Monday, November 24, 2008

Ruby, Tim Gunn, and weird dreams

Last night, I was home alone, a rare event that I celebrated by making a big bowl of air-popped popcorn and watching a bunch of cheesy reality television shows that my husband might not be as enthusiastic to see as I was. After Jennette's review of "Ruby" on the Style network, I had watched the introduction online and gotten caught up in Ruby's story. Last night I watched two more episodes of the show. In one, Ruby gets frustrated with eating her prepackaged meals while her friends eat pizza in front of her. In another, a self-centered little man comes back from Ruby's past after she has lost the first fifty pounds and says she needs to "give him the chance she never gave him" to take charge of her fitness routine and dangles the promise of marriage in front of her if she loses the weight.

I have to say that after watching these three episodes, I feel very frustrated with Ruby's friends and her doctors. Her "obesity expert" doesn't have any chairs in his waiting room that are large enough for a patient Ruby's size. Her doctors put her on a prepackaged meal plan and tell her that if she goes off her diet, she will die. Her friends consistently seem to eat huge helpings of greasy food in front of her while Ruby is left with her diet food. Georgia, who seems to be the best of the bunch, does not have a chair Ruby can use in her dining room, even though meals together as a group seem to be a regular ritual. This means that each week, Ruby has to sit alone in the living room while everyone else sits at the table. Her friends combine their stunning lack of empathy with a tendency to lecture her through mouthfuls of pizza. Though Ruby acts childish at times, I don't think that a grown woman should be treated like a child by her doctors and friends. I would have liked to see Ruby's routine set up in a way that would empower her. Instead, she has a bunch of rules that she has to follow "or die." She seems to handle it all with good humor, which is the only reason the show is at all watchable.

Our DVR also had several unwatched episodes of "Tim Gunn's Guide to Style," so I thought I'd catch up on my fashion tips. The DVR makes watching reality television so much more pleasant. You can skim through the dozens of commercials and watch a half-hour show in twenty minutes or less. I watched Tim and Greta transform a really tall, beautiful girl and a pretty petite woman with more than 280 items of clothing in her closet. None of them had any figure flaws that seemed familiar to me. Being too tall and thin is not a figure problem I have, nor is having so many gorgeous clothes that I don't know what I have, let alone what to wear. I still enjoyed myself thoroughly watching these women find more confident in themselves and realize how beautiful they are.

I had weirdly vivid dreams which, like many of my dreams, start to vaporize when I try to remember them in detail. I woke up with the sense that part of the reason that I always seem to regain the weight when I get to my goal is because I don't know how to dress a thinner body. I always felt pressure wear things that were too skimpy and revealing, which made me feel awkward and self-conscious. It's as if I got the body I had when I was a teenager, so I started acting like a teenager again. When I regained the weight, I felt less conspicious so, even though I hated it, somehow more comfortable. If I ever get back there again, I'm going to take Tim's list of essentials and dress like a sensible person. Then I'm going to walk like the tall woman did: Head high, shoulders back, feeling confident. Maybe I'll even start that last part now.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Book review: Two Weeks Under

Full disclosure: This book was sent to me by a publicist to review. At first, when I read the concept, I was turned off. Then I read a sample chapter and got hooked by the story, so I agreed to accept a sample copy and review the book if I liked it.

This book starts with an idea that many women have had: What if you could go to sleep and wake up twenty pounds thinner? The plot of Two Weeks Under centers around lush, otherworldly Monarch Spa and Gym, which offers a "medically induced coma diet" in addition to a dizzying array of gourmet diet foods, health products, exercise options, and plastic surgery. Though the primary target audience is women who are at least 60 pounds overweight, Monarch also markets the "vanity coma" to average-sized women who want to trim down to model-like proportions.

The book is a thriller set in a near-future version of New York City, where a string of suicides among single professional women in Manhattan is attributed to nervous exhaustion and workaholism. Main character Elana Diamond finds out that the latest suicide is someone close to her and tries to figure out what happened. In the midst of this quest, she is also struggling to save her high-powered job at a marketing agency where her main rival is also her ex-fiancé. When Elana hears about Monarch, she decides that a contract with such a huge client is just what she needs to wow her boss and keep her job safe.

