On Weight Watchers and eating better…

When I started this whole journey back in 2012, one of the things I knew needed to happen was a support group or tool to help me get my eating under control.  Hunger is not a reliable gauge of how much I need to eat – I’m in a constant state of hunger, after all – so what I’ve got to be able to have is a way to keep it toned down enough that I can make smart decisions.  I’d tried a handful of other systems (NutriSystem’s food is awful, by the way), but my wife is a big fan of Weight Watchers so I decided to give it a shot.

Shout out to the Weight Watchers marketing department here, by the way, for advertising targeted toward men.  I’d always thought of Weight Watchers as primarily for women, and in some ways I still feel that stigma.  But hiring Charles Barkley as a spokesman was a stroke of genius.  Even his famous “Weight Watchers is a scam” gaffe did nothing but get the word out there that this program works, and men are not excluded.  Brilliant and well done.

The reason I love it is a commonly cited reason – nothing is off limits.  Weight Watchers assigns a certain number of points to everything you eat or drink, and they give you a limit on the number of points you can have in any given day, with a weekly “bonus” point budget that you can use for a cheat meal or any other reason.  The key here is that they don’t at all restrict how you use those points – if you want to use your points eating chocolate cake and donuts, then knock yourself out.

What you learn very, very quickly is that the trick is to use your points to manage hunger. The amount of chocolate cake I can fit into my points budget is relatively small, and the problem with using the entire budget on things like that is that you are absolutely starving three hours later.  Which is a problem, since you don’t have any points left to deal with that.  But over time you learn that empty calories don’t fill you up, and you only need relatively small quantities of the nutrient dense, high point items that also have a tendency to not fill you up (things like nuts, meat, even dairy).  You still need those, but in moderation.  The low points (even free points) items – fruits and vegetables, mostly – are really the key to managing hunger.

Today's tracker after breakfast
Today’s tracker after breakfast

Now, one of the things I didn’t realize when I first started with WW (though, in retrospect, it is obvious), is that when you start to lose weight the program takes points away from you each week.  This makes for a bittersweet weigh-in day – “Yay! I lost weight! Boo! I don’t get to eat as much next week…”  Last week, for instance, I went from a daily budget of 65 points down to 64 – which, by the way, is an enormous number for most people, because I’m so freaking big that I can eat an enormous amount of food and still lose weight.

Last time, I started with 65 points, and by the time I was done I was down to 54.  Now – lets do some math.  11 points a day times 7 days is 77 points per week.  On an original budget of 65 points, I was eating the equivalent of a whole day’s worth of food LESS than I was when I started.  It is as though I said “Lets just skip food on Wednesdays,” but done in a much more sustainable way.

Going from nothing to Weight Watchers removed a considerable number of calories from my diet.  Weight Watchers slowly but surely removed an awful lot more.  And I still had 50 pounds (at least) to lose.  And I was still living in a constant state of hunger.

No wonder I’m fat.

But, this is a process, not a goal.  A journey, as it were, not a destination.  And so, I’ll enjoy the 14 point breakfast you see up there and the 15-or-so point lunch that I’ve got planned for today, and I’ll lose this weight.

Its what we do.

Weigh In 7-24-2015

Good morning to the one or two of you that might actually see this!

Friday mornings are my weigh in mornings – and this morning, I weighed in at 317.8 pounds, which is a 4.2 pound loss from last week and a total of 5.2 pounds.

Which is outstanding.  I needed to see a week work to keep up the motivation – and this week worked.  I had a very good week in terms of my food consumption and exercise.  In particular, I have been for 5 runs since last Friday, which is the best extended stretch of getting out there I have had in over a year.

Quick note on weigh in timing:  I chose Friday very deliberately, and that is a Weight Watchers thing.  If you aren’t familiar, Weight Watchers works on points – they assign a point value to everything you eat and drink, and you are given a daily allotment of points that you are supposed to stay within.  You can eat whatever you want, but you have to stay within those points.  On top of that, you are given a weekly allotment of “cheat” points – best I can tell, this is 49 points for everybody, regardless of what your daily allotment is.  That 49 points can be used any way you want – you can go over your daily allotment by a little bit every day, or you can save it up and blow it out on one big meal.  The rule is that you can’t save up your daily points – use ’em or lose ’em – and when you run out of those extra points you’re pretty constrained.  Crucially, your points reset on your weigh-in day.

