Everything changes. Again.

Warning: This post is directed to members and former members of Weight Watchers. Others may be confused by the talk of Points, the WW calculation that takes into consideration nutritional elements besides calories–things like protein, carbs, fat, and fiber. The program and formula have changed over WW’s 50 year history, causing much weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth. Every time.

changeIn 2001, I weighed over two hundred pounds. How much over, I’ll leave to your imagination. It only took me two years to reach my goal. Am I just slow-learner or do I suffer from attention deficit issues? Maybe both? You can read about my weight loss journey here: Gains and losses go beyond the scale. But I’m not talking about that today. Today, fifteen years later, I’m talking about perspective, trust, and looking at the big picture when it comes to change. 

First, I know that the support and accountability I received from staff and other members at Weight Watcher meetings were key. Anyone can hand you a diet. That’s easy. But with WW I learned strategies to replace a lifetime of unhealthy habits with healthier ones and to make myself a priority. We commiserated and celebrated. Where else could I get applauded for losing two-tenths of a pound, eating only half a doughnut, or being able to cross my legs?
Long story short, I lost weight on the Points program, living on 19 Points a day with a few extras thrown in from a weekly slush fund we were given. The little extras were to make the program livable so we wouldn’t feel deprived. Back in those days, we still had to count Points for fruit. That seems like the dark ages now. Not as dark as the 60s, when you had to eat liver and couldn’t eat pasta, but still, dark.

I became a part-time leader when I retired from teaching. It seemed like a natural fit, passing on the lessons I’d learned and encouraging others along the path.  You can learn some of those strategies by clicking on the HH4HH tag on this page.
A few years later, Weight Watchers unveiled PointsPlus at leader training. All of our daily points increased from 19 to 26. You’d think we’d be happy. Nope. We were afraid. Everyone cried and fussed. Remember, leaders are successful Weight Watchers. We LOVED and were committed to the old program. We KNEW it worked. We KNEW we’d gain weight on this “new and improved” program. Who were they kidding? We whined,“I can’t eat that much and maintain!” and “Why do I have to change?” and “Can’t I keep going on the old program?”
What we were told, with a smile, was this: “Weight Watchers offers and supports the best program, supported by the latest research. If you don’t feel you and your members deserve the best, feel free to stick with the old program, but without our support.” Ouch.

Still grumbling a bit, we thought more about it. We realized something. With the new PointsPlus formula, while the points for some of our favorite foods (like carbs) had gone up, now all fresh fruit and most vegetables were free, as in ZERO points. Essentially what WW did was drag us (sometimes kicking and screaming) toward healthier choices. Under the old system a cookie and an apple were roughly equivalent choices, point-wise. In the new system, a cookie would cost you points, whereas the apple was free. Zero points.

Okay, I got it. I was supposed to eat more apples, fewer cookies. And I did. I also ate fewer processed foods, cut my oatmeal serving from 1/2 to 1/3 cup, and added fresh fruit to it rather than raisins. Small changes, really.

Little by little, we adjusted. More people joined WW and lost weight. And if they’d never experienced any of the previous programs, PointsPlus was WW. And as always, it worked if you worked it.

Nevertheless, time and science keep marching on, so now, along comes the latest research-based (r)evolution, SmartPoints. And guess what! This time calories, sugars, and saturated fats were added to formula, so lots of the foods in the WW data base changed values. Again!  But, once again, they gave me MORE points to eat every day. Now I get 30. (Remember, I used to get only 19!) And I still get extras every week.

If I’m honest about how I’ve worked the program over the last few years, even though my daily target was 26, I ate about 30 points a day. I also traded my Activity Points for food, so that most of my extras remained (ahem) on the table. So this “big change” isn’t such a big change. For me. I changed which tortillas and salad dressing I buy. I use the bar code scanner on the WW mobile app more often to discover the best SmartPoints bargains.

While I no longer work for WW, I do trust them to provide me with the best program. And I still weigh in at a meeting every month, because as long as I stay at goal, it’s free. And because it works.
Thanks to WW, I weighed less on my 60th birthday than I did on my 50th. So now I try to keep the big picture in mind as I adapt to this particular change and continue to take baby steps toward a healthier me.

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Healthy Habit #10: What are you really hungry for?

Thanks to Eric Carle and The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

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There are at least three types of hunger and until we recognize and learn to differentiate among them, we can’t respond to them appropriately.

