even stay up for Barack Obama's acceptance speech.

I'm just now getting back to having a normal appetite and energy level. For a few days after being sick, all I wanted was bland, salty food: saltine crackers, chips, grits. I figured that there was a good reason for this, but now I'm trying to get back to a more balanced diet again.

An illness is always a good reminder of how good it is to be healthy. I actually enjoyed being able to get out and rake leaves and scoop up pine needles yesterday. It's a nice reminder that I want to stay healthy for a long time. For one thing, it will determine whether I'm one of those suburbanites standing around with a leaf blower or getting a core workout with the rake.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Letting go of the Angry Fat Girl

I have been rereading Valerie Frankel's book Thin is the New Happy, and even though I complained about the lack of "how to" information the first time around, I realize that she did give us a lot of good information about the emotional process she went through to become a successful Non-Dieter. A lot of the work she did was letting go of the emotional baggage that she believed was related to her physical baggage. She had to forgive a lot of stuff, from her mother's constant haranguing (doesn't seem like she's quite over that one yet) to a thoughtless comment from her husband, to the kids in school who used to throw things at her and call her fat. Though the old hurt is still there, she has given up the anger and resentment -- well, most of it, anyway. I think she also has loosened her grip on the idea of herself as "fat," which didn't fit too well most of the time anyway.

I'm trying to do the same thing. I want to get over old hurts and resentments and stop thinking of myself as a fat person. Two summers ago, when I was still a graduate student, my very tiny co-worker said, "You always talk about yourself like you're a big person, but you're not. You're actually kind of small." At the time, I was exercising regularly and walking to work, and I had taken off a few pounds. But the real magic happened after that comment, when I started to internalize this new idea of myself as a kind-of-small person. I really have noticed that how I think of myself is really important. When I started at my last job, I was fairly thin but there were many really weight-focused people talking up the dangers of carbs in the organization. I was already worried about fitting in, and I became very self-conscious about my size, which didn't lead to positive, life-affirming behavior. I can trace a lot of my major gains to getting hung up on my size, trying to whip myself into shape, and then rebelling and gaining weight. This is the cycle that I'm trying very hard to break. I don't want my self-image to swing around wildly with every offhanded comment I get on how I look or what diet I should be trying. I want a positive self-image and the sense that my body is completely my business and my responsibility, no matter what anyone thinks.

Goodnight, dear blog readers. Hopefully tomorrow at this time, we'll have a pretty good idea that Obama has won the election!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Changing my perspective

I was misinformed about the number of trick-or-treaters to expect in my new suburban neighborhood. I figured we'd get hundreds of kids, since it's very walkable here. We got some very little kids but not a lot of older ones. I'd guess we had 60 or 70 kids at most. I had bought three 150-piece bags of candy from Costco to be prepared for a crush. I was originally going to buy two, but my sister convinced me that wouldn't be enough. I spent $36 or so on this candy.

I used up the first bag and a little of the second for the trick-or-treaters. There are almost 300 small candy bars in my house right now. How many have I eaten? In the last two days, maybe 6. I'm bored with them, and not tempted to have any more. I know the diet wisdom is "THROW IT AWAY" but I really don't want to. I think that just sends the message that I can't be trusted. I am going to take some to work and the rest will just go into lunches. I don't want to live the rest of my life afraid of food.

Now if it were Goldfish Crackers, I might feel more tempted. Or dark chocolate caramels.

As I've said before, I'm experimenting with Intuitive Eating, the idea that it's important to legalize all foods so that you can stop having the diet-binge-diet reaction to things. The idea is that even if you do overdo things, if you don't move on to the shame and punishment part of the cycle, it's not likely to continue. It seems to me that this candy thing is the kind of situation that tests a theory like this. The thing is, there is SO MUCH candy here that I couldn't possibly eat it all. Somehow that makes it less interesting.

I don't know how this will work out. It might be a big stupid mistake. If it seems to be a problem I'll get rid of it, but for now, I'm willing to trust the process.

