Friday, December 31, 2010

Me, in the Soup

Every year at this time, I'd join the millions of Americans who swore that this year -- this year for sure! -- they would win the battle with their weight.

Not this year! This year, the story of my weight loss success is in the new Chicken Soup book, Shaping the New You, along with 100 other inspiring stories.

What I found was not that I needed some grand goal and rock-solid resolve, but that I didn't need any goal at all and only daily resolve. Once I dropped the pressure of a goal -- lose 10 pounds by X's wedding! fit into a size 10 by summer! -- I was free to begin my quest simply because it was the right thing to do for my health.

Many of the other stories in the book are far more inspiring than mine -- people who lost 100 pounds or more, people whose lives were entirely changed. But I won my 30-pound battle and for the first time in my life I feel free. Food isn't the enemy anymore. I'm not the enemy.

Whatever your goal is this New Year -- or your non-goal! -- I wish you success and freedom as well.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Margene and Brent: Believing It's Possible

In an earlier post, I encouraged readers to share with me their story of weight loss success. I got a reply from another blogger, Margene, whose blog Believing It's Possible Is Half the Battle,
chronicles the weight loss journey she and her husband Brent have undertaken. These two incredible people made it their goal to lose a total of 250 pounds in a year.

Two years ago, Brent and Margene were feeling hopeless. Brent weighed 300 pounds and Margene, 280 pounds. It had happened gradually. Once an athlete in three sports—football, soccer and track—Brent had put on “married” pounds and now mostly sat in his recliner and watched TV, too tired to do anything.

Margene had always eaten in response to her emotions. She had suffered the loss of her parents and, in recent years, the rejection of a dear friend. Two of the couple’s four children had been diagnosed with autism, and their daily tantrums wore her down. She basically stopped leaving their house in Utah. “Self-loathing is an art, and I perfected it,” she says.

The couple ate out frequently and enjoyed snacking at home. “It was a feast every night from 7 p.m. to midnight,” Brent says. Ice cream was on the menu every night. If one of the kid’s birthday cakes was around, Margene would finish it off in a day, leaving just small pieces for the kids. On top of that, Brent’s job with a restaurant added to the problem. “The restaurant had an in-house bakery,” he says. “You can imagine what that meant—cookies, muffins, cakes—all available around the clock.”

Through the years, the couple tried many programs to lose weight, but they didn’t work. Part of the problem was that Margene felt she had to “run” Brent’s program for him, or he would make poor eating choices at work. She found the stress of preparing healthy meals and snacks for both of them overwhelming. Their good intentions never lasted for long.

Gradually, though, Margene was coming out of her “cave,” as she calls it. The couple moved to Oregon, their kids were growing up, and they were getting help for their autistic children. Margene had dropped out of high school in her senior year, but now she went back to school and got her degree. Then, one day, a friend came to visit. She had recently lost 100 pounds using Medifast.

Margene was intrigued. The Medifast “Take Shape for Life” program entails eating five small 100-calorie “meal replacements” a day, using the company’s snack bars and foods that can be prepared using just water. The only meal she would have to cook was dinner, what Medifast calls a “lean and green” meal, a 5-7 oz. serving of a lean meat and three servings of low-carb vegetables.

Margene and Brent prayed for guidance. Brent prodded Margene to take the plunge because he knew that “when Margene does something, she does it 150 percent,” he says. It wasn’t long before they both became convinced it was the program for them. “Even before we started, I knew we’d succeed,” Margene says.

In February 2010, the couple began their weight loss journey. On their low-calorie diet, the weight started coming off immediately. Each week, they saw success at their weigh-ins. (You can see the yummy dinners Margene prepares on her blog.) Margene has lost 111 pounds so far and has 34 to go. Brent has lost 103 pounds, with 22 pounds to go.

Though the Medifast program doesn’t emphasize exercise until the maintenance phase, Brent was so excited about being more energetic that he began to play basketball, ride his bike and run 5ks. He cut back when he found himself eating more and slowing down his weight loss. Margene looks forward to the day when she too can run marathons. For now, they’re happy with the small triumphs that mean success to them.

“We went to Great Wolf Lodge with our kids recently, and we were able to go on all the rides with them,” Margene says. “We’re more a part of their lives now. I’m not the tired mom. We’re not the ‘leave us alone’ parents.” Brent’s newfound health encouraged a journey of self-discovery, and he sought treatment for his ADD. And, weight loss has revived their marriage. “I can’t stop staring at my husband now,” says Margene. “It’s like being newlyweds!”

On her blog, Margene expresses the depth of her gratitude for her life change. To her, it’s not just a new size, but a lifting of her mental anguish. “I have been heavy for so long and felt worthless compared to others who were more thin and fit,” she says. “But I know my Heavenly Father has compassion on me and knows my struggles and wants me to feel His love and know my true worth. He sees beyond my size and He sees the real me. I want to see that again too, and I know I will.”

If you want to share your weight loss story with me, leave a comment on this post, or contact me via my website (on my blogger profile) and e-mail address. I'd love to hear your story of success!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Slo-o-o-o-w-ing down

It happens to all of us! We start blogging, then we get busy, and the blog posts start to fall off. You feel guilty, you know you should make time for it. But the day is gone before you know it. I SWORE it wouldn't happen to me. That I would be different! Ha!

These past few months, I've been swamped finishing up the manuscript for my book, Miracles and Moments of Grace. It is a book of inspiring stories told by military chaplains. My deadline was September 1st. That was Wednesday. And... I made it! The book will be published in March 2011 by Leafwood Publishers. I'll be sure to let everyone know about it when the time comes!

This book was easy to write, even though it took me a year. But, in essence, it was exactly like the manuscript I wrote that was intended to be a book of weight loss success stories titled How We Did It. For that book, I interviewed 30 people and wrote up their stories of how they lost their weight -- anywhere from 20 to 220 pounds. Alas, though my agent and I sold the book, the contract fell through. Then the economy fell through the floor, and with it went my manuscript.

That's when I started this blog, Thirty Ways. In it, I tell the stories of some of the people in my book. But it felt wrong simply transferring their stories to a blog without asking permission. So, as I've gone along, I've been contacting my sources and telling their stories as I get the okay from them. I must say, though, that people have pretty much moved on and I can't contact them, or I don't hear back from them.