  • REAL hunger. You haven’t eaten in a few hours. Your tummy rumbles, you may feel a bit cranky or light-headed.
  • HEDONIC hunger. You eat because food is pleasurable. You’ve recently eaten a satisfying meal, but your favorite dessert suddenly appears. Or you see a commercial for a juicy hamburger on TV. Or you walk into the mall just as the Cinnabons are coming out of the oven.  Your mouth waters. Your hunger feels real, but you crave something specific, such as pizza or chocolate.
  • EMOTIONAL hunger. You’re tired, stressed, angry, frustrated, sad, lonely, or happy. You eat to feel better, to feel part of the group, or to celebrate.

Trouble is, only two of those can ever truly be satisfied by food.
Real hunger definitely needs to be addressed with food. If mealtime is still a ways off, grab a snack such as a piece of fruit, a carton of yogurt, or a hunk of low-fat cheese. Letting yourself get too hungry can easily lead to overindulgence because your brain doesn’t/can’t make wise choices when it’s hungry. And remember to drink up–water that is. Many times our bodies register hunger when what we are really experiencing is thirst.
Hedonic hunger can also be addressed with food, but very carefully. Sometimes it’s a matter of “taking ten.” Wait out the craving. Take a walk. Brush your teeth or chew some minty gum. Accomplish a chore away from the kitchen. Have a cup of herbal tea. The ones with cinnamon or peppermint are particularly good at hitting my sweet tooth. If the craving is still there, have a small bit of whatever it is you were craving. One Dove Dark or a Ghirardelli Square are my go-to for a chocolate craving.blog fat caterpillar
Emotional hunger is the troublesome one. It can’t be quelled with food, no matter how much you eat. An entire pie, a half-gallon of ice-cream, a bag of Doritos. Nothing fills you up, and then– of course– you have the emotional aftermath and feelings of hopelessness and failure. The trick (if there is a trick) is to catch yourself before you indulge. Ask yourself what you are feeling and find a way to directly address that feeling. Stressed, angry, or sad? Go outside. Head to the gym or take a walk. You are literally only a few steps away from a better mood. Those endorphins kick in and you will feel better. Lonely? Call a friend. Connect with others. Tired? Take a nap. Pamper yourself a little. Take a long, hot bath. Do your nails or schedule a pedicure. Or a massage. Not sure what you’re feeling? Write in a journal.

If you can discover what you’re really hungry for, you can make one more baby step toward your own transformation.

blog butterflyThis will be the last weekly post in this series. There may be more from time to time, but I feel the need to move on to other projects now. Stay tuned! I wish you well and would love to hear from you. Take care and remember to be kind to yourself as you make progress toward your own goals.

Healthy Habit #9: Step away from the scale!

blog scale crySometimes, in spite of our best efforts, the numbers on the scale don’t budge. Or–God forbid!–they go in the wrong direction. There are lots of reasons that can happen, but I know my weight can vary as much as four pounds without doing anything “bad.” We retain water, our digestive system slows down, or we’ve started new medications. The dangerous thing is when we allow the scale to mess with our brain. Down? Great! Maybe I can have pie. Up? What’s the use? I give up. Let’s have pie. See?

Ups and downs are part of the journey. Even people at healthy weights fluctuate day-to-day. It just happens. And while I can’t keep the scale’s roller coaster from happening, perhaps I can help with the emotional roller-coaster.

  • blog scale does notFirst, if you find yourself obsessing over the scale, weigh yourself less often, like once a week. And always at the same time of day. Or do as one friend does and hide the scale entirely. She trusts the process–eating what she should and exercising–to get the job done.
  • Take your measurements. If you are exercising and building muscle, your body is changing. You may see inches disappear without an appreciable loss on the scale.
  • Pay attention to how your clothes fit. Can you button those pants now? Can you wear your rings again?
  • How do you feel? Can you walk for 30 minutes now? Can you climb stairs without getting winded? Tie your shoes? Cross your legs? Touch your toes? Do your hips and knees hurt less? All of those are signs of progress.
  • You look great! Compliments are always a mood-lifter. Be gracious and thank the giver of the compliment.
  • Remember how far you’ve come and what good habits you’re developing. Give yourself a little credit!

Good health is a journey, not merely a destination. There will be ups and downs along the way. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward.

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Healthy Habit #8: You can’t eat it if you don’t buy it


blog healthy cartFor better or worse, anything that finds its way into your shopping cart can land in your mouth. Anything that stays on the store shelf, can’t.
We all have foods that we simply cannot be trusted around. For me it’s trail mix—the kind with nuts, chocolate chips, and dried fruit. It’s basically “crack” for me. An OPEN bag equals an EMPTY bag. So I know not to even bring it home.
It’s a totally irrational compulsion. So now you know. I’m not cured of all my food issues. I’m still in treatment.
But just as I can’t eat trail mix if I don’t buy it, I also can’t eat fresh fruits & veggies, lean protein, whole grains, and low-fat dairy items unless I buy them. I’m in charge. And once those things arrive home, I’m in charge of putting them where they will do the most good. Or the least damage.

