The Other I

April 11, 2015

Fat Chance

Filed under: Diet,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 2:08 pm

Almost two months ago I started my annual task of taking off the excess three pounds weight I’d put on during the Christmas & New Year holidays.

So far I’ve lost two pounds – that’s an average of one pound a month.  Our weather has finally turned the corner, and despite occasional cold and rainy days, we are clearly headed toward spring and working in the garden has increased my opportunity for faster calorie burn.  So I expect to reach my goal by the end of the month.

My arguments with my two-year-old self, however, hit a barrier two days ago with the publication of research here in the UK showing that obese people are less subject to dementia as they age than groups with lower BMI’s.

“YOU SEE!”, said my two-year-old self.  “That chocolate cookie would really be good for me.  And you won’t let me have it!”

So I looked at the research a little more carefully.  Sure enough, obesity – defined as a BMI greater than 26.5 – that begins in middle age, seems to provide some kind of protective factor against dementia, even when factors like alcohol and smoking are taken into account.  Being significantly under-weight in younger years is an even bigger factor predicting dementia, but I’ve never had a BMI approaching 20, which was the dangerous bench mark.  So my two-year-old is eyeing up that chocolate bar.

But there is also significant research suggesting that obesity is associated with increased risk of cancer.

And I do notice that nobody is recommending that people gain weight throughout middle age in order to stave off dementia.  (Although, of course, researchers do think it’s worth finding out what the protective factors are in obesity that seem to reduce dementia risk.)

So right now, I think I’ll stick with my BMI where it is – minus a pound that is.

And No, two-year-old, you can’t have that bar of chocolate until you lose another pound!  And I don’t want to hear from you again that chocolate is good for you.

February 3, 2015

Out of sight, out of mind

Filed under: Diet,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 7:52 pm


Every year I say it won’t happen again, but every year during the December/January holidays I manage to put on three pounds of weight.  So every February I go on a diet to lose it.  Last year I landed on a strategy that, unlike every other dieting strategy I have ever tried, actually worked.

It’s my Just-a-minute strategy.

I discovered that telling myself NO doesn’t work.  “No, you can’t have that cookie now”,  “No, you can’t have that piece of chocolate now”, “No, you can’t have another piece of pie” inevitably started a dialogue with my two-year-old self.  It went something like “Why?  just this once.  Then I’ll be good, I promise.  Just one won’t hurt.  Besides I’m so hungry…”  And the embarrassing thing is that I inevitably lost that juvenile argument.

I finally realized that for me, saying “No” doesn’t work because I inevitably keep thinking about that forbidden fruit, and my two-year-old self keeps nagging with arguments about why she should have it.

So I decided to treat myself like the two-year-old who kept winning the argument.  Last year instead of saying “No” to myself, I say something like  “yes, you can have it, but read this article first.”  Or “yes, but first get the laundry ready.”  Or “after you’ve finished doing your budget for this month.”  Or “take the trash out first.”  And I respond just like a two-year old:  out of sight is out of mind.  It’s amazing but it breaks that compulsive obsession and I rarely come back after that initial ten or fifteen minutes saying “But you promised!  Can I have it now?”

So this year I have three pounds to lose once again.  I’m using my “Just-a-minute” strategy.  Next month I will make a report on how it’s worked this year.  I suspect part of me is still two years old.

September 16, 2014

Dragon fruit

Filed under: Diet,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 8:30 pm

  We were in the grocery story this morning, and I saw a “dragon fruit” for sale on the shelf.  I’ve never seen anything like it before in my life, and since it was £2 (less than $4), I bought it, and we had  it for our evening dessert.  It’s a popular Asian fruit,  quite sweet, and supposed to be one of those super-foods full of anti-oxidants and vitamins and all those things with complicated names that they try to jam into vitamin tablets.

But I also discovered something else today that scientists are presenting as the newest forbidden fruit of our age.

It’s sugar.

I’ve known most of my life that processed sugar doesn’t really have any substantial nutritional value.

But what I learned today is that it is the sole (the sole!) cause of tooth decay.  There are villages still in this world where not a single person has any tooth decay whatsoever, because they have no access to processed sugars.  In this country, more children end up in the hospital to have a mouthful of rotten teeth extracted as a result of a sugary diet than for any other single cause.

Despite its name and appearance, it is not Dragon Fruit that grows on the new forbidden tree of our age.


September 9, 2014

But I want!!!

Filed under: Diet,Illness and disease,Just Stuff,Osteoporosis — theotheri @ 2:42 pm

There are several things I’ve known for many years, but have cleverly managed not to put together.  I’ve known, for instance that:

  • possibly as much as 90% of long-term joint pain and arthritis are due to allergies
  • these allergies differ drastically among people
  • the things we may be allergic to might be obviously not good for us, especially in excess – like alcohol, drugs (both legal and illegal), and fast food
  • allergies might also be less obviously evil – nuts, red meat, various grains, night-shade vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, paprika, tea and coffee

I’ve also known that those of us not physically prone to alcohol addition often instead are apt to be vulnerable to sweets, in other words, to develop a sugar addition.

I realized in my early forties that my evening pre-dinner glass of wine was making my joints sore.  I never became a teetotaler, but I rarely now have more than a single drink in a week, and when I do, I immediately pay the price in pain and sleepless nights.  I’d rather be able to drink a little more, but in truth, my restraint has been more than worth paying for the price of remaining pain-free.

