August 1, 2008

That’s me singing the Banana Bread Song.

WOW, that joke is horrible. Get me, I’m intolerable!

So I had these bananas that were clearly within a day or two of going bad, but right before bananas go bad, they go through that phase where they’re very dark and very soft but not yet bad, and that’s the moment where they cry out to you, “Use me to make banana bread.”

And for once, instead of watching something go bad while chastising myself for not making something out of it, I actually made banana bread. I used this recipe from Cooking Light, pretty much exactly as written. My only modification was that after the prescribed hour of cooking time, it looked good on the outside, but when I put a knife into it, I pulled out banana pudding. So, needless to say, it required about another ten minutes of baking time, but it didn’t dry out or overcook on the outside in the meantime. As a friend of mine was saying the other day, quick breads can be kind of temperamental, and I think with something as vague as very ripe bananas, the cooking time could be altered by anything from how ripe and mushy they are to how much volume you actually get — I just used three ripe bananas; it’s not like I measured the mashed banana to make sure it was a cup and a half.

Let me tell you, this stuff is so good. With light quick breads, as you know if you’ve ever made them, the risk is that they will be incredibly dry. If you’ve ever made a supposedly healthy applesauce bread and wound up feeling like you’re trying to do that parlor trick where you eat six Saltines in a minute, you know just what I’m talking about. But with banana bread, it’s so moist from all the fruit that there’s no danger of that at all. You could probably make this with oil instead of butter for a bit less saturated fat, but a quarter-cup for an entire loaf…you know. It’s not that bad. My only hesitation is that it uses white flour exclusively. I’d like to try it with some whole-grain flour or something else that would give it a bit of fiber, but the texture is so divine that I’m afraid to ruin it.

As it happens, a couple of days before I made the bread, it was Errand Day, so I had my Zipcar, and Ames and I went to Trader Joe’s, where I became fascinated with their “cashew macadamia nut butter.” You know, like peanut butter, but with cashews and macadamia nuts?

You know what’s an insanely good breakfast? Two thin slices of homemade banana bread, toasted, with a very small amount of cashew macadamia butter and two bitty clementines. It has fruit, it has protein, and it makes me feel pampered. It’s a tad higher in calories than I’d usually have, but I was heading into a big workout, so it seemed like a fine idea.

I felt so good, in fact, that I went and did the Biggest Loser Power Sculpt, which I’d purchased by not tried yet.

What the hell is with Kim? Jillian, good. Bob, weird but good. Kim? OH MY GOD, I hate her guts. What is her problem? It’s like she’s both really twee and really judgmental. You can only be one of those! Basically, the structure is that there’s a five-minute warmup with Jillian, then a twenty-minute sequence with Jillian, then a ten-minute sequence with Kim, then a ten-minute sequence with Bob, then a five-minute cool-down with Jillian. (This may be why Sarah noted no warmup; if this was the same “power sculpt,” it’s in modules, so the warmup is separate, and it’s on the DVD, but it might not be part of the same On Demand thingy.)

Anyhoo, it was interesting to watch this video, where the participants are Biggest Loser contestants, some of whom still are obviously working on losing some weight. Bob, in particular, wants you to spend an obscene amount of time in standard push-up and plank positions, which even the BL graduates simply can’t do. You wind up looking at people whose “push-up position” involves butts high in the air, which is not right, but that’s just not a position that larger people can hold for that long. It was frustrating to me that, during the course of the workout, nobody said, “You know, even our demonstrators can’t do this, which isn’t good for morale for the people watching at home.” I did as much of it as I could, and I wound up doing all the segments, which is supposedly the most advanced version of the video. It’s definitely very difficult and imposing, with 40 minutes of pretty hard labor.

As always, I liked the Jillian parts the best. I just liked it that, when one of the demonstrators was doing the move wrong (not in the “bad and injuring form” way, just in the “that’s not what we’re doing” way), Jillian was like, “No, tap. Tap. TAP!” in this voice that wasn’t really mocking and wasn’t really critical, it was just amused, like, “Hey, Sweaty McGee, you want to pay attention?” It brings a little bit of needed lightheartedness to the proceedings when the exercise lady is like, “Hi, we’re over here, and we’re doing this, so whenever you want to join in.”

So things are good today. Sweaty McGee, reporting.

Long Time No See

April 9, 2008

So when we last spoke, I was trying to learn how to eat without lists, which has actually been pretty educational and helpful. Particularly since I moved to New York and took a job that was (1) very stressful and (2) located in the recreational-food paradise of Rockefeller Center, I did gain some weight back, boo.

