Week Six – 193 lbs., +1.4 this week. I Can’t Get by the Holidays.

(I’ve been traveling for a few days, and just realized this never got posted on Monday.   I forgot to his the very large “publish” button.)

When I stepped on the scale this morning and saw 193 pounds, I wasn’t surprised.  While I’m down 4.4 pounds in six weeks, I am up 1.4 pounds since last Monday.

I know why.  It’s all about holidays and family gatherings.  This past Thursday was Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.  On Wednesday evening, we had my in-laws and some friends over for dinner.  My wife and the wife of the family we invited collaborated on a fantastic four course meal, including matzoh ball soup and a tremendous apple pie for dessert.  On Thursday mid-afternoon after services at synagogue, my mother-in-law repeated the food fest at her house.

Sweet Kugel - Simply Irresistible

For her mother’s lunch, my wife made her spectacular sweet kugel, which proved to be the focus of my meal.  If you are not familiar with sweet kugel, I’ve included a picture here.  Ingredients include eggs, cottage cheese and noodles.  A piece is easily 150-200 calories.  Put me down for about 8 over the weekend, including some pieces grabbed the next day out of the refrigerator.

The upside of this week is that my exercise build up is progressing very well.  It wasn’t too long ago, that I was regularly running for 30 minutes at 6 miles/hour (a 10 minute/mile clip).  I started slow in week one, and now, in week seven, I will run for 35 minutes at 5.5 miles/hour.  Each week after this one, I’ll add five minutes at 6.0 mph, until I get back to where I was.  I’m having no issues with the running and, in fact, ran for 45 minutes yesterday, with all but the first five minutes at 5.5 mph.

I don’t have a break in challenges for week seven.  First, I’m heading to Orlando tonight for a three-day conference.  That means buffet meals and brownie snacks.  Then, Friday brings Yom Kippur.  Not only does that limit exercise, but the “break fast” that ends the holiday is traditionally a stuff-your-face event.  Ugh.

This is where I remember it’s all about the long term and not about the short term.

Week Five – 191.6 Pounds. 5.8 Pounds Down in Five Weeks.

Despite my eight-day business trip to Beijing, I lost nearly two pounds this week.  I’m at 191.6 pounds, a 5.8 pound lost after five weeks and 0.8 pounds ahead of pace.  So much for those challenges I wrote about last week.

When I’m on a diet, I find it a bit scary to be away from my home scale for an extended period.  I don’t necessarily weigh myself everyday, but it is important to check in every few days.  Without the same scale, I really can’t gauge how I’m doing.  I have to admit I was surprised when I got on the scale yesterday.

Business trips are also scary, because my eating patterns are way off.  I diet by eating similar things everyday at similar times everyday.  This trip, I forgot to pack Zone Bars for my mid-morning snack.  I could not really control the healthiness of meals.  The times that I ate were different from when at home.  I also had the challenge of not being able to read the nutritional labels in Chinese.

I suspect the weight loss was due to a few reasons:

  1. I didn’t really snack.  The food just wasn’t available, except for some small candies, chewing gum, and some apples I bought at a supermarket.
  2. I kept up my exercise.  Four times to the gym in six days in China.  Biggest challenge?  Figuring out my weight in kilograms and estimating my kilometers per hour pace for the treadmill.
  3. I ate mostly at restaurants, which meant that my food was limited to what I ordered.  This could easily have been a negative, but I made it a positive.
  4. I was able to stop eating when I was full.  This was important, as some of the Chinese meals were family style.

I’ve got another few trips coming up in September and hope to carry this optimism and success going forward.  Now, let’s see how I do this week at home.

Week 4 – 193.4lbs. On Track, But Challenges Ahead

Writing from Beijing on an eight-day business trip.  On the Friday morning before I left, I was at 193.6 pounds.  That’s four pounds in four weeks.  I am right on pace at one pound per week.

Unfortunately, this week brings two challenges that many people deal with in the course of their diet.  Both are outside forces that are only partially under our control.

