Saturday, January 30, 2010

"Lose weight or die!"

I listen to a Biggest Loser Fan podcast, because it's always interesting to hear what someone else thought of the show. They're always an episode or two behind where I am in watching the show, so they were talking about Episode 2 of the current season, where Dr. H. gives the contestants a look at how their weight is affecting their health. The guys on the podcast talked about the message Dr. H. gave as underscoring the risk that the extra weight could be deadly for these contestants, especially Michael, who started the show at more than 500 pounds.

I really think that's the wrong message to focus on, though that's the one we hear the most.

It's true that the extra weight is bad for the contestants' health. Still, we know that there are plenty of obese people walking around who don't seem to be in any imminent risk of death. The message that the weight is going to kill the contestants is exactly the wrong message to send.

I think most people would hear that, shrug, and think, "Oh well, I have to die of something someday." I know because both of my parents are smokers, and that is their attitude. They imagine themselves dying at, say 77 instead of 87, and know that the last few years of their parents' lives were no picnic, and think they wouldn't be missing out on that much. I think the same is true for the contestants on "The Biggest Loser."

I am very skeptical of the claim that obesity is a greater health risk than smoking, but even if it is, the question of what changes to make are obviously a lot less clear. If you are a smoker, you are almost guaranteed to improve your health if you stop smoking. There is a lot less clear path to how to lose weight -- yes, there is the basic premise of reducing calorie input while increasing output -- because of all the fad diets and confusing information out there. You could conceivably lose weight in a way that was unhealthy enough to put you more at risk, like if you took diet pills or did some kind of wacky fad diet. Or you could just start buying more "diet" foods and not really curb your overall calorie intake, and just end up increasing the weird chemicals you ingest.

When the focus is on the future risk, people don't think about the current costs. It is interesting, though, when the study compared the effects of obesity to "aging from 30 to 50 years." That is a message that is more straightforward than "lose weight or die." When Michael watched Bob "put on" Michael's extra weight, the real cost of that weight became clearer to both of them. Bob said his hips and knees hurt so much he could hardly stand. Michael had to be incredibly strong just to walk around on a daily basis in that body, so he was unlikely to do anything extra. Michael is a relatively healthy person in his 20s, but he was living like someone much older and sicker because his weight restricted him so much in what he could do. Just walking around in a grocery store would probably wear him out, so the kind of workouts he now does on "The Biggest Loser" would have been unimaginable.

Think about all the everyday, ordinary activities that would be hard for someone his size: Helping a friend move. Cleaning the house. Grocery shopping, bringing in, and putting away the groceries. Painting a room. Reaching something off a high shelf. Traveling, especially by air.

Being limited like that for the remainder of my years would be a lot scarier a prospect than the difference between dying at 77 and 87.

Even now, with only 20 or so pounds to lose, there are still costs of not being at my goal weight. I'm sure my foot problem wouldn't have happened if I weighed less because I'd be putting less pressure on my feet. I can't just go in to any store and find something I like that fit -- most stores seem to stock one or two of each item in my size and buy many more 6s and 8s. I also am always dressing carefully to try to de-emphasize my problem areas, which would be unnecessary if I didn't have problem areas. I am going to be in a wedding in a few months, and that could be a lot of fun, but not if I'm worried about how I look in my dress. I also think of all the people I encounter who seem to judge me as not very knowledgeable about food or exercise because I'm not thinner.

I was talking to someone about this and she immediately tried to make me feel better, but it's not about being down on myself -- these are facts. I can keep trying to pretend that everything's OK the way it is or I can accept this as the current reality and act on my intention to change it.

Friday, January 29, 2010

What would a grown-up food culture be like?

I recently watched an episode of Anthony Bourdain's show on the Food Network where he visits Sardinia with his wife and her family. I had never watched Bourdain's show before and I didn't love him, but I did fall in love with his in-laws and with Sardinia. Watching this show reminded me what food is supposed to be all about. His wife explained how it makes her a little sick to eat meat in New York, because she doesn't know anything about the animal or how it was raised. All the food featured on this show was fresh, local, and made with extreme care and attention to detail. The cheese was made from the milk of sheep raised by local shepherds. A businessman proudly serves a meal featuring olive oil he made himself from trees on his property. The bread was made by hand in wood-fired ovens. There were a lot of cured meats, but when there was fresh meat the cameraman showed us the freshly-killed animals. This may seem a little disgusting to the squeamish, but if you are a meat eater you have to realize that this is the reality. I just heard recently that my great-grandmother would not buy a chicken unless it was alive. "How do I know what it died from?" My grandmother wasn't quite as picky, but she also bought live birds when she could and killed and dressed them in her basement.

Yes, if I had to do that, I would probably be a vegetarian. But not if I had been raised to think that it was not only okay to do this, but the only way to know that what I was making was truly fresh. There is probably something very hypocritical about being willing to buy meat in those plastic packages and pretend I had nothing to do with that animal's death. Better, probably, to be honest about it all.

Anyway, blood and guts aside, there was something beautiful about the way food was treasured, produced thoughtfully, and enjoyed with friends and family. People took time for food. When Bourdain marvelled at the idea of a businessman taking time to make his own olive oil, his wife chided him. "In America, it's all about work. Here we like to have a life." A few of the people were a little chubby, maybe, but none of them seemed to be fat. It seemed that people were enjoying tastes of a lot of dishes without overeating any of it. It was interesting that Bourdain said that Sardinians saw it as a "personal failing" if you couldn't eat well at your own house and had to rely on restaurants.

During the show there were, of course, commercials for the other kinds of shows on Food Network. There was an ad that showed a child sticking his whole face into a sundae. There was a promo for a "Man Versus Food" episode where the host was going to try to eat a 48-ounce steak. You might think it is sickening to raise and then kill a chicken, but I think it's more sickening to eat 3 pounds of meat as some sort of a stunt. Which do you think is more likely to result in any kind of respectful treatment for the animal? I'm sure quality is not much of an issue when you're trying to just "get through" a huge hunk of meat, so who cares how that animal was raised? There were also, of course, ads for fast food and ads for highly-processed supermarket fare like Pillsbury heat-and-serve rolls. The message of mainstream American food seems to be "Bring on the crap and lots of it!"

There is, of course, an alternate voice, the voice of "No." I was reading an article in O Magazine yesterday about a woman going through a 60-day Bikram makeover in which she took her yoga instructor to Whole Foods with her to tell her how to eat. The instructions were all about creating food outlaws: No white flour, no sugar, no chickpeas, no cereal. Cheese is singled out as particularly evil:
"Cheese has a happiness protein in it," Lori says, explaining that, like refined sugar, cheese comforts with an immediate (and ultimately false) chemical lift.
Which makes sense if you are eating 3 or 4 ounces of cheese at a time (like on most restaurant appetizers), but just about all of Europe seems to be able to eat cheese with no ill effects, probably because they're eating the good stuff in moderation, and savoring it. If we had a little happiness protein, would that be such a bad thing if we could find other ways to make ourselves happy?

I felt sad, deeply sad, after thinking about the childish American food culture of either gorging ourselves on mass-produced sweets and fats or "being good" and sticking to an externally-approved list of "safe" foods, one that seems to change constantly. It's either food porn or food prudishness. Why can't we grow up? (We seem to, by the way, have similar attitudes about sex here, but that would be a whole post of its own if I ever felt like tackling it).

I know this is going to sound extreme, but I felt like someone had stolen my birthright. After all, my grandparents had grown up with real food. My dad was a picky eater, though, and my mom didn't want to cook two meals, so we usually ate the kind of food he liked: Meat, potatoes, lots of bread. And lots and lots of Pepsi. When I went to my grandparents' house, most of the food looked weird to me so I only picked at it. I don't think it was my parents' fault. They grew up when advertising really hit its stride. Restaurant food and packaged food was "cleaner" and "more normal." It kept longer. It showed that you were successful to buy brand names. It took me years to learn to like real food, ironically, when I started trying to watch my weight. But I also got caught up in the "no" food culture and had all these bizarre rules about food. I feel like I'm just finally learning how to be more balanced about it all.

