Saturday, February 26, 2011

I blew it…or did I?

Our fearless leader knew full well what was going on. She stood by the scale and recorded the numbers, watching our shoulders slump as one by one we got the news: the big drop we’d come to expect had, pfft, disappeared.
As soon as our butts were once more planted on those hard middle-school seats, she faced our gloomy group in true fearless fashion.
Are you disappointed? she asked.
Heads drooped on slack necks.
Don’t be, she said.
Yeah, sure, I thought.
Were we eating healthier?
Well, yeah.
How did we feel?
Uh, great, frankly.
Okay then.
On my weekly reflection sheet, which I’d completed before the meeting as per my contract, I had filled in the blanks like this:
My goal for this week: “to stick to the eating plan and the exercises, and have energy to enjoy my busy week.”
Hello? Energy to enjoy a busy week? What drugs was I taking?
This week I accomplished: “Stuck to the eating plan (except for 1 slice of bread and 2 squares of chocolate), exercised well and had lots of energy to enjoy all my activities.”
My best day was: “Tuesday and Wednesday because I ate well and exercised well and was still going strong at evening meetings.”
Oh yeah. I remember now.
I believe I felt this way because: “I’m eating only nutritious food (except for that chocolate) and I can do more in a week than I have for years.”
All that and I still lost a pound.
So I’d failed to lose five pounds or three or even two. Physically, I felt great. Energized.
And I lost a pound.
Nonetheless, I was disappointed in myself.
I could go with the depression, wallow in it. That would be fun.
Normally it would also include a box of cookies and a family-sized bag of potato chips. Also possibly dip.
This time? Well, I couldn’t gird my loins – my belt was already cutting into my muffintop – but I could lift my chin, straighten my backbone, stiffen my upper lip and, basically, suck it up.
To be honest, I wasn’t even tempted by the cookies and chips. And that was a little freaky too.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The singalong begins!

Have you weighed and measured yourself?
Have you written down a specific goal, given it a time frame, made sure it’s reasonable?
Do you have your food journal in front of you right now?
Okay, let’s take a look.

Do you eat three to five times a day? Five seems to be the favourite number, according to people like Pinki Sahota and the Mayo Clinic. Three meals and two snacks, spread out every two to four hours lets your stomach empty so you can relearn what hunger feels like, and done regularly (every single day!) also reassures your body that there will be more food coming.
When we skip meals regularly, we put our bodies in famine mode so everything gets stored for worse times ahead. “Stored” means fat.

Do you eat a lot of a certain food group? Like starches, for example: bread, potatoes, rice, granola…. As we all know, this is my downfall. When I cut them out of my day, my weight plummeted.
Some people consume more fats than they realize: butter or margarine, salad dressing, creamy pasta sauce, peanut butter….
Cutting back on these is a quick way to reduce calories because like starches, they’re very calorie dense.

Calorie dense versus nutrient dense
First of all, let me say that potatoes are good! Whole grains are good! Some fats are not only good, they’re essential!
The balance in starchy foods and in some fats is weighted toward calories over nutrients. So it’s important to make sure we’re getting the nutrition as well as the energy – and that means lots of fruits and vegetables, and lean protein with good fats like plain yogurt and low-fat cheese, nuts and seeds like almonds and ground flax meal, legumes (not much fat in these), and meat or seafood if you’re a carnivore.
The Mayo Clinic Healthy Weight for EveryBody (probably available at your library: 613.25 MAY) has an excellent description of calorie-dense versus not calorie-dense.
The book also has a really good section with clear photos and tables to help us visualize and really understand serving sizes of different foods, the effect of different activities, and so on.

As you might know from my earlier posts, Fodder and I cut the starches completely at the beginning of our weight-loss trip. No bread, no pasta, no rice or potatoes…and to our surprise we survived quite nicely.
Doesn’t mean we’re never going to eat them again but I gave them up for long enough to break my addiction and to see what a difference a penne-free life can make in the closet.