But about three months ago I developed a pain in my left shoulder and arm that has made it impossible for me to engage in several yoga stretches I’ve been doing for more than four decades.  I thought I must have strained a muscle, possibly carrying a bag of garden soil, and expected the pain to disappear quite quickly.  Well, it hasn’t disappeared, and its high time for it to be gone.
And that is when the terrible possibility crossed my mind:  am I developing arthritis as a result of sugar intake?   In other words, can sugar in one’s diet cause arthritic pain?

If you don’t want to know the answer, don’t ask Google.  The unfortunate answer is yes.  People with osteoporosis  are particularly vulnerable.

The standard medical advice is to eliminate a potential culprit for about four weeks.  If joint pain has disappeared or even significantly decreased, one may have found the culprit.  If the pain returns after a return to normal habits, that may be the trigger that has to be kept under control

WHAT!?? my two-year-old self is screaming.  No cookies with lunch?  no desserts with any sugar?  no apple pie?  no ice cream?  no chocolate?

I have watched myself occasionally play the same games that alcoholics and drug addicts play, that narrowing of consciousness that eventually reduces all reason to a total focus on the forbidden object, ultimately coming up with any reason whatsoever that results in surrender.  But I don’t have a weight problem, and I have never had to make a serious long-term effort to reduce my sugar intake.  I’ve never tried to go without processed sugar for as long as four weeks.

I don’t know if I can do it.

The avoidance of arthritic pain as I lope through my 70’s is a big enticement if it works.  But even to carry out the experiment to see if it does might be a challenge greater than I can win.

At the moment, I have 27 more days to go before I have the evidence one way or other.  If I never bring the subject up again, you’ll know it’s because I’m eating a chocolate bar.



January 29, 2012

Will power tricks that work?

Filed under: Diet,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 5:14 pm

I’ve been reading a review of recent research on will power and several interesting things caught my interest.  I’ve always been pretty organized and able to concentrate on getting a task done.  But without the discipline required by an academic job and also with age, I find that I could use a little help focussing on the job at hand rather than fiddling.

The first thing I noted is that will power uses up physical energy.  So we do not have an unlimited supply.  Will power, like everything else, literally needs replenishing with bouts of nutrition, exercise, rest, and recreation.  We can’t assume that if we can run one mile  we can do it ten times in a row without stopping.  Will power works just the same.

So it’s better not to make a whole host of resolutions in one fell swoop.   It’s better not even to have a long list of To Do’s which act like “shoulds” on the unconscious level and will use up will power even if we aren’t aware of it.  Because failed acts of the will are just as draining as successful ones.  (The research doesn’t say this, as far as I can see, but I think failure uses up even more energy than success.)

In addition, there were three suggestions for increasing will power that were new to me.  I’ve tried the third already which to my surprise seems to work, and this month I am about to add a second to my repertoire.

The first suggestion is to be realistic about how long it will take to do a task.  Most people underestimate how long it will take to get something done by about 50%.  So half way through the job we already are frustrated and feel like giving up.  So I am going to double the time I estimate a task will take.  That way, I should have a feeling of freedom and space throughout the day and have a much greater feeling of accomplishment at the end of it.

The second suggestion is to use the nothing alternative.  This sounds like a license to waste time but it’s really a method for avoiding procrastination and distraction.  What the nothing alternative involves is to do nothing if I have set aside a space of time to do a task and for some reason am fiddling instead of doing it.  This is a big one for a writer like me.  It means that when I can’t think of what to write, I can’t fill the time playing Free Cell or Spider anymore.   I can’t write emails or read the news on-line.  I don’t have to write, but I can’t do anything else either.

The third strategy is for dealing with compulsive behavior like going off a diet, or drinking too much.  It’s just say no.   It sounds like the kind of sex advice I was given as an adolescent, but which I have long thought was out of date and absolutely would have predicted would be of no use whatsoever.  But I’ve tried it for about three weeks now,  raging around the kitchen looking for something sugary to eat.  “Just say no!” I’ve been saying to myself.  So far I’ve lost three pounds.  I only want to lose five more to get down to what I weighed as a teenager, and at my age I’m deliberately doing it very very slowly.  Two pounds a month max.

I’ve just listed three changes, one of which I’ve been practicing already for most of January.  This month I am introducing the Be Realistic approach to constructing my to-do list.  I’m really looking forward to trying the  Nothing Alternative practice, though, so I might just sneak a bit of that in too.

I’ll write a post in a month or so confessing whether this is one of my many resolutions which have been lost on the way.

Or whether these really are steps to that elusive goal of becoming master of my own decisions.





July 7, 2010

In need of something fishy

I’ve just listened to a research report suggesting that people whose diets are rich in Omega 3 fatty acids are less apt to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease.  Apparently the typical Greek diet is unusually high in omega 3’s, while incidence of Alzheimer’s is relatively low.

I was already acquainted with research suggesting that omega 3’s are good for the heart, and are considered “brain food” for children.  But this is the first time I ever read that it could be implicated in reducing the chance of Alzheimer’s.

Omega 3’s are particularly concentrated in oily fish.  After that, soya, flaxseed, and canola (known as rapeseed over here in Europe), walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and green leafy vegetables like spinach and broccoli are the best sources.  And supplements.

It’s recommended, of course, not to wait until my age before acting on this.  But it’s probably better late than never.