So... the posts have slowed down. And I've moved on. But I'd still like to tell weight loss success stories here, because I've heard from so many people how life-changing weight loss can be. I know it has been for me. Though I lost only 30 pounds, the new lightness is not only in body, but in my mind. The dark places in my head, the places I repeatedly went to -- I'm ugly, Where can I hide, I'm a failure, I hate myself -- have dissipated.

If you'd like me to tell you story here, or if you'd like to be a guest poster, just let me know. I'd love to hear your story of success. While the guilty voices chiding me about my weight have disappeared, I still have those guilty regrets about my poor neglected blog.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

My Maginot line

In my weight loss journey, I haven’t much counted things. Even given my history as a financial journalist and my role as the family banker, tax preparer and investment manager, my interest in numbers as applied to weight loss has been approximately nil.

I balance my meals between proteins, carbs and fats. I estimate the caloric content of my snacks. I eyeball portion sizes. Despite an upbringing that forbade card games, I can tell you when a piece of chicken is the size of a pack of cards. I watch the clock when I exercise, but I don’t own a heart rate monitor. My blood pressure is trending downward, but I don’t know from day to day how it’s doing. Nothing about the numbers has been exact.

But this might all change. Just recently, I discovered how motivating numbers can be.

A few days ago, I stepped on the scale, something I do only sparingly. I don’t own a scale, but once in a while, when I’m feeling brave, or think I might need to bring myself into line, I step on the digital scale at the gym.

I dread scales, having long suffered their unforgiving stubbornness. For years, I’ve battled my own personal Maginot Line—the nearly unbreachable line of defense that bars me from the 120s. I did breach the line last year, getting down to 128, but a hamstring injury over the winter put me back into the 130s.

When I stepped on the scale this time, the digital readout wavered, the number beyond the decimal point blinked back and forth. And finally—it settled. At 129.8. I had broken through again!

Granted, 0.2 is not a significant number. You can gain or drop that amount just reading the paper. But instantly, I became motivated to claim that weight. To make it solidly mine, to bully my weight down one tenth of a point at a time. I vowed to do whatever it takes—count calories, fat grams, vegetable and fruit servings, the minutes I can stand to be hungry and not reach for food, one extra lap in the pool, one more minute on the clock.

I regret now that I didn’t put the numbers to work for me from the start. It might not have taken me four long years, and thousands of laps, to drop three dress sizes. Many people already know this. I'm betting you do.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

How do I get me one of those?

Like Todd P., you might feel at a loss when it comes to finding a personal trainer. Yellow Page listings are daunting and if you belong to a gym, playing eenie, meenie, miney, moe with the photos on the staff board is a chancey game.

Oh, and looks can be deceiving.

The biggest mistake people make when choosing a personal trainer is to go by looks, says Laura Kruskall, a registered dietitian who chairs the Department of Nutrition Sciences at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and is an American College of Sports Medicine certified health and fitness instructor and a fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine.

“People pick someone who looks the way they want to look,” says Dr. Kruskall. “That’s not a good way to choose.”

Instead, says Dr. Kruskall, check for a degree in exercise science or a similar emphasis. Then, check the trainer’s certification. Don’t be taken in by vague credentials touting a person as a “certified personal trainer,” she warns. “Anyone can say they’re a personal trainer. It doesn’t mean anything. Some gyms have their own certifying programs, and you can even buy your certification online,” she says.

A number of organizations offer certifying exams. You’ll need to wade through an alphabet soup. Your best bet, Dr. Kruskall believes, is to look for credentials from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) or the American Council on Exercise (ACE).

Ask friends and family for referrals, or use the phone book if you need to. Call a number of trainers and either chat on the phone or make an appointment to visit. Most trainers offer a free consultation at which you can determine whether he or she is a good fit given your goals and personality.

“Remember, you’ll be sweating in front of this person, bending over, maybe wearing a low-cut top,” says Dr. Kruskall. “Personality and comfort level are big factors.”

Thinking about why you want a personal trainer might also lead you to the right person. Many people need the help of a professional to remain faithful to an exercise program, so look for someone you find motivating. You might also want the guidance of a trainer if you have not exercised or been active before; along with the help of your doctor, the trainer can provide an initial fitness assessment and lay out a safe and effective exercise plan. If you’ve been exercising, but seeing little or no results, a trainer can lead you in a more effective workout. Or, if you have been injured, a personal trainer can work in conjunction with your physical therapist to suggest modified exercises that suit your limitations.

Many personal trainers offer meal plans as part of their package. Before you follow any dietetic advice, however, you’ll want to talk with your doctor. Personal trainers are qualified to give general non-medical nutritional information, Dr. Kruskall says, but if you have a medical condition, either diagnosed or undectected, it can be worsened by the wrong nutritional advice. For the specifics of a diet, you might want to seek the help of a dietitian, she suggests.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Todd P.: Sure thing, Coach!

Todd P. played football in high school, so when he decided to do something about his weight, he realized that to succeed he needed a player-coach relationship.

“I knew I hadn’t done anything about it before because no one was making me do it,” he says.

So, in 2005 Todd told his wife he didn’t want a tie or another shirt for Father's Day—he wanted a coach. “Help me find somebody who can help me lose weight,” he asked.

Although he was sincere, Todd, a salesman who works for an agent of a moving company, knew that he hadn’t entirely bought into the deal. “I asked my wife to do it for me because I was lazy,” he says. “And, I thought, ‘Now it’s off my back and she can’t blame me if it doesn’t work out… oh, and hand me another hamburger.’”

Todd’s wife presented him with a list of three personal trainers and he chose Derek Curtice, the founder of SimpleFit in Memphis. Even then, Todd wasn’t fully on board.

“I weighed about 280 lbs. Derek asked what my goal weight was, and I said I didn’t have one. I thought I could buy into losing maybe 25 or 30 pounds,” Todd recalls. “So Derek said, ‘Great, 200 pounds it is. Let's lose 80.’ And I’m thinking to myself, ‘This guy is crazy.’

Yet when Derek knocked on his door at 5 a.m. a few days later, Todd let him in. Todd says that at that moment he became committed to his weight loss “hook, line and sinker.”

The two worked out together for an hour three days a week, starting with simple squats and crunches and gradually adding in resistance bands and weights. Even after Derek left, Todd says he would work out another 20 to 30 minutes. On alternate days, Todd worked out on his own, following a 45-minute routine Derek created for him.

At the same time, Todd changed his eating habits. Making these changes was hard. “I traveled a lot in my job and I never ate breakfast,” Todd says. “By lunchtime, I’d be starving, so I’d really pound that all-you-can-eat buffet. If I was home, I’d have a bag of Cheetos before dinner, fall asleep watching TV and wake up at 10:30 for a glass of whole milk and chocolate chip cookies.”