But as I said when I started this thing, the key is not quitting, and now that I’m working at home and have infinitely more flexibility and far less easy access to delicious but unproductive lunch options, it’s started to come back off, which is a relief.

Honestly, rather than rehashing, let’s agree that we will just GET ON WITH IT from here, because there has been more than enough dallying.

Right now, I am working a system that involves eating five or six times a day, more evenly distributed than the usual MEAL-snack-MEAL-snack-MEAL-snack theory that hasn’t always served me well. I realize there’s nothing particularly revolutionary about the small-meals idea, but it really has been a help. My biggest problem is actually lazing around and drinking coffee until 10 in the morning (after The People’s Court…don’t judge me) and eating nothing until then, by which time I’m overhungered. If that’s a word. Which I think it isn’t.

Anyway, it’s going to take me a little time to get back in the swing, so for now, feel free to leave a comment and let me know what’s working for you. Do you believe in small meals? Is there any possibility you’ve discovered a combination of chocolate and cheese that makes you shrink? Okay, maybe not the last one.

At any rate, let’s get on with it already; the cow’s not going to lose itself.

The Experimental Cook

December 5, 2004

I can always tell things are going better when I do something like invent a soup, as I did yesterday.

I chopped about half an onion with my little chopper, which is the best thing ever if you work in small amounts — a million times faster to use and clean up than a mini food processor, and just as good. See the Pampered Chef version here; I can’t remember if I technically got it from them or if it’s a similar one, but that’s the idea. Anyway. Chopped the onion, dropped it and a little bottled minced garlic into a sprayed nonstick saucepan, cooked it up a little. Added about 2 1/2 cups of chicken broth, some minced jalapenos, some chili powder, a little cumin, about a cup of canned corn, about a cup of canned black beans, and about a half a can of stewed tomatoes. Simmered it for a while, then stuck my hand blender right into it, just like they used to do on the infomercials, blending the soup while it was still on the stove simmering. Didn’t puree it perfectly, but got it nice and thick.

Then I mixed two tablespoons of flour and two tablespooons of skim milk with a fork until it was smooth and added that, which made it nice and thick. Shredded a skinless boneless chicken breast half I had poached on the stove while the soup cooked, let that cook some. Added a small handful of shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese, and finished it with a couple of tablespoons, believe it or not, of nonfat half-and-half, which gave it a creamier look. This wound up making two generous servings of soup for me, and when I ran the nutritional information, what do you know? It was just about perfect for what I would want for dinner. Well-balanced, right number of calories, and — if I do say so myself — very tasty. I would probably add the whole can of tomatoes next time, and either some cayenne or more peppers.

The point of this (short) entry is that this is what I’m trying to do — learn to do it by feel. I couldn’t tell you exactly how many points it had, and I couldn’t break it down into breads and milks, and the shredded cheese isn’t Core, and I didn’t consult any lists of what to eat and not to eat, but I know when I make that on the stove that it’s good for me, that I’m not overfeeding myself, and that it’s what I want at that particular moment.

Funny story — when I first ran the nutritional information, it was coming back at 675 calories a serving, which was a lot more than I thought it should have. I could not figure out what the hell I was doing wrong, and I was like, “Man, maybe I’m wrong, and I don’t know how to do this as well as I thought.” It just seemed off somehow; I know approximately what food values are, and I was really discouraged by it. Then I realized that it was counting a cup of dried black beans. Which cooks up into about a truckload of beans. So that’s what was wrong. I fixed it so it (by which I mean MasterCook 7, the program I use for recipe analysis) knew I was using canned beans, and bang! About 375 to 400 calories, which is exactly right for dinner.

It is possible. You can do it by feel, but you have to be patient and train yourself, and that’s why I encourage people to use a program for as long as they still feel like it’s good for them. At some point, you begin to internalize it and you can do a lot of it without counting, but it takes a long time to do that, and I’m just kind of establishing myself there, which is sort of fun and interesting.

Also, I have leftover soup to have for lunch.

Back. Better. BOOM!

November 21, 2004

Okay, so that was a little break.

Here’s the thing. The whole time I’ve been doing this, I’ve worked in steps. Lose a bunch, go full-out, then lose a little ground. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Mid-September was the beginning of the “Lose a little ground” phase. Now when I saw “lose ground,” I’m talking about gaining back, like, maybe five to seven pounds, two or three of which are already gone again. It’s not a collapse. But I’m not really doing it, either, and I tend to stop working out, and I kind of don’t want to talk about it, and I’m just too busy, among other things, to put a lot of time into cooking and so forth. And the thing is that I don’t even feel really down about it. I’m just on hold.