One thing that does seem weird is that Costco sells these huge variety bags of candy all the time, not just at Halloween. Who buys 150-count bags of assorted candy at random times of the year?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Telling ourselves better stories

Last night I got my hair colored and cut, which meant I had a lot of time to sit and read the magazines at the beauty shop. I picked up a copy of Elle, which I never read, and was sucked in to a weird world of cosmetic surgery and high-end beauty maintenance. I found out things I never knew about the mechanics of a facelift and the various pads of fat on your face and which ones start to sag first. The world of Elle readers is obviously a more moneyed place than the one in which I live, and it's one where I would not want to live. The surgically perfected body and face is not only the ultimate status symbol in that world, it's an obligation. I am hoping that most of the readers actually do not think this way, but I'm not so sure. Then there was a little essay by a male writer on "Barefoot Cinderellas," which was a musing on how the writer finds beauty in the chubby, the old, the four-eyed, and the flat-chested. This might have had the potential to be charming if he had not made it so clear that he found these women attractive partially because he was "confident [he] would face little competition" for their favors and if he did not seem sort of amazed by his own magnanimity in his unconventional tastes. Newsflash for this writer: You don't deserve a medal for going after the fat chick because you think she'll be an easy lay. Seriously. The whole thing reminded me of the "Loving a Larger Woman" story that played such a prominent role in Jennifer Weiner's Good in Bed (her first and still her best novel). I wonder if Walter Kirn was the original Bruce Guberman. I think this essay was designed to be a cautionary tale for those few Elle readers who thought that there might be some value in "inner beauty." You can almost hear the Elle editors laughing from here at the very thought.

How many women do you know who buy Kirn's idea that any of us who are imperfect in some way need to feel grateful for a man's attention, even to the point that we should work hard to keep it. I know I've been there. I loaned men money (never to get it back, of course), helped them with their homework, even put up with some really awful treatment just because I didn't think I deserved better. Somewhere along the line we need to start telling ourselves we deserve better. I think that's why the "Dancing Queen" scene in Mama Mia is so empowering. It's sort of a message to women to stop buying that kind of line.

Yesterday I was listening to NPR and there was a story about John McCain's difficulties finding a consistent, compelling narrative that could capture the imagination of voters. During the course of the campaign, he kept auditioning new narratives: the maverick narrative, the guy who could cross party lines, the dealmaker, the comeback kid, the guy who stuck to his guns, the guy who was above partisan politics, etc. These narratives were problematic because they started to contradict each other and turned into a "John McCain vs. John McCain" narrative.

I think it's true that as human beings, we're natural storytellers. The key to serious change might just be finding a better storyline for ourselves. Watching "The Biggest Loser" last night, I saw how the show has transformed the story for the contestants from "I am so fat and hopeless, I need to do whatever it takes," to a couple of new storylines. One is, "I'm an athlete." I see this on Jillian's team, mostly. The contestants start to focus on all the amazing things they're learning to do, and the weight loss is mostly a side effect. On the Blue Team, the dominant narrative is about gameplay. They are completely satisfied to manipulate their weight loss to get rid of players they don't like or perceive as threats. Either narrative changes the focus to something that makes the contestants feel powerful.

I think that maybe part of my problem is that somewhere along the way I lost focus on the narrative that really worked for me, the triathlete in training. Along the way I became just another dieter. It's hard to get excited about a storyline where losing is winning and the way to win is to be satisfied with less. Training for a race is all about power and intensity, so I think it's time to get back in touch with my inner athlete. I caught a glimpse of her the other day when I noticed my muscle definition in the mirror, and a little more of her yesterday, when I couldn't wait to get out for a run in the park.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Today's check-in

This is just a quick post to check in. Mostly I'm too obsessed with the election to think of much else.

I am still trying to trust the process of the Intuitive Eating thing. It's hard, because I still have a strong urge to do a "just this once"diet because, of course, I want a quick fix. But I really do see the value of building a trust in myself to do the right thing. I read a little of Marion Nestle's What to Eat and realize that we've overcomplicated this food thing to the point of total dysfunction. I think the food companies love diets, because they confuse us so much that we don't really know what to do ("carbs are good," "carbs are bad," "you need to only have good carbs") that most of us end up buying both the junky junk food and the diet junk food, dumping it in the trash half the time covered in kitty litter and coffee grounds. They make money whether we actually eat the food or not.

