Saturday, December 11, 2010

Me Minus 23: Week One

You know that moment in "The Biggest Loser" when the contestant gets on the scale and the giant numbers start flashing around like some sort of twisted slot machine? No scale I've ever stepped on does that randomized, round-and-round-she-goes, where-she-stops-nobody-knows thing, but it certainly makes for good TV. And in a sense it does capture the suspense that can overtake you when you're on a weight-loss plan and you're not sure exactly how what happened the previous week -- the food that you put in and the activity that you put out -- is going to manifest itself in those  numbers.

For me, the uncertainty also has to do with the realization that the body doesn't seem to always operate on the same calendar as Weight Watchers or any other plan. Melvin, the leader at my Saturday morning meeting, puts it like so: "Just because it didn't show up this week doesn't mean it's not coming."

Would it show up for me? I had my doubts. I faithfully tracked what I ate between last Saturday, weigh-in day, and Thursday, and then I fell off the wagon, pretty hard. Somewhere between those bags of Pepperidge Farm cookies someone left out for public consumption right near my office on Thursday and the holiday potluck we had for the Food and Travel sections of the Post on Friday night, I slipped. At the party, I kept reasonable control over what I ate: modest portions of meat (just a few ounces of glazed ham, just one brisket slider, just one lamb patty), bigger helpings of veggies, no seconds, and just a half a cookie and a couple of petit fours for dessert.

But I stopped counting, and that really never works for me. And I went fairly off the rails when it came to booze.

In WW's new system, that adds up even more than it used to. I had a cachaca punch, two glasses of Calvados, and a glass of port, and then some of us ended up at the Passenger, where a beer, a shot of rye and two Derek Brown cocktails (one "solid" and the other not) went down the hatch, pleasurably. This was over a pretty long period, so I was by no means "waste-faced," as a 27-year-old woman we met at the Passenger kept calling it (in reference to herself), but it still took me way over the number of "points" I needed to limit myself to that day, and that week.

Still, on the activity side, I had worked damn hard all week. Trainer Ivan Black had me showing up at 8 a.m. on Monday -- I don't show up anywhere except perhaps the dog park a half-block from my house at that hour -- but it was the only time we could connect that day. I'm used to having lots of room to maneuver by 9 or 9:30 a.m., so this was an adjustment. "What are all these people doing in my gym?" I asked him. "You should've seen it an hour ago," he replied.

What followed was a no-more-Mister-Nice-Guy workout: wide grip bench presses, Romanian single-legged deadlifts (who comes up with these names?), pushups off the bench, jumping jacks, squat thrusts, knee-up/reverse lunch combo off the bench, close-grip pulldowns, "face pulls" (which I think should be called Assyrian nose crunchers, just for fun), hanging knee raises, some cockamamie side jump thing, apply, rinse, repeat. And after that, Ivan instructed me to hit the jump rope, following an interval-training strategy I've been using for awhile, unguided. He would help me do it right.

And that was just Monday. On Tuesday, I came in for another cardio workout, on my own but following Ivan's prescription. He is starting me off relatively gently here, instructing me to undertake five sets of High Intensity Interval Training rounds every day, on my choice of equipment. The HIIT sets consist of a period of all-out effort followed by a longer period of very low effort. So sprinting on the treadmill, then switching it down to a walking pace, then repeating another four times. It took me a day or so to get into the groove. When he saw me after my Tuesday session, Ivan, who was with another client, yelled out, "Your shirt's still red! It needs to be dark crimson." In other words, he wanted it soaked through with sweat. He touched my shoulder. "Plus, you're not hot enough."

I was too wiped out to think of the perfect retort at the time, which of course would have been, "Not yet, Ivan. Not yet."

I cranked up the intensity on the following days, and Ivan and I had two more weight workouts. The Friday session was on the dreaded TRX, the strap/body-weight system for which I enjoy making up acronyms (Totally Ridiculous X-ercise, etc.). I can't deny that the thing is efficient. My sore ass made sure I knew that.

Before our Friday workout, though, it was time for measurements -- or, really, just one measurement. I'm hopping on the scale at Vida every day, because I can't resist, but I'm saving my official weigh-in for the Weight Watchers meeting on Saturday. Every Friday Ivan is measuring my body-fat percentage. and periodically we'll check back in on some of the other measurements. I didn't expect to see a change in the body fat level, but when I held onto the little gizmo, it read 21.7, down from the previous week's 22.4. Whether it represented more muscle, less fat, or both, I was honestly a little giddy with excitement.

The Saturday weigh-in was a different story. I had a feeling the number wasn't going to be what I wanted; at the gym the scale showed me holding steady at exactly 193 all week, and that was before the Friday party blowout. Sure enough, when I got on the WW scale, there were no flashing numbers like on "The Biggest Loser" -- in fact, they set it up so that you can't see the numbers at all, but have to wait until the worker tells you how much you are up or down and then writes it in your little tracking book. She glanced up and down, scribbled, and said, "You're up 1.2."

"I was worried that might be the case," I replied.

"Did you have any holiday parties this week?"


Holiday parties, in fact, ended up being the main topic of conversation at the meeting, and while I was a little dejected about the weight gain, I took solace in the fact that everybody else is facing some version of the same challenges I am. I've got another party to go to tonight, and a smaller one tomorrow, and after today's weigh-in, I have no doubt I'll be more committed to handling them better.

So it's a week of mixed measurements. I'm interpreting the lower body-fat percentage as being obviously more about the muscle than any loss of fat, and I'm concentrating on what Melvin always says about "inviting" the weight loss to show up, even if it takes awhile. The more muscle I build, I know, the more fat my body will burn on its own, and that's bound to make its way to the scale, especially if I control my input as much as my output.

My favorite sentiment from Melvin was this: "I am your parachute, your tour guide, your escort. We are in this together, even if it happens slowly." Between Melvin and Ivan, I've got no excuses.

Weight: 194.2 pounds (+1.2)
Goal: 170 pounds
Body-fat percentage: 21.7 (-.7)
BMI: 26.7 (+.2)


  1. In week #1 of a workout regimen, it's typical to gain weight unless you're on a starvation diet. The body-fat percentage drop is your sign that you've upped your fitness level; the weight will start dropping soon.

  2. Thanks, Don -- I know you're right! Appreciate the support.

  3. Just thrilled to see this new project of yours, even for purely selfish reasons. The week before Thanksgiving when my WW weigh-in was up 2.4 what I blurted out right there at the scale was: "But my brother isn't even here yet!"! So, xmas will be a ton of exercise in between the tacos and brisket or maybe daily visits to Mother's for salad. I will try to keep up with ya brother!

  4. We can do it, sister! I plan to get Ms. Tanya Voss's help in getting daily exercise; I'm sure she'd love for you to join us!

  5. I just want to say you are much braver than I to be publicly broadcasting this journey! Best of luck sir!

  6. You will end up hurting your body and worse stretching your stomach. You are merely repeating 40 years of diet and exercise mistakes. Remember, WW started in 1963 & there were hardly ANY fat people then. Today they are 70% of the adult US Population. To find out what you should weigh use the the real formula-- not the fake BMI one: at 5' you are 100 pounds; for men you are 6 pounds per inch (women 5 pounds); so a 5'10" man should be 160 pounds. Now relax.

  7. Hi, Joan -- Thanks for the comment, but I don't understand what you mean. I'm absolutely not hurting my body or stretching my stomach; I'm eating sensibly and exercising well.