But at the same time, I don’t really want to keep doing it that way. For one thing, stopping working out is always a bad idea, because not only do you lose your fitness improvements pretty quickly, it just makes me less energetic and less happy. So I’m not happy with the status quo, no matter how easy it is to see that I’m still doing really well, and will end the year easily 20 pounds down from where I started. And I have kept a substantial and ever-increasing amount off for, like, five years now. And it’s not coming back. I don’t even worry about that, because as soon as I get to the five-to-seven stage, it’s like . . . okay, well, enough slacking.

So I got thinking about what to do, and how these periods begin in the first place — these times when I just kind of hold rather than continuing to progress, and I realized that it’s always when there’s some interruption. I’m interrupted by a trip or a change in schedule or something, and it’s not at all that I’d ever claim that I can’t stay on track when that happens; I just don’t. And in diagnosing why I don’t, I had this revelation.

I don’t want to be on a plan anymore. I don’t want to be counting anymore. I don’t want to be on Core or Flex, even though I think they’re both really good. I was at the grocery store yesterday, and I was trying to restock the house after living on Lean Cuisines for a while, and I was thinking . . . “Well, I learned on Core that I occasionally really like a piece of lean meat, and really like the shot of protein. But . . . Core is so hard on bread, and I really like to be able to have bread . . . and I have to count all my lowfat flavored yogurt, so . . . ” And I stood there, debating about which one I wanted to try to be on.

And then I just thought . . . I know how to eat. I know how to have a good breakfast, a good lunch, a good dinner. I know how much is too much. I’ve counted points for so long that I know what benefit you get from not putting cheese on your sub, or getting the small instead of the medium. I know from Core that lattes are really nice and are basically milk, so they’re a very good idea. I know from years of experience that whatever my opinion of the anti-carb vigilantes is, a bowl of pasta may be very tasty, but I will indeed be hungry half an hour later.

I know how to eat. I don’t always do it, but I know how to do it, and I think I’m tired of being on plans where I invariably feel like I’m either on or off, either doing or not doing. I just want to do what I think is healthy for me for a while and see what happens.

So I’m inventing my own “plan,” which I am calling the Eat By The Seat Of Your Pants plan. I want to emphasize that I don’t condone this, as I haven’t even tried it. Maybe I’ll gain five pounds in the first week and come back here all, “Uh, no.”

But I don’t think so. I think I’m just . . . ready to stop eating like my eating is disordered somehow, which it isn’t. I snack on yogurt and fruit or whole wheat crackers, naturally and easily. At worst, I snack on, like, Baked Doritos. When I gain a few pounds, it’s because I take a couple of trips and eat really good food that I really enjoy and drink margaritas and lie around. And I’m not sorry about any of that, and it comes back off when I go back to normal.

We’ll see. We’ll see what happens. All I know is that I look at myself, and I feel like . . . honestly, what is anybody with a book or a plan or a graph going to tell me that’s any better than what I already know? I have a lot of confidence in my experience. I have a lot of confidence in what I’ve learned about myself. That’s why when Core came out, even when I was having a lot of success with it, I was modifying it a little bit. I never counted my occasional handful of raisins. Because I know myself, and I know that isn’t the problem for me. I know I can have lowfat raspberry yogurt and not binge on it.

I’m wanting to do it myself. I hear people who like points talk about “accountability,” and it just baffles me, because . . . how am I ever going to be any more accountable than I am when I see every day whether things are going the way I want or not? And every time I think that, I think, “Right, but they say that at Weight Watchers all the time — that everybody thinks they can do it themselves, and that’s when they gain it all back.” Respectfully . . . I’m not everybody. I’ve already done this. It may not all be gone yet, but it doesn’t come back. I don’t have to go twenty years before I get to say that perhaps having learned the lessons I did from following all these things, I am ready to apply them in a way that might be right for me even if it wouldn’t suit everybody. If I do best with some Core/Flex hybrid, who’s to say that’s not right for me? What if I had invented Core while Weight Watchers only had Flex? Would that have been bad?

I want to make it clear that I encourage people who are in the early stages of this to follow something like Weight Watchers. I think it’s incredibly helpful to have that structure, and like I said, I’ve learned a huge amount from following those plans and from learning about trade-offs in a way I never would have if I hadn’t been on a counting-type plan.

