Tuesday, September 30, 2008

wondering if Weight Watchers will take me back

In a post a while ago, I compared leaving Weight Watchers for Jillian Michaels's site to getting a new, hotter girlfriend. Well, I'm feeling a longing for the familiar simplicity of my old system. Counting calories is interesting, but I can't do it in my head or even on paper, which makes it hard for times when I'm not near a computer. The food exchange system I tried was too complex, too. My sister told me that she's back on Weight Watchers and I felt a little jealous. I was toying with the idea of going back to it, and then finally just pulled out my food diary and started writing things down. I even had to pull out my food guide and look a couple of things up.

I'm not sure I'm ready to walk back into a meeting. After a long absence (and my weight gain), that would be harder to do. But journaling on paper is so easy with Weight Watchers, and I have at least one copy of all the materials from my many attempts to stay on plan, so I am not sure I even want the meeting or eTools. I can weigh in electronically on Jillian's site, and here. I'm considering my options right now. I still logged everything in at, just to see how things would come out. I was one point over my WW target yesterday (I earned and used 7 activity points) and about 100 above the target calorie range I was trying to hit.

It's getting nicer to exercise outside. I was even a little chilly when I started today's run, and I enjoyed looking at the turning leaves and smelling the damp forest smells. Sometimes when I'm feeling whiny about "having" to exercise, I remember something my last therapist said. "Why not think, 'I get to' instead of 'I have to' when you think of things like that?" I was complaining, at the time, about all the hard work I had to do on my doctoral classes, and she was right, it was a privilege to have the opportunity to get a doctorate. On days like today, it's a lot easier to think "I get to go for a run three days a week." Plus, I get to scare a lot of lazy squirrels and deer in the park.

Tomorrow I'll be back with notes on tonights "The Biggest Loser" and my weekly weigh-in.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Biggest Loser: No spoiler zone

Just like last week, I'll give you a couple of little sneak peeks but won't actually give anything away, just in case you have the show waiting at home for you on the DVR.

Last night's show was interesting: There was a chance for a team to take a really big risk, with $10,000 as a possible reward. Of course, one team decided to try it.

The expectations for Week 2 were really low: This is, statistically, the worst week for contestants, with an average weight loss of only (only!) 2% of their body weight. Still, one contestant shocked me by gaining weight, which I don't think should happen at all unless there was some funny buisness going on. My guess is that this contestant either was hitting the temptation food, figuring that this was a week where slacking off might go unnoticed, or water-loaded in the hopes of having a really huge loss the next week. There is no way that someone as big as these contestants are could actually gain weight when they have changed their habits so drastically.

The yellow team is from Ohio, so of course I feel a little home-team attachment to them, even if they are from Cleveland. This is a father and daughter team, and the dad, Jerry, is the sickest person on the show, in fact, the sickest person who has ever been on the show. He had a dramatic loss last week, and this week seemed to be feeling much better already. The daughter, Coleen, really impressed me during the challenge: Because Jerry, and Tom, the dad from the gray team, were too sick to compete, she and L.T. had to compete every round, instead of every other round. L.T. saw this as a reason to quit early, while Coleen took it as a personal challenge and a chance to get an even better workout that day. I like this girl, she has heart.

There's also a healthy cooking segment with Chef Rocco, who also appeared last season to help the contestants make healthy versions of their favorite recipes. This time the focus was on cooking healthy on a budget, so each of the recipes cost less than $7 for 4 servings. The cooking segment was, of course, also an opportunity for product placement. Some of the recipes looked really great, and all are available on the show's website. The ones from this season are the first 7 recipes. The others are not low-calorie recipes, so look out.

I felt like this week's episode was a little flat because of the low expectations, but it is amazing to see the changes that have already taken place in some of the sicker contestants. Jerry said he doesn't have the constant aches and pains that plagued him in the first episode. Tom tells us that he was on 9 pills a day when he came on the show and after one week, he was able to get off all of them. This, after just losing about 20 pounds each, which isn't even 10% on these big guys. The message there, which I wish the producers had hit harder, is that big health improvements are possible with even a small weight loss and a switch to healthier food and daily exercise.

