Wednesday, April 30, 2008

feeling low

It's been a rough few weeks. I feel like every random virus that comes my way seems to catch me. I have a little bit of the sniffles and I didn't sleep well last night, so I'll be working from home today and trying to get out of my funk.

Yesterday I went to check on some things at my old house on the way home from work (adding another 1.5 hours in the car) and stopped at Target to pick up some cleaning supplies. And bought a multipack of single-serving bags of Goldfish crackers, since I was hungry and it was going to be a while before I got anything real to eat. So what a surprise that I ate three packages as I drove down the highway, while listening to a Jillian Michaels podcast. I share this story to show how cracked up I am lately.

I'm still trudging along, and have various things in the works. A couple I can't really discuss until I know how they turn out. Hopefully some of them work out in my favor and my load will lighten a little.

Needless to say, my most recent weight-loss efforts aren't going well. I sort of give myself an out because everything else is so muddled, which isn't necessarily in my best interest. The weight worries are in the background, but they're there. The other day I heard a voice in my head asking if I really wanted to get myself back up to 200 pounds before I made a change. No. I don't.

So keep me in your thoughts, if you could, and hope that I find a little sanity in my day.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

what makes a book a big fat success?

Reflecting on my review yesterday, it strikes me that the good and helpful weight-loss memoirs I've read (Jennette's and Shauna's, for two examples, see also Wendy and Frances) have not followed the comfortable Chubby-to-Cinderella formula (Girl Eats Too Much, Girl Diets and Exercises Diligently, Girl Systematically Gets Thin and Gets Life) too closely. I'm not sure whether there is a memoir that follows that formula that wasn't forced to fit it to serve some celebrity's fat-to-fabulous-diet-spokeswoman narrative needs (Kirstie, Carnie, Valerie, yes, I'm talking to you).

There are two lessons to be learned here. The first seems to be that life doesn't work like that, which is so obvious but also somehow impossible for us to absorb. Most of us berate ourselves when our life doesn't follow a nice, linear model as we progress rapidly and flawlessly to our goal.

The other is that though the weight loss is a really important part of the self-discovery process documented in the memoirs, it's not the only point. Tackling fear, self-doubt, and excessive self-consciousness is as much a part of this process as sorting out a calorie-control and exercise plan. There is a self-centered nature to the Before lives documented in these memoirs. I'm not saying that they were egomaniacs, but they were painfully aware of their every shortcoming and seemed to think all eyes were on them, waiting for them to fail. So, basically, they were like a lot of us. Getting real and realizing that there is a big, giant world out there and that they wanted to be one of the ordinary people in it, instead of the star of a "I'm the Fattest Person in the World" psychodrama was at least as important as the actual weight loss. To some extent, the weight loss which kicks off this process becomes less central to our heroines as they start to find a purpose to their lives beyond reaching a specific number on the scale. Not one of these memoirs ends with the heroine hitting the exact weight goal she has chosen for herself, but generally she has had enough other victories to consider herself a success.

Would it be possible to jump ahead to the self-acceptance and big-picture perspective without losing the weight? That's the $10,000,000 question, I suppose, and has been the cause for a lot of debate. I think it might be hard. There is a lot of crap out there for even the moderately overweight to deal with, and the disapproving stares of strangers would be a constant rebuke if you are 100+ pounds overweight, enough to validate the internal drama surrounding your weight. Once you cross some imaginary threshold into Fat But Acceptable, you can sort of blend into the general landscape of Ordinary Overweight, and not have strangers examining your shopping cart to figure out what is to blame for your size. Even if you are determined not to care what others think, these kinds of things would tend to keep weight in the foreground, to the point of distracting from everything else, no matter how important everything else is. Some small measure of sanity about food, and activity that feels good and empowering, can also free up a lot of psychic energy.

Lots of stuff to think about here, as I try to pull these threads together and find my own balance and sanity with food and exercise, with mixed success. Also, I'm working from a limited pool of weight-loss memoirs here. So I'd be curious to hear what others would have to say about these books, and others in the genre. Am I missing anything?

Saturday, April 26, 2008

review: Half-Assed: A Weight Loss Memoir

I discovered Jennette's blog not long after I started blogging. I read once in a while, posted a comment here and there. One day I noticed that my blog traffic had multiplied to about ten times its usual level, and figured out that most of them were coming from her blog from one of my comments. That's when I realized how just many people out there were reading along with me about PastaQueen's weight ups and downs (mostly downs). I was astonished at the time that not only was she willing to use her real name on the blog, but that she provided spinning photos of herself so that we could judge her progress from all angles. Clearly this was a gutsy blogger, and one with a good sense of humor.