February 3, 2010

The Big Three

Filed under: Diet,Illness and disease — theotheri @ 4:38 pm
Tags: , ,

As one who has survived the process of growing up and growing old in a generally functioning state, the Big Three of cancer, cardiac arrest, and dementia inevitably appear as possible companions at some point in my life.  What happens will happen, of course, but our futures are not totally beyond our influence.  What happens to each of us is, to some extent, the result of our own choices.

And I realize I know much more about those choices than earlier generations.

When my mother died of cancer at the age of 48 just over 50 years ago, the doctors couldn’t tell us much about what caused it.  Too much coffee was the principle hypothesis.

Today we know a lot more.  Partly it’s genetic.  But mostly it’s life style – what we eat and drink, whether we smoke, and how much exercise we get.

Fifteen years ago when my sister was dying of cancer, I realized that the recommendations for reducing cardiac disease were almost identical to those recommended for reducing cancer.

Right now, the media are featuring news on dementia in Britain, and again the list of causes of dementia and how to reduce the chances of senile dementia are just about the same:

  • genes can make a difference:  just as with cancer and cardiac disease, some of us are more vulnerable than others.  We  can’t do much about that

But the list of everything else that makes a difference are almost all under our control, and don’t require any more money than the life styles most of us live in the developed world.

  • exercise – life-long, regular exercise is unbelievably important.  I have reached this conclusion with great reluctance, because I am not an exercise freak.  I prefer walking for getting somewhere to almost any other mode of transport, but apart from that, I find exercise for its own sake one of the most boring endeavours of my life.  But I can’t avoid the conclusion that there is no more effective method for staving off the Big Three.
  • then there is diet:  lots of fruit and vegetables, low fat and sugar, fresh rather than processed foods and additives, minimal alcohol.
  • I imagine most people know that smoking is associated with increases in cancer and cardiac disease, but I was surprised to learn that smoking was implicated in dementia too.
  • And so is stress.

There is a village in India where incidence of dementia is significantly lower than it is in the developed world.  The explanation isn’t genetic.  It’s life style.

I hate to say this, but I think I would go absolutely made living there.  I couldn’t even survive on the farm where I was born in Ohio.

But I will go do my thirty minutes of daily exercise.  I guess it’s not quite as boring as I thought.  And at least I can turn on some music.

November 4, 2009

Feeding the sated

Filed under: Diet — theotheri @ 9:06 pm

My mother often used to insist that we finish the food on our plates saying “there are children starving in India.”

Being a little slow on the uptake, I was already out of the house before it occurred to me that my eating my spinach or beans or calves’ liver was not going to provide additional nourishment for a single child in India or anywhere else.

Well-meant as this approach was, it also had another flaw.  It failed to teach me to adjust my eating to my needs.  It was irrelevant whether I wasn’t eating because I didn’t like spinach or felt that I’d already eaten enough.  Learning not to eat when you’re not hungry is particularly valuable in an environment which provides food non-stop 24/7.

To this day I find it difficult to leave food on my plate or leave left-overs in the fridge whether I’m hungry or not.

March 3, 2008

My three-hour diet

Filed under: Diet,Just Stuff,Uncategorized — theotheri @ 7:47 am

Some people seem naturally to prefer A Total Approach, while others are Small Steps types.  I am a Small Steps type.  When my sister Mary gave up smoking, she did it cold turkey in a day.  When I stopped smoking, I gave it up gradually until I eventually reached the finish line after two months.  I did the same thing with my daily exercise regime, building up from five minutes every other day to 30 minutes five times a week.  A gym contract would have been a waste of time for the first year.  It took me years to move from drinking half a bottle of wine a day to my current average which is rarely more than a single drink a week.

I have still not lost the last two pounds I set out to drop well before Christmas.  I know, of course, that the medical implications of two pounds are laughable.  And few people would notice the difference.  But I won’t give up because of the principle of the thing.  My lugging those extra two pounds around when I don’t want them stems from something that isn’t working properly in the way I control my behavior.  There is something wrong with such a long-term disconnect between what I say I want to eat and what I actually do, and I’m sure this is not an isolated problem that doesn’t show up in other areas of my life.  There is too often a disconnect between my goals and what I actually do to achieve them in more than one area of my life.

The problem gets bigger as the day goes on.  I start out the day calmly, and gradually become more compulsive.  By five o’clock I have often developed a devil-may-care obsessive compulsiveness toward food, and I nibble at the food I am preparing for dinner or at left overs while I’m finishing the dishes.  I can scoff hundreds of calories in teaspoonfuls. 

So I am now concentrating on the three hours between five and eight pm., building in three reminders during that time, and in the worst case scenario, bargaining with myself:  I can have what I so urgently want after eight o’clock.  This usually works because by eight o’clock I’m out of the kitchen.  Like a child, I am no longer nagging for whatever I found so utterly irresistible mere minutes before.

As I say, it’s the principle of the thing.  I don’t want food to be so out of proportion in my daily routine because life is too important to be totally eclipsed by chocolate cookies.

And I’m remembering that gigantic hole on our property in Spain that workers filled with earth bucket by bucket.

March 2, 2008

In praise of small steps

Filed under: Cultural Differences,Diet,Survival Strategies — theotheri @ 4:51 pm

When Peter and I moved to Spain, we bought a villa (which refers to mostly anything we would call less elegantly “a house”) on a disused vineyard.  It was on a hill and was terraced, so the property stepped down close to 50 feet from the entrance gate to the property line below.  One of the first things we did was to hire Spanish workers to build a fence so our dogs could run free, and then we had a pool installed.