Coincidentally, my weigh-in now falls the morning after "The Biggest Loser." I'm down 1 pound from last week, which is only 0.0056%, but I'm happy with it. With the changes I made to my diet yesterday, I didn't quite hit my calorie goal, but I came closer at 1987. I'm going to stick with this and see if I can keep the losing streak going.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Long time, no blog: Stuck again

I just got back from a dance weekend, which was mostly a whole bunch of baby boomers who love square dancing and contra dancing (square dancing without the squares). This was a reach for me since I don't dance. I went along because a friend asked me to, but I had expected to sit out the evening dances and maybe attend a super-remedial beginner workshop or two. No such behavior was tolerated, though. I got asked to dance and so, what the heck, I danced. I got mixed up here and there and was stepped on a time or two, but mostly everyone was very nice and patient and I caught on okay. There were one or two people who were obviously uptight about it, but I didn't know anyone and felt fine, mostly. Everyone was having a great time, and there were a lot of people there in their 60s who seemed fitter than me. I want to be them when I grow up. It doesn't have to be dancing, but I want to be active the rest of my life.

I went with two women, a friend I know fairly well and her friend. The friend of my friend spent about an hour on the drive there explaining her whole-food, low-carb diet. It wasn't South Beach or anything else I'd heard of, but it was in that genre. It was really very dull and after seeing her eat, I could tell that she was talking about all this stuff and not really doing much of it. Seemed painfully close to home for me, since I have been blogging for about two years about my weight loss efforts, and have very little no actual weight loss to show for it. I want to be happy in my clothes again.

Getting dressed today was a chore again. I wanted to look nice for work, and I finally settled on a dress since I don't like the way my dressier pants fit. My weight has stayed within a pound or so for the last several weeks, but it's definitely not where I want it to be. My clothes don't fit right and I'm feeling down. I took a cue from Cindy and decided to hard-boil some eggs to have as a snack, since I tend to skimp on protein and eat more snacky foods than I need. I am still sticking with calorie counting, but decided to try a diabetic exchange-type diet to help me plan my meals, since I'm not as good at spreading out my calories throughout the day as I need to be. (I just Googled "diabetic exchange diet" in case you're interested). I am going to shoot for between 1500 and 1800 calories. From tracking on FitDay, I know that I'm averaging about 2200 to 2300 right now, so cutting back should get me on a losing track again.

Watching "The Biggest Loser" tonight should help inspire me to stick with it.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Thoughts on last night's "The Biggest Loser"

Don't worry, I won't tell you who got sent home, in case you recorded it.

I can't help myself, this show just gets me every time. There are a lot of terrible things about the show: The cheesy graphics, the overdramatized weigh-ins, the eliminations. But the show does seem to bring hope to people who thought they could never lose weight. The extreme nature of the show is actually inspiring to me, because it shows what people really can do if their limits are tested. Dr. Rob Huizenga was a team doctor for the L.A. Raiders before joining the show, and he based the show's high-exercise premise on his observations of the football players:

As the team doctor for the LA Raiders, my job was to keep weight on (the big
linemen) during two-a-day practices. But no matter what we did, we couldn't keep
the weight on. We gave them food every four hours -- pizza, shakes, meals at 4
a.m. -- and they kept losing weight.

Reading that makes me think I need to find time for a second daily workout.

This season's premise of married couples vs. pairs of parents and children added something interesting to the show. When the parents and children weighed in, you could really see how genetics influences the way your body stores fat. The father and son from Boston could have been twins from a distance: The father had a lot more body hair, but both had the same pear-shaped abdomens. The mother and the daughter from the pink team looked the same too. I guess it shouldn't have surprised me, because if you put me next to my mother on that scale, the only difference in our body shape is that I'm about three inches taller.