Here are some of the tips I use:

Sort through what’s already in your fridge and pantry. Toss out anything past its pull date. Look at the nutrition label and ingredients list. If it doesn’t fit your eating plan (Too much fat or salt? Not worth the calories?), donate it to your local food bank. Or hide it. More on that in a minute.

Wash and prep the fruits and vegetables as soon as you get them home. Or buy items that are already prepped. Whole butternut squash and pineapple are hard for me to deal with, so I’m more likely to buy them already cut up. Those personal size watermelons are just right for me. You might also want to bag up serving-sized amounts of carrots and such for easy additions to your lunch or snack.blog healthy snack drawer

Place plan-friendly items up front and at eye-level, so they are the first things you see. My brain may know there is a half bag of chocolate chips behind the whole-grain spaghetti and brown rice, but I don’t see them winking at me every time I open the pantry. This is truly a case of “Out of sight, out of mind.” I can forget about them for days. Maybe weeks.That lemon meringue pie? Put it behind the yogurt and watermelon in the fridge.

Containers matter. Store good-for-you items–including leftovers–in clear, in serving-sized containers.

If you share the kitchen with others, think about designating a shelf or basket for your items. Keep it stocked with your favorite go-to, plan-friendly foods. A basket of ready-to-go foods can help you stay on track. You can keep one in the fridge and another one in the pantry. Maybe even one in your desk drawer at work.

We make more than 200 food-related decisions every day. What one little thing can you do today to help your environment nudge you toward healthier decisions?

Healthy Habit #7: Keep your good intentions on the menu

blog restaurantKeeping up our newly acquired healthy habits can be challenging at a restaurant. The aroma, atmosphere and sometimes even the company all encourage indulgence. Of course, if going out for a meal were only a sometime thing, it might not be a problem. But because of work lives and family commitments, many of us eat out, order in, or drive thru a few times a week. That can easily spell trouble for our healthy intentions.

However, it’s not as hopeless as it may seem. Honest. It just takes a little pre-planning and thought. Warning: you may even have to change your mind about a few things.

The best advice I ever got about eating out was to decide first whether this meal is a celebration or a substitution. Is it your birthday or just a Tuesday night? A celebration might mean my favorite food, a cocktail or (and?) a dessert, items that aren’t part of my everyday meal plan. They are every-once-in-a-while splurges.

For a non-celebratory meal, I try to find something on the menu that’s comparable in size to what I’d eat at home. But still tasty, of course. Some everyday examples: Lunch out might be a half sandwich and a cup of soup or side salad. Dinner could be a piece of broiled chicken, fish, or a small steak with rice and a vegetable.

Caution: The more meals and days you designate as celebrations, the longer it will take you to reach your goals. I’m just sayin’.

blog healthy menuHere are other tips for eating out, in no particular order. One or two might be new to you.
• Know before you go. Most chain restaurants have nutrition info on their websites. Scan the menu on your computer or smartphone before you get there. Decide what you want and order first. That way you won’t be swayed by your table-mates.
• Salads aren’t always as friendly as you’d think. See the note above. Creamy dressings and added goodies like cheese, nuts, bacon, croutons, and giant tortilla shells can really add up. I’m not saying don’t eat them, just be aware. Italian dressings or vinaigrettes are usually good choices. Order dressing on the side and don’t dump it all on at once. Dip your fork into a little dressing with each bite.
• Read the menu carefully. Danger words like creamy, cheesy, crispy, battered, breaded, and buttery alert you to higher fat items. Approach them with caution.
• Soups are usually a good choice, as long as they aren’t the creamy kind. Brothy, beany, veggie based soups are great. Tortilla soup and posole are yummy choices at Mexican restaurants. Wor wonton soup at a Chinese place is usually HUGE and filled with shrimp and other meats along with the stuffed wontons. A full meal in a bowl. De-lish.
• Avoid restaurants known for huge portions. All-you-can-eat buffets are common here in Nevada. I have learned to manage them without trying to get “my money’s worth,” but they aren’t my first choice. If I have input on the restaurant, I’ll suggest somewhere I know I can get food I really like in reasonably-sized portions.
• Order ala carte. At Mexican restaurants (my fave) I love shrimp tacos, but the dinner is huge! So I just order the tacos without the rice and beans. And after the dozen or so chips I’ve eaten with salsa before my dinner arrives, I’m satisfied. Or I just order an appetizer.
• Order the lunch portion at dinner. It’s usually a little smaller.
• Try something new. Don’t always order what you always order. Try a veggie or turkey burger. Two dishes I’ve discovered at Chinese restaurants are Moo Shu (tasty veggies sautéed and wrapped in thin pancakes) or Lettuce Wraps.
• Share. Half of something yummy is still yummy and most likely, enough.
• If the bread basket or tortilla chips on the table are a real problem for you, move it to the other end of the table. Or decline it when it is offered, as long as your table-mates agree.
Take half home to enjoy again tomorrow. I’ve heard of people who ask the waitperson to bring the box right away, but I’ve never done it.
Slow down. Savor every bite. Put your fork down frequently. Drink more water. Focus on the conversation.
Speak up, smile and ask nicely for what you want. Broiled instead of fried, extra veg instead of potato or rice. Skim milk. No cheese. Dry toast. Eggbeaters. Whatever. Just mind your manners. Please and thank-you go a long way.