It was also while traveling that Todd observed the habits of his co-workers and bosses and felt the stirrings of a desire to help himself.

“My bosses and I would plan to meet up at breakfast, and they’d get up early to work out. Meanwhile, I’m just wanting to sleep in,” Todd recalls. “But sometimes I’d go try out the treadmill—when no one was there—but after five minutes, I’d be thinking, ‘Forget this!’”

These habits and half-hearted attempts had their predictable effect. Todd gradually found maneuvering through life more difficult. Climbing two or three flights of stairs to meet with a client, Todd says he would have to walk around in the hallway for a few minutes so he wasn’t huffing and puffing when the client answered the door.

But now, Todd buckled down and gave it his all. Incredibly, in just a little over 10 months, Todd battled his weight down to 172 pounds—a loss of 105 pounds.

Today, at age 38 and maintaining at 175 pounds, Todd considers himself fortunate. He’s pleased that his life insurance carrier no longer considers him a high risk but has moved him into the “extremely preferred” category. But more importantly, he has a new outlook on the future.

“I want to be here to play with my son, and my son’s children. Derek and I would talk about family and he’d always say, ‘Do you know what a tremendous gift you’re giving to your wife and son? You’re going to be around for them,’” Todd says. “Derek more than gave me back my life. He gave me a new life.”

Thursday, June 10, 2010

It's not right... but it worked

I'm feeling a little guilty here. I just found out that dieting the wrong way sometimes works!

Over the winter, I gained about five pounds after pulling a hamstring and not being able to swim my laps, or even take a walk around the block. I tried to adjust my eating to reflect my inactivity, but obviously I didn't try hard enough. When you're exercising, you can have a few treats without moving the scale. But not when you're a couch potato.

In the last month or so, I've lost three pounds by sticking to a better diet and exercising what little I could. I went to a conference and walked off at least one of those pounds. But I was still above my magic mark... the number that means success to me. 130. I just couldn't get under it! Every time I got near it, the scale just went BOING! and bumped me up again.

Last week, I was working really hard and didn't want to take time out to exercise, so I made a vow to myself to eat NOTHING. Let me tell you... I am STARVING! I think about food every minute of the day. I hate it. It feels like backsliding to me. When I'm maintaining my weight, I hardly think about food at all. Now, I can't seem to stop thinking about it. Especially chocolate.

But, you know what? My abstinence worked. I saw that magic number pop up on the scale yesterday at the gym. Is that the ticket for me? Starve myself and skip exercise? I did see that Time magazine article about how exercise makes you hungry, so you just end up eating more. Could be true.

I'm hoping to find myself under that magic number the next time I go to the gym. My laps are going better, although a weak flutter kick is still all I can manage without pain. I want to get back to a good balance of healthy eating and moderate exercise, though. While my short-term "plan" worked, I can't see myself going on like this indefinitely. Hunger stinks!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

My top 10 tips

Over the last few years, as I've lost weight, and talked with others who have lost weight, I've heard some common themes and familiar phrases. I'll call these my Top 10 Weight Control Tips. Catchy, huh? Maybe not, but listen in on this advice from those who have succeeded.

1. When your moment of reckoning comes, don’t shrink from it.

The question that fascinates me most is, “Why did you do it?” Most people, although not all, can point to a single moment in time that forces them to face their dilemma. This moment is sometimes referred to as a “triggering event.” I had my own, the horrible photo of me walking my child to kindergarten.

2. Remove the word “diet” from your vocabulary.

“In this country, when we think of diet, we think it’s something we do for 16 days, and then we can go back to the way we were living,” says Dr. James O. Hill, co-founder of the National Weight Control Registry. The fact is that permanent weight loss rarely results from a short-term fix.

3. Make weight control, not weight loss, your goal.

Once you’ve taken the emphasis off short-term fixes, it’s time to take the long view. Maintenance of a healthy weight should become a top priority for life.

4. Resolve to look to the future.

Many people exhaust themselves losing and regaining weight on one plan after another. You may have failed a few times, too. But whatever you’ve tried in the past, and for whatever reason it has failed, put it out of your mind. “Don’t let the past dictate your future,” says Eric McLaughlin, a personal trainer at Jim White Fitness in Virginia Beach.

5. Gear up to take on society, not just yourself.

To succeed, you have to take responsibility for your own health. Yet it’s too simplistic to lay the blame for overweight solely on the individual. Our entire society is set up to encourage a life of sloth and overindulgence. There's a fast food joint on every corner, and it's so easy just to pull in. Especially if you've been "dieting" by skipping meals. And why on earth would you walk anywhere?

6. Listen to your body and the voices in your head.

Listening to voices in your head is generally frowned upon in polite society. But actually your inner voices have some very valid things to say. For example, Nancy Clark, a Boston-area sports nutrition specialist, advises people to consider one simple question before they pick up something to eat. “Ask yourself, ‘Does my body need this fuel to sustain itself?’” she suggests.

7. Banish your dread of exercise.

Of the 7,000 people who have logged their weight loss onto the National Weight Control Registry, the overwhelming majority report adopting a lifelong habit of exercise. Only 9 percent of people said they had lost weight and maintained their loss without exercise, “You might be able to do it, but the odds are against you,” cautions co-founder Dr. Hill.

8. But don’t count on exercise alone to lose weight.

It sounds contradictory, I know. But don’t throw up your barbells yet. “Exercise alone will not cause you to lose weight,” confirms dietitian Nancy Clark. “You have to create a calorie deficit.” Simply put, you create a calorie deficit when you expend more calories than you take in.

9. Realize that eventually new habits take hold.

Early in my blog, I mentioned a study showing that sticking with a diet--any diet--is a better predictor of weight loss than the method used to achieve it. How long it takes for new habits to become second nature varies. But as habits do become established, people often find that eventually, even when the will wavers, the brain balks.

10. Help someone else along.

Part of the allure of a twelve-step program is to help someone else in the same way you’ve been helped. “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others, and to practice these principles in all our affairs,” the Twelfth Step reads. And many successful weight loss seekers live that truth.

“When I went to my first Overeaters Anonymous meeting, people greeted me and everyone said, ‘Please come back,’” remembers Atiya M., who lost 60 pounds. “And I thought ‘Oh, I’ll be back.’ I just knew.” Today, Atiya is both sponsored, and a sponsor to others.