The most shocking part of the show was when Dr. Huizenga, who continues to study the long-term results of former contestants, explained to the current set of contestants what kinds of health problems their extra weight has caused. Who knew that your lungs and heart could be encased in fat? Unfortunately, though the information on the contestant's physical age vs. their chronological age was dramatic, for some reason the show's producers stomped on that drama with a silly graphic that ticked off the years that the contestant's health problems had added with a door-slamming sound for each year. I was surprised that so many of the contestants, especially the younger ones, smoked. They seem to keep getting sicker and sicker people on the show, hopefully because they want to help people and not because the producers really think an on-set death would boost their ratings. It was obvious, from one scene, that there are always medics around just off-camera.

Jillian and Bob got to hand-pick their teams. It would seem that Jillian is at a little bit of a disadvantage, because her pairs obviously share bad genetics, but I have faith in her. Besides, I know from experience that trying to lose weight with your spouse can be demoralizing.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Three trains of thought

I decided to make a slow-cooker pot roast for dinner tonight. It's not one of my favorite meals, but I've been driving around listening to Julie and Julia, which really does make me want to cook, and eat, comfort food. This recipe, which takes $9 worth of meat and vegetables and makes your whole house smell wonderful, seemed like a reasonable compromise. Plus, my husband is coming home late, so this is the kind of thing that will be warm and ready whenever he shows up, instead of drying out in the oven or getting cold and hard in the refrigerator. Plus, it makes good leftovers.

I was able to tolerate my contact lenses long enough to run today, but the scenery made me think that maybe all this itchy-eye stuff has something to do with the beautiful stands of goldenrod and other late-fall bloomers that I was jogging past. I found my cuter pair of glasses and decided that half the day was long enough to push the contact lens thing for now. I hear about Lasik, but considering my problems with dry, itchy eyes, that whole cornea-healing process seems like it might be troublesome for me. I'm sure eventually I will get over my squeamishness and just do it.

It must be all the food talk: I had a craving for a perfect brownie with walnuts and no frosting today. Unfortunately, I couldn't find such a thing, and had a passable chocolate chip cookie instead of waiting until I could. It's hard to waltz into a bakery and say, "No, you don't have the exact thing I'm craving, so I'm not going to have something that won't scratch the itch." But I wish I had. In my book, a brownie with no nuts and frosting is really just a flat piece of cake. It seems impossible to find a bakery that agrees with me, and I don't want to eat a whole pan of brownies (or even half a pan) so I'm not baking them myself. I also wouldn't be satisfied with the various single-serving mixes out there -- I want the real thing, which to me is a thick, cakey, rich chocolate brownie with a dry, crackly top and big chunks of walnut, made from real ingredients. But the cookie at least took the edge off for now.

Monday, September 15, 2008

A better day, but still pensive

I'm still in my Tina-Fey-style glasses, but I think I'll be able to put the contact lenses in tomorrow. I have been using an eye wash a few times a day, which feels a little weird (you put saline into a little plastic cup, and then open your eye in it and look around) but does tend to relieve the scratchy, dry feeling. Better than the goopy eyedrops my doctor generally recommends. I never did get to see him, but now that I'm feeling better I don't see much point.

I went ahead and went to the gym in my glasses, and did my strength training workout. I am beginning to see some changes in my upper body. My upper chest and shoulders are starting to look much more toned. For some reason I see changes here first, rather than in all the places I'd really like to trim down. Maybe because there was less extra weight there in the first place.

I didn't feel up to running in my glasses, but I took a nice long walk in the park near my house and watched the finches flitting around eating thistle seeds and the bees buzzing around in the goldenrod. I was really teary-eyed when I saw the honeybees, because I keep hearing how they're all dying off. It made me feel like the whole world isn't irrevocably broken, at least not quite yet.