I find it much more difficult to stay within my daily point total on the weekends, for a lot of reasons that are probably obvious enough I don’t need to discuss.  So most of my 49 points winds up getting used between Friday dinner and Sunday dinner, with Friday dinner and, believe it or not, Sunday breakfast being the two huge weak spots. When I first started WW, I was using a calendar week and weighing in on Sunday morning.  The problem with that is that all of that my perception of weigh-ins was that they were being skewed.  And so I was depriving myself needlessly or feeling very guilty about things even when I stayed within my points.  Also, if I had a slip up during the week and was very low on points, I was finding it hard to keep it reined in on the weekends.

By weighing in on Friday I get rid of almost all of that psychological crap.  And, for the record, I know that is all psychological.  Over time, this comes out in the wash.  However, managing my energy is a big part of this process, and this way I just don’t have to spend any energy worrying about tonight’s perfectly legal dinner unduly impacting tomorrow morning’s weigh in.

Anyway.

Progress is good!  I feel great, and this is just the kick in the ass I needed.

Onward!

Detox, Day 1

So, as mentioned several times, I went to see a chiropractor / sports injury guy for the issue in my foot.  He’s been helpful, and I expect to be running again by the end of the week. A pretty good outcome, though I think this was as much shoe related as anything.

My guy is also a nutritionist.  Now, I’m a big proponent of eating food.  Real food.  I don’t always make good choices about what food I eat (though I know how), and I often make poor choices about how much food I eat – that’s the hard part.  The key to this, though, is food.  Real, chew it up and get your calories and you don’t have to do much to it because we evolved to eat it just like that, food.  In particular, I don’t like having to buy special things like shakes or supplements or juices – I think those are silly, and I don’t think they’re necessary outside of specific and relatively rare medical needs.

So, my nutritionist guy did not surprise me and immediately wanted to do a nutritional consult – including daily menu planning if only I’ll pay for it – and a detox. We did a BIA (35% body fat – yuck) and starting talking it through.

In particular, I’m unconvinced about detox.  And it isn’t horribly cheap – though in the end it won’t be that much.  So my initial thought was no – just, no.  But I talked to him about what it was he was recommending and I sort of changed my mind.  Sort of.

Yesterday was day one of a ten day detox program.  I have “medical food” shakes and a vitamin supplement.  I have lists of foods that are approved to eat on each day.  That list excludes all caffeine, alcohol, meat, and refined sugar and gets smaller and smaller through day seven, which is restricted to basically leafy green vegetables and the shakes / supplements.  Beginning on day eight the list begins to grow until day ten matches day one.  Then, in terms of my guy’s practice, I’d transition over to his menu planning and additional supplements.  The base detox, including the plan and supplements for 10 days, was $110, with an optional $40 veggie/vitamin thing to be mixed in with the shakes.

I decided to do the detox because I need a jump start.  My food choices have been poor, and the weight has been creeping up – enough that I’ve started skipping weigh-ins.  I’m starting to get discouraged about not running, even though that is the right thing to do.  And I need to get myself invested in something in the short-term so I can build momentum for the medium- and long-term.  I actually don’t believe that the “detox” function of this diet has all that much value, and of course this is an unsustainable way to eat long-term.  However, for ten days, it may be exactly what I need.  My intention is to do this for ten days and then get religion about Weight Watchers beginning day eleven.

And so for the next ten days I will be doing updates on the detox.  Daily updates on what I ate, how I felt, what is happening, etc.  Buckle up, because here we go.

Day 1 sucked.

Not because I couldn’t eat.  This was the least restrictive day in terms of food – I had a veggie omelet for breakfast (no cheese), a quinoa salad with sliced avocado for lunch, and a homemade ratatouille over brown rice for dinner that, frankly, is amazing and will make it into my normal cooking rotation.  I had apples, almonds, and prunes for snacks (prunes are legitimately good, by the way).  And so I wasn’t starving.

The headache began building around noon.  I don’t drink a ton of coffee, but I generally have my one travel mug in the morning and then often a diet soda during the day – so I have a caffeine regimen.  And I expected to have some headaches or other “withdrawal” symptoms.  But I didn’t expect what I got.  By the time I got home last night the headache was crushing.  By the time I went to bed it was clouding my vision – it was awful.  And it would have been bad all by itself, but…

Turns out, taking a big multi-vitamin commonly causes nausea.  My morning dose didn’t cause any problems.  My evening dose, coupled with the headache, made me want to vomit from the time I took it until I went to sleep.

I felt like ass.  Total ass.

And I told my wife that if I vomited, or if I didn’t feel remarkably better in the morning, I was going to stop.  After day one.  And to hell with the sunk costs.  And then I went to sleep.

