Sunday, June 28, 2015

July 1999

It was a month after Jacob died. Hannah was six months old. We were spending a hot and humid few days in the Berkshires with our extended family. Jeremy and I took Hannah to the beach to splash around. We were walking her in the stroller back to the house.

We recognized a car that belonged to one of Jeremy's siblings. It may have been a rental.  It was stuffed to the gills with children, parents and stuff. It was a right squeeze-up in there. In this state it reminded me of one of those clown cars you see at the circus. It sped by us. It seemed like they didn't see us. Or maybe they were in a hurry.

We arrived at the house to greet Jeremy's dad who was there by himself. My mother in law was playing tennis. Hannah fell asleep in her stroller. We wheeled her into a quiet room so she could finish her stroller nap.

Jeremy's dad seemed confused. Why aren't you at the pool party? He asked.

Jeremy and I were mystified. What pool party?

My father in law looked annoyed. They didn't tell you about it? We shook our heads. The three of us sat down at the dining room table. Jeremy's dad proceeded to decant pills and vitamins into shot glasses.

After a few minutes he said, they really should have invited you.

Jeremy said that he wasn't sure he wanted to go to a pool party anyway.

The three of us sat quietly for a few more minutes. One of the things I like about most men is that they don't always feel the need to fill in the silence with chatter.

I think I know why they didn't invite us I said. My father in law looked up. We locked eyes. We both looked at Jeremy who was reading the newspaper.

We all went back to what we were doing. The decanting. Jeremy started the crossword puzzle. I continued sitting in the chair and staring vacantly.

After a few more quiet minutes I said, I could be wrong. Maybe I'm reading too much into it.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

You Can Get Good And Fat On Good Fats

A long time ago everyone thought all fat was bad. The wisdom at the time was that you should eat as little fat as possible.

Then the tide changed. Now we all know there are different kinds of fat. Not all fat is created equal.

According to current research, one of the worst things you can do for your health and your waistline, is eat food that contain hydrogenated oils. Apparently we all need to stay away from these fats.

We need to be careful about how much saturated fat we eat. This is the fat that can clog up your arteries and lead to a host of related issues. As much as some of us love bacon, butter or a nicely marbled steak it's prudent to be mindful of how much of this we eat.

Then there are fats that are good. There is good news about good fats. Good fats are very good. They are good for your brain and your heart. Having good fats as part of your diet is a good idea.

Some examples of healthy foods containing ample quantities of good fats are fish such as salmon, nuts like walnuts, nut butters, avocados, olive oil and eggs.

This list is not exhaustive and this post is not a scientific study. Other people have already written those. There are many excellent and accessible books and articles on the subject of fats and their place in a healthy diet.  In addition if you haven't yet read my post called Disclaimers please go ahead and do so.

Any expertise I have comes from losing weight, reaching an ideal weight for me, and maintaining that weight for several years.

I am going to lay out a hypothetical, untrue but plausible scenario.

Let's say I have a hefty middle-aged Facebook friend. The friend has made a public announcement via his newsfeed. He is parting ways with his old eating habits. He has developed a paunch. He'd like to lose a good twenty pounds. In addition, he has been spending way too many late nights at work fueled by McDonalds and sugar-laden, supersized frothy Starbucks drinks.

He has turned over a brand new leaf. This is evident in the gorgeous picture of his dinner that he has posted on Facebook.

Imagine the photograph. Pictured is a succulent and generous slice of a perfectly cooked salmon filet. On top of that are five ripe slices of tender avocado, glistening with olive oil. More olive oil was employed in the preparation of haricot verts, further dressed up with a healthy and tasty tapenade. Crunchy brown rice has the added nutrition of balsamic olive oil vinaigrette, chopped fresh basil and a handful or two of pan-roasted walnuts.

This plate is brimming with good fats, good taste and good nutrition.

If my Facebook friend were a 600 pound man, unable to leave his bed with a typical dinner consisting of three buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken and the accompanying sides, consumed alone, night after night while lying in bed, then that man will begin losing weight immediately on this diet.