I was feeling a little guilty today, because I spent about two hours at the office and only one hour of that working. Now that my syllabus is written and I don't have any classes yet, I don't have a lot to do. I began to feel a little guilty about that, about not contributing enough to the household or the world in general. As I was driving around, I was listening to the Julie and Julia Project on my car CD player, and it made me wonder how to get started on some kind of writing project myself, preferably one that might be able to make me some money. Any freelancers out there want to send me some tips?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Annoying setback

I have a problem with my left eye, it hurts and I can't wear my contact lenses. I am sure there are a lot of people who exercise in glasses but I hate doing that -- I get all sweaty, and steamed up, and they bounce around. I've been feeling like crap the last couple of days, so I decided to wait it out and hope I feel better soon. I often get these eye problems at the same time I feel lousy. Taking two days off means I missed my run yesterday and a swim today.

It's funny how a disruption in my routine can plunge me from the optimistic girl who said, "I feel like I'm living the life I'm meant to live" to the surly, sad, pessimistic person I feel like today. I feel like I've gained about 20 pounds overnight and that I'll never get in shape or be truly happy again. I know it's just a passing funk, and the drizzly day is contributing to it.

I don't really have any plans for the day, but I'm going to try to find something cheering to do to lift me out of this mood. Something that I can do in glasses with a sore eye, and not have people pointing at me and wondering if I have pinkeye.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Snark, angst, and the future of blogging

A recent post by Anne on Elastic Waist (a.k.a. Jen) got a lot of confused comments because the angst that seemed to be expressed in the post seemed all out of proportion to the video-game topic it was about. I had read the post and was curious to read the comments, some of which were outrageously nasty, I think, like this one (edited for length): "I don't get all this low self esteem. Everything you write seems to be an utter angst fest...Fuck." Then the author chimed in with, "Are you guys serious? This was meant as a humorous post...." But to be honest, I was fooled too. After the general tone of other recent postings I knew that her style was self-deprecating humor, but I had started to believe that there was more to it than that. Who knew? It made me wonder if all the other vulnerable-seeming posts are actually a caricature, and if so, what the real Jen is like, and what would happen if she started posting as herself?

The general expectation is that blogs are honest reflections of the person who wrote them, but of course people who post as regularly as they do at that site probably have personas, that may or may not be who they really are. I know that I have edited myself more than once because I didn't want to start a big fight, or make myself look pathetic, or smug. After I posted an entry expressing gratitude for the happy things in my life, I was afraid people would think I was being smug, or bragging, or gloating over the fact that I am fortunate enough to have the freedom to take a risk on a temporary job that is my dream come true but may or may not translate into a real career. I thought briefly about posting something else, or deleting the entry, but I didn't, because I want to be my real self, or at least a reasonable facsimile. Plus, I don't have enough readership to worry about a flood of angry emails.

Jennette, a.k.a. PastaQueen posted a while ago about defensive blogging, which has to do with trying to second-guess the ways that people might misread, dislike, or take offense to something you write. It happens. I still get annoyed comments from fans of Judith Beck because I didn't like her book that much. They get the last laugh, of course, because they're losing weight and I'm still stuck here in neutral. Good for them, though. All I can say is I'm working on it. I don't see the point in trying to twist myself into a pretzel to avoid annoying a few readers now and then. Controversy is at least interesting.

This is my second post for the day, which only happens when I'm thinking hard about something. I'm not trying to blow the whole Elastic Waist post thing out of proportion -- I can see how I went wrong on that one. Just thinking about how snarkiness and self-parody have become kind of a convention on blogs, and what might be next when that all goes out of style.

Bargaining with myself

Lately, I find myself negotiating with myself like a tired parent bargains with a spoiled toddler: "I'll let you have crackers if you have soup for lunch." "You can drive to work (intead of biking or walking) if you mow the lawn." "Just do 15 minutes of your weight workout, you don't have to do all of it." "Just start the run, if you feel crappy after 10 minutes, you can quit and go home."

