Sunday, September 30, 2012

Photo-worthy Saturday

My SuperBetter ally Kick Kick suggested this as a quest for me:
This is a quest of mine that my roommate and I thought up and we're having a lot of fun with it. Photo worthy weekends: Do something this weekend (or any other day) that is worthy of taking a photo. If you can't plan something special, just find beauty in whatever is going on now. So whether you stay in or go out, bring your camera with you!

I can't find anyplace in SuperBetter to share photos, but she is subscribed to my blog, so I'm posting them here.

After my Pilates class, I drove to Luna Pier to meet my friend for a coffee:

I splurged on a salted caramel mocha.

We went for a short walk on the beach:

My husband and I were looking for something to do so I proposed a bike ride on the Wabash Cannonball rail trail:

We rode for about an hour in glorious fall weather. It's easy to think that Toledo is not that exciting a place to live, but there is beauty everywhere if you take time to look for it.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, September 28, 2012

Inspiration: Book signing with Pete Thomas

My husband and I were watching reruns of "The Biggest Loser" earlier this week. We were watching the episode where Pete Thomas was voted off in Season Two, and we both agreed that he was one of our all-time favorites on the show. My husband happened to notice that Pete was wearing a pair of shorts with a team logo from Southeast Michigan, so we both started Googling to see what we could find on our dueling iPhones about him.  I happened upon an announcement for a book signing less than a week away at a Barnes and Noble in Ann Arbor for his new book, , or as he calls it, (pronounced "Life 2," because people who do his program feel like they are getting a new lease on life).
One of the nicest things about living in Toledo is that we are so close to a great town like Ann Arbor, so we decided to make a special trip.  I'm very glad that we did. Both of us felt very fired up by Pete's talk.  We also got to get a photo with him. We are not standing in a hole, Pete is just a tall guy. I was a little startstruck and kind of stammered when we got a chance to talk to him while getting our book signed.  Most of the audience members were people who knew him or people who had gone to his class, SlimU Bootcamp.  I might actually drop in on the class a couple of times, but I couldn't commit to attending regularly because of work and the long drive. Still, it would be fun to train like a real Biggest Loser.

I used to think the contestants on "The Biggest Loser" all seemed so confident because of their experiences in front of the camera, but it was clear from Pete's presentation that he had a big personality when he got to "The Biggest Loser." When he was sending in his audition tape, first he FedExed an empty box filled with streamers and confetti that said, "PETE THOMAS IS COMING" all over it.  The next day, he FedExed a box that said, "PETE THOMAS IS HERE!" and had his funniest demo tape. He got the casting call when he was speaking to a group of engineers, so he was already educated in self-promotion.  He said he went to the show because he couldn't figure out any other way to get all the weight off.

Pete refers to his life-sized picture of his former self as "Big Sexy." Unlike some of the other contestants, he doesn't seem to have any animosity toward his former self, but he felt like his body was holding him back. He talked about going out on a jetski at 400 pounds and having a lot of fun until he fell off and couldn't get back on, even with his friend standing on the front of the jetski to keep it from tipping.  He explained some of the issues that led to his weight gain. His mother had problems with mental illness, and left him alone or with his younger sister for weeks to fend for themselves. The first time it happened, he was only five years old.  He said as a consequence, when he had food in front of him, he ate enough for a few days.

The book itself doesn't have much that regular viewers of "The Biggest Loser" would find new, except Pete's perspectives and stories. The diet he recommends is a low-calorie, low-carbohydrate diet, very similar to the one he had on the ranch when he was a contestant. Pete did his own research after losing the ranch and put together a program that works for him, and he encourages readers to do the same.  Unlike his mentor Jillian Michaels, he thinks that artificial sweeteners are an effective way to cut calories and still enjoy some treat foods.  He follows Jillain's example more closely with his exercise recommendations.  He suggests interval training with weights as well as cardiovascular intervals. The first chapter of the book was where I found the most inspiration, because it dealt with motivation and the mental aspects of losing.

One thing that inspired me most about this experience was realizing that it is possible to pursue weight loss goals from a position of strength and power.  I don't get the sense that Pete hated himself when he sought to get on the show, he just was realizing that his body was holding him back from the life he wanted to lead. He knew exactly what he wanted to get out of the experience, and he went after it.

