Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Time To Face The Change. Or Is It?

You don’t have to be a Weight Watcher’s member to know that change may not always be welcome, but it might be for the best.

The new Weight Watchers PointsPlus program puts protein and carbohydrates on the center stage with fiber and fat, and calories are not technically factored. It’s the company’s effort to encourage members to eat more fiber-rich whole foods. I pretty much figured out how to do that as I was losing weight on the old program, but I can see how this new program makes it even easier to do.

As I began tracking all the individual foods I ate yesterday, I thought about the question I posed a few years ago: Which do you prefer: eating a full portion of one thing or eating small portions of several things? Or does it usually depend on what day it is, how creative you’re feeling, and what foods you must use up in the fridge before they grow legs and walk away?

I tend to eat several little things all day, and I also think of food in terms of time. I like to eat slowly and in volume. How long will it take me to eat soup or salad or to drink a latte? It takes me two minutes at most to eat a tube of manicotti (which is the same number of Points as my big salads or hearty soups), and that’s savoring it. It takes me 15 to 20 minutes to eat the salad or soup.

When people ask why I became a vegetarian, I tell them it’s because I get to eat more. And at the end of the day, by eating more I’ve eaten less and I feel better. Of course there are always times when a small piece of something sweet or carby or a half-cup of real ice cream is just the right thing – satisfying and eaten in a matter of a minute. It’s the memory of the taste that lasts so much longer than the actual flavor in your mouth.

I’ve counted Points using the old program for nearly six years. It made sense to me, it worked, it sustained me. Now I’m learning the new PointsPlus system, and while the plan makes a lot of sense (even though it’s going to take me a long time to convert six years of recipes), I wonder if maybe I’m relying too heavily on someone else’s plan rather than the one I’ve morphed into my own. I’m comfortable with how I eat and it won’t change just because a corporation tells me fruit is zero points. I know me, I know my body. If I eat more than two or three fruit servings a day, I will gain weight. Having a glass of wine or two doesn’t derail me. I know that at certain times of the month, simple carbs really are necessary for my mental health. We all learn our needs and our thresholds through trial and error.

Having said that, I still believe in WW and I give the new plan a great deal of credit for encouraging people to eat a more clean, healthy diet. Still, in the end, we all have to do what is right for ourselves, to walk out on the edge and use any plan as a guideline and not the absolute truth for our body mechanics.

Whichever plan you’ve chosen to use, how, the further you get into weight loss or maintenance, has your eating plan changed from the time you started?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Gravity and Bookends

“Oh twice as much ain’t twice as good
And can’t sustain like one half could.
It’s wanting more that’s gonna send me to my knees.”
John Mayer “Gravity

Greetings Thanksgiving and your party potatoes and sweet potatoes and crescent rolls and stuffing and pumpkin pie and Cool Whip and “salads” fluffed with white stuff. Your chips and crudités served with insanely fabulous buttermilk and blue cheese dips. Your drinks and smells and family. Your knowing expectation that we’ll debate whether to play Apples to Apples or Cranium. Your magnetic pull to the table to light candles and place napkins on the lap and contemplate what truly makes us thankful. Oh…and of course, the traditional “olives in the eyes” photo.
I’ve been hearing the song “Gravity” in my head for a few weeks now. It’s ripe with comparisons to all the things I’ve been thinking about these last several weeks, and god knows too much of a good thing, any good thing, can smack us all between the eyes emotionally, or we feel it in our stomachs and muscles and promise to never do it again.

I’ve been in a year-long transition period from mega exercise to low-key exercise, and from being so spot-on plan that Mr. Clean wouldn’t find a speck of dust on my food journal to finding foods that fit more readily into my budget and more hectic lifestyle. And what I’ve found is that twice as much ain’t twice as good.

As many of you know, I didn’t start exercising until I’d lost 110 pounds. I was content to just lose weight and not move. But when I hit190 pounds, I wanted more. I wanted to use the body I’d created and do something – anything – so I began walking. Slowly at first – 1 mile, then 1.25 miles, then 1.5 miles. Then I added some speed until I was up to walking a 5K in 38 minutes. I was stoked. I was unpeeling the possibilities and it built my self-esteem like nothing had before.

From walking I went to working out regularly at the gym, adding strength training to my routine. My weight loss accelerated and before I knew it, I was at goal: 138 pounds. I believe it was exercise that brought my weight down ever further to 128, where I stayed for a few years.