Most of us probably agree that Albert Einstein was a smart guy and I certainly agree with him on this:
Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

So tell us: what are you doing differently for the next seven days?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

I can do more…

And then something happened to the warm-and-fuzzies.
I was sticking to the plan very well – eating only healthy foods loaded with nutrients, exercising my muscles and cardiovascular system every day. Oh, except for one day when I’d had lunch with some friends and, to my cheese and pear, I’d added a slice of gluten-free bread and two squares of chocolate, but that was a minor glitch. I  hadn’t craved more, which was a revelation.
I couldn’t think of a time, ever, when two squares of chocolate were enough.
So heading for the meeting on Thursday, my mental state was way up there. I was stoked. High as a kite on my own virtuousness.
We’d find out what we could add to our menus and, of course, how much we’d lost.
I could no longer wear the same trousers to the meetings – they were so baggy it was embarrassing. I’d had to dig out an old pair that were similar in style and fabric so I’d be comparing apples with apples although I told myself it wasn’t about how much weight I’d lost. I was not like that woman who even took off her glasses when she approached the scale. For me, it was about feeling better. Which I did.
In fact, on my weekly reflection sheet that day I’d written, “…had lots of energy to enjoy all my activities.”
How fantastic to be 21 days short of a half-century and honestly add, in ink, “I can do more in a week than I have for years.”
And hey, we were three weeks in and I was already two-thirds of the way to my eight-week goal. Everything was coming up roses.
When I trotted happily to the front of the room and stepped on the scale, the wretched thing blinked a number that was way too close to the previous number. How could I have chipped off barely a pound, when I was doing the same things that had pared away five pounds only the week before?
To make it all worse, the next day I was going across the border to a writing conference, which was totally going to mess with my ability to chop broccoli and fit in my daily cardio allotment.
My frame of mind went from gilt to worm-eaten in the time it took a battery-operated machine to flash 154.
The human psyche – how fragile and how silly. I had lost another pound, an entirely reasonable amount to dump in two weeks, which I knew perfectly well. So why was I disappointed instead of being rational and happy?
Because I’d exceeded my expectations in the past, which gave rise to that most heartbreaking of all emotions: hope. 

Thursday, February 17, 2011

DIY Behaviour Modification

Calorie Neutral is not A Diet.

I mean, it is a diet in the sense that it is – it has become – my usual food and drink. But it’s not A Diet that I go on for a few weeks or months and then go off, back to my normal diet of Doritos and peanut butter toast three times a day. Because, you know, that didn’t so work well for me.

Why this plan works, as Vicki Waters explains right up front, is because it’s behaviour modification. She outlined the path and lit it and I walked it, changing my behaviour to better suit the life (and the bathing suit) I wanted.

Garry Martin and Joseph Pear of the University of Manitoba lay out seven characteristics of behaviour modification (in Behavior Modification: What It Is and How To Do It). As you can see, they are easily adapted for DIY projects like weight loss through a healthier lifestyle.

1. Define the problem in terms of measurable behaviour.
My take: weigh yourself every couple of weeks or so, measure a few key places, and keep a daily food and exercise journal. The connection quickly becomes clear.

2. Alter the person’s environment to make it easier for her or him to function better.
My take: fill the fridge with vegetables and fruit, make sure there’s lean protein available for every meal and snack, set guidelines for what and when to eat.
(NB: it helps if everyone in the household is on board for this. At the very least, they should agree not to sabotage the plan and not to expect you to bake them cookies)

3. Methods and rationales can be precisely described.
My take: join a group like Vicki Waters’s program, follow the Mayo Clinic healthy lifestyle guidelines or Julia Cameron’s Writing Diet or find some other sustainable, health-based plan that explains itself and suits you.

4. Techniques can be applied to everyday life.
My take: I think eating fits in here without further explanation.

5. Behaviour modification techniques are based on both conscious and unconscious learning.
My take: consciously establishing sustainable new habits will kick the old, unhealthy ones to the curb. Even when I have an emotional crisis now, I no longer think of French fries and cake first. Or second or third. Seriously.

6. Psychologists who practice behaviour modification with their clients like to see scientific evidence that the treatment is responsible for the changed behaviour. My take: see Number 1.

7. Accountability is important.
My take: write down your goals and share them with other people, preferably supportive ones, although if you’re of a stubborn disposition then telling a scoffer might make you stick to your plans just to show them.