But I know how to eat. When I don’t do it, it’s not because I don’t know what to do, and it’s not because I’m not committed enough. It’s because I choose to prioritize something else, and however I feel about that, that’s the level where I’m going to have to handle it. I don’t want to count anymore, and I don’t want to obey rules I think are overly restrictive for my personal lifestyle anymore, either.

It’s the Eat By The Seat Of Your Pants Plan. And now that I’m back, you will get to hear all about it.

Dear Eric Hentges

September 2, 2004

Dear Eric,

I read about you over at Mo‘s blog — no, Mo’s other blog. She linked to the article about the new food pyramid. You know the one. The one where you were talking about how if people eat wisely and exercise, they can earn “discretionary calories” that are the ones that are available for things like the occasional pat of butter or the occasional small dish of ice cream. It’s the article that has this passage in it:

Discretionary calories are the reward for living right. And Americans who are overweight or obese don’t have discretionary calories, Hentges said. “They used them up a long time ago,” he said. To get them back, they will have to burn more calories by being more active, he said.

Eric, don’t take this the wrong way, but I say this in total seriousness. The article says you are the executive director of the Agriculture Department’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, so it sounds like your job is mostly giving general advice about eating healthy, and perhaps in that role, you are qualified.

But I am here to tell you this: You owe it to the health of the people you have been appointed to serve not to say one more word about obesity, obese people, or losing weight until you have figured out what you are talking about, because as it stands now, you are one of those people who makes it worse.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. Your background, after all, isn’t exactly in medicine or psychology. Your background appears to be in political advocacy. For pork, specifically. No — literally, pork. I see from the press release announcing your appointment that you were “vice president of Applied Technology and Education Services for the National Pork Board” before arriving at the USDA. As I understand it, the National Pork Board doesn’t actually work to improve the health of fat people. Neither does the National Pork Producers’ Council, where you were the director of Consumer Nutrition and Health Research before that, and neither does the National Livestock and Meat Board, where you were the director of human nutrition research before that. These groups are there to put money in the pockets of pork producers, Eric, not to give sound medical advice.

What you say suggests that when it comes to fat people, you don’t know anything. And because you don’t know anything, you owe it to the people you’re supposed to be helping in your capacity as a government official to shut your mouth.

You see, your little comment — your smug, self-satisfied, tsk-tsking, finger-waggling, smirking little comment — is, while far from the most offensive thing I have ever heard, a remarkably concise, perfectly formed, densely packed example of the one approach to helping people get and keep their weight under control that I absolutely promise you will never, ever work.

It does not work to tell people that they must suffer now to make up for their past mistakes, and that they’ve already spent a lifetime of indulgences and can now look forward to living like monks. Let me repeat my objection, lest you mistake it for a soft-focus, psychologically generous, misty-eyed plea for kindness to people who have suffered enough. It does not work.

I’m appealing to your practical side. I’m appealing to you as a strategist. You know, the kind of strategist who knows how to move some money on behalf of the National Pork Producers Council. I’m appealing to you as a planner. As an operator. As a guy who wants results.

Trying to shame people — to embarrass them, to make them hate themselves for every drop of Coke they have ever swallowed, to make them believe that the reason they haven’t changed their habits yet is that they have not offered adequate repentance for a lifetime of sin — this does not work.

I mean, honestly. This is the one approach that has been tested on more people than any other. Telling fat people how much they suck, how much they have to make up for, and how much they should appreciate all of the great times they’ve had eating ice cream because they will never know them again? This does not work. It doesn’t.

You know why, Eric? Because no one knocks herself out if the only reward is absolution. If all she can hope for is to get back to zero. To be forgiven.

Don’t you see it? All of these people you are talking about, who have “used up” all of their calories — used up their treats, their slivers of birthday cake, their opportunities to have just a taste of what everyone else is having — they don’t owe a debt to anyone but themselves, and deep down, they know it. They are the only ones they’ve put at a disadvantage. Oh, sure, public health implications and so forth, but that’s not really what it’s about. When it’s just you and the mirror — or you and the scale, or you and the bread, or you and the treadmill — it’s not about insurance costs or the national debt. It’s about you.

You’re the one who’s going to benefit. You know who benefits when I choose to change how I eat? Me. You know who benefits when I hit the Precor? Me. Those benefits go to me.

Is this beginning to make sense to you? Are you there yet? Do you get it?

You’re asking all of these people to stop treating themselves. You want them to live a pared-down, apologetic life until the scale says “Ding!” and they can live among the Regular People again. Sure, you say they could earn their “discretionary calories” back by being more active, but there is no mistaking what you are really saying when you say we have “used them up a long time ago.” You are saying that the cupcake we do not eat today is to make up for the cupcake we ate . . . when? Last week? Last year? When we were six years old? How long will it take? How sorry do you want me to be about a handful of potato chips when I was twelve?

