Friday, December 10, 2010

Can I Downscale Me?

With a cookbook launch -- and, hopefully, a little publicity -- a little less than four months away, it's time for me to do something important, and overdue. I'm not talking about making sure the right venues get an advance copy, plotting out the book tour, or making other PR plans, although I'm working on all those, too.

Nah. I'm talking about trying to drop the excess 23 or so pounds I've been carrying around for far too long. I'm hoping to make some TV appearances in support of the book, and the fact is, I don't want to be overly worried about how I look. I'd rather concentrate on being natural, relaxed and witty, getting across my passion for the book, not sucking in my gut (or crossing my arms across it, as I do in the photo above), clenching my teeth, and wondering if my double chins are showing up on camera.

(For those of you friends who have been kind enough to say, "What? You don't need to lose that much weight. Maybe 5," I say, thank you for your politeness, but the scale don't lie. At 193 pounds, my body-mass index puts me squarely in the realm of the overweight. I've been 170 pounds before, and believe me, while I looked (and felt) great, nobody was accusing me of being too thin, because I wasn't, by any stretch.)

This won't be the first time I've worked at this, nor the first time I have written about it. But this time I have some pretty powerful tools at my disposal, so despite the fact that my job presents so many chances for me to overeat, I'm optimistic.

For starters, I have been working out for many months now with a great trainer, Ivan Black at Vida Fitness. He's a newly minted master trainer there, for good reason: Ivan doesn't just know his stuff, he knows how to make it accessible, even fun. Not that the workouts aren't difficult; one of the jokes i often make has to do with whether the gym's defibrillator is within his line of vision, and how long it might take him to get to it and back to me. With Ivan, sometimes i find myself smiling and grimacing in the same workout, and it can be a fine line.

And then there's Weight Watchers. I've been a lifetime member for many years now, having dropped 32 pounds to reach my goal weight and then keeping it off long enough (six months) to qualify for that golden-ring status. But I've gained back almost two-thirds of that weight -- or, to be more accurate, have gained and lost and regained. This is the most I've weighed since losing those 32 pounds. Coincidentally, just as I'm recommitting to the WW mantra -- track what you eat and stay within a certain range of "points" that are based on a calculation of calories, fat and fiber -- the program has changed, pretty radically. Now calories are out of the equation, but carbs and protein are figured in. And all fruits and most vegetables are zero points.

All that makes the program, frankly, more closely resemble the way I have always used it (when I was using it, that is). While what I think were too many people trying to lose weight by snacking on highly processed but low-calorie or low-fat food, some of it made by Weight Watchers itself, I have preferred to cook from scratch. And I've talked about that in many of the meetings that I've attended, sometimes I'm sure to the dismay or at least annoyance of some of the fellow members.

The meetings, nonetheless, can be one of the best parts of the WW experience, because you get to hear what other members have on their minds, and you can of course get support for your own challenges. And the leaders can be great, when they're not issuing such platitudes as "Nothing tastes as good as thin feels," a comment from a Boston leader to which I raised my hand and retorted, "Then you haven't tasted what I've tasted."

Here in DC, I'm especially fond of Melvin, who leads the meeting I've started getting back to on Saturday mornings. He brings a no-nonsense, sympathetic approach to the whole endeavor, and he is quick to help people realize when they're not necessarily seeing things clearly -- by helping us all laugh at ourselves a little bit.

Of course, the weigh-ins are a big part of the weekly meeting, too, because it's a way of keeping yourself honest. You make a deal with yourself that you'll step on that scale, let the leader write down what he or she sees, and face up to the number, good or bad.

In a way, that's what I'm aiming to do with this blog, too. I figure that if I make a deal with readers that I'll check in here every week, tell you how my eating and how my workouts have gone, and even share what that number is, and perhaps even some other numbers, maybe I'll be less likely to slip off the wagon and eat mindlessly without getting enough exercise again.

About that exercise plan. In a nutshell, Ivan and I agreed on a few things. We are taking our half-hour workouts from twice a week to three. We are stepping up the intensity of them. And -- here is the biggest change -- I'm promising him that on those days and at least three other days a week, I will add a cardio workout to my schedule. This will have me using the gym showers rather than my own all but one or two days a week.

I think it's a small price to pay.