The three months during which the workers were on our property was an unusual introduction to Spanish culture.  Immediately after they arrived in the morning, one of the men built a fire while another went across to the local supermarket for their bottle of brandy and bread.  On his return, the crew sat around the fire eating and drinking breakfast, and eventually started work.  I think some of them were functional alcoholics, but they were functional.  At noon, the process was repeated, followed by the siesta.  Each of the men stretched out on the ground and went to sleep.  Those in search of greater luxury slept on a piece of old cardboard. 

One of the things I learned watching them was how much could be accomplished in small steps.  After the mechanical digger had dug the hole for the pool, an adjacent hole about ten feet deep and about twice as wide had to be filled with earth.  The earth, however, was about twenty feet lower on the property.  In the U.S., a mechanical shovel would have been used to transfer the earth into the hole.  In Spain, they used a plastic bucket.  One of the men walked up and down dumping earth, one bucket at a time, bucket after bucket, for days. 

But you know, the hole got filled.  And it left me with an appreciation of just how much can be done one step at a time.

All of which is a prelude to my next thoughts on my presently incomplete diet which I will save for tomorrow’s posting.

February 15, 2008

Another novel diet: lose $10,000

Filed under: Diet — theotheri @ 2:48 pm

All right, I know some of you thought my adaptation of the hours of the prayer throughout the day used both by monks and Muslims as a diet support was a little crazy.  It works for me, if slowly, by the way.

But yesterday I read about a more modern approach that might not be utterly wacky either.  It was developed by two MIT (or maybe Yale) graduate students each trying to lose weight.  Each one promised to pay $10,000 to the other one if he did not lose an agreed amount of weight by a specified date.  If they both failed, the one who lost the most weight would get $5000. 

It worked.  So neither lost money.  But, being economists, they thought they might be onto a good thing.  They reasoned that we don’t lose weight, or change other habits like drinking too much or using drugs or gambling or smoking because our short-term rewards overwhelm our thinking about our long-term rewards.  As they see it, the money was a way of adding significant heft to the short-term consequences.

Being entrepreneurs as well as economists, they set up a website where you can design your own “commitment contract” that will impose an immediate cost in terms of a donation to the charity of your choice if you fail.  You can check it out at no cost at

My own assessment of the technique is that it might work for some people.  But I think they have subtracted two significant variables that would have been more important for me than $10,000.   (Because if I had that much to bet, I think I might have been prepared to lose it late one night for a piece of cheese cake.  After all, people have paid $70,000 for a single bottle of wine.  That makes the cheese cake look positively cheap.) 

But what would have stayed my hand was that I was working with somebody else.  Just knowing that I might have to confess that I’d failed to stay on my diet would be a big reinforcer for me.  And the students were in competition with each other as well.  Competition is also a strong reinforcer for some people – especially men.

So my version of StickK wouldn’t involve money.  It would involve telling somebody else how well  was doing.  Which is why I started to talk about my diet on this blog.  I lost another 1/2 pound by the way.  But I’ve been slacking off on the 5 mini-reminder breaks during the day, and it shows. 

I’m determined to get back on track beginning now.  I’m also getting my husband involved in my enterprise.  When I have to tell him about my successes and failures, I am much more inclined to prefer success to cheese cake and chocolate cookies. 

It’s just too embarrassing to keep admitting that one more time I couldn’t resist temptation.

February 12, 2008

Free Cell abstinence

Filed under: Diet,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 3:43 pm

I’m toying with the idea of giving up playing Free Cell and other diversionary games on my computer for the rest of Lent.

I’m not sure I can do it.  Which is almost pitiful, isn’t it?  My sister Dorothy says it isn’t, that playing computer games is seriously potentially obsessive-compulsive, and we’ve agreed to keep each informed as to our progress.  Or lack thereof.  My lack thereof, I’m afraid is the rather longer part of my current report.

Which might provide some insight into why I have lost only 3 1/2 pounds since I began on my Really Strict Diet the week before Christmas.  I am prone toward obsessive behavior.  If I ever really lose control of my mental faculties, I suspect I would become one of those bag ladies I used to see on the New York subway picking up bits of paper and muttering about what a mess everything was.  This method of tidying the subway always impressed me as a rather Sisyphian endeavour.

On the other hand, I am bio-chemically disposed to be an optimist, and I am brilliant at anything that requires organization.

Now I’m off to for a game of Free Cell.  No, only kidding.

February 6, 2008

Thoughts on Ash Wednesday

Filed under: Catholicism and other questions of religion,Diet — theotheri @ 2:16 pm

The relationship between the forty days of Lent which beings today with Ash Wednesday and being on a diet is unmistakable.  And since I remain in my battle with my extra three pounds, I have been thinking about Lent as it was practiced in my family on the farm and during my convent years. 

On Ash Wednesday as children we all trotted off to church and had ashes smeared on our forehead, a reminder of our death to come, the passing vanities of today’s pleasures, and the need to live a life of love and conviction.  We took our Lenten resolutions seriously in those days, giving up candy and parties or making resolutions to do anything else we may have decided would improve our spiritual well-being.  They were the standard things – keeping my bedroom clean, helping with the dishes without complaining, saying the rosary kneeling up straight instead of slouched against a chair.   Most of the resolutions we made we kept, and when Easter came, it really did feel like a day of sunshine when we put on our new Easter clothes and went off to church together before hunting for the Easter eggs.  Even as an adult, I remember my Dad giving up alcohol during Lent, and his opening up the liquor cabinet in the kitchen on Easter Sunday to make his classic dry manhattan.

