I Have Thoughts

It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data.
– Sherlock Holmes, in A Study in Scarlett, by Arthur Conan Doyle

So, this Jezebel article is making the rounds: Weight Watchers Probably Won’t Help You Lose Tons of Weight, So Maybe Stop Dieting?  The article was prompted by Weight Watchers releasing its latest iteration, Weight Watchers 360, this week.  Most of you know I have been on Weight Watchers for more than 6 years; I got the new plan information in my meeting earlier tonight.

There are a lot of different topics covered in this article; let me say up front that I’m not here to debate the science of weight loss.  I know the statistics, I know all about Health at Every Size (HAES), I read several fat-acceptance blogs.  I don’t dispute that many, if not most, people fail at “diets,” and I certainly believe that weight is not a barometer of health.

Also, I don’t disagree with this, either:

the new plan, dubbed Weight Watchers 360, is pretty much almost exactly the same as the last time I attended — “Members will still continue track their food intake with PointsPlus values — numbers assigned to foods based on the content of protein, fiber, carbohydrates and fat,” — with a few more add-ons to purchase.

In fact, as soon as I remembered it was roll-out week, I wondered how long it would be til my leader showed us the new crap to buy, which is always only marginally different than the previous crap.

My main issue with the article is that it appears to have been written by someone who has not experienced Weight Watchers in several years, at least since the switch to the PointsPlus format (as opposed to the plain old Points format), and that the author appears to violate one of my scientist father’s favorite axioms: Anecdote does not equal data.  That is to say, she presents her own experiences with Weight Watchers as the Weight Watchers experience.

So, here’s my experience:  I joined WW when I was 29, the summer between my second and third years of law school.  I was tired of not feeling like I fit, both in the world metaphorically and in my own skin literally.  I lost exactly 50 pounds in exactly one year; it took me a year-and-a-half to lose the next 24.  During that time, I was following the program closely, though not perfectly or religiously.  I was exercising four to five times a week.  Once I got the hang of the program, I didn’t find it difficult at all, but I had a pretty laid back attitude towards things: I recognized that points are not an exact science and I accepted that, when I couldn’t calculate points precisely, I would just have to do my best to estimate.

The Jezebel author said WW and its focus on points caused her to obsess over food; that’s my default, though (healthy or not), so it didn’t feel any different to me.  If anything, I felt more in control of my eating when I was following the program.  Growing up, my mother didn’t allow junk food in the home, at all, and, far from teaching me to eat a balanced diet, I fairly lusted after the things that were forbidden to me.  When I baby-sat and the parents said, on the way out the door, “Help yourself to any snacks,” I was like starved man at a buffet.  When I had to sell candy bars for fundraisers at school, my poor parents always had to cough up the difference to cover the ones I secretly ate.  Because I constantly felt deprived (despite never actually going hungry), food is, to this day, probably the thing that occupies the largest part of my thoughts.

WW gave me structure, and rules, and a limit – when you’re out of points, stop eating. That seems crazy to some people, my husband included.  But I never learned to listen to my body, to feed it when it was hungry and stop when it was satisfied.  When there were good tasting foods to eat, I ate them in quantity, like I might never have them again.  And implicit in the limit is, if you’re still hungry when you’re out of points, you probably aren’t eating the right things, so make your points count nutritionally.  That’s another thing I think the Jezebel writer gets wrong:

If we really wanted to make a difference in national health — from WW to fat kids — we’d be focusing on health. Weight would not be a factor. Programs like “Weight Watchers” would be “Health Watchers” (or, er, something catchier?) and we’d focus on eating fruits and veggies, moving our bodies, and loving ourselves at whatever weight.

But as long as I’ve been a member, WW has, in fact, focused on eating fruits and vegetables, and exercise (Activity Points, anyone?), and not beating yourself up when you stumble (which is a form of loving yourself no matter your weight).  If the author didn’t get that at her meetings, she was going to the wrong meetings.