If my Facebook friend is the next Michael Phelps and is in serious training for the Olympic swim team he would lose weight eating this meal. He might eat three of these meals back to back and lose weight.

We have already established that my mythical Facebook friend is middle aged. If he were 16 years old he would lose weight eating this regularly.

If my paunchy Facebook friend eats this meal once in a while, then he can still lose weight. But if he eats a meal reminiscent of this nightly, followed only by a meandering walk or leisurely splash in the pool and his major goal is to fit into his wedding tuxedo, then he is sadly mistaken. He will not lose weight.

If my imaginary Facebook friend were a woman rather than a man, then the bad news is even worse.

Here’s why.

In my quest to lose weight and maintain it, I've used Weight Watchers online as one of my tools. I have been tracking my food intake in the form of Weight Watchers PointsPlus. As a result, I am a sort of PointsPlus expert.

The meal I described to you is infinitely healthier than the Big Mac this guy used to eat for dinner. He will definitively be a healthier fat man eating this meal.  Its likely he will have more energy, have better blood work numbers at the doctor, and maybe stave off some diseases.

But in terms of PointsPlus, calories or any other objective measure this meal is stunningly similar to the Big Mac and fries.

Let's consider the slab of salmon. It's at least 15 ounces. Salmon isn't cheap in terms of PointsPlus. That isn't a big serving while you are eating it. It's easy to plow through 15 ounces of salmon. But the scale itself doesn't care if this is a sustainable wild fish or special sauce. The avocado slices, modest as they may seem compared to Fast Food, equal roughly 3/4 of an avocado. Though virtuous, these slices are also highly caloric.

Everything glistens. Olive oil is clearly good for you. But it adds up. Hearing a glugging noise from the bottle during food prep is a sign you may be overdoing it. Using cups to measure is probably not advisable. Spoons are a better bet. Drizzle means a teaspoon or two.

Finally, there are the walnuts. Again, virtuous in terms of good fats, protein and fiber. I've read about how much a handful of walnuts can do for your health. But there are handfuls and there are handfuls. What I'm seeing here is not a dainty handful.

Cut the serving size of salmon in half, or a third, top with a slice or two of avocado, skip the walnuts and put half the amount pictured on your oatmeal in the morning and then this starts to look like a weight loss plan. A lighter touch on the vinaigrette and a true measured drizzle would also help. Now we are onto something.

You are still getting the benefits of the good fats but not getting good and fat. Portion sizes are important. Difficult to accept, but important.

My experience in talking about good fats is not coming from a place of easy success. Before Weight Watchers online, I tried going solo on my own self-invented eating plan. I will be writing more about this creative and ineffective eating plan at a later time.

My kids were very young at the time. I had a demanding part time job that expanded and contracted unpredictably. My husband Jeremy was working long hours.

I was using M&Ms and other junk foods to power through my afternoon slumps. The infusions of simple sugars were an effective temporary energy and mood lifter. I'd been reading about the dangers of consuming sugar in this fashion. I wisely decided to make some substitutions.

I also wanted to lose some weight. I had no idea about PointsPlus at the time. I started eating a handful of almonds or walnuts rather than the candy. Let's say that the word handful was very loosely interpreted. I incorporated good fats into my diet with the abandon I'd once employed M&MS.

Long story short is that I gained weight. I weighed more with my substitutions devoid of any sense of reasonable servings than I did eating candy and donuts washed down with my kids' juice boxes or Coca Cola.

This is just my personal experience. But when I see articles that imply that good fats are good in unlimited quantities or that eating good fats will never make you fat, I am understandably suspicious.

I do believe – and I haven’t read a single scientific study supporting this – that a fat person who got fat eating large portions of a Mediterranean diet is healthier than a fat person who got fat on fast food and cookies.