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With a little planning and practice you can learn to manage and enjoy eating out without sabotaging your healthy habits. Do you have some tricks for eating healthier at restaurants? Please share.

Healthy Habit #6: Steps to Success

blog hard heasyAs part of professional development classes when I was a teacher, we learned about the Stages of Competence. This concept refers to how we grow and change in accordance with new learning, finally incorporating that learning into our everyday behavior.

Newsflash: It doesn’t happen all at once.

Let’s look at the steps as they apply to learning to walk.

  • Unconscious incompetence: You don’t know and you don’t care. Walking? What’s walking? You’re fine with crawling. Low center of gravity, low risk of failure.
  • Conscious Incompetence: You realize that’s something’s wrong, but you’re not sure what. You notice others are walking. You try standing while holding on to a chair, a table leg. You fall. This isn’t going well. You try again. You fall.
  • Conscious competence: You make a concerted effort try this new behavior. It’s not natural yet. You are practicing. Someone holds your hands as you make tentative steps. They help you not to fall. Sometimes you can manage a few steps on your own. People around you reward you for your attempts by smiling, clapping their hands and giving you hugs and kisses.
  • Unconscious competence: Walking has become so natural, you don’t even realize that it’s a skill. You can walk anywhere, anytime, without even thinking about it. Congratulations! You’re a walker. You might even be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.

When it comes to establishing healthy habits, what stage are you at? I think most of us get stuck in the middle somewhere, never quite giving ourselves enough time practice to new skills. Those habits never have a chance to become second natureblog ladder. I’ve read that it takes twenty-one days for a behavior to become a habit. Three weeks.

So give yourself time.
Don’t move on too quickly. Keep practicing that new behavior until you no longer have to think about it. Until you no longer need a reminder. Do you need a reminder to brush your teeth before bed? Probably not. Hopefully not. It’s become a habit.

When it comes to healthy habits, choose one to practice and reward yourself for it until it’s firmly established. Then move on. Baby steps, remember?

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Healthy Habit #5: Two lessons about plate geometry

Lesson I: Diameter blog Plate size by yearsWe can easily see that the size of our dinner plates (and coincidentally, our pants) have increased substantially over the past 50 years. We also know that we prefer the look of a full plate and that–thanks to many of our mothers–we are charter members of “the clean plate club.” We feel obligated to eat what is put before us, even if we are no longer truly hungry.

So here’s a baby step for you. Try eating from a smaller plate, like the nice luncheon or salad plates you have in the cupboard. Or eat your cereal or soup from a smaller bowl. That’s it. Try it for one or two meals. Notice anything? If your spouse is anything like mine, you might get asked, “Are you sure that’s enough, honey?” Bless his heart. As I’m ever gonna eat less than I need. As if I’m wasting away before his eyes.

Lesson II: Fractions. How can a normal human being balance his or her diet without having to weigh or measure everything? This little bit of Plate Geometry may be helpful, especially at potlucks, buffets or Sunday dinners at Grandma’s.

Think of your dinner plate as a circle. Draw an imaginary line down the center, dividing the plate in half. Half. That’s how much of your meal should be non-starchy vegetables and fresh fruits. If you have blood sugar issues, you may need to reduce the amount of fruit, but for most of us it’s not a problem.

