Friday, September 30, 2011

Week 31: Oy Vey

Bloated me.
I suspected this week was going to be a challenge, but that's a word and a half.

My Saturday weigh-in was fine: no change, 0.02 from my goal of 155. But a mere six days later I am at 171! That is a gain of 16 pounds. I don't see it. Nancy doesn't see it. I still fit fine in my goal-weight pants.

But, I have been eating a lot this week, and not exercising as much, and that is what happens.

I don't think I'll be tipping the scales at what is my July 9 weight (week 20) tomorrow morning. But I'll almost certainly be in the 160s. So what happened?

  • I was on vacation this week, away from work and at home for an extended period for the first time since I began Weight Watchers seven months ago.
  • Four of these six days I didn't track.
  • Monday we had a no-holds-barred anniversary dinner which included Margaritas, beer, a burrito that could have sunk the Titanic and even dessert.
  • I've been snacking too much on salty things.
  • I've been drinking lots of fluids -- gallons a day.
  • We had a workman in the house and I had lots of chores which made fitting in exercise difficult.
  • I banged up some ribs a little bit doing one of those chores, so exercise of any intensity hurt a little, and I avoided it for that reason too.

This litany of excuses seems to explain the causes, but the scale (no pun intended) of the effect is staggering. I can't wait to see, behaving myself today as I shall, what my settle-down weight will be in a scant 24 hours. At this point anything under a 10-pound gain for the week would seem like a victory, and erasing what's left over the subsequent week would be amazing.

I say it's not a race, and that recovery is the most important skill. But I still am upset with myself and need to channel that into something positive and realistic

But I will weigh-in, and talk about about it, because that's what it's all about.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Saddest Piece of Spam, Ever

I don't know why I was on the 'undisclosed recipients' list this went to, and have no idea who Trev was.

But there was something about the proper, restrained, just plain British-ness of this anouncement which I found very moving:

Just a note to say Trev passed away peacefully on 16 August surrounded by his family.
His services will no longer be available. Should you have  any  questions or issues please don't hesitate to contact myself (niece) or his son via the email  address: [redacted] and we will endevour to help where we can.
I would like to thank those of you for your emails of concern. This is very much appreciated. Trev will be sadly missed.
  All the very best to you all.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Week 30: De-Accentuating 'Meal Events'

I closed my seventh month on Weight Watchers with another unusual week, scheduling wise. It allowed me muy best opportunity to far to test new theory of eating — and the result is a solid loss of 1.6 pounds. My Google Spreadsheet says I've lost 100 percent to goal, but the truth is that I am 0.02 pounds from my goal of 155 pounds (I mean I was, before enjoying myself thoroughly last night, which is my custom on weigh-in day...)

My new mantra is, don't call them "meals," and don't even call them "servings." The nomenclature can be pejorative and can allow one to manufacture a behavioral paradox in which over-eating is unavoidable, or at least easier to justify.

It's not a new problem, this business of having meals versus grazing. Huge numbers of fit and healthy people are in both camps. My judgement is, however, that a substantial number of people who need to learn how to eat properly, again, for the first time, would be better off grazing than aspiring to fixed meals at fixed time.

Like any rule, the point is to illustrate rather than apply a rigid standard. But the outline is pretty simple.

For example, I do have "breakfast," but it is almost never shortly after I get up, and almost entirely always comprised of fruit, which is "free," i.e., is not counted towards one 29 PointsPlus allotment each day. My habit had been to make myself a big bowl, cut up a protein bar, sit down, and have a meal. When I couldn't have "a meal" at the meal's normal time, the semantic conflict bled into the nutritional issue, which is ridiculous.

Master: Is the first meal of the day breakfast, even if consumed at 2 p.m., eight hours after awakening?

The other truism that I have found helpful is to deconstruct the three-meal-a-day paradigm. The purpose of eating at intervals is to ensure one has the right amount of fuel, and to schedule pit stops so one can't forget or skimp, which leads to poor performance and over-eating.

For people like me, skipping a meal isn't exactly a problem. But like many people scheduling drop-dead meals times can be problematic because that means I could very well eat at least three times a day, not just three times.

My habit, before Weight Watchers, has been to consume an entire meal while preparing a meal. I'd have maybe more spaghetti while cooking spaghetti than I served myself for "dinner." Sound familiar?

