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Whaledancer's Weight Loss Ramblings

Monday, 26 June 2006

Raging Hormone Woman Strikes
Topic: Age & Weight Loss

Saturday evening my body was inhabited by an alien being, who used my mouth to say things like “Why don’t we just get a pizza?” and to eat two servings of cookies for dessert.  The next morning, when she was gone and I was left assessing the damage, I realized I recognized the alien. It was Raging Hormone Woman. RHW has taken possession of me before.  Usually I can placate her with occasional offerings of chocolate, but occasionally she takes over and does things counter to my best interests, such as stuffing down vast quantities of foods I normally avoid, screaming unkind words at my husband, or bursting into tears at a song on the supermarket Muzak.


In this case, I figured she’d pretty well undone any chance I had of hanging onto my hard-won half-pound loss from the week before.  I gave myself the usual morning-after pep talks (it’s the long-term that counts; all that healthful eating of the past two weeks was good for you even if you don’t lose weight; when you slip up just keep going, blah, blah) and got right back on program.


When I weighed in this morning, I had managed to hang on to my loss from last week.  I felt relieved for a few minutes.  Then my inner teenager began to pipe up. “Well, how about that? We got away with it!  Note to self: you can eat three slices of pizza and two servings of cookies and milk, and not gain weight.  We’ll do that again!” 


NO, NO, NO!  That is not the take-home lesson here.  The thought I’m trying to hold on to is that the goal is to lose weight and eat healthful foods, not to maintain weight and eat junk.  I’m trying to remind the inner teenager that just because you got away with something once, doesn’t mean it’s a good long-term strategy for health.  I’ve got my fingers in my ears, singing “La, la, la, la, la, la...” to try to drown out the sound of her saying things like “Let’s do it again!” and “Hey, I wonder what ELSE we could get away with?”


It’s hell being in the sandwich generation.

Posted by whaledancer at 3:17 PM PDT | Post Comment | View Comments (4) | Permalink

Friday, 23 June 2006

Ho Dogs and urgers


I was just telling my husband one of my anecdotes about life in the lower-working-class neighborhood where I grew up, and it occurs to me there’s a lesson there that can apply to weight loss (as almost anything can, if you look at it that way).  Here’s the story I told him:


A few miles from where I lived, next door to the Sears Roebuck, there was an Orange Julius stand.  The sign in front of it was one of those where you insert individual letters into a frame to spell out the message (remember those?), and it lost a couple of letters, so that it advertised ‘Ho  Dogs &  urgers’.  They never replaced the letters, and for years it continued to read Ho  Dogs &  urgers.  For some reason, I loved that sign. It just seemed a perfect metaphor for life in that neighborhood, the kind of place where when letters fell off a sign, they didn’t bother to replace them.  It became a byword with us, and we’d say ‘Let’s go get a ho dog,’ or ‘You want an urger for lunch?’


To this day, I sometimes think of them as ho dogs and have to remember to correct myself before I speak.


That got me to thinking that there have been many times when I came to accept something I knew was dysfunctional, so that over time it became “normal” and eventually, preferred.  Now I’m wondering what patterns of behavior I have that are like that sign, missing letters, never repaired, and dysfunction in a way that I no longer notice.  Are there behaviors that I prefer only because they are familiar, even though they have never served me well?


I think it’s time I examined my habits through fresh eyes, as a stranger would that broken sign, and see if there are any that, although understandable and perhaps even quaint, are nevertheless undeniably an error.

Posted by whaledancer at 3:11 PM PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Thursday, 15 June 2006

Everything I Ever Needed to Know About Weight Loss I Learned from My Cat
Topic: Tips


My cat Kali is my weight-loss guru. She’s maintained a svelte 10 lbs her entire adult life.  Here are Kali’s tips for weight management:


Get some exercise every day. Make it something you enjoy doing.


Take naps. Getting plenty of rest is important.


Stop what you’re doing to do some stretches several times a day.


Don’t eat food you don’t enjoy.  Life is too short.


