Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I've got the power! Now, what do I do with it?

This week's episode of "The Biggest Loser" brought up an interesting issue. Tracey wanted to have all the power in the game in this week's episode, but when it came down to using it, she seemed really unsure of what to do. Her decisions were no better than coin flips. She had made some bad decisions of her own before getting power over other people: Her sprint ahead at the beginning of the season, and her decision to trade the benefits she could get from her trainers for two lousy pounds (that she didn't end up needing).

I'm sure we all know people who spout all kinds of advice about what everyone else is doing wrong in their family lives, their jobs, their diet, etc., all the while ignoring the fact that their own lives are a trainwreck. I think that we all might have that tendency to focus on everything but our own problems.

I think that Tracey and people like her are genuinely afraid of what it might take to make change in their own lives, so they create a perfect persona and try to ignore the mess underneath. I'm sure Tracey was terrified of Bob and Jillian because she's seen the show enough to know that she's going to have to confront her emotional baggage as well as the fat. That's not an easy thing to do in the best of situations, and it sure doesn't sound fun to do on national television.

Giving up the trainers and focusing on the gameplay was a probably a nice distraction from all that frightening reality.

The Biggest Loser Week 3: It's All About Bad Choices

I was going to call this post "Everybody Hates Tracey" but decided that might be too mean. Last week's show had almost no gameplay, but this one sure made up for it.

This week the contestants were offered two big temptations, and one player took both of them. Tracey was the contestant who put herself in the hospital in Week 1 trying to run faster than Daniel, who was returning from last season and had been exercising regularly. I couldn't figure out how someone could do that to themselves in just a mile -- usually your body has controls and won't let you hurt yourself too badly. Wikipedia says that she gave herself heatstroke.

Because of that stint in the hospital, we haven't really seen much of Tracey. She returned just in time for the weigh-in on Week 2, and this was her first chance to work with the trainers and get to know the other players. Before the players entered the gym on the first day after the weigh-in, though, Allison offered them a choice. They could give up access to their trainers for a 2-pound advantage in the weigh-in that week. If no one took two pounds, the stakes would go up until someone jumped. As one contestant said, "Two pounds is nothing. We can lose two pounds in a day working with our trainers." But without consulting with her teammate, Coach Mo (one of my favorites this season), Tracey jumped. She said she was afraid that someone else would get a big advantage and she would miss out. Coach Mo was obviously upset but did his best to be a good sport about it. He watched the other players training with Bob and Jillian and tried to do what they were doing.

Bob and Jillian had a nice long talk with her about not acting impulsively out of fear, and she admitted that she is always in a state of semi-panic. She agreed that she would talk back to that impulsive voice the next time she was feeling scared. She gets a semi-crosseyed look when she's talking about that fear that reminds me of my sister's crazy Weimaraner.

Until the next day, when the players are offered a food temptation: Eat the most 100-calorie cupcakes (they were very cute little mini-cupcakes) in 10 minutes and win the ability to decide which player's weigh-in counts for the team toward elimination. A player who could guess accurately which teammate would have the best (or worst) weigh-in could basically decide which teams were up for elimination that week. Tracey holds out for a few minutes, then gets that crazy look in her eyes and starts eating cupcakes, gulping down 4 and making herself feel sick. "We're playing a game, what's wrong with trying to win?" Of course, Jillian practically takes her head off when she finds out about this escapade. Both Jillian and Bob agree that it's too early to try to do this kind of gameplay, because you will only make yourself a target. This seems especially true for Tracey, who hasn't had a chance to develop any real relationships with the other players. Some of the players try to talk to her and get her to choose the player they think is strongest for the weigh-in, but they confide to the camera that she is a loose cannon and they don't trust her at all.

There is a kind of cool physical challenge that allows the players to compete for immunity by carrying a total of 250 pounds per player up a ramp (500 pounds for a 2-person team). Again there is a choice involved: Take more trips up the ramp with 2 smaller weights (5-pound buckets) or take a longer trip with one heavier weight (a 25-pound bucket). It seems obvious to me that the heavier buckets would be harder, but several teams choose that option. Tracey and Abby are injured and don't compete in this challenge, so their partners compete alone. It was great to see that everyone who competed was able to finish, and that everyone chipped in to help the last player.

I was curious to see what Tracey's record for picking the weaker player in the weigh-in would be. She went about 3-3, no better than you would expect from pure chance alone. In the process, though, she alienated the one player that felt "close" to Tracey, and made everyone angry by seeming to pick on Shay, who is the biggest player and the one player everyone else agrees needs more time on the show before she could possibly be okay to lose the weight on her own. If I had the patience, I'd be curious to use the weigh-in numbers to calculate who would have been up for elimination without the gameplay element, but I'll let someone else figure that out. One team makes the sacrifice to go home to protect a weaker player, a classy move that was the one real bright spot this week.