The day after the book arrived, I thought I'd sit down and read just a few pages. Four hours later, I was reading as fast as I could as if Elana was counting on me to help her find out the truth before it's too late. I was reminded of the Da Vinci Code, because even as my rational mind acknowledged that some things in the book seemed implausible to the point of being ridiculous, I was totally wrapped up in the plot and the world the author had created for me. The descriptions of Monarch are especially rich and vivid, and the characters are compelling (even the ones with hokey, romance-novelly names like Libra Hermes).

The one thing that marred the book a little for me was that I wasn't sure how we were supposed to take it when two women, both around 5'6" and 145 pounds, feel "disgusted" with their weight. Were we supposed to see this as part of the general craziness or were we supposed to agree with them? I am the same height and would feel skinny at 145, though maybe I wouldn't if I lived in Manhattan.
Author Rivka Tadjer's description of her own size and eating habits on her blog made me wonder. The descriptions of obese women, defined as at least 60 pounds overweight -- since ideal weight for 5'6" seems to be 125 in this book, they could weigh around 185 -- as having "chins wobbling" and "labored breathing" also makes me wonder. I am not sure if these opinions belonged to the narrator or the author, though I'd like to give Tadjer the benefit of the doubt. Other characters seem to find these women compelling at their "disgusting" weight and later Elana seems to have a different perspective on things.

For me, questions aside, the book was worth reading because through the crazy concept of the "vanity coma," Tadjer helps us to see the insanity in our agonies over the last twenty pounds and the common practice where women over 35 feel they should be able to have the bodies of the 17-year-olds who market products to them. I felt a little more empowered and happy with my own perfectly imperfect body after I finished reading. Besides, the book made my heart race enough that I'm sure I burned a few extra calories.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Quick Biggest Loser post

I can't believe the way the elimination turned out. I have been really unhappy with the continued gameplay by all of Bob's team members. Each season he seems to allow people to go further and further off the deep end. I'm impressed with Jillian and Black Team members Michelle, Reneé, and Colleen for continuing to show strength and sanity in a crazy environment. Ed is the only member of the Blue Team who seems to have a sense of perspective.

I have a couple of reviews coming up soon: Another book and a product that I'll be testing.

Friday, November 14, 2008

More on anger and recovery

I hadn't weighed myself for a couple of weeks after deciding to Not-Diet. It had given me the weird effect of not quite knowing where I stood, which suggests that I was relying much too much on the scale as a validation. It also gave me the weird sensation of feeling thinner, fatter, fatter, thinner, the same, depending on my mood. I finally weighed myself yesterday, fully clothed after breakfast, to see where I stood. Of course I had to then get a "real" weight this morning before breakfast. I've stayed right about the same, despite sharing the house with a ridiculous amount of Halloween candy and some testing of myself to see if I'm really "allowed" to have what I want. I think that once I stop testing and start really living the way I want to, I will have less need to eat half a stack of crackers just to prove I can. That is when I would expect to see myself settle in at whatever weight is really normal for me. It's hard to trust the process but I'm working on it.

This month's Yoga Journal has an article about "Uncovering Your True Self." The article opens with a parable about a sculptor who carves beautiful elephants out of marble. To do this, he tells an admirer, he lives with the raw stone for a while, then starts to see the living elephant in the rock. "How he yearns to be out! How he wants to live! It seems so clear now, for I know the thing I must do: With an utter singleness of purpose, I must chip away every last bit of stone that is not elephant. What then remains will be, must be, elephant." Author Eknath Easwaran suggested that we can do the same thing with our true self, that by really seeing the person we want to become, we can start to chip away the things that aren't compatible with that vision.

In a recent podcast, Jillian Michaels answered an email from a mother who was frustrated and worried about her son, who was overweight and seemed to be eating constantly. She had tried bargaining with him, yelling at him, showing him TLC specials about people who were too obese to leave their homes. She was at her wit's end and didn't know what to do. Jillian could understand her frustration but also was obviously feeling pain and empathy for the boy. All of this was only sending the boy the message, Jillian said, that his mother didn't love him for who he was. Jillian asked the mother to stop trying to scare her child and start focusing on the positive. The mother needed to stop harassing her son and focus on giving him positive role models, starting with setting the example herself. She should also find out what her son really wanted to do: Play an instrument, play sports, whatever. Instead of focusing on what she didn't want him to become, she could help him be the person he wanted to be.