Friends helping friends, parents helping children, spouses helping each other. It's a boost not only for others, but for you, too.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Beach food...yum!

I don't have a digital camera -- really! -- so I rarely post photos on my blog. (My dad worked for Kodak and I was raised in Kodak-land. I'll buy film as long as they make it!) But a friend of mine took this photo of a meal we made while vacationing at the shore. It was our take on a salade nicoise, using what we had on hand.

Before beach season opens, your food choices are pretty limited. The closest grocery store was miles away, and we didn't want to waste beach time on a drive. If the seafood market down the street had been open, I could have gotten tuna, as the recipe calls for. But it wasn't, so we made do with a rotisserie chicken. We also didn't have potatoes, but we piled marinated mozzarella balls in the middle instead. We did have a container of tzatziki, the greek cucumber and dill yogurt dip, which stood in for the usual dressing. We sliced a garlic and rosemary artisan bread on the side.

It was just such a beautiful presentation I couldn't resist posting the photo. Wish I could show you the sunset we were enjoying at the time!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Boys and their appetites

In my last post, I profiled Daniel Greenlees, a teenager who lost 70 pounds at a gym with the help of a personal trainer. The topic brought up some questions for me: How much do teen boys eat anyway? Should you limit calories or carbs or anything? Or should you just encourage more activity?

I had two sisters, who each had two girls. I had no close male cousins or even an uncle. By having a boy, I broke up the family sorority. So I know nothing about boys and their eating habits. But I hear they're prodigious. Already, I feel like a short-order cook. The eating orgy seems to last from the minute he's home from school to the minute he goes to bed.

As my son approaches puberty, I can see his body changing. He's not a stick on chicken legs any more. But I don't know what's normal. Will he pack on pounds and then stretch out? Should I be concerned about his dimply middle? Or should I just trust that he'll get enough exercise to even it all out in the end? His diet is not the worst it could be, but it's not the best. Should I keep a closer eye on sugars and fats?

Any advice from you who have experience feeding boys would be great. I'm totally in the dark here. My mother says she had -- and lost -- a monumental battle with me and my sisters over breakfast. We refused to eat it apparently. She finally gave in. Should I be worried about my son's habits yet? Or should I just give in and hope for the best?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Daniel Greenlees: His ship came in

From the time he was 12, Daniel Greenlees’s family lived on a 65-foot sailboat. In November 2006, the boat was damaged in a storm and the family was forced to dock in Norfolk, Va.

The family rented an apartment in nearby Virginia Beach while they waited out the repairs. One day, Daniel took off his shirt, and his stepfather looked at him in alarm—ugly stretch marks sprawled across the boy’s chest. “We’ve got to do something about that,” he told Daniel. At 5-foot, 7 inches, Daniel weighed 236 pounds.

Daniel had always struggled with his weight. As a home-schooled teen, he would sit at the computer 14 or 15 hours a day, studying, eating, surfing and playing games. Not attending a traditional school and moving every few years, he had little contact with others. He didn’t mind that so much, though. When he was younger and attended public schools, he often found his interactions with other children painful.

“I had no trouble at a small school I attended, where no one picked on me,” Daniel says. “But at one large school, kids were not nice to me at all. They acted like a mob.”

A few times, Daniel and his mom tried to do something about the extra pounds. But good intentions can backfire.

“One time, my mom decided we were going to eat healthier food,” he says. “But instead of just buying some good things, that night for dinner she made her own pasta from scratch… from eggplant! It was awful.”

In Norfolk, the family’s apartment was just steps away from Jim White Fitness Studios. Daniel and his mother went over to check it out. He liked what he saw, and he knew it was time to act. “I knew this was the best opportunity I’d ever have to lose weight, and so I took it,” Daniel says.

Jim paired Daniel with personal trainer Eric McGlaughlin. The first thing he had the family do was clean out their pantry and refrigerator. “We threw out pancakes, waffles, toaster strudels, Hot Pockets, Poptarts, a lot of different things,” Daniel says. He and his mom went shopping for fruits, vegetables, lean meats and other healthy foods and began cooking low-fat, low-calorie meals.

Daniel worked two days a week with Eric and three days by himself, each time for 45 minutes to an hour and a half, splitting his time between cardio workouts and weight training. Although he was self-motivated, he credits Eric with much of his success. “I worked out as hard as I could, and Eric wouldn’t let me slack off,” Daniel says. “He could tell when I was getting bored, and he’d change things around to keep me motivated.”

Now 70 pounds lighter, Daniel loves being outdoors and he participates in sports. He says with wonder, but a little shyly, that girls are interested in him. He’s still amazed at how much he’s changed, when not so long ago his future looked hopeless.

“I used to see people jogging or playing games outdoors and I’d think, ‘Why do people want to do that?’” he remembers. “I was always tired before and I’d think to myself, ‘Why bother?’”

Today, Daniel has joined the Army, where fitness is a must, and he is stationed overseas.

“It’s nice fitting into decent clothes now. I’m able to get places—I can run up stairs—instead of moving at a waddling pace,” he says. “I can’t sit still all the time, like I used to. There are people out there I want to meet.”

And, judging from his newly found optimism for life, I bet those people want to meet Daniel, too.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Writing and walking

Yow! I just returned from a writers conference, the Festival of Faith and Writing, at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The most practical thing I learned was this: A blog doesn't have any impact if you post to it too infrequently. And look at the date on my last post! I'm a slacker.

So, before I get back to the weight loss success stories, let me tell you about the conference. The featured writers were phenomenal: Mary Karr, Wally Lamb, Sally Lloyd-Jones, Avi, Kate DiCamillo. My absolute favorites were Rhoda Janzen (Mennonite in a Little Black Dress) and Michael Perry (Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs and Parenting). I also loved taking in the photographs of Steve McCurry (Afghan Girl), with all their color and intriguing stories.

Beyond the headiness of walking among literary legends, I just plain enjoyed this conference because I didn't have anything to sell! I attend one or two conferences a year, and usually I'm pushing some manuscript or other. This time, though, I went off with a light heart, a contract on its way for my latest manuscript, a collection of stories told by military chaplains. So I just went to relax and enjoy!

Let me tell you, though, it was quite a workout physically. The workshops and sessions were spread out over the college and seminary and we conferees hiked for miles every day. I was exhausted by the second day. I must admit, I chose one session merely because it was in the lecture hall I was sitting in at the time.