Last night I decided to make a meal like the ones we had seen on the show. I bought some aged sheep's milk cheese. I bought a small loaf of good bread and a bottle of Chianti. I bought two lamb chops (sorry, I didn't have the time or knowledge about how to go out and get lamb any other way) that were less than 4 ounces each. I got vegetables from the produce market. It was good food and we enjoyed it, with one glass of wine each. When food feeds the soul as well as the body, enough is enough.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Recipe reprise: Toasted Peanut Butter Oats

reI know I posted this recipe already. I finally made it again when I had my iPhone handy and took a few pictures. The image quality is a little blurry because in most cases, I was trying to take the picture with one hand while doing something else with the other. Still, I think it makes the recipe a little easier to understand.

Last time I made the recipe with Bob's Red Mill Oats. This time I used Quaker Old Fashioned Oats. The result was similar but they took a little less time to cook. I am starting with my original directions but modifying because of the difference in the two kinds of oats. The first picture is all of the ingredients except the banana. I think you probably know what a banana looks like!

While I boiled the 1 cup of water (for one serving) in a small saucepan on the front burner, I toasted 1/2 cup of the oats in a tea kettle on the back 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 poured the water into the oats. 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. Note: The dark specks did not appear in these oats. My guess is that is because the Quaker Oats are more processed than Bob's. If you are going to be weirded out by dark specks in your oatmeal, you might prefer to use Quaker Oats. To me, they tasted about the same. I covered the pan, reduced the heat to medium, and stirred gently every so often. I followed the cooking time directions on the package, which may vary depending on what brand and style of oats you use.

When the time was 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 was impatient and hungry so I just stirred in the peanut butter this time. I even had sliced a banana while I was waiting for the oats to cook so I was ready to eat as soon as they were done. I topped them with a half-teaspoon each of ground flaxseeds and wheat germ for a little extra nutrition. I also hadn't used salt when cooking this time, so I added a little after tasting to see if they needed it. They did, just a little. I had a cup of green tea alongside just to be super-healthy and to supply a little caffeine -- I didn't feel like making coffee and I already had the teakettle out, so why not?

According to LoseIt!, this breakfast had 447 calories but was very satisfying and tasty. I didn't get hungry again until lunchtime, which is rare for me. If you want to cut calories and fat, an easy way would be to use just one tablespoon of peanut butter per serving (saves 95 calories). You could also go with just half a banana, if you wanted (saves another 45 calories).

If you just can't get enough of oatmeal, you should check out for coffee-spiked oatmeal, the same one that took her to the Quaker Oatmeal Festival and Drive of Horrors. Or you could just check out the recipe itself. Seeing her post reminded me that I had oatmeal pictures hanging around on my iPhone, just waiting for their small moment of stardom. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Biggest Loser Week 4: There's always a mean one

At the beginning of this week's episode, Bob and Jillian each confront Red Team, specifically Melissa, about throwing the weigh-in two weeks in a row. Last week, Melissa tearfully protested this attempt to question her honesty, and the waterworks came on again. Bob caved and decided not to push the issue, but Jillian made it clear that she wasn't going to pretend to believe a lie, no matter how hard Melissa argued that it wasn't a lie. At first, Lance and Melissa were going to take a stand and refuse to work with Jillian because she wouldn't apologize for her comments. Then, Melissa seems to realize that this would be shooting themselves in the foot, and in a sickening little scene, convinces Lance that they should do what it takes to succeed on the show, which includes working with Jillian. Melissa smirks and we go on to watch them pick on Green Team for the rest of the episode.

At one of the commercials, my husband and I asked ourselves why these two are on the show. They didn't have a lot of weight to lose, at least by Biggest Loser standards. They don't have a really compelling personal story. They don't seem particularly interested in losing weight, as evidenced by Melissa's baloney with the weigh-ins. Usually most Biggest Loser contestants are the overweight people who have been hearing "you have such a pretty face" their whole lives. Melissa and Lance aren't particularly attractive fat people, physically and especially personality-wise. We have been rooting for their elimination since the first week.

And then it hit us -- that's the point. Lance seems like an OK guy, but Melissa is repulsive. Her manipulative streak and her smirky, catty attitude had to come out in the casting. She was chosen specifically to be the heel, because the producers think that rooting against horrible contestants (think Tracey last season, Joelle in Season 7, Vicky and mean-girl flunkie Heba in Season 6, Jackie in Season 5, Heather in Season 3). Season 2 was my favorite, and I don't think the producers had hit on this formula yet, because no one sticks out in my mind as someone I was rooting against week after week. Even Neil in Season 4 wasn't specifically mean, he was just cocky and didn't try very hard. Heather started out the mean-girl trend, and Vicky perfected it.

You could argue that these contestants aren't really mean but the show is edited to make them look that way (Vicky's argument on the "Where are they now" special). The effect is still the same -- the producers think we want someone to root against. The casting process is arduous enough and there are enough people who want to be on the show that producers are able to pick and choose for whatever "types" they want on the show, and they seem to pick relatively high-status, ambitious, but less-attractive women for their Nasty Girls. I think this strategy is backfiring, though. I'm sticking with the show despite the drama, not because of it. I want to see people work hard and make their dreams come true. But instead, the producers set up these drama dynamics and throw things, like a 2-pound disadvantage, into the mix that make it certain that the meanies are able to bully the people they don't like.

The ability to hand out a 2-pound disadvantage was won by the Red Team in another dumb challenge -- contestants run around and around a mile loop, picking up key cards, some of which give points and some which don't. Teams need to collect 3 points to win. I really wondered if the producers had fixed this challenge (which would be illegal, so I doubt it), because it gave the Red Team another week of immunity and another chance to pick on their enemies and reward their friends. They also got to hand out a "no access to gym" sign, which they gave to John, whose injuries prevent him from doing much in the gym anyway, and a "no elimination vote," which they gave to Michael. The 2-pound disadvantage was the biggie, and Melissa smirked as she handed it to Miggy, whom she has been gunning for since the first week. With immunity, Melissa could have thrown the weigh-in again, but Jillian predicted that she wouldn't dare after all her tearful speeches about her "integrity." Because she knew she was being watched, though, Melissa had a miraculous 11-pound loss in a week that didn't matter.

In another challenge, contestants had to haul themselves up in some kind of construction apparatus to 120 feet in the air to compete for phone calls home (and the ability to give two other teams calls home). Green Team doesn't think anyone would give them calls to their families, even with Migdalia's husband set to deploy soon for Afghanistan, so they give it a good effort, but it turns into a battle between the superstar Tongans on the Gray Team and the Red Team. Red Team almost pulls it out but Gray Team beats them by seconds. Gray team lets Red Team call their kids, and also gives Green Team the call home. We can see that Miggy and Migdalia are both feeling defeated and that Migdalia is having an especially tough time.

This week's elimination was particularly painful. We saw Green Team destroy everyone else in the opening challenge and we know how determined they are. I have been rooting for them -- I think that some of the other contestants have not been giving them a fair chance because they are immigrants from Puerto Rico -- because they are tough and don't play games. They both seem to feel totally demoralized by the bullying by the Red Team and, when they were given the 2-pound disadvantage, I think they gave up. Migdalia has decided that being on the show is not worth everything she is giving up, and wants to go home and see her husband before he leaves. Green Team doesn't give a huge speech, they just matter-of-factly say that Migdalia wants to go home. They don't feel they owe anyone a huge explanation, because when people on other teams asked to be sent home, the rest of the contestants honored their choice. Yet Darrell on Black Team almost votes the other way because they didn't "share their heart" with the other contestants. Red Team tries to talk everyone into knocking out Miggy, because Migdalia seems easier to push around. Luckily, enough people listened to Migdalia's request for her to be able to go home and see her husband before he ships out.

