Sunday, November 29, 2009

Workout Spotlight: Masters Swimming

Tonight was my Masters Swimming workout. The "masters" in the title refers to age (18 and up) and not ability level. Our group has two workouts, one for the beginners, and one for intermediates, and I am swimming with the beginners. We generally have four or five swimmers in each lane, so we get a little friendly interaction with the people in our lanes as well as a workout.

In my last masters group, there was actually one person who was just learning to swim, but I think it would be hard to learn that way, because there is usually one coach for 30 or so swimmers. Private or semi-private lessons would probably be better in that situation. If you have some basic swimming ability, though, masters swimming is a great way to improve your skills and get yourself in the pool at least once a week. You can search for a group near you on the U.S. Masters Swim webpage. My group charges a fee to pay for coaching and facility use in addition to the USMS dues.

When I swim on my own, I tend to just do a bunch of laps. In tonight's workout, however, there were one-armed swimming drills, "Tarzan" drills (freestyle swimming with the head out of the water, really stretching arms out in front with each stroke, as if grabbing for vines), and kickboard sets with all of the different kicks. I am terrible at the dolphin kick, the kick used for the butterfly stroke, but even a bad dolphin kick works the abs like nobody's business. I know I will wake up feeling that one tomorrow morning! The coach was able to give me some feedback on how to improve that kick, and that's one of the benefits of the group -- the chance to get some expert feedback and advice.

I have heard that swimming is not the greatest exercise for weight loss, but I think it's a great all-over strength workout, as well as a great workout for your core muscles if you do it right. The water provides a lot of resistance and you have to hold in your abs to be able to move efficiently in the water as you rotate for the strokes. I think that as long as you don't go on the Michael Phelps diet (at least unless you are working out 6+ hours a day and have the metabolism of a guy in his 20s), it can be a great addition to your fitness program.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Looking for a good, simple online workout tracker

I am interested in tracking my workouts online so that I could post a link to my workout journal for blog readers who were interested, so I didn't have to spend the time writing blog posts about my weekly workouts to be able to share that information. I want something very simple. I looked into SparkPeople, but it looks like it is more complicated than what I want -- all I want is something that will let me track activity and duration. For example: TRX suspension training, minutes. Etc. Nothing that wants me to enter every single exercise I did and the number of reps. That's too much work for me.

The closest thing I've found so far is Athlinks "What did you do today?" I may use that if I can't find anything else.

I would prefer something that either had an iPhone app or a mobile-optimized interface so that I could journal right from my iPod Touch/iPhone.

Anyone using something they love? Drop me a comment or an email.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Biggest Loser Special: Where Are They Now?

I would have missed "The Biggest Loser: Where Are They Now?" special if I didn't have a DVR. I had heard a while ago that something like this was coming up, but then I sort of forgot about it, and hadn't seen a lot of promos for it.

Luckily "The Biggest Loser" loves to do reruns, so you can probably catch it if you missed it. Sometimes they show up on The Fine Living Network about a week after they air on NBC, and Bravo also does reruns. For this reason, I won't do too many spoilers of the surprises, just give a few hints.

It was interesting to hear Dr. H. talk about starting the show. He said they didn't know whether they could take people who had never exercised and put them on an intense exercise routine, "We knew that professional athletes could work out like this, but they had been fit all of their lives." To me, that is the most impressive thing about "The Biggest Loser," that they are able to take people who don't think of themselves as able to work out and turn them into athletes. And besides the people who have been on the show, there have been lots of people who see the show and have started their own fitness programs.

I have to hand it to the show's producers. They didn't cherry-pick their successes and only show people who had maintained at or near their lowest weights. A few people were able to maintain at low weights, but they worked very hard to do it. I noticed that the magic number for a lot of maintainers seemed to be around 160 -- even if they had dropped more than that for the show to compete for prizes, this was where they "lived their lives." And even though some people might not think of that as success, I do. The contestants were able to live happy, active lives that were realistic for them. You could see a real light in a lot of their eyes that wasn't an act put on for the special. I think that was an important message to get across to people watching at home -- that you don't have to look like a fitness model to be a success.

The show focused on all kinds of successes. There were some segments highlighting some of the romances in the contestants' lives, and even weddings, including those who met on-screen (Matt & Suzy) and off (Neil). Several of the contestants have also competed in races, sometimes in big groups. I was especially teary-eyed to see the clip about Matt's Ironman race. Many are now working as fitness trainers, touring as motivational speakers, or volunteering to help spread what they learned to other people in their communities. Some talked about feeling better-equipped to do their jobs and take care of their families. Ali has written a book, which I plan to read and review at some point.

As I said, the special didn't shy away from talking about contestants who are struggling. Matt and Suzy talked about the weight they've regained, and how they want to turn it around so they can be good examples for their kids. They still seem to be keeping pretty active (especially Matt), but they admit that it's a lot harder in the real world than it was on the ranch. Bob also pays a visit to a contestant won the "Biggest Loser" title but who's regained most of his weight and talks to him about how he can turn it around. What I liked is that when this contestant said he was reluctant to go back to "the strict life," Bob said he shouldn't, that he needs to find a lifestyle he can live with day-to-day instead. At first glance, it actually seems to be better to be an also-ran on "The Biggest Loser" than the winner: Three out of seven of the winners (Ryan, Matt, and Eric) have regained a sig nificant amount of the weight they lost. But the other four, including the three women who won (Ali, Michelle, Helen, and Bill), seem to have maintained pretty close to their finale weights. I think it may come down to what motivated them to lose. I didn't see Season One, but Matt and Eric both seemed to be really motivated by the competitive aspect of it all. Ali, Jim, and Michelle seemed to focus more on changing their lives. Helen is sort of a hybrid.

One of my favorite segments was seeing Mike from last season looking like a fit, happy college kid. He and Ron seem to be doing fine, and better yet, Mike's brother Max got a chance to go to the spa at Fitness Ridge over the summer and has lost some significant weight. I was always sad for him because he saw his dad and brother go away and come back fitter, and he was left out of it all. It was great to see him getting some help to get started. They didn't say that the show had sent him, but my guess is that he got to go either free or at a reduced rate as part of a trial of the new "Biggest Loser" branded spa experience, since he appears in the commercials for it.

I'm sort of sad to know that Jillian was in Michigan twice and she didn't come visit me. Doesn't she know I'm her biggest fan? But of course, if she came here, she might want to work out with me, and I know she'd crush me like a bug.

I really thought the special did a good job of both showing the challenges of losing and maintaining weight while still showing that it is possible to change your life. Though a "Biggest Loser" program wouldn't be realistic for people to do in the real world, I think the show can help us all see that our limits probably aren't anywhere near where we think they are. That doesn't just have to mean weight loss -- I liked that the special showed people living their dreams in all kinds of different ways. The message of the show is to figure out what you really want, and then do whatever it takes to get it.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Biggest Loser Week 11: It's the Final Countdown

This was the all-important week where the final four contestants will be chosen. Bob and Jillian rightly focused on getting the contestants ready to transition from the artificial environment of the show to their real lives, with all the problems and complications that come with those lives. At first, all the contestants gave "Miss America answers" that they were going to have no trouble getting their fit on at home, but then after some prodding, Danny admitted that he was really scared.

There were a couple of little "moments," like Amanda and Bob having a heart-to-heart and Danny and Liz talking about how great it was that they were able to support each other. I felt like these were awkward to watch and went on for a little too long. I was waiting for Allen and Rudy to have their own "moment," but it never happened, and no one cuddled with Jillian either. I felt like Amanda had real feelings for Bob but Bob saw Amanda as mostly another contestant, albeit a really pretty and engaging one. Liz and Danny's ended kind of weirdly, like a couple on the telephone where neither wants to be the first to hang up. "Thank you," "No, thank you," "No, thank you." If I were the director, I would have yelled "CUT!" a lot sooner on this one."

Interestingly, they had a segment with Suze Orman about financial fitness this episode. I wouldn't have thought about it, but it makes sense: Many of the same issues that contribute to out-of-control weight gain also contribute to financial messes. Being afraid to face reality, for example, or not having a sense of security. Danny especially seemed to equate his weight problems with his financial problems. All along he has suggested that he sometimes feels like a failure as a husband and a father, and as a TV cameraman, he may not have a secure and stable income. There was a financial quiz that focused on the costs -- to employers and employees -- of obesity, but there was no mention of the fact that discrimination also plays a role. I was stunned by the figure of 4.4 billion dollars spent on the U.S. on gastric bypass surgery, and also of the $1,000,000 cost to the average person of being overweight for 40 years. Suze Orman sort of looks scary to me, with all those teeth, but the contestants appreciated the advice and really appreciated the $3,000 - 4,000 emergency fund each one was able to earn during the quiz.

There were some inspiring workout segments that showed the Day 1 contestants struggling, and the Week 11 contestants smiling through what was now an easy workout. The fact that they have come so far in 11 weeks is just stunning -- sure, the weight loss is great, but the achieving the kind of fitness they've built in 11 weeks would take a normal person in a normal situation years.

There was also the obligatory challenge where they carried their old weight and "tackled" their former selves. This time the challenge had a football theme, with the contestants harnessed to a barrel that contained 10 footballs, each of which represented 1 week's weight loss. For Rudy, they had to somehow make the first football weigh 28 pounds. The contestants had to run to the end of a football field, which lifted the barrel containing 9 of the footballs and carrying the first one, and drop off the Week 1 football on the 100-yard line. Then they ran back, dropping the barrel so they could pick up the next football. At the end, they ran to the end of the field and knocked over a tackling dummy that had a life-sized picture of them from the first day. Allen was the only one who really knew how to tackle, and it was fun to see him make his big hit when he won.

Because of the Danny-Liz-Rudy-Allen alliance, Amanda knew that she had to have a great weight loss week to have a chance at the final four. Because she is one of the fittest contestants, she was able to really work hard in the gym, doing lots of running. After a dramatic weigh-in, in which Danny finally set his own record of the most double-digit weeks of weight loss in a row, Allen and Liz ended up below the yellow line. Amanda got to cast the final vote. I like Allen and really wanted to see him in the final four, but Amanda had more of a friendship with Liz, so that was what made the difference in the end. As much as Liz talks about how her tendency to give to her relationships has been a problem to her, it also turned out to be her biggest strength in this game.

Allen looked great and seemed really happy to be back with his family and have a chance to give back to his community. I stayed tuned to Leno so I could see more of Allen, and he had lost even more weight and looked terrific. The interview with Leno wasn't all that interesting, though, and I turned it off before the "Cooking with Charles Barkley" segment.

Next week is the finale. I think I'm rooting for Amanda.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

New Weight Watchers program: Wish list and wild speculation

It's no big secret. Every December, Weight Watchers introduces its new program materials. I think they do this in December, when meeting attendance is generally lower, so that all the leaders have a chance to get any questions or problems figured out before the big January surge. Every now and then, a post comes up on the Weight Watchers boards about it, and everyone basically tells the Original Poster (OP) to shut up and wait until the program rollout. If any real information did leak onto the boards, it would be quickly swept away by the moderators, because what's the point of rolling out a new program if you can't generate some excitement with it?

Sometimes the changes are major, like when the Core option was introduced. Sometimes the changes are minor, like when the Core option was renamed the Simply Filling Technique. Sometimes there are just fiddly bits around the edges, like changing the look of the program materials. Each time, there is an opportunity to buy a whole new Dining Out Guide and Complete Food Companion. I had three or four different versions at one time.

I thought instead of trying to puzzle out what Weight Watchers actually planned to do this year, which would probably be impossible, it might be more fun to say what I would like Weight Watchers to do (short of making chocolate and wine 0 point vegetables):
  • Customizable Weight Loss Goals: It would be nice if you could customize your weight goal and get a corresponding points allowance. With the holidays coming up, it would be nice, for example, to set my goal to just maintain from now to January 1. With a paper tracker and the maintenance booklet, it would be technically possible to do that. You could just follow the recommendations for someone at their weight goal. It would be a really nice option to do this in eTools automatically and/or have an option in the quiz where you set your points target. You could adjust back up at New Year's, when you were feeling motivated. I don't know about others, but once I am over my points, it requires a stronger act of will to keep tracking, as stupid as that is. This option would make it easier for people like me to stay within range.
  • Revisions to the Good Health Guidelines: Are two servings of dairy really necessary for everyone every day? I'd rather up my fruits and veggies and drop my dairy to one a day. And do you really need two teaspoons of liquid oil each day if you also eat foods, like nuts and avocados, that contain healthy fats? Also, how about a little more clarity on the whole grains? Weight Watchers has a good track record of keeping up with new health research, so I think it is possible that we will see some revisions here.
  • Ditch the Weight Watchers Junk Food: The two-point bars, smoothies, and other snacks they sell in meetings have to be designed for superlong shelf lives, so they don't taste all that great and they're full of chemicals. Maybe it would be better for Weight Watchers to get out of the junk food business. It seems to go against their Good Health Guidelines, which focus on whole foods, to sell this garbage at the meetings.
  • More for Maintainers: I think it would be great if Weight Watchers set up once-a-month regional maintainer meetings where people could specifically focus on the challenge of maintaining. The idea now is that maintainers attend regular meetings to serve as a good example for the rest of the members, but what tends to happen is that they either weigh in and leave or they disappear for a few months and reappear 10-20 pounds heavier, like I did. Maintainers could still attend regular meetings but they might feel more motivated if they knew they were going to be meeting with other maintainers instead of sticking out as the only skinny person in the room.
  • Improvements to the iPhone App: I think you should be able to track your Good Health Guidelines on it, and your weekly weight. As it is, it's only a supplement to the website, not a substitute.
I don't have a lot of suggestions because I feel like it's already a solid program. I will go out on a limb and say that I don't expect any major changes this time around. Anyone else care to throw their hat in the ring with some wild speculation? All the cool kids will be doing it.

Monday, November 23, 2009

What to do about my meeting...

Tomorrow is my regular meeting/weigh-in day. I know my weight is not down from Thursday. It may well be up. I have had a disaster of a not-quite-week since then, feeling completely unfocused and not particularly motivated to eat right or exercise. I had workers in my house today and will have them here again tomorrow.