So, this situation brings up the topic of weight. I am not at my lowest weight. I gained five pounds over the winter when a succession of pulled muscles in my legs and back limited my exercise. I've successfully lost one pound -- one pound! -- with a lot of work at the gym and close attention to my food choices. It's so hard to lose just one pound! The body is evil -- it remembers its former shape and wants to go back there. I'm working on the four pounds, and I'm determined to get back to my lowest weight.

Hurrying along to my workshops, hefting my heavy briefcase, I felt those extra pounds. It may not sound like much, but pick up a five-pound bag of sugar to give yourself an idea of the extra work it takes to drag that weight around.

All around me, I saw people struggling with far more weight than mine and my heart went out to them. This was a conference of literary richness, yet so many people couldn't enjoy it to the fullest, hobbled by their excess weight. I passed unhappy people huffing along, arriving late to the workshops and settling heavily into uncomfortably small chairs. They avoided the cafeterias and snack shops whose entrances were at the top of stairs, missing their chance to meet and talk with other writers. And, like me, many people chose the workshops that required the least effort.

It hurt my heart to think that these people whose spirits were committed to heady ideas and elegant language were constrained by their physical selves. Many people I met were writers working as hard as they could to get published. I would love to see that steadfast resolve applied to their own benefit. How I wish it could be.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Food Police: Failing!

At age 11, my son barely weighs 90 pounds. He's moderately active, plays baseball three seasons of the year, plays outside with friends. So, I figure I'm not doing so bad as the food and exercise police, right?!?

I decided to find out how I stack up as "the nutritional gatekeeper" that author Brian Wansick (Mindless Eating) identifies as the person in charge of family food choices. So I piled the kitchen table high with boxes, bags, bottles and packages. Here is a day's menu:

Breakfast: buttered toast or kids cereal, small handful of peanuts, ½ banana or apple, ½ cup of 1% milk
Lunch: 6 oz. low-fat yogurt or ½ cup sweetened applesauce, snack crackers, 1 pack fruit snacks, bottle of water
Snack: handful of red grapes, or celery stalk with 1 tbsp. peanut butter, toaster tart, ½ cup milk
Dinner: 6 homemade chicken nuggets with 1 tbsp. catsup, ½ cup mashed potatoes with butter, ¼ cup peas
Dessert or snack: 4 Oreos and ½ cup milk or ½ cup ice cream
During baseball season: one 20 oz. sports drink

I picked just one ingredient -- sugar -- to gauge how I was doing. On food labels, ingredients are listed by weight, in grams. Four grams of sugar equals one teaspoon. Counting only the added sugars—that is, not foods’ natural sugars—here’s the total:

Breakfast: 2 ¼ -5 ½ tsps.
Lunch: 8-8 ½ tsps.
Snack: 6 ½ tsp.
Dinner: 1 tsp.
Desserts or snack: 6 ½ tsps.
Sports drink: 8 ¾ tsps.

TOTAL: 23-37 teaspoons

Pretty bad, huh? And Dr. Wansink estimates that parents control only 72 percent of a child’s diet. Add in birthday cupcakes, pizza parties, lunch trades, team celebrations and other splurges, and his total could increase by almost 30 percent. At its worst, that’s about 48 teaspoons a day. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says to eat no more than 10 teaspoons of added sugar a day!

I took out a measuring cup. Those 48 teaspoons pile up to more than a cup of sugar. Going from bad to worse, I converted the sugar into calories, 16 calories per teaspoon. The total now? About 770 calories!

Estimate that a child under age 14 should consume 1,000 calories a day, plus 100 calories per year of age. That means my son's diet is about 2,100 calories a day. So, if his daily calorie count approximates this figure, he’s getting about 35 percent of his calories from sugar!

I'm not even talking about the fat and sodium in his diet, which I can see is considerable. It’s clear that we have some work to do before we're nominated for Best Nutritional Gatekeeper!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Obesity and family food choices

I've been to two high school productions recently. One was a musical, the other a choral event. Let me tell you what I noticed. In the musical, of the performers who didn't have lead roles, I'd say about 1 in 4 was overweight. In the choral production, the ratio was even higher -- nine of the 13 singers were overweight and probably five of them would be considered obese. I was shocked.

But maybe that's just the way it is today. Bill Baroni, a well-known New Jersey politician who told me about his 132-pound weight loss, said that when he grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, he was the target of cruel comments and hurtful exclusion by other children because he was “the fat kid” in his class. But today, he speculated, kids might not have it so bad.

“Today, you’re not the only fat kid in the class,” he said. “You’re just one of many fat kids.”

In fact, that’s just what health researchers have found. In a 2002 survey, the National Center for Health Statistics calculated that about 17 percent of children over the age of six are overweight or obese—that’s around 13.5 million children. That number has more than doubled in the last few decades. And who knows what’s happened in the years since the survey.

Having a child myself, I don’t want to believe that the blame lies solely with parents. And, in fact, I don’t think it does. Read up on the food industry—Don’t Eat This Book by Morgan Spurlock or Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser—to come face to face with the powerful corporate forces that are battling us for our children’s health.

But we are not blameless. One Cornell University researcher has quantified just how much responsibility we as parents bear. In his book Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, Brian Wansink examines the influence of the person in the family he calls “the nutritional gatekeeper.” That's the parent who does the menu planning, grocery shopping and cooking. Through extensive studies, Wansink found that this person is responsible for about 72 percent of a family’s food choices.

I was heartened by that number, because it means that in our own house we can control all but 28 percent of the food our child eats. But if I’m honest, I have to admit that the decisions we make aren’t always good. Grilled sausage-and-cheese sandwiches. Donuts. Cheese puffs. Pepperoni pizza. Of our own volition, we abdicate some of our responsibility on a daily basis.

I recently laid out on the kitchen table the typical foods my son eats during an average day. I checked labels, looked up nutritional information online and added up his intake of just one ingredient: sugar. I'll post the results soon.... as soon as I pick myself up off the floor!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Me in the Soup, Chicken that is

I love soup, all kinds of it. Corn chowder, lobster bisque, roasted sweet potato, onion soup. But my favorite? Chicken Soup... for the Soul, that is.

I got word this week that the Chicken Soup for the Soul folks accepted a story of mine for one of their collections: Shaping the New You. It's the story of my weight loss success. Woo hoo! Look for it in December, just in time for another round of New Year's resolutions.