So what were my takeaways from day one?  They weren’t all negative:

  • Food doesn’t need meat or dairy to be delicious.  The ratatouille is seriously one of the better things I’ve had in awhile.  I will need to start exploring some of these vegetarian and vegan recipes – the food is legitimately good and I can start feeling better about the environmental impact, etc.  I won’t ever be full-blown vegetarian, but I can get better about this.
  • Caffeine is no joke.  My normal daily intake is unremarkable and I’ve taken it for granted for some time.  After only one day (one day!) of not having caffeine I was out for the count.  Don’t underestimate this as a drug – it is potent.  I’m beginning to think about whether I want to add it back in as a daily thing at all after all of this.
  • So far, not starving.  We’ll see how long that lasts.

Day 2 tomorrow.  Fun!

Day 2 can be found here

On Food and Eating

Something dawned on me recently.  I have spent so much time on this blog talking about running that I have neglected to talk about an equally important – and much more difficult – topic.

Let’s talk about food.

So, I want to get a couple of things out of the way.  First – I love food.  Everything about it.  Second – I am not a big fan of discussion about food addiction.  As a chronic over-eater, this is a concept that I simply don’t understand.  And not because it isn’t real, just that everybody is addicted to food.  In the most literal way, we are all addicted to food.  We must eat to live – “addiction” doesn’t mean anything in this context.

Even an addiction to certain types of food, to me, is spurious.  If I am addicted to pizza, and have pizza at least once a day … well, that’s called nourishing my body.  Poorly, maybe, but I have to eat and I could survive on pizza for a relatively long life.  Chocolate, sweets, etc., fall into this same physical camp.  Some of us are capable of overcoming special cravings better than others, though I’d argue that those cravings are as much mental as they are physical.

Now this is not to say that there aren’t “addictions” to deal with, just that I don’t think of those as addictions to food.  Perhaps I can illustrate.

The way I have always articulated it is that everybody has their thing, that feeling they chase, often to their detriment.  For some people, that thing is drugs and for some it is alcohol.  Others turn to sex or gambling … or even positive things, like people laughing while you are on stage or singing along to your song.  But I believe everybody has a thing.  So you know that feeling you get when you over-eat?  How your belly feels like it is stretching and hurting, and how you can sit down in a chair and go into a food coma and pass out?

Yeah – that’s my thing.

food coma

That has been my thing for years.  Eventually I reached a point where I sought that feeling out after every meal.  If I didn’t have that feeling, it meant that I hadn’t eaten enough.  People would ask me if I was hungry, and my response every time was that it had absolutely nothing to do with hungry … let’s eat.  The goal was to eat enough to put me in a food coma and pass out.

When I look back at my childhood, I can see how that attitude toward food grew.  I don’t blame anybody or anything, but life in the culture I grew up in pretty much revolved around food.  We gathered over meals.  The meal wasn’t ancillary to the gathering; we were not eating because we had to eat.  The meal was (is) the point.  We ate together and cooked together.  We grew gardens together, and we hunted and fished together.   Even our hobbies were about procuring food.  And being able to eat a lot was in some ways a badge of honor.

I have a relationship with food that runs deep, much deeper than mere fuel.  And I like all kinds of food – from the very healthy all the way down to McDonald’s.  I eat good food and I eat shit.  I get plenty of the right vitamins and minerals, but my caloric intake at its highest probably would have made a dietician blush.  I love the ceremony of a good meal – the tasting of the wine, the multiple courses, the conversation.   I know people who view food as a fuel.  They can eat without regard to taste or setting or anything else.  Food, for them, is somewhat like gasoline for a car, and very little else.  And I feel both pity and deep envy for those people.  Pity because food brings so much joy to my life; envy because food brings so much tension to my life.

I’m not sure when I began to realize that there was a problem.  My family will tell a story that when I was a teenager we were limited to one bowl of cereal in the morning so we wouldn’t eat the whole box in one sitting.  I got around that by using a mixing bowl as my cereal bowl.   Even then I probably knew something wasn’t just right … but I was chasing a feeling, you know?

I would have used it if I'd had access...
I would have used it if I’d had access…

Once I quit being athletic-ish in high school my body began its predictable expansion.  I was never comfortable with my body (likely at this point won’t ever really be), but I never got so uncomfortable that I stopped eating.  Probably the first time I really acknowledged an issue was when I was in business school and hit about 290 (I’m right at 6’ tall).  I got there that time by, for example, eating bags of Oreos for dinner regularly.  A whole bag at a time.  When I realized that I was out of control, I got a classmate that worked out to help me, and I lost about 40 pounds.  But that was through a diet, which is not a solution … diets are only tools.  At that point I committed to losing weight, not changing how I did things.