Tracey seems to see her actions as rational and acceptable, but she is the only one who does. Jillian and all of the other players are angry at her. The scenes from next week's show seemed to indicate there would be some Karmic payback coming. I'm just hoping she doesn't drag her teammate down with her.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Feedback

As I said yesterday, my track record of tracking (and therefore, following the Weight Watchers program) has been pretty lousy in the last week or so. I was up a little again this week, which means that I am now just three pounds below my starting weight on August 25. I'm actually a little annoyed with both my ticker and the Weight Watchers tracker because I can't set that as a start date and see my progress since then.

If I can lose two pounds this week, I could finally get that five-pound star, and my weight loss would average a pound a week. The new iPhone app is making tracking a little less tedious, which is helping. The other thing I need to do, which was the topic of today's meeting, is to stop eating for reasons other than hunger.

Simple, right? If I'm not hungry, I shouldn't be eating. I shouldn't be eating because I am watching TV, or because I'm bored, or because I hate grading papers, or because I'm feeling down.

Staying on top of the tracking helps. I'm going to start putting things in the tracker before I eat them whenever possible, because it might make me think a little more about what I really want.

I came home after my meeting and had one of my lunch wraps. This one had one of the last homegrown tomatoes, along with avocado, 1/4 cup part-skim mozzarella cheese, 1 tsp. olive oil, and salt and pepper. It was 7.5 points for the sandwich, so I just had a fresh veggie salad with no dressing to go with it.

I have to say, it's really hard getting through a day on 22 points. The online tools keep a tally of your average daily and weekly points -- I average closer to 37 points a day, which may be why I'm not losing more successfully, especially when you consider that I didn't count at all on some of the worse days.

My leader said to focus on reframing one bad habit this week, so I am going to reframe my habit of not counting as a way to give myself the ability to play fast and loose with the plan. It makes me feel freer and gives me a chance to eat things that are hard to fit in on plan, but it also means that my weight loss is compromised. I am going to make an effort to get a little activity in to give myself more freedom, and to focus more on choosing more healthy foods that taste great, like my sandwich today.

By the way, lvlc, I totally agree with you that the eTools (and therefore, use of the iPhone app) should be free to Lifetime members at goal, as long as they keep weighing in monthly. It seems like that would be an easy incentive for them to provide to keep Lifetimers coming back, which is good for WW and good for the Lifetimers.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Review: New Weight Watchers iPhone app

Just about every day, Weight Watchers sends me an email. Usually, I press delete without reading it, because it doesn't have any actual content, just links to stories on the Weight Watchers site about recipes, strategies, etc. I go to the website often enough that if there's anything interesting there, I'll find it. If it had some useful content in it that didn't require a clickthrough, I might open it now and then, especially since I'm usually reading my email on my iPod touch and the WW site is not optimized for a small screen. But today's said "New iPhone App plus... " and that was all I needed to see. I clicked right through to download the app.

Weight Watchers already had a lightweight mobile site that did the basics: Allowed you to track your points in sort of a slow, clunky way and calculate points from food labels. I generally put off tracking my points until I could get to a real computer, because the mobile interface was slow, the need to click through links to adjust portion sizes or change the mealtime was clunky, and I couldn't look back to a previous day to see my points or add a food I forgot. I had to click through to a whole separate screen to search for an activity, and then click through another link to enter the duration for that activity. Because I wasn't tracking my points as I went along, it was too easy to decide that going back and tracking for the day was too much trouble. I have tracked points for only about three of the last six days. When I'm not tracking consistently, my weight loss is never that great because it's too easy to have a little of this and a little of that.

The new app for the iPhone (or in my case, iPod Touch) answers a lot of the concerns. The first time I opened it, it asked me to sign in with my Weight Watchers eTools account information to access my data, but after that, it remembered who I was. For those who don't have an eTools account, the app provides only a meeting finder and the ten featured recipes with color photos and full instructions. These features are available to subscribers too, but subscribers have access to the new iPhone points tracker.

The tracker interface is closer to the LoseIt! app that I loved so much. Once I find a food with the search, it allows me to adjust portion size, and enter mealtime, and add to my tracker all from one screen. Entering activities is similarly easy -- in fact, the app is better than the website because you don't have to go to a separate screen to search for activities -- there is one "Add to Tracker" button to access foods, restaurants, recipes, and activities. The one thing I can't find is the weight tracker, but it may come up automatically tomorrow, which is my weigh-in day.

I turned off my wireless antenna just to see what happens when I'm not connected to the Internet. I can still search for points values for foods, recipes, restaurants, and activities. I just can't add them to my tracker without a connection. I can also still access the featured recipes, so that if I were at the grocery store, I could pick up the ingredients I needed to make them.

