Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Feeling Programmed

A while ago Chili left this comment vis a vis The Year of Living Weightlessly:

"Two questions - one: do you think it'll ever stop feeling like a program (do you think you'll ever get to the point where you don't have to think about it anymore) and two: how was the movie [The Other Boleyn Girl]? I was kind of lukewarm about the book, and I'm wondering if I'd enjoy the film more."

I've been waiting to have some time to devote to answering the first question and it wasn't until I pasted the comment here just now that I realized I'd forgotten about the second question entirely. The movie is good, it's maybe a little slow but I didn't mind so much. It's not a pressing adventure sort of thing, it meanders at a period-appropriate pace to the inevitably sword vs. neck conclusion. I haven't read the book yet so I can't compare the two.

So now on to the weight loss program question which I've been thinking about and writing paragraphs in my head for since she wrote in. The short answer is "absolutely yes and positively no" to both halves of the question. The short answer, however, will never do. It's not a challenge with a short solution and that's what's at issue here.

Pretty much every time someone asks me about the weight loss the conversation goes like this:

"How did you lose the weight?"

"Actually I went with Weight Watchers."

(Dejectedly) "Oh."

I've learned to deliver my line as bad news since it's never what someone wants to hear. They want to hear that I had an injection or a lobotomy or a tape worm or absolutely anything that doesn't require more than a token amount of effort or thought on my part. I've actually had people grill me on the program and how I handle it and it's not until we've been about 10 minutes into it that it dawns on me that what they're fishing for is not how to get the program to work for them but to be convinced that it's OK that it will never work for them so they don't have to try it. I wish I were quicker on the uptake because if that's what someone really wants I can knock that out in one compound sentence.

"You know, it's probably not for you, which is fine, I think you look great!"

The first thing I'd say is that it doesn't ever become something you completely stop thinking about or get completely used to. It's a change in the way you think. If you were trying to learn a new language the same would be true. Sure, you'd eventually get to the point where you're thinking in Urdu not hearing, translating and speaking but it's still a second language, it's still a bit different but not so different it matters.

That being said, have you ever learned a language? How long did it take you to get to that point where you're already thinking in Farsi? You can learn the basic principles of the program in a week, hell, in a day if you want to go all intense. You can commit them to memory and be able to recite them like the Pledge of Allegiance. That is, however, only the tiniest portion of the battle. There's some rule of thumb that it takes 21 days to make a habit. I've found that to be true with things like writing every day or cleaning or putting disgusting crap on the trough in my forehead. The thing about food is that you're developing habits about all different kinds of food and all the different possible eating situations. You can probably develop a workable breakfast, lunch and dinner in 21 days but you're going to need 21 dinner invitations and 21 restaurant visits and 21 birthdays and 21 shitty days at work before you've made a habit out of how you deal with them. Which is to say that it's going to take more than 21 days to absorb this new way of eating and of looking at food into your brain and body. A lot more.

I did Weight Watchers online, I didn't go to the meetings but I did fill out the stupid little chart with the annoying listing of what I ate. I filled it in religiously every day for the first month and I filled it out religiously 6 days a week for at least 3 months after that before I could do the math of what I was eating in my head. Think of it like writing with good grammar, you have to actually know the rules, in your bones, before you can break them in a way that's innovative instead of ignorant. You know?

People want to hear my tricks for weight loss and, I gotta say, there aren't any real tricks but here are some things that worked for me. Your mileage will most certainly vary.

I don't mind being bored with what I eat. Once I found a combination of foods that added up to my daily points value I was OK with eating them over and over and over because it took the math out of it. It takes the thinking out of it as much as you can. As a result what I eat has changed at the speed of evolution. I now have a repertoire of a few dishes that I can mix and match like Garanimals.

I don't mind eating stuff that looks gross. One of my current favorite easy to make, easy to freeze, easy to bring to work meals is chicken, shallots, chicken broth, mashed up cauliflower and cut up carrots that have been crock potted on low for like 10 hours. Do you know what that does to food? It turns it all a uniform shade of brown and makes everything so mushy it looks like sludge. Zelda would call it slurry. You could not serve this to a child and expect even a bite of it to be eaten. Also, cauliflower is stinky.

I do my best to stay within my daily points 6 days a week and then one day a week I don't count my points at all, I just assume that I'll eat up my flex points for the week on that day. I'm generally aware of what I'm eating but I don't do the math. Usually this 7th day is one where I'm going to someone's house for dinner or going out to dinner or have a drinks meeting. Restaurant food is really hard to count so I'd basically tighten the belt all week, tighten it some more on the day of and then make a smart but indulgent selection in the evening. (N.B. I did religiously count restaurant and friend-prepared food for at least the first month.)

I really didn't want to be that chick who talks about her weight loss program every second of every day to anyone who will listen. Turns out it's inevitable to be this chick to some extent. I do consciously make an effort to shut the hell up. Some days I'm more successful than others. However, talking about it often got me a huge amount of help and encouragement so not talking about it at all is stupid, too.

Best advice I was ever given was during the 2nd week or so when I was hungry all the time and I was so hungry and so frustrated that I was petrified to eat anything at all so I e-mailed a friend who has worked the program at different levels for years. Her wife e-mailed me right back. "DO NOT GO HUNGRY! THAT WILL NOT HELP. Go to your pantry and eat all the 0 and 1 point vegetables you can stand. Wait 10 minutes and if you're still hungry do it again. You're trying to make the bulk of your diet, the things that fill you up, vegetables instead of proteins or starches." Some people eat a bunch of veggies at the start of a meal so they'll have less room for the higher point stuff. I keep this info in mind every day as a beacon, "As god is my witness, I'll nevah go hungreh again!"