Don’t be too serious. Take breaks. Do something playful, just for fun, each day.


Drink enough water, and insist on fresh. Don’t drink water that’s been sitting in a bowl for a few hours.


Even with food you do enjoy, stop when you’re no longer hungry, and walk away.


A few bites of something you like can be enough.


Don’t eat the same things all the time. Insist on variety.


When you’re eating something you really love, give yourself over completely to the pleasure.  Savor each morsel. Closing your eyes and purring can enhance the experience.


Laughing Cow Light is a great treat.

Posted by whaledancer at 3:04 PM PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 26 June 2006 3:10 PM PDT

On Wearing Shorts, Aging, and Beauty
Topic: Body Image

A few weeks ago when the subject of wearing shorts came up, someone quoted Oprah as having said that no woman over 40 should ever wear shorts. At the time, I expressed my vehement opposition to that opinion, ending with something to the effect that Oprah and the fashion police could kiss my asparagus, I was wearing shorts in hot weather.

Now, that should have been the end of it. But it's been gnawing at me since then. When I was trying on shorts at the store, when I was rubbing fake tan on my legs, when I was deciding between the longer or shorter shorts, it would come back to me, "Oprah said..." and I'd get irritated all over again. So this morning when I was shaving my thighs in preparation for wearing shorts, I tried to work out why I couldn't just let it go, and I think I've figured it out.

It's this whole idea that youth is more beautiful than age. Who says so? Well, "everybody." Our concepts of beauty are arbitrary and culturally-driven, but so pervasive that it's easy to forget that they differ in other societies and in other eras. We think it's the TRUTH, the way it IS. But when I think of how much wiser, steadier, more insightful, self-confident, and capable I am now than I was when I was in my 20's, it doesn't seem to me that my age is something I should want to hide. I think we've got this one upside-down. I think that young people should be dying their hair gray, wearing false bifocal lines in their glasses, and painting blue lines on their legs and age spots on their hands, to look more like us.

What's really awful is that this cultural adulation of youth is so pervasive that we older people believe it ourselves. We think the signs of age are ugly and try to hide them. It reminds me painfully of the way that before the "Black is Beautiful" campaign of the '60's, many African-Americans had so internalized the idea that Caucasian looks were more attractive that they straightened their hair and tried to bleach their skin with lightening creams. I think we need an "Age is Attractive" campaign, so that we can begin to see our wrinkles as badges of honor to take pride in, not something shameful to erase with botox injections.

Personally, I see many older faces that I think are indeed beautiful, and I often wish I were I sculptor so that I could capture that beauty. If I were a sculptor, my statues would be of old faces filled with character, not of callow, vacuous youth. So I think it's tragic when someone who wields such influence as Oprah Winfrey does, and who is herself over 40, perpetuates the idea that their is something inherently so ugly about the aging body that we should be ashamed to show our legs.

I will go on wearing my shorts and work on overcoming the cultural concepts of beauty that I have internalized which tell me my blue-veined, baggy-skinned legs are ugly. Power to the old people!

Posted by whaledancer at 1:37 PM PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 26 June 2006 2:00 PM PDT

Friday, 9 June 2006

Looking in the Mirror
Topic: Body Image

I've never been much of a one for looking at myself in mirrors. Back in my REALLY neurotic days (I'm much better now...honest), I avoided mirrors out of a secret fear that someday I'd look and there'd be no one there. I got over that about 30 years ago, but then I just never developed the mirror habit. I'd look in the mirror when I brushed my hair and that was about it. On those rare occasions when I wanted to check my outfit in the full-length mirror, I usually had to remove the clutter that tends to accumulate in unused corners of my life, before I could get to it.

It's not from a problem with self-image. My self-image has always been pretty darned good. Even at my highest weight, I pictured myself as fat, but I didn't think there was anything unpleasant about my looks; more like roly-poly and dimpled. On the contrary, when I did look in a mirror, it was often an unpleasant surprise, because my self-image was generally better that my mirror image. Occasionally when I was out shopping or something, I had the experience of seeing a pleasant-looking, fat, middle-aged woman come walking toward me, and then realizing with a shock that it was a mirror.