See, all of this debt? It’s not owed to you. It’s not owed to the Vatican, or the United Nations, or the Pork Board. It’s owed to ourselves. And because it’s owed to ourselves, you can’t convince us to pay ourselves back if you tell us all we’ll get out of it is that we’ll be as virtuous as everyone else has been all along.

Don’t you get it?

Do you really think I could get up at 4:00 in the morning to pay a debt I owe to someone I don’t have any respect for? Do you think I could change the way I eat, or drag myself into the kitchen to make dinner instead of ordering in, or pass up the free pizza lunch . . . in order to pay off a wedding from 1993?

People don’t work that way. They don’t. You don’t work that way, and neither does a fat person.

I do not work hard to make up for the things I’ve done. I work hard to put myself in the position to have the things I want. I haven’t been sentenced to three hundred hours at a cardio sweat to make up for anything. It’s not punishment, and it’s not penance. I’m not bailing out a sinking ship, you arrogant jackass, I’m just steering it in a different direction, and nothing makes it harder than people who can’t tell the difference.

And it’s so sickeningly ironic, because speaking solely for myself, nothing worked until I gave myself a clean slate. Nothing worked until I stopped writhing around trying to make up for everything I had done wrong. Nothing worked until I stopped assuming I had “used up” anything. Nothing is used up. There’s no expiration date on your right to make your own choices and make yourself feel better. You wake up every day in whatever situation you’re in, and if you do it with shame, like you’re sorry — like you’re apologizing for being in the room, for making people see you, for taking up space — you will get nowhere. It’s unfair, isn’t it?

Yeah, I think so, too.

But do me a favor. Until you’re ready to talk to me about what’s in front of me instead of the pouring sand into the barrel of guilt you expect me to be lugging around? Just close your mouth. You’re making it worse.

Changing Tracks

August 28, 2004

So, one week down on Core.

I am eating, as we speak — er, write — one of my best discoveries of the week. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not claiming that I invented this. People have been doing this since forever. But this is a great example of how this new program has turned my head around in a really good way.

The thing is, I used to be a snacker on stuff like reduced fat Cheez-Its and baked tortilla chips and stuff. It’s munchie-seeming, and low in points, but there’s basically no food in it. Again, don’t misunderstand — I’m not dissing the salty or sweet snack. However, it’s not going to make you less hungry, usually. I can buzz through a pack of little lowfat cookies, and while I will have satisfied the desire for a sweet, and the desire for a snack on a psychological level, I’m just as hungry.

See, I think a lot of people sell themselves short and assume that they can’t stop eating when they’re full, when in fact what they’re doing is eating such that they’re never full. Maybe of calories they are, but not of, you know, food.

So what am I eating? A bowl made of cans. You take a can of petite-cut diced tomatoes, a can of black beans (rinsed), and a can of corn. Dump in bowl. Drizzle with bottled lime juice (not Core, but far from enough to add up to a point). Drizzle with small amount of olive oil (which the Core plan wants you to eat anyway). Eat.

That’s it. So now, in my fridge, there’s a big plastic tub of that stuff. Hell, if I threw some cilantro in with it, that would be a bona fide recipe. And it’s basically Core (like I said, not enough lime juice to worry over), so I can eat it “until I’m satisfied.” So after I had lunch — which consisted of a real hamburger, made of real extra-lean meat on a light wheat roll for 1 point — and I was still hungry, I had a bowl of Linda’s First Core Week Stuff From A Can Bean-Corn Salad Thingy. It doesn’t take five minutes to make that, and as I said, you can then throw it into a container, save it (I save it without the dressing and I drizzle on the juice and oil a bowl at a time), and spoon some into a bowl whenever you want. And it’s really very tasty. Yesterday, I mixed it with a little lunch-sized can of chicken, and that was my lunch.

And there’s FOOD in it. You can’t compare what you give your body to run on when you feed it tomatoes, beans, and corn, as opposed to when you feed it reduced-fat Cheez-Its. You just can’t. And I feel like I ate some real food, as opposed to that “I just ate a snack, why am I just as hungry as I was before?” feeling.

So how was the week generally? It was good. My biggest struggle was making sure I ate enough. Core-type food — real food — takes a little longer to make than some of the quick stuff I had gotten used to. So this week, sometimes, when I didn’t feel like cooking, I would respond by not eating at all, and that’s not a great idea, because then I would wind up having lunch at 3:00 in the afternoon and dinner really late and kind of be thrown off by the end of the day. I wasn’t skipping, I was just being slow to get down to eating a meal sometimes.

