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Whaledancer's Weight Loss Ramblings

Monday, 3 October 2005

Perfectionism and Weight Loss
Topic: Perfectionism
Note: This talks about Weight Watchers, because that’s the program I follow and know best, but the concepts apply equally to any sensible, healthy weight loss program.

A lot of people who are on Weight Watchers feel guilty because they went off program for a day or two, or even because they ate a cookie. There are others who never go off program, who are absolutely diligent about staying on program. I find both types troubling, because they indicate a desire to do this “perfectly.”

One thing that almost all who are overweight have in common is a fervent (perhaps secret) desire for a magic bullet that will fix it. That’s why those weight loss pills with their extravagant claims are such a huge industry. Those of us who join Weight Watchers flatter ourselves that we know better, because we know weight loss will only come through our own efforts. And yet many of us begin to treat Weight Watchers as that magic answer: if we follow the program PERFECTLY, it will end our weight problems forever.

I’m sorry, but that’s not how it works. Weight Watchers isn’t a magic formula for weight loss. Some people behave as though if they follow the program to the letter it will work, but if they deviate, the spell will be broken and all their weight will, poof, reappear. Some people approach their weigh-in day as if the scale were some kind of primitive god who was going to judge their performance of the past week: they approach with trepidation, performing rituals to appease the god, and are relieved when they aren’t punished for transgressions, downcast or even outraged when they aren’t rewarded for their efforts, elated when their “reward” exceeds expectations. The belief that Weight Watchers is magic is what makes us want to do it perfectly, to think we’ve failed when we don’t, and to feel guilty when we go off program.

But Weight Watchers isn’t a magic weight loss formula. It isn’t a formula at all, it’s a teaching guide. It’s a method for learning new behavior patterns for eating, exercising, and thinking about food. And learning is a process. When you are learning something, you don’t do it perfectly. Think about a skill you’ve learned, like swimming or playing the piano or riding a bicycle. Did you do it perfectly the first time out? You did not! You flailed around. You made mistakes, and those mistakes were a necessary part of the learning process; you learned from them. Now think about even harder lessons, the kind that you have to keep learning over and over, like being thoughtful of other people, behaving like a responsible adult, being flexible instead of stubborn, or whichever of life’s lessons is difficult for you. You never do it perfectly, but each time you make a mistake, you learn a little from it. If you keep working at it, you get better over time. Learning good eating and exercise habits is more like that. You don’t learn it by doing it perfectly.

If you think about this as a learning process, there’s no reason to feel guilty about going off program. When you were learning to ride a bike, did you feel guilty when you fell off? No. You just tried to figure out what caused you to fall off, got back on the bike, and tried again. That’s how we learn.

The lessons we are trying to learn from Weight Watchers are more difficult than riding a bike, because we are trying to change habits that we already have. We started learning the behaviors that made us fat --the attitudes toward food, exercise, and ourselves-- the day we were born. So however old you are, that’s how engrained those patterns are. We aren’t going to create new patterns overnight, magically. We need to be even more forgiving of ourselves when we make mistakes.

And we don’t learn new habits by following the Weight Watchers plan perfectly. We learn from our mistakes. We go off program, try to figure out why, and get back on program. By our “failures,” we discover old patterns we never even noticed we had, such as eating when we are hurt or lonely. Only when we’ve identified the old patterns can we start to change them, so our failures are crucial to our learning process. We have to experiment to find out what works for us and what doesn’t, and that’s different for each person.

This can be a wonderful journey of self-discovery and learning, if we are willing to give up treating Weight Watchers like a magic formula. That in itself can be difficult, because we want so badly to believe in the magic.


Posted by whaledancer at 10:51 AM PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Friday, 30 September 2005

Persistence and Slow Weight Loss
Topic: Slow Weight Loss

Many people get disappointed and discouraged that they don't lose weight more rapidly, sometimes to the point of wanting to give up. It reminds me of something that happened to me recently. I had a visit from a friend and neighbor of more than 25 years, who moved away about a year ago. She has been heavy as long as I’ve known her, with her weight slowly increasing over the years. When she came in she immediately noticed my weight loss and demanded to know how much I’d lost. When I told her “about 70 pounds” she instantly became defensive. It didn’t bother me, because I’ve been subjected to the If-I-can-lose-weight-then-you-should spiel from newly thin people enough times to understand. She asked how I had lost it, and when I told her I was on Weight Watchers she said “Oh, I tried Weight Watchers about 10 years ago and it didn’t work. I only lost 10 pounds in a year, so I quit.” I didn’t argue, just made a non-committal hmm and nodded. I suspected her lack of success was due to not following the program closely, but it was clear that right now she was only interested in justifying her weight, not in changing it. I said “They have a new program that’s more like just healthy eating. That’s what I’m doing and I like it,” then changed the subject.