Today I went to the gym and lifted weights. I wore a tank top and noticed that my arm muscles are starting to show a little definition. If this were the body I had to have for the rest of my life, I could live with it. I guess that's what acceptance looks like -- there are still things I would like to change, but the overall package isn't bad.

I really love my new job and never ever ever want to leave it. I'm lobbying for a permanent, full-time position.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

So how's that Intuitive Eating thing going?

I'm really finding the Intuitive Eating ideas to be fairly freeing. I've been doing a little more testing of the permission to eat than I thought I would -- a concept the authors discuss. It does seem more natural, though, to stop feeling like food is the enemy and that I need to strategize and plan for how to deal with various food situations like a general prepares for war. It seems to take some of the power away from the food to know it's available to me if I really want it. Ideally, after a while of making sure it's really okay to eat Milk Duds and tortilla chips for dinner, you realize that even though it's okay, it's not really the best choice for long-term satisfaction. And it's kind of boring.

My food choices haven't been all sugar and salt like I feared. I'm still striving for balance and making sure that some vegetables sneak in. Plus, I'm exercising quite a bit, just to hedge my bets and because it's a beautiful time of year to get outside. Yesterday I raked leaves, planted bulbs, and went for a short run. Today I did a yoga class and took a nice long walk in the park. I went to the grocery store today and bought a bunch of nice-looking veggies and some seafood. I'm still thinking about nutrition, then, just not counting points or calories or anything else.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Book review: Intuitive Eating

After reading Thin is the New Happy, I became more and more convinced that I couldn't continue on the same crazy diet merry-go-round the author describes. Plus, the idea of a non-diet weight loss approach that worked appealed to me. Since there weren't a lot of detailed how-tos from author Valerie Frankel, I took advantage of my tax dollars at work and checked out my library's copy of Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works, by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, both registered dieticians who had lots of letters after their names.

I had seen talk of Intuitive Eating on the weight-loss blogs, but mostly in connection with blogs that also advocate Fat Acceptance. And as bad as I know this will sound, while I accept other people's fat, and even accept my own, I'm not all that excited about the idea of keeping my fat forever and ever if I could, conceivably, lose it without also losing my mind. I wanted an approach that would help me find some balance between health, nutrition, and a desire to enjoy a brownie once in a while. I also recognized myself in Frankel's clicker experiment, where she found she thought more about weight loss and her body than she did about sex, work, or even her family. I want to break out of that kind of self-obsession.

This book seems to have the balance nailed. The idea is that if you fully legalize food, and allow yourself to feed your hunger with the foods you truly want and love, while also working on bad food habits like eating out of boredom, you will start to feel free to enjoy a wide range of foods, and not yo-yo between "perfect" diet eating and out-of-control binging. It's not necessarily a new idea, but it gets more into the nitty-gritty of how to do it than some of the other books I've read on this subject, like Geneen Roth's. Toward the end, the book also addresses nutrition and exercise, which helped alleviate my fears that this was a feel-good book that would leave me hopelessly fat if I followed its instructions.

I have to admit that after seeing an unflattering photo, I gave some serious thought to doing one last diet before reading this book, just to get down to a good weight before trying this intuitive eating thing. Apparently the authors have heard this one before because there's a section on the "One Last Diet Trap."

I started trying this out on Saturday. I went to a yoga class with a friend and we went to breakfast afterward. I actually ordered exactly what I wanted: basted eggs, dry wheat toast, orange slices, and potatoes with sour cream and chives. I was really hungry, but found that later at lunch I naturally wanted to eat lighter. I feel freer to have foods, like bread and cheese and wine, that I enjoy but considered too high-calorie, but I'm finding that I'm not feeling as compelled to eat everything in front of me because I'm committed to the idea of having what I want, when I want it, as long as I'm truly hungry. I'm also making sure to exercise almost daily, which makes me feel good and also helps keep me a little less high-strung and less likely to eat because I'm nervous or worried.

This plan doesn't promise model-thinness but suggests that if you follow it, your body will find its natural, healthy weight. I truly believe that I have at least a few pounds to go from where my body would settle naturally if I had never learned to obsess over food or see it as a therapist and best buddy rolled into one. I'd love to feel fit, strong, and sane and to be able to enjoy any food in a reasonable portion without worry or guilt. I'm currently wearing a size 14, and all I'm really hoping for is to fit happily into my 12s again, about where I was when I visited with my AFG co-authors in New York City.