Was I hungry? Only when I got busy. Trying to find some quick Core meals was how I happened on the Bean-Corn Salad Thingy in the first place. Like I said, it takes longer than a Lean Cuisine, the whole-food eating.

Did I feel restricted? No. I ate ice cream, drank beers and a margarita, had a couple of light mocha frappucinos (best way EVER to spend three points), and had a serving of potatoes every day for about the first five days I was doing it.

BUT. I would also point out that I earned about 35 activity points this week that I counted, and I counted conservatively. I became — as I’ve said — totally infatuated with the Precor, and spent four and a half hours on it between last weigh-in and this one. The day I had to quit after thirty minutes, I’m almost sure it was because I did it at about 1:00 and I hadn’t had lunch yet. Breakfast had been oatmeal and berries, so not much protein there. I think if I had eaten some protein before I went, I wouldn’t have punked out at the half-hour mark. But yeah, I worked out five days this week, which is very unusual. As I’ve said, Core is very motivating for exercise, because not only can you spend your points on treats like my beloved light mocha frapp, but you can spend them on things that are really good for you but not Core, like whole wheat bread and nuts and things.

I ate a steak this week. A STEAK. Not a big steak, not a huge steak, not a “run for the hills, she’s renaming the blog Eating The Cow” kind of steak, but a steak. Only once, but I ate it. I ate real eggs — not a lot, because I still am happy with southwestern Egg Beaters for breakfast much of the time — but a couple. I ate shrimp and beans and carrots and raspberry-banana smoothies and mandarin oranges and chili and cornbread and improvised hash browns, and I drank milk and coffee and lattes and a giant margarita.

Did I miss bread? Well . . . I missed bread as a habit. I missed being able to go for bread out of familiarity. Bread, or crackers, or a bagel, or whatever. But this morning, when I actually spent a couple of points on real whole wheat bread at breakfast, I realized that I have been eating mostly light wheat bread (2 slices for 1 point) that has, basically, no taste whatsoever. I had practically forgotten what good bread tasted like. I would much rather do this — spend a couple of points on bread and have really good bread — than be in points-hoarding mode, where I’m constantly afraid to eat anything in case I’m even hungrier later, which is kind of what Mo and I were talking about yesterday. I don’t really miss the kind of bread or crackers that I was eating most of the time. Especially if I can have fruit or something instead. I know that sounds like hippy-dippy happy talk, but it’s true.

So yes, I felt restricted at first just in the sense that I was being restricted from eating some of the things I normally would. But in the long run, do I believe the plan is more restrictive? No. It’s just different. I don’t want to talk down the Flex plan, because it’s worked awesome for a lot of people, and I had a lot of success with it myself. But I’m eating a whole lot better this way, and I’m more inclined to exercise, and I think I’m more well-prepared to exercise (in other words, better fueled).

Is it perfect? No. As I’ve said, if I were designing this plan, I’d have left one serving per day of whole-grain bread as Core. And they didn’t. And I still am not eating fat-free cheese, I don’t think. It doesn’t totally make sense to me that 1% milk isn’t Core, because it’s reportedly better for you, and the fat and calories aren’t that different. And I really am still bitter about lowfat deli turkey and ham not being included. That’s grumping me out.

But I’m digging the whole thing. I feel like I’m eating by feel a lot more than I was before — eating what I’m hungry for, rather than by what’s lowest in points. I’m not really eating more, I’m just eating differently.

And I don’t usually do stats, just because I kind of don’t think it’s the point, but for the purpose of providing complete information, I lost 4.2 pounds this week. Which is partly the exercise, but the program certainly didn’t result in my eating a lot more than I was before.

Commence Freaking Out

August 23, 2004

Well, it’s that time of year again.

Every year, Weight Watchers changes the program. Over time, these have been good changes, for sure — when I was ten, they made you eat liver once a week, and you couldn’t eat dangerous things like . . . ketchup. And there were these treacherous Food Lists, and everything had to be traded in under a particular category, so if you couldn’t figure out whether your fajitas were a Bread and a Vegetable and one-and-a-half Meats or whatever, you couldn’t have them. It was the No Ritz Crackers Diet, as I always remember it, because I remember the leader giving a little pop quiz where he said (yeah, it was a guy — I didn’t appreciate how rare that was at the time), “How many Saltines are a Bread?” And the answer was “six.” And then he was like, “How many Ritz Crackers are a bread?” And the answer was that it was a trick question, because you couldn’t have Ritz Crackers.