It seems to be a good strategy when I'm in danger of throwing a temper tantrum. It seems to help with that all or nothing attitude so many of us struggle with. I didn't leave early enough to get to the gym for my full weight workout today, and I was tempted to scrap the whole thing, just because I was looking for my stupid heart rate monitor. Finally, I decided that I didn't need a gizmo to know how hard I wanted to work in my Spinning class, and I just went. I did about 15 minutes of weight training, which isn't as good as my planned 25-30, but it's a whole heck of a lot better than 0. If I had scrapped it, I am sure I'd also have been less likely to go next time. Now I still have my streak going.

A second strategy was that I convinced my husband to get up early with me in the mornings and do a 20-minute Pilates or yoga video. We're committed to two of each (which means we can pick one day to be lazy and sleep in). If I had decided to do this by myself, I think I would have slept in today, but since he was already awake, my husband got me out of bed too. And it was really not so bad, once I was in the vertical position.

I guess what I'm saying is that since I don't have killer willpower or motivation, I'm making do with flexibility, self-trickery, inertia, and a pestering spouse. We use what we've got, I guess.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The end of summer

For the first time in a long time, I could see my breath this morning. I was doing a warm-up walk in the park before my run, and there it was. It seemed like an official notice of the beginning of fall. Most of the trees are still green, but there are a few with yellow or even brown leaves. The light has changed too, harder-edged and colder. All of the songbirds are still here, stuffing themselves full of seeds before their flight to warmer places.

Ohio is an odd place. Our summers are so hot and sticky and seem endless while they're here, and then after a really short autumn we're plunged into a long bitter winter where we barely see the sun. I love the intensity of it, though, and can't imagine living anywhere else.

Things have been going well with the new job. I feel like I'm finally living the life I was meant to live, as overdramatic as that probably sounds. On Monday, I spent hours happily working and didn't even want to stop to eat. Then yesterday, I took the whole day off and spent some time with friends I've really missed. Today I plan to go in for most of the afternoon and finish up some other work. It's especially nice to feel good at what I'm doing, instead of feeling stressed and barely competent.

So far this new idyllic state hasn't resulted in the easy weight loss I'd hoped for, but at least I am feeling stronger and healthier and having time to be more active. It feels like spring to me, like I'm waking up, even as the weather is turning colder.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Week 1 of the new exercise program -- success!

So here was my exercise week:

Monday: Ran 25 minutes, walked about 45
Tuesday: Strength training at the gym, biked to work (about 1.5 mi)
Wednesday: Did 20 minute A.M. Yoga tape, ran 30 minutes, warmup and cooldown walk (12 minutes)
Thursday: Strength training at the gym, 45-minute Spinning class, biked to work
Friday: Walked to work (rest day)
Saturday: Swam for 25 minutes, walked around at an art festival
Sunday: Ran 3 miles, warmup and cooldown walk, lots of standing volunteering at a different art fair

I have felt great doing all of this. Like I said, I'm starting to feel like myself again. The food is still iffy, which is the next thing to tackle. But I don't want to lose focus on what I'm doing right as I'm looking forward to other changes I want to make to improve.

Short post, but I just wanted to check in with my online family. I'm reading a great new book, The How of Happiness, and will post on it soon.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Feeling more like myself

First of all, to get it out of the way: Yesterday's weigh-in was 175.5, an uptick I was expecting for various reasons.

I'm not worrying about it because I am starting to feel more like my old self, which includes getting serious about exercise again. Yesterday I did a good 30-minute run on dirt trails with a few hills. Today I did weight lifting at the gym and went to a Spinning class for the first time in a while. I love the more intense exercise, because it seems to clear my head and help turn off that crazy switch that keeps me obsessing about stupid things like the size of my belly. What I want is to take care of business, which means tracking my food and exercising, and then live a normal life and focus on more important things. I want to lose weight but I also want to have a life. I understand why Jennette made the changes she did at her PastaQueen blog, because how boring and shallow is it to continually focus only on weight loss? I might focus on it a lot at this blog, but my real life is, thankfully, a lot bigger than that.