What a frustrating episode! I would really like to see Melissa knocked off the show so I could enjoy it again. Luckily, I think some of the other contestants are tired of her too. Once the show goes to singles, she won't be able to lean on Lance's big weight losses, so I think her days are numbered.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

You don't fatten a pig by weighing it

The quote in the title is about assessment -- that testing by itself doesn't cause improvement unless you use the numbers to guide changes in what you do. (Think about all the school testing we do, for example. We don't use those test results to help us fix schools, just to justify not funding them adequately).

I use it here to remind myself that seeing the numbers I saw on my new body fat scale did not make me fatter. I am not going to post those numbers here, because whenever I post numbers, I find that they just give people something else to feel bad about (sort of like buying a body fat scale) if their numbers aren't as good as mine. What upsets me is that given these numbers, my weight goal of 155 is not low enough to get to a healthy body fat percentage. And I haven't made great strides in even getting to that apparently inadequate number. I have been playing around with 5 pounds for, oh, 2 years now. Suffice it to say that my body fat range puts me in the high end of "overfat" when the numbers on the picture here would be more where I probably should be.

I weighed myself on my old scale and the new one just to check the accuracy, and I do weigh slightly less (0.7 pounds) on the new one -- but it's close enough to the same to be meaningless. I am just going to shift over to the new scale and not keep using the old one, because I think that would make me crazier than I already am. I will continue to use my Monday morning weigh-ins as the "official" one.

So back to my opening paragraph -- testing itself doesn't create improvement. You need to do something about the numbers. Increasing my strength training, for example, to bump up my lean body mass. Continuing to work on decreasing my calories so that I can use some of this stored energy would be another good step.

I also think I'm going to see if my doctor will give me a referral for allergy testing. I felt pretty crummy when we got a slight thaw -- whatever I'm allergic to must have thawed out. It's colder again and I feel slightly better. Knowing what allergies I have may help me have more energy if I can find ways to avoid the allergens. Someone here posted that they had a thyroid problem that was made worse by a gluten sensitivity. I wonder if something like that might be going on with me as well. I need to figure out what is sapping my energy all the time.

I had a dream last night that I went running. Can you tell I miss it? But at the same time, I'm not sure I would have the energy for it now anyway.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Comment moderation is on

I hate, hate to do this and I hope it won't discourage comments. I have been getting a lot of spammy comments that at first sound like a real comment, until you realize the grammar is bad and the comment is sort of vague, and then there's a link to something that I wouldn't dare click on. I have been hearing about some nasty viruses going around and I don't want a comment on my blog to be the source of anyone's computer troubles.

I am moderating comments for your protection, but I hope it won't discourage you from commenting. I will approve all real comments as quickly as I can.

Why not use word verification? Because I think these are real people making the comments, and besides, I always hate doing those things. They tend to discourage me from commenting more than moderation does.

Stupid spammers ruin it for everyone.

Weekly Summary for the week of January 18, 2010

Either weekly summary reports aren't working anymore on "LoseIt" or I'm doing something wrong. The first week it worked perfectly but now not so much.

As of this morning my weight is 173. My lowest weigh-in this week was 171.5. I am keeping track of this information in a Google spreadsheet which I may or may not share at some point. I should be getting my new body fat scale this week and I want a place to track that percentage. I know that these things are not 100% accurate, but I feel like they should at least have some test-retest reliability, so it will give me some way to track my progress besides just in pounds.

Hope everyone has a good week!

Friday, January 22, 2010

"I'm just here to lose weight, I don't want to change"

I got a great comment by Robin on my recent recap of "The Biggest Loser" about the relationships that contribute to the contestants' weight problems:

Interesting when it's couples though, the very people that helped you get fat are supposed to help you get thin. But I think the dynamic of the relationship has to change first.
I think that an understanding of this on some level is what prompted Migdalia and Miggy's dramatic fight with Jillian (and to a lesser extent, Bob) on the most recent episode. They actually said something to the effect of, "We just want you to help you lose weight. We don't want you to change us." Jillian's attempt to push Migdalia in that episode was all about her belief that you can't cause lasting change just by changing the calories in/calories out equation. It's impossible to maintain those changes without addressing the reason they turned to food in the first place. She has said before that she pushes them as a way to get them to confront all that stuff. Once they realize there is a problem with the way they have been handling their lives, the next step finding coping strategies to replace food, without being able to speak up for themselves, learning to ask for and gracefully receive help.

We also see on the show that some contestants, like Shay from last season, seem to turn life into a dramatic soap opera where they are the good ones systematically victimized by everyone else in their lives. That pattern might have been true for her as a child, but to help her lose weight, the trainers had to get her to accept her adult status and to claim her own power and responsibility over her life. Without changing that pattern, Shay would always be locked in a system of reacting to her perceived victimization.

It's easy to see these patterns on an edited "reality" show where the producers decide what side of a contestant they want us to see. Mike seemed like a fun-loving, mild-mannered guy until this most recent episode, where his bratty side made an appearance as the producers had to explain the actions taken by the Gray Team.

It's harder for me to see my own patterns of stuckness. I think a big one for me is approval-seeking. I catch myself trying to impress or at least entertain other people. I need to show them I have high standards for myself, especially with fitness. I plowed through my foot injury for too long for fear of seeming like I was making excuses or just being lazy.

One of my frustrations with Weight Watchers is that they did seem to take the approach of "let's not talk about changing your life, let's focus on changing your eating." Hence, discussions about how to deal with situations like family parties focused around bringing substitute food, taking small portions, leaving some on your plate. They didn't talk about addressing the power dynamic of relationships. Sure, there were the Tools for Living, including assertiveness, but most of the examples of how to apply those seemed to focus on weight-related situations. The mostly female clientele of Weight Watchers might feel the way Miggy and Migdalia did. It's also easy to take a conspiracy-theory view of this narrow focus: If women feel too empowered, that could cause unintended consequences, for Weight Watchers and society and a whole. Some people do manage to extrapolate those strategies to other areas of their lives, and those are probably the ones who are successful.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A quick update

I'm still not running. I went for a walk today and my toes started to hurt, but not as bad as before. I am talking with my physical therapist about long-term recovery strategies -- what I need to do to stay healthy once this flare-up subsides and I'm back in action. I have been very cranky without intense exercise to keep me sane. I need to get in to some Spin classes on a regular basis, or swim, or do any of a number of things that would help me burn off some frustration without hurting my toes.

This is why I'm a strong believer in strength training. Every time I get hurt, I go to physical therapy and they have me do strength training. When I get lazy and stop doing it again... bam. I have been doing Pilates Reformer and some yoga and a little TRX but apparently it wasn't enough. I may try to adapt this routine posted on Tri Harder to the equipment I have available at home (or buy what I'd need). I can tell myself I'll go to the gym, but if I have a good home option, I might be more likely to stick with strength training. I have tons of strength training books but don't know how to put routines together for myself that will hit all the important areas.

The other issue I'm dealing with is getting the thyroid meds to the right dosage. I don't think I'm there yet. I keep reading books and websites about autoimmune thyroid problems and they make me worried but don't seem to help me figure out what I should be doing (other than getting my meds right). I have a checkup scheduled for March.

I don't miss Weight Watchers, so far. My membership expires at the end of the month. I have no regrets. I am doing a little better each week counting calories on "LoseIt" and am hoping to start seeing some results.

I wonder if I will have less issues with my feet/ankles/knees if I manage to lose 15-20 pounds. My guess is yes.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Biggest Loser Week 3: Learning Lessons

Yikes! I thought I had posted my review here but accidentally posted it on my cobwebby political blog toledolefty. If anyone were reading it, they probably would wonder why I was suddenly reviewing a reality TV show when I've barely posted anything in months. By the way, I love doing my recaps, but did you know that you can watch the shows and bonus scenes online?