Now, since I am counting points and nutrients, the emphasis is on these metrics, and not on what time it is. I'll begin eating hours after I get up if that makes sense for me on any given day, or shortly after I get up. I'll have small amounts of a pre-portioned amount of something over time — grazing — rather than have a meal event. Sure, the family dinner is still an important event. But more often than not these days even this meal has been comprised of this and that rather than a "dish" and "sides." And in this family the dinner hour has always been a moveable feast anyway.

The pitfall of grazing is also well known: the potential for over-eating is huge because you are eating all the time, essentially. The solution is simple and, of course, all about the discipline and self-control which is the necessary if insufficient starting point for every improvement in one's eating habits.

Fruit and vegetables are "free," so they can be grazed with abandon. Other things need to be portioned out, bags closed, cabinet doors closed. So, put that 3 PP serving of chips in a little bowl, and snack on that for hours instead of just sitting down and having them all "at  once."

Yes, you can just have one Lay's potato chip. 12 or so times a day.

Cut up that protein bar and have bits and pieces over a few hours -- a bit is great with morning and afternoon fruit, and as a treat with your coffee or tea (which I drink straight), or as a bit of dessert. You are still getting 20g of protein, and using 5 PowerPlus points (though, actually, having half servings spaced apart general saves you one PP, for some reason.

But by grazing one is consuming food a way which, I fervently believe, will prompt the body to store less of it for later and use more of it for now. This, I am convinced, has a direct connection to fat buildup, maybe even the number of fat cells your body thinks it needs.

Anything can work, of course. The point of a meal event is to monastically avoid eating until the appointed time. For those of us who have learned to eat poorly, this makes it easy to create other meal events -- snacks — and then to over-eat in this way, as well at the main meal events themselves.

Grazing has about it the air of complete anarchy, removing structure which is meant to both provide opportunities to properly fuel in proper amounts at appropriate times and, by default, exclude over-eating.

But rules are easily broken. For some, denying oneself food except for certain windows is the only way to be disciplined. For me, by and large, the perfect situation is to eat when I am starting to feel hungry, and then only in relatively small amounts to sate that feeling. I am finding that topping off, rather than running as far as I can until empty, is the better way to live.

In this vein, someone at my Saturday meeting suggested an idea which I just loved as another device to eat at a good pace, and thus, especially as a grazer, in the right amounts.

So I am now using chopsticks, all the time. Well, as "all the time" as I can without being a total jerk (at least outside my the embrace of my immediate family.)

Think of the scene in Kill Bill where Kiddo is trying to eat rice with broken hands at the table of mentor  Pail Mei. If she tries to use her hands — to "eat like a dog" — he knocks the bowl from her hand.

Using chopsticks is another one of those little life skills that may have no real practical value, especially in the West, apart from projection pretentiousness (hence the jerk issue). But since I have valid lifestyle peg, I'm sticking to my story.

OK, I'm veering into jerk territory. But I am trying to set standard from which I can retreat from jerkiness. So far I am proficient even in slippery melon, and small items like English peas, blueberries and Wasabi.

So, I'm thinking that sticky rice won't be a problem. Not that I eat much of it. Too many PointsPlus.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Week 29: A Stand Up Guy

My home workspace, with makeshift risers under the front legs of my desk.
I've added a new little dimension to my health-kick lifestyle: Standing as much as possible.

I've always had an affinity for standing, although people who stand for a living will tell you that any chance not to is Heavenly. But even U.S. Marine grunts have a rule about this which, from any other outfit, might sound downright lazy:
  • Never stand when you can sit
  • Never sit when you can lie down
  • Never stay awake when you can sleep
I still remember my uncle telling me when I was six or seven that standing while riding the New York City subway was good practice about learning to keep your balance, which, he said, would come in very handy while on a ship at sea. Since our family had no maritime history or prospects I had no idea how this random suggestion could be a practical life skill. But my uncle was/is a cool guy, and it sounded cool, the way the acquisition of almost any skill does.
As it happened, I didn't grow up spending any time on the water. But I don't still don't mind standing on the train even when there are seats available, and I like to stand while eating or watching TV. Standing around the kitchen island doing both simultaneously is my idea of a good time.

I haven't had job which required standing since I was in school — bookstores, movie theaters. My adult occupations have always involved offices, desks, and sitting for hours at a time.

At about the time I started on Weight Watchers in February my wife Nancy pointed out a New York Times article about the benefits of standing at work. These benefits are staggering in their simplicity and effectiveness, but they are hard to do in most corporate contexts because the cubicles and desk units the enterprise generally buys in massive quantities are designed to be in front of chairs. Indeed, even suggesting employees stand at their desks could be actionable or draw OSHA's unwelcome attention.