Anyway, it was never much of an issue for me. That is, I never felt a pressing need to develop the habit of looking in mirrors.

Which is why I find it strange that lately I've developed an impulse to look at myself in the mirror. Often. More than once a day. And in all stages of dress. Now, I can honestly say it isn't vanity. It's not that I'm admiring my now-thinner figure (okay, maybe just a little). It's more that I've lost my self-image. I really don't know what I look like now. I sometimes look at other women and wonder "Is that what my figure looks like?" I don't know. So I keep looking in the mirror.

It's still a surprise, although not unpleasant. The person I see in the mirror is older and droopier-looking than I expect. Also thinner. Often more dour-looking than I feel. I feel a private delight in some of the details: "Oh, look, RIBS." "Hmm, only one chin." It's when I'm dressed that I'm most pleased with what I see. Not bad. Pretty much...normal looking.

But the thinness is a recurring surprise. I think one reason I feel drawn to mirrors is a need to check that the fat hasn't snuck back on when I wasn't looking, because the thinness doesn't seem real. I expect it to disappear like Cinderella's ball gown at midnight. After I bought a bunch of size Small tee-shirts, even though I had tried on each of them in the store, when I put them on at home I knew, KNEW, that they would be tight on me. I could hardly believe it when they slipped right on and looked fine. There's this loose cloth where the tee-shirt hangs down from the bust, where I expect the belly-bulge to be.

So maybe there is an element of vanity. Looking in mirrors is more fun than it used to be. But mostly it's surprise and puzzlement. Who IS that woman?

Posted by whaledancer at 6:37 AM PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 9 June 2006 6:53 AM PDT

Thursday, 2 February 2006

Who Said It Would Be Easy?

On weight loss message boards I frequently see posts along the lines of “This program isn’t working. In the last 4 weeks I’ve only lost 1 pound, no matter what I do. If it doesn’t change soon, I’m quitting!” or “I have 75 pounds to lose. At this rate, it’ll take forever. If I don’t start losing faster, I might as well give up,” or “Now that I’m over 50, weight loss is so slow. It’s hard to exercise with arthritis, and my metabolism is slower. It’s too hard to lose weight now.”

I want to ask, where did you get the idea that weight loss would be easy? Most things in life that are important and worthwhile take time, and they aren’t easy. Getting a college degree, raising children, building a good career, finding the right life partner, all of those things take most people years of effort. Weight loss isn’t just about fitting into designer jeans, it’s about adding years to your lifespan, and improving your health and quality of life for those added years. It’s a serious and important undertaking.

So where does this attitude that this SHOULD be easy come from? Is it because you look around and see all these skinny people? First of all, don’t assume they haven’t worked darn hard to get there or stay there. But granted, some people can eat whatever they want without worrying about gaining an ounce. So what? Some people are born rich or with perfect pitch; that doesn’t mean YOU expect to be able to run out and buy a yacht or sing an aria, without working years to get there.

Is it all those TV commercials promising that if you buy their product, you’ll lose 10 pounds in two weeks? Or “I lost 80 pounds with Product X, and I ate chocolate cake and anything else I wanted to. It was EASY! [*results not typical]” Do you really believe the stuff they say in commercials? If so, please e-mail me, I have a few products to sell you that I know you’ll love.

Try reading the real success stories of people who have lost 50, 60, or 100 pounds and kept it off. You don’t find them saying that it was quick or easy. What you DO find is that they say they’re proud of the accomplishment. That’s because they did something that isn’t easy and takes time.

I really think that a lot of the moaning and frustration come from surprise that this is hard, and the realization that it’s going to take time, maybe a lot of time. But it’s not what you’re doing to lose weight that needs to change, it’s the expectation that this will be quick and easy. Just realize that this is another important endeavor, like going to college, that will take effort over a long period of time. The rewards are great: good health, more energy, self-esteem. And you don’t have to wait until you reach your goal weight to start benefiting from your efforts. So just settle in for the long haul and don’t expect to see results every week. Be patient. Keep at it, and you will get there.