The Business Trip

I don’t care how diligent you are and how much willpower you have.  Business trips suck for diets.  Often, the food that you eat is selected for you or, at best, limited by the restaurants and hotels you frequent.  It takes an awful lot of willpower not to join the rest of your team in hearty meals and alcohol.  It takes a lot of willpower to make those good decisions when you have the chance.

Generic Cereal for Breakfast - They Get Soggy Quickly, But Are Better than the Buffet

My approach on business trips is one of moderation combined with exercise.  I eat well when I can, and moderate when I cannot.  For example, I take advantage of having a corporate apartment here in Beijing to avoid the breakfast buffet at the adjacent hotel in favor of generic Cheerios and milk in the apartment.  I buy fruit at the local supermarket and carry it with me to the office.  If I remember (and I didn’t this trip), I bring Zone Bars with me from the US for snacks.  In lieu of Zone Bars, I chew gum to get the sweetness and calm the hunger pains.  I also make sure that I exercise every single day without fail.  I burn about 550 calories exercising, and that goes a long way towards making up for some of the bad eating.

Reality is, however, that I’m not always in a place where dieting is an option.  For example, yesterday the team went for lunch at a buffet at a nearby western hotel.  I didn’t deprive myself by pecking at salad.  I stuck to sushi and some seafood salad, with one or two pot stickers, but I enjoyed the variety.  I passed by the desert table and more caloric Indian food.  Later, at dinner, I found myself eating bar food with cocktails.  We ordered some ahi tuna spring rolls to balance the french fries, and I also didn’t eat a thing later.


I don’t need to cite scientific studies to suggest that stress and dieting are not a good mix.  While I’m not one who uses food to soothe aggravations or frustrations, I am at risk for making bad decisions because of stress.  I may decide to eat more french fries or ice cream “because I’ve had a bad day.”  I simply lose the focus.

Knowing stress can be a problem is half the battle.  I try to be constantly vigilant, but that’s tough when I’m stressed.  It’s even tougher when my stress is combined with team stress.  Joining your team on a night to “blow off steam” isn’t a positive thing for a diet.  You don’t want to excuse yourself, but you don’t want to spend the night worrying.  You have to find the balance.

Balance is one key to solving both the business trip and stress challenges.  You can’t make yourself miserable and punish yourself for every slip up.  Do you best, but then make sure you exercise and make sure that, where you can control your eating, you do.  Avoid the cookies in the business meetings.  Drink lots of water.  Ensure you order things like those spring rolls instead of the nachos.  Hang in there until you get back home or the stress subsides.

Week 3 – 194.6 Pounds. Just Off the Pace, But No Worries

I weighed in this morning at 194.6, which is 0.2 pounds more than last week and only 2.8 pounds less than my starting point of 197.4.  I want to lose one pound per week for 20 weeks, but have now lost only 2.8 pounds in 3 weeks.

Oh well.

I don’t mean to dismiss this as something really awesome, but I’m getting to a good spot after three weeks.  I ran six times last week.  I splurged on a Nike+ sensor for my shoe, and I can now see my workouts online.  I would have easily stayed on pace this week, but I slipped a bit with an in-office potluck lunch on Thursday and dinner out on Saturday night.  I have to be more focused on those times not to slip as badly.

I know I could be on pace, because, as I type this after dinner on Monday evening, I’m a pound lighter than I was this morning.  All you dieters know that we are always lighter in the morning than in the evening, so I’m in good shape for tomorrow morning.

Stelter's Tweet from May 3 Recalibrating His Weight Loss Goal

For those of you who have tweeted me back or written me separately, I appreciate your support.  You may have noticed that this week, I put my weight in the title and, thus, on Twitter and Facebook.

I did this after reading an article by Brian Stelter over the weekend in the New York Times.  The article, “Tall Tales, Truth, and My Twitter Diet,” explains how Stelter used the support of over 600 followers on Twitter to lose 75 pounds in 25 weeks, surpassing an initial target of 25 pounds in 25 weeks.  While his pace of three pounds a week is a bit fast for my taste, I admire what he did.  I also admire his honesty for posting his weight on a daily basis.