Though the idea is simple, none of this is easy. One thing that's the hardest to do is to let go of the grudges and grievances and things that I've been blaming for not only the excess weight, but my neuroses and assorted character flaws. There's a difference between looking for the hidden reasons we do things and clinging to them as some sort of badge of honor and excuse. As Easwaran said in the Yoga Journal article, "Can you imagine a sculptor scurrying to pick up the slivers that fall from his chisel, hoarding them, trasuring them, ignoring the statue altogether?" I've heard that negative comments have five times the impact of positive ones. Everyone my life, no matter how wonderful, is going to say something once in a while that hurts me. I can hoard up those slights or I can take an adult role and start moving toward my true self, and remember that I've also been the one who inadvertently (or even some terrible times, on purpose) hurt someone I cared about. The goal shouldn't be to keep score in some kind of dramatic no-holds-barred cage match, but to work on becoming the person I want to be and letting the unwanted chips fall.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Biggest Loser and the No Asshole Rule

I don't want to give way too much about last night's show, but let me just say that I have been rooting against Vicky since the beginning of the show, and last night showed just how horrible she and her Mean Girl sidekick Heba can be. They need someone to pick on to keep their Terrible Twosome dynamic going, and from previews of next week's show, it is obvious who their next victim will be.



As usual on "The Biggest Loser," there are twists to the game whenever the contestants think they know how things are going to play out. Everyone is on their own now, and the eliminated players came back to have a shot at winning a place back on the ranch. Of course, drama ensued. I think that Phil played right into the hands of his tormentors by trying to be all macho and self-righteous. I don't know whether he did anything to deserve the nasty treatment he got on the show, but I know from junior high that you can't reason with Mean Girls.



I really admired the players who tried to rise above the drama and focus on their weight loss. I do think that the trainer sets the tone for the team, and Jillian kept her team solidly focused on their goals. Complaining about how unfair the situation was wouldn't keep them in the game -- only results would. I don't know what Bob is doing to encourage the dynamic on his team, but whatever it is, I don't think it will serve him or his team members well in the long run. His record hasn't been great on the show. His contestants will have to go home and face the fact that they acted like children on national television, and that will be embarassing, especially if it doesn't pay off in the end. I wanted to cheer when one player suggested that "The Biggest Loser" isn't life or death, and that eliminations didn't mean that players couldn't continue to work toward their goals. I wish more of the players had that attitude.



It's funny, because I just read a book called The No-Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One that Isn't. It's about the toll that jerks take on organizations and individuals. This show was a good case study on assholes in action and the way they impact not only the person they're targeting, but anyone who witnesses their behavior. Ultimately, "The Biggest Loser" is going to suffer as a show if it encourages these antics, because watching the show is uncomfortable when supposed adults are exhibiting childish and even, at times, completely antisocial behavior. If that's the way the show is going to be, I'm not interested in it. I haven't ever been a fan of "Survivor," "Big Brother," or any of the other reality shows where game-playing is the central focus. I only liked "The Biggest Loser" because it really seemed to help the people on the show achieve things they never thought were possible. I'm hoping that the producers will cast more carefully to avoid a jerk-infested house next season.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

the latest thing: Pilates

I went to a Pilates class today at a great local studio. I have done Pilates there on and off for a while. The owner of the place is great, and she hires really good instructors. Classes are a bit pricey but there are often special packages available. There was a deal this month for 3 private lessons and 5 Reformer classes. I can take them anytime over the next three months. My first private lesson is next week. I've never used the Pilates Reformer but it's supposed to be great for your posture and your overall strength and balance. The instructors are all beautiful, but not in a Barbie-doll way. They're fit and graceful-looking, and completely down-to-earth. I want to be them when I grow up.

I decided to spring for the package because I've been dealing with nagging hamstring, hip, and shoulder issues. I have been trying to get on a running program but continually run into problems with these chronically sore or achy areas, mostly because of weakness and imbalance in my muscles. My hamstrings are tight, my glutes are weak. My core is not as strong as it should be. My upper back needs to be stronger and my shoulders get tight from the computer. Everything got worse and tighter when I was commuting and it's been harder than I thought it would be to spring back. I've been feeling achier than a thirty-something should feel and wondering if I'm developing arthritis.

I'm hoping this will help me tune up over the winter so that I'm ready to set the world on fire in the spring. I want to feel like a triathlete again, and more importantly, I want to train like one again. At best, these classes will set me up to do that. At the worst, I figure I'll make some progress toward a stronger back and core and maybe a flatter tummy. Spending time around strong, fit, confident women won't hurt me, either.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Recovering

I got a weird bug on Tuesday that completely debilitated me for a full day. I won't go into gross details, but I didn't leave the house because I didn't want to be too far from a bathroom. Watching the election returns helped up my energy level, but I didn't even stay up for Barack Obama's acceptance speech.

