Thursday, March 31, 2011

Weight Watchers

I have an up and down relationship with Weight Watchers®.  Sort of like my weight.  It started in my early 20s, so we have been together, albeit intermittently, for about 35 years.      

Back in the 70s there was a small pink book that provided the rules of the program – still have it but still remember a lot of it off the top of my head.  The highlights were:  five fish meals a week, liver once a week, vegetables with category numbers, limited number of fruits a day and categories of fruits, limited beef, limited carbs and large protein servings at lunch and dinner.   Rules were rules. 

This was the program on which I reached ‘lifetime member’ status.  And never since gotten back to that low point in my weight. 

They keep updating the program and the spokespeople.  Remember Lynn Redgrave?  Fergie?  Now there is Jennifer Hudson, etools, points calculators, many more choices and much more flexibility than we had back in the old days. 

Since signing up for the umpteenth time in January for the Weight Watchers at Work Program ™, I have lost ten pounds and have 25 more to go.  But it’s been a rough road.  Only since the nutrition and naturopathic consults at Canyon Ranch have I gotten a clear roadmap of how it will be possible for me to lose the weight I need to.  It seems that Weight Watchers ®, in all its wisdom and new-found flexibility, has to be tweaked in order for me to effectively and consistently lose weight.  

What doesn’t work for me?  The carbs, including fruit, particularly eaten alone, seem to drive cravings that only lead to an appetite for even more carbs.   The CR recommendation to eat protein with carbs and more strictly monitor carbs seems to be working now in conjunction with the other positive aspects of the WW program. 

New lesson learned?  You are an experiment of one.  If whatever you are doing is not working for you, get advice.  Talk to the WW Leader or a nutritionist and all you may need are a few “tweaks” (I love that word.).  And sometimes, whatever is old becomes new again. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

What's Willpower Got to Do With It?

Depends on who you ask.  Who of us has not been disgusted over a lapse in our diet or exercise plan?  There are those who believe that such lapses evidence a serious character flaw -- you know, the just push yourself away from the table, that's the only exercise you need, suck it up and make it happen kind of people.  This is a complicated subject for me.  At times I have been disgusted at the lack of, and at other times, particularly recently, amazed at the self-control I can exercise.  Tara Parker-Pope blogs on wellness in the New York Times (  On February 28, 2011, she wrote about an emerging body of research on the topic of self-compassion.  Preliminary research suggested that the "cycle of self-criticism and negativity" generated by those who beat themselves up over not measuring up to their own expectations for change causes failure, not success.  The hypothesis is that feeling bad only leads to more bad behavior.  Self compassion involves caring about oneself, being kind to oneself just as we would be kind to a friend or family member in the same situation.  A Harvard-based psychotherapist, Jean Fain, said that, "self-compassion is the missing ingredient in every diet and weight-loss plan."  Not sure I agree with that conclusion, since the structured programs like Weight Watchers emphasize progress and not perfection.
What makes more sense to me is her blog entry on December 6, 2007.  At Canyon Ranch, "willpower" was noted to be unreliable as a behavioral strategy.  Parker-Pope concludes the same.  "What researchers are finding is that willpower is essentially a mental muscle, and certain physical and mental forces can weaken or strengthen our self-control.  Studies now show that self-control is a limited resource that may be strengthened by the foods we eat.  Laughter and conjuring up powerful memories may also help boost a person's self-control.  And, some research suggests, we can improve our self-control through practice, testing ourselves on small tasks in order to strengthen our willpower for bigger challenges...BUT THE RESEARCHERS ALSO FOUND THAT RESTORING GLUCOSE LEVELS APPEARS TO REPLENISH SELF-CONTROL."
What this means to me is that the maintenance of glucose control (evening out the highs and lows) is conducive to self-control and that's why it's becoming easier to control cravings.  Anyone else out there agree? 