Hey, whatever works.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Calorie Neutral: the singalong

Recently, a couple of people delicately hinted that I needed a focus group for this blog. I was puzzled because they had been the focus group when did my pre-publication testing for content and style.
No, no, they said. A focus group that tests this plan for you.
Ah! I thought. They want  me to be their fitness guru, to explain the plan, cheerlead and, if necessary, crack the whip.
You’re offering your services? I asked.
They nodded eagerly.
Another member of the earlier focus group arrived and I explained their suggestion.
I’m in! she said.
When the next person arrived, we told her what we were thinking. She reared away so fast she almost slid off the back of her seat.
You’re asking me to commit? She looked appalled.
We laughed and I assured her that no, I would never ask her to do something so drastic. Participation has to be entirely voluntary.
So with a few eager participants – and you are most welcome to join in! – I’m launching a much-simplified and DIY version of the program that taught me how, when and what to eat for a healthier, more energetic life.

Please note that I am not an expert. I’m not going to do the exhaustive research into nutrition and exercise that my guru has done. While she is a guiding light, I’m more of a guttering candle.
But I’m here and I’m willing to wander the path with anyone who wants to come along.

Warning: I have pompoms but my whip went missing years ago. You’re responsible for driving your own wagon.


Positive goals: Once upon a time, in one of her many fabulous blog posts or articles, NYT bestselling author Jennifer Crusie pointed out that a story is more compelling if the character’s goals are positive, rather than negative: act on something rather than avoid something.
Registered Public Health Nutritionist and university instructor Pinki Sahota is also on board from a dietary perspective. Focus on what can be eaten, she suggests, rather than on what must be avoided.

Public goals: According to behaviour-modification experts Garry Martin and Joseph Pear of the University of Manitoba, accountability is key. Writing down a goal is a standard tenet of goal setting; sharing them here gives each of us another boost toward meeting them.
Be specific and decide on a time frame – and don't worry what anybody else is doing. This is your tailor-made plan.

Daily food and activity journal: begin with a journal of everything you eat and drink for three days of pre-Calorie Neutral life – three consecutive normal days.

Each week, reflect on and share your experience: Behaviour-modification experts Garry Martin and Joseph Pear of the University of Manitoba explain that a ratio of five compliments to one criticism helps people adapt new behaviours.
Obviously you can share whatever you want, but I think it’s most helpful to all of us to hear the successes as well as the struggles – ideally in that five-to-one ratio. Coming up with five positive things at once might be a struggle in itself (and how delicious is that irony?) but if it helps us get fit and stay that way, I’m game to try.
If something strikes you as funny or unexpected, so much the better.


On Thursday, Feb 17, I'll post a description of behaviour modification principles. Applying these is what helped Fodder and me actually change for good how, what, when and why we eat. They are what take a weight-loss program from A Diet to an enjoyable (no, seriously!) lifestyle. 

Between now and next Tuesday:
1. keep a written food and activity journal for three normal days
2. decide on your goals
3. get ready to share

See you soon!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

How the Saint earned his halo

“Do I detect a little flattening going on?” My new favourite person gestured at my belly.
We were at a writing workshop with a fairly famous teacher and a room full of people so I didn’t throw my arms around her, which I thought that was  pretty cool of me, but I couldn’t help the smile that stretched across my face.
“Ten pounds!”
“Good for you!” She beamed back.
It was my first outside validation. Not only was I losing weight and feeling good, somebody else could see it. What is it about us humans that we need that external validation?
Anyway, her recognition made it easier to nibble my almonds and sip my vegetable juice during the break instead of caving in to the siren song of muffins. This was my first foray into the world of public meals and snacks in the two weeks since I’d started The Program so I was glad for all the support I could get.
Of course, many of the people in the room were my friends, so if I’d asked they would have rallied with encouragement anyway, but I didn’t want to do that. I hadn’t told many people I was doing this program.
Why not?
Well for starters, what if I failed?
I wanted kudos (see above re: external validation) but I dreaded commiseration.
At the same time, it wasn’t a secret. If the subject came up, I mentioned it. One of my friends has long enjoyed what she calls a caveman diet – fruit, vegetables, protein – and I’d told her my intention. Elpis, of course, knew what I was doing. My sister was cheerleading for Fodder and me. And the Saint, naturally.
I wasn’t about to cook rice and potatoes just for him, of course. Unlike one woman I encountered at the meetings, I didn’t go home and, like, bake for him. That’s, like, totally crazy.
The Saint is perfectly capable of boiling a potful of rice or mashing spuds if he wants them.
I stocked the fridge with Rachel-friendly foods, shoving aside half a loaf of bread to fit in the yogurt and flax meal. Like clockwork, the empty cottage cheese tub hit the recycling bin, the yogurt container followed it, the drawers of apples and pears emptied, bags of carrots deflated…and the half-loaf of multigrain was still there.
We refilled the fridge regularly with heads of broccoli, beets with their tops, bales of lettuce and spinach, oranges and pineapple, free-range eggs and tofu…and every time I depleted the stocks, that half loaf was still perched on its butt in the back.
Eventually, I had to ask.
“What’s going on with the bread?” I stood in the doorway to the living room, my hands on my hips.
The Saint looked up from his book. “What bread?”
Now, the Saint is not the carb junkie that I am, but as part of a satisfying breakfast he does favour a couple of slices of peanut-butter toast, whose aroma floats through the house like my favourite Chanel, a fragrance I hadn’t scented for…. 
“You haven’t been eating peanut-butter toast!” I realized.
He agreed and turned the page of his Bernard Cornwell novel.
“Since when?” I cast my mind back.
“Since you started this thing.” He slipped a bookmark into Sharpe’s Peril.
“Why not?” I asked suspiciously.
“Because you’re working really hard at this and I’m proud of you.” He set aside his book.
I did throw my arms around him.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Food = love