That was the actual post I started to write tonight about how I wasn't sure how to handle my meeting, especially because with workers in the house, I really didn't want to leave for the meeting. So what should I do? Do it? Skip it? Say "anything goes" until after Thanksgiving? Then I got the brilliant idea to look for a meeting in the early morning so I could go and be back in time for the workers. Then, as I was doing that, I realized there was a meeting at 6:30 at my regular center. It was 6:00. I felt scuzzy from sitting around all day and had just eaten dinner and had eaten handfuls of salty cashews right out of the bag in the afternoon, but I knew I needed to get out of the house before I decided that next week was going to be a complete loss with the holidays and gave in to the idea of not tracking.

I took a quick shower, put on a somewhat cute outfit and makeup, and went to the center with wet hair. I decided to do the "No Weigh In" option, because after a not-so-great few days (I just weighed in on Thursday) with dinner still digesting, I didn't want to face the scale. I just needed to give myself a signal that this floundering around had to stop. I don't think I've used the no-weigh option before, because I always sort of felt like the weigh-in was the whole point of the meeting, but the point of the meeting is to get motivated and have a chance to be around like-minded people with the same goals. Thursday's meeting didn't really do it for me, but tonight's was better. The people there seemed down-to-earth and the leader was sincere. I even picked up a cookbook on sale for $5.

Tomorrow I take my first dose of my new meds. I really do think that worrying about the whole thyroid thing on top of the epic home-improvement projects and the impending Family Time just seemed like too much to handle. But it's not, really.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving:
  • I'm grateful to have a doctor who took the time to listen to me
  • I'm grateful to have health insurance and prescription coverage
  • I'm grateful to have a home that I love
  • I'm grateful to have the resources to do the home improvement projects that needed to be done
  • I'm grateful to have a family I love and the chance to spend time with them.
Most of all, I'm grateful I figured out a way to pull out of the tailspin this time. Thanks for reading.

Recipe: Toasted Peanut Butter Oats

I finally found a way that I like oatmeal. The secret is toasting the oats first, before cooking them, and then adding some peanut butter, which is my favorite thing in the world. I'm not sure where the idea of toasting the oats came from, but I got the idea to put peanut butter in them from Jenna's blog. She is always making oatmeal with all kinds of goodies.

I apologize for the lack of pictures. The next time I make this, I will come back and add them if I remember.

I used Bob's Red Mill Thick Rolled Oats. I prepared them according to the package directions, but with a twist:

While I boiled the 1 cup of water and dash of salt (for one serving) in a small saucepan on the back burner, I toasted 1/2 cup of the oats in a small skillet on the front burner over medium-high heat, stirring them with a wooden spoon so they would toast evenly. The oats start to smell really good when they toast, and that's how you know they are ready. For me, it took about the same time as it took for the water to boil.

When the water boiled, I dumped the oats into the boiling water. There are some small dark specks that seem to be a part of the oat that toasted faster than the rest. I was afraid they would give the oats a burnt taste but they didn't. I reduced the heat to medium and stirred gently every few minutes for 10 minutes.

When the 10 minutes were up, I turned off the gas, dropped 2 tablespoons of peanut butter on top of the oats and covered them. I let them stand for about 2 minutes off the heat to absorb the rest of the water and melt the peanut butter a little so it would be easier to stir in.

Then I uncovered the pan, gave everything a good stir, and poured it into a bowl. I sliced a small, ripe banana on top and dug in.

I had this (and 14 cashews while I waited for the oats to cook) for breakfast yesterday after my run (I had a slice of toast with butter before my run) at around 8:00 before going out for a busy shopping day. I didn't get hungry for lunch until 2:00!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Test results

My test results came in the mail yesterday. I still have high levels of thyroid antibodies and everything else looks borderline, so my doctor suggests taking a low dose of synthetic thyroid hormone. I have to call in tomorrow with my pharmacy information.

I am curious to see what the effects will be. I am also going to read as much on the condition as I can so I know what to do to help the medicine work.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Workout Spotlight: TRX Suspension Training

Today's workout was great. I am taking a TRX Suspension Training class at my local YMCA on Friday mornings. The TRX is a strap system that allows you to use your own bodyweight as either resistance or assistance in lots of different exercises. The classes I've taken have focused mostly on strength, but the TRX website says they can also be used for speed and agility drills. I even remember seeing the TRX being used on "The Biggest Loser" a season or two ago.

What I like about the workouts is that you can adjust the difficulty of the exercise by changing your body position. Today we were doing back rows and I moved my feet closer in when I got tired to make things a little easier. If you're super-buff, of course, you can also adjust to make things more challenging.

You can get these things for home use, but at my gym they have them anchored to the studs in the wall or hanging from metal ceiling beams. I might be a little nervous about getting it properly situated to hold my weight if I was setting it up in my house. If it was not secured, you could fall flat on your face. It does look like it would easily attach to one of those big jungle gyms everyone else in the suburbs seems to have, but I didn't inherit one of those from my house's previous owners. Or, if you happen to have a tank lying around, you can use that as an anchor.

It's hard to do the TRX justice so I thought I'd share another video to help you get the idea. This trainer goes through enough different exercises to give you a sense of the possibilities.

If your gym offers these classes, give one a try. I'm really enjoying them, and they make you feel delightfully hardcore.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

I'm such a cliché

My Weight Chart:
Weight Chart

Up again. Crap. To make it worse, we had a super-perky substitute leader from another center. Even though I missed my regular meeting, I tried to choose a meeting with the same leader, but she was out. I hope she will be there Tuesday.

I knew that I had lost my focus last week, and that I had slacked off not only on the Good Health Guidelines but on journaling in general. So in one sense the weight gain is not surprising. It does seem like this is all more of a struggle than it should be.

I saw a new doctor yesterday for a new-patient consultation. I had not considered her as an option because I knew her personally from a fitness club, but I talked to her after my last experience and she thought it would be fine. I brought a copy of my bloodwork and she was concerned with some of the thyroid-related results. She ordered a second test and included some other measures of thyroid function. She suspects I might have borderline hypothyroidism. The symptoms she mentioned -- weight gain, fatigue, constipation -- seem like common enough things, but then I did some more reading and I have other suspicious symptoms: Vertigo, moodiness, dry eyes, sluggishness, tightness in the chest.

I am waiting a little anxiously for the test results. I got yesterday and it suggests that even with treatment, I'd need to do the same things I'm currently trying to do: Eat right, exercise, manage stress, take the appropriate supplements. If I do have a thyroid issue and it gets addressed, it could make this all a little less of a struggle.

Or, it could turn out that there is absolutely nothing wrong with me and I just need to get motivated and work harder. That's OK. I don't want a chronic health condition.

I just want to know the truth, and what to do about it.

At the very least, I am happy to have a doctor who is smart, asks the right questions, and makes thoughtful choices. That's a big relief.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Biggest Loser Week 11: Makeovers

For some reason, this week's episode was half an hour shorter than usual. The show felt a little skimpy -- we didn't get nearly enough Tim Gunn. Last time around, there was a real focus on the transformation, the process of selecting the clothes, the choices of hairstyle. This time, we got maybe a moment or two of conversation between Tim and each contestant. This time, instead of taking the contestants into a big department store, he took them each into a "boutique" he had created for each contestant inside a luxury hotel suite. We got to see him hold up a dress or a shoe or a jacket with each contestant and have a word or two, but that was about it.