I really love this new tool and hope that it will contribute to better success for me and for other iPhone/iPod Touch-wielding members. It may be too late to salvage this week, but I'm still tracking and hoping for the best.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Another reason to cut calories

I attended a local event on integrated health last night. The featured speaker was Dr. David Perlmutter, who wrote The Better Brain Book. It wasn't quite what I expected. I thought there would be a short talk and a health fair where you could find out about local integrative medicine resources. Instead, it was a really informative and detailed lecture about the ways that we can prevent and remediate various kinds of cognitive dysfunction: Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and even ADHD. Dr. Perlmutter described treating a child who had been diagnosed at age 4 with severe ADHD with a gluten-free diet, a reduction in sugar, a course of probiotics, and DHA supplements. He also showed some pretty miraculous treatments of Parkinson's patients with an IV supplement. I just searched his blog for the name of the drug but can't find it.

He explained that these cognitive disorders are diseases of inflammation. Inflammation is responsible for the pain of arthritis and has also been implicated in heart disease. Until last night, I didn't realize it was also part of cognitive disorders.

Dr. Perlmutter said obesity is a big contributor to inflammation, because fat can store toxins that contribute to inflammation, plus excess weight is a major cause of Type 2 diabetes, which causes severe inflammation and is destructive to the body and brain. An insulin-dependent diabetic has 4 times the normal risk of contracting Alzheimer's. I didn't really want to hear this, since so many of my family members already have this disease. Still, knowledge is power. This gives me more incentive to follow my food plan and get rid of the excess weight.

He also suggested that people with cognitive disorders get tested for the antibodies associated with celiac disease. Apparently about 1% of the population is sensitive to gluten and the disease doesn't always manifest as G.I. distress. Sometimes it just causes inflammation in the brain that contributes to cognitive disorders like ADHD, Parkinson's, and Alzheimer's.

He said that everyone can take four simple steps to protect themselves against these disorders:

  • Reduce calories by 25%. "Since most people eat 33% more calories than they need, this shouldn't be a hardship." My guess is that most people who follow Weight Watchers or other diet plans would be restricting calories by at least that much.
  • Get regular physical exercise
  • Exercise the brain with lifelong learning, games, and puzzles
  • Supplement with DHA (fish oils are one source)
I would have bought the book last night, but there was an incredibly long line. I will probably buy it either online or at a local bookstore. In the meantime, I can work on those four steps.

What strikes me about all of this is that many of these steps are the same steps suggested for healthy aging, good general health, weight maintenance... The main message of last night's talk was that rather than taking prescription drugs (each with its own potential risks) for each individual symptom we have, we should be taking care of our general health in a way that prevents the diseases in the first place.

Now I just need to find a doctor who has the same philosophy. I don't think it's Dr. Pill Pusher.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Biggest Loser Week 2: Working together

First of all, I missed more than half an hour of last night's show. Our DVR fails to record shows now and then, and I think in this case it is because TBL keeps changing its name. Luckily, TBL is all about recap, recap, recap, so I think I got the gist of what I missed.

Allison, Bob, Jillian, and all the contestants seemed obsessed with "The Curse of Week 2," where weight loss is unpredictable. TBL trend watchers have noticed that though everyone loses big in the first week, some have a minor loss or even a gain in Week 2. My husband speculated that they got overconfident from their losses and slacked off, while I thought they might get a little freaked out by the big change in the first week and subconsciously back off a little. Or you could believe the show's official explanation, which is that the body is very resistant to major change and has controls in place to even things out. All three explanations seem plausible to me. Maybe it's a combination.

To counter The Curse, the contestants are given the opportunity to keep everyone safe for a week if they all work together and try to help each other out. If everyone as a group lost 150, no one would have to go home. If the group failed to meet that target, they would have to send two people home. The contestants got a crash course in portion sizes and healthy eating from the hunky Aussie from "Take Home Chef" and then, as a group, took a quiz where they could earn 15 pounds toward their goal. The challenge for the week also involved everyone working together. I thought it looked easy until I realized that every contestant had to be standing on an unsteady narrow balance beam at the same time before anyone was allowed to step onto the platform that indicated a 5-pound credit, a phone call home, or the final 10-pound credit. If I were out there alone, I think I could easily run around those balance beams, but not if I were on the platform with 14 scared people rocking the boat.