If you're a writer (and I know from all your blogs that you are!) take a look at the Chicken Soup website for their books in progress. I submitted two or three stories before this one was chosen. I'd like to give the book on grandmothers a try. Already pondering memories of my wonderful grandmothers!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Food love: Then and now

You know by now that this blog is all about success. Weight loss success. I'm having fun sharing people's stories, people who lost anywhere from 20 pounds to 220 pounds.

But today, I just want to have a little fun. Over on Mary's weight loss blog, A Merry Life she posted a meme that made me laugh: five foods you used to love before your weight loss journey, five foods you love now, and five foods you still hate.

I consider it success to look at a list like this and see how desires change to make a healthy life possible. I'll post my own list here, although it's not a very exciting one. Eating was never my big downfall. My love of the sedentary life was. But, anyway, here goes.

Five Foods I Used to Love

Potato chips and dip. This combo was a bottomless abyss for me. Wash it down with plenty of diet soda and I could keep on going until there was nothing but crumbs left in the bag.

Bleu cheese dressing. Not by itself, of course, but slathered on huge salads topped with bacon, provalone, boiled eggs, pine nuts and what not. Healthy, right?

Chocolate. Dark chocolate. Bars and bars of it.

Onion rings. I'd only indulge occasionally. Or should I say, overindulge? My husband and I once came across an onion-ring maker who'd park his London double-decker bus on sideroads in Maine and dish out vats and vats of these beauties. We'd vacation there just for that reason! And order an extra helping for the ride back to our cottage. And eat them until we were sick. Now there's a good time!

Mashed potatoes. Like the other four foods, this is something I still love, made with butter and slathered in butter. My go-to comfort food.

Foods I Love Now

Avocados. Or is that avocadoes? Either way, I love them in salads and as guacamole.

Salads. But more healthy ones now, topped with a few splashes of a homemade olive oil and raspberry champagne vinegar dressing.

Pears. Usually on the salads. I don't like the sweetness of most fruits, but pears snuck up on me.

Roasted veggies. Carrots, snow peas, onions, sweet potatoes, green beans, asparagus. Roasted in the oven or pan-seared in a cast iron skillet. The smoky sweetness of roasted, carmelized veggies is tops in my book.

Anything made in a cast iron pan. Cooking with cast iron creates new favorite foods every day! Scallops, crusty on the outside, gossamer light and sweet on the inside. Toasted cheese, beautiful to behold. Spiced potato wedges, pure gold.

Five Foods I Still Can't Stand

Mushrooms. Raw or cooked, they give me the willies. It's the texture. When they're cooking, the odor makes me gag. (Blame it on my sister... it was a craving of hers in our teens. The house always smelled of the things.)

Pasta. This one' s a bummer. So many fast meals can be made from pasta. But cold or cooked, even al dente, it's that texture thing again. Slimy and never hot enough.

Pizza. And isn't this a bonus?!? This is a hard one for many people to give up. It just bores me. Crust, tomato sauce and cheese in endless combos. It doesn't even interest me as a cook.

Soggy stuff. I can't stand to see someone ruin a perfectly good piece of cake by topping it with a scoop of ice cream or drowning it in milk. Or dunk cookies in milk, or biscotti in coffee. Are you a dunker? Not around me, please! Same goes for soggy desserts like bread or rice pudding. Or side dishes like risotto. Eggy breakfast casseroles. Ugh.

Bad coffee with skim milk. It would have been a lot easier to lose weight drinking my coffee black or with sweetener and skim milk. But I love my half 'n half! It's a disaster of infinite proportions when I run out -- almost as bad as running out of t.p.

There you have it. I'd love to hear what you love and hate. Pass it on!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Pastor Robert Hartwell: The Skinny on Sacrifice

Most people make weight loss resolutions only after the annual holiday binge. But it was on New Year’s Eve 2007 that the Rev. Robert Hartwell’s weight-loss odyssey came to a dramatic close. That morning, he stepped on a scale on NBC’s Today Show in front of 10 million people.

Just how the pastor of Village Lutheran Church in Bronxville, NY, got to this point began two years earlier. Pastor Hartwell's church had started a campaign to pay down an $8 million mortgage the church had assumed for a building project.

One day, Pastor Hartwell got a baffling call. A former parishioner, someone who kept close ties with the church, offered to make a substantial donation. But there was a catch. “This donor said that he wanted me to commit to losing 70 pounds, and if I did so, he would donate $5,000 for each pound I lost,” he says.

It was both an intriguing and a heartbreaking offer. “I was crushed—mortified—that someone had discovered that I was overweight, although of course everyone saw it when I stepped into the pulpit each week,” Pastor Hartwell says. “But this donor said he wanted to know that I was as committed to the project as he was.”

So was born “The Skinny on Sacrifice” campaign. Although up this point Pastor Hartwell hadn’t acknowledged his weight problem, he certainly understood how it had happened.

“My life is so hectic. I was always eating on the run. I’d grab a muffin between hospital visits, get home from council meetings at 10:30 at night, exhausted and ravenous, and grab a couple of sandwiches and chips,” he says. “And I was a volume eater—I could eat a half a pizza by myself, or eight White Castle burgers at a time.”

By the time the sly donor came into the picture, the six-foot-tall pastor weighed about 270 pounds. After consulting with his parish nurse practitioner, Pastor Hartwell took up the challenge, choosing NutriSystem for his meals.

On a food plan of about 1,500 calories a day, Pastor Hartwell lost 10 pounds almost immediately, and he continued to lose two to three pounds a week. He and his wife, Sue, had always walked for pleasure, and he made sure he got in two to three miles a day. After six months, he started going to the gym at next-door Concordia College, where he is an adjunct professor. A congregant who is a personal trainer showed him how to use the machines. He found the college atmosphere stimulating. “I was there with the 19- and 20-year old baseball players, and they motivated me to keep going,” he says.

Meanwhile, an employee at the church’s school who happened to be a lighting director for the Today Show brought the pastor’s challenge to the attention of a producer. The producer asked whether Pastor Hartwell would be willing to weigh in on the show the morning of December 31, 2007.

“I had already told the donor that I wouldn’t weigh in during a church service, and here I was agreeing to do it in front of a live audience on national television,” he laughs. “Barring Jesus projecting it in the sky over the earth, it couldn’t get any bigger than that!"

Just before Pastor Hartwell stepped out onto the stage, someone clipped a microphone to the back of his shirt. “This thing must weigh five pounds!” he protested. No matter. Robert made the donor’s 70-pound limit, with 8 extra pounds in the bargain. The donor wrote a check for $390,000, which church members augmented for an even $400,000.