Half-Assed: A Weight Loss Memoir is like that: honest, gutsy, but playful: "Being fat was traumatic, but the food was amazing. I ate like most people would dare to only if an asteroid were scheduled to demolish the planet tomorrow afternoon." Jennette shares some of her difficult moments as funny-because-they're-in-the-past stories , like shopping for her graduation dress with her mother and running into not one, but two of her teachers. "At this point my memory goes blank. I can't recall the ordeal of trying on several white dresses for half of the English faculty at Everett High School. I've read that the mind blocks out traumatic memories for its own protection."

The book is serious where it needs to be. Jennette writes: "Once past the 300-pound mark, I avoided seeing old friends and relatives so they wouldn't know how out of control my problem had become." When a group of relatives visits from out of town, she greets them to be polite but then hid from them, first in the den and then by sneaking away in her car:
After an hour browsing the dollar bin at Target, I struggled across the parking lot and headed home. I slowed down at the stop sign three lawns from our house. I turned my head left and peered down the street. My mother was talking to my aunt, who was smoking a cigarette in the front yard. They caught a glimpse of my maroon car and started waving at me.
I took my foot off the brake and kept driving. I'd been made, but I couldn't go back there. They'd invaded my safe zone, my land of denial, the place I felt comfortable being fat. But I had no where else to go. I drove and drove. I think I stopped at a Starbucks. Time passed. I drove by our front yard again, and finally all their cars were gone.
I entered our house through the garage so the neighbors wouldn't see me.
"Are you okay?" my mom asked.
"Yeah," I said.
"Where did you go? Didn't you see us waving at you?" she asked. "We were worried."
"I'm sorry," I said. "I just had to get away." Too bad it never worked.
Jennette takes us through her visits to Fat Acceptance websites, where she found that her status as a weight-loss blogger meant she couldn't join the conversation. "Just because I'd accepted who I was didn't mean I had to cryogenically freeze myself as that person for the rest of my life," she writes. "When I finally accepted myself, I accepted that I didn't want to be fat. And that was okay." She chronicles her weight loss progress, including a false start after gallbladder surgery and a doctor's warning that if she didn't lose weight, she would continue to have serious health problems. She started her latest, successful attempt to lose the weight on January 1, 2005.

Much of the territory in the book will be familiar to regular readers of Half of Me, but the narrative develops in a more linear way and she has time to pause and reflect on her experiences. She shares how her blog both kept her going and annoyed her when a small weight gain yielded dozens of comments offering unsolicited advice or reassurances that everything would be okay. "I felt like they were swarming me with full medical attention over a small paper cut." She spends some time talking about how and why she gained the weight, and what she has learned about herself since losing it. She revels in her newfound athleticism and her hard-won cooking skills. I don't get the impression there was much elaborate home cooking in the Fulda household, considering that her mother calls her a "culinary genius" for being able to make chicken breasts, green beans, and couscous.

The book is a great, quick read. At times Jennette gets a little carried away with her metaphors. When discussing a blogger who had accidentally launched a firestorm with an ill-conceived post, Jennette writes, "The Internet eviscerated her. They dragged her into the public square, plucked the keys off their keyboards, and stoned her to death with F11 buttons. Then they strung her up with their mouse cords to hang." It gets a little silly here and there, but I enjoyed it because she was obviously having fun with her writing.

I got to meet Jennette at BlogHer last year, and I remember being struck by how witty, fun, and shy she was. This comes out in the book at times, like when she would make up stories about a birthday cake for her thin sister at the grocery store, just so she would be ready if the cashier asked her about buying a can of frosting. Jennette jokes that she hasn't completely changed: "I got LASIK and I lost the weight, so I'm no longer a blind, fat homebody, just a seeing, thin homebody." But she's a smoking hot homebody, who looks better in person than she does in her spinning progress photos. It's interesting that you get a different perspective of the same person from a blog, a book, and in person. I am happy that I've had a chance to get to know all three versions. After you trot on over to her separate book blog to buy your own copy, look at the list of events. If she's coming to your town, you might just get to decide which version is the real PastaQueen.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

happy day

Yesterday I worked at home because my hot water heater was making a scary noise. I waited all day for the plumber to come, and of course it wouldn't do its thing with him there. Today, I had arranged to meet a handyman at our old house to talk about some repairs, but didn't have an exact time, just "afternoon." I decided to take a vacation day just so I didn't have to worry about trying to squeeze in work around a vague schedule.