Friday, March 25, 2011

I Feel Good and Portion Control

You know those commercials for fiber or laxatives or something like that to the tune "I Feeeel Good"?  Well, I do feel good.  This morning I weighed myself and that number is down nearly five pounds since last Saturday.  But there's more.  The naturopathic doctor at Canyon Ranch (CR), Dr. Kevin Murray, recommended dietary changes that resulted in immediate and dramatic results in my blood sugar and overall energy level and mood.  It makes me want to cry, because I am a smart person -- I read, think and for heaven's sake, work in a hospital with doctors, dietitians and educators.  I have tried very hard to adopt a healthy lifestyle, but cravings and mood issues have consistently driven me off track.  The 50 minutes with Dr. Murray were worth the price of admission to CR.
A few words about portion control -- look at your hand -- see your thumb -- if you have a slice of a dessert, that is about the length and width of the ones we got a CR.   Bend your thumb at the joint -- the length and width is about the size of their chocolate mousse serving.  So, it's quantity and quality. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Connecting the Dots at Canyon Ranch

Clare just drove off to return to Boston; Spring Break is officially over.  Four days, 11 lectures, nine exercise sessions, four consults (naturopathic doctor, diabetes educator, nutritionist and exercise physiologist) and three cooking classes (the last one just about an hour from now) -- this constitutes the educational portion -- there will be more later on the eating part, particularly portion size -- of my Canyon Ranch experience.  And, off the program, I asked to meet with the Human Resources Director here to see what I could learn about how they recruit, train, feed, promote wellness and reward their employees.  I am well aware that most people could not do this experience and I am grateful (one of the lectures was on gratitude) to be able to do it, share it with Clare, and develop an even better plan to put flesh on the bones of my initial plan to Eat, Mind and Move. 

Don't you love stories?  This is from the lecture on 'Taking It Home'. 

Tapping Story
"Ever heard the story of the giant ship engine that failed?  The ship's owners tried one expert after another, but none of them could figure out how to fix the engine.  Then they brought in an old man who had been fixing ships since he was a youngster.  He carried a large bag of tools with him and when he arrived, he immediately went to work.  He inspected the engine very carefully, top to bottom. 

Two of the ship's owners were there, watching this man, hoping he would know what to do.  After looking things over, the old man reached into his bag and pulled out a small hammer.  He gently tapped something.  Instantly the engine lurched back to life.  He carefully put his hammer away.  The engine was fixed.  A week later, the owners received a bill from the old man for $10,000.  "What, the owners exclaimed, "he hardly did anything."   So they wrote back and asked for an itemized bill. 

The man sent a bill that read:  "Tapping with a hammer -- $2.00;  Knowing where to tap -- $9,998. 

Moral of the story?  Efforts are indeed important, but knowing where to make efforts in your life makes all the difference" 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Sugar is Poison

Dateline, Canyon Ranch --  I learned a lot today.  The Canyon Ranch experience will take awhile to digest and write about.   In addition to 'sugar is poison', pasta, even the whole wheat kind, is right up there with sugar in the 'do not eat' category.  Dan, you had it right when you told me what I was doing wasn't good. 

Friday, March 18, 2011

Spring Break

Oscar Wilde once said that “youth is wasted on the young”.    I feel the same way about Spring Break.  After all, college kids get Christmas break, Easter break, summers off and all those long holiday weekends.    Starting Sunday, my third Spring Break experience begins with Clare.   No, we are not planning on getting into a drunken stupor and sunburned in some exotic location, although we have done that (the sunburn and exotic location, not the drunken stupor).  We are going to a real, honest to goodness, health spa.   I keep hoping there is some herb, spice, acupuncture, acupressure, vitamin supplement, meditation, yoga posture or pill that will make my numbers better – or maybe even cure me!  But deep down, I know better.  The schedule is full of lectures, fitness evaluations, exercise classes (kettle bells, anyone?), hikes and cooking demonstrations.   It will be fun to see Clare and to travel; more later. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Who Knew Calvin Coolidge Was So Wise?

He apparently once said or wrote,"Satisfaction does not come from indulgence, it comes from achievement." 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Amy, the Next Generation

Some of my heroes have the wisdom of age.  Amy is one of my heroes, but she is 20 years my junior.  You can learn about her and honor her by reading her blog (  Amy is my second cousin or first cousin once removed; I've never been quite sure of those distinctions.  She is my cousin's daughter; her grandmother was my godmother, my Aunt Rose (who is responsible for the first part of my name).  But I digress.  Amy was married to Paul Hawthorne for seven years; Paul was among other things an awesome photographer who took some great family reunion shots, one of which is kept in our den.  Paul was diagnosed with AL (primary) amyloidosis in 2008.  Paul did not get healthy.  Intensive treatment failed and just before Christmas 2008, Amy became a widow raising two young sons.  She is a busy woman, with a job, an apartment, her kids and all that goes along with that.  But she has found the time and energy and drive to become a triathlete, putting together a team, Paul's Posse, that has raised tens of thousands of dollars for amyloidosis research.  She has motivated other family members to participate and get fit as well.  And she is keeping it going.   The team will compete for the second year in the New York City Triathlon on August 11, 2011.  One awesome lady doing awesome things every day.  She inspires me to keep moving for my measly 30 minutes a day! 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Bait and Switch at the Jesuit Retreat Center