Those days are gone for me now forever, if only because the foundation of my belief has changed too radically for me to return to those childhood days.  But I can’t regret them, and their foundation of discipline and sense of seasonal rhythms that today almost seem to belong to the Middle Ages.

I ponder what kind of world we might have if Roman Catholicism continues to decline in the world.  I splutter at the arrogance of Rome’s claim to infallibility, at its unrepentant chauvinism, at the hypocrisy of celibacy which in my experience often is a mere excuse for sex without commitment.  And yet I am convinced that the world will always have a need for answers to those questions science can’t answer.  Does life have a meaning?  Is death merely a ghastly joke?  Why is there so much suffering?  Has the universe always existed, was it created, will it always exist?

So if we are going to have religious belief, which set of beliefs are most benign, which least destructive of the human spirit?   The answers are certainly not black and white.  But I am not at all sure the human race would be happier if Catholicism were, in practice, to be displaced by Islam or Buddhism or other approaches to Christianity or any other religion with which I am acquainted.  It seems to me each religion, like each culture, and each individual, holds both a piece of the light and a piece of the darkness, the best and the worst of humankind.

Getting rid of one religious persuasion or all of them isn’t going to change the basic challenge of humanity. 

January 27, 2008

Commiserations of the dieters

Filed under: Diet — theotheri @ 10:36 pm

I read some blogs today by fellow dieters.  Some of them sound so familiar I could practically copy them verbatim here and sign my name.  Mostly I find myself laughing at the familiarity of the games we play, the resolutions and (mostly fruitless) self-flagellations we engage in.

As an act of recognition of our common sisterhood (or brotherhood, as the case may be, but by coincidence or design, I stumbled on more dieting blogs by women than men), here is my week’s review.  I stepped on the scale this morning having lost another half pound.  So I skimped on the last three mini-breaks of the day and celebrated instead with a G&T, an off-piste cookie, and rather larger servings of roast beef than my calorie-counter could accommodate. 

The “excuse” I manufactured was that I’d walked for an extra hour in Cambridge and did another 20 minutes circuit training.  This might not sound so bad next to what I used to call a “Sarah Lee Episode”  in which I could manage to eat an entire Sarah Lee cake without ever actually taking it out of the refrigerator.  But it’s a pitiful display because I really hadn’t earned a “celebration” yet.  If I had, it really would have been Ok, but instead I used my old rationalizing dodge. 

Well, I said I wouldn’t fudge the truth.  I’ll let you know if tomorrow is not the rather stricter day of abstinence and exercise I’m planning.  If it is, I’m going to write about something else entirely.

January 26, 2008

Surprise diet success – so far

Filed under: Diet,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 10:39 am

I am amazed to discover how effective my adaptation of the “Hours of the Divine Office” (or alternatively the Muslim 5 daily calls to prayer) as a diet strategy is proving to be.

I’ve never hit on anything before that helps me keep my eye on the ball so well.  Not that I don’t have to use all the other strategies I’ve developed over the years.  Like walking out of the kitchen or jogging in place until the irrational need for something off-plan to eat subsides. 

Nonetheless, I know myself well enough to predict that my next temptation will be to take short cuts on my five daily reminders.  You may wonder how I can manage to cut short a thirty second break but do not underestimate my capacity for rationalizing my way around a diet direct from God himself.  It’s the kind of thing I’ve done a 100 times before, so I know going down that route is unfortunately both possible and self-defeating.  In this case, it’s taking out the one thing in my diet regime that has worked better than anything I’ve ever tried.  Definitely an improvement on the Cabbage Soup Diet.

I’ve lost three pounds since a week before Christmas.  Three more to go.

January 18, 2008

Lost approach to weight loss

Filed under: Diet — theotheri @ 4:33 pm

I can’t send you the URL because I can’t find it again.  But one reader sent me to a site with the world’s best diet pills.  You put them on your plate instead of food.

January 17, 2008

Diet: next steps

Filed under: Diet — theotheri @ 9:52 pm

With so many people cheering me on from the sidelines, it will be embarrassing not to succeed in some reasonable time on this modest diet of mine.  So I plod on bringing to bear all the knowledge I have garnered over the years to achieve this gigantic task.

Step 2 of my behavior mod program (or programme, if you’re English) is to a set reasonable final goal.  It needs to be realistic, achievable, and to some extent measurable.  (E.g., I’m never going to achieve a figure like Marilyn Munroe’s, and if I did, I would probably miss it, and go spiralling downward into an anorexic revolt against weighing more than 100 ounces.)   My final goal is to lose 7 pounds of fat not muscle, so that at the end of the process I do not look like some sickly old frail lady, but fit and energetic.  The older I get, the more important this muscle versus fat thing becomes.

The next thing is to decide on the means to get from where I am to where I want to arrive.  These means have to be realistic and achievable as well.  I can tell you from repeated experience that it’s a waste of effort to decide to cut my calorie count down to 800 per day, and so travel toward nirvana at the rate of a pound a day.  Given my current metabolism and activity level, what is realistic for me is to cut my calorie count to about 1500 a day, increase my exercise to 30 minutes a day for six days a week, and so expect to lose about 1/2 a pound a week.  If you think that is impossibly slow, I do too.  But it’s a lot faster than the 9 months it took me to lose three pounds last year when I aimed for 1200 calories a day and couldn’t stick to it.