I really liked the emphasis on cooperation and teamwork in this episode. All the contestants are, after all, working toward common goals. It will be interesting to see if the rest of the episodes incorporate some of that spirit even as contestants face the threat of eliminations.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Uptick

I thought I'd include the graph this time to put this week's slight gain in context. I was away at a conference Saturday and Sunday, and those of you who have done conferences know what it's like: Not much control over your food, and eating as a bright spot in what can be a long day of sitting and listening. The real problem was, though, that I let myself stop tracking for the weekend, and didn't pick back up yesterday. I really like the meeting I'm attending now, and it helped me to renew my resolve. I was so close to my 5 pound star last week, and I want to get it next week. We're supposed to think of one habit that we want to develop. Mine this week will be planning. I have much better success when I know what I'm going to eat and have that food available. I took the time to pack my lunch before the meeting for that reason -- after a meeting, I'm often so hungry that I am tempted to go out for lunch. It was easier to resist that urge when I already had an avocado, cheese, lettuce, and tomato sandwich with me, plus fruit and a tiny piece of dark chocolate.

I understand why people get so superstitious about their weigh-ins, though. The receptionists often seem really upset for you when you gain. Seriously, though, this is a big-picture thing. I know that I am going to have some ups as well as downs. I have had some of the biggest losses the week after a bad weigh-in, which makes me suspect that the "gain" may have been water retention, slightly heavier clothes, or one of the other million things that could make a 2-pound difference on a particular day. This week, though, I know that it was flying + too much sugary junk at the conference + too much time sitting on my butt. All easy things to remedy for next week. I am going to at least get that 5-pound star, and maybe even drop into the 160s if I do a really good job of tracking, counting, and working out.

At least I don't have to weigh in wearing a sports bra and bike shorts in front of millions of TV viewers, though. Bring on tonight's "The Biggest Loser!"

Monday, September 21, 2009

Looking for a new doctor, again

I went to my new doctor for a pap. I had not wanted to go back to my gynecologist because she always kept me waiting in the exam room, shivering, for an hour or more for my appointments. The new doctor spent less than five minutes on this exam, so that wasn't great.

Also not great is that she was dismissive when I explained my concerns about the Topamax. In the two appointments I've had with her, I think she has spent less than 10 minutes talking to me and had never asked about things like how often I exercise or what my weight loss goals were, but she prescribed Topamax, which has weight-loss side effects and has been used off-label as a weight loss drug and ordered a full thyroid panel in my bloodwork. Maybe she thinks I have a weight problem and thought it would be better to try to fix it with drugs rather than talking to me about it?

I'm not sure how to go about finding a doctor who treats me like a person. I know that this one is not the right doctor for me, though. The good news is that I have my birth control pill prescription for the rest of the year and a flu shot, so I probably won't need to see a doctor again for a while. I'm planning to attend a local Integrative medicine event in the hopes that I might meet a better doctor there.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Feeling good

I'm down almost 5 pounds since starting Weight Watchers again two weeks ago. That doesn't sound like much, but I'm about two-thirds of the way to my 5% milestone. I'm also seeing small changes in the way things fit.

The big thing is my change in attitude. For a long time, I struggled with the idea of dieting, because it was hard and anyway, I was resisting the idea that I needed to change.

At the same time, I wanted to change. I wanted to change the way other people saw me but most importantly, I wanted to change the way I saw me. I was tired of my own excuses.

Last night one of the things I really liked on "The Biggest Loser" was Jillian screaming into the camera: "These people aren't like you, they are you!" Most of us have a million reasons why we can't tackle that last 5, 10, 20, 50 pounds. So maybe those of us watching aren't 400 pounds, but we probably have things in our life we're not dealing with head-on, even if it isn't weight.

Today, though, I tackled my last long run before the half marathon on October 4. I did 2 hours tonight. This time I wasn't afraid, I knew I could do it. And I did.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

"The Biggest Loser" season premiere review: Second chances

Last season I think every blogger reviewing "The Biggest Loser" expressed disgust with the excessive gameplay in the last few seasons. After watching this season's premiere episode, I think that the producers were listening. The season opener was the some of the best "Biggest Loser" yet.

This season, everyone started out as strangers. This eliminates the possibility of teams like Ron and Mike, where one player is obviously only there to help get the other into the finals. The trainers are also working together, at least to start, which may also keep things focused on weight loss and not on rivalry.

The biggest and most important change, though, is that we got to know more about the players' personal lives and reasons for wanting to lose weight. Because players had to get to know each other so they could decide who they wanted as their partners, there was a good reason for them to all tell their stories to each other and to the viewers at home. There was a lot of pain in the group, which I think helps viewers watching understand that a young woman doesn't get to be 476 pounds (again this season, the show is breaking its record for the biggest contestant ever) just because she likes ice cream. Last season there was kind of a freak-show feel to the way the first episode was put together, but this time, we were meant to empathize with the contestants and feel their pain. I was glad I had a box of tissues handy for a couple of the stories, which were the stuff of nightmares. Even Jillian got choked up talking about one woman's past. Her compassion didn't mean she was willing to let anyone off the hook in the gym, though.