As of today, I am incorporating delicious and healthy variety of good fats into my eating plan. I am mindful of portion sizes and reasonable handfuls. The nuts I eat are not roasted with salt, oil and sugar. I measure my nut butters in tablespoons rather than a quarter jar full.

In case you would like to read the work of actual experts in the field of nutrition, take a look at these articles from Shape and Men's Health.

This is the third post in a series I am writing about maintaining a healthy weight.

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Friday, June 19, 2015

Willpower And Compassion

When I was a kid, I used to go to the mall with my friends. We went to the jewelry store to look at earrings on those velvet backed rotating stands, If you hung around there long enough, you could watch girls get their ears pierced.

One of our favorite things to do was go to Spencer Gifts. Once we had our fill at smelling each of the scented candles and perusing the Holly Hobbie stuff, we'd go into the adult aisle. We could kill a lot of time there reading the dirty joke books, looking at the bachelor party games and flipping through the sexy calendars.

One of the biggest differences between the mall then and the mall now is that there was no Food Court. There was no Cinnabon. There was no Starbucks. There was no smoothie place, Kettle Corn vendor or Orient Express. There were no fixins.

If our mothers gave us money and it was time for lunch, we might go to the pizza place. We would never eat dinner there. We were expected home for dinner. You didn't eat dinner at the mall.

There was a Fannie Farmer. Fannie Farmer was fancy. You didn't just go in and randomly buy candy. This was the kind of place where mothers would go and buy Easter Basket Stuff. If someone were in love with you, then you might get some chocolates from Fannie Farmer. There was a mystique about it that is hard to explain.

It was a big deal when Baskin Robbins opened. When Baskin Robbins opened, that was the official kick off of eating as entertainment at the mall.

 Before that, you could very easily go to the mall, try out some perfumes at the makeup counter, or look at A Very Young Dancer or Sisters for the millionth time at Waldens. You could spend several mindless hours there and not eat a thing.

I could go to the mall today and not eat anything. My kids could go and not eat anything. But here's the thing. It would take a whole lot more willpower to go and not eat anything now.

It's not just the mall. Everywhere you go, there is food.

I read these two fantastic books called Willpower and The Power of Habit. It's important to think of willpower as a resource. Before reading the books, I thought of willpower as something you either have or you don't.

This was not a helpful way to think about willpower.

Willpower can be cultivated.  At the same time, you expend an enormous amount of energy practicing it. This is important to understand.

Willpower can be discussed in a variety of contexts. It's a fascinating subject when it comes to any kind of habit change. Today I am primarily discussing it in reference to weight loss and weight management.

Here is what has helped me when I was losing weight and every day while maintaining.

In a nutshell, I learned from reading the two books I mentioned earlier, willpower is not a bottomless resource. Yes, it is renewable. But the more times you exert willpower during a particular day, the harder it becomes. We can develop a kind of willpower fatigue.

Every time you eat a bowl of cereal, an apple or a donut that is a food choice. It helps to remind myself of this.

What helps even more is that when I order an unsweetened iced tea at Starbucks but pass up their lemon pound cake that is also a food choice. When I ignore the hotdog vendor outside of the museum, that is a food choice. So is passing on the second serving of pancakes, walking right by the ice cream truck, and not getting a candy bar while waiting in the checkout line.

These may not seem like the same choices we make when we eat three meals a day plus snacks. At those times we know we are choosing. But when we see a vending machine and don’t stop, that is just as much of a food choice.

Complicating this fact is that I once read in a Weight Watchers article that we live in an Obescentric Society. We encounter more food choices, more food temptations and more food variety in a given day than any other time in history.

We are all responsible for our own food choices. But we need to have compassion too. Beating ourselves up for not resisting the French fries or the donut holes is showing no compassion for ourselves. Before we can make any positive changes we have to know what we are up against.

So one day I set out to illustrate this very thing. This post today is mostly not about healthy tips. Its primarily about awareness.

This was a typical day. I spent some time working at home, and then set out for two meetings, one in midtown Manhattan, and one in lower Manhattan. This involved taking subways, and walking around the streets.