I've been looking forward to this retreat for a long time, Friday through Sunday at the Jesuit  Center in Wernersville, PA  (near Reading).  It attracted me because it was being given by a Paulist priest, Kripalu trained yoga instructor, Father Thomas Ryan.  Since beginning a yoga practice, I have searched for ways to understand and integrate it with Catholic Christian spirituality.  I have learned from a dozen or so teachers from various traditions and taken classes in different cities, countries and even a cruise ship.  Some teachers focus only on the physical and others incorporate chant, discussion of chakras, Sanskrit words, meridians and readings from eastern mystics.  This makes me a bit uncomfortable, since I am pretty much a color inside the lines Catholic.  This weekend was titled, 'Pray All Ways', with one segment dedicated to praying with yoga.  The first session on Friday night was listed on the schedule as meditation.  But at the beginning of the talk, Father Ryan drew a different inspiration from the day's scripture readings for the first week in Lent, set aside his planned topic and replaced it with an entirely new one that was not part of the program -- on Fasting (as in not eating food!).  Needless to say, this challenged me at my flabby core!  I was looking forward to some gentle yoga, silent prayer and relaxation, nothing too hard, and all of a sudden, I am listening to a compelling, cohesive presentation of Catholic Church teaching (from an apostolic constitution from Pope Paul VI and a pastoral statement from the Catholic bishops in 1966) on the value of penitential practice, including fasting.  Talk about a bit uncomfortable?   But, wait I'm diabetic --remember?  As if reading my mind, he said, "And if you're diabetic, maybe your fasting takes the form of fasting from second helpings..."  And another of his points that I recorded while furiously taking notes was, "What we have yet to understand is that the body tolerates a fast far better than a feast."  That was just as I was thinking to myself that maybe I should call Dr. Natalie to see if missing a meal sometimes might be a problem.  My bemused reaction to that thought was that if I don't call her for permission to gorge myself from time to time, do I really have to be concerned that missing a meal or two is grounds for serious medical consultation??  Especially if I am drinking vegetable broth or diluted fruit juice and lots of water?  I think not!!
Anyway, somehow I know that in God's providence and sense of humor, it was no coincidence that he changed his message; this is one I need to relearn.  And I bought his book, "The Sacred Art of Fasting".   Check out his website for

Thursday, March 10, 2011

About the Move Part and Shopping for Fat People

It's probably obvious what the "Move" part of this blog title means.  I need to move more and better.  Growing up, exercise was not something that I saw older girls or young women do.  We ran and played a lot as kids, but by high school, gym was something I tried to get out of every week.  My mom and aunts certainly did nothing like formal exercise.  Now they gardened, hung clothes out to dry, cleaned and ironed (none of which I do) and walked up and down steps all day.  Maybe it's a socioeconomic or ethnic thing.  Some of my friends had mothers that swam or played tennis or golfed.   And I do try to exercise, but nothing too hard.  For the past three years, I have done yoga fairly regularly.  Not the 104 degree, sweat like crazy, Jennifer Aniston, Bikram-type.  Mine is more like the stretching, twisting, reaching, building flexibility type.  After three years, I am very flexible, but still fat.  When I first met Clare in London last December to help pack up her dorm room, in the first 24 hours, I commented to her that there seemed to be no fat people in London.  Well, maybe a few that could be labeled as pleasingly plump.  One day, while Clare was in class, I was at Harrod's and decided to shop for them.  They were a rarity.  Especially truly obese people.  Clare said it's cultural, a combination of portion sizes, physical activity and a largely snackless daily routine.  One of my favorite places to shop is Whole Foods and there is one in London.  It is about five times the size of the one in Pittsburgh.  One of the things I immediately noticed and took a picture of as an example of the 'portion distortion' we have in the US was a Cliff Bar.  Same flavors as here, but about half the size.  Ditto for the yogurt at Starbucks. 
Anyway, Dr. Natalie says "Not exercising is not an option."  So I am exercising more, at least 150 minutes a week or an average of 30 minutes five times a week.  I got that down, now she says I need to build more muscle, do strength training.   Going to an E.P. to get an exercise prescription.  
Day two of no candy, and day two of writing notes of gratitude.  So far, so good. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ash Wednesday and Numbers