Even at ten, I remember thinking, “So, wait. I can’t ever have a Ritz Cracker again as long as I live?” It was stupid, that kind of unrealistic BS. They don’t do that to you anymore.

For the last year, we’ve been on this Flex Points system, which works thusly: Based on how much you weigh, you get a certain number of Points you’re supposed to eat in a day. These are your “Target” points. And then you have 35 “Flex” points that you can spend over the course of the entire week. Basically, Flex Points is calorie-counting, with slight tweaks. Points values are basically 1 point for every 50 calories, fudged up for foods with lots of fat and down for foods with lots of fiber. That’s it.

People have learned to internalize Points values to the point (heh) where Erin and I have discussed the psychological difference between the two-point snack and the three-point snack — we are all constantly on the prowl for the two-point snack. In fact, the new 100-calorie Nabisco snack packs are essentially designed to fit the “I want a two-point snack” mentality. I firmly believe they were designed for WW users, with the “two-point snack” drive firmly in mind.

Not everybody loves the Flex Points thing. Before Flex Points, rather than a set number plus an allotment of Flex Points, you had a range of points every day — same effect, really, but different psychology. Also, if you ate under your maximum, you could “bank” points so that if you went over your max on another day, you’d be covered. Some people have never liked the FP thing as much as the old one (which was called “Winning Points,” because all meaningless names are essentially interchangeable).

Sooooo, of course, now it’s a year later, and they have to change the program again. For one thing, they change it so that they can have a new marketing push. “Didn’t choose us before? Choose us now!” Furthermore, it was inevitable that WW would respond in some way to the low-carb thing. There was just no way they were going to continue to get left off that train.

Which brings us to this week — New Plan Week. Interestingly, this is the first time I’ve ever been aware of them adding the new plan but also explicitly allowing you to stay on the old one if you want to. There have always been people who have stayed on the old plan if it was working for them — that’s why there are still people who do Winning Points with the ranges and the banking and whatnot. But the company has never openly supported the old programs anymore once they’re changed. This is the first time they’ve said flat-out that you can do either. What’s more, you can change from week to week which one you want to follow. Which is . . . interesting.

So what IS the new structure? They’re calling it The Core Plan. What they’re not calling it is Something That Definitely Is Not South Beach For Intellectual Property Purposes.

Yeah. Essentially, the Core Plan has a lot in common with Phase II of South Beach, as I understand it. (I’ve never done SB, but the fact that it’s Phase II means they’re not putting you through the two-week Phase I carb-detoxification thing where you can’t even eat fruit.) They’ve come up with a list of “Core Foods,” and as long as you eat off of the list, you don’t have to write down what you eat. You eat “until you’re satisfied” from the foods on the List, and anything else you want that’s not on The List, you have 35 Points worth over the week. So there are still Points. The 100-calorie snack packs are not in danger of obsolescence.

What’s remarkable about this plan, for people who have done WW for years, is that the act of writing down everything you eat has been the absolute unchanging center of WW for as long as I can remember. No matter what they were having you count, you counted everything, and you wrote down — or “journaled” — everything.

I decided to try it. Sunday morning, after my hour on the Precor (SWEET JESUS!), I came home and made a smoothie for breakfast/brunch. Plain yogurt, skim milk, a frozen banana, some frozen raspberries, a packet of Splenda, and — the only non-Core food — a tablespoon of peanut butter. It was actually really good, but the act of making something without measuring most of the ingredients (how many frozen raspberries? umm, a handful) felt incredibly odd. Not bad, just odd. There’s a place to write down non-core Points you’re using, so I wrote down the peanut butter. But in my head, I was still adding up Points. My little brain is still muttering, “Yeah, would be a couple for the yogurt and milk, two for the banana, one for the raspberries . . . ” It’s hard to stop.

I’m not sure how it’s going to work for me. While the plan isn’t low-carb, really — it allows all the fruit you want, along with quite a number of whole grains — it does have some pretty severe restrictions in terms of stuff that isn’t on the List and will have to be counted as Points. Bread, for instance. All bread, any bread, any bagel or cracker or piece of toast. There is no bread or bread-like substance on the List.

They’re very picky about certain things, too. I love the Louis Rich cooked chicken breast strips, for instance — they’re convenient, fast, and I don’t have to go through the pain in the butt of cooking a big pile of chicken breast fillets. The catch is that Core is, among other things, trying to get you to eat less processed foods, so while plain chicken breast is Core, my precious strips are not. Neither are most of the kinds of very lowfat deli meats I like — so, for instance, very lean ham is Core, but not the thin-sliced stuff I like to put on sandwiches.