Interestingly, that effort was coupled with a physical goal.  I decided when I started the process that time that I was going to do a 160 mile backpacking trip on the Ozark Highlands Trail.  And that goal worked – I made the investment in the equipment and had a goal to march toward.  I would up doing over 80 miles of that trip before heavy rains and high rivers forced me off the trail.  But I was proud, and I’d done it.  And then I let it go, and my weight started a long slow creep.

That backpacking trip was in December of 2006, and I weighed about 260 pounds.  In April of 2012, when I finally realized I was completely out of control again, I hit 327.  67 pounds in 6 years – 11 pounds a year, that’s it.

Ozark Highland Trailhead, December, 2006, about 260lbs
Ozark Highland Trailhead, December, 2006, about 260lbs

Now, this time I was (and am) determined to make some permanent changes – but I have a problem.  You see, I love food so much that I’m unwilling to simply give up most of the things I like to eat.  If being thin(ner) means not eating pizza, or hamburgers, or cookies, or a whole list of things … if I can’t occasionally have those things … then to hell with that, I’ll just be fat.

And I mean that.  I’m not going to live my whole life feeling guilty because every now and then I want to eat some fried chicken.  So that means I have to learn how to eat portions that won’t choke a horse, and replace most of my food with “fuel” and plan ahead for those times when I’m going to eat whatever I want.   Learning how to get, and keep, my calories down at a reasonable level is the absolute key, I’m convinced, to meeting my physical goals.

That’s why I chose WeightWatchers for my program.   WW puts nothing off-limits, but teaches you how all of those things impact your daily intake and hunger.  WW worked for me immediately, and when I actually keep track of what I’m eating, it works for me still.  Every time.

People still occasionally ask me if I’m hungry.  And the answer to that question, of course, is that it has nothing to do with hungry.  I live my life in a constant state of hunger.  But I’ve learned what an appropriate amount of food is, and I’ll continue the struggle to keep my intake there.  I’ve coupled this effort with physical goals as well, and maybe one day I will be able to replace that food coma feeling with a runner’s high as my “thing”.

Maybe, maybe not.  In the meantime – eat well, and keep running.

Must be a runner's high
Must be a runner’s high

New Year’s Not Resolutions

One thing I’ve always considered interesting is how polarizing the discussion of New Year’s Resolutions becomes.  On one side, you’ve got those that make them, or have made them.  They use the New Year as a fresh start – and they do so with varying levels of success.  They invade gyms for two or three weeks … and often, and usually, go home.  Sometimes, though, they break through … and it was a New Year’s Resolution that started it.

Then you’ve got the other side.  The folks that not only don’t “do” New Year’s Resolutions, but they look down on those that do.  Like this quote:  “New Years resolutions are for the weak…if you live life being the best person you can be EVERY day, then you will have no reason to make yourself better one day out of the year!”  Or this tweet from The Oatmeal:

Now – I lean toward agreeing with the latter … if you do it right, you won’t need a resolution.  But, see, it isn’t black and white, and it isn’t that easy.  I’ve seen resolutions work – my Dad finally quit a 3-pack a day habit with a New Year’s Resolution.  It was a reason, maybe it was an excuse, but it did it.  Sometimes a resolution doesn’t work and is annoying – but sometimes it is able to provide that final push over the line.

So I don’t judge.  I don’t really make resolutions, but I don’t judge.

Last year, on New Year’s Day, I went for a 3.1 mile run – I didn’t run a formal race, but I went out and did that.  And while it wasn’t a resolution, it was the kick I needed to focus on a goal that had already been made.  And so it worked like a resolution, I guess.  And what made it all work was that the goals had been set.

And so this year, I’m going to articulate some goals.  Not resolutions, exactly … but this is what I’m working toward in 2014.

Good luck in the coming year!  May your goals be challenging but achievable, and may they provide you with a beacon to march toward.

Running:

1,000 miles

At least one race or running event every month

Finish the marathon … and not let it scare me from bigger goals

Nutrition:

Weight Watchers.  Every day.  It works.

Water.  Consistently. Much more water.

Keep the bacon, egg, & cheese sandwich to Friday morning only … but drink a leaded Dr. Pepper with it.

Home:

Take my son camping.  In such a way that he’ll want to go again.

Give my wife at least one day a month, every month, that’s just hers.

Cook more.  I love it, but didn’t make it a priority this year.  Change that.

Career:

Spend time, every day, making & revising my things-to-do list.