I was crazy for exercise, hitting it 6 hours a week, minimum. Then the joint issues started. I tore both my rotator cuffs within two years of each other, and tore my biceps tendons and needed physical therapy. My left knee had degenerated to the point where 30 minutes on the elliptical was 29 minutes too many. I worried that I’d gain weight, not trusting the math that if I ate less due to less exercise, I’d be OK. (See “I CAN Paint!”) It turned out that twice as much exercise wasn’t twice as good, and it couldn’t sustain like one half could. Experience taught me that, not a book.

In the same spirit of song lyrics, the other day I was driving down the road and I heard Blake Shelton’s “Who Are You When I’m Not Looking.” (Click the title for the YouTube link to the video. Wish I could embed it, but YouTube wouldn’t let me.)

My journals – which I’ve kept since 6th grade – contain all I am when no one else is looking. Food, exercise, emotions…journaling is the record of me. All of me. Keeping a journal keeps me honest. It tells me who I am when I’m not “looking,” when I think I’m doing things “right” or on plan or the way I want. I know how to hold myself together like a couple of bookends, but in private, I pour a little something on the rocks and leave a path to the bathtub and cry when my heart is broken and eat chocolate when my knee hurts and call my sister or sister-in-law or my daughters when it gets to be too much, those times when no one else is looking.

I get asked regularly what got me on this path and what keeps me going. Bottom line: journaling. Writing down – without wondering who’s looking over my shoulder – what I want, how I feel, and what my goals are. Exercise, food and emotions.

So when you face Thanksgiving and all its riches and family stuff, remember you and your intentions. Write them down. Maybe give a listen to John Mayer and Blake Shelton. Twice as much ain’t twice as good, and only YOU know who you are when no one’s looking.
Congrats to Julie M who won the “Pilates For Beginners” DVD!

In the next few weeks I’ll giving away a few more DVDs PLUS my second-annual Nutrition Action Newsletter subscription. It’s a great publication, one I trust to be on the front lines in nutritional information, no matter how controversial.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Winter’s Coming! A Hearty Recipe and Giveaway

I’m sorry I’ve been such a neglectful blogger this month. Between the move and getting used to where everything is and registering for school and figuring out what’s wrong with my knee…again…I’ve been a little distracted.

But it’s all good.

While it’s true I tore my medial meniscus in the knee I had surgery on in June, a cortisone shot should put me back on the workout track. The injection is Tuesday…fingers crossed…after which I’ll hope over to the local Y and sign up. Doc wants me in the water for exercise and they have a pool and three different water aerobic classes. Personally I’d rather be on the elliptical or arc trainer, but I’m still under orders to take baby steps, so I’ll get in the water and do as I’m told. Patience, as you know, does not come easy.

In the other area of life adjustment, as of last Wednesday, I am a student at Community College of Allegheny County in the dietetics program. (See “Change From Within” if you want to know about this path I've chosen.) I was able to use the credits from my bachelor’s degree to satisfy the gen ed requirements, so except for chemistry (which I’ll take next summer…ugh! I’m sooo not left brain that way…), all of my classes in the next two years will be nutrition/dietetic related. Talk about food immersion.

Speaking of food immersion, I’m adapting to my new food budget and getting acquainted with the grocery stores around me, not to mention cooking for one. I made a batch of minestrone soup over the weekend and after eating it for dinner on Sunday and lunch on Monday, I still have five servings in the freezer. What a cheap and prolific recipe!

Speaking of prolific recipes, I wanted to share this one with you. Here in the northern climes, the weather has turned nipp(l)y and there’s nothing like whipping up a big batch of comfort food that will stick around longer than one meal. I found this on Eat Better America a couple of years ago and it’s one of the most filling (and yummy) meals I’ve ever made. A cup to a cup and a half goes a long way in keeping you satiated.

Grain and Vegetable Casserole
4 Servings (1 1/2 cups each)

2 medium carrots, halved lengthwise, thinly sliced
1 can (14.5 oz) diced or stewed tomatoes, undrained
1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
1 can (15 oz) black beans, drained, rinsed
1 cup frozen whole kernel corn
1/2 cup vegetable broth
1/2 cup uncooked pearl barley
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup uncooked bulgur
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Shredded Cheddar cheese, if desired
Sliced green onions, if desired

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. In ungreased 2-quart casserole or 13x9-inch (2-quart) glass baking dish, mix all ingredients except cheese and green onions.
2. Cover with foil; bake 30 minutes. Stir. Cover and bake 30 to 35 minutes longer or until barley and bulgur are tender and liquid is absorbed.
3. To serve, sprinkle with cheese and green onions.