The makeovers themselves were just okay. It seemed like the clothes chosen were much more understated than the usual TBL makeovers. I thought that Danny's powder-blue vest was the worst fashion choice. Actually, is a powder-blue vest ever a good fashion choice for a guy? The other guys wore much more slimming jackets. Rudy had to give up the beard, but he started growing it back immediately. Liz got sassy in an animal-print dress and a cute blonde hairdo. I thought Rebecca's haircut and black dress were a little severe, and the long bangs going straight into her eyes had to drive her crazy. Amanda didn't really look that much different than she did for the eliminations -- she got to keep her long blonde hair, and her outfit was pretty but fairly casual. None of these makeovers had the "Oh my God!" impact that I've seen on other seasons.

Maybe the reason was that they didn't want dramatic clothes and hairstyles to distract from the speeches that each contestant had to give to a crowd of TV Guide readers? It was a decidedly un-glamorous venue. A couple of the speeches were really touching but the rest relied on tired weight-loss story boilerplate: "I was always on the sidelines, never on stage," "I'm ready to continue my journey." The biggest drama came from the contestants being reunited with family members right before the speech. I felt an axe in my heart when Danny's daughter said "I can't wait to start my journey," and for a moment was afraid that a spinoff, "The Littlest Loser" show would be born, where children of contestants shed their baby fat. No no no no no. Hopefully the contestants' kids won't become hyper-focused on weight in the aftermath of their parents' transformation.

When the contestants got back to the ranch, they had to do a zipline challenge, where they pulled themselves from one hilltop across a deep valley to a second hilltop, where larger-than-life pictures of the contestants at the start of the show waited for them. Liz freaked out and uttered some pretty funny, but terrified, primal screams, but she made it. Once the contestants all got across (Rudy won, with Amanda right behind), they each unrolled a picture of their made-over selves over their old pictures. Allan admitted later to Bob that he had purposely thrown this and the last challenge to keep contestants from focusing on him as a target for elimination.

Jillian's reaction to the whole makeover thing was mostly, "That's nice, now let's get to the gym," but she did pick up on a story from Rudy's speech about how his sister had gotten gravely ill when he was 12 and died a few years later. She grilled him about why he had never brought this story up before, and managed to find out that he was shuttled around to various family members while his sister was in the hospital. She pointed out that he lost his sister and felt abandoned by people he loved at the same time. This was about when he started gaining weight. Now, she continued, he can't let people get mad at him because it makes him feel too alone, so he hides his feelings from people and eats instead.

The truth of Jillian's analysis really came out at the elimination, which was between Rebecca and Liz. Rudy casts the deciding vote to eliminate Rebecca because of something she did five weeks earlier, and she is understandably hurt and confused that he had never mentioned this to her in all the time since the incident occurred, and only mentioned it as she was leaving.

I stuck around through some of Leno to see what Rebecca looks like now, but other than the opening monologue, the show was so incredibly stupid that we recorded it on the DVR and watched cooking shows until the show was over. Then we rolled back to Rebecca's interview. She was incredibly buff. Her hair looked much cuter than it had during the makeover, but I thought that her decision to wear a miniskirt was a bad one. She had the legs for it, but trying to sit on stage in a chair in a miniskirt with cameras rolling? Something a little longer would have been just as cute and a lot more appropriate. We did find out that I was right in my guess about a Biggest Loser romance between Rebecca and Daniel.

My money is on her for the At-Home Champion, unless Allan gets eliminated before the finale.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Taking a break

I have felt frazzled and completely stressed out for the last couple of days. I did two workouts (a morning run and an evening swim) on Sunday so I took Monday off, but when I thought about running today I just dreaded the whole idea. So I took today off as well. It worked -- I'm already looking forward to doing it tomorrow.

It's hard to know sometimes whether I really need a break or whether it's just laziness and inertia talking, but today I could tell I really needed the break. I've had an unfocused and frustrated last few days and I needed a breather to collect mysef.

I had to miss Weight Watchers today because of a work commitment, but I'm planning to get to a meeting on Thursday. I will have to wait until then to see whether I will pay for the weekend's indiscretions on the scale.

MAKEOVERS on "The Biggest Loser tonight." Can't wait.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Workout spotlight: Pilates and Pilates Reformer

I thought it might be interesting, now that my Good Health Guidelines series is finished, to spotlight some of the more interesting workouts I'm doing, in case anyone out there is looking for something new and fun to try.

Yesterday's workout was Pilates Reformer, which uses a machine with springs and pulleys to provide resistance and assistance for doing various exercises. I found a good video on YouTube that helps illustrate how this works:

Pilates has an interesting history, and was designed as a physical therapy of sorts. I started with Reformer a little more than a year ago. Before I started doing Reformer, I had a lot of little aches and pains, most of which were running-related. I trained for my half marathon completely injury-free, and I know my posture has improved.

Most studios will want you to start with the mat exercises first. In the mat classes, you will learn the breathing techniques, the body alignment required to protect your spine, and learn exercises like The Hundred and Leg Circles that you also do on the reformer. Right now, I'm doing mat class once a week and Reformer once a week, because I think that the mat helps me get back to basics. Reformer allows you to use more strength to push the carriage around, while in mat it's all about alignment and focus.

My first experience with Pilates was at home with a video, This was a great way to start because I already knew some of the basics before walking into a class. When I started with this back in 2000 or so, Pilates had a reputation of being for dancers, athletes, and other very fit people, at least at my gym, and I felt too intimidated to take a class until I had some experience first. I would still recommend this video to people who wanted to try out Pilates on their own before taking a class. All you need is a thick mat to cushion your back if your floor is not carpeted, or even a yoga mat.

I now take Pilates at a studio where people of all levels, mostly women, take classes, so it's a lot friendlier. There are a lot of things to focus on: Spine alignment, tightening my abs and pelvic floor, breathing, keeping my legs tight, foot position, etc., etc. Classes are small and the instructors have eyes like a hawk and make sure to let me know if I'm letting something slide, which felt frustrating at first but now just helps keep me focused.

At first I was tempted to skip things like Pilates and yoga because I thought they didn't help with weight loss, but I'm seeing some real results. I can see (faint) signs of a six pack under my remaining inch or so of belly fat, and having strong core muscles has helped me continue to run and swim without being sidelined by injuries. I can also feel that those strong abs and back muscles help me when I'm doing other activities, like raking my yard or carrying heavy objects. Plus, I think all the mind-body work has improved my coordination. I don't feel like such a klutz anymore.

I would really recommend finding a small studio for your first classes rather than trying it at a place like the YMCA or a college recreation center, because the instructors are more likely to have taken specialized training in Pilates techniques. You might feel silly Rolling Like a Ball, but everyone else there will be doing it too. Like me, you may find that it helps you build all-over strength and flexibility while also adding a little grace and ease to your movements.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Good Health Guideline: Whole Grains

Welcome to the final installment of my GHG series. I've enjoyed the discussion so far. I didn't purposely save whole grains for last, but it is one of the more vague of the WW guidlines: "Choose whole grains whenever possible." If you take this literally, it's almost always possible to choose whole grains. If you walk into a restaurant and notice they have no whole grains, you could leave.