Now, I know what you may be thinking. Twenty-three pounds: What's the big deal? Well, as my colleague Jennifer Huget told Washington Post readers in a live chat about her own recent project to drop and keep off 10 pounds, there are plenty of stories and strategies out there aimed at major weight loss for morbidly obese people. (Personally, with a brother who qualifies for that designation, I'm glad for the attention programs like "The Biggest Loser" have brought to the issue.) There are fewer resources, or sympathy, frankly, for those of us with much lower hurdles to jump, and I suppose that is fair in a way. But 23 pounds is 23 pounds, and TV appearances or no, I would enjoy significant health benefits from dropping it. I know from previous experience that my cholesterol would go down, for one thing, not to mention the fact of a dramatic spike in my energy level.

Vanity aside, I want to feel better.

So here's how it will work. Every Saturday I will write about my week's progress (or backsliding, although I hope there won't be too much of that), and give you the results of the measurements I endure at the hand of Ivan and the Weight Watchers scale.

Here's where I was at the beginning of Week One:

Weight: 193 pounds
Pounds I want to lose: 23
Body fat percentage: 22.4
Body-mass index: 26.5

I weigh in at WW on Saturdays, but before I go I have a big WaPoFood/Travel holiday party to get to, and to try to restrain myself at. But you know how that can be: The temptations will be many.

Come back later this weekend, when I'll tell you more about how my first week of the new workout and diet regime went, and how that ended up looking on the scale and on Ivan's fat-percentage gizmo. Cross your fingers, and wish me luck.


  1. Good luck to you, Joe. I'm in the midst of something similar, ten pounds down and more to go. It's a funny thing to be focused on less food, while surrounded by work and friends that celebrate it (and want you to taste this really amazing thing—now!). Trying to find a good middle ground for myself, doing a lot of cardio and portion control.

    I'll be cheering along for you, and hoping book tour brings you to Seattle.

  2. Thanks so much, Tara -- I really appreciate the support! It's absolutely about that two-step thing, isn't it: eat less and move around more. Hope it continues going well for you, and absolutely, I'm hoping to get to Seattle!

  3. you seem organized and determined and have a built in support system. wishing you a lot of success. maybe you'll inspire me to go back to the gym and lose 23 pounds too!

  4. Thanks, Olga! Part of the reason I'm blogging about it, of course, is to keep myself honest -- to prevent that backslide, which seems so hard to fight. If you ever wanna come to Vida, I'd be happy to show you around. It's pretty nice there. Good people.

  5. my favorite part is the specificity of it all. 23 pounds. not 22 - obviously a failure; nor 24 - which clearly would be overdoing it. 23 is a good number. good luck.

  6. Go, Joe! I don't know if you noticed me gently complaining (read: whining) about the food at Greenbrier, but I was on WW then and still am. I lost 100 lbs about 15 years ago & kept it off until I had my son. He's now 4, so I thought it was time to lose the baby weight. Challenging to do while writing a cookbook, but the numbers were only going up w/all the recipe testing... I'm down 28 lbs, with maybe another 5 to go. Anyway, good luck! I'm looking forward to following your progress.

  7. Thanks, Vedat! And Debbie, that's amazing about your WW work. Excellent! You're an inspiration, that's for sure...

  8. Oh, and Vedat -- I probably didn't explain that 23 number too well, did I? I'll get back to it in another post, probably, but it's because my WW goal weight is 170.

  9. Joe, you'll do great. Since I've been sick the last five years I haven't been able to exercise hardly at all. That's the key. So, enjoy your exercise. Love you! See you soon, Nanner

  10. Ah, Joe. You beat me to this! It's my after-the-New Year resolution to lose somewhere in the vicinity of 25 pounds (though 35 would be even better), and I, too, am thinking about doing it in my public venue. I'm toying with the idea of WW -- because I know many people who've had great success with it. How important is the personal trainer. Very, I'm assuming, for lazy-folk like me. Great good luck to you! (P.S. Last I saw you, you looked maahhhvalous -- 23 extra pounds or no.)

  11. Sister Nan, thanks for the vote of confidence! Nancy L, keep me posted -- we could do this in public in tandem! I can't say enough good things about WW, which really teaches you to make sensible decisions and tradeoffs without gimmicky deprivation strategies. As for personal training, what I like best is that it takes the motivation question out of the equation altogether. I don't have to feel lIke working out, I just have to keep my appointments. So it becomes a habit. Good luck!