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

Thursday, 12 January 2006

Approaching Goal
Topic: Approaching Goal

Self-efficacy is defined by Albert Bandura as "the belief in one's capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to manage prospective situations." My self-efficacy for weight loss has been pretty good, because I've done it so many times before (although I never had so much to lose before). Self-efficacy for maintenance was never a problem, because I never tried to maintain. Each time before when I lost weight, I kinda said "Whew, glad that's over with!" and went back to eating as I had always done. I saw dieting as the price you occasionally had to pay to enjoy life the rest of the time.

My attitude is different this time. I'm not looking at this as a temporary measure, a penalty, a diet. My intention is to make this a permanent change, and to enjoy life doing it. But my self-efficacy for maintenance isn't so high, because it's unknown territory for me. It's not something I KNOW I can do because of having done it before. I'm actively working on having a positive attitude and self-confidence about it. Here's what I'm doing so far:

-- Saying to myself and others, "This time is different. This time it's for life."
-- Burning my bridges by giving away my fat clothes.
-- Arguing with myself every time I have one of those thoughts about "Once I reach goal, I'll ease up," or "Once I reach goal, I can start eating ___ again." Once I reach goal I will keep on doing what I'm doing now.
-- Trying to figure out what I'll use for motivation once the scale isn't moving down and I'm not getting comments about my weight loss from friends.
-- Reminding myself that "persistence, not perfection" applies to maintenance, too. If I hit one of those times when life gets in the way, or if I lose my motivation and gain a couple pounds, it's not failure, it's part of learning how to do this. I need to figure out what I learn from it and keep going.

I'm telling myself, "I can do it," but in the back of my mind there is a question, a little doubt. I'm afraid that if I'm too confident I'll look foolish if I fail. I really want to say, "I can do it, knock wood." I'm assuming that I will grow more confident once I start doing it, and proving to myself that I can. Right now I'm nervous about it.

Posted by whaledancer at 12:01 AM PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 9 June 2006 6:46 AM PDT

Thursday, 3 November 2005

Fear of Change
Topic: Change
[This entry refers to my experiences on Weight Watchers, first on their Flex plan, where foods are assigned a point value and you are given a daily points target, then on the new Core plan, where you select foods from a list of low-energy-density foods and only count points for foods not on the list.]

When I first started Weight Watchers (this time), the scariest thing to me was hearing people talk about developing a new relationship with food. I didn't want a new relationship with food, I liked my old relationship just fine, thank you. I saw my way of relating to food as part of what defined me as Myself. I was a foodie, I liked being a foodie, and I didn't want to give up being a foodie. Maybe it was a dysfunctional relationship, but I loved food. I loved everything about food: the taste, the texture, the smell. I loved eating food, cooking food, shopping for food, talking about food. Without that, there would be a big gap in my life.

So at first my plan was to make what changes I had to temporarily, to lose weight, and then go back to doing what I'd been doing. But after I while, my goal changed. I decided that I really didn't want to yoyo anymore, that this time I wanted to take the weight off and keep it off permanently. I realized that to do that, I was going to have to make some permanent changes.

So my next plan was to develop moderation. I would still enjoy all the foods I always had, just not as much or as often. I have to say, this didn't work too well for me. For one thing, it requires will-power; not something I possess in abundance. That whole idea of eating a little bite of something wonderful, and truly savoring it? I do that. I do it with the first bite, and the next, and the next. I can eat just one bite of pie, to see what it's like and have a little sweet taste. But one bite of brie? Not if there's another bite left in front of me. Or one almond? Not likely. Yes, Virginia, there are such things as trigger foods.