Other than meeting him, I spent the whole day doing things I wanted to do. I did a little inspirational reading. I called and made an appointment for a pedicure. I straightened up the house before leaving, for a change, instead of leaving it looking like a tornado hit. I called Frances and had a nice long chat to find out about the progress of her book manuscript. I got my pedicure, and my toes are a lovely "St. Peter's Burgandy." I visited my friends from my last job and had a nice lunch with them. I did some yard work at the old house. I went to the local health food store and bought a bunch of organic produce. I did also meet the handyman, who seems like a good guy.

Yesterday was all frustrations, but today was the nicest day I've had in a while. It's been a long time since I had a day just for me, alone with nothing scheduled. I definitely missed it. I feel more like myself than I have in quite a while. It's like I remembered who I was.

And then, I got Jennette's book in the mail! I'm only half done with Half-Assed: A Memoir, but it's really great. It's especially interesting having met Jennette and knowing how shy she truly is (but also witty and fabulous). I'd do a review once I've had a chance to read the rest and ponder it a bit.

Monday, April 21, 2008


Today I went over my points by 10: roughly 500 calories. I'm out of practice. We did have a great dinner: crabcakes from Eating Well's Healthy in a Hurry cookbook and a salad. We also made a wholegrain pilaf but I wasn't hungry enough to eat it. It was a beautiful evening, so we had dinner outdoors.

I did get out for a walk at lunchtime. I was planning to go to the gym tonight but it was too nice outside to work out in the dingy JCC, so I decided that I'd use my muscles in the real world instead. I did some heavy-duty weeding in my garden tonight. Some previous owner had planted English ivy, and it was crawling up the house and shoving itself under the siding. I ripped out a large trash can's worth and there is still a lot there. I am sure this is going to be a multi-week project. Tip: Don't ever plant this stuff, it's a terrible pest. As my husband said, "Just imagine the mess that homeowners would be in if someone had named a group of fancy Eastern schools the Kudzu League."

not as bad as I thought: 171

So this isn't so bad: 16 pounds over goal. If I get on track, it won't be long until I'm back in the 160s again. Thanks for the comment, Jodi. I'm getting comment spam like crazy lately, so it's nice to know there are real readers out there too.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

feeling like a water buffalo

I am not sure why a water buffalo, and not a buffalo in general. Maybe because I like to swim?

My clothes are tight, I feel uncomfortable, and I attribute a lot of it, fairly or not, to my two-hour roundtrip commute and my desk-centric job, though as Jillian says on her radio show, "You can't gain weight if you're not eating too much."

Perhaps it might be time to dust off the Points Finder and the journal? Alas. I think that it might be, though I really resist it. Maybe if I write down all my reasons I hate counting points, they'll seem as silly as they probably are. Imagine a whining tone as you read the following:

I know I should do Weight Watchers again...
  • But I hate writing down everything I eat!
  • But I hate it when I don't know how many points something has and I have to guess!
  • But I don't want anyone to know I'm on a diet (or "lifestyle change," whatever)
  • But it's so hard to get the right kind of food in restaurants!
  • But I enjoy having lunch with my one (soon-to-be-leaving) real Work Friend!
  • But I deserve to eat what I want because I'm stuck driving so much!
  • But I am hungry all the time when I'm dieting!
  • But I should be able to eat right without having to make such a big deal about it!
  • But I had this great idea for a way of healthy eating that would be easy and painless!
  • But it's such a general pain in the ass!
All of these buts have added up to a pretty big butt, though, one that is now in size 14 pants. I know that wearing a size 14 doesn't really qualify me for water buffalo status, but it does feel bigger than I really want to be. I have such cute clothes in my closet that are no longer fitting.

So, dear readers, I am going to commit to you, since I haven't managed to commit to myself, to get this weight off before summer gets here. Spring has finally arrived and that means that I am going to want to be able to wear shorts when appropriate, not pretend that capris are just as cool and comfortable, which they aren't -- though they are more chic.

I'm going to do a weigh-in first thing tomorrow morning just so I have a starting point. Yikes. My guess -- somewhere in the mid-to-high 170s. I'm not quite up to going to meetings again yet (though I do have prepaid coupons) but I at least need to weigh in at home. I have been avoiding the scale for too long, which always suggests that I know that it isn't going to give me good news.

Friday, April 18, 2008

book review: Jen Weiner does it again

It's way too early here in the Mountain time zone, but my brain never seems to get off Eastern time, no matter how far west I travel. Since I'm awake, I thought I'd tell you how I've been spending my hotel and plane time.