This episode started out with a twist, again. This time, the teams would be divided up in to "Students" and "Teachers." Students would not be able to work with the trainers at all -- they would have to get all their information from the Teacher, who would act as their trainer for the week. Only the Student's weight would count for elimination. Brown and Purple were paired up since each team only had one player. Which players would be the Students and Teachers would be decided by the winner of a temptation: The contestants were confronted with two giant troughs of M&Ms (5 calories each) and the team that ate the most would determine each player's role.

Not a lot of teams participated in the temptation because they didn't want to sabotage their weight loss. White Team and Pink Team each participated: One player from Pink ate two M&Ms, White only had one. Pink Team won and immediately realized that if they didn't set things up fairly, they would be marking themselves as targets. This was another case of "I've got the power! Oh no, what do I do with it?" They tried to be as fair as possible and then Migdalia from Green Team was still mad at them, because she thought she should be the Student and she was the teacher. They seemed to have learned their lesson because they didn't get any advantage from setting up the teams -- they tried too hard to be nice -- but still made an enemy. Power on "The Biggest Loser" is a two-edged sword, but it also seems to be a huge temptation for contestants on the show.

Because Migdalia was angry but stonewalling about it, Jillian decided to target her for special attention. Jillian tried her usual strategy of working the contestant to exhaustion and asking confrontational questions. Migdalia wouldn't play, though. She kept taking bathroom breaks or otherwise disengaging when her defenses started to crack. Jillian was afraid to push her too hard but, at Bob's urging, she finally decided to "Get Mean." Migdalia finally did start to cry, and then, as Jillian had feared, Migdalia walked out and wanted to quit the show completely. It was clear that Green Team wanted exercise and diet advice but neither came to the show expecting to change in any other way. Bob stepped in and tried to explain that weight loss really required more than that, but finally gave in and said that he would help them however they wanted. What was interesting was that later in the week, after having some time to think about it, Miggy and Migdalia agreed that maybe Jillian did have something to offer them.

The challenge this week was a funny one. The Teachers had a long spool of wide colored ribbon that they were told to string along a big playground for one of the Students to unravel, blindfolded, following the Teacher's instruction. The team that finished first would win immunity. Each team was told they would draw to see which player got to unwind which ribbon. Pink and White teams got especially ambitious winding up and tying the ribbons around playground equipment and ribbon. Then, in a final twist, it turned out that each Student would unwind his or her own Teacher's ribbon. Trying to be nasty backfired, as neither Pink nor White made much progress in untangling the mess they had made. It looked like Red Team would take the prize for sure, because Lance had been a professional diver in Texas (my guess is that he worked for the oil industry) and was used to working blind. Gray Team was also doing great, though, and when Red ran into one of White Team's huge knots, Gray pulled ahead and won immunity. This was one challenge where once the winner was deterimined, everyone quit. There were too many knots on that playground to be undone with anything but scissors.

Gray Team is a great pair. They are down-to-earth, no drama, and they just work hard, week after week. They didn't take things easy because they had immunity. Michael of White Team, however, appeared to be taking advantage of the fact that his weight loss "didn't count" to take the week off. He managed to alienate a lot of the other players because even though he is the biggest player in Biggest Loser history (and we've heard that a lot), he doesn't seem to see this as serious business. He acts like the show is all one big joke, and hte other players start to get angry. Gray Team is given the option to switch one pair of Teachers and Students, and to prove a point to Michael, they switch White Team. Now Michael's weight loss counts. Michael wasn't the only one to do this -- Red Team also plays the game, and Melissa throws the weight loss (her stomach looks distended and it seems that she water-loaded) and only loses one pound. She tries to pretend that she is disappointed but her eyes are sparkling. Jillian and Bob both ask her to admit that she is gameplaying and she just fakes indignation. Jillian walks out of the weigh-in in disgust. Melissa may think she has gotten away with something, but my guess is that there will be a reckoning soon.

They didn't expect this to matter, they thought they would just get Michael's attention with the switch, but White Team falls below the yellow line. Maria begs everyone to keep Michael there because he obviously needs the help. Though the combined Brown & Purple Team votes for Michael to go home, everyone else decides to keep him there. My guess is that there will be some Gray-White fireworks in the next episode.

Overall, this episode seemed to show that trying to play the game is dangerous business, and that players should focus on weight loss and not in trying to get smart and play tricks. But maybe I'm just a good Student.

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Weekly Summary for the week of January 11, 2010

Sorry for the poor-quality image. The weekly summary report mailing function on LoseIt! did not work properly for me this week.

I did slightly better than last week, including more exercise and a little lower calorie intake. Still, I think I have a lot of room for improvement.

The 3 pounds down was from my mid-week weigh in. As of this morning, I'm back up a bit.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Book Review: Where Did All the Fat Go?

This is the book by the brains behind "The Biggest Loser," Dr. Huizenga. The first thing that struck me about this book is that I have seen so little fanfare and publicity for it that I probably wouldn't have noticed it if I hadn't seen it featured on "Chronicles of a Late Bloomer." This puzzles me, because what person with an interest in weight loss (which is just about everyone in this country) wouldn't want to know the nitty-gritty details of how "The Biggest Loser" gets its sensational results? Criticism of the show is easy to find, but the fact is that this reality show manages to get results on the same magnitude as bariatric surgery, without the potential risks. Sure, some of the contestants regain, but so do some surgery patients.

I wonder if the reason that this book didn't get much publicity is the same reason that no one tried anything like "The Biggest Loser" before -- thin people underestimsate the overweight. Dr. H. had noticed as a doctor for the Raiders that it was almost impossible to keep weight on the 300-pound linemen when they were doing two-a-day workouts. When the producers of "The Biggest Loser" came to him for advice on how to get very overweight people to lose weight quickly for television, he proposed the high volume workouts coupled with moderate calorie reduction, and thought that 300-pound contestants could lose as much as 60 pounds in 10 weeks. (Obviously he was too conservative in his estimate!) The other experts on staff thought he was crazy because medical journals said that 20-30 pounds was the most that people could lose in supervised fasting environments. When the program succeeded with the reality show contestants, the experts still dismissed it because the weight loss happened in a "fantasy land" with a huge cash prize as motivation. Dr. H.'s chance to prove his program worked in the real world came in Season 3, when participants from all 50 states were recruited but only 16 made it on the show. Dr. H. had the chance to teach his program to the 34 contestants who went on to compete at home, and

Not everyone would be able to jump into a program like the one Dr. H. is recommending. I would think it would be most appropriate for young, relatively healthy people with a lot of weight to lose. The calorie restriction isn't severe, and the food recommended is healthy, with an emphasis on high-volume foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats. The exercise recommendations aren't quite the 6 hours a day that contestants do on the ranch, because the program was designed for people to do at home while juggling work and family. Dr. H. recommends a one-hour run-walk workout 6 mornings a week for maximum calorie burn (or an alternate but still intense cardio workout if injuries or other limitations prevent running). Three afternoons/evenings a week, he recommends a 30-minute cardio warmup followed by his Push-Pull-Twist home strength training workout, which is illustrated in the book. Three other afternoons/evenings, he recommends people participate in sports or other aerobic activities that they enjoy for up to an hour, with one day off. How did the at-home contestants find the time for 2-2.5 hours a day for working out? Dr. H. says they watched that much less TV every day, which had the added benefit of less snacking time.

That sounds like, and is, a lot. Today I actually did get almost that much exercise -- I did a 45-minute Spinning class this morning and an hour-long swim in the evening. I would find it challenging to get in that much exercise, and I consider myself relatively healthy and active.