Of course, sandwiches aren’t so hot, now that bread is limited.

Having done this for about three days, though, I have to say . . . I really like it. I do like not having to measure Egg Beaters and weigh chicken breasts and all that. And I like being able to eat all the fruit that I need to feel satisfied.

It seems to me that although they’re responding to the low-carb thing for sure, they’re dealing with another problem, too. Basically, when I was growing up, there were two things that your Terribly Restrictive Diet told you: What, and How Much. The result of trying to tell you What and How Much was that you would have commands like Two Milks, Two Fruits, Four Breads (or whatever), usually for a day at a time.

These plans sucked, in several ways. They didn’t accommodate multiple-ingredient foods very well, and they had no room for things like special occasions or wanting an occasional beer. You were On The Diet or you were Off The Diet, and you know how you could get Off The Diet in four seconds? Eat a Ritz cracker.

So ever since then, they’ve tweaked the What and the How Much. They’ve tried being less picky about the What, while being strict about How Much — as when you had to count everything, but the only things you had to count were fat grams and fiber grams. The move to Points was basically the victory of How Much over What. In Points, they told you How Much, but they didn’t really tell you What at all, even though there were technically guidelines that told you to make sure you got two servings of dairy and five fruit/vegetable servings a day. People didn’t really take missing those marks as taking you “off program,” as we would say. Perhaps they should have, but most didn’t.

The problem with counting How Much and not What is that although I lost weight on it, I always was very aware that I wasn’t necessarily making entirely good choices. For example, I would get lazy and not want to make lunch on a weekend day, so I would have two fat-free hot dogs on two super-light, artificially fiber-pumped rolls, with mustard and pickle relish. The pickle relish was probably the most nutritious element of the entire meal, even though it only had — ta-da! — four points. (That’s only as much as two glasses of skim milk, if you’re keeping score at home.) And although I tried to eat salad and stuff, some of those decisions weren’t all that sound.

Basically, the Core plan represents Weight Watchers offering you a What-centered plan instead of a How-Much-centered plan, even though just as Points still had some rules about What, Core has some rules about How Much — particularly the fact that everything that’s not on The List is limited to 35 points a week. Which is not much. Ultimately, though, Core is mostly a What-based plan.

My personal theory is that there are people who are pretty comfortable that they don’t eat too much, really, they just eat goofy things at times — I am this kind of person. The other kind is the kind that got fat on giant plates of theoretically healthy food. That second group is the group that’s freaking out about Core not restricting portion sizes for Core foods. “If I could stop eating when I’m satisfied, I wouldn’t beeeee here!” they say. And I totally feel for them, I do. But I don’t feel that way. I do stop eating when I’m satisfied. My problem is more, as I said above, that I go for a lot of low-point foods that don’t have much actual food in them. So when I eat more later, it’s because I’m hungry.

I am theorizing, based on my vast three days of experience, that the first kind of person will do better on Core, and the second kind will do better on Flex. That’s what I would call my First Theory of Flex People and Core People.

My Second Theory of Flex People and Core People is this: Core will work quite well for people who are at least moderately active, but people who are not exercising will find it to be a bitch. Because really, 35 FP a week for non-Core foods is not very damn much when bread puts you in a hole.

But. As stated above, I’ve just discovered the Precor. This, for those of you who don’t know, is an elliptical trainer. And I will eventually be writing an entire entry about the Precor, because I love it. And I can do it for an hour, working very hard, and it will spit out (as it did this morning) that I burned over 700 calories. Roughly, WW likes to give you an activity point (meaning an extra point that you can eat) for about every 100 calories that you burn — and yes, this means that since food is only about 50 calories per point, you always come out ahead from exercise. I give myself a conservative 6 for that hour spent on the Precor. So now, instead of 5 (the average 1/7 of my weekly 35) to spend on non-Core today, I would have 11. And 11 points worth of non-Core food, I can work with. What I’m trying to do is only use the APs for stuff like bread and nuts and things — stuff that’s good for you but has to be counted — and then I’m saving the 35 for actual “extra” stuff — little cookies or beer or whatever.

It’s scary, change. There are a lot of very freaked-out individuals out there, which is partly a compliment to the fact that Flex has been a pretty happy plan for a lot of people. We’ll see how the new thing goes. Fortunately, if all my theories go south, I can always go back.