I tripled my daily walking the moment I started the program. This is where mileage will literally vary because before I was on the program I walked about a mile a day. Now I walk 2.5 to 3 miles every day that I go to work. Lately I'm fucking hating that walk to and from the train with a fiery passion. So bored. B.O.R.E.D. Yes I have an iPod, yes I vary my route, yes I wear different shoes. There are only so many ways to get from point C to point F as it were.

At a certain point that walking stopped helping me. I still need to do it to maintain my success but it's not getting me any closer to goal. Your body gets used to stuff so it stops losing weight. I try to do a little more at least 3 days a week now and it's helping but the closer you get to goal the slower the going is. Your body is just mean that way.

I never got to a point where eating this way or exercising this way made me feel "better." You know how people say that after they get used to exercising or eating their veggies it started giving them all this energy and this huge sense of well-being? I'm inclined to think those people are full of something that's not chocolate. I fucking hate to exercise and no matter what sorts of things I do and what reasons I find to continue to do them I do not love them and I do not feel all "whoopee!" when I do them. Exercise will always be a program for me and I'll always be looking for a way out of it.

I cheat on weigh in. I will weigh in a day early to gauge how close I am before Monday's official weigh in. If, on Monday, I'm not where I'd like to be I wait and have a redo on Tuesday before I record my weight. I weigh in pre-breakfast, post shower, naked and thoroughly dry for maximum weightlessness. If I don't like what I see I will also re-weigh right away just in case my position on the scale or the scale's position on the floor are impacting my reading.

I get freaked out now if my comfort foods aren't available at my grocery place every week. It feels like my whole hope of progress gets mangled if I don't have safety foods in place. I can deal if can't get them but it makes me a little edgy.

I'm lucky enough to have had someone lend me a scale that measures in half pounds. Before I had that the interminable 2 week wait (or more!) to lose a pound was demoralizing. Also, I've measured my weight on the same scale for the entire time. All this loss is relative. When the doc weighs me on the big scale at his office I'm about 10 lbs heavier than the numbers I'm tossing around here but since I started out at 153 on my home scale I'm working entirely in numbers relative to that.

The moment I hit publish I'll think of 18 other things to tell you but I think this has been plenty long even for the long answer so I'm cutting myself off.

Does that answer your question?


  1. It DOES answer my question - and I'm waiting to hear the 18 more things you've got to say about it!

    Are you to the point where you're not paying for the program anymore? Have you come to a place where you know Farsi well enough to get to the airport without your Farsi/English dictionary?

  2. great post, kizz. I've been on program for a year and 4 months. I started at 235. 235. How was that me? I am about a pound away from being under 200lbs for the first time in oh, say 6 years! It is everything you say. I eat the same stuff. i slurry stuff up. I get a fat kick out of 0 point stuff. The exercise...once i start I'm so proud of myself I just keep doing it. I would follow someone off a cliff if it'd make me thin...getting started however...I haven't been to the gym in a month. Since the house buying started. But that's ok.
    I cheat too..sometimes I don't go to meetings and weigh in. Didn't go last week. Felt fat. But i give myself those days. I'm going back tmorrow, whatever the number.
    I love this program. It's worked for me. For someone who has struggled for a lifetime. I have done every diet. Every boot camp. Taken pills by the fistfulls. Listened to hypnosis tapes. Given up a thousand times. It takes dedication. Deciding. I decided. And holy crap so did you!! I'm so proud of your skinny self!!! xoxoxoxo (sorry for the epic)

  3. I find that I have success with weight loss when I do that 6+1 thing. And it works no matter the type of plan you are following. Now. If I could just follow through for a longer expanse of time...

  4. Despite that disgusting chicken and cauliflower thing you are eating, you continue to be my hero. I think you should write a diet book and call it Dieting As A Second Language. It would be a big hit.

  5. Anonymous9:25 PM

    Great, thoughtful post.

    Why do doctors' scales always give a weight 10 pounds heavier than at home?!?

    Oh my god, I can't believe Garanimals are still around!!! I had 2 Garanimals shirts that were identical designs with different colors and I somehow ended up wearing them in 2 consecutive school pictures - I think the 2nd and 3rd grades!

  6. I get freaked out now if my comfort foods aren't available at my grocery place every week. It feels like my whole hope of progress gets mangled if I don't have safety foods in place. I can deal if can't get them but it makes me a little edgy.
    Yes! Yes! Yes!
    This is so maddening.
    Control Janet Jackson! You've got it! So nice to read this. I mean how many thngs do you change about your life to make your life healthier? Lots. And that is something to spread around. You have experience and wisdom to offer.
    Its my fault you haven't read the Other Boelyn Girl. I said I would send it and Flop, I did not.
    Moving you to the very top of the list. I will get this done this weekend.
    You deserve much praise and have so much to be proud of!
    Do work Sister!

  7. Chili, I'm still paying because, from what I understand, the maintenance part is the most important so I'm continuing to pay until I have at least a month of maintenance under my belt and can handle it on my own.

    Anytime I'm staying within points and not recording stuff I'm flying without my dictionary. Of course chances are my grammar is abominable.

    34 lbs in a year, Zelda? That's awesome!

    Yeah, Seester, the whole "you'll be doing this for the rest of your life" thing freaks me right the fuck out.

    Kath, that is a brilliant title! I'd love to use it. Since this is the first time I've ever properly dieted or done a weight loss program I feel like I'm cheating if I'm giving advice. I mean, I don't have as much experience as a lot of people.

    I was shocked that Garanimals were still around too. I wish the made them for grown ups.

    Gert, don't feel bad about the book. I'll get hold of it one way or another. No guilt, not if we can help it.