But, dodgy body image aside, I am not 100 pounds or more overweight and trying to lose it as fast as I can for a television show. One phrase it's easy to miss in Dr. H.'s recommendation is "up to" 2-2.5 hours of exercise a day. This is a book for people who are interested in fast, dramatic results, but there are takeaways for the rest of us here too:

  1. Fat loss is more important than weight loss. Dr. H. didn't want contestants to lose muscle, bone, or water tissue. He wanted them to lose fat and increase or at least maintain lean body mass. One contestant was discouraged with his modest weight loss, but an iDEXA scan indicated that his 42-pound loss was actually a loss of almost 75 pounds of fat because he had gained an amazing amount of muscle. Most women on the show just maintain their lean body mass, but that still means that the weight they lose looks like a lot more. I'm thinking of buying a body-fat-analyzing scale because I'd like to see how my body composition is changing as I work on losing weight.
  2. It's best to eat real, healthy food when you are losing. I started to wonder if the great health results from the calorie restriction experiment I read about yesterday came at least partly from the switch to high-volume, nutrient-dense foods. I saw some people in my Weight Watchers meetings who got to goal on 100-calorie packs and Skinny Cows and they didn't always look healthy (or young) even though they had restricted their calories. There are some recipes for "anabolic shakes" in this book that use ricotta cheese and lactose-free milk instead of protein powder and other supplements. Dr. H. even has recommendations on how to choose fruit so that it stays fresh all week.
  3. Exercise twice a day. If you can't -- or don't want to -- do as much as this book recommends, it still seems worth trying split workouts. Half an hour twice a day might be better than an hour once a day, because getting the body up and moving twice a day might be better for the metabolism. It's probably also easier to maintain a higher intensity for two short workouts than for one long one.
  4. Incorporate strength training. See #1 above, but also, strength training keeps bones and joints healthy. I know that I have seen that in my own life. It also makes me feel powerful. Dr. H. even has a list of equipment for home workouts for under $250 -- even less if you can find some of it used.
  5. Warm up properly before a run. There is a great sequence of warmup exercises that I had never seen before. I really think that if I used them in the future, I might prevent a lot of the running injuries I have been dealing with over the years. I showed them to my husband, who coaches cross-country runners, and he said that he does many of them with his athletes. I asked why he had never shown them to me! It was worth my purchase of the book for this sequence alone.
Dr. H. provides stats for the at-home contestants so that readers can follow along with their more realistic weight-loss numbers. Some of his at-home players, doing half as much exercise as their counterparts on the ranch, still experienced the same kinds of results, but "weeks" on the ranch were sometimes 10 days, and Dr. H. says that some players, "despite advice," dehydrated themselves before weigh-ins, which is detrimental to long-term weight loss but could help provide an advantage if the player was worried about being eliminated.

I'd be curious to hear from anyone who has tried this program. I'm going to see if I can use my 5 takeaways to enhance my own Medium-Sized Loser losses.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Calorie restriction: For health, not for weight

Calorie restriction, besides the weight-loss effects we are all seeking, may also have some serious health benefits. A recent New York Times article describes a current study called Calerie, which is being conducted to discover whether, besides lowering risks for weight-related diseases like heart disease and diabetes, calorie restriction might have an effect on the aging process:
Essentially, the study asks whether calorie restriction allows people to grow older in better health — with less disease, fewer drugs and shorter hospital stays — through a method that neither medicine nor scientific technology have yet come close to approximating. Meanwhile, the experiment aims to shed some light on the more complex and still-unsettled question of whether calorie restriction affects primary aging, and thus longevity, in humans. Going back more than a half century to an experiment at Cornell University in the mid-1930s, calorie restriction has been shown again and again to extend the lives of mice, rats and other animals. An ongoing experiment at the University of Wisconsin on rhesus monkeys, which began in 1989, portends similar results: compared with normal-weight primates on a regular calorie regimen, the monkeys on restricted diets are healthier and more vigorous and seem destined (at least at the moment) for a longer life.
It is fairly simple to study the effects of calorie restriction on animals confined to a lab. They eat whatever they are fed because they have no choice. It's a little more difficult with human volunteers, even committed ones. A wartime study with conscientious objectors that forced subjects to reduce their calories by 40% resulted in serious psychological consequences. The current study is a more moderate calorie restriction. The researchers recruited volunteers with a BMI between 22 and 28 who were healthy and motivated. The researchers then tested the volunteers' metabolisms to see how many calories they burned daily, then cut that number by 25% to determine their calorie-restricted intakes. The subjects were provided with meals for the first 28 days to help them learn their new regime, and then they were responsible for preparing -- and logging -- their own meals and snacks.

What is interesting about this to me as a weight-loss blogger is how much empathy there is for subjects facing the challenges of eating less (moving more is not recommended in this experiment). There is no condescension or judgment here. Maybe this is because volunteers are normal-weight to slightly overweight and are not primarily interested in weight loss -- though that is an expected side effect of the study and may be responsible for many of the anti-aging effects of calorie restriction. The article described a 175-pound man whose weight was expected to drop to about 147 pounds. The researchers, even though they believe in the benefits of calorie restriction, were not expecting many of the subjects to stick with it after the study was over. Accurate calorie counting and meal planning are difficult for everyone, one said.
“I don’t think humans are designed to pay attention to how much they eat,” he said, adding that for most people this natural tendency would chafe against the organizational requirements of calorie restriction, thus limiting its appeal.
A 25% calorie reduction is, incidentally, what I'm currently struggling with myself. I am aiming for around 1700 calories a day, but have been averaging more like 2,200 - 2,300. As weird as it is possible to take diet tips from a research study, it is interesting to see what the researchers are doing to help support the subjects in their efforts. First, of course, there are the weighed and measured meals provided for the first month of the study. The researchers also steered subjects toward high-volume, low-calorie-density foods.

If you don’t change your diet to a high-satiety diet, you will be hungry, and you will fail,” she told me. A high-satiety diet, she said, was bound to be a healthful diet with a lot of vegetables, fruits and insoluble fiber — the kind found in some breakfast cereals, like Fiber One — that her research indicates has a unique effect in helping calorie-restriction subjects feel fuller, probably because they activate certain receptors in the lower intestine.
Subjects were also encouraged to plan ahead by banking calories for special events and be selective about high-calorie foods. Most give up or strictly limit alcohol. After a few weeks, hunger settled down and they learned to eat foods like apples that filled them up for less calories. What subjects complained most about was the hassle of planning, looking up calorie counts, and recording every bite. The benefits, especially to cardiovascular health, are pretty amazing:
His subjects have cholesterol around 160, blood pressure around 100 over 60, high HDL, low triglycerides and very low levels of inflammation. . . “I don’t know why anyone would take drugs when they could do something like this,” Roberts said, referring to Calerie.
The biggest thing I think I took away from this article was a sense of how much easier dieting would be if I looked at it from a more matter-of-fact stance. Yes, restricting calories is challenging. There are ways to make it easier but they involve planning, thought, and time for cooking and shopping. There are also some serious benefits. Best of all, the hunger might actually subside if I could give myself enough time at the lower calorie level to adjust to it instead of getting upset because I'm hungry and eating more, then feeling bad about that choice. What would dieting be like if it involved less judgment and self-flagellation and more matter-of-fact discipline?

Food for thought, anyway.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Biggest Loser Week 2: In Sickness and in Health

Before I get started, let me say that I wish Blogger would have a setting to disallow links in comments. This might be a bit of a bummer for commenters, but the spammers would go away.

This week's episode prominently featured Dr. H. Now that I know from his book that he's only 5'4" in shoes, I noticed all NBC's little tricks to keep us from noticing this.