In reality, I don't always choose whole grains, even when it's possible. The one-point difference between white pasta, which I love, and whole-wheat pasta, which I don't particularly enjoy, isn't enough to convince me to make the switch. I buy wholegrain breads most of the time, but every now and then I enjoy a slice of sourdough or Italian or even a bagel.

Besides, when I think whole grains, I don't think of things made with whole grain flour, I think of actual whole grains. The Kashi pilaf pictured above is one of the tastiest whole grain products I've found. There is a Mediterranean Pilaf recipe on the box that is fantastic, and I've made variations on that theme by changing up the vegetables or seasonings. You can also add fruit and cinnamon and have a great breakfast pilaf or even a dessert. Kashi makes a lot of great products, including 2-point granola bars that blow the WW snack bars out of the water and have a lot more wholesome-seeming ingredients. The crackers and cereals are great too.

I have not managed to make oatmeal in any way I like except in granola and cookies. There is something yucky about the flavor. I've tried steel-cut oats, rolled oats, old-fashioned oats, overnight oats... I've dosed them up with all kinds of things. I do, however, like Quaker's multigrain cereal, so it really must be something about cooked oats. I like raw oats in yogurt, just not cooked ones.

I enjoy a lot of other whole grains: Barley, quinoa, brown rice, etc. The only thing that keeps me from having them more often is the cooking time. I had a rice cooker but it never did a very good job of cooking rice and grains evenly. Maybe I need to try another model. I do have some recipes for cooking whole grains in the slow-cooker, so I should probably dust those off, especially now that the weather is getting colder and I'm starting to feel the call of comfort foods. A warm bowl of grains can be just as comforting as macaroni and cheese (ok, almost as comforting, anyway), I just don't always think of them first.

Any favorites you'd like to share?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Good Health Guideline: Multivitamin

After reading nic's post about the vitamins she takes, I thought I'd go ahead and cover this Good Health Guideline.

Weight Watchers recommends that all members take a multivitamin containing no more than 100% of the RDA of vitamins and minerals. Presumably, this is because dieters may miss certain nutrients because they are cutting back on their food intake.

No specific brand is recommended, though the One-A-Day Weight Smart vitamin used to be advertised in Weight Watchers Magazine and ads in program materials. (Weight Watchers' members seem to be a huge market force, and I wouldn't be surprised if the organization made more from ads in program materials like the Complete Food Guide and the coupon books they hand out in meetings than from membership dues.) It looks like that vitamin is now called Women's Active Metabolism, and the metabolism activators are both variants on caffeine. If you take your multivitamin while you are drinking your morning coffee, you're probably getting about the same effect. I tend to be a little skeptical of anything that claims to affect weight loss or metabolism, because there are so many scammers out there. (I am, in fact, concerned that this post will attract spam comments from snake oil salespeople.)

I take Country Life's Maxine for Women, which Jillian Michaels recommended on her much-missed podcast. I take the version with iron because I have had troubles with anemia in the past. Weight Watchers' guidelines would make this vitamin a no-no because it contains more than 100% of the RDA of certain nutrients. I also take 2 capsules of fish oil, a flaxseed oil capsule (it helps my eczema, read about it on the internets), and some extra selenium and vitamin D. I used to also take a because everyone said it would help save my knees, but to be honest, I quit taking it weeks ago and have noticed no difference at all. I started taking some of the extra supplements after reading When Your Body Gets the Blues and started taking the fish oil after hearing about the benefits of Omega 3 fatty acids.

I am assuming that this guideline is all about nutrition and less about supporting weight loss, but the Body Blues research suggested that there could be some weight-loss benefit from supplementation, light, and exercise, as well as a mood-lifting effect.

There is still some controversy over whether vitamins provide real health benefits. I think that most vitamin consumers, like me, think that because vitamins may help and probably won't hurt, that we are safer taking them than not. It's really anyone's guess whether we're helping ourselves or just wasting the money we spend on supplements. I feel better when I'm taking my vitamins regularly, but I also tend to take them at times when I'm really focusing on other healthy habits, like exercise and diet.

Do you take any supplements? Do you notice any difference from when you weren't taking them?

The Biggest Loser Week 10: Two For the Road

This week the contestants learned that not just one person was going to be eliminated, but two. In addition to the Yellow Line, there was now a Red Line -- the person who lost the lowest percentage of weight this week had to leave immediately. The contestants above the Red Line but below the Yellow Line would be eligible for the usual elimination by vote.

This impending carnage -- one quarter of the remaining 8 contestants leaving, including the novelty of a no-excuses cut -- left everyone shell-shocked, but they immediately were thrown into a "pop challenge" where contestants competed for a one-pound advantage at the weigh-in by leaping up to pull tennis balls off three strips of Velcro, one at a time, and running to drop them into a bucket. I thought Allen would win easily, and he did win, but with Rebecca just three steps behind him.

Jillian panicked at the idea of Shay being sent home with 200 pounds yet to lose, and seemingly decided the best way to save her was to pump up the volume on the workouts -- more screaming, more sweating, more yelling. I couldn't help but be impressed by how incredibly fit Shay is, even at 300+ pounds. None of the other contestants were off the hook either, and the trainers used the drama to motivate the contestants, with plenty of yelling and screaming to go around. No one was spared, even the normally tough-as-nails Rebecca. Everyone had a chance to cry.

With everyone in a panic, the logical thing to do was to take the contestants to the circus for the stupidest challenge yet, jumping from mini trampolines through hoops onto big pads -- each hoop represented a player. Immunity was at stake, and it was another challenge that encouraged players to gang up on each other and eliminate the biggest threats first. Each player's name was on a hoop, and players got a point whenever someone jumped through their hoop. 100 points meant you were eliminated from the game. This was basically a variant of the baseball challenge from Week 7.

We start to see that there is a big split between the 4 players in their 20s and the four "older" players, most of whom look like they are in their 30s. Shay and Rudy have a misunderstanding -- he says he will wait to go after her until "the end," which she thinks means that he won't give her points until everyone else is out. Since Rudy is part of the "old" group and Shay is part of the young group, Rudy started putting points on her board when it was down to three players: Shay, Rudy, and Danny. Shay screams at him the entire time about having no integrity and being cruel and picking on her. It was ridiculous. Even though I thought he meant the same thing that she did, it made more sense for Rudy to be loyal to fellow old guy Danny after watching Shay and her friends systematically eliminate every player over 30. Rudy won immunity, and Shay threw him hurt and angry looks for the rest of the episode.