The step after that is to structure the day to maintain motivation and reduce slippage.  This usually takes a lot of revision as one discovers what works and what doesn’t, but I’ve been at this for a long time, so the one I’m beginning with now was baked a little earlier.  I’m sure it will continue to need tweaking, but here is my current regimen of motivators:

1.  a 1-minute break when I’m getting dressed in the morning during which I review the menu for the day as well as when in the day I’m planning on doing my 30 minute exercise routine.

2.  a 1/2 minute break at midday before I eat to remind myself of my plan for lunch, and not to give in to the “I’ll just finish those leftovers” or “I’m starving” routine.

3.  a 1/2 minute break in mid-afternoon to remind myself that getting carried away with the enthusiasm of whatever I am doing is not a good enough excuse for skipping or skimping on my exercise routine, which generally I want to have finished before 5:30.

4.  a minute break following exercise to make sure my blood pressure is at a reasonable level, and to remind myself why I don’t want to revert to my usual evening “what the hell” approach to food.  I’m satisfied if I limit my evening meal to a single small serving of everything.  Don’t tell me that’s easy.  I sometimes think I have the will power of a noodle.

A couple of other things I know from experience that are useful to remember:

I seem to think that being hungry is an experience to be avoided at all costs.  I know this is crazy, but I have managed to convince my more gullible self that it is cruel and unusual punishment that I should have to feel hungry at all when I’m on a diet, and I have been known to use it as justification to abandon all restraint.  “I’m tired” is another gloss on the same approach.

So when I am seriously hungry, I need a fall back position to replace my usual chocolate solution.  Coffee or even hot water usually works for me.  And often, interestingly enough, so does a short bout of exercise.  Sometimes as little as jogging in place for no more than a minute.

And I can often get hold of a compulsion to eat simply by walking out of the kitchen and back in again.  It’s amazing how difficult this simply stratagem is.  And how effective it is.

Enough for today.  I’m up against the buffers on my exercise time.

PS:  The mini-break routine is continuing to be surprisingly effective.  Six days in succession without a major defeat is almost a record.

January 16, 2008

Diet: behavior mod step 1

Filed under: Diet,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 8:59 pm

Thank you for your comments following my post two days ago on the progress (or lack thereof) of my diet.  They are a support, but it’s also a little scary to realize you are actually reading this.  The temptation now is not to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but etc.  But I am determined that having started this public dialogue, I will not now sneak out of it.  So here and forthwith are all the trivial, sorry, or triumphant details.

Yes, I suppose my approach to this dieting thing is highly rational.  I am a cognitive psychologist and know a lot about the principles of behavior modification, which I do think has a lot to offer when one is trying to change addictive behaviors like eating, smoking, drinking, losing ones temper, possibly even self-harm.  Not that I think it is the whole answer, but working out a good program in itself usually leads to a lot of insights into the triggers of ones own behavior.

The first thing any effective behavior mod program does is ask the individual to keep a diary listing every time the target behavior occurs and the situation at the time.  Not to try to change anything yet.  Just keep an honest diary.  I’ve already done that, and here are the main things I’ve found:

1.  Eating a healthy breakfast that sustains me to lunch is rarely a problem.  I don’t have to work on eating too much or too little or eating the right things.  I do it close to 100% of the time.

2.  I start getting hungry about 11:30-12:00 whatever I eat for breakfast, and I am suffering from a downright severe loss of energy by then if I’ve been particularly physically active.  My husband is not hungry before 12:30-1:00, so I am tempted to binge at 11:30, grabbing whatever is to hand, especially if it’s sugary.

3.  I am not necessarily voracious at midday, but enjoy food at that time.  My temptation is to eat more than I really need to sustain me until the evening.  The most frequent reason I give for doing this is to finish up leftovers before they go bad.  Besides I usually enjoy them, and I think I would naturally adjust to eating my main meal of the day at this time if it were possible.

4.  At the end of the day, Peter and I usually sit down for a pre-dinner drink.  He has a glass of wine, and I struggle with virtue.  Wine makes my joints ache and I drink very little in recent years.  Until very recently, though, I could drink a single gin and tonic without negative consequences.  Now, though, even a single G&T makes me tired and grouchy, and increasingly I have preferred to have a cup of hot bullion or glass of cranberry juice.  But sometimes the pull for a G&T is still there, especially when something good, bad, unexpected, puzzling, or worth celebrating has happened.

5.  Dinner time and the hour following is by far my most vulnerable period.  More often than not I throw caution to the winds, and when I’m doing the dishes, cap off my wild indiscretions with whatever form of chocolate I can find.

That’s pretty much it.  Tomorrow I’ll describe my next step.

Oh, by the way, I’ve lost 1/2 pound – again.  And today I got off track at lunch, but managed not to use that as an excuse for giving up on the rest of the day.  The way I see it though, by the time you’ve reached my age, one can’t afford ever to get off track.  As you say, “it’s hard work.”

January 15, 2008

Green bananas

Filed under: Diet — theotheri @ 12:33 pm

I have known for as long as I can remember that green bananas aren’t the same thing as plantains.  What I didn’t know – but didn’t know I didn’t know – was that the unwrapped fruit right next to the authentic but pre-packaged green bananas in our local supermarket wasn’t unwrapped green bananas. 