On the way to the meetings, I went to my neighborhood pharmacy to pick up some prescriptions.

I gave myself an assignment. I’d photograph and write about my food choices for an entire day.

The first part of my day, I was at home. I had a healthy, points-plus-friendly breakfast, lunch and snacks. There was plenty of fruit in the house.

I did have to resist my kids’ Oreos, ice cream and Pirate’s Booty. But since I am not in the habit of having dessert foods in the middle of the day, it wasn’t difficult. It was easy for me to simply avoid the large Rubbermaid container we call The Carb Box.

Once I left the house, I started photographing all of the food choices I made – meaning food that was offered, advertised or encountered and that I chose not to eat.

Here are just some of the highlights. This reflects my NYC lifestyle. For you, it could be the 100+ food choices you made at the mall. Family gatherings have always had staggering amounts of temptations for almost everyone. Throw in a trip to the movies, Christmas, the conference room at work, your toddler’s snack bag, the halo-effect dessert aisle at Whole Foods, free samples at the grocery store, artisanal this and that, and The Food Network.

We are going to need some strategies our mothers and grandmothers didn’t have to employ. But there is no place for berating ourselves. Just look at the food choices below. I didn’t eat any of this stuff, even though a lot of it – okay all of it – looked delicious.

What food choices did you make today? What did you resist? What made you cave?

A small sampling of the foods offered on a typical NYC street. Out of everything I walked by, the Kettle Corn was the most tempting.

My favorite pharmacy is also a Luncheonette. If I indulged every time I went, my doctor might need to include a prescription for Type 2 Diabetes Treatment in my regimen.

A refreshing iced tea from my favorite independent coffee shop left me exposed to this heavenly looking cake.

Yes. This man was walking around midtown with a sign advertising foods offered at a nearby eatery.

A frothy cocktail might have been nice on a hot afternoon, but would not have been appropriate for my upcoming meetings.

Willpower And Compassion is the second in a series I am writing about maintaining a healthy weight. Disclaimers was my first post on the subject.

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Monday, June 15, 2015

Hard Anniversary

Your brother and sister keep me busy in June. Their lives are bold, messy, and in my face. But soon you announce yourself too.

My body acknowledges it first. I feel tired, spacey and wired all at once. If I didn't have a calendar it wouldn't matter. A mom knows what a mom knows.

It’s a hard time, this anniversary of when you died. What a crappy anniversary. There are the days leading up to it and then the actual day. There's no way around the fact that it stinks.

There are things I know and things I don't know.

At two you were very much your own, fully formed person. You'd be that now. The 18-year-old version of that.

You're good natured and adaptable. That thread would remain intact.

You are talkative and social. When you don’t have a word for something, you make it up. You don’t like to interrupt the flow of conversation.

Had you gone to school, I would have had some phone calls. The teacher would start with the positive. Jacob is everyone's friend. Jacob is a people person. But Jacob never stops talking.

We took you to an Early Intervention Evaluation. You charmed everyone there. We all had a great time.

After the evaluation, the team has some concerns. Your social skills were right on target and some were ahead of the game. But you also had some delays.

I bristle a little at one thing. They said that you have a bit more trouble paying attention and staying on task than they like to see. You’re supposed to be putting pegs in holes but you keep looking over at the balls and the squishy climbing toys. They want to keep their eye on that.

I’m puzzled. I don’t like what they are implying. I feel that all two year olds have these issues. In retrospect, I recognize how well I adapt myself to you. Since that time I have been with other two-year-old boys. I think the Early Intervention people saw something that I am able to see with clarity now.

You and your brother always slowed down and became watchful when I read you your favorite books. You'd be a reader now. I think that's safe to say.

Music is important when you're two, and I'm certain it would be a big part of your life now. Your sense of rhythm and ability to dance are exquisite. No one else in our family is like this.