This time there was a lot of emphasis was on selling the "Know Your Number" health assessment. I am not linking to it but if you are interested, Google away. I would suggest that if you want a number like this, you go take the free RealAge assessment, which seems to be about the same thing, and instead of $89.95, you just have to give your email address (which will then be used to send you annoying information about every single condition you admitted to having. Maybe $89.95 isn't such a bad deal). Dr. H was sounding more shrill than usual, and I really think it was to scare the at-home audience into buying his health assessment. If you are watching the show and are overweight, do you really need to pay almost $90 to find out that you would be healthier if you lost weight and got active? That's what I thought. Most people would probably be better off if they saved the money for a gym membership or a visit to a nutritionist or even . The test itself is only going to tell people why you should lose weight, not help them do it.

I wasn't blown away by the "body age" numbers because I had seen them before, but I was oddly fascinated by the iDexa scans, which actually proved that old adage that inside every fat person there is a thin person. It was weird to see a visual that showed normal-sized organs, especially lungs, inside the person's body. Even though when we are overweight we can be angry at our bodies, this really illustrated how well our bodies manage to take care of us, even when we overburden them with excess fat. I am curious (though not curious enough to pay several hundred dollars) to know what my scan would look like. I know that when I had a shoulder injury I was shocked to see my fragile-looking ribcage on the X-ray. I think I had internalized that whole idea of "big-boned."

Each team was given a "fitness task" related to their health assessment. When we saw Patti (diagnosed with diabetes 20 years ago) and Stephanie watch a video of their family talking about their sadness and worry about their weight and disease risk, I got a little teary-eyed. The segment with Cheryl and Daris, which required Jillian to try to eat one of their meals, didn't work as well. Jillian took a few bites but then refused to go further, looking like she was going to throw up. I was astonished to hear that both members of the orange team would go all day without eating, and then load up at Taco Bell. I don't know how or why anyone would try to go all day without eating. We also found out that Lance, of the Red Team, had lost his job as a professional diver because he could no longer pass the physical exam required. They stood to lose an estimated $3 million in income and health costs if they couldn't get fit enough for him to get back to work.

There was a very powerful segment with Michael and Marie. Bob had to put on a weighted vest and other weights that simulated Michael's weight. Bob wasn't faking it when he had to sit down after only half the extra weight was added. His face was totally shocked and a little awed that Michael could walk around all day carrying that burden. I think it gave Bob a little more empathy and respect for the contestants to have a sense of what it would feel like to carry that weight every day.

This week's challenge was a weird one -- contestants had to walk across a balance beam stretched over a pool carrying beach balls. The beam was less than four inches across, so it was obviously going to be a tough challenge, but I never realized it would be dangerous. It turned out to be really painful, though, when Marie was so afraid of water that she refused to fall into the water, and instead flung herself onto the concrete platform. She broke or sprained a finger, bloodied her nose, and blackened one of her eyes. It had the effect of ruining her chances and Michael's, and they got a two-pound disadvantage at the weigh-in. I could tell Marie was really terrified, but I also wondered if she, unconsciously, was trying get her son's attention back. He had been looking exasperated with her before she fell, because she was literally standing in his way of competing. He seemed to lose a little of his confidence after her accident. Bob even asked him point-blank why, with all the medical personnel there to help his mother, he felt the need to try to take care of her. I think he may be one of those children who does much better once the parent leaves the ranch. The Red Team won immunity, which turned out to have saved them from facing elimination.

When Purple Team lost the weigh-in, Patti volunteered to go home so that her daughter could stay and continue competing. As a diabetic with no feeling in her feet, the challenge had been very hard for her and I think she realized that she didn't want her daughter to develop the disease. She seemed to have done pretty well at home -- losing weight is harder when you are diabetic -- and Dr. H visited and gave her good reviews on the health improvements she had made by losing the weight. She was down to just one diabetes medication and had high hopes to lose enough to get off that one as well.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Still no running

I got a bit delusional and thought I might get cleared to run after today's podiatrist appointment. No dice -- I knew I wouldn't be able to after I tried a longish brisk walk -- the problem in my toes flared up again. I need to plan some intense workouts around my physical therapy appointments -- Spinning, swimming, etc. -- and give my feet some time.

It's funny because I have a shirt that says "I run therefore I am," which I thought was kind of a snotty slogan when I first bought it, but then it started to remind me that I felt most myself when I was active and fit. Now I'm having to find ways to work around the injury without losing that sense of myself. It's probably a good lesson.

I'm going to do my therapy exercises while watching "The Biggest Loser" tonight.

Mal tipped me off to the existence of a book by TBL's Dr. H. on her blog -- and of course I had to get it. It just arrived today and I will be reviewing it at some point in the future. I've read the first 50 or so pages and I'm really fascinated. More soon.

Monday, January 11, 2010

A messy week

My big victory last week was that I did my best to log accurately every day, even though I really didn't want to see the numbers in my tracker. I also managed to get in one really solid workout.

The week wasn't so good other than that. I had just started physical therapy for my foot, and hadn't figured out how to fit in exercise before or after my appointments. I was cranky about not being able to go out to run, even though the weather wasn't great running weather. I went to a lot of events where I had lots of tempting food available and not a lot of healthy choices, so I gave myself permission to eat junk.

Lots of things. This morning I had a three-pound gain from last week, though I think some amount of that might be because I had sushi (with soy sauce) and edamame (with salt) for dinner last night.

I told my physical therapist that I wanted to know if I could run again and he told me to walk fast first. I did and I noticed some pain in my foot, so I can't rush this. I have an appointment with the podiatrist tomorrow and more physical therapy for a while. I think I'm going to have to figure out other activities for a while. I have been wanting to do more Spinning, swimming, and weight training, so I guess this is my chance. There is no rush to get back to running, though I miss its simplicity -- put on some shoes and go. I also associate running with weight loss, so of course I'm feeling a little threatened, especially after the higher number on the scale today.

I have to be patient and accepting and keep working on food, exercise, and most importantly, try to cultivate a positive mental attiude and a general feeling of trust in myself. It's a pretty big to-do list.

If you're facing a similar to-do list, you might want to check out the latest Two Fit Chicks podcast. I listened to it today as I took my trial walk in the park, and it's all about getting started, or restarted, on a fitness and healthy eating plan.

Lose It! Weekly Summary for Week of Mon, Jan 4th

Weekly Summary for Week of Mon, Jan 4th

for Jen S

Daily Summary
Budget Food Exercise Net +/- Weight (lbs)
1/4/10 1,636 3,010 264 2,745 1,110 170.6
1/5/10 1,646 2,453 190 2,263 617 173.2
1/6/10 1,694 2,319 371 1,949 254 173
1/7/10 1,694 2,201 124 2,077 383 173
1/8/10 1,694 2,449 61 2,388 694 173
1/9/10 1,694 3,068 163 2,905 1,211 173
1/10/10 1,694 2,736 0 2,736 1,042 173
5,311 calories over budget for the week
No change in weight this week
Nutrient Summary % Calories
Fat 826g 40.8%
Saturated Fat 222g
Protein 723g 15.9%
Carbohydrates 1,970g 43.3%
Fiber 217g
Cholesterol 1,917mg
Sodium 18,214mg
Exercise Summary Calories
Stretching 1 Hour 0 Min 122
Walking 1 Hour 0 Min 190
Snow Shoveling 30 Min 203
Pilates 1 Hour 0 Min 163
Swimming 45 Min 371
Yoga 1 Hour 0 Min 124
Total 1172

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Two reviews in one: Angry Fat Girls and Kindle Reader for iPhone

This is the busy time of the year for me, so I was going to wait to buy Frances's book until the time to read it wouldn't be stolen from the things I really should be doing. I didn't pre-order a copy and I didn't check my local bookstores on the release date to see if it was there.

Then I remembered that there is a Kindle Reader for the iPhone and went ahead and bought it anyway. Instant gratification. I mostly read it in bed when I should have been sleeping and finished it in two days.