I can't say that I regret the times I've dieted, because I have learned to really love vegetables and have tried a lot of recipes that I thoroughly enjoy but might never have tried on my own. Still, I like being free of the counting mentality and the constant self-criticism for blowing it or being hungrier than is convenient. I'm trying to take the emphasis off weight loss and put it back onto fitness and happiness, which is why my weekly weigh-ins and other weight-loss-goal-related widgets are now banished from the site.

I'm still watching "The Biggest Loser," though, because I'm totally hooked.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Tips for traveling from a former frequent flyer

Last night I touched down on what might be my last flight for a while. I've been traveling a lot this year, and I've picked up a few tips along the way that I thought might come in handy as people are planning their holiday travels. Knowing the drill ahead of time can help you breeze through the security lines quickly so you won't miss your flight.
  1. Know the rules. If you haven't flown for a few years, check out the TSA site (for U.S. travelers), which has information on the rules about everything from knitting needles to body piercings. The biggest change in the last few years is the restriction on liquids in carryons, but also expect to be required to take your shoes off (yes, everyone), pull your laptop out of your bag (if you're bringing one), and take off your jacket. You also have to pull your bag of liquids and gels out of your bag so that the screeners can see it. Knowing the rules allows you to be strategic. For example, I like to take my shoes off first and put them in the first bin with my jacket, so that I can quickly get re-dressed before collecting the rest of my belongings. I also put my laptop inbetween my shoes and my suitcase so I don't forget it.
  2. Dress comfortably, with a minimum of belt buckles, jewelry, and other metal items. Flights are really full now, which means you can't even hope to be seated next to an empty seat. You may want to dress in layers even though it means taking off your jacket, because flights always seem to be either too cold or too hot. Don't forget that you want comfortable shoes for walking through the airport, preferably ones that are easy to slip on and off. And wear socks if you don't want to walk through security barefoot.
  3. Pack strategically. Check your airline's website, because most are now charging for every single bag you check. You are generally allowed one carry-on bag and one briefcase or purse. Make sure the bag you're using for your carry-on is within the allowable size or you'll have to pay to check it. Also make sure that it's not so heavy that you can't lift it above your head to put it into the overhead compartment. I always put everything I think I want to bring in a pile, and then see what I can eliminate. It's really freeing to travel light.
  4. If you plan to shop, either leave space in your bag or bring a collapseable duffle with you. Even if you have to pay to check it, at least you won't have to buy another suitcase for your new stuff. I usually pack my laundry in the duffle and check that, keeping any new purchases in my carry-on. That way, if my luggage is delayed, I have an excuse not to do laundry, not a worry that my exciting new purchases won't find their way home.
  5. Don't check medicine, contact lens solutions, or anything else you will be lost without. Airlines do lose bags.
  6. Consider simplifying your beauty routine while you're away. There really isn't room for your 25-step anti-aging regimen in that single plastic zip-top bag. Think about what you can do without. You can count on your hotel to have soap and shampoo (and often, a hair dryer). Rarely, they have conditioner, but I always brought some just in case. Most drugstores sell travel sizes of beauty basics, and Burt's Bees also has some nice starter kits. Because I flew so often, I kept my toiletries bag packed and left it in my suitcase. Whenever I got a free sample or a small-sized beauty product as a gift that I could use for traveling, I could just add it to the bag. When one of the little bottles got emptied, I refilled it from my full-sized supply. The Body Shop, Sephora, and other cosmetics stores will often give you trial sizes of products if you ask when you're making a purchase.

In the dozen-plus flights I had last year, I don't have a single security horror story to report, except that once I forgot a bag on the conveyor and had to retrieve it from the worried TSA agent who chased me down -- "I was just praying that it wouldn't blow up," she said. I have similarly well-traveled friends who like to argue with the agents on principle and exchange "My Worst Security Nightmare" stories, but I personally preferred breezing through the line and getting on with my life to that kind of drama.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Increasing my consumer confidence

I probably shouldn't have done it, but I went shopping yesterday at Macy's, Ann Taylor, and Gap Outlet. I wanted to get some more wardrobe basics because I'm tired of having no nice slacks that fit me at my current size, and not having professional-looking tops.

