Dieting, Family and a Quick Trip to La La Land

traffic jelly


Those who call Los Angeles home seem to take the insane freeway traffic in stride.  For those who live elsewhere, however, driving here can be a disconcerting and frustrating experience.

I feel sorry for the poor woman stuck in the #4 lane of a five-lane stretch of the 101.  I don’t know whether her car was experiencing mechanicsl problems or whether she just ran out of gas, but she was helplessly waving both arms, signaling drivers to go around her on both sides.  The net effect of this woman’s very bad day was that traffic was backed up for miles.  We sat on the freeway, stopped, then inched forward in little jerks and starts for nearly an hour.  Grateful that Donna was driving, I took out a novel and began reading aloud for a bit of distraction.

Advice to my 16 year old niece who just earned her driver’s license last week:  Stay off the L.A. freeways for a while.

Fortunately, my niece lives far away in northern California and we live out in the desert.  It takes five minutes to drive anywhere in my little burg.  I can’t get over how it takes an hour and a quarter to get just a few miles down the road here in La La Land.

Freeways aside, the urban sprawl feels, well, unnatural.  The way houses and shops are crowded together and piled atop one another in a jumbled heap, a visual cacophony punctuated by a million signs in a Babel of languages – Spanish, Korean, Arabic, Mandarin, English – reminds me of certain photos I have seen of Hong Kong and Tokyo. More to my personal experience, I am reminded of Queens Boulevard in New York City, only multiplied by a factor of six.

It is probably best for me to stay out of Los Angeles as much as possible, not only because I enjoy the slower pace of life in the desert, but also because there are just too many great restaurants here. Despite the gym rats and muscle men who strut their stuff down at the beach, this place is an eater’s paradise.

Let’s just say that I do not look forward to my weigh-in tomorrow. At all. Although I have stayed away from the traveling temptations of junk food, we did stop for a decent lunch on the road and then there was the matter of our family dinner last night.

It’s not like I didn’t make an effort. I picked at the starchy appetizer, ate less than a quarter of my giant baked potato and drank plenty of water. We found a grocery store and brought fresh fruit and club soda back to the hotel room for late night munching.

Our time with my family was rather predictable. My sister, who I hadn’t seen in two years, showed me photos of her cats and griped about her jerk of a boss and an even jerkier coworker who enjoys showing off his knowledge of the plural forms of the scientific names of male and female reproductive organs. My nephew complained to the staff about there not being enough sauce on his pizza, then proceeded to spend the rest of the evening engaged in a deep discussion of Japanese grammar and syntax with his sister, ignoring everyone else at table. My mother was annoyed with me for not having visited recently enough to see her new dishwasher and kitchen faucets. And so it goes.

Next up is Sunday brunch at a bakery/deli that has the best rye bread this side of the Bronx and my favorite sugar-free cookies in all of California.

Face it, I’m gonna be fat forever.

The Biggest Loser – Week 1

Biggest Loser

Last week was the start of my company’s eleven-week Biggest Loser challenge.  Five of us from my location formed a team with the decidedly uninspired name of Waist Watchers.  I realized how dull our team is when I saw a spreadsheet listing some of the other team names.  My favorite is Oh Well, Pass the Gravy!

After one week, we had our weigh-in on Monday.  Waist Watchers ended up in 19th place out of thirty teams.  Not very impressive, to be sure, but we could have done worse.  As for myself, I was not able to weigh in until Wednesday, as I was away in Marysville for my niece’s high school graduation on Monday.

Well, you know what traveling can do to one’s waistline.  There is the constant temptation of junk food and fast food on the interstate.  Compound this with celebratory cake and ice cream, the superb cooking of my mother-in-law and sister-in-law, and an excellent restaurant meal on the drive home.

Well, ha ha ha and poo on all of that!  I ate salad, coffee and a very, very sour pickle on the trip up.  I ate only one delightful home-cooked meal and I managed to summon sufficient will power to skip the cake and ice cream.  As for the excellent meal on the way home, I went easy on the bread and ate mostly salad and vegetable-laden minestrone soup.

So what was the result?  I lost ten pounds!  That put me far in the lead of anyone else on my team.  It was the least I could do, considering that I weigh over one hundred pounds more than any of my teammates.  The team and individual winners of this challenge are determined by percentage of body weight lost, not number of pounds lost.  This is fair in that it creates a more level playing field, although it means that I have my work cut out for me.

The one award in this contest that I am 100% guaranteed not to win is the one for longevity and perseverance, won by the participant who maintains the greatest of his or her weight loss for an entire year.  I will be quite content just to get through these eleven weeks.  Keeping it off for a year would require lifestyle changes that (let’s face it) I am just not willing to make.

Many years ago, long before the Lord brought me and my wonderful wife together, I dated a woman who wanted me to go on the Medi-Fast program and had the nerve to ask me “How can you be so fat if you’re a vegetarian?”  I am proud enough of my comeback that I have never forgotten it:  “Have you ever seen a skinny cow?”

Conventional wisdom has it that the first few pounds lost are mostly “water weight.”  While I have always believed this premise, I now have to wonder about its accuracy.  Even when not dieting, I always keep myself well hydrated.  Only now I face a double challenge:  I also decided to get off that evil chemical, aspartame.  Although I drank regular, sugary soda until my mid-thirties, when I was diagnosed with diabetes, since then I have been a heavy consumer of the diet stuff.

Why am I getting off aspartame now?  Like so many other aspects of life, this was a matter of several things converging at once.  My wife independently suggested this move the very week that one of my coworkers informed me that aspartame was initially invented as a rat poison.  I do think it has contributed to my headaches and other nasty symptoms.  So now, each day at work, I consume a two liter bottle of mineral water or club soda.  Today, my wife prepared a delightful treat for me, iced herbal tea sweetened with a little apple juice.

One would think the amount of liquid I consume would counterbalance any “water weight” that I lose.  Yet I am told that those who drink more lose more weight than those who do not.  Apparently, the body retains water (which is quite heavy) when not much of it is incoming.  Conversely, when one drinks aplenty as I do, the body says “there’s more than enough in here” and dumps out the excess.

For some reason, drinking plain water, even when ice cold, seems to give me a stomach ache.  However, when I drink carbonated water, I do not have this problem.  Furthermore, the carbonation seems to help fill me up with air rather than with calories.  I have a feeling club soda, seltzer and carbonated mineral water are going to be my best friends.

I have a confession to make:  On Friday of last week, when my coworkers were eating donuts, I snuck around the corner and weighed myself.  Yes, I know the weigh-in is not until Monday, but my curiosity as to how I was doing got the better of me.  I was disappointed to find that I had actually gained weight.  This turned out to be the kick in the pants that I needed.  I knew I had to be meticulous about what I ate for the next few days, even though a road trip was in the offing.  As you may imagine, I was quite surprised when I was down ten pounds at the weigh-in!

Well, I did the same thing again today.  And wouldn’t you know it, I gained weight again.  Well, this is going to be a fun weekend!

So what are some of my weight loss challenges?

  • The potato chips, candy bars and cookies for sale in the break room at work.  I have tried to counteract this by bringing in a tray of apples.
  • Breakfast.  Everyone says that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and that dieters particularly need to get a protein fix in the morning.  Well, I don’t have time for breakfast before work and I don’t enjoy eating it in any event.  Okay, I do have a thing for egg muffin sandwiches and greasy hash browns from the drive-through.  But I have sworn those off for obvious reasons.  I still think breakfast is a waste and I can’t be bothered with it.  If I have to restrict calories, I’d rather consume the few that I can have later in the day when I can enjoy them.
  • Bread.  No explanation needed.
  • Night snacking.  The “nothing after dinner” rule is a killer for me.  I snack on celery during the day, eat plenty of veggies at dinner and just want to taste something sweet later on.  Luckily for me, strawberries are in season here in California.
  • Bread.
  • Travel and family events.  I can only eat so many side salads with no dressing from Burger King before I never want to see another lettuce leaf again.  We have a couple of meals out planned for this weekend while we’re in Los Angeles for my nephew’s college graduation.  There is just too much temptation, and there is no way that I am going to eat ahead of time.  Besides, when you’re in a motel, as we find ourselves quite often, your choices are limited.
  • Did I mention bread?


National Donut Day



So we end our day in Buttonwillow, a tiny crossroads off the interstate highway, about halfway between our home in the desert and our family in northern California. Six hours of driving down, six more hours to go in the morning.

This lengthy trip follows a full day of working. Not just any workday, mind you. National Donut Day.

You may think I am kidding, but I assure you I am not. I know this because Dunkin’ Donuts sent me an email reminding me.

Last night, I thought briefly about bringing in donuts to work for my staff.  To honor the day properly, you understand.  Ultimately, however, I decided against it. Along with four of my staff, I am participating in the company’s Biggest Loser weight loss challenge.  Now, is it just me, or would you agree that donuts do not quite fit in with this theme?

My hope was that no one at work would know that it was National Donut Day.

Well, fat chance of that! (Ooo, bad pun.). They knew alright.  And then they started whining about how they wanted donuts.  I reminded them about our weight loss challenge, but they remained undeterred.

Capitulating (caving in, like the sucker that I am), I headed to our little local donut shop.  I certainly wasn’t about to drive hours to Dunkin’ Donuts in Phoenix.

Arriving at the donut shop, I quickly learned that EVERYONE knew about National Donut Day.  Everyone except the owners, that is.  They had made no preparations and the place was just about cleaned out.

My conversation with one of the owners went something like this:

“I need a dozen.  Do you have any Boston creme?”

“No, sorry, all out.”

“Do you have any chocolate cake donuts?”

“Sorry, all out.”

“How about blueberry?”

“All out.”

“You don’t have much, do you?”

“A lot of people came in this morning. They bought two, three dozen donuts.  We didn’t know it’s National Donut Day.”

“Don’t you go on the Internet?”

(sheepish grin)  “Our son just told us.”

Well, isn’t that just ducky!  Now what am I supposed to tell my sugar-craving staff?  I looked around and decided to make the best of it.  What was left were maple bars, coconut donuts and plain glazed donuts.

The owners agreed to fill some of the maple bars for me, two with creme and three with jelly.  Then I added some of the coconut and glazed donuts to the box.

Feeling pretty pleased with the results under the circumstances, I asked to be rung up.  The total for 9 donuts?  Thirteen dollars!

I blanched.  I only had ten dollars in my wallet!  Sighing, I took out my credit card.

“Cash only!” yelled the owner, pointing to the sign I had overlooked.

The glazed and coconut donuts came out of the box. For ten dollars, I could get the filled maple bars, with some pieces of broken donuts thrown in as a measure of good will.

So there would only be five donuts (plus some broken pieces) for eight people.  Well, the maple bars were pretty big; maybe they would share.  Sorry, guys.

Well, share they did and it all worked out perfectly.  And I am happy to report that I did not touch a single donut. After all, I recently found out what donuts are fried in commercially.  You don’t want to know.

Thanks, Smart ‘n Final.  A little bit of knowledge goes a long way.  And maybe, thanks to you, I might actually lose some weight.