Since then, Pastor Hartwell has lost 18 more pounds, bringing his total to 96. And, while he originally targeted 200 as his goal weight, he now wants to see 170—a total loss of 100 pounds. He still uses NutriSystem, and intends to continue even after reaching his goal.

In 2008, Pastor Hartwell challenged his congregation and the church's school to join the Skinny on Sacrifice II challenge. Over 200 people took it on and by last year had lost over 3,000 pounds. Many participants reported improved blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels, allowing many to reduce or eliminate medications to treat those conditions.

Pastor Hartwell says he now believes that weight loss is not only an individual pursuit yielding personal satisfaction, but a goal with wide-ranging possibilities for strengthening family and community ties. “Food is a short cut. Food is really a substitute for spending time with each other. I just decided we weren't going to do that anymore," he says.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Faith and "excess avoirdupois"

"Faith takes over when willpower fails." When my husband and I facilitated a support group for addictions recovery at our church, we often heard this sentiment from people wanting to kick alcohol, drugs and cigarettes. The same can be true for weight loss seekers. A spiritual outlook on the road to weight loss can be a powerful motivator. In my last post, I shared the story of Sandy Ward's success using the biblically-based First Place program.

As early as the 1950s, Presbyterian minister Charlie Shedd published Pray Your Weight Away, a bestseller that rebuked gluttony as a sin. “When God first dreamed you into creation, there weren’t 100 pounds of excess avoirdupois hanging around your belt,” he wrote. He suggested doing karate moves and sit-ups while reciting Scripture. (Not sure I want to visualize that!) He preached his message well into the 1970s, when he published The Fat Is in Your Head.

About that time, Carol Showalter, a Presbyterian pastor’s wife in Texas, founded 3D: Diet, Discipline & Discipleship, the first nationwide church-based weight loss program. Other programs followed: First Place, Free to be Thin, Overeaters Victorious, Thin Within, Lose It for Life. Some programs piggybacked on national crazes, such as the Believercise aerobics program of the 1980s. Today, Christians can choose Christian yoga and Christian pilates, among other faith-based diet and exercise regimens.

If churches are turning to weight control programs, it may be because church-goers struggle mightily with weight. In several studies, Dr. Kenneth Ferraro, a professor of sociology at Purdue University, found that religious people are more likely than nonreligious people to be overweight. The findings surprised him.

“In the 1990s, all the evidence showed that being in a faith community was good for your health,” Dr. Ferraro says. “In terms of smoking, alcohol, and high-risk sexual activity, religion seemed to promote health. But weight is a different story.”

Food, Dr. Ferraro suggests, is often the only acceptable vice left to an otherwise teetotaling and smoke-free congregation. In addition, he guesses, faith communities are welcoming groups in which everyone finds acceptance. And, the culture and traditions of some denominations may worsen your plight—Southern Baptists, he finds, lead the way in obesity (church suppers! prayer breakfasts! fellowship breaks!), while Jewish and non-Christian religious groups are the leanest.

Getting the message, some churches are literally breaking new ground. In Raytown, Missouri, First Baptist Church has built a $14 million community and fitness center and staffed it with personal trainers and volunteers who organize sports leagues with an enrollment of 500 participants. “We want people to have a better quality of life,” says Dave Foster, the center’s director.

In Davenport, Iowa, St. Mark Evangelical Lutheran Church has an active Wellness Committee, started 10 years ago by a parish nurse. Its outreach programs include blood pressure screenings, flu clinics, exercise and weight loss groups, classes for caregivers and new mothers, healing services and newsletter articles addressing health issues.

For his part, Dr. Ferraro plans to study the role of pastors in modeling fitness. If ministers are fit and incorporate fitness opportunities into their ministry, he wonders, will congregants follow their lead? In later posts, I'll talk with some pastors who have led the way after dropping their own excess avoirdupois!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Sandy Ward: In First Place

Can there be anything more disheartening than to have to quit as the leader of a weight loss group because you’ve gained too much weight? Sandy Ward was determined it wasn’t going to happen to her.

Sandy struggled with weight most of her life. She enjoyed those blissful early years of childhood without a thought about weight, but in her teens, she began a cycle of gaining weight and then thinning out as she grew taller.

With marriage and the birth of her son, Sandy’s weight continued to plague her. At her highest, she reached 234 pounds. She tried many times to get it under control and successfully got down to 140 at one point.

After her son went off to college, Sandy became a partner in a sporting goods store owned by a friend. They thrived in the niche market of skating and skateboard equipment. But over the years, her weight crept back on. Five years ago, having sold the business and retired, she wanted to do something to help herself. One Sunday, she found her opportunity.

“I was sitting in church waiting for the service to begin when I saw an ad for a First Place group that was starting up at my church,” she says. “The ad just clicked with me somehow. I guess I was just ready for it.”

Sandy went to the first meeting and liked both the people and the program of Bible study and group prayer, as well as the nutritional program of dietetic exchanges. Over the course of the 13-week program, she lost 40 pounds. But when it came time for the second session, the leader had moved away, and the group had dwindled to just three women. They decided to continue anyway. And Sandy made another decision.

“I’m not the kind of woman who gets up in front of everyone and speaks,” she says. “But I thought that becoming the leader of this group might be a good ministry for me.”

Eventually, even as the group's leader, she began to put on extra pounds. In January 2007, she had another decision to make.

“The First Place people told me that often when leaders gain weight, they just quit, and I didn’t want to do that,” Sandy says. “I made a vow to God that I was going to take that weight off. I made a date and when that date came, that was it. Vows to God are serious!”

Returning to the First Place plan, Sandy cut back to a 1,200-calorie daily diet. She and her husband switched to mostly organic foods, and their menu became fairly simple. Gone now are the extras she enjoyed. “No more desserts and no more fancy Starbucks coffees!” she laughs. She walks and exercises to a DVD included in the First Place member kit.

This time, Sandy's weight loss quest wasn’t a matter of a silent vow. She was still a First Place leader. “I had to do it in front of everyone,” she says. “It’s hard to face your own demons and the people who have seen you fail.” Yet, in six months, Sandy lost 37 pounds.

Today, the First Place program is thriving at Berwyn Baptist Church in Maryland. Sandy says that usually around 20 people are signed up. Sandy often offers the program for subgroups like diabetics. To Sandy, First Place is more than a weight loss group. Group members make a commitment to deal with anything in their life that is out of balance. During one session, three people successfully quit smoking. And, Sandy feels that as a leader she benefits even more than the group’s members.