Speaking of meetings, this is another place where my experience largely diverges from the author’s.  In 6+ years on WW, I have never gone even a single week without attending a meeting.  I’m not kidding – I’ve attended meetings in at least five different states and in Canada.  I’ve gone when I was on vacation, and even while I was on my honeymoon.  My leaders have never “beaten into” our heads the amount of weight they’ve lost; some of them don’t even mention it unless someone asks.  I’ve never seen young children at WW meetings who are actually on the program (and you have to get special permission under 16, I believe, to even join).  I’ve certainly never seen anyone “shamed” at the scale, as the author contends; every receptionist I’ve ever encountered has been exceedingly discreet.  And while I have seen members “brag” about disordered eating behaviors, I’ve also seen my various leaders explain why those behaviors aren’t healthy and help the member identify the need she’s trying to meet and find other, healthier ways to meet it.  As for this:

There were the women who presented, at least to me, as being socially acceptable weights. I sat next to a few of them, and they shared with me the pain of trying to lose the “last five pounds”. Anyone who’s ever been to a WW meeting will let you know that this person is a common fixture. While perhaps not technically underweight, and you can’t tell anything by looking at a person, I’d find it highly unlikely that these people needed to lose weight for medical reasons.

Well.  First, there’s no rule that only people who need to lose weight for medical reasons can join WW.  Second, WW has a weight range for every height (which I believe also takes age into account); as long as you are 5 or more pounds above the low end of the range for your height, you can join.  Third, what the fuck business is it of yours?  The “last 5 pounds” is just as important to her as your 20-, 30-, 40-, or 100-pound goal is to you.  Is it difficult sometimes, as a much heavier woman, to hear a much thinner woman lament how hard it is, when you feel like you’d kill to be the weight she is?  Yes, undoubtedly.  But you are not her.  You don’t live in her body.  And you sure as shit don’t get to judge her or say, essentially, that she has no right to be in that room.

The author also says that WW and its focus on points drove her to disordered eating behaviors, like “starving” herself before meetings, eating whole packages of WW gummies because they were only one point instead of eating an apple, because that’s 2 points (again, this, too, goes to show her info is outdated; fruit is now points-free on WW).  My experience is the opposite: Never in my life has my eating been less disordered than it was during the first three years I was on WW and carefully following the program.  During that time, I was much less likely to hoard food, sneak food, eat alone because I was ashamed of what I was eating, eat until I felt my stomach was going to explode, binge eat, eat mindlessly, etc, etc, ad nauseum.  My entire eating life prior to WW, and in the last 3.5 years, has been defined by those behaviors (why is another post altogether and beside the point for today).  It was only with the structure and support that WW provided me that I was able to eat like a normal person.  I finally fit.

Now, obviously, I have gained back all of the weight I lost, plus 12 pounds, over the course of the last four years.  That places me among the storied 95% of people who reportedly are unable to sustain their weight loss.  That’s not WW’s fault, though, and to suggest it’s a failure of the program is folly.  WW didn’t stop working for me, the way the author claims it did for her.  I stopped following the program, first in small ways, and later altogether (I never stopped going to meetings, though, because I never wanted weight loss as a goal to fade from view; also my unbroken meeting streak is kind of a freakish point of pride for me).

It started when I began dating my husband and wanted to make him all the foods he loved and join him in enjoying them, and when it was more important to spend time with him than to go to the gym.   Basically, I made the decision at that point that something else was more important, and my lack of diligence caught up with me.  Over the last several years, I’ve made numerous halfhearted attempts at following the program for a few days here and there, but I never put in the same level of effort that I did back in the beginning, and so I never saw any results that would lead me to keep putting in the effort.  It’s a vicious cycle.

But.  I know WW would work for me again if I really committed to it.  I’ve never met anyone who truly followed the program (and not even “religiously,” just mostly) for whom WW did not work.  I’m not saying those people don’t exist; the Jezebel author claims to be one of them.  I’m saying, that’s not my experience and the experience of many of the people I actually know who have done WW.  And I’ve known A LOT of them.