This isn't going to be my typical review for two reasons. First, I can't be objective about a book written by a friend. Second, since I can't rifle through the physical book, it would be difficult for me to find and pull quotes from it -- one disadvantage of the Kindle reader. I think anyone who reads weight loss blogs (and if you don't, why are you here?) would enjoy this book. You may even be in it, since Frances pulled in comments from her various blogs and email conversations in addition to the fictionalized stories of the four other main characters.

It's a good book but it didn't get under my skin in the same way that Passing for Thin did. I think Pamela Peeke (eek!) was right -- Frances is the brand. Most readers picking up this book are probably looking for a sequel to PFT. I think she might have been better off staying more focused on herself and keeping narration first-person limited, instead of trying to create the illusion of omniscience. Some of the details used to fill out the other characters' away-from-Frances-lives (like Mimi's Wiccan ceremonies) seemed too fantastical. I also wondered why Lindsay flew into Cincinnati's airport when there is a perfectly good one in Cleveland, much closer to Kent State. Mostly, though, these stories distract a bit from Frances's, which is the one she knows the best and can tell the most powerfully.

I think, though, that anyone who is trying to lose weight will want to think about the questions this book asks: What is this weight really about? Besides thinness, what goals and dreams do I have? What is food giving me and what is it taking away?

As for the Kindle Reader, it was a great way to read a book in bed. I wondered what I was missing by not getting the "real" book -- were there photos? An "About the Author" section I was missing? If I still had my globetrotting job, I would definitely leave the heavy books at home and load up my iPhone with reading material instead. I don't think I'd buy a Kindle machine, because it's a costly one-trick pony -- but the Kindle Reader for the iPhone is a free app for a gadget I already had. The books are a little cheaper and you can have them in seconds. I also think about all of the books that I bought, read once, and set on the shelf. For those, the ebooks definitely would save my home and the environment a lot of clutter. Still, a physical book can be shared with a friend or donated to charity, and the Kindle book just sits on my iPhone until I decide to delete it. I think that the pricing on Kindle books needs to be adjusted down to account for this reality, and for all the money the publishers save on not printing, shipping, and ultimately remaindering physical books.

Unless the authors get a bigger royalty this way, and if so, Kindle away.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The Biggest Loser Premiere: Mean producers

I think the producers got a little mean with this season of "The Biggest Loser." There were a few twists this time that I did not like at all.

First of all, in the opening sequence, when they ask "Do you have the guts? [to lose weight]," they showed the gut of one of the "Half-Ton Twins"(this is not my phrase, by the way). Mean, mean. "The Biggest Loser" never used to do the "headless fat people trick," so why start now?

Second, the contestants weighed in for the first time not in front of other contestants, but in their hometowns in front of friends, family, and, I would imagine, nasty people who used to eye their carts in the supermarkets and wonder why they were so fat. Daris actually weighed in in front of a crowd in his former high school's gym, which I imagine was the scene of plenty of other humiliations. I know these numbers will be available on national television, but because the show is taped months ahead, many of the contestants would have already lost the first fifty pounds by the time the show aired, which would take away some of the sting. The biggest contestant, Michael, even weighed in (at more than 500 pounds) with a pizza parlor in the background. I checked the profiles for him and for his mother Maria to see if it was their family's business, but it doesn't seem to be. They are Italian Americans and perhaps the producers wanted to highlight this and couldn't get any more creative about how to do it (or Michael wouldn't agree to say "" when he saw his weight). The only other justification would be if the pizza parlor was the scene of the crime, the place where Michael and Maria put on all the weight. But why would the pizza parlor agree to that kind of publicity? (By the way, I have to say I'm a little offended by the whole Italian American=fat storyline here. Sure, a lot of us have weight problems. But so do a lot of regular old white-bread Americans.)

By far the meanest twist was eliminating two whole teams on the first day, before they had even met the trainers, with a physical challenge. Even Allison looked sickened when she explained to the contestants that two teams were going to be asked to leave the ranch immediately. In pairs, contestants had to pedal the total of a marathon (26.2 miles) on stationary bikes. That sounds like a simple challenge to someone who is active, but some of these contestants had never ridden a bicycle before. Cherita got a cramp and had to be carried off her bike (she wanted to continue competing), which meant that she and her daughter Victoria would not have the chance to continue. The other team that was eliminated was the almost 400-pound, and apparently sickly 51-year-old O'Neal and his daughter Sunshine, who weighed in at almost 300 pounds. Watching the two teams hugging and crying as they left the ranch in the limo broke my heart. Imagining them going right home to a community that had just watched them weigh in was just sickening. Of course there was another twist -- Bob and Jillian each stopped one of the limos and jumped in with news: The teams would continue competing at home and come back in 30 days to weigh in for a chance to come back. This seemed to cheer up the contestants, but I was still mad at the producers on their behalf for putting them through that pain. Seriously, just recruit one less team instead of playing with people's dreams like this. Contestants really believe, like Jillian said at the beginning, that the Biggest Loser ranch is "The Last Stop." They have tried everything already and don't know what to do. Every person who makes it to the show should get at least a week at the ranch to learn a few things before getting sent back home. The good news is that the show seems to provide better resources now for the at-home contestants. In the first few seasons, it seemed like they were left to their own devices. Obviously, anyone who qualifies to be on the show needs some serious help to lose weight.

Of course, someone always goes home at the end of every show, and this was no exception. In a final odd twist, twins John and James were the team below the dreaded Yellow Line. The other contestants had a hard time distinguishing between them to know which one to send home -- they even weighed within 1 pound of each other at the initial weigh-in and lost the exact same amount of weight in the first week. I think they made the right decision to send home James, who had a bad knee injury and really could not compete in the challenges or participate fully in the workouts. He also said that he had more resources at home to help him. He must have been serious, too, because we find out that he lost an amazing 100 pounds in two months at home. He and his wife seemed very cute together, and I was really happy to see he did so well.

OK, producers, but consider yourselves on notice. No more nasty tricks!

Going it alone

I did it.

I decided to cancel my Weight Watchers subscription, effective at the end of my current monthly pass. I'm still a paid member through the 29th, so I could go to another meeting or two if I wanted. But I'm not sure why I would do that if I have decided to quit.

Why did I decide to quit? I still think Weight Watchers is a really great plan, especially for someone new to dieting. You can learn a lot about good nutrition and portion sizes from the program. I feel like I have learned a lot of good things that I will be carrying forward with me. But I felt like I wasn't getting anything new out of my meetings, and I already have all the program materials that I'm going to get until they revamp the program again. The iPhone tracking app is neat but since I can't track Good Health Guidelines on it, I wasn't finding it as useful as it could be. And try as I might, I just could not stay under my daily points, so I found myself either not tracking or not caring how far over my points total I went.

The way that Weight Watchers points work, high fat foods "cost" more than they should for their calories. Since some of my favorite foods are nuts and nut butters, I am wondering if I could do better with straight calorie counting. I don't trust some of the processed foods that are Weight Watcher staples. Those Arnold Sandwich Thins for 1 point, for example. I bought a package of them almost a month ago and they are still not stale or moldy. That's just plain scary. Obviously plenty of people manage to eat real, healthy food and stay within their points. For some reason, I am just not able to do it, and I'm feeling frustrated. It's time to try something new.

What am I doing instead? I'm going back to the "LoseIt" app for my iPhone. For the Jillian Michaels podcast fans, I Googled "BMR calculator" and then multiplied that number by 1.1 to get my target calories (which were fairly close to what "LoseIt" had calculated for me. LoseIt allows me to do some pretty cool "Weekly Summary" reports, which I plan to post on my blog on Sundays to give a sense of the kinds of workouts I did and my calorie intake. Obviously, from the screenshot below, you can see that my calorie intake for the last couple of days was a little high. I have been feeling a little down without my beloved running, so I made sure to get a swim in today and am feeling more focused.