Jamie Oliver is an English chef who’s passionate about the effect of food: it does more than symbolize love and care, it provides more than fantastic fragrances and flavours. The purpose of food is to nourish our bodies, but as Oliver points out in his TED talk, not all food is created equal.
Check out his eye-opening TED talk.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Week Two: "You want me to WHAT?"

So the guru broke the news to us. In Week Two, she said, we had to add snacks.

I know, right? How great is that? Except…

Every two to four hours, another protein/vegetable combo was supposed to make its way into my gullet and frankly, I simply was not hungry two hours after consuming a cup of yogurt and homemade apple-pear-blueberry compote. Or two eggs scrambled with herbes de Provence and green and red peppers.

One of my favourite sayings is “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” so having lost five freaking pounds on the three-meal-a-day plan, why would I change that?

The guru, Vicki Waters, that’s why. A blonde fifty-something force of nature, she is an irresistible force and I didn’t intend to find out what happened if I decided to be an immovable object.

Trust, I told myself. Other people have done this and they succeeded. Remember Elpis.

A couple of days into Week Two, I asked Fodder, “How are you making out with this snack thing?”

“It takes a lot of time,” he said. “All the chopping and then the eating, and the water…”

“I know what you mean.” It seemed that if I wasn’t cleaning vegetables or chewing almonds, I was trotting to the nearest washroom.

“How do you feel?” I asked next, because in spite of all the extra work, meals and exercise, I felt like a million bucks.

However, Fodder had blood pressure and cholesterol issues that I don’t have, and he’d had a couple more decades to  get set in his cracker-eating ways.

“Great!” His voice held all the surprise of a guy breaking 75-year-old habits and discovering the world wasn’t tilting the wrong way on its axis. “I’ve got so much energy I’ve had to stop resting after lunch.”

“Yeah, me too.” Not that I napped; I’m not retired, after all. But I no longer had to race to finish all my active brain-work early in the day and reserve the two-to-four pm time slot for mindless chores. 
In spite of the increased work I had to do to eat better and more often, I actually was getting more done in the rest of my life. Go figure.

By the end of the week, I’d managed to include the right snacks in the right amounts pretty much on schedule and I was never hungry. Quite the opposite, in fact.
I know, right? Weird.

“I don’t think I lost any weight,” Fodder said as we got into his car to drive to the meeting, “but I feel really good, so it doesn’t matter.”

I agreed. The ultimate point of this whole exercise was better health, so the numbers on the scale really didn’t enter into it. Right?

Yeah, sure, I told myself. You hold that thought. You’ve been snacking, remember?

Then…after the weigh-in I bounced back to my seat like a 155-pound helium balloon. I was down another five pounds. 
So was Fodder.

I know, right?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Jumping ahead

Several people have suggested that I show an "after" picture on this blog, to balance the "before" photo in the "Me and My Plan" box on the right.

I resisted for a while, because it feels weird to write about events as if they are still unfolding and yet skip ahead in the photo department. However, maybe it will help people who aren't sure that tackling such a challenge will really make a difference.

Trust me: it can.

The Saint took this photo at the end of January, on an outing to Point No Point on the west coast of Vancouver Island after I had reached my goal of comfortably fitting into size 8 jeans. He claims he took it because the red Levis tab provides visual balance with the red bridge railings. I prefer to think that he just liked the look of the Levis.

My version of the "after" picture: