What to Eat and When: The Biggest Loser Challenge – Week 2

Biggest Loser

After our delightful family brunch on Sunday in Los Angeles, I knew I was not going to have any fun at all when I stepped on the scale on Monday morning.  I consider myself lucky that I only gained 3/5 of a pound.  It was worth it.  If you ever have a chance to visit Mort’s Deli/Bea’s Bakery on Clark Street in Tarzana, you’ll know what I mean.  I’ll tell you one thing, you can’t get a Dr. Brown’s diet cherry soda or an egg cream out here in the middle of the desert.

Since my return from LA, I’ve been trying to improve my eating habits toward the goal of coming up with better numbers on the scale.  In the first week of my company’s Biggest Loser Challenge, employees lost 555 pounds; my own location didn’t contribute much to it.  In fact, only one of our five team members lost any weight at all.

Reducing my intake is an obvious tack, but a more difficult decision is what to eat and even when to eat it.  Growing up, I learned about the famous Food Pyramid.  The bread, cereal, rice and pasta group was at the bottom with 6 to 11 (!) servings per day, then the vegetables and fruits, then the proteins, and finally, “fats and sweets” at the apex (“use sparingly”).

But these days, the word is that carbohydrates are bad, that they raise your blood sugar and cause you to gain weight.  The pendulum has swung.  Six to eleven servings of carbs per day is decidedly out of style.  Diets such as Scarsdale and Pritikin have become popular, featuring lots of protein and banishing those nasty carbs.

It has been interesting seeing how some of my fellow bloggers weigh in (ooo, bad pun) on this issue.  Alex Freeman stands with the go-go protein coterie and urges high intensity exercise.  Steven Waddell, on the other hand, says eat carbs at every meal, think happy thoughts and love yourself unconditionally.  He also says “when in doubt, eat more fat.”  I think I like this guy.  Anyone who is a fan of butter is definitely on my side.

Some of my favorite advice comes from Michael Pollan, whose formula for health is:  “Eat food.  Mostly plants.  Not too much.”  Balm for my near-vegetarian heart, particularly since he is all gung-ho on omega-3 fats and has no objection at all to my enjoyment of fish protein.

Planning seems to be the pivotal factor in making smarter food choices.  If I think “I’m hungry” and grab the first appealing thing I come across in the refrigerator, the cupboard, or (heaven help us) the snack cabinet at work, I will end up stuffing my face with items that Pollan would not consider “food” and that will undoubtedly cause me to gain weight.  But if I have a sandwich, a salad and some fruit ready to go, chances are I will stick with the program.

As if it weren’t hard enough to figure out what to eat, even when to eat is at issue these days.  Some say to eat protein before you exercise; others cite a “protein window” that closes a short time after exercise.  But for sedentary fat cats like myself, I recently read that when you eat does not really make much of a difference.  The “don’t eat at night” rule, I read, is mostly a misguided myth.

That is, until last week, when I read that, in fact, the timing of one’s meals does make a big difference in how satisfied we feel, how efficiently our metabolism runs and ultimately, whether we gain or lose weight.  This school of thought posits that we need fuel to get our bodies going in the morning.  Some say this means protein for breakfast, others say this means eat carbs early in the day.  Breakfast is not really my thing, but I stopped dead in my tracks when I read that the old bugbear about avoiding night eating is actually true.  There are those who recommend that we don’t eat within three hours of going to bed.

Well, this is even more of a problem for me than the breakfast issue.  For me, following this rule can only mean one thing:  Don’t eat dinner at all.  Although I have a proclivity for staying up late, recently I have begun to change my ways by going to bed much earlier and getting enough sleep.  During the week, by the time I get home from work I’m not even awake for another three hours.

So I’ve tried something new.  I talked with my wife and asked that, whatever she wants to prepare for my dinner, she should simply pack up in a plastic container and it will be my breakfast and lunch for the following day.  Yesterday, I had eggplant parmagiana for breakfast and fruit for lunch.  Today, I had a sandwich for breakfast and baked garlic Portobello mushrooms for lunch.  No dinner for me.

“Don’t you get hungry at night?” one of my coworkers asked me.  Sometimes, I responded.  But I am slowly learning that feeling hungry tends to be a temporary thing that goes away after a while.  If I’m really that hungry, I eat a piece of fruit.

I am also reading that weight loss can be improved when one evens out the metabolism by eating tiny bits throughout the day.  So I crunch on celery while I’m working at my desk and I usually break for an apple or some strawberries in the afternoon.  I drink two liters of club soda, mineral water or decaffeinated tea during the day.

Is any of this going to make one bit of difference to my weight loss efforts?  I haven’t a clue at this point.  Perhaps I am fooling myself and it is all for naught.  Only the scale will tell.

I will say this, however.  We celebrated one of my coworkers’ birthdays today with banana splits.  I wanted to participate in the festivities and I did not want to feel deprived.  It is said that confession is good for the soul, so here goes:  I skipped the banana and served myself one spoonful of ice cream with a drizzle of chocolate syrup, a tiny dollop of whipped cream and three maraschino cherries.

Not exactly diet foot, but I didn’t do too badly, don’t you think?


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.

The Magnificent Seven

scale 1

So my employer has decided to up the ante on its wellness program by holding an eleven-week weight loss contest this summer.

Now, when I hear the term “weight loss,” I generally run the other way.  Well, maybe not run.  I am far too out of shape for that.  Turn my back and shamble away would be more like it.

I am what the doctors refer to as “morbidly obese,” as well as a couch potato and more than a bit of a food snob.  So a weight loss contest is way out of my league, to say the least.

I think about all the food programs my mother tried to put me on when I was growing up.  “I’m gonna put you on a starvation diet!” my mother would yell when we returned home from an appointment with the pediatrician, appalled and embarrassed at the numbers that appeared on the scale.  He had handed us a printed diet that included caloric values for foods with strange sounding names like kale and kohlrabi.  The sole item listed under “desserts” was 5-calorie gelatin.

I thought “diet” was merely a variant of the word “die” and that “exercise” was a dirtier word than the things my classmates scratched into the stall walls in the boys’ bathroom.  I wanted nothing to do with physical activity; I wanted to curl up in a corner with a book.  Nevertheless, I would be sent outside with a handball to bat against the garage doors.  Then there was the time with the punching bag and the time with the set of barbells and dumbells and the time my mother browbeat my father into hitting tennis balls with me.

My religious elementary school sent us out to play but really didn’t care whether I ran the baseball diamond or just sat under the apple tree.  Guess which one I did?  Junior high and high school phys ed was pure misery that I’d prefer not to relive by detailed description.  Being forced to assist my father with the yardwork was one of the low points of my life.  I got good at hiding and devised all types of devious methods of sneaking ice cream and cookies.  I blush to admit that at least one of those involved outright stealing.  Sigh.

Perhaps I can convey a bit of the idea of how prominent a role food played in my early life by pointing out that the gift I most begged my parents for at the age of six was a soda machine.

Considering the above, it should be no surprise to anyone that I’ve been massively overweight from toddlerhood until today, as I stand on the brink of senior citizenship.  Now, everyone knows how dangerous extra weight is to one’s health.  Obesity brings on a litany of diseases and drugs, most of which have come a-callin’ and then decided to take up residence like so many houseguests of questionable character who I cannot bear to throw out into the street despite the fact they have long since overstayed their welcomes.

Just take this weight-loss contest as an opportunity and a blessing, I tell myself, while in my heart I convinced that the whole thing is nothing more than an insufferable pain in the ass.

The Human Resources Department is calling the contest “The Biggest Loser,” named after the TV show.  Although we must have weekly weigh-ins like on the show (hopefully without the corny beep-beep-beep sound effects), I am happy to say that there are no five-mile jogs, treadmills or stationary bicycles involved.

Interested employees are to form teams of three to ten.  Success is judged not by the number of pounds lost, but by the percentage of body weight lost.  This means that I will need to lose somewhere between ten and twenty pounds for every pound that some of my already skinny coworkers lose.  Just when I curse the unfairness of it all, I am reminded that it will probably be more difficult for them to lose one pound than it will be for me to lose twenty.  Okay, point taken.

My employer has more than a dozen locations, so there are bound to be a lot of teams.  This means there will be a lot of competition.  I started asking around as to which of my nine team members wish to participate.  Seven of them said yes.  Seven!  Well, six plus me.  The rules say that now we have to come up with a team name.  I vote that we dub ourselves The Magnificent Seven.

I got the group together informally on Friday afternoon and promised them that I would not let them down.  I gave them the rah-rah talk about how we’re already good at teamwork and how this going to be a piece of cake.  Er, a celery stick and a carrot, I mean.  We might have to compete with ten or twenty other teams, but with a little determination, I think we have a very good shot at beating them all.

I still can’t believe I agreed to do this.  The easy way out would have been to just ignore this contest and smile weakly when I walk by coworkers’ desks and hear them regaling each other with stories of their successes.

There is something about being a supervisor, however.  You can’t just say “you do your thing, I’ll do mine.”  You have to be a leader, even (especially) when it’s not too convenient to do so.

And who knows?  Maybe this time I’ll finally keep the weight off and turn my life around.