The message this time was clear: Don't keep punishing yourself for other people's problems or tragedies. Give yourself permission to move on and live your life. The group went off to Dr. Huizenga's office for more medical tests. While he was talking with Shay, we could see her body scan in the background, which showed a surprisingly small skeleton in the outline of her big body, suggesting to me how much she had tried to insulate herself from all the things that had happened to her in her young life. We also found out that the contestants are taking part in research that Dr. H. hopes will help provide a better understanding of obesity and how to help people overcome it.

During an early challenge -- racing for one mile -- two of the contestants had to be taken to the hospital, including one who went by helicopter because her situation was so serious. We heard through the course of the show that Tracey was doing well but she did not return to the show. I wondered if this was because last time a contestant returned right before a weigh-in, the I.V.s had caused weight gain from bloating. I am hoping, at least, that they were just giving Tracey a break and that her situation is not serious. She seemed like a tough, determined woman and I am hoping that her efforts to sprint ahead early on did not cause her any actual harm. I don't enjoy seeing people carted off to the hospital on this show, and even though I know there are always medics right off-camera, I would hate to think they put contestants in danger just to make good television.

Overall, though, I still think the show makes a positive impact on the contestants' lives. Daniel from last season is returning for his second chance, and it is obvious that even at 312 pounds at the start of the show, he was far healthier than the other contestants because of his workout and eating habits. He also had a confidence that none of the rest of them had, and it was great to see him take Shay under his wing.

I know I sound a little loopy about this show, but it really hooked me. I remarked to my husband that I wished it had been a two-hour show and he said, "It was." I felt like I could have easily watched another hour. I hope things continue in the direction they started, because after feeling disillusioned with TBL, I'm now ready to give it a second chance.

17 pounds to goal

Note: I will come back and post my review of "The Biggest Loser" Season 7 premiere after I grade three papers. I'm bribing myself. I am going to do a short post about yesterday's weigh-in and then get right to work.

As I suggested in my post the other day, my expectations for this weigh-in were low. I had gone over my points by a lot. Last week was just a mess in so many ways. I experimented (briefly) with Topamax at my new doctor's suggestion, but it made me hot and thirsty. I am not fooling around with side effects like that until after the half marathon, so I quit after three days. I'm not even sure I need to be on a drug like that in the first place. My husband's car was in the shop, which meant a bunch of extra running around for me. Plus, I felt behind on work but perversely, was not working. I was screwing around instead. I had a bad attitude about a lot of things and a couple of times I didn't feel strong enough to talk back to the voice that suggested that a snack would make me feel better. The one good thing that I did was to count my points for everything and face the ugly truth. Maybe that's what kept things from getting completely out of hand. On Monday I pulled it together and fixed myself three solid, points-friendly meals.

I got lucky: I lost 1.2 pounds. That isn't even a 1% loss in "Biggest Loser" terms, but I felt grateful for it. I got weighed in by my leader, who told me that I missed my 5 pound star this week by 0.2 pounds. I think, though, that I will feel more deserving of that kind of attention after a week of better Weight Watching.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Rules

I agree with Anne that the seeming lack of structure of Weight Watchers encourages some people to do dumb things with their points, like live on 100-calorie packs and fat-free Cool Whip. But there really is a roadmap there for people who want more structure, called the Good Health Guidelines:

1. Eat at least five servings of vegetables and fruits each day.
2. Choose whole-grain foods, such as brown rice and oats, whenever possible.
3. Include two servings of milk products – low fat (1%) or fat-free – each day.
4. Have some healthy oil (olive oil, canola, sunflower, safflower or flaxseed) each day.
5. Ensure that you are getting enough protein by choosing at least a serving or two of meat, poultry, fish, eggs, or dried beans each day. Many dairy products are also good sources of protein.
6. Limit added sugar and alcohol.
7. Drink at least 6 8-ounce glasses of water a day.
8. Take a multiple vitamin-mineral supplement each day.

If you actually follow these, you have to spend a serious chunk of your points allowance on them. For example:
  • 2-3 servings of fat-free or lowfat dairy, 2+ points
  • 2 servings of oils, 2 points
  • lean protein, 3-6 points
  • 2 servings of fruit and 3 servings of vegetables, 2 points
If I just did the minimum of those, I would be using 9 of my 22 points just to follow the guidelines. That leaves less room for junk. The new plan also puts more emphasis on choosing filling foods and tracking your hunger before and after meals to see if your choices are satisfying you.

I find it hard to do all of these every day, though. The one I consistently fail on is the dairy servings. I get maybe one serving a day.