I really think, as I hinted in my post yesterday, that part of the problem for me is not that I don't have the right tools for success, but I just have been getting in my own way. Until I get my head on straight, I don't see the purpose of paying $39.95 each month to not follow Weight Watchers. Plus, if I get to goal weight and to maintenance, I wouldn't be able to use Weight Watchers eTools to continue to track without paying for it, so why not lose with a tool that will be available for me as I maintain?

If any of you are using LoseIt, I would love for you to friend me there. The things that are shared with friends are, according to the developer:

1) The amount of weight (in lbs) that you've lost to date.

2) Your goal amount of weight to lose (in lbs)

3) Your weekly calorie budget and each day's calories relative to that budget.

4) Your exercises, times, and calories burned (excluding sexual activity)

5) Recent activities such as weighing in with weight change.

We do not display your actual weight nor the specific foods that you are eating.

Number 4 made me laugh. I don't track my sexual activity as exercise (!) but I suppose some people want to count every calorie. I am hoping the developers will add a public profile option that would allow users to share these things the way that FitDay does.

Input welcome! I know some readers will think I'm crazy for hopping back and forth, but it just makes sense to me right now. If I really miss Weight Watchers, it is always possible to rejoin.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Do you use affirmations?

I was at a talk on positive thinking not long ago, and someone recommended Louise Hay's You Can Heal Your Life. This is a classic of self-help books and has been around for years. I found that not only is there a book, but there is now a movie and all kinds of other paraphernalia you can buy from Hay House. I downloaded the audiobook for my iPod and have been listening to it in the car or when I'm walking or puttering around the house.

The basic premise of this book is that the problems in our life like money issues, discord in relationships, weight issues, even clutter are all an expression of two basic beliefs. The first is that we are not good enough as we currently are. The second is that we don't deserve to be happy. These problems then become a way to explain why we feel unworthy. It might sound hokey, but it makes a lot of sense to me. I can see it in some of the things that I do.

This isn't quite like The Secret. Hay doesn't claim that you don't have to do any work to get the things you want. Instead, she says that you have to change your thought patterns before you will be willing to do the work that brings good things into your life at the same time that you are working to make changes.

I also downloaded and listened to Love Your Body, which is a bunch of affirmations specifically for body image that goes through every single body part. There are some weird ones in there -- loving your liver, or your colon, or your spleen -- but it was interesting to see how she tied people's feelings about body parts to various beliefs we might hold about ourselves. It's something to try if you're open-minded.

OK, I believe that it's time for "The Biggest Loser." Review tomorrow!

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Running setback

I have been having some trouble with intermittent pain and numbness at the base of my toes on my left foot that sometimes makes it uncomfortable for me to walk, let alone run. I was noticing it at first only on long runs, but now I have it almost every time I run and sometimes when I'm just walking or standing a lot.

I went to a podiatrist. Next week I will go for physical therapy to evaluate and treat the pain. In the meantime, he suggested orthotics but I have tried those in the past and they are expensive and uncomfortable. Luckily he didn't insist -- he recommended some off-the-shelf insoles instead and also said I shouldn't be walking around my house (hardwood floors) barefoot. So I'm wearing shoes in the house and taking some anti-inflammatories temporarily until things settle down a bit.

Oh, and I'm not supposed to run.

I'm not thrilled about taking three weeks off running but at the same time, I know that I need to get better. To be honest, it has been so miserably cold out that it hasn't been a huge sacrifice to skip it. I have been doing some yoga (including hot yoga), Pilates, swimming, and indoor cycling to compensate. Tonight is my swimming night.

I'm also beginning to lose that lovin' feeling about Weight Watchers, to be honest. I'm wondering if I should cancel my membership and go back to tracking with "Lose It!" instead. My monthly pass just got renewed, so I'm going to give myself a few weeks to think about it. I don't know if it's a temporary feeling of WW ennui, but I don't feel like I'm getting much out of my meetings lately, and I can track for free with "Lose It!" Like I said, I'm going to give myself a week or two to think about it.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Review: Believe It, Be It

Ali Vincent's Believe It, Be It is a quick read. The book looks like a lightweight: Slim profile, lots of white space, less than 200 pages, plenty of pictures and tips. The writing is simple and straightforward. It probably could have been a long magazine article rather than a book. At the same time, though, there is some real substance here.

Jillian Michaels said in one of her podcasts that no one gets to be 100+ pounds overweight because they are lazy or gluttonous. "Nobody wants a Snickers that bad." Even with all of our talk show culture's discussion of addictions, though, I think few of us really understand how food addiction works or how it could be overcome. We might have some understanding that this kind of weight gain is a way to deal with serious pain and conflict and confusion, but there is still a tendency to think of solutions in terms of finding the right diet or exercise plan. Ali describes with sadness the people who try out year after year for "The Biggest Loser," because they see it as the magic bullet that will finally fix them. This book contains some diet and exercise tips, but Ali makes it clear that the emotional work she did was just as important as learning to cook healthy food and work out.

I went on national TV and dug into the hardest, most personal questions I can imagine: "Why do I overeat? Why do I punish myself? Why am I unhappy?" The answer to all three questions, I discovered, was the same: Because I wasn't willing to look at my life and deal with it.

Ali talks about the role of relationships in her weight loss without painting herself as a victim or making other people into villans. She loved her free-spirited mother Bette-Sue but resented the chaos and drama of their home life. She managed to be the popular party girl in high school but never really felt like she fit in. She had lots of family members who wanted desperately to help her as she piled on weight, but who did it in a clumsy way and made her feel judged. Bette-Sue's selfless side shows up too, though, when we find out that not only did she get Ali to the casting call, she volunteered herself as a partner when she found out the "Couples" twist at the last minute and charmed her way (and Ali's) onto the show, even though she wasn't exactly thrilled about the grueling challenges she knew she would face on the ranch.

Ali also hints at the role her confusion over sexuality played in her weight gain -- growing up in a strict Mormon community, she started having sex early. She said others saw her as a "trophy girlfriend" but she "was becoming a woman who didn't value her body." Later in the book when she talks about falling in love, she remains gender-neutral when describing the "amazing person" she is dating.

Of course, for "The Biggest Loser" junkies like me, the most fun part of the book is the insider's view of what it's like to be on the show. We get the insider's scoop on the casting call, what it's like to live on the ranch, and what the food and workouts are really like. You can't watch the show without realizing that there are cameras everywhere, but Ali gives a sense of just how true that is when she writes that even in the bathroom, which is camera-free, if more than one person was in there, the camera crews would show up instantly to find out (and film) whatever was happening. There are also some interesting notes from the show's nutritionist about Ali's "Before" diet of coffee, sodas, candy, and fast food.

Ali used visualization to help her get to her goal of being the first female Biggest Loser. She and her mother found good omens everywhere. When they got in line for the casting call, they were in the 11th spot on the 11th day. When they got to their ranch and their team was handed pink shirts, Ali decided pink was her lucky color and started wearing pink and gluing pink crystals to her things for good luck. She used affirmations like the "Believe It, Be It," of the title. She believed so much in the power of visualization that for the finale, rather than choosing from the clothes provided by the show, she put together her own pink-and-black outfit so that she could picture what it would be like to be on the stage when she won. At the same time, she said, she worked hard. While other players let themselves get distracted by gameplay, Ali kept her focus laser-sharp on her food journal and the number on her Bodybugg that told her how many calories she had burned that day.

I think that fans of "The Biggest Loser" would be missing out if they don't read this book. Ali is an engaging guide to the weird world of reality TV. If you're looking for a weight loss plan or details on how to get fit, though, look elsewhere. There are a few recipes and tips, but the focus is really more on the inspirational and emotional aspects of weight loss, not the nuts-and-bolts of food and fitness. Still, I really enjoyed it and devoured the book in a few hours. I plan to reread it at a little slower pace, because even though I'm not "Biggest Loser" material, I think some of Ali's visualization and goal-setting techniques could help me get past my sense of being stuck. It seems like a good motivational book for the new year.
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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