Like many of my bloggy friends, I have been struggling with the relationship between self-acceptance and my desire to lose weight.  Pete is a role model of someone who accepted himself deeply but wanted to change his body. When I look back at my own life, I was always happiest when I was pursuing a goal. Why can't weight loss be a goal, just like pursuing a doctoral degree or landing a job that I love? I feel like I have gotten wrapped up in the idea that wanting to make a change was some indication of self-hatred, or a desire to cave into pressure from other people. But it really isn't that at all. I want weight loss for so many reasons that arise out of self-care, like wanting to take weight off my arthritic toes and wanting to avoid my family's legacy of diabetes.  There is nothing wrong with pursuing a goal like weight loss as long as I don't do it in a drastic or self-punishing way.

I know that I couldn't follow Pete Thomas's ultra-low-carb regimen for even one day. I also don't have almost 200 pounds to lose, I have 30. The way to weight loss for me doesn't have to be quite so drastic. I can continue to track my calories daily and look for ways to nudge the count down. I can get exercise that I enjoy on a daily basis. I can make sure that I'm getting plenty of sleep and am managing my stress.  I can make sure to get some strength training in, since every reputable source seems to say that it is a key to weight loss.

I feel newly inspired to do something good for myself. It was definitely worth a drive to Ann Arbor for that.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


One of the more useful concepts from SuperBetter is the Power-up, a quick action you can take to boost your mood, get yourself back on track, or increase your motivation.  I have some obvious ones like "Log a meal in LoseIt!," but I'm also finding that there are some more off-beat things that give me a little jolt of energy.

One I just added is, "Put on perfume." I bought this fragrance years ago, and I still have almost the entire bottle.  I did a little research and found out that the fragrance came out in 2004 and has been discontinued, so I could have been hanging onto this for eight years, saving it for special occasions. Luckily, I have been keeping it in its box and it still smells great.  Even though no one but me really notices when I wear it, it makes me happy. I want to start wearing it more regularly. I moved it from the back of the cupboard where I was keeping it to my dresser where I will remember it more easily.

Some of my other unique power-ups include, "Listen to an inspiring song," "Take a morning walk," and "Find time to relax."

One of my allies, Kick Kick (a medical student), is now reading my blog and suggested, "New blog post." I thought that was a pretty great idea, so I added it to the list.

Even if you're not playing SuperBetter, you can use this idea. Just think about what small action could take a small step toward a goal, make you feel great, or give you a little extra energy.  Then power-up!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Review: SuperBetter

I first heard about SuperBetter from a TED Talk by one of its creators, Jane McGonigal. SuperBetter is an online and mobile "gameification" that allows users to earn points for working toward their goals. McGonigal was inspired to create the game while recovering from a concussion, using "allies" and "quests" to help her stay focused on behaviors that would help improve her health.

While watching the video, I confused her with Kelly McGonigal, and thought that the game was created to help people improve their willpower. There is a Willpower "PowerPack" for the game, so I guess that isn't too much of a stretch. (At least I didn't confuse her with Minerva McGonigal.)

PowerPacks are modules for SuperBetter that center around a specific goal or philosophy. They provide specific PowerUps (small tasks), Quests, and Bad Guys to add to the original, more general SuperBetter ones.  Besides Willpower, there are Quit Smoking, Quit Anything, Your Body is Awesome, and The Full Plate Diet PowerPacks, just to name a few.

I have been playing around with the game, and I think it could be fun. I haven't had much luck recruiting allies, people who play the game with me, but it's still somewhat fun to record my accomplishments and score points.

There are many self-help books that involve a lot of homework-like assignments, and I always end up failing to incorporate their very good advice because they seem like too much work. I think that many of these assignments could be incorporated into PowerPacks for this game. I could see a Beck Diet PowerPack, for example, or a  PowerPack, or a  one (one that did not send a million emails selling feather dusters, preferably). These could be a nice accompaniment to the books, and could help people use the ideas to make their lives better.