But at home, it's another matter. I am lucky to be able to work from home from time to time. I am also lucky to have inherited for the moment Nancy's drawing board, so I don't have to make an investment (monetary, mental, etc.) in the sort of thing Ryan Paul at Ars Technica wrote about this week.

A couple of risers (or a makeshift shim at pictured) on the front is all I need, since the desk surface plane adjusts back and forth.

It's working out great. Standing for hours at a time is a bit strenuous, but in a very good way. Like all of these little kick-it-up-a-notch things, the process becomes a mini-competition with oneself. Sitting down to work would be a tiny capitulation, just like not taking the stairs at work.

As the NYTimes article notes, there are all kinds of core strength stuff going on merely by standing up. So why not?

You can sit when you're dead. Unless you can lie down, instead.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Week 28: Up, and Away

Crazy week.

I put on 1.6 pounds, putting me that amount above my all-time low weight. In and of itself, not to worry. That kind of fluctuation is normal, and when on maintenance anything within two pounds is a gimme.

Prior to my last weigh in on Saturday it was the week of Hurricane Irene, and while the storm itself was meh the aftermath was pretty interesting: We had a four-day power outage in my neck of the woods. On the first day even the data networks on my mobile phones were dead, unwiring me off in a new and strange and exceedingly pleasant way.

After Saturday's weigh in I somehow managed to balloon to nearly 168 pounds by Tuesday — 10 pounds above the low-water mark. I was off the reservation  on Saturday and Sunday, but not horribly or more than I had ever been (there was a gin factor, and a bit of Open Bag Syndrome with the Pop Chips, and maybe too much protein bar indulgement.

So, I cut back on portions of free "power" foods. I eat a lot of fruit, which is "free" (Zero PointsPlus Points), but fruit still has sugar, and calories. I also eat a lot of vegetables, which truly are free. But I cut back on added salt, which I mostly add to tomatoes.

After today's somewhat delayed workout, but not on an empty stomach, I tipped the scales at 158, which on a Saturday morning would be a new official low.

A new effect seems to be kicking in. At 16 weeks, you get a trinket because Weight Watchers believes if you have stuck with the program that long it has become a habit — something you do without thinking about it anymore, which in this context means not being terribly conscious anymore that one is eating considerably less, and thus possibly building up a resentment.

Three months later it occurs to me that my eyes are no longer much bigger than my stomach. I find that I've lowered my portioning out of even "free" foods, because my constitution has become better aligned with my appetite sensations. I also tend these days to eating relatively small snacks throughout the day, though dinner still looks like dinner. 

I have also officially reset my goal weight, to 155 pounds, or 80 fewer from where I started on Feb 19, 2011. That is my second, and last adjustment. My first goal weight, 190 pounds, I knew was tentative; I had been that weight once before when I was in great shape and wasn't sure anymore how much I would really have to lose at that level.

When I hit 190 this time (previously, in 2005), it was clear to me that the charts which said a 5'6" man should be no more that 160 pounds is correct. So, I re-declared to 160. Then it occurred to me that the symbolism of working so hard to lose just enough to be as heavy as I could be was another cop-out.

So, I am copping out a bit less, aspiring to get and stay five pounds below the top of the chart.

Just between you and me, I may still choose to lose more than that. When you reach your goal in Weight Watchers you begin maintenance, which recalibrates your food intake so that you stop losing — suddenly, not as easy as you might imagine. After about six weeks of that, you become a lifetime member, as long as you neither gain nor lose more than two pounds every month (not week). The chief benefit of this is that you can remain a full member — attend meetings, keep your online account, etc. — and never pay Weight Watchers again: about $14 a week.

But — and don't tell corporate — here is the thing. The purpose of penalizing a lifetime member for losing more than two pounds from goal is so that s/he doesn't game the system by declaring a high goal, meet that and then stay on program for free while they lose all the weight they actually want to lose.

But if you are willing to, say, keep losing, and are willing to pay the occasional penalty and then declare that new low as your new goal weight, then, nobody loses. If a member is stupid enough to declare at a ridiculously low weight s/he was able to achieve through extreme measures, then s/he would be paying a lot of unnecessary money trying to stay there.

So I'll be happy at 155, but will also be listening to my body to understand if I should shed even a little more. And I will be happy to pay the piper.

But, hey — I am getting ahead of myself. Saturday is two days away, and 155 is probably further than that.