At Ann Taylor, a saleswoman saw me browsing the sale section and trying on a million things and started asking questions about what I wanted to find. It was probably pretty obvious that I had no plan at all, and was just picking up things that I thought might fit and that were on sale. I always take a million things into the dressing room and end up buying one or two, which is why I usually shop alone. The whole thing is usually pretty traumatic.

It was a lot better with my Fairy GodSalesperson, because she paid enough attention to the things I was trying and the sizes I was picking up to bring me better things in the right sizes, things I might never have tried myself. It helped that she had a similar body to mine and knew what would and wouldn't work on me. As I was focusing on my flaws, she helped me see the positives. "That's really good on you, it shows how small your waist is." I ended up buying exactly one thing I had picked up for myself, an embellished brown skirt. I bought seven more items that she found for me, including a couple of basics and some fun things, like a jacket with a nipped-in waist and a couple of animal-print shells I would have never even tried on. For once, I didn't end up with a bunch of stuff that I didn't really like that looks just like all the other sad stuff cluttering up my wardrobe. Better yet, I left with a little more confidence in the body I have right now, and don't feel like I have to wait until I lose twenty pounds to look and feel good.

If more stores had salespeople like her, I'd be broke but I'd look and feel great.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Review: Thin is the New Happy

I have a soft spot in my heart for Valerie Frankel, because after reading the excellent reviews on the Elastic Waist Book Club of Thin is the New Happy, I hunted down a copy in the airport bookstore on my last trip, so Frankel kept me company as I was flying home from the west coast.

The Elastic Waisters have already given a good summary of the plot of the book, and an interview with Valerie Frankel gives us even more insight into the process of writing it. I was struck by the way a narrow strip of weight-loss territory became such a battlefield for the author. In her childhood, her mother attacked her relentlessly over ten pounds, which Frankel would dutifully lose and rebelliously gain over and over again. The weight loss battleground got a little wider in her adult years, as she navigated jobs and marriages, deaths and pregnancies. During a particularly memorable scene, her current husband made a comment that kicked me in the gut just reading it. Oddly, that comment doesn't seem to get a lot of examination, except as a catalyst for Frankel's self-discovery process in which she realizes that her weight has become a distraction from a lot of things that really matter.

The book is very dark in the first half, as Frankel describes being tormented by her parents and her junior-high classmates and the meanies at Mademoiselle. It seems artificially sparkly toward the end, as she embarks on a Non-Diet mentality and a newfound self-confidence. She decides to confront her problems head-on instead of through the proxy of her weight. As much as I enjoyed the book, I really feel like part of the process is missing here, because I don't really get how she got from Point A to Point B, other than that her Non-Diet plan helped her to get rid of the extra weight for good. Yes, there is the clothing makeover (with Stacy London, who can come raid my closet anytime) and the photo shoot, but I feel like some of the deeper issues Frankel faced as an adult got glossed over.

The biggest of these is the relationship with her husband. When she finally confronts him about his comment, he claims that he thought it was okay to make it because she seemed so confident. I don't buy this for two major reasons. First, he has to have been living on Mars to not know that almost all women have body issues, no matter how beautiful they are. Secondly, it seems to validate the self-defensive crouch that many of us live in when it comes to weight. Just as we always feared, if we seem too confident, we're just inviting attack. As the book stands, it suggests that unless we can figure out how to do the Non-Diet thing successfully and stay thin (Please, please, please, someone tell me how to do that), our lives are going to be a big mess as people pick us apart.

I can understand not wanting to do a public vivisection of your marriage for your readers' pleasure, but it seems to me that her husband's comment couldn't really have been about weight. If, as he said, he thought she seemed happy with her body the way it was, what was the reason for introducing insecurity? Frankel does a great job of showing how women use their weight as a proxy for other things that bother them. It seems to follow that her mother, the kids at school, the fashionistas at Mademoiselle, and the husband were also using weight as a proxy for something else. The book would have been better for me if it had poked into that can of worms for a while.
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"Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bulls**t." -- Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07