As Stelter mentions in his article, Drew Magary did something similar on Deadspin. Point #3 of Magary’s Public Humiliation Diet is posting his weight on Twitter daily.

In the past, I have lost 20 pounds by using loss aversion on Stickk.com, where I had to give to charity each time I fell off my weight loss pace.  That was definitely motivation.  However, it seems to me that telling the world your weight goal and goal date, and then posting your current weight on a daily basis is even more motivating.

You can follow Brian on Twitter at www.twitter.com/brianstelter25.  Join me.  I just followed him, and I’m number 1,295 – which shows what a New York Times article can do for you!

Brian and Drew have definitely given us something to think about.

Observations After Losing 2.6 Pounds in Week One

I stuck to my guns this week and came through at 194.8 pounds this morning, down 2.6 pounds from a week ago.  Say what you want about losing water weight or about men losing weight faster than women.  I’ll take the loss.

I definitely viewed this week as a ramp up to future weeks.  As I got going on a diet that could last five months, I was reminded of a few things.

Logging what you eat does make a difference. I logged my food in Lose It only four days, choosing to skip the weekend and a vacation day.  I need to improve that.  I need to make the effort. When I did log, I was able to add a snack or two at the end of the day, knowing I had calories to spare.  Remember, Lose It calculates how much you need to lose based on your weight and weight loss goals.  In general, I leave about 50% of my calories for the evening.  Nutritionists will likely have a problem with that, but it works for me.

Repetition is important. Variety isn’t important to me.  Calories are.  As a result, I tend to eat the same things repeatedly from breakfast through lunch and an afternoon snack.  I’ve already calculated the calories in Lose It, which makes tracking easier.  I also really don’t mind eating the same thing, when I know calories are under control.

Taking exercise slow helps to create the habit. In my past, I have run four marathons, and a bunch of 1/2 marathons, 10K’s and 5K’s.  I know how to run.  As I start the diet, however, I want to make the exercise enjoyable.  Therefore, I’ve taken a step back, decreased speeds on the treadmill, and created a plan to increase speed over the course of the diet.  This has worked for me in the past.  This week, I exercised five of seven days, which isn’t terrible.  I want to get on a roll, where it’s seven of seven.  To do that, I’ll need to focus a bit more on Saturday and Sunday.  In reality, I’m more likely to get to six out of seven, giving myself one day off as a reward.

Losing one pound week is the only way to go. I generally made good decisions this week, but not always.  I have the luxury, if you will, of planning to lose only one pound a week.  That’s not that much, and it provides and opportunity for what some might call cheating.  Despite my knowledge of its unhealthy make-up, I ate popcorn at the movies.  I also had some Chinese food right after the popcorn.  The net for the week was good, but it could have been better.  I’m just not into so much self-denial.  One pound a week is plenty.

My theory of the diet hinging on a few decisions a day is correct. On a few occasions I made good choices that filled me up.  Today, in particular, I avoided the Caesar salad at lunch for a more healthy salad with oil & vinegar.  For dinner, despite being very hungry post-workout, I stuck to a six-inch sub at Subway, although I did treat myself to cheese with my turkey. Last night, I was able not to grab some Cool Ranch Doritos that were sitting on our kitchen counter, and I headed up to bed.  However, when Mrs. Spidey called me back to tell me something, I couldn’t resist.  Shame on me.

Your Choice: Eat This or Eat 11 Slices of Bacon - Same Fat Content.

One other thing I’ll mention.  On Saturday, I purchased one of those “Eat This, Not That” books.  I bought the Supermarket Survival Guide.  If you know how to read nutritional labels, you probably aren’t making some of the mistakes that the authors of the book point out.  The comparisons they make, however, show that many times there are better options.  In addition, when the compare foods that seem healthy to foods that you know aren’t, they really drive the point home.