Later it occurred to me that if she hadn’t quit Weight Watchers because she “only” lost 10 pounds in a year, by now she would have lost 100 pounds. Instead she’s gained at least 50. So she would weigh at least 150 pounds less today, if she had just stuck with it (even half-heartedly).

To those of you who are frustrated at your slow rate of weight loss, I ask: How much will you weigh in 10 years if you quit because you aren’t losing fast enough?


Posted by whaledancer at 11:13 AM PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 9 June 2006 6:57 AM PDT

Monday, 19 September 2005

Eating Your Veggies and Fruit
Topic: Veggies and Fruit

Here’s what the National Cancer Institute says about eating fruits and vegetables:

“People whose diets are rich in fruits and vegetables are likely to have a lower risk of getting cancers of the colon, mouth, pharynx, esophagus, stomach, and lung, and may reduce their risk of prostate cancer. They are also less likely to get diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension.

“To help prevent these cancers and other chronic diseases, experts recommend 5 to 9 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. This includes 2 to 4 servings of fruits and 3 to 5 servings of vegetables, with dark-green and deep-yellow vegetables making up about one-third (about 1 to 2 servings) of the vegetable servings. There is no direct evidence that the popular white potato protects against cancer.”

Now, that may sound like a lot of vegetables to some people, considering that the national average is about 1.5 servings of fruit and 3.2 servings of vegetables (almost half of which were french fries, which don’t count as a healthy vegetable). But it may not be as much as you think, since a serving is generally only half a cup, or one cup of raw leafy vegetables. You don’t usually eat only a half a cup of banana or melon. An 8” long banana is two servings of fruit, a 3-1/4” diameter apple is two servings. A quarter of a 6.5” diameter cantaloupe is about 2.5 servings of fruit. A half-cup of broccoli flowerets is only 5 flowerets. Five medium (6”) spears of asparagus is a serving. A cereal bowl of lettuce topped with a couple of tomato wedges and a quarter cup of mushrooms or radishes is four vegetable servings.

Some people say that it’s too expensive to eat healthy foods, but that may be because of misunderstanding portion sizes. For comparison, at $3/lb, a serving of ground beef costs about 60 cents. At $1/lb, a serving of apple costs about 25 cents, grapes about 18 cents. At 1.50/lb, a serving of carrots runs about 18 cents. $1.50 a pound for plums may seem like a lot, until you realize that’s 6 servings. At those rates, $2 a day would be ample to buy all the fruits and vegetable servings you need. You could easily spend that much on a Coke and a bag of chips, which wouldn’t fill you up as much, or give you much in the way of nutrients.

Eat those fruits and veggies!


Posted by whaledancer at 12:01 AM PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Monday, 12 September 2005

Help for Food Cravings
Topic: Cravings

Gotta eat, gotta eat, gotta eat! Ever feel like you want to eat everything in sight? Or that you would kill for _____(fill in the blank: chips, cheesecake, chocolate, etc)? I just saw a program on TV that gave some tips for dealing with food cravings, by substituting healthier choices that can help reduce the cravings.

1. Eat an apple. Apples contain pectin (a soluble fiber). Fiber can help reduce the levels of cortisol, the stress hormone which creates cravings.

2. Make sure it's hunger and not thirst. Drink a big glass of water, wait 20 minutes and see if you're still hungry.

3. Try a little aromatherapy. Taking a whiff of fresh lemon and/or fresh mint leaves may satisfy your cravings without eating.

4. Be sure you're getting enough healthy oils in your diet. Sometimes cravings (especially for fatty foods like peanut butter) can be caused by eating too little oil.

5. Eating a diet high in vegetables and fruit helps prevent cravings. This may be due to the increased fiber and micronutrients; some cravings may be the body's way of getting you to consume a deficient nutrient.


What NOT to do: Many times cravings are caused by stress, because stress causes you to release cortisol, which triggers food cravings, especially for sweets and starchy foods. Eating sweets and other refined starches (like white bread) can satisfy your craving, and actually releases endorphins (the feel-good hormones) but the effect doesn't last. When the sugar is used up, the cravings will return, even stronger. The TV program didn't mention this, but you can release the same endorphins in a way that relieves stress and doesn't set off food cravings, by exercising.