At this point you start to realize that Shay truly believes that she deserves a free pass from all the other players because of her extreme size and her horrific childhood. Shay might have been a victim when she was a child, but as I watched her abuse the other players if they didn't give her the special treatment she felt she was entitled to, I started to have less and less sympathy for her. She is an adult now, and she needs to start acting like one. Abby had a horrific tragedy and was more than willing to let the players send her home when she came up for elimination, she didn't play for sympathy. On one hand, I agreed with Shay and Jillian that she really needed the safety of the Ranch more than the other players, especially because we know that at home she has three jobs and a husband and two stepchildren to distract her from her own goals. On the other hand, we've seen contestants from past seasons who lost well on the ranch go home and regain their weight if they aren't able to transfer what they've learned to their normal lives, and we've seen contestants who got sent home do very well there. Bob and Jillian are the last people who should be promoting the idea that you can't succeed unless you are on the show. There are many people watching at home who need to believe that they can be very successful on their own and fit fitness into a busy life.

The weigh-in was dramatic. Shay was one of the first weighed in, and Allison happens to mention that Shay is only 17 pounds away from the 100-pounds-lost milestone. Shay laughs it off, figuring that is impossible. If she did hit the 100 pound mark, though, we find out that she would break the record for fastest woman to 100 pounds. Of course, because the contestants are really weighed in the morning and the scale we see them on is just a prop, Allison knew that Shay was going to break that record. The order of the weigh-in is carefully chosen for the most drama. When we see Shay lose 17 pounds, we know that she will be safe. But then, we see contestant after contestant have their best-ever week, and Shay creeps closer and closer to that Yellow Line, along with fellow Team Young member Amanda. Daniel weighs in last and has another disappointing week, slipping him under Shay as the Red Line elimination. To confirm my suspicions from last week, Rebecca runs up in tears and hugs him.

As Amanda and Shay are making their case for who should stay, I am sure that it will be Amanda who is leaving. She is looking great and seems to be one of the most level-headed contestants on the show. As I said to my husband as we were watching, "She probably has about 30 pounds to lose. She could do that with Weight Watchers, she doesn't need to be there." Amanda makes her tearful case sure that she is heading home, but to everyone's surprise, Shay is sent home. The final vote for Shay comes from Rudy, who might have voted differently if Shay had taken his "betrayal" during the silly hoop challenge in stride, but she says she has no regrets. Somehow I missed the "where is she now" video for Shay at the end of the show, but I found it online -- she has 6 trainers now who are helping her at home, and she looks noticeably thinner even though she still has a lot of weight to lose. Daniel also is still doing OK on his own and has "a girlfriend he hopes to introduce to America at the finale." Hmm, wonder who that is?

Next week, MAKEOVERS with Tim Gunn for Alan, Rudy, Amanda, Rebecca, Danny, and Liz. At this point I'm not sure which I'm more excited to see go: Rebecca's weird comb-over birds' nest, Liz's scraggly gray hair, or Rudy's beard.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

I lost two weeks in a row! Down 1.2

I was not expecting a great loss this week, to be honest. I was about 40 points over for the week and I had such a great loss last week that I thought I'd either maintain or have a partial-pound loss or gain. I actually asked the receptionist, "Are you kidding me?" when she gave me the news. This receptionist is a sub who is not usually at our meetings, but she weighed me in last week and this week.

I am out of the 170s and am less than a pound away from my 5%. Even though the ticker at the top of the site doesn't reflect it, I have lost a total of 7.6 since I started attending meetings, and 8 pounds will be my 5%. So of course, my goal for next week is to get that 5% star.

I am going to stick with the Good Health Guidelines, despite any skepticism I might have, because I can't argue with my success. I think that by focusing on these foods, I'm eating less junky things.

One other change I've made, and I hesitate to mention this, is that I've cut back on my running. Instead of doing 2-hour long runs, I'm doing 40-45 minutes. I also have been more diligent about getting my strength training in. Between that and the swimming, I'm starting to feel some solid muscles in my arms -- once I lose some of the fat on top of them, I could have some nice definition.

I've obviously hit on a combination of things that is working for me, so I'm just going to stick with it. Only 14.2 pounds to my goal, and it's starting to feel like I'm going to get there.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Good Health Guidelines: Dairy

I have to admit that I am still a skeptic on this one. There has been some research that suggests that "consuming dairy products helps with weight loss when coupled with calorie restriction," (emphasis mine) but the researcher who found that link was funded by the dairy industry. Here are some more links suggesting that any weight loss benefit has been overstated.

Because 70% of the world's population, like me, is lactose intolerant, I really wonder if human beings were meant to have all of this dairy. Tolerance for milk among northern Europeans (and people descended from them) is the gift of a mutation common in the milk-drinking world. Besides the lactose issue, I am concerned about artificial hormones administered to cows to increase their milk production. Even if it is safe for humans, it does not seem to be very good for the cows. It's easy to find milk that is organic and free of artificial hormones, but my favorite yogurt, Fage, doesn't make any claims to be free of the stuff. The only organic Greek yogurt I've found so far, Oikos, is very sour and not at all to my taste. Left to my own devices, I'd have one serving of dairy products every day or two.

So I'm ambivalent about the whole dairy products thing. Last week's weight-loss success convinced me to keep up the GHG compliance for a while, but I'm still not totally convinced. I often wonder if Weight Watchers gets lobbied by various industries and companies to promote certain food products on the program, the way the USDA was when it redesigned the food pyramid to its current useless graphic.

I'm enjoying my cheese (mostly fresh mozzarella) and yogurt for now, but I'm still thinking that I may up on the other side of this one.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Good Health Guidelines: Lean Protein

Weight Watchers isn't a high-protein plan: Members can check off the lean protein requirement with just 1 serving a day, and a serving is only 3 ounces of meat or fish, one egg, etc. I never have much trouble getting this in, even though I don't eat a lot of meat. People forget that most foods aren't pure protein, fat, or carbs, but contain a mix. Members following the other Good Health Guidelines are also getting protein in some of the other foods, like whole grains and dairy servings. (Weight Watchers would be hard, if not impossible, for vegans to follow.) Protein has many important functions in the body, especially in building and repairing the body. If you're working on losing weight and getting fit, you need protein, but most Americans get more than enough.

I'm glad this plan takes a balanced view, because like and that it's better to eat lower on the food chain most of the time. I also have some concerns about the way animals are treated in the meat, egg, and dairy industries and try to buy these foods from local, ethical farmers, but it's not always easy. I know that most restaurants are just buying their meat from the cheapest sources they can find. I'm not ready to make the leap to a vegetarian diet at this point, though I've definitely considered it.

I love eggs and that's one of my favorite protein options. Also sushi and all kinds of seafood. Falafel is probably my favorite vegetarian protein option, but unfortunately, it's usually deep fried. I'm not as creative as I could be with my protein sources -- like a lot of other dieters, I eat my share of skinless chicken breasts. I love peanut butter, too, and nut butters of all sorts. They're pretty easy to make in my food processor.

This one is a pretty easy guideline to follow for me, though I have gone through phases where all I wanted to eat was pasta with butter and saltine crackers with peanut butter. Do you have trouble with this guideline? Any creative ideas for those who do struggle with this one?

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Good Mental Health Guideline 2: Forget Models

The other day my perspective on the whole models issue shifted. I spent a lot of time, especially when I was in my twenties, brooding over the fact that I did not look anything like a magazine model.