I love my new job, and have a lot of work to do to get up to speed on things. It's a totally different environment than I'm used to, and it's almost a little too aid-back for me. Luckily I can provide plenty of my own anxiety and stress, because this place won't do it for me. I am now working at a private, Catholic institution and I went to mass for the first time in a while, which was interesting. I went to a Catholic school and I think in my mind the religion got conflated with school rules and conformity because our principal used to take about half an hour when we were all sitting in church after mass each Friday to lecture us about the various crimes and misdemeanors that some of the students were committing. I recently read and it made me curious about the old religion, especially it's intellectual traditions. I found a lot in the mass service that spoke to me differently than in my school days. I'm not sure I'll go every week but I found it a nice, peaceful break in the week.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Trial and error: Finding a plan that works in my life

I got a comment today on an old post, one of the ones I wrote about The Beck Diet Solution. I wrote that post a little over a year ago, before starting my last job and putting on about 10 pounds of commuter weight. At the time I was only about 10 pounds over my goal. I've lost a few of the commuter pounds but obviously still am dealing with most of it. I might have to take another look at the Beck book, which seemed to be helping me until I got hung up on the author's tone. Maybe like the commenters, I can take some of what's there and learn from it. I have already adopted a few things. Like some of those commenters, I have been logging my calories with FitDay, which is proving to be very educational.

A lot of the diet "wisdom" out there focuses on what to eat. Don't eat the skin when you eat chicken. Put skim milk in your coffee instead of half and half. Get the ____-free version of the foods you like (insert fat, carb, or sugar depending on the trend of the moment). I am finding that it's really a lot more important to focus on how much you eat than what it is. My husband was looking at my Weight Watchers magazine and snorted when he saw an ad for the Weight Watchers version of Twinkies. It really is stupid if you think about it. They're 100 calories a piece. The real thing is 150 calories. I checked at the store today out of curiousity. I don't like Twinkies, but if I did, I'd rather spend the extra calories on one real one than have a rubbery Weight Watchers cake. Especially if I could get someone to split a single-serving package (which I think has two) rather than buying a whole box of diet cakes that are around when I have a weak moment. One of the reasons I got annoyed with Weight Watchers is that a lot of the meeting focused on that kind of "have this, not that" philosophy, mostly focused around low-points junk foods.

A better strategy for me, when I have the time, has been to find recipes that include the kind of foods that we all should be eating more often. I found this great recipe for Barley Risotto with Asparagus and Parmesean and made it tonight. It took about 45 minutes to make. There's nothing hard about it, except that you can't really leave the kitchen while it's cooking, but that's the same as regular risotto. This version is chewy, hearty, and very satisfying. I am thinking this is a good one to make in the fall when I want something really warm and filling. I could only eat about 2/3 of a serving. I had tried risotto once before, in a restaurant, and found it a little too rich for me to eat. This version uses just the right amount of cheese and no butter, and barley is a whole grain with lots of protein. This is the kind of switch that works for me. If risotto had been a favorite comfort food, I probably wouldn't have been satisfied with a substitute.

I also do better, mentally and physically, with a lot of exercise. I'm in the process of ramping up my workout schedule. I know from prior experience that once I get to the level that helps keep my mind calmer, I'll start seeing better results. I spent some time today working out an exercise schedule that I think is going to work well for me and signed up for a Spinning class. Adding exercise is a lot happier solution for me than subtracting food.

I guess the real issue here is that I don't want to blindly follow someone else's rules. So even though it's probably going to take me longer to get to my goal weight, I want to find something that makes me happy while I'm losing weight, not something I can tolerate for a short time until I lose the weight. I've done that before and it doesn't work well in the long run.
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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