Personally, I don't want more structure. I think that tracking points and trying to stay within the allowances is difficult enough. I think that as you follow the plan, you learn that a Pop Tart for breakfast isn't going to satisfy you as much as an egg and some wholegrain toast. I try to focus on real food and avoid all the processed diet products. Even if they're low in points, they don't satisfy me or seem very healthy.

But if someone wants to spend all of their daily points on pumpkin fluff, that's their choice. I'm keeping my eyes on my own paper.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The curious culture of Weight Watchers

If you read the Weight Watchers message boards, you get an interesting view into the mind of people doing the plan. There are lots of questions like "Do you use your WPA?" (Weekly Points Allowance) or "Do you eat your AP?" (activity points). Then there are threads like "Deep Fried Oreos." There seem to be a certain number of super-strict Weight Watchers who claim to never, ever, ever eat their WPA or AP. Then there are the people who admit to using every single point because "Weight Watchers gave them to us to use them." I would have to admit being in that latter category. When I posted a while ago about earning 22 points on a run, and someone commented that I could only use 4 of those points, you can bet I checked my materials. The only rule that I found was that activity points don't carry over into the next week -- there was no rule limiting the number of them you could earn or use. I didn't use them the day I earned them, but later in the week, I dipped into those points (and then some) and still lost. I find there are a lot of "rules" floating around from old plans or things some leader said somewhere that make it in to the folklore but aren't actually part of the official program.

There is never a question like "Do you sometimes go over your points and hope that you can still lose anyway?" Someone who posted something like that would know they would be tempting the wrath of the super-strict WWers for sure. I actually admired the Deep Fried Oreo poster because she had the guts to admit having had three of them (and, by the way, for counting points for them). If she really wanted them, made room for them in her points allowance, and counted them, what's the problem, exactly? It's not like this is a food she will be eating on a daily basis.

One curious piece of culture you can only pick up from meetings. There are a certain number of people who attend meetings and use some of the tips and recipes, but don't actually count points or track. I suspect the woman who made the pumpkin muffins with nuts and frosting was probably one from that camp. Usually they don't have a whole lot of weight to lose and are just trying to make a few tweaks.

I think there is a lot of weirdness surrounding Weight Watchers for the same reason that baseball players have elaborate systems of tapping their cleats before they step up to bat: Weight loss is fickle and invites superstition and ritual. Though over the long term the "calories in/calories out" equation might hold true, in an individual week, anything could happen on the scale. No wonder people have lucky weigh-in pants and make up special variants on the plan to protect them from the disappointed look of the receptionist.

By the way, this week I'm not expecting good things. Maybe that's why all this is on my mind. Setting expectations low is one of my rituals for a week where things got a little out of control.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Trusting the experts, maybe

Yesterday I went in for medical tests. The doctor wanted me to have a brain scan, just to rule out a tumor. I thought "It's not a tumor," (in my best Ahnold voice) but what do I know? When the people talking about the healthcare debate say that Americans demand instant MRIs and the like, what they really mean is that if our doctors say we need an MRI, we trust them. We don't know anything. I'm also now starting Topamax to prevent migraines. I can't tell yet if it's making a difference because it's one of those medicines that has to build up in your bloodstream before it works. I don't like the idea of being medicated all the time, but I do have a lot of days where I feel crummy because of headaches, and I find myself eating defensively to try to avoid them. This was just my normal. I'm willing to give it a try and trust that she knows more than I do, even though I reflexively would rather not take drugs. This is a new doctor and I have to try to trust her if this is going to work.

I'm having a similar situation with the mechanic, although in his case, I think the trust has worn out. I had a mechanic I really liked in my last town, and I even have been taking my car there for routine service, even though it's a half-hour drive. My husband had a breakdown on Tuesday, though, and we had to get the car towed somewhere. The mechanic I knew in this town went out of buisness, so we tried a new place. I feel like this new guy put me through an unnecessary rigamarole about which part he should put in the car. The first place, he said, quoted a really expensive price on the alternator. Did I want to go ahead with that even though he thought it was about $200 too high? Of course not. I could borrow a car if I had to. Then he said he found two options. One he didn't really trust, and then there was another one that was still less than the first, most expensive part, but only $80 more than the untrustworthy part. Of course, I said, I don't want you to put in a part that you don't think is good so that I can go through all this hassle again to save $80. But really. All I have to go on is the mechanic's judgment, and he really shouldn't present me with an option he honestly thinks is no good. I can't imagine that these tactics work. The funny thing is that if he had just put in the middle-price part without making the big fuss, I would have thought it was perfectly fine, especially if he had the car ready yesterday, when I wanted it, instead of today. My impression, valid or not, is that he dragged all of this out for the sake of theater. I'll be looking for someone else next time.