The story, "Should Fashion Reflect Fantasy or Reality," was about a photo in Glamour magazine that got a lot of attention. It featured a beautiful, smiling blonde woman wearing just her undies, but the shocker was that the model had a small but visible belly bulge.

The story did not get my attention because I really believed that "fashion industry is 'sizing up.'" because of one 3" x 3" photo in a whole magazine full of the more familiar airbrushed models. I tried to call in to say how ridiculous it seemed to make a fuss over one picture, but of course, I couldn't get through. Glamour has used pictures like this before, and they always get lots of positive comments, but they continue to only use images like this in stories about how we should learn to love our bodies "no matter what" or in discussions about how to hide "flaws."

It also wasn't because the callers were so accepting of this supposed change in the fashion industry. There were plenty of supportive calls, but there were also the usual arguments that clothes look better on tall, thin people and that we shouldn't "encourage obesity," as if this model was anywhere close to obese. According to Newsweek:

At 5'11 and 180 pounds, she has a body mass index (a weight-for-height formula used to measure obesity) of 25.1, which is two-tenths of a point above what the National Institute of Health deems "normal."
Showing a model who is two-tenths of a percentage into the "overweight"on the BMI scale is hardly encouraging obesity. If the model lost the few pounds necessary to drop her into the "normal" range, I don't think her appearance would change enough to satisfy the commenters who were lamenting this unhealthy role model appearing among all the other "healthy" models.

The reason it changed my viewpoint is that it showed how ridiculous it is to think that I should care what kind of models Glamour or any other magazine puts in its pages. When a fashion editor lets us know that plus-sized clothes are modeled by women who are 5'9" and wear a size 6 or 8, and when they admit that the typical photo shoot uses "child models" from Eastern Europe, I think it's all too ridiculous to generate much emotion in me. When even one of these models is photoshopped so that her pelvis is smaller than her head, it becomes clear that this is a farce. When someone uses Michelle Obama, who is intimidatingly fit, as an example of a woman who is not represented in magazines because magazines are about aspiration and fantasy, it is something I just can't care about anymore. It becomes obvious, as Robin Givhan says, that "
this isn't meant to be literal" -- that there is no way that you can think that these should be our role models, just as you wouldn't wear a designer ball gown on the beach and let the hem of the dress trail into the ocean.

The funniest moment was when someone asked about the unattainability of male model images and the commentator was incredulous that men would worry about something so silly:
I don't think that the average man looks at a model, a male model who has the body type of a 12-year-old and says, you know, oh, gosh. I need to stay out at the gym and cut back on, you know, my protein so I can achieve that.
I think we need to "man up" here and realize that it's just as silly for adult women to aspire to the body type of a 12-year-old girl as it is for a grown man to want to look like a boy. We can either enjoy these images as an interesting art form (I actually enjoy the ones in Vogue more than in other magazines, because they are so spectacular that there is no pretense of attainability -- the clothes and everything are so over-the-top that we know it's just art) or ignore them altogether.
I don't think the magazines are really going to change because they've had plenty of time to do so if they cared what women thought. It's not as if we haven't been hearing for decades how bad women and girls feel when they see impossibly thin models.

My guess is that more women are tuning out, and that Glamour's attempt to garner attention with some "normal" women in their magazine is because we're in a recession, and fashion magazines and designer clothes are easy items to cut from the budget, especially when women have gotten the message, whether intended or not, "that fashion isn't for them." Maybe one plus of the recession might be that now it's hurting them as much as it used to hurt us.

Good Mental Health Guideline 1: Make Choices Consciously

I was inspired by the Good Health Guidelines series to offer my own "Good Mental Health Guidelines" as a little spinoff series. The first one is all about choice.

Some programs "work" by offering very few choices: They offer set, prepackaged meals or severely restrict food groups or declare certain things off limits. Those plans may have appeal for people who feel overwhelmed by their food choices or who have serious problems limiting their intake once they start eating a certain food.

On the other hand are programs like Weight Watchers, which offer more flexibility. You notice that the Good Health Guidelines are called "guidelines" and not "rules" or "laws." On this program, your points allowance is like a bank account, and you are given the freedom to spend them however you'd like, though following the Good Health Guidelines and Filling Foods lists are offered as a roadmap to making healthy choices. You can still lose weight by eating low-points junk food, but Weight Watchers does not recommend this (and neither do I). Some of the guidelines are very loose, like "choose whole grains whenever possible." It's always possible to choose whole grains. It may not be easy or practical, but it's possible. I think that these guidelines are kept purposely general, in the hopes that people following the plan have some idea of what is appropriate and have some measure of good judgment about what is healthy. I think the fact that there is this level of trust is reassuring. Weight Watchers has faith in us! We are smart and can figure some of these things out for ourselves.

A friend told me recently that Weight Watchers didn't "allow" her to eat white bread, and I think she had the whole grains guideline in mind when she said that. I don't think that it was the intention of this or any other guideline to make food choices off-limits. Even sugar and alcohol are allowed, Weight Watchers just suggests that you "limit" them. They don't even give a guideline of the limits they have in mind. Even if you get serious about following all of the GHGs like I did last week, there are still some "play" points left in your budget for favorite foods that might not fit within those guidelines. Cashew butter and mini Kit Kats are not listed in the GHGs, and I was still able to have both and fit within the guidelines. I didn't have a whole bag of mini Kit Kats last week, I had two.

I would have a very hard time sticking to a plan that didn't allow me to have my most favorite foods. I have learned what sacrifices are okay with me and which ones I am not willing to make. For example, I don't care how "possible" it is, I still don't choose whole-wheat pasta very often. I grew up loving regular spaghetti, and I'd rather limit my portions of the real thing instead and have it less often. I definitely will never accept spaghetti squash as a substitute. I'd rather make my sacrifices in other places. I am totally fine, however, substituting water or iced tea for the sodas I used to have at restaurants. Before the Halloween candy, I can't tell you the last time I bought a candy bar. I almost never have fast food, and I don't miss it. But I won't give up my real peanut butter, no matter how good some people think PB2 is.

The most important choice to make consciously is the choice to lose weight itself. No one is forcing me to do this. I chose to do Weight Watchers because I think it works for me. I try to keep that in mind when I'm feeling resentful at small portions or the high point value of some of my favorite foods. This is a game I am choosing to play, and I choose whether to follow the rules, bend or break them, or whether to stop playing. Just remembering that it was a choice makes it easier somehow.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The Biggest Loser Week 8: The Biggest Loser Lobby

To coincide with Election Day, the contestants headed (on Jet Blue) to lobby the federal government for... well, to do something about the fact that Americans are fat. I wasn't exactly sure what the Loser Lobby was fighting for, other than better health and physical education programs in the schools: A change in government food subsidies? More walkable neighborhoods? Higher taxes on fat pants? The problem with a vague cry to "do something" is that what something you do depends on what you think the root causes of obesity in America are. Personally, I think a lot has to do with our fragmented, everyone-for-him-or-herself society and our car-centric culture. But lots of people have lots of ideas, from punishing people for being fat with higher insurance rates to taxing soda to loosening FDA regulations on potential diet drugs. So I found this vague "do something" approach a little misguided.