“God has given me such a love and compassion for people with weight problems,” she says. “When I see them, I just think, ‘Oh, bless your heart,’ because I know the humiliation of it all.”

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

My Great Eight for Losing Weight

My gym is crammed to the ceiling these days. It always happens in January, after people have made their New Year's resolution -- once again! -- to lose weight. They start to slack off around March, and then the Bikini Brigade arrives, wanting to get in shape for the beach.

I joke about it, but I'm in sympathy with my fellow gym-nasts. I tried a lot of avenues to weight loss before I zeroed in on what worked for me. Let me share with you a few of the ideas and practices that I have depended on to lose 30 pounds and maintain my weight loss.

Nothing tastes as good as thin feels. This saying has been getting a lot of flack lately for supposedly promoting anorexia. As Mythbuster Adam Savage would say, "I reject your reality and substitute my own!" This is an absolutely true statement. I hope you get to enjoy the feeling, too.

It’s calories in, calories out. Not everyone—especially low-carb aficionados—agrees with this, but it worked for me. In November 2007, when I broke a foot, Heidi Bylsma (whose weight loss story I shared earlier in this blog) encouraged me to keep this in mind. In the three months that I couldn’t exercise, not only did I not gain weight, but I lost two pounds to boot.

Am I really hungry? Once I began asking myself this question, I cut way back on mindless eating. Brian Wansick, the author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More than We Think, says that in regard to food, Americans have essentially three states of being: 1) I’m starving 2) I’m stuffed, or 3) I could eat more. This is hilarious, but it’s also too true. We're never satisfied! I’m trying to exist in a fourth state, that of contentment.

Salad fills you up as much as a piece of cake will. This is another craving-buster. Although cake might satisfy something in my psyche that salad doesn’t (that’s putting it mildly!), I don’t need to reach for it when I am hungry. Veggies and fruits do take care of hunger, and they keep it at bay longer.

I don’t need willpower; I need strategies. I always thought that losing weight was about toughing it out. Now I realize it’s about planning ahead. Stocking the refrigerator with the good stuff; taking it with you when healthy options aren’t available. I brush my teeth in the early evening, so I’m less likely to snack after dinner. I exercise early in the day, before the pull of inertia exerts itself.

Life can be more than steamed greens. Many weight losers tell me they no longer cook, except to grill meats and steam vegetables. I like to cook, and I need variety. So, I’ll pan-sear or roast vegetables in a bit of olive oil. Steaming vegetables may be healthier, but I love the sweet, smoky taste of charred carrots, onions, green beans, asparagus and snow peas. With a squeeze of lemon juice and a sprinkling of sea salt, I can eat a boatload of these veggies! I beef up my recipes with the high-fiber and high-water-content fruits and vegetables of Barbara Rolls's Volumetrics plan.

Walking counts. It’s so silly! I'd drive to the gym to swim my laps, and then spend 10 minutes looking for the parking spot closest to the door. The irony of it struck me one day. Now I park in a spot at the end of the furthest row. It’s never taken.

Fifteen minutes is fifteen minutes. As the mother of a young child, I didn’t have an hour a day to devote to exercise. But I did have fifteen minutes, and my fitful bouts of swimming added up over time. Even now, I rarely have extended periods free to exercise. I’ll have to leave the marathons to others. On the days I don't swim, a swift walk to the post office and back works for me.

These are my Great Eight handy-dandy helpers. I'm sure you have your own. I'd love to hear what they are.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Moderation v. Avoidance

In my last post, I mentioned the ever-raging debate of whether weight loss is better accomplished by avoiding certain foods or eating everything in moderation.

Now that the holidays are over, maybe it IS time to talk about moderation!

To lose my 30 pounds, I relied on moderation in both eating and exercise. I didn't really eat differently than I had been. I just cut down on portions and upped the proportion of veggies. My sweet tooth had always been satisfied by really good dark chocolate, so I allowed myself a bite or two at the end of the day. For exercise, I started swimming laps three times a week. Nothing strenuous, just a half an hour of laps, no matter how fast (or how slowly, more accurately!) I swam.

Feeling a little self-righteous, I was certain moderation was the only approach. But then I talked with -- and observed -- other people who succeeded through avoiding certain food groups, or individual foods they considered addictive. I talked with people who happily exercised several hours a day, people who started running marathons and competing in triathlons.

My closest friend lost 75 pounds two summers ago -- in just 3 months! -- while she was living at the shore. She'd go out running in the morning, sometimes for three hours or more. She prepared her family's normal meals (high-fat, high-carb Italian!) but ate only salads. We didn't know she was doing this, so when she dropped her kids off the first day of school in the fall, our jaws all dropped to the asphalt. What a babe!

I interviewed two people who used Overeaters Anonymous and Recovery from Food Addiction, two groups that agree foods can be addictive and best avoided. While neither group insists on a particular eating plan, many members find success by avoiding whole categories of food, like sugar.

Of course, I also talked with people who used the Atkins plan to lose weight, a plan that allows almost no carbohydrates. Other plans, like Dr. Gott's No Flour, No Sugar plan, also cut out whole swathes of foods, as the name suggests. The Ornish plan almost entirely eliminates fats and Body for Life stresses high levels of protein and exercise.

But on the other side of the fence, I talked with people who succeeded with plans that stress moderation of intake and balancing of food nutrients, plans such as the Zone, South Beach and Weight Watchers. The two major food delivery plans, NutriSystem and Jenny Craig, also stress portion control and a healthy lifestyle.

So what approach should you use? Your best bet is to choose one that suits your personality. My friend who dropped her weight over the summer knows that she is an obsessive person. I've seen her in action! We took a culinary trip to Brooklyn one day, and she ate bagels, cookies, pizza and Italian ice until she was literally sick. She was a gym rat at one point, but stopped going when she realized it was consuming her life. She doesn't exercise now, but because she has remained faithful to her low-calorie intake, she hasn't gained anything back. Myself, I know I'd gain every pound back if I stopped swimming. I can't cut my eating back to the levels she has and be satisfied long term.

Long, long ago, in my first post I think, I mentioned a study showing that people can lose weight on any kind of plan. In 2004, a group of researchers placed 160 people on four different weight loss plans—the Zone, the Ornish Diet, Atkins and Weight Watchers. They asked them to stay on it for a year. Everyone who completed the study lost weight. It didn't matter which plan they followed. The factor that leads to success is sticking with a plan, no matter what it is.

So... take your pick and with it you should stick!