On impulse the other day, when I was flying out, I went into the bookstore and saw that Jennifer Weiner's Certain Girls was there. This is the long-awaited sequel to Good in Bed, picking up on the thread of Cannie's life almost thirteen years later. Fans like me will recall that Cannie made a cameo in Little Earthquakes, and seemed to be doing well. Things are a little tougher for her in this book, probably because she has a soon-to-be teenager on her hands. Cannie tells us that Joy has good genes:

She inherited the best things I had to offer—my olive skin, which stays tan from early spring straight through December, and my green eyes. Then she got my ex-boyfriend’s good looks: his straight nose and full lips, his dirty-blond hair, which, on Joy, came out as ringlets the deep gold of clover honey. My chest plus Bruce’s skinny hips and lean legs combined to create the kind of body I always figured was available only thanks to divine or surgical intervention.
It would have been a very different kind of book if Joy had shared her mother's weight issues, but the author probably figures most of her fans know how a story like that plays out. Cannie acknowledges this in the first chapter:

It isn’t politically correct to say so, but in the real world, good looks function as a get-out-of-everything-free card. Beauty clears your path, it smooths the way, it holds the doors open, it makes people forgive you when your homework’s late or you bring the car home with the gas gauge on E. Joy’s adolescence would be so much easier than mine.
Except that, as you will find out when you read the book, things aren't easy for Joy either. I won't give any more away here than you can read in the first chapter online, but Joy has to do a lot of soul-searching in the book. Surprisingly, Cannie has turned into a Supermom, micromanaging the details of her daughter's life, and Joy understandably feels smothered.

Cannie and Joy take turns telling us the story. The first chapters in Joy's voice feel a little strained, but in the later chapters I think that Weiner captures the awkward, push-pull feelings of adolescence well. The book hit a few false notes, but overall, I had to work very hard to keep from crying on the plane so that I wouldn't embarass myself. It was a perfect plane read, perfectly engaging. I got so lost in it that I actually had to look at my boarding pass to remember where I was landing. Although that may have something to do with the fact that I've earned more than 10,000 frequent flier miles already this year.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

finale of the Biggest Loser, plus thoughts from the road

Though it's old news now, Season 5 of "The Biggest Loser" came to a close, and now America has its first woman Biggest Loser. Ali looks amazing -- you can see photos and a lot of stuff on the show webpage. I was also glad that Bernie managed to win the at-home competition. Notice that Jillian continues her winning streak -- she trained both of them.

The contestants, even the ones who hadn't lost as much weight, all looked so fabulous that I think that next season, they should do the makeovers first, just to give everyone a confidence boost, and THEN start the weight loss stuff. The transformation would be even more exciting if we didn't suspect that a lot of it was the result of girdles and styling.

I'm on the road again, in a particularly bleak business-traveler hotel and thinking that I could use a little transformation of my own. I feel really fat in all the clothes I brought, and I always find myself using sugar and caffeine to keep my energy up. I just want to go stay with Jillian for a week or two, and let her knock me back into shape.

For that I'd be willing to travel.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

don't forget to vote (warning: Biggest Loser spoiler)

On last night's episode of "The Biggest Loser," both remaining Blue Team members fell below the yellow line. In yet another show twist, the contestants don't get to decide: the television audience does. You can vote now on the NBC site.

It's a tough decision. Personally, I prefer Roger, but Ali and Kelly seem to think they'd have an easier chance beating Mark. I will vote for Mark, because I think the contestants should have been the ones to decide. Besides I want to see a woman as Biggest Loser this time, and I want Jillian to keep her winning streak going.

You may know that I also have a political blog. I wonder how many more people will vote for The Biggest Loser than will vote in the presidential election.

P.S. a post by The Grumpy Chair Dieter reminded me of something that bugged me too. The weight loss numbers this time were ridiculous. I was suspicious that the trainers were sent away and wondered if they were doing something sketchy to artificially boost the loss. I suspected either extreme fasting or diuretics. Whatever it was, it seemed like the trainers didn't want to be involved. The only other possibility I could think of was that it was really a two-week period. But I suspect diuretics, because most of the contestants had hollow cheeks and Kelly's arms and legs looked baggy.

Monday, April 07, 2008

the opposite of supersize

I went with my sister to Costco today. There is something so seductive about the bright, shiny-clean aisles full of great stuff in giant sizes. It's nothing like Sam's Club, which was dingy and really looked like a warehouse, except that it tempts you to buy mass quantities of stuff you don't really need, just because it's there and so cheap. The carts look like trucks, so you have plenty of room for everything. A 50-pack of Charmin? Six pairs of bikini underwear for $10? A giant bottle of laundry detergent that costs less than a penny per load? I picked up about seven items on impulse, then put them back again. I did get the laundry detergent.