Posted by whaledancer at 12:01 AM PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 9 June 2006 7:01 AM PDT

Sunday, 24 July 2005

Is Weight Loss Harder for Older Women?
Topic: Age & Weight Loss

This is in response to the often-asked question of whether being in the 50+ age group keeps you from losing weight as well as younger women:

No, I don't think being 50+ keeps us from losing as well as younger women. Our metabolisms may be slower and our bodies may try harder to hold onto the weight, but I think we have some advantages to offset that.

Maturity - I think this gives us a sense of perspective, an understanding of consequences, and the ability to take responsibility for our actions.

Experience - Many of us have lost weight before and put it back on. Each time we've learned things which may make us more successful this time.

Urgency - It's not like when we were in our 20's and had a whole lifetime in front of us, when we figured we'd start worrying about a healthy lifestyle...sometime. When you reach your 50's, 'sometime' is now. That can be a motivation. Plus, for some of us, our poor habits have started to catch up with us in the form of problems with blood pressure, cholesterol, or blood sugar, and we have to do something about it.

Self-Knowledge - By this age, most of us know ourselves pretty well. We can't fool ourselves as easily, and we have a better idea of what works and what doesn't work for us.

Self-Confidence - We're less subject to peer-pressure than the young folk, and less concerned with what others think of us. If our friends are all drinking beer or eating cheesecake, we can say "No, thank you" with much less self-consciousness.

Realism - Most of us realize that we're not going to look like an airbrushed, anorexic super-model even when we're at our ideal weight, and what's more, we don't really want to. Our goals are more realistic and achievable, and we don't expect that weight loss will completely transform our lives or our personalities.

Grit - Few people reach their 50's without having weathered rough times and gotten through some of life's difficulties. We know that we can, with courage and determination, do things that are difficult to do.

Self-Reliance - We are much more apt to be doing this for ourselves, not to impress or please someone else. This is a more sustainable motive, because it's not dependent on someone else's approval or praise. That isn't to say that support isn't a tremendous benefit. But this is such a difficult and personal quest, we need to be able to find the motivation within ourselves.


Posted by whaledancer at 12:01 AM PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 9 June 2006 7:06 AM PDT

Monday, 18 July 2005

Miracle Weight Loss Product Really Works!

What if your doctor told you that she had a pill that was guaranteed to enhance your weight loss, when combined with a healthy diet and exercise? ...that it had been extensively researched and proven to be effective by independent scientists at several universities, in large clinical studies, and verified by US government scientists; that it had been shown to have absolutely no harmful side effects when used as directed; that all you had to do to improve your weight loss was to take 8 of these pills a day; and that they were very inexpensive.

Would you do it?

Okay, suppose the instructions on the bottle said: "Take 1 tablet, 8 times a day, with a full glass of water." Would you still be willing to take them regularly, as directed?

Okay, suppose the doctor told you that you could achieve exactly the same effect if you drank the 8 glasses of water, without the pills, would you do it then? Well, WHY NOT?

That's the question I've been asking myself this morning.


Posted by whaledancer at 12:01 AM PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 9 June 2006 7:10 AM PDT

Tuesday, 24 May 2005

Ya Gotta Change
Topic: Making Changes
I think a lot of us start Weight Watchers trying to figure out how we can lose weight without making changes to our lifestyle or menu. We've all seen hundreds of ads that tell us we should be able to do this. "Lose weight while eating all the foods you like." "Eat fettuccini and chocolate and lose weight." "Lose weight effortlessly by taking one little pill a day."

So we start out Weight Watchers, usually on the Flex plan, trying to make our points stretch to accommodate our existing lifestyle. Yes, that same lifestyle that got us fat in the first place.
"I eat fast-food for lunch every day."
"I like to have a couple of beers to unwind when I get home from work."
"I always order a pizza with 3 kinds of meat on Fridays."
"I work full-time and have 3 kids; I don't have time to exercise."
"In my family, we have to have donuts for breakfast on Sundays; it's a family tradition."

So we walk around hungry half the time, in order to save our points for a QuarterPounder or a Krispy Kreme. Or we start eating weird artificial food, like angel-food pumpkin cake with frosting made of fat-free cream cheese and Splenda, or no-crust pizza made with tomato paste and fat-free mozzarella. Or, saints preserve us, macaroni-and-cheese made with skim milk, Pam, and fat-free artificial cheddar-flavored processed cheese food. All so that we can convince ourselves that we can lose weight without making any changes.