Now on to the giveaway. Daughter Carlene recently spent some time with “10-Minute Solution: Pilates for Beginners.” If you’d like to throw your name in the hat to win this DVD, leave a comment below or send an email to lynn.haraldson@yahoo.com. I’ll draw a winner on Tuesday, November 23.

Pilates is a great way to increase strength, balance, and posture. It requires you to work against your own body weight to build muscle rather than lifting hand weights, and promotes a strong core to ensure balance.

With that said, I don’t know if Pilates and I can ever be best friends. I respect it and the results it can generate, but it is not an easy road.

Let’s just say I got through “10-Minute Solution: Pilates for Beginners” and didn’t hate it. The DVD is made up of five separate segments, including Core Basics, Lower Body Basics, Upper Body Basics, Total Body Combo, and Long & Limber Stretch. Because each segment is only 10 minutes long, time really goes quickly (bonus!). And because it’s a beginners DVD, the instructor spends ample time explaining correct breathing techniques and positioning. Each segment can be played individually, or you can create your own routine, choosing the sections that you enjoy best.

The only segment that I found especially difficult was the Upper Body Basics. I, like my mother, have arthritic wrists and could not do the plank exercises very well. Planks require you to balance on your forearms and your toes, which is great for the core, but sadly, very bad for my wrists. I was able to do only about half of that of the instructor. Everything else, while challenging (considering my abs are hurting two days later), was achievable.

If you’ve always wanted to try Pilates, then I highly recommend this DVD. It is the best beginner Pilates workout I’ve encountered so far. Enjoy!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Lessons Of A Laundromat

The last box is unpacked; pictures, prints and mirrors are hung on the walls; the furniture is where I want it (for now); the bathroom is organized; and the kitchen is user friendly.

Now it’s time to live here, settle into a routine and find a mechanic, a gym, the library, the nearest liquor store, and the post office.

Saturday, out of sheer necessity (i.e. lack of clean underwear), I found a laundromat. Now for most people, going to the laundromat is a no-brainer. You wash, you dry, you read a book to pass the time. For me, it’s outside my safety zone and therefore subject to way more planning and thought than necessary. And yet despite all my planning, I still screwed up.

I’d separated the laundry at home: a bag of whites, a bag of darks and a bag of blankets. I packed my book, my glasses and my phone. I had a $10 bill and went to the bank for quarters. Then I drove to the laundromat, took my bags out of the hatch, locked the car, walked inside, set the laundry on the floor, and realized I’d left my soap and dryer sheets at home.

‘Don’t panic!’ I told myself. ‘There’s a soap dispenser on the wall.’ I put in a quarter and the quarter came out the coin return. I put in a different quarter and that quarter came out the coin return.

“It don’t work,” said a man leaning over the counter. “The change machine don’t work either.”


“Do you mind Gain?” asked a woman who was texting on her cell phone. “’Cuz you can use some of my Gain if you want.”

“Really?” I said. “Thank you.”

She handed me her bottle of detergent and said, “I don’t have any fabric softener, though.”

“That’s OK, I’ll go over to the store across the parking lot. Community is a grocery store, right?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she said, “but go to Family Dollar or Big Lots. It’ll be cheaper.”

I held out a handful of quarters to pay her for the soap, but she just smiled and said no, and told me which washers worked best before resuming her texting conversation.

After starting my wash, I went to Family Dollar and bought dryer sheets, then I went back to the bank for more quarters. (Seriously? $9 to wash three loads?) By the time I returned to the laundromat, my clothes were washed so I put them in two of the dryers that a man with sunglasses told me were the best.

I sat on the sorting table in front of the dryers and took my book out of my bag. The Gain-sharing lady was folding her clothes and placing them in her laundry bags. I’d brought my laundry bags back out to my car. Duh. How did I expect to bring my clean clothes home if I didn’t use the bags? Sometimes I’m overly efficient and don’t think ahead.

As I watched my laundry rise and tumble in the dryer, I thought how familiar it all felt, even though I was in a completely new environment. I’ve been here before, in new territory, screwing up and learning, namely six years ago when I took this last plunge into weight loss.

Weight loss and maintenance are like moving and living in new surroundings. Moving can take a long time, a lot of planning, and it doesn’t always go smoothly. Sometimes it takes awhile for you to put everything away and discard all the boxes and packing paper, but eventually (hopefully) you get it done and you move on to the next step: figuring out how to live in your new surroundings.