Well, Mardi Gras was yesterday and it was tough.  On Monday, I had an appointment with Dr Natalie, my PCP.  She is terrific and I got information about their new patient portal at my visit.  I have not tried it yet, but she gave me a printout summarizing my test results and everything we discussed.  I was expecting good news, since I upped my exercise, was being more careful about diet and have lost 6.2 pounds in the Weight Watchers at Work program over the past six weeks or so.  Not bad, I thought.  Well that HbA1C that was 7.2 when I was first diagnosed, then 7.5 three months later, is now 7.9.  Bummer.  Metformin now upped. 
So, since my eating habit changes seem not to have had much effect, I fell off the wagon on Tuesday.  Had a hot-cross bun; girl scout cookies, and some chocolate from those ubiquitous candy dishes at work. 
Now it's Lent.   My resolutions are:  NO CANDY, and to write 40 notes to people who have meant something to me. 

Monday, March 7, 2011

Mind The Gap

The "Mind" part of this blog comes from my efforts to find and focus on the indicators of success in this journey.  And about capturing what others have said that I find helpful -- quotes, recipes, words of encouragement, anything.  "Mind the Gap" comes from the London Underground stentorian voice that bursts forth at seemingly random intervals and the lovely mosaics that line some of the Underground station platforms with the same words.  "Mind the Gap" is much more descriptive than the American-English expression "Watch Your Step".  Because it is exactly the space between where I am and where I want to be that needs attention. 

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Family Scourge

I forgot to mention the prevalence of diabetes in my own generation.  My parents have four children and my mom's siblings have 12 more.  Two are deceased, one of them a diabetic.  And just today, I found out that another of my cousins has diabetes.  That makes five of us out of 16 that I know of.  A decent average if we were playing baseball, pretty crappy as odds for getting a disease. 

The Beginning

I am writing my very own self-help book as a blog; a work in progress, just like me.  Yes, its title is a shameless imitation of Elizabeth Gilbert's book, Eat Pray Love.  I loved the book.  I have heard Elizabeth Gilbert lecture twice.  She is charming and funny and unsurprisingly, well --- literate.  Unlike those Elizabeth Gilbert wannabees, you will not find me in India learning to pray or in Bali trying to find my own equivalent of Javier Bardem.  But Italy???  Eating????
You see, I am not thirty-something, but fifty-something.  As the product of 12 years of Catholic education taught by five different communities of Roman Catholic nuns, I had expert teachers in the prayer department.  And, I have my own Javier Bardem at home.  Well, not exactly, but he's mine. 
In the context of this blog title, Eat does not mean pleasurable pursuits involving pasta, gelato and finding the most perfect pizza in the world.  I already did that -- for years, actually. 
This blog is about discovering how, as a newly diagnosed diabetic, to live with it -- to manage it.  Apparently those years in carb wonderland took a toll.  My family history is not helpful.  My mother and two aunts (all deceased)  and an uncle (who at nearly 92 is my real-life hero about how to age well) share this diagnosis.  And it goes back even further.  One of my childhood memories is of my mom's Uncle Joe coming from Chicago to visit.  I recall that it was my birthday and he bought me a lovely red sweater (probably purchased by my Aunt Mary, who at nearly 96 now, remains a champion shopper).  The other memory is that they cooked turnips for him.  I did not know what they were, but my mom explained that he "had sugar."  This mystery food was absolutely foreign to me, having been raised on pasta, meatballs on Sunday and the two loaves of bread that my dad brought  home every day from Minerva bakery in McKeesport. 
I need to lose 35 pounds.  I need to do better than my mother.  She never admitted to or spoke of her diagnosis.  To the best of my knowledge, she changed nothing about her lifestyle, and was indifferent about taking her prescribed medications.   She ultimately developed dementia as did my two diabetic aunts.  The last years of her life were spent in institutions, ultimately in a nursing home, unable to speak or move. 
This blog is my way of documenting a journey to reposition my health status, by the numbers.   I actually started it while in London, on a two-week vacation that became a three-week vacation, thanks to Heathrow's inability to manage a few inches of snow.  The photo was taken from my room at the Marriott Heathrow, where for the extra five days I could watch planes take off that were not mine.  It gave me time to think, to write and to make a plan.