My purpose in writing all of this is not say how WW actually is; it’s merely a counterpoint to the Jezebel article, because I feel that author did try to say how WW is, and I don’t believe that any one person’s experience is universal.  Accordingly, as they say on the internet, your mileage may vary.

P.S. Was I the only one who thought it was awesome that the name of the researcher quoted in the Jezebel  article — an article about weight loss — was Dr. Bacon?

Remainders

Why can’t somebody give us a list of things that everybody thinks and nobody says, and another list of things that everybody says and nobody thinks.
– Oliver Wendell Holmes

It’s been a while.  Busy, busy, blah, blah, apathy, blah, blah.  Here’s what’s on my mind lately:

1. In Bermuda, the drivers never ran red lights and they always stopped at crosswalks to let pedestrians cross.  It was such a nice change of pace from D.C.

2. I’ve been off my medication for two months.  I’m clearly less stable without it (read: way more tears), but I prefer to be unmedicated, so I’m working on it.  It sort of feels like I’m having to deal with everything that the medication let me ignore.  I don’t like it, but to move on to the next stage of my life, it’s necessary.

3. I wonder if I’ll ever learn to stop comparing my insides to other people’s outsides.  I read blog posts about people who seem so insanely happy with every little thing in their lives–their spouses, their jobs, their goddamn organic lifestyle–and I get scared that something’s wrong with my life because I don’t feel that way all the time.  More on this in another post.

4. My Fitness Pal.  I love it.  For some reason, counting calories is working for me in a way that counting points doesn’t (and hasn’t for a long, long time).  Maybe it’s the social aspect, sharing my daily food diary with other people, but since being accountable to myself was clearly not enough, being accountable to other people, even just in theory, seems to be helping me make better choices (No, you shut up, fettucine alfredo and cheesecake I had for dinner last night).  I haven’t been perfect tracking, but if I’m 90%, that’s 90% better than the last year or more, so there you go.

5. I ordered photobooks for David’s and my parents to finally fulfill the promise we made to get them wedding albums.  I ordered from My Publisher, on the recommendation of Young House Love (who I love and who have never steered me wrong before), but when they arrived, I was so, so disappointed.  The cover pictures look like they were printed on an ink jet, the colors inside are comically saturated, and probably half the pictures are grainy and just  not sharp. If you were a business, you’d be embarrassed to have sent out a product that looks like these do.  I have already contacted customer service – they have a satisfaction guarantee – and I bet they will offer to redo them, but I’m not inclined to try.  Three albums, three misses.  I’ll just take my money back, thanks.

What have you been up to?

Things I’ve Bought That I Love, Vol. 2

I like my money right where I can see it: hanging in my closet.
– Carrie Bradshaw, on Sex and the City

(I know it’s late, but you didn’t think I’d let you down so early in this NaBloPoMo, did you?  I wouldn’t do that to you!  I’m probably going to let you down later in this NaBloPoMo, though.)

1. Aveda Rosemary Mint shampoo – this was the shampoo in our room at the Palms when we went to Las Vegas in January, and I fell in love with it.  It’s not overpowering at all, but it’s so refreshing and energizing.  David hunted it down when we got back and bought me a GIANT bottle of it.  (FYI: I didn’t like the matching conditioner – it didn’t seem to soak in well.)

2. Old Navy Slub-Knit Active Skirt – it’s too bad they only have XXL left online because I bought an XL one (which is a little too big, but they only had S besides that one) in the store that I live in on the weekends now and I would buy one in every color if I could.  So soft, so comfortable.  That’s summer.

3. Flutter Sleeve Scoopneck knit dress from Ann Taylor Loft – I bought this in purple a few months ago in anticipation of summer and it is perfect!  Breezy and flirty without being overtly sexy, and totally comfortable.

4. Waterpik Aqua Fall Combo showerhead – we just bought this yesterday from Bed Bath and Beyond to replace the shower head that’s in our bathroom.  This one is the bomb – I love the “drenching rain” setting on the big shower head.  Also, you can use both of them at the same time, and the handheld one sits up quite high, which is great for David who is too tall for most showers and has to duck uncomfortably to rinse his head.