I bridle at buying pre-wrapped fruit and vegetables for a lot of reasons:  the packaging becomes trash within two minutes after I get it home;  it’s impossible to select specific pieces of  fruit, so that inferior produce is often hidden;  and it annoys me that a supermarket presumes to decide just how much I should buy during my weekly shop.  So last week I bought what I thought were green bananas because I was able to take as many as I needed.  I eat one banana a day, and previous experience led me to believe that by the time I was eating the second banana it would be ripe enough.  I waited patiently.

Unfortunately, my patience did not produce edible bananas but the discovery that while green bananas get ripe before they get rotten, plantains go straight from green to rotten.  And in any condition, it is like eating unflavoured cardboard.  Well, not that I have first-hand experience of what unflavoured cardboard tastes like.  But green plantains taste like what I think unflavoured cardboard tastes like.  Since I bought them, I have heroically chewed my way through five of them.  Today I finally admitted to my husband that I’d made a mistake.  He  generously offered to look up a Mexican or Indian recipe to use the remaining cardboard – err plantains.  He is now in the kitchen transforming them with coconut milk and other Indian spices.  I’m immensely grateful, and know I will enjoy the new version.

They did taste awful in their unaltered state, and I’ve been  wondering why it is that I couldn’t just throw them away.  I have a deep aversion to throwing food away.  I think it goes back to my childhood when my mother used to tell us to eat the food on our plate because “children are starving in India.”  I was in my twenties before the illogic of this reasoning occurred to me. 

But somehow, I still have that guilty feeling that if I don’t eat the food that’s in front of me, some poor child somewhere is going to starve.

January 14, 2008

Diet progress

Filed under: Diet,Life as a Nun,Survival Strategies — theotheri @ 2:14 pm

For those not interested in the progress of my diet – which is probably everybody who is reading this – please look away now.

Since I began this diet caper several weeks before Christmas, I have lost three pounds.  Unfortunately, it’s the same pound which I’ve lost three times.  Obviously, I am not onto a winning strategy here.

So for the last three days I’ve lowered my sites with the hope I will actually reach my goal by going in smaller steps.  I have been concentrating on two things.  The first is on exercise – 30 minutes a day circuit training. 

My second concentration is an adaptation of religious practice.  At Maryknoll we said the Divine Office – Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline.  In their strict observance, they have been recited for centuries by monks and nuns about every three hours throughout the day.  Similarly, the Muslim call to prayer occurs five times a day.  The psychology of these rituals is to keep the presence of God constantly in mind, and in both cases, the intervals between prayers is about three hours.  My goal, I fear, is a little less exalted, since what I am trying to do is keep in my consciousness why I am trying to stick to my diet.   But I think a specific reminder every three hours has a solid history of accomplishment to recommend it.  I am truly a reprobate, by almost any standard badly in need of reformation.  Between 5 and 8 pm is the worst which is invariably when I consume more calories than I can burn.  It’s when I eat out of nervous energy, and when I’m most apt to abandon even the semblance of reason.  I have even, on occasion, grabbed one of my favourite chocolate nut cookies saying to myself “I’ll think up a reason later about why I’m justified in eating this.” 

It’s so ridiculous I can’t believe I fall for it.

My new strategy is to put half-minute reminder breaks in every three hours during the day, with a double break at 5:00 when I concentrate on being calm.  I know these breaks are a mere 30 seconds, but they are so short it’s easy to overcome the temptation to skip them.  My back-up strategy is to walk out of the kitchen when I begin that inner dialogue with myself about those cookies. 

So far, so good.  Although do note that “so far” is thus far a mere three days.

I’ll keep you posted.  I’m sure you can’t wait.

December 27, 2007

Christmas Lite

Actually, it was a lovely Christmas.  I wouldn’t want to spend it this quietly every year, but as it turns out, it wasn’t quite as quiet as we’d planned.  And under the circumstances, Peter and I were glad we were not entertaining guests after all.

It started Christmas Eve morning.  Peter stepped out of the shower and it wouldn’t turn off.  We have an Aqualisa, the kind that holds its temperature constant, even when somewhere else in the house someone else flushes a toilet or decides to start the dishwasher.  It does this by the magic of electronics, which is pretty much all I know about how it works.  I can describe several ways in which the Start/Stop function does not work, however.  Or at least the Stop function.  It won’t stop if you take a kitchen knife and scrape the calc out around the edges of the Control Button.  It won’t stop if you take the front off the button and use a wooden toothpick to press the little outlets inside.  It won’t stop even if you get very wet and speak to it in language my mother didn’t know I’d learned.  Even if it’s Spanish.

It will stop if you go outside and turn off all the water coming into the house.  Unfortunately, this also stops water coming into the kitchen, the toilets, the sinks, and even the outside garden outlets.  Not such a great solution on Christmas Eve.  So I climbed into the attic (or loft as attics are called here in England), and found the valves controlling the water going into the master bathroom.  Turning them off gave us water in the rest of the house, but the entire master bathroom was dry.  It is also how I discovered that the valves were leaking, and that if something were not done about them soon, the bathroom water supply would be coming directly into the shower below through the ceiling.  I got a large plastic sheet that used to be a shower curtain to provide a temporary retainer.

Then I called our wonderful plumber, and apologized to his nine-year-old daughter for calling her Dad on Christmas Eve.  Oh, that’s okay, she said.  Can I have him phone you when he gets home?  Which he did.  I told him it was not a call-out emergency, but did he have any stop-gap solutions until he could come after the holidays.  He said to go back into the loft and turn the electrical supply to the shower off and then back on again.  “I don’t know why,” he said, “but this sometimes happens with your kind of shower, and this sometimes works.”