If during weight loss I’d gotten frustrated and stopped “putting boxes away,” so to speak, I’d not have known the joy of living fully and freely in my new space, unencumbered by my weight. Living at my goal weight, I’m the same basic person (more or less) that I was before losing weight, it’s just that now, everything’s arranged differently, and like living in a different home, the sun shines through different windows. I still have to step outside my comfort zone and ask for help, choose role models, and be a constant student of nutrition and exercise, but that’s just part of maintaining any structure worth saving.

I returned to the laundromat yesterday to finish washing bedding. I remembered everything I learned and brought what I’d forgotten before. A man walked in with a laundry bag and a $10 bill. He inserted the bill into the change machine.

“It doesn’t work,” I said. “But there’s a bank just down the street that will give you quarters. Oh, and that washer right there? Yeah, it’s the best.”

No matter where we are in our weight journey, we learn and we pass along what we’ve learned. I don’t believe anyone can succeed alone, so I hope you’re asking your questions, seeking out role models, finding the best path for you. Moving’s rough, no doubt, but living in the space that is a comfortable body is worth unpacking every last box.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Anchors A-Weigh

In mindfulness meditation, the instruction is to choose an anchor that will keep you present and bring you back to the present when your mind has wandered. Most of the time that anchor is the breath. But staying with the breath as the mind goes off in a million directions is, as Tara Brach says, “…basic and it’s hard.”

Things are different here in my new place. The hot water’s on the right, the refrigerator door opens on the left, the stove is electric, I share a wall with neighbors, I have a garage, there’s carpet in the bathroom, I have cable, and the walls are made of plaster. And because the walls are plaster, anything I want to hang must be anchored.

In bed this morning, meditating and watching the sun rise through the blinds, I thought, ‘I am a plaster wall.’

I need anchors.

Until today, I hadn’t exercised in two weeks and I’ve weighed in twice. I’ve eaten pretty much on plan, but not as consciously as usual. Between the move and a couple of medical issues, I haven’t had the time or energy to do anything except deal with my life. I’ve moved through these last few weeks feeling like a stranger in a strange land. Years ago when I lost weight, my usual MO when times were tough was to follow the free fall into its usual abyss of easy comforts. This time, at least, I’ve had enough sense to grab on to the sides and pull myself back up.

When I worked out this morning, I felt anchored again, like I’d come home, come back to the breath, come back to the present moment. Making soup and paprikash and omelets and other familiar foods this week has helped me stay anchored, too. So does the company of people who “get it.” People who understand the whole weight thing.

In a recent blog, Debby from Debby Weighs In posted something that felt like an anchored breath. Here’s a bit of what she wrote:

“So, when I went to the gym last Wednesday, and weighed four pounds over my current maintenance goal, I have to admit it threw me for a loop…I wanted to restrict my diet severely. I wanted to exercise it off. I also wanted to eat myself into oblivion. But I didn’t do anything. I just kept eating the same way I usually do (healthy, moderately,) and I just kept exercising like I always do…

“Sunday…I got up early and headed to the gym for a workout, but mostly to weigh myself and see what the situation was. My weight was DOWN five pounds, one pound less than my maintenance goal. Disaster averted.

“But was disaster ever really there? I went on to have a most vigorous workout, buoyed on by my ‘big loss.’ I wanted to eat to celebrate. I wanted to up my exercise. But I didn’t. I ate the same way I always do.”

Disaster in this weight-loss/maintenance journey might feel eminent, but disaster is never really there if our anchors are in place. Anchors keep us present. They keep us mindful of why we eat and move the way we do. Anchors hold our plaster walls in place. But staying anchored is as basic as it is hard.

So what are your anchors? What keeps you from freefalling on this path?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Does It Get Easier?

I've had an interesting email exchange today with my friend Melissa, who has lost 116 pounds and wants to lose another 70. She has a great attitude, but she asked me a question that I'm sure a lot of people wonder as they lose weight. I know I did. Still do sometimes. 

I thought I'd open up her question for discussion here in the comments since we each lose weight with a myriad of attitudes, emotions and experiences. I'm just one person with one answer. 

Here's what she wrote: "I am feeling a lot better about myself, and I am still learning every single day how to better take care of my body. It's kind of scary to realize that even after losing all of this weight, I am still officially obese.  But those are the facts, and they make my drive to keep moving forward even stronger. 

"Does it ever get easier? I have to say that sometimes the stress of constantly working to lose can be overwhelming at times. I know that I can never go back to eating like I did. In fact, I don't even want to. But, it is the constant pressure of trying to lose that weighs on me at times. Does that make any sense?" 

Makes total sense to me. How about you? Does it get easier? 

Thanks for considering this. Leave a comment or send me an email. I look forward to what you have to say about this.