After a while we just can't stand being hungry all the time, or we start craving food that isn't made of petrochemical products. So we go on an eating binge. And afterwards we say "What's WRONG with me? I always blow it. I try so hard, and I do so well for a while, and then I louse it up. Why am I such a failure?"

There's nothing wrong with you! Hunger is a very powerful force. We are not meant to be hungry; not for long, anyway. Everything in nature says hunger is bad, and drives us to correct the situation. And as for that pseudo food, we aren't stupid, we know that stuff tastes like wax (at best). We want real food and we don't want to be hungry and after a while, we're going to do what it takes to make that happen. Most people either give up trying to lose weight, or get stuck in an endless cycle of starvation-binge-starvation-binge. Some people, who have very strong will-power, tough it out all the way to their goal weight, and then go back to eating "normally."

But we don't have to fail. We don't have to starve ourselves to lose weight. We don't have to eat mad-scientist food. All we have to do is be willing to make changes. I'm not saying give up pizza for life, I'm saying have the veggie version instead of the meat, and have it once a month instead of once a week. If you don't have time to exercise, change your priorities; heck, drag the kids with you for some whole-family exercise. Take a walk after dinner, maybe. Drop the youth sports in favor of intergenerational, family sports.

Lose the fast food habit. Note, I didn't say "don't ever eat fast food." Just don't have it for lunch every day. I don't believe it's a coincidence that the obesity epidemic in this country parallels the rise of the fast food lunch. If you love fast food, have a once-a-week junk food fix, and pack a lunch the rest of the time. You'll save money, too.

Cook dinner. Yes, I know you come home from work tired and hungry. But with all the pre-washed, pre-chopped foods in the markets today, you can cook dinner in about a half-an-hour. Even if you haven't cooked before, it's not that hard; buy a Weight Watchers cookbook, or try some of the recipes on the message boards. Or throw a boneless, skinless chicken breast on the grill and serve it with steamed vegetables. Cook on the weekends, and reheat it in the microwave on weeknights. Learn to use a crockpot. Your whole family will benefit from the healthier meals, and you may even find that the time preparing and eating dinner becomes a quality social time. A couple in my neighborhood went on Weight Watchers together, and the husband told me what fun they were having cooking together every night.

Probably the best change you can make is to start eating more filling food. Choose foods that fill you up a lot, without costing a lot of calories. I absolutely believe that hunger is the enemy of successful permanent weight loss. If you don't know which foods to choose, you can look up the Glycemic Load of foods as one guide. In general, foods with a high water content are good; so are most vegetables. Foods that are high in fiber tend to fill you up. The Weight Watchers Core food list is a good guide. Foods like this are usually high in nutrients, too, so it's a healthy way to eat. Also, studies show that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and proteins lowers cortisol levels; cortisol is a stress hormone that sets off cravings for sweets (besides increasing your risk of heart disease and diabetes).

I'm not saying you need to become a health-food nut. I'm saying that the more of these foods you substitute for the high-fat, high-sugar ones, the less hungry you'll be and the more likely you'll be to sustain your weight loss.

I have a saying that I repeat to myself often: "Permanent weight loss requires permanent change." If a change is going to be permanent, it has to be something you can live with comfortably, so that becomes part of your lifestyle. That means eating foods that taste good, not walking around half-starved all the time, and occasionally enjoying the treats you love, whether it's pizza or creme brule. But the first, most important, change is to abandon the idea that we can eat and exercise the way we always have, and still lose weight.


Posted by whaledancer at 12:01 AM PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 3 November 2005 11:13 PM PST

Sunday, 22 May 2005

Yoda and Cheating
Topic: Cheating

Whenever I hear someone talk about "cheating" on Weight Watchers, I feel like saying, ala Yoda, "There is no cheating. There is only do, or not do."

In order to lose fat, your calorie intake must be less than your calorie output, by whatever means. It's basic physics. You can no more "cheat" on that than you can disobey a law of physics, like gravity. Although there may be a lot of psychological and physiological factors involved, it comes down to, if your intake is less than your output, you lose fat. If it isn't, you don't.

When you "cheat," you deceive or betray someone. Since you can't deceive a law of physics, it seems to me that means you are only deceiving yourself, and betraying yourself. So the way to avoid cheating on Weight Watchers is to be honest with yourself. Of course, that's one of those things which may be simple, but is not easy.

I don't mean that we need to be 100% perfectly on program all the time. But I do think that being honest with ourselves about what we're doing is important, if we want to succeed at this. I also think that it's a way of showing respect for ourselves.