Now divide the other half of your plate in half again. Each section is now one-fourth of your plate. That’s where your starchy vegetables (corn, peas, and potatoes) and other carbohydrates (rice, noodles, and bread) go. The last quarter of your plate is for protein, preferably lean protein, but that’s another topic.

blog divided_plate_630Do you see how Plate A is different from Plate B? Do you see that the same kinds of items are present, just in different proportion? More veggies and fruit, a little less carb and protein. That’s it. This tip works best of course, if those items are relatively “clean.” To me that means that the meat’s not breaded and fried, that carbs aren’t cheesy, and the veggies, not creamed. But still, it’s a place to start.

blog eat food Geometry Homework: Eat from a smaller plate or in these proportions for a few meals this week. Ask yourself: How did it go? What got in the way? What would make it easier to establish this habit? What’s your next step?

Gains and losses go beyond the scale

This was first published in The Nevada Appeal on June 18, 2003, but might give you a little insight into the motivation for my weekend Healthy Habits for Happy Humans series.

blog balancePerhaps this story begins in February of 2001 when I renewed my driver’s license. You know that space that asks for your weight? I told the truth for the first time in over twenty years. I came clean with the DMV and myself.
Perhaps the story begins much earlier. Like many women, I’d gained weight with babies, birthdays and bread machines. I had begun avoiding cameras, shopping at “the big girl store” and looking, well—matronly. For the past eight years, I hadn’t been able to lose more than a few pounds before giving up and gaining it back.
No, I am not new to dieting. I’ve been chubby since about sixth grade with only momentary glimpses of my hipbones in the intervening years. I’ve even lost forty or more pounds several times. So in September 2001, when a Weight Watcher leader agreed to come to school if twelve people signed up, I interpreted it as a sign from the universe that it was time to learn to manage my weight—once and for all. I was determined to figure this out. I would do it —not for a reunion or a cruise but for good, and for myself. Continue reading “Gains and losses go beyond the scale”

Healthy Habit #4: Size Matters

Serving size, that is.

blog portions-have-changedOur eyes have grown used to super-sized fries, big gulps, mega-muffins and bigger burgers. Consider what’s happened to our waistlines in the last twenty years. Do you see a correlation?

A good little exercise—yes, I said exercise—to try in the privacy of your own home is to get to know what’s already in your own fridge, freezer and pantry. Start by finding for the nutrition label on the package. Today we’ll look mostly at the serving size and the number of servings contained in the package. That information is listed near the top. I find it helpful to circle the serving size with a Sharpie as a reminder.

What do you notice? Does that bottle of soda, can of soup, or frozen lasagna contain two or more servings? How much you typically consume?blog nut label

For me, breakfast cereal was a huge eye-opener. Some of my favorites, especially those containing dried fruit, nuts or granola clusters, gave me a measly ½ cup. That won’t fill my bowl or my tummy. However, I learned they do just fine as a tasty topping for my yogurt.

There is also a big variation in crackers. Most crackers contain quite a bit of fat. That’s what makes them crispy and delicious. I have been known to pull several boxes of crackers off the shelf at the store and compare which box will give me more crackers per 100 calories, for example. 6 crackers? 14? Which one am I more likely to choose? Can I be trusted to only eat a few of the really calorific ones once I get them home? Probably not.

A kitchen scale, measuring cups and spoons are helpful tools to keep nearby at least until you retrain your eye. I don’t measure everything, but I do measure the more calorie dense items I’m adding to my salad, such as cheese, nuts, dried fruits, dressing. Those are also foods I’m more likely to overdo.

Another thing I’ve learned is that sometimes, a small amount of something very flavorful will satisfy me, whereas a larger amount of something not-so-tasty won’t. That’s why I sprinkle a couple of tablespoons of bleu or feta cheese onto my salad. Or eat a few of my husband’s French fries. Or eat one very good piece of dark chocolate after dinner.

blog_hand-guide-to-portion-control_thumbIf you are at home and inclined to actually measure servings, great. But if measuring sounds too restrictive or you’re eating away from home, here some–ahem–handy rules of thumb.

  • A serving of meat: about the size of the palm of your hand
  • ½ cup: what your cupped hand will hold
  • 1 cup: about the size of your fist
  • An ounce of cheese: the size of your thumb
  • 1 tsp.: the tip of your index finger to first knuckle
  • 1 Tbsp.: the end of your thumb to first knuckle

All are approximations of course. But this exercise may nudge you toward trying something new or perhaps eating a little less of more calorie dense foods. Remember, we’re after baby steps here, not an overnight transformation.

Please share what you’ve learned about portion sizes. Any “aha” moments?

Next week: Plate Geometry