The part I'm not sure about is whether you and your Dad would like and dislike the same music the way Hannah and Dad do, or whether you'd need to purposely differentiate yourself. You've always been strong -minded. Maybe you'd lock horns musically with Dad. Or maybe Dad would change his mind because of you. Your Dad was always a softy around you.

Other moms have kids your age that died and I am a Facebook friend with some of them. They feel bad because their 18 year old is missing prom or some other rite of passage.

You’re a very unique person. People call you a character. This is accurate. Because of this, it's difficult for me to simply plug you into these events then get upset that you can't go. Maybe it's a blessing in disguise that when it comes to things like prom, that feels like maybe yes, maybe no.

Maybe you'd go all out for it. But it's also easy to think about you blowing it off and doing something completely different with your friends. Or maybe you'd go to one of those alternative schools where the prom is quirky and kids wear whatever they want.

I wish I had the opportunity to know for sure because you'd be taking up your share of physical space the way your brother and sister do. I miss who you are.

Jeremy and I take the subway to a memorial service. It is for someone older than you, but still very young. Out of all the things we could be doing, this feels the most right on the day before the hard anniversary of when you died.

I see an excellent mom on the train. Her two-year-old daughter is having a tantrum in her stroller. Mom is attentive but relaxed. She deals with it all matter of fact and with humor. Some parents sitting nearby look on affectionately. I follow suit.

The mom tries a couple of things to no avail. The little girl is doing something I'm personally familiar with, which is arching her back and screaming while constrained in the stroller. Finally she takes the lightweight blanket she's got in the stroller basket. 

The mom puts the blanket over the child. Not in the regular way you might think. She puts it over the entire child. Head and all. The little girl calms down immediately. A minute later the resourceful mom removes the blanket and tucks it around her in a more conventional fashion. The child is calm and sleepy looking.

Mine were like that too, I said. They're teenagers now, I added then I gave her two thumbs up. I include you when I think about toddler tantrums. I think of you as a teenager now even though I don't know exactly what you'd be doing.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Hatchet Job

I wrote something recently. It seemed almost good. I though it needed some fleshing out. That is what I set out to do.

Just as I was ready to add a little color to the piece, I unexpectedly and suddenly did the opposite. I deleted something.

After deleting a little of it, I liked what I saw. So then I cut the rest of the paragraph. I liked that too.

At this point, I’m on a roll.  I went through the writing, paragraph by paragraph. I deleted a little at a time at first. Then I became bold and started eliminating wide swaths of writing. Entire threads went into the trash.

This non-writing was extremely satisfying. This non-writing started to feel like writing.

After getting rid of most of my writing, I looked at what was left. I didn’t miss what was missing. Even though I had acted very spur of the moment, I knew that I did the right thing.

I was so satisfied with this hatchet job. I didn’t add anything back. I didn’t add anything new.

I’d arrived at the crux of it. I experienced happy minimalism.

I don’t know what this means going forward. But I have a feeling it’s leading somewhere.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Best Thing Someone Never Said to Me

I'm at Jacob's memorial service. I just finished eulogizing him. He's two years old.

In order to help me, I think about Jackie Kennedy. I feel I am cut from stronger cloth than most people. And so I am.

There is a reception afterwards. Various people express their condolences.

An older gentleman named Ben approaches Jeremy and me. He is an old friend of my father-in-law's.

He clasps both of my hands in his. He looks into my eyes. He is clearly struggling. He does this for some time without saying anything.

When he finally speaks, this is what he says. There are no words. There are no words he repeats. He doesn't say anything else.

He continues to hold my hands. He keeps eye contact. Thank you, I say.

I will never forget this. I will never forget what he said because it is perfect.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015


About five years ago I lost 30 pounds. I adopted new healthy eating and exercise habits with the help of WeightWatchers Online. I was also fortunate because my mother was a source of encouragement and advice. So were some other family members. In fact, there is one family member in particular was responsible in getting me started. I still remembered the conversation. I started Weight Watchers Online the very next day because of him.