5. Bed Lifts – ever since we moved into our new apartment, we’ve had one quibble with the master bedroom: the TV table is just a bit shorter than the foot of the bed, which means that when we lie in bed and watch TV, the bottom of the TV is sometimes cut off.  And if Pico decides to camp out at the foot of the bed, forget it – we can’t see half the screen.  And, we have to hold the remote at odd, uncomfortable angles to change the channel or turn the TV on and off because the cable box sits in a recess even lower down.  We’ve been debating various solutions and finally went with this one yesterday, and it’s worked out perfectly.  These lifts (meant to give you more storage space under a bed) raised the TV table 7 inches, which means the cable box is now easily accessible from a normally held remote and ALL of the TV is viewable from a comfortable reclined position.  WIN! (And these are wicked strong, too – we have a 32-inch CRT TV on top of a  TV table that Target tells me weighs 100+ pounds)

What about you?  What are you loving these days?

Things I’ve Bought That I Love (Original Recipe)

Cookies, Again

I refuse to believe that trading recipes is silly. Tuna fish casserole is at least as real as corporate stock.
– Barbara Grizzuti Harrison

As promised, here’s the recipe for my favorite of the cookies Karen and I made last weekend:

Peppermint Candy Shortbread Cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 c. butter (no substitutes), softened
  • 1/4 c. sugar
  • 1/4 c. crushed candy canes or other peppermint candies
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/4 c. corn starch
  • Directions

  • Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
  • Mix butter, sugar, crushed candy, and vanilla thoroughly using an electric mixer.  Gradually blend in flour and corn starch.
  • Form dough into 1-inch balls and place on parchment-lined baking sheets.  Gently press down on each cookie to flatten using fingers or bottom of a glass dipped in sugar (to prevent sticking).
  • Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until bottoms begin to brown.  Cool on pan for 5 minutes, then move to a wire rack to cool completely.  Ice if desired (see below).
  • Icing (this is the recipe we used, not the one that came with the cookie recipe – halve this and you’ll still have more than enough)

  • 1 c. powdered sugar
  • 3/4 tbsp. butter, very soft
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2-4 tbsp. milk, depending on consistency (if too thin, add more sugar; if too thick, add more milk)
  • Whisk all ingredients together until smooth.  Drizzle cookies with frosting and top with crushed peppermint candy, if desired (When I make these again, I’m going to skip the frosting step – it’s good, but I think they’d be perfect plain).

    We had our work Christmas party today.  There was a bake-off as part of the festivities, so I attempted the Death by Caramel bars that I was considering as part of cookie weekend.  I couldn’t find dulce de leche in the grocery store, and I didn’t have time to go to the Latin grocery store, so I attempted to make my own by melting caramels with cream.

    The recipe calls for the dulce de leche to be dolloped on top of the batter in the pan and then swirled into it to create pockets of caramel, which, in theory sounds heavenly.  The batter was pretty thick, though, and I’m not sure much of anything could have been swirled into it, and if it could be, it wasn’t this stuff I cooked up.  I ended up with a layer of caramel sauce on the top that just cooked with the rest of the batter and didn’t come out gooey at all.

    The result was just ok, and I’m disappointed I wasted all of what it cost to make it on something that wasn’t anything special.  I’m willing to try it again if I can find the dulce de leche, but I’ve still got nearly the entire pan of this batch left (it should go without saying that it didn’t win the bake-off).  Boo.

    For Your Consideration

    One day, an army of gray-haired women may quietly take over the earth.
    – Gloria Steinem

    Behold, my new favorite blog, co-written by two women (though mostly by one of them) in their 80s who have been friends for 60+ years: Margaret and Helen.  As a warning, many of the posts are political, and heavily left-leaning, but oh my gosh, do these ladies have a way with words – I just started reading today, and they are cracking me up.  Hope you enjoy it as much as I do!