The game can be played on an iPhone or through a web browser. There is an Android version in the works. I have noticed a few weird quirks on the iPhone version, like the fact that I only get a few Quests, and if I don't like those, I have to create my own.  I am not sure if this is a bug or a feature. The game is free, so if you find the idea at all intriguing and decide to give it a try, let me know. I'd love to have a few allies in the game.  I am using my gmail address for the game and my username is toledolefty.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

The Screensaver of Doom: Inspired by Kelly McGonigal

I listen to podcasts and audiobooks all the time. (This blog is not sponsored by, yet, but it should be.) They make boring tasks like housework go faster. I listen to them all of the time in my car and when walking or running. I feel a little anxious when I don't have anything new on my playlist.

There might be a good reason for that. I was listening to an interview on Sounds True: Insights on the Edge with Kelly McGonigal. She wrote The Willpower Instinct and also has a new audio program out,. It's next up on my wishlist.

The thing that struck me in the interview was something I'm not sure is in the audiobook.While talking with interviewer Tami Simon, McGonigal mentioned that the brain's "default mode" when not otherwise engaged is to resort to fault-finding, of both the self and others.  She said that most people think that the brain is resting when not thinking of anything, but neuroscience shows that instead, it starts picking things apart.

I thought that the fact that I do this was a flaw in my own wiring, but now I find that it's a factory-standard Screensaver of Doom.  Nothing to do? What can I criticize about myself or the people and things around me?  I guess evolution might have favored a mind that was always looking for things that needed to be improved or changed.  When I told my husband, who's a high-school teacher, he said the kids that never seem to think are also the ones who are mean.

I wonder if I listen to audiobooks to drown out the negative noise in my head.  Vickie has mentioned that she does this, and it does seem that without something to entertain me, I sometimes find it hard to get going.

McGonigal's program seems to be different. It's about learning to be more mindful and present, not tuning out.  And, of course, it's about becoming more compassionate.

As I said, I can't wait to get it. When I do, you'll be the first to know.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Walking is underrated

My husband and I have been getting up earlier most mornings and taking a 20-30 minute walk before breakfast. It gives my thyroid pill (now 175 mcg of Synthroid) time to work on an empty stomach. It also gives us some time to chat and wake up before the day starts. I have seen some bloggers knock an article for suggesting that people "just walk," and I think they may be misguided.  Sure, it's fun to train for and do a race, if that's something you want to do. It isn't necessary for weight loss, and I can point to my own experience to show that training hard for events does not automatically make you thin.

I think there are plenty of people who are turned off from activity because of some idea that they have to do it a certain way for it to "count." In , Gretchen Reynolds points to research that says that hard training isn't necessary for health benefits:
The first 20 minutes of moving around, if someone has been really sedentary, provide most of the health benefits. You get prolonged life, reduced disease risk — all of those things come in in the first 20 minutes of being active... Two-thirds of Americans get no exercise at all. If one of those people gets up and moves around for 20 minutes, they are going to get a huge number of health benefits, and everything beyond that 20 minutes is, to some degree, gravy.
I noticed when watching Season One of "The Biggest Loser" that big dude Maurice, who said he did none of the low-intensity "homework" Bob assigned did not lose as much as the rest of his cohort, even though he performed well during the high-intensity strength and interval exercise. Maybe the stress relief from walking  were what helped the other contestants lose? I know that these activities don't have a huge calorie burn. Even running, it's hard to burn the calories in a good-sized donut.  There may be genetic or hormonal things going on that we don't fully understand.

And even if it doesn't result in weight loss, something that makes you feel good and makes you healthier is worth doing, right? Right?

Besides, most of us have a partner, a dog, or a kid who would love the extra quality time away from the TV and the mobile phones.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Watching reruns of The Biggest Loser

I originally got a streaming-only subscription to Netflix to see "Downton Abbey." Then I got hooked on "30 Rock." Then it was "Mad Men." Then I realized I had never watched the very first season of "The Biggest Loser."

My husband and I just finished watching that first season, and I thought I'd share some of my thoughts for other TBL fans. The first thing I noticed was that the show was incredibly low-budget that first season. There were not standard weigh-in clothes. Contestants seem to have brought most of their own clothes with them.