I'm just now getting back to having a normal appetite and energy level. For a few days after being sick, all I wanted was bland, salty food: saltine crackers, chips, grits. I figured that there was a good reason for this, but now I'm trying to get back to a more balanced diet again.

An illness is always a good reminder of how good it is to be healthy. I actually enjoyed being able to get out and rake leaves and scoop up pine needles yesterday. It's a nice reminder that I want to stay healthy for a long time. For one thing, it will determine whether I'm one of those suburbanites standing around with a leaf blower or getting a core workout with the rake.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Letting go of the Angry Fat Girl

I have been rereading Valerie Frankel's book Thin is the New Happy, and even though I complained about the lack of "how to" information the first time around, I realize that she did give us a lot of good information about the emotional process she went through to become a successful Non-Dieter. A lot of the work she did was letting go of the emotional baggage that she believed was related to her physical baggage. She had to forgive a lot of stuff, from her mother's constant haranguing (doesn't seem like she's quite over that one yet) to a thoughtless comment from her husband, to the kids in school who used to throw things at her and call her fat. Though the old hurt is still there, she has given up the anger and resentment -- well, most of it, anyway. I think she also has loosened her grip on the idea of herself as "fat," which didn't fit too well most of the time anyway.

I'm trying to do the same thing. I want to get over old hurts and resentments and stop thinking of myself as a fat person. Two summers ago, when I was still a graduate student, my very tiny co-worker said, "You always talk about yourself like you're a big person, but you're not. You're actually kind of small." At the time, I was exercising regularly and walking to work, and I had taken off a few pounds. But the real magic happened after that comment, when I started to internalize this new idea of myself as a kind-of-small person. I really have noticed that how I think of myself is really important. When I started at my last job, I was fairly thin but there were many really weight-focused people talking up the dangers of carbs in the organization. I was already worried about fitting in, and I became very self-conscious about my size, which didn't lead to positive, life-affirming behavior. I can trace a lot of my major gains to getting hung up on my size, trying to whip myself into shape, and then rebelling and gaining weight. This is the cycle that I'm trying very hard to break. I don't want my self-image to swing around wildly with every offhanded comment I get on how I look or what diet I should be trying. I want a positive self-image and the sense that my body is completely my business and my responsibility, no matter what anyone thinks.

Goodnight, dear blog readers. Hopefully tomorrow at this time, we'll have a pretty good idea that Obama has won the election!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Changing my perspective

I was misinformed about the number of trick-or-treaters to expect in my new suburban neighborhood. I figured we'd get hundreds of kids, since it's very walkable here. We got some very little kids but not a lot of older ones. I'd guess we had 60 or 70 kids at most. I had bought three 150-piece bags of candy from Costco to be prepared for a crush. I was originally going to buy two, but my sister convinced me that wouldn't be enough. I spent $36 or so on this candy.

I used up the first bag and a little of the second for the trick-or-treaters. There are almost 300 small candy bars in my house right now. How many have I eaten? In the last two days, maybe 6. I'm bored with them, and not tempted to have any more. I know the diet wisdom is "THROW IT AWAY" but I really don't want to. I think that just sends the message that I can't be trusted. I am going to take some to work and the rest will just go into lunches. I don't want to live the rest of my life afraid of food.

Now if it were Goldfish Crackers, I might feel more tempted. Or dark chocolate caramels.

As I've said before, I'm experimenting with Intuitive Eating, the idea that it's important to legalize all foods so that you can stop having the diet-binge-diet reaction to things. The idea is that even if you do overdo things, if you don't move on to the shame and punishment part of the cycle, it's not likely to continue. It seems to me that this candy thing is the kind of situation that tests a theory like this. The thing is, there is SO MUCH candy here that I couldn't possibly eat it all. Somehow that makes it less interesting.

I don't know how this will work out. It might be a big stupid mistake. If it seems to be a problem I'll get rid of it, but for now, I'm willing to trust the process.

One thing that does seem weird is that Costco sells these huge variety bags of candy all the time, not just at Halloween. Who buys 150-count bags of assorted candy at random times of the year?
"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