I have eaten cereal 9 out of every 10 mornings since I was about 4.  Fortunately, I found that my cereal eating is generally good.  Honey Nut Cheerios is on the “Eat This” side.  On the “Not This” list are Life and Raisin Bran and, somewhat surprisingly, Multi-Bran Chex, which has as much sugar as a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  For that matter, a serving of Quaker Low Fat Granola with Raisins has more sugar than a pack of peanut M&M’s.  If you need sugar, eat Froot Loops or Apple Jacks before Cap’n Crunch or Lucky Charms.

I was also disappointed to learn that staples in our house like Reduced Fat Wheat Thins, Grey Poupon, David’s Sunflower Seeds, and Special K bars on the “Not This” side in their few groups.

I’ll leave you this week with some quick highlight comparisons from the book that will make you think twice:

  • 1 package of Twix has as much saturated fat as 11 strips of bacon!
  • 1/2 cups of Haagen-Dazs Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice cream has as much fat as a McDonald’s Double Cheeseburger!
  • 1 cup of Quaker Natural Granola, Oats, Honey & Raisins has the calorie equivalent of 8 chicken wings!

Overcoming Your Brain’s Barrier to Dieting

There is a concept in pop psychology called hyperbolic discounting.  Hyperbolic discounting is the notion that we value things today about twice as much as we value things at any point in the future, from tomorrow to ten years from now.  Hyperbolic discounting is also the scientific reason why we are always going to start dieting and exercising tomorrow.

When we start to consider dieting, we always pick a point in the future to begin.  It might be the day after a vacation or New Year’s Day or the day you will get your first NutriSystem or Jenny Craig food in the mail.  More simply, you might decide at lunch that as of dinner (four to six hours away), the diet begins.  You may even have a last meal in anticipation of the diet.  However, we never decide to go on a diet just as the waitress brings the bacon cheeseburger or right after we order Domino’s or just as the Baskin Robbins scooper hands us our double cone.  It is always as a point in the future.

Hyperbolic discounting explains why.  We value the effort required to diet in the future at about half the effort required in the present.  Somehow, we have to have the slice of cheesecake now, but we can easily avoid it next week.  It’s a brilliant concept really. And it makes sense.  More people decide to diet on Sunday night, only to blow it at breakfast on Monday morning when they have to put in double the effort to eat Puffed Wheat and not Captain Crunch.

The same notion can be used to explain why we decide at night to exercise in the morning, but then in the morning decide not to get out of bed.  Somehow it’s a lot harder to get out of bed at 5am than we thought it would be when we set our alarm.

Our brains know how to diet, and our brains know how to exercise.  I don’t think we need books to tell us what to eat or how to exercise.  We use books and web sites to give us easy to understand plans and schedules so that the effort required to diet and exercise is reduced.  Then we can overcome the hyperbolic discounting that we have already done.  If we have the plans and menus in place today, it won’t be any easier in the future than it is today, and we will start now.

One Way to Overcome Hyperbolic Discounting

This morning, I overcame hyperbolic discounting.  First, I made sure that there was no extra effort required to start a diet and exercise regimen anew.  The treadmill repairman had fixed our Nordic Track in the basement.  We had plenty of Honey Nut Cheerios, fat-free milk, apples and Zone bars on hand in the house.  I have no client dinners or social events planned the whole week.  Even better, Mrs. Spidey had a book club meeting tonight, so I could plan my dinner.  All was perfect.

But then, at 5:45am this morning, hyperbolic discounting hit me square in the face. I had planned to exercise at 5:00, but I slept through my alarm.  My mind immediately said, “Tomorrow, it will be a lot easier when you get up at 5:00.  5:45 is too late.”   Somehow, however, I pushed through.  I told myself that I had to get going, that I could work late or work in the evening to make up the time.  Once I got my workout clothes on and made it to the basement, I was fine.  I applied the effort today, despite my brain telling me it would be easier tomorrow.