When people talk about the power of market forces, they forget that you're really not in a position of power to haggle when you're talking about something like your health or fixing a car that you've had towed in. You have to trust the person who supposedly knows more than you do and hope that they are treating you fairly and aren't just squeezing you for a paycheck.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

My day in healthcare

With my work sort of in flux for the last few years, my visits to the doctor have been sort of sporadic. I visited a new primary care doctor today. She seemed concerned about the migraines that I thought I was managing pretty well. She wants to do bloodwork to check for anything weird. I left with several prescriptions and orders for some tests. I'm getting the bloodwork done tomorrow just to get it out of the way.

Oh, and I got a flu shot.

I have great insurance, both through my own work and my husband's. I'm one of the lucky ones. Hopefully none of these tests will turn up anything and I'll go back to normal, except maybe without the weekly headaches.

Mostly my healthcare plan is: Take vitamins. Work on losing weight. Exercise almost every day. Eat my veggies and fruits. Try not to eat a bunch of junk. Drink only occasionally. Wear my seatbelt. Manage stress. Wear sunscreen.

One I'm trying to add is floss daily... something I know I should do that seems to be more of a pain than it really is. Having good insurance doesn't mean I want to spend a lot of time visiting doctors. I'd rather just stay healthy.

One positive note -- the doctor's scale weighed me a little light. Even with shoes on, I was 174.4. But my weight never came up at all. Not sure if I should be relieved or concerned about that.

Almost time for the President's big speech. I'm a geek so I'll be watching.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Week 1 loss: Down 3.2

I was really only expecting to lose about a pound this week. I was going to be thrilled with that, since I overdid it a bit over the holiday weekend. But I'm down 3.2.

For you Biggest Loser fans, that's a 1.8% loss. Not bad!

I am going to switch to Tuesday weigh-ins too, because this meeting was much more fun than last week's. There were about three times as many people, and there was a nice mix of ages and different stages of progress.

Since it was over the lunch hour, I stopped in at Kroger's for some sushi (Dragon Roll, which is 8 pieces of California roll plus some extra avocado, 8 points) and a nectarine (1 point). Maybe a largish lunch, but I had a strength-training class right before the meeting so I was famished.

I did get to sample a Red Velvet Minibar (1 point), which was much tastier than any other WW bar I've ever tried. Still, I am not so sure there's anything particularly healthy in those bars, so I'd rather eat real food.

Check back later for weight update

I would have weighed in on Monday but Monday meetings were cancelled because of the holiday. I'm trying out the Tuesday lunch hour meeting this week.

My hopes are pretty modest, because even though I did great early in the week, I lost a little bit of focus over the holiday weekend. I ended up 26 points over my weekly points allowance when it was all said and done. I can only comfort myself with the thought that I would have probably done even more damage if it hadn't been for Weight Watchers.

I did best early in the week when I was making a conscious effort to plan my meals, so I'm going to spend some time going through my various cookbooks and planning this week's dinners, then hit the grocery store.

I may still have a small loss this week because last week I didn't make a special effort to do everything "right," so I had several factors that could have contributed to a higher-than-usual weigh-in. We'll see. I'll come back and post later today, no matter how it comes out. If I like this meeting, I may make Tuesday my regular weigh-in day.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

More POM? Wonderful!


When I got back from my 2 1/2 hour run the other day, I was rushing to get to a meeting on campus. I had just gotten out of the shower and dressed and was getting ready to fly out the door when I noticed our letter carrier was trying to get on to our porch, which I had locked and forgotten to unlock. I opened the door and he handed me a little box filled with free tea samples from the POM people, who sent me a nice little crate of juice several months ago. They sent me two bottles of light tea and two of the regular. The samples were packed with some cold packs, so even though they weren't ice cold, they were cool enough, so I took one of the regular flavors, Peach Passion, with me to enjoy as a recovery drink. It was really refreshing, and I really needed the boost and the hydration after that long workout.

Yesterday I sent my husband out with the Lychee Green, another regular flavor, but made sure to take a swig first just to try it. It was OK, but I didn't like it as much as the peach -- lychee is not a familiar flavor to me. I think I'd like the Blackberry better. I also tried the Hibiscus and Wildberry light flavors. The light tea gets some of its sweetness from erythritol, which is a Jillian-Michaels-approved sweetener. The hibiscus had a hint of that "diet" taste to me, but the wildberry was better. The light flavors have 35 calories a serving, but one bottle is two servings. That means that if you drink the amount most people will, you'll be getting 70 calories, 1 Weight Watcher point. That's not a bad deal. The regular flavors are 3 Weight Watcher points per bottle, similar to a can of soda but much better for you. I can vouch for the fact that it makes a great recovery drink. The POM site lists all kinds of amazing health benefits. (If your husband is taking Viagra, you may want to have him try this juice instead).