When I adapted my eating and fitness, Jeremy followed suit. He lost weight too. When all was said and done and we'd lost all of the weight we wanted to, we realized that our combined weight loss was equal to that of the total weight of our son Noah, who was in the 4th grade at the time.

Early on, people would ask Jeremy and I how we lost all of this weight. But more recently the questions have been slightly different. People have shifted from wanting to know how we've lost the weight to inquiring as to how we have kept it off.

Jeremy is an excellent and accomplished baker. Once people realize this they really have questions about how I can remain slim while being married to Jeremy. People also want to know how Jeremy maintains his physique while being Jeremy.

So I've decided to write some blog posts about it.

Many people lose weight. But when it comes to keeping the weight off, that is a challenge. It is a challenge for me too. But I have managed to do it for a long time.

In this way, I am an expert of sorts. I have been able to achieve what many people are not able to do. 

Here is what I am. I am a slim person with a lot of good ideas to share. I have some strategies that you may not have heard before. I believe that losing weight and keeping it off puts me in a rarefied place. However, my expertise is limited. That is what this disclaimer is all about.

Here's what I am not.

I am not Beyoncé
I am a woman who has carried and birthed three children in quick succession. A number of years later, I proceeded to become middle aged. I do not have a body like Beyoncé.

What I do have his a fit, healthy and comfortable body. I am slim and I like to think of myself as shapely. When I go up the stairs I do not huff and puff. I wear whatever I like within reason.

I am not celebrity red carpet ready. I do wear a size 6 and I like to bargain shop for clothes. If the line at Marshall's were a red carpet, I'd be ready for that.

In other words, I am doing extremely well for a 52 year old woman who has not had any plastic surgery and doesn't employ a celebrity personal trainer or chef.

I am not a nutritionist or a doctor
This one is self-explanatory. I am neither of these things. I am hoping to interview specialists in both of these fields. But a lot of my advice will come from my own experience and observations. If you are a diabetic or suffer from Celiac disease, then I'd think twice about anything I say.

I am not into Fat Shaming
I believe our society at large has a great deal of prejudice toward fat people. Most everyone agrees that it is not nice to make fun of people with disabilities, or people who belong to certain ethnic groups. But overweight people can be fair game.

If a famous person who used to be slim becomes fat, people love looking at unflattering pictures of that person.

I think some of the urgency around fitness, losing weight - especially baby weight - and before and after pictures is actually fat shaming behavior in disguise.  Not all of it. But enough.

My awareness and thinking about this has lead to some unorthodox ideas. I think there are worse things to be than fat.

I am not a trendy dieter
I eat from all of the food groups. If I had celiac disease or gluten sensitivity I would be on a gluten free diet. I eat gluten. I eat carbs. Most of the time I eat whole-wheat carbs and healthy carbs. But they are still carbs.

I eat white pasta. So shoot me.

I never use the terminology Clean Eating because for some reason it bothers me.

I do not eat like my ancient ancestors. Although there is some overlap, my diet does not closely resemble that of cave dwellers.

I am never doing a juice fast or cleanse.

If I had to give a name to how I eat most of the time, I'd say that what I eat has strong elements of the Mediterranean diet by way of Weight Watchers. In addition to that, I did eat lunch at Shake Shack yesterday because that is my reward after going to get a mammogram. Same with some home baked sugar cookies I had later.

I have some unfair advantages
I first heard the term Unfair Advantage either listening to a podcast or reading Seth Godin. In any case, when it comes to weight loss and weight maintenance, I have several.

Being aware of them and what they are means I can utilize them to help me.

Some people might think that my having unfair advantages puts me in a place where I have no business giving advice. I think that this is the wrong way of looking at it. Every person has an unfair advantage when it comes to reaching and staying at a healthy weight. In future posts I'll write about mine and help you identify yours. Being aware of it isn't the whole story. But it's something you can keep in your toolbox. It's an asset. When it comes to this, we can all use whatever help we can get.

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