Long story short, it was time for another diet, and it’s underway.  I reprogrammed Lose It on my iPhone.  I commit to tracking it here every Monday, come good or come bad.  I weighed in this morning at 197.4.  Ouch.  By Christmas, I’d like to be close to 180.

Scientifically, I know my brain is telling me that it will be easier than it will actually be.  Perhaps knowing how my brain works will make it a bit easier?  Stay tuned.

The Evil Goodness of Theater Popcorn

At about 9:15 last night, I shut off the computer and headed to watch the season première of Mad Men and the latest installment of Entourage.  It was three hours after I had eaten dinner, and I wanted something to snack on while I watched.  I grabbed a bag of 94% fat-free microwave popcorn.  Then my eyes caught a glimpse of two large bags of theater-style, pre-popped popcorn that Mrs. Spidey had bought for our daughter’s end-of-school party.

The theater style popcorn was too good to pass up, and I soon found myself in our basement with a large-sized serving bowl full of this evil goodness.  75 minutes or so later, with both shows under my belt, the bowl was empty.  I felt a strange mixture of tasty satisfaction and oily dietary calamity.

1,030 Calories and 57g of Saturated Fat of Evil Goodness

I know theater popcorn is bad for me.  Don’t we all?  When I plan to see a movie, I will eat a lighter meal in advance, making room in my daily calorie intake for the popcorn.  But with that oily aftertaste in my mouth last night and the “tasty satisfaction” quickly disappearing, I vowed to remind myself today just how evil this popcorn is.

The fan was first hit back in 1994, when the Center for Science in the Public Interest published an exposé on just how bad movie popcorn is from a health and nutrition perspective.  The Center updated the report late last year, and found, for example, that AMC, which owns the theaters we frequent, has a whopping 1,030 calories and 57 grams of saturated fat in the 16 cups of popcorn in its large popcorn — without any buttered topping.  According to CSPI,

That’s like eating a pound of baby back ribs topped with a scoop of Häagen-Dazs ice cream—except that the popcorn has an additional day’s worth of saturated fat.

I’m still stunned.

This means, even if and your kid or significant other split a large popcorn,  you end up with 500 calories and 28 grams of saturated fat.  That’s 25% of the daily intake from a 2,000 calorie diet and 50% of those calories from fat.  The popular Zone Diet recommends 30% of calories from “good” fats, which would be 600 calories in a 2,000 calorie per day diet.  Eating 1/2 a large popcorn would provide you with 250 fat calories, nearly half of the daily allowance.  Although coconut oil is among the healthiest of fats, I still don’t think anyone recommends getting fat in this way.

By the way, a large tub at AMC also has 580 mg of sodium.  So when you split a tub, you get 290 mg, which is 12% of your daily recommended intake of 2,400 mg.

The popcorn I ate last night, purchased at our local Dierberg’s, is from the C.R. Frank Popcorn Company here in St. Louis.  The bag holds 2 pecks, which I’ve learned is 4 gallons or 64 cups.  I won’t bore you with the math, but trust me, based on the nutrition facts, that 16 cups (the size of a large AMC popcorn) or 25% of the bag results in 700 calories, 40 grams of saturated fat, and 1,300 mg of salt.  Calories and grams of fat are less, but salt is more, and, like AMC, this popcorn generates 50% of its calories from saturated fat.

320 Calories and 2.67g of Saturated Fat for the Same Amount

Microwave popcorn, on the other hand, is indeed better.  However, watch out for serving sizes.  Labels can be confusing.  In our pantry we have the Pop Secret 94% fat-free buttered microwave popcorn.  One bag has 2 servings or 12 cups.  If we gross up to 16 cups (again – trust me on the math), we get 320 calories, 2.67 g of saturated fat, and 1,120 grams of sodium.  So, you get fewer calories and only 7.5% of your calories from fat, but also get an awful lot of salt to go with it.

I did this research for myself to show once again how bad this theater popcorn can be.  I learned that microwave popcorn also has its nutritional challenges, but is better.  Will I stop eating popcorn at the theater?  Certainly not, but at least I can’t complain that I don’t know how evil it is.