And it did work.  So by the time the church bells were ringing calling the faithful to midnight services, we once again had a functioning bathroom, shower and all.  Not what we’d thought twelve hours earlier we were hoping for Christmas, but glad for it after all.

Alan, the plumber, is coming next week to replace the faulty valves.  We’re hoping for a happy New Year.  That does mean, much as I appreciate him, seeing a little less of Alan in 2008 than we saw of him in 2007.

If you are wondering about my diet, I did lose a pound before Christmas.  Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure I put it back on, and besides that, I also think my scale is off by about three pounds.  That means I really want to lose six pounds instead of three.  I wonder if learning to love fat would be easier than getting it off?

December 13, 2007


Filed under: Diet,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 10:23 pm

This can’t be of much interest to anybody but me.  But I’ve managed to stay on my diet and to do my minimum 30 minutes exercise for two days in a row.  It’s pitiful, but this is practically a record for me. 

I started out using a bracelet as a sort of stop-and-think reminder.  This has now become abbreviated to simply grabbing my right wrist with my left hand, and giving myself mini-talks.  So far it has worked, but it is still taking effort.  When I look at it in the full light of day, it is simply astonishing to me that I am capable of even attempting let alone routinely succumbing to the excuses I try out for breaking my routine.  Today the temptation was fatigue, but I offered myself a short sit down with a cup of coffee as an alternative, an offer in the end that I declined.

I would like to lose a pound between now and Christmas.  That is going to require that my record-breaking run of two days lasts a good deal longer. 

One day at a time.

December 11, 2007

A wobble

Filed under: Diet — theotheri @ 10:29 pm

It’s day three of my “lose 3 pounds diet” and a wobble, in the form of a celebratory gin and tonic has already marred my endeavour after a mere 60 hours.

What was the rationalization for not keeping to my planned regime this time?  That I’d gotten up at six o’clock this morning and dragged Peter with me to the hospital where the consultant told me the good news about the progress – or rather non-progress – of my osteoporosis.  My question isn’t whether the reason I gave myself was really worthwhile.  I can tell you right now it wasn’t.  Because if it was, I know I can think up a “worthwhile” reason every day of the week.  Somehow I have to remember that being on an effective diet means learning to say no in the face of the unexpected, the surprise, the good news, and the bad news.

In other words, I have to find some other medium to relate to the events of my life than through food and drink. 

Peter and I enjoy sitting down together especially before dinner for a mini-celebration or commiseration relative to the day.  But I don’t really need the gin to celebrate.  In fact, I get stoned quite easily and mostly I find it an unpleasant experience.  So the next time, I will celebrate with a glass of tonic sans gin or with an iced cranberry juice or a hot cup of coffee with a splash of chocolate and vanilla essence.  That’s not perfect, but it’s progress, and I do tend to make progress in moderate steps rather than in great dramatic leaps.

And I did do a hearty 30 minutes exercise today .

So onward and upward.

Watch this space.

December 9, 2007

My three-pound challenge

Filed under: Diet,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 2:04 pm

Last Christmas my sister and her daughter who was studying for the year in London spent the holidays with us.  In the process of enjoying them, I threw caution to the winds and in two weeks put on three pounds.  A piffle, I thought.  A mere temporary three pounds that I will take off as fast and easily as I piled it on.

It took six months.

At the end of it, I swore I would never never ever put that weight on again.  The pleasure/pain ratio just doesn’t make it worth it, and apart from feeling fat, looking fat, and having less energy, it’s not all that healthy to let pounds creep on unregarded.  And it’s a lot harder to lose weight when you’re 67 and ones metabolism is slower than it is at 27.  But along with my metabolism, my will power may have degenerated over the years as well, because I found myself making and breaking resolutions at an accelerated rate.

So I can’t believe I’ve done it again.  I’ve put on an extra three pounds and Christmas isn’t even here yet.  This time, though, I’m determined to apply everything I know about behaviour modification to change my own behaviour a little more rapidly than I did the last time.  For me that basically means two things:  setting out quite specifically for myself what I want to do each day, and then – and here is where I have failed so often – doing something to remember my goals as I float through the kitchen and its inevitable temptations.  My worst moments are between 5 and 8 pm, so I’m exploring “reminder strategies” to keep myself on course.  I know someone who used to brush his teeth whenever he felt hungry outside of bounds, someone else who would step on the scales to banish temptation, and another friend who jogged in place for sixty seconds.  I am exploring wearing a bracelet, something I never otherwise do.  It’s on my right wrist so it’s difficult not to see it when I reach out for forbidden fruit, as it were.  I have also found it helps if I don’t give myself a blanket absolute “No,” but say something like “wait until after you’ve finished the dishes,” or “you can have it, but wait five minutes,” by which time the compulsion has often dissipated if not disappeared altogether.

Right now the task seems easy.  The question is how long it will take me to learn how to get through those times when it doesn’t feel easy, and to face down those inevitable rationalizations:  I’m tired; I might be getting sick; I need to relax and a small G&T will help; it’s been one hell of a day;  I’ll start again tomorrow, etc.  If you’ve ever been on a diet, you probably know the self-defeating routine.

The next two weeks up to Christmas seem like a good initial chunk to start out with, during which I should realistically be able to lose a pound.  Maybe whatever it was that enabled me to keep all those Advent resolutions I used to be able to keep when I was young without ever reneging will re-emerge.

Watch this space.

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