Two contacts a month.  I hate “networking,” but it is just a reality.

Give my team Christmas presents.

Other:

Minimum of two blog entries per week through March.  Up to four by the end of the year.  Make the blog work.

One tweet per day.  Every day.  And try to make it meaningful.

Get the basement finished.  All the way.

Weigh In / Long Run 12.7.13

I knew I was having a good week, but this is ridiculous – and teaches me a lesson.  First, as always, the numbers:

Weight:  276.6

One Week Gain / (Loss):  (6.4 pounds)

Total Gain / (Loss):  (50.8  pounds)

Holy crap.

As I wrote in last week’s weigh-in, I rededicated myself to tracking my Weight Watcher’s points this week – and I was able to do that.  Didn’t even use my “bonus” 49 weekly points.  But then I also hit the streets hard running again this week, too.  I did miss one little 2 mile run, on the cold and rainy Friday morning, but I’m not going to beat myself up about that.

This morning I officially got right back on the marathon training schedule and did my scheduled 10-miler.  This was only the third time I’ve gone at least this far – and the other two were the half-marathon and the long run in preparation for the half-marathon.  My run overall was strong-ish, especially considering that I’ve basically taken a month off.  There is no way I can expect to come back and run these miles fast – I just have to be prepared to ease into them.  And that, in general happened today.  I did not negative split this one like I have some of my long runs in the past, but my two strongest miles based on time (as well as perception as I was running) were mile 4 and mile 8.  So … I’ll absolutely take it.

So here’s what I’ve learned over the last couple of weeks:  be skeptical about the scale.  I just don’t think I lost over 6 legitimate pounds of fat this week.  This was about water retention primarily, with some timing thrown in.  Not that I hadn’t gained weight, just that if I can knock 6 pounds off all at once then it wasn’t exactly hard-to-reach fat, was it?

That also means that I really hadn’t gained 10 pounds over the last 4 weeks, either.  Yes, if I hadn’t taken the right steps, then that would have become permanent.  But if I just went by the scale, I’d have thought I was failing miserably and been tempted to give it up … at least until after the holidays.  Instead, I put my head back down and had an amazing week.  There is a lesson in that.  If only I could articulate it.

Next weekend is the 15K in Central Park, which I’m now much more optimistic about.  In the meantime – 6 pounds!  Yay!

Weigh In / Long Run 11.30.13

Though I hoped otherwise, I knew this was coming.  I didn’t dread it as much as I did last time, though, because I know what is about to happen.  The numbers:

Weight:  283.0

Two Week Gain / (Loss):  5 pounds

Total Gain / (Loss):  (44.4 pounds)

No way around this except to say that I’ve had a very rough month.  What I am convinced happened is that a series of bad choices around food finally caught up with me when my body forced a rest period from running.

So I’ve lost all of this weight with Weight Watchers.  There are good and bad things about any diet or system that you use, and overall I’m a fan of how WW handles this – eat what you want, but we’re going to teach you how much of what is appropriate, and if you can’t handle that, you’ll be hungry.  It’s helped me an awful lot.

Back in late summer, heading into (or maybe just coming out of) the last of the half marathon training, I decided that I was going to see if I could make it without tracking points.  The goal is to be able to eventually not need a system that I pay for – to be able to handle myself with food and exercise in such a way that I can maintain my weight.  And I think when I’m in maintenance mode, that’s probably going to be doable.  In weight loss mode, however, I find I struggle.

I’ve been eating badly now for weeks.  Pretty much whatever I wanted.  But since my mileage has been consistently high, I’ve been able to maintain my weight.  I’ve been frustrated with a several week plateau, but I haven’t been gaining weight.

And then a whole bunch of stuff happened all at once that has dramatically dropped my mileage for the last 3 – 4 weeks.  I’ve been traveling, for both work and personal trips, which shouldn’t matter but does.  I got a nasty cold that required me to back way off.  And then I did one of my boneheaded things and injured my toe.  So I’m way behind where I need to be in my mileage.

And this graph demonstrates clearly how out-of-whack I let it get.  Of course, Thanksgiving was in there, but that’s just an excuse.  This should not be happening.

Here and now, though, it stops.  I did a 6 mile run this afternoon (instead of my scheduled 9, but I went), and I’ve tracked my WW points for the day.  WW tracking is back on – no bite passes my lips until it has been logged.  And the mileage starts back up … now.

There was a time that this kind of blip would cause me to throw up my hands and quit.  This was a clear demonstration that I couldn’t do this and might as well quit now.  And go eat a bag of Oreos or something.  But not this time.

Not this time.