Sometimes we do the program, sometimes we don't. But let's try to be honest with ourselves about it. I don't know if we betray ourselves when we don't stay on program, but I'm convinced we betray ourselves when we pretend TO OURSELVES that we're on program when we're not.

The reason I've started over on Weight Watchers 3 or 4 times is that I wasn't honest with myself about being on program. Oh, I kept to my target points, and exercised, and even (mostly) drank my water. But I only paid lip service to the part about its being a lifestyle, not a diet. I was dieting. I never made a commitment to myself to keep doing this for life. I never even honestly looked at the fact that I would need to do that in order to maintain a healthy weight. It was always "Good, I lost the weight. Thanks, sayonara." This time (maybe because I'm doing this more for health than just for weight loss), I've at least realized that I can't just go back to eating the old way if I want to maintain. I'm in the process of making that a commitment to myself, but to be honest, I am nervous about it, because "for life" sounds like a long time. It may be something I end up needing to take a day at a time.


Posted by whaledancer at 12:01 AM PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 9 June 2006 7:15 AM PDT

Wednesday, 18 May 2005

The Points Vs. Satiety Game
Topic: Satiety
There are lots of games you can play with weight loss. One is, How Many of The Foods I’ve Always Eaten Can I Eat and Still Lose Weight? I suspect players of this game may have originated the recipes for mac ‘n cheese made with fat-free cheese, and sugar-free-fat-free-frozen-chocolate-ice-milk. Another popular game is Beat-the-Scale. Players of this game vie to see how much clothing they can remove before weigh-in without getting arrested for indecent exposure. Note: players in the northern latitudes should exercise caution when playing this in the winter months. Advanced players have been known to forgo food and water on weigh-in day.

I have a game I play with weight loss, the Points Vs. Satiety Game. The challenge is to see how full I can get while consuming a minimal number of calories or points. Eating foods like zero-point-veggie-soup, taco soup, roasted mixed veggies, and oatmeal scores high. Foods like Smart Ones Double Fudge Brownie Parfait, BigMacs, and even pretzel sticks score low. A croissant and a 5? oz. boneless, skinless chicken breast both have 5 points. But I score higher at the Points Vs. Satiety Game by choosing the chicken.

The prize for winning at this game is losing weight without being hungry.

Advanced players learn to watch for traps. For instance, a cup of cooked spaghetti or a large (7 oz) baked potato with 2 tablespoons lite sour cream; which scores higher? They both have 4 points, but the potato leaves me feeling fuller, so it scores higher. A cup of brown rice and a cup of white rice both have 4 points, but the brown rice fills you up more. But, surprise, a 4 oz. lean steak may beat them both. Fresh oranges score pretty high, too. A large orange is just 1 point, and that’s going to leave you feeling fuller than 1/4 cup of spaghetti or rice.

If you’d like to play this game, but you’re a beginner, here’s a tip: choose foods from the Core food list (you don’t have to be on Core to do this); they are pre-selected to score high at this game.


Posted by whaledancer at 12:01 AM PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Friday, 29 April 2005

Are Carrots a "Bad" Snack Food?
Topic: Glycemic Load
Many of you are probably familiar with the Glycemic Index (GI), which ranks carbohydrates based on their rate of glycemic response (i.e. their conversion to glucose within the human body). GI ranks food on a scale of 0 to 100, with higher values given to foods that cause the most rapid rise in blood sugar. Pure glucose would have a GI of 100. GI's of 55 or below are considered low, and 70 or above are considered high.

The GI of a food needs to be considered in relation to how much of it you eat, what the net carbs are. There’s a formula for ranking food which considers both the GI and the net carbs in a food, called the Glycemic Load (GL). GL's of 10 or below are considered low, and 20 or above are considered high.

One large carrot has 5 net carbs. The GI is 47 and the GL is 2. By comparison, 2 cups of popcorn has 10 net carbs. Its GI is 72, and its GL is 7. A cup of brown rice has a GI of 55 and a GL of 23. An apple, the GI is 38 and the GL is 6.

So carrots probably aren’t a bad choice to snack on. Mindless snacking on any food can get you in trouble, and any food can lead to weight gain if you eat enough of it. But you’d have to eat an awful lot of carrots to get there. I do know that back in the old days of WW when there were "free" foods, some people ate so many carrots they turned yellow (really!). But carrots are less apt to set off the rise-and-crash blood sugar problem that high-sugar foods do.


Posted by whaledancer at 12:01 AM PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

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