The teas are all very sweet -- similar to Snapple and other packaged iced teas. If, like me, you'd prefer a less-sweet tea, you could also make your own version by brewing some iced tea and serving it with a splash of POM juice over lots of ice. If you used 2 tablespoons of juice per glass, a good-sized splash, you could get a lot of flavor and a little sweetness in a 0-point tea.

Of course, that's not as convenient when you're rushing out the door late for a meeting.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

I ran for 2 1/2 hours today

Yes, I am an insane person (and am also training for a half marathon). I was terrified last night thinking about today's run and was not at all happy getting out to do it today. I didn't have the sports bra I wanted to wear clean. I had an appointment on campus at 11:30 and was worried I would be late. I had all kinds of anxiety that I would trip and fall or just not be able to finish, and be more than an hour from my car.

None of that bad stuff happened. The run was tough but not as terrible as I thought it would be. The weather was beautiful and cool and I ran on a nice crushed gravel path next to a gorgeous river and I could catch glimpses of herons and ducks through the trees. The path was nice and shady for most of the run. I chose this path because there would be plenty of drinking fountains available at the end of the run. In my last fifteen minutes, I stopped three times (stopping my watch each time) to get a drink. I didn't bring any water with me on the run so I did the first 2 hours and 15 minutes with no water, but I was getting very hot and thirsty toward the end and my right quadriceps muscle (front of thigh) was starting to tie up a little -- not painful, but it felt kind of weird. The three little breaks really reenergized me and I actually sprinted for the last 30 seconds just to see if I would be able to at the end of my half marathon. Well, yes, if I have three drinking fountains in the last 15 minutes where I can take a nice little stretch break. Otherwise, who knows. The nice thing about the actual race is that someone else will be providing the water for me.

I am happy to report that I made it safe and sound back to my car, where I had a granola bar and my stainless-steel bottle filled with ice water. I took a little tiny rest break to look at the sun sparkling on the river, then rushed back home for a quick shower and got to my meeting about 5 minutes late. Luckily the student I was meeting was nice about it.

I have a little headache now. I'm having water with some ElectroMix in the hopes of making it go away. I also took two Aleve. I always seem to get bad headaches on long-run days.

Would I do another half marathon? I'm not sure. I was partly motivated to do this race because the last time I did a half marathon, I got into fantastic shape. I was close to my weight goal and felt really fit. In retrospect, though, I think I had already been in pretty good shape when I started. I weigh almost exactly the same as I did at the beginning of the summer, so obviously, the exercise alone just doesn't cut it. I also need to watch what I eat.

Now that I'm doing Weight Watchers, though, it is kind of exciting to earn 22 points in one workout.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Notes from the front

Since I have gotten so much encouragement after my posts about rejoining Weight Watchers, I thought I'd give a quick update. It's going really well so far. I really planned out my food on that first day, and thought a lot about eating foods that would help me stay satisfied. I think the filling foods concept and the idea of paying attention to how you feel before and after each meal are great additions to the Weight Watchers program. I know that feeling hungry all the time was always my biggest problem with the program before.

So far I haven't been hungry but I have finished some of my meals feeling a little unsatisfied. I had a big bowl of air-popped popcorn last night with Kernel Seasons cheddar cheese seasoning, and I probably will do the same tonight. For 3 points it really fills me up and keeps me from wanting to snack on other stuff.

I have used 9 of my weekly allowance points so far (though I'll probably use another 3 tonight on the popcorn), but I earned 8 points today with activity. In the old system, I had to "use or lose" those points on the day I earned them. The new system allows you to bank them and use them later in the week, so I don't find myself wanting to reflexively use every available activity point.

So far I haven't told many people that I'm doing the program again (except for the people on this blog). I'm not trying to hide anything, but I don't think it's really all that important to anyone but me, so I would rather wait to say anything until people notice.

In case you wanted to know how I earned 8 points today: I did my morning run plus cooldown walk, and then cleaned up and did my new strength training class. I wanted to see how I did with doing both workouts in a row. I had a hard time keeping up in the strength training class, but I think it is more because I haven't done much strength work than because I was tired (and a little hungry) from the run. There was an older woman next to me kicking butt with the pushups. I think this class is exactly what I needed to help me overcome my inertia about weights. The instructor is good, the people in the class seem nice, and the workout is challenging without being completely impossible.

Tomorrow a meeting (scheduled by a higher-up) steps all over my group cycling class, but I have a morning Yoga/Pilates workout scheduled.

I'm feeling really positive about all of this so far. I'm going to try to keep the momentum going (no pun intended).
"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