Still, the contestants had fun picking veggies in the Obamas' organic garden and cooking with their chefs. They didn't get to meet the First Family but they did get to quiz the chefs on what everyone likes to eat. Answer: Fish, veggies, healthy stuff.

The contestants competed as individuals this week, and the challenges were more interesting this week than they have been. First, the contestants had to roam the streets of DC recruiting people for a National Mall Workout with Bob and Jillian. The one who got the most people won an advantage in a challenge for immunity. Allen looked like the favorite with his ability to recruit his firefighter brothers and sisters, but Liz's southern charm won the day. She made a funny comment to some guys in their twenties that "There are some cute young girls on the show, but I need it more than they do," which made me giggle. Like many elections, Liz won by one vote. She got to choose one event to sit out in a four-stage challenge for immunity.

The first stage was a one-mile race, which all contestants were able to complete, even Tracey, whose debut this season was a fainting episode during the first mile race. The first six got to continue, narrowing the competition to Allen, Daniel, Rebecca, Amanda, Rudy, and Liz. Then there was a challenge requiring the contestants to go down the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, pick up pennies from the steps, carry them back up, and dump them into a big plastic tube. Rudy had a huge advantage with his bucket-sized hands. Liz was smart enough to use her pass on this one so she got to advance automatically. Daniel and Rebecca also got to go on. At this point, I am really rooting for Rebecca. The next challenge requires contestants to balance on a narrow balance beam holding a Pilates ball over their heads. Rudy's huge feet were a disadvantage here, but he held out long enough to let Liz and Daniel fall off first, advancing to a head-to-head with Rebecca. Rebecca and Rudy faced off in a step-up challenge. Here, Rudy's taped-up ankles and big body gave Rebecca the advantage, and she won immunity. Hooray!

In this week's Last Chance Workout, Jillian finally got to give Tracey the beating she had been wanting to deliver all season. Jillian seemed to develop some sympathy for Tracey in their time together. Tracey told Jillian that she was now competing not to win a game, but to change her life. (Have we heard this before?) Still, when it came down to Tracey and Liz in the weigh-in, only Shay seemed to have any doubts about who needed to go home this week.

I have to say that Tracey looked pretty amazing in her After videos. She was also, apparently, on Leno but I missed that. Maybe one of you watched. If so, any good gossip?

A final note: Last week Doc Mannette said she heard Abby on the radio and Abby had hinted at a Biggest Loser romance. Since we already knew about one romance, I'm assuming there is another one. If any married contestants were involved, I'm sure Abby would have kept quiet, so I was trying to remember who was single and still on the show. I watched this week for it and think I know who. There were one or two shots that showed Rebecca giving Daniel some looks that, to my fevered imagination, at least, suggested that they were more than just TBL rivals. Any other guesses?

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

At long last: A 5-pound star

My Weight Chart:
Weight Chart

My little Good Health Guidelines experiment has been a big success. I think that nic was right with the comment that I finally "got it" this week. What I noticed was that instead of thinking just about what I wanted to eat, I thought about whatI needed: Before I ate a meal or snack, I checked to see what little boxes had not yet been marked off on my chart.

When I weighed in today, there was a new person at the desk. When she said I lost 2.6 pounds, I said, "In one week?" I made sure to ask about that 5-pound star, too. Because I'm a lifetimer, it's not as easy for them to see how much I have lost -- the sticker just shows how far over goal I am: 15.4 pounds.

When I got my award, I said that I lost this week because I had followed all the GHGs every day, the leader looked genuinely surprised. So I guess I am not the only person who finds them difficult sometimes. Another person who had lost this week was asked to name a behavior change, and she said, "This just feels normal to me now." And I think that was true for me too this week.

This week our leader asked us to write down a goal for the holiday season. I'm posting mine here: By January 1, I want to have earned another 5-pound star. That's 8 weeks away, so I think it's possible (especially because I have a 1.4 head start on it). More importantly, though, I want to track every day, even on the holidays, and keep up with the GHGs.

Have you thought about your goals for the holiday season? Or are you like me, feeling surprised that they're almost here?

I haven't even done any Christmas shopping yet.

Monday, November 02, 2009

The week in review

Tomorrow is weigh-in day, and all week, I have been focusing on getting my Good Health Guidelines, no matter what. I am going to have a big salad after I finish this blog post, because I'm still two veggie servings short (I have two fruit servings a day and three veggies). I'm over my points by a bit, about the same as last week, so that gives me a really good experiment: Did changing my habits make a difference in my weight loss while not making other major changes at the same time? Last week my weight loss was 0.2, so it shouldn't be that hard to beat it.

At the beginning of this experiment, I thought the Good Health Guidelines were a bit annoying. So I only get 22 points, and I have to use 2 of them just on oil, 2 of them on fruit, 3 or 4 on lean protein, between 4 and 6 of them on dairy, and at least 2 on whole grains? That's more than half my points! Unfair!

I feel differently now. I have had to be more careful about what I eat to make sure to get all the guidelines in, and it's starting to make some sense that more than half the foods I eat should be healthy -- it actually doesn't make a lot of sense to think otherwise. Even the oil, which might seem like a huge points rip-off, has actually helped to make my food more satisfying and interesting. Even if I just drizzle olive oil on a sandwich, like I did today, suddenly that sandwich tastes a lot better and keeps me from getting hungry again for a little longer. When I need a snack, I'm more likely to think of what healthy foods I haven't had yet, instead of what crunchy or sweet things I might have lurking in the pantry.

Even if my weigh-in doesn't show it, I feel I've made some good changes this week. I also tried on some clothes in my closet and realized that things are starting to fit better. I feel like things are working, and I am not as worried about the numbers as I was last week.

So listen up, you stupid scale, I'm not going to let you tell me how to feel about myself anymore.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Good Health Guidelines: Liquids

This is one of the few requirements that got less strict since the previous incarnation of Weight Watchers. We used to be told that only plain water counted toward our quota, and one leader even told me that for every cup of coffee I drank, I should have an extra glass of water, above and beyond the regular requirements. Now most drinks, including coffee, can count toward our liquids. This may be because there was never much evidence that all that water was necessary. Alcohol still does not count.

Even with the stricter requirements, this has always been an easy one for me. Even though my family was a heavy Pepsi-drinking crowd, I usually preferred drinking water, especially with ice, so as long as I drink when I'm thirsty, it has been easy to get my water in. Now that I'm on Weight Watchers, I hate to waste points on beverages, so most of the things I drink are calorie-free: Water, plain seltzer, iced tea and coffee (though I always put a splash of half and half or soy creamer in that last one). I think this requirement used to be harder for the Diet Coke fanatics, but now they are home free. It may be better to get in the habit of drinking more water and less other stuff to avoid getting too much sugar, caffeine, artificial sweeteners, artificial colors, and all that other junk. I have a filter on my refrigerator and one of those stainless steel water bottles in an effort to stop cluttering up the planet with so many plastic bottles, but I still buy bottled now and then for convenience.

I just got out of the pool about two hours ago, so I swam in water (highly chlorinated, so I tried not to drink any of it), showered in hot water, and am now drinking a tall glass of water. It's pretty amazing stuff.
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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