The other problem with that plan was that when I was saving points for high-calorie treats that I loved, I was hungry too much of the time. It seemed like I would have to choose between feeling deprived or feeling hungry. That was when I began my search for foods that were filling, but didn't use a lot of points. I began to consider the fullness factor of what I ate, that is, how much satiety a food provides for the calories it costs. Eating those foods helped keep down the hunger.

But there was another, secret side to my relationship with food that I hadn't been willing to look at or acknowledge, much less to change. It was something I covered up with my love of food, my appreciation of the esthetics of food. That was, the way I use food as an emotional crutch. The way that when I'm angry or hurt or scared or stressed, I blunt the experience of those feelings and distract my attention away from them by eating. It kind of takes the edge off the emotions so that I find them easier to handle. The idea of facing my feelings head on, without a shield of food, scared the heck out of me. I realized that the real reason I didn't want my relationship with food to change was that I was scared to give up food as a crutch. So much so, that I hadn't even allowed myself to acknowledge that I used it that way (although deep down, I knew it).

I have begun to modify that behavior a little at a time. I've started looking for other ways to calm myself when I'm upset, like going outside or taking deep, slow breaths. I try drinking water instead of eating. I began to face emotional situations without eating, by starting small. That is, when I'm not so seriously upset. And hey, I survived that, so now I'm beginning to face more upsetting situations without my "crutch." Another change I'm making is in what I eat when I'm upset. Instead of eating sweet or fatty foods, I reach for fruit or vegetables, so it won't do as much damage and won't trigger even more cravings. But I still have a long way to go in changing this pattern of behavior. My first instinct when the going gets rough is to turn to food. Baby steps.

While I have been working on making that change, other changes have taken place without real effort on my part. When I switched to eating foods that fill me up better, I discovered that I was eating mostly foods that are on the Core food list, so it seemed an easy transition to switch to the Core plan. Being on Core has worked some surprising changes.

The first change I noticed was that the food cravings are gone. I used to have times when I just wanted to eat everything in sight. I could eat until my stomach was stuffed, and it still didn't stop the cravings. That doesn't happen anymore. I think it must be that feeling hungry is my body's way of trying to get me to eat foods that contain nutrients it's lacking, and now that I'm eating such nutritious foods, I'm not missing nutrients.

Then I began to notice my tastes changing. Fruit tasted sweeter, and SO good. I started to like foods I hadn't in the past, like couscous, garbanzo beans, yogurt, grits, brown rice. Greasy foods lost their appeal. I began to enjoy steamed vegetables without butter or cheese sauce; I could taste the subtle differences in their flavors. I found that I would actually rather have oatmeal with mashed banana than sausage and eggs and hash browns. I even started to like salad without dressing sometimes. Then the foods that I thought I couldn't, wouldn't want to live without, like cheese, pizza, bread, tortillas and wine, began to not really matter. Though I can spend points on them, I am so satisfied with the Core foods, most of the time I don't bother.

It was as though my worst fears were being realized and I started to wonder who this strange person was. Then I realized, I'm still a foodie. I still love food. Something that tastes wonderful still makes me want to wag my tail (and that's a sight to see, I assure you), it's just different foods that make me feel that way. I still love reading cookbooks, talking about food, shopping, cooking, and eating. I'm just enjoying different, more wholesome foods.

And you know what? It wasn't eating gourmet foods that made me fat. It wasn't savoring the tastes of fine food, even the high-fat ones like brie, creme brule, and cheesecake. It was processed junk and fast-food garbage, foods to make a real foodie blush. Hot Pockets, frozen burritos, gummy worms, cheese puffs, Jack-in-the-Box chicken, MacJunk. Not even stuff that tastes good. Is it any wonder a bowl of homemade soup or roast chicken or grilled vegetables tastes better to me? Is it any wonder I like what I'm doing now better?

So now I'm eating foods that are better for my health, I'm not hungry, I don't have heartburn, and I'm losing weight without struggling. These are changes that I can live with.

Posted by whaledancer at 3:34 PM PST | Post Comment | View Comments (2) | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 22 January 2006 2:07 PM PST

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

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