 The contestants seemed to be a rag-tag bunch of people the producers had hanging around. They had everyone from 400-pound Maurice to a couple of women who were only in the 170s. One guy was a television writer, so he may actually have worked for NBC and volunteered for the project. In later versions of the show, they seemed to standardize so that the contestants looked more similar at the beginning, with only one or two contestants who were much larger or smaller than the average. Weight losses were smaller too.

 Many of the conventions, like "LAST CHANCE WORKOUT!" didn't really take hold until later. It was actually nice to see a more organic version of the show. There were no integrations, either (those in-show commercials) and repetition, so the shorter shows actually felt like they had more substance. With a little less polish, the show was more touching. It was obvious that everyone was surprised that they were able to do so much. The yellow line didn't appear until the end of Season One, and "percentage of weight lost" as the measuring stick did not appear until Season Two. This meant that smaller contestants were at a huge disadvantage, and that contestants were also free to vote off anyone they wanted. There was a little more gameplay because of this -- contestants were as likely to be sent home for losing too much as for losing too little. Alliances were very important in determining who stayed and who went.

 Temptation food was everywhere. In later seasons, I don't remember seeing piles of donuts and candy on the coffee tables in front of the contestants, but there was gorgeous and tempting food everywhere in the first season. Contestants seemed to be really good at ignoring it, too.

 The contestant, Maurice, who most vocally opted out of the low-intensity cardio "homework" that contestants are supposed to do on their own was the one who under-performed the most on the scale. He was great at the strength training, but at 400 pounds he lost less than some of the smaller contestants. It was funny watching the show and knowing both that [name] was the winner and that he has since regained most of his weight. He seemed so happy and confident on the show that it's hard to believe that he had so much trouble later. He came across as a real leader on the show, and his ability to control the game was what made him the winner. He said in interviews that he was very motivated by the money, but I also read that he had a new job and became the father of twin girls not long after he left the show.

I think that the show is such a protective bubble for some of the contestants that they don't learn how to juggle their other responsibilities and maintain their self-care rituals. It may also be that the contestants who were most motivated by money used some unhealthy techniques to get rid of the final pounds, which sabotaged them for the long run.

 I know that there are a lot of valid criticisms of the show, but I still find it incredibly motivating to watch and see people on television pushing themselves physically and learning to deal with temptation. I plan to watch the new season when it comes out, and might even resume my reviews.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Review: On Writer's Block

I used my "artist's date" last week to go to my local library and look at books on writing.  I had requested a couple for pickup, but I also thought I'd browse the shelves.  I found  and was intrigued. I opened up to a few random pages and realized that I had found a book that wasn't going to let me get away with the usual excuses.

In The Artist's Way, Julia Cameron discusses writer's block as a writing injury. This assumes that the writer is reacting to an unfairly negative past criticism, to family messages about the nature of art or to a fear of success or failure.

 deals with the same issue but from a grounding in basic psychology.  "A writer must have the humility to approach his problems as a human being first, an artist second," writes author Victoria Nelson. She says that writing problems are not just writing problems but the result of more basic problems, such as an unrealistic idea of what writing will be:
It's important to realized that "wanting to write" is a time-honored fantasy for many, equivalent to escaping to a desert island. This is harmless daydreaming that turns ugly only when the dreamer begins judging his fantasy by real-world standards that patently don't apply: "I keep thinking about writing but never do it, therefore I'm a failure and a fraud." Then it is time to ask what void in real life this fantasy attempts to fill. Often it is simply freedom from daily responsibilities and a sterile work environment.
This made me wonder whether I really want to write or whether I'm looking for an out from my current work situation, which definitely has its frustrations as well as its pleasures.  I suspect this could be true because I don't imagine myself writing as much as I imagine myself Being a Writer, which is of course a different enterprise.

What if, though, I really do want to write? The parallels to Intuitive Eating are striking. Lay off self-blame and find the most enjoyable writing projects to tempt the reluctant writer forward. Find engagement in the work itself and not some dreamed-about future reward. Don't weight the decision to write with unnecessary importance.  Don't treat your writer self cruelly if you aren't writing.

I'm about halfway through this book but thinking I want my own copy so I can mark some of the important passages. I looked and . I am trying not to buy new books but this is one I will want to reread.  

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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