But for the groceries I actually needed, I went to a small Five-Star grocery store, which is the size that supermarkets probably were when they were first introduced. They have regular-sized grocery carts and these mini-sized ones. I didn't need a lot of stuff so I grabbed a handbasket. I figured that would keep me from impulse buying.

There is a good overview of everything and even some gourmet items, but there is a smaller selection of brands for most things. They maybe stock 10 kinds of yogurt (including Fage!) instead of 50, 50 kinds of cereal instead of 100.

I have found that I buy less at this store, though I go more frequently (maybe 2 trips a week at $50 each time) and the things I buy are more often things I actually need and not impulse buys. I am sure that's the reason that modern supermarkets are so dazzling and huge. I usually end up with 2 bags of groceries, so I can even bring my own reusable bags.

I probably paid a little more for each of the individual items, but I am sure I saved overall because I didn't buy things I didn't need, like the latest and greatest snack foods. So I saved a little money, and maybe it will help me chip away at the New Job Weight.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

back, tired

I'm back from my trip and pretty tired. I regretted the harshness of my last post almost immediately after I wrote it. I realize that maybe I took some of the things that were said a little personally. I don't think I'm completely imagining the implied criticism in some of the comments. I think I have to just realize that I don't have to take it to heart.

I don't always feel like I fit in with this group and so I'm a little sensitive. But people don't always think before they speak -- I of all people should know that. I should say that I had some wonderful experiences with my colleagues on this trip too. In fact, I was a little sad when it was over because my normal workdays don't provide a lot of interaction.

I'm happy to be home, though, and feeling a lot better after some time sleeping in my own bed.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

advice, unsolicited

I work with a lot of skinny people. They are forever saying things like, "I can't eat bread first thing in the morning or I am sleepy all day" or "I just don't feel good if I don't work out." They're all nice, but it tends to feel like a not-so-subtle dig at my not-so-slender current state. I am already feeling fat, and there is this hyper-fit culture that is annoying because there is an assumption that I wouldn't possibly fit into it because I'm not thin. Actually, though, I'm fairly athletic with bad genes. So there. Besides, maybe they're not thinking that at all, and I'm just bringing a healthy serving of my own insecurity, with a side of fries. Today, I heard a discussion going on about "What are the lengths for an Olympic triathlon?" And I wanted to answer, because I've actually done two of them. But that might just shock everyone in a very unpleasant way, and besides, I was far enough away to make chiming in awkward. So I just kept it to myself -- at least I know my ownself that I have had some kick-ass races in my past and expect to have them in my future, too.

I have just tried to step away. I keep repeating in my head, "I don't have to prove anything to anyone." And I don't. I was actually unhappy that I bumped into work people when running on the treadmill yesterday in the fitness center of the hotel, because I don't like people to see me all sweaty and red-faced.

Tomorrow I'm skipping the fitness center and waiting for first light, so I can walk out for a beautiful coffee and a breakfast somewhere away from the carbphobics. They'll be so busy eyeing the evil bread that they won't even notice my absence.

Friday, April 04, 2008

oh interwebs, I have missed you so!

Hello from yet another hotel room. This one is lovely, though. I could enjoy business travel if it were always this nice. I even got into the fitness room this morning and got a good workout in, though as always with business travel, I'm sure I made up for my extra activity with the sweets they always feed you to keep your energy up at these events.

I read David Allen's book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity on the plane on the way here. I like the philosophy behind the book a lot. He explains stress in a way that I've never heard before. Stress, he says, is the result of us not keeping the commitments we've made to ourselves:
as soon as you tell yourself that you need to be doing something...there's a part of yourself that thinks you need to be doing that something all the time. Everything you've told yourself you ought to do, it thinks you should be doing right now.
The way to manage this stress, he says, is to have a system in place to remind us of the actions we need to be taking outside of our brains, and to check it regularly. Only then will our brains stop bugging us, because we'll be keeping our commitments. The trick is to ask ourselves what the next concrete action we should take toward a goal, and then to make ourselves accountable for doing that action. If we keep taking the next action toward our goal, we'll reach it without stress.

For me, those next actions in the weight loss game are to commit to a reasonable fitness plan and food plan. I need to plan out the workouts I want to do next week, and then do them. I think having some concrete steps, rather than a vague idea that "I should be eating better," or "I should exercise more," will make me both less likely to obsess about it and more likely to take appropriate actions.

So what's your next action?
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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