The Thirty Pound Journey: Weight Loss Tips From A Layperson


I have struggled with my weight my whole life. While I’m not someone who is considered obese, I’ve almost always carried between 20 and 30 pounds of extra weight. My addiction to food, for both pleasure and comfort, combined with my genetic predisposition to gain weight has made shedding pounds a constant challenge. I’ve tried fad diets, calorie counting and Weight Watchers and, while there has been initial success, I usually ended up back where I started, proclaiming loudly, “Who cares if I’m fat? At least I’m happy.” (Yes, food and drink make me THAT happy!) The only diet that put me in the 130-pound range was what I’ve dubbed The Diabetes Diet. I ate and ate, the pounds melted off and I was down to a size 6. Of course, the reason was because my body was developing adult onset Type 1 diabetes, so that was probably not the best weight loss program. It was the easiest though.

So, here I am, once again attempting to lose weight and make healthy choices. I am not a fitness instructor or nutritionist but I thought that I would share the things that have worked for me. Perhaps they will work for you, too.

Eat foods that are organically low in fat and calories. Reading food labels and calorie guides becomes an obsession for me when I am trying to lose weight and feel healthier. When I’m not eating right, I think nothing of picking up a Big Mac from McDonald’s but I’m always shocked when I am being conscientious and am reminded that there are 530 calories in one sandwich and 27g of fat! When I follow a Mediterranean or Weight Watchers type diet, I focus more on lean proteins (chicken, fish, beans, egg whites) and lots of fruits and vegetables. It is also important to pay attention to the fats that you consume. I eliminate or minimize butter from my diet and use olive oil (usually from a Misto) or a light butter substitute like I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter Light. I also try to incorporate at least one serving of dairy into my daily intake, usually in the form of a low fat yogurt, cheese or a glass of milk.

Get active for at least 20 minutes per day. This is usually the hardest aspect of weight loss for me. I was NEVER the athletic type. I hate running and yet, when I do get moving, I find myself incorporating walking/running into my exercise routine. I think it is also important to diversify your workout. Walking and running is usually the easiest way to incorporate cardio into your life but there are other ways: Zumba, swimming or ball sports are great ways to get moving that don’t seem quite as mundane as a half an hour on the treadmill. Strength training is also an important element of your routine, whether it is free weights, Nautilus machines, resistance training or a DVD targeting abs, legs and/or arms.

Drink at least 64 ounces of water per day and limit your intake of carbonated beverages and juices. It is fairly common knowledge that it is important to consume eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day, whether you are dieting or not. Not everyone needs exactly 64 ounces, so check out this way of calculating your water intake requirements based on your weight and activity level. Staying hydrated is important to flush out impurities, increase energy, aid in weight loss and maintain regularity. Additional benefits of consuming water are an improved complexion and saving money! If you eat at a restaurant once a week and you only ordered water, you could stand to save $150 or more a year, depending on what you normally order. Drinking a glass of water before mealtime not only helps to increase your water intake, it also helps to trick your mind into thinking you aren’t as hungry. If you aren’t a fan of water, these helpful hints for consuming more water are worth looking into.

Take a multivitamin every day. This is a habit that I picked up from Weight Watchers. While it is important to pay attention to the nutritional content of the calories you are consuming, your food may not always provide the vitamins and minerals you require. My stomach is sensitive to multivitamins so I take One-A-Day Vitacraves, which are gummy vitamins that are easier on my stomach. There are variety that meet varying needs: immunity, energy, Omega-3, etc.

Measure and weigh everything that you put in your mouth. This is one of those areas where there stands to be a large margin of error. When I’ve done Weight Watchers, I would start out weighing and measuring everything and then I’d get lazy and “guesstimate” the quantity. Sometimes, obviously, it is impossible to weigh and measure but, when you are at home, there is no excuse. For under $20 you can get a decent digital kitchen scale with a zero/tare function and it is worth every penny, I assure you. I am often surprised and how much (or how little) 4 ounces of something ends up being.

Do not drink your calories. I love martinis. I love beer. I love wine. Without doubt, if you consume alcohol, you should allow yourself this indulgence from time to time. However, in addition to the effects that alcohol has on your body and your sleep, it is highly caloric. A 3-ounce Grey Goose vodka martini is 240 calories! By the way, my martini glasses hold 6 ounces of liquid, so when I’m making a martini at home, a martini glass with 3 ounces is not half full, it is half empty! A light beer or a glass of wine is a less caloric way to go but a couple glasses of an adult beverage can definitely add up.

Track the calories that you consume and the calories you burn. Whether you are doing it through Weight Watchers points or calorie counting, you simply must track what you are eating. You can do it the old fashioned way, with pen and paper, but there are so many apps available for Android and iPhones or on your computer. With the most recent IOS release, Apple has the Health app where you can track measurements, fitness, nutrition and sleep. I personally use the MyFitnessPal app, which is also available from your computer, because it syncs with my Fitbit. If you don’t have a Fitbit or other activity tracker, I would highly recommend investing in one. As silly as it seems, when you hit your step goal and the little device lights up and vibrates, it really does feel like you’ve accomplished something. I also like the MapMyFitness app because it does a live GPS tracking of walks/runs, in addition to other workouts. One thing I have found with these apps, however, is their tendency to over-assess the calorie burn. If you are using an app to track intake and burn, don’t eat back the calories or use the activity points. If you must, reference this site from the CDC which more accurately depicts the calorie burn for exercise.

Allow yourself a treat from time to time. The thing I hate about changing my eating habits is that I feel that I’m depriving myself of the things that I love. I’m not really a sweets person but for some reason, when I am monitoring the foods I eat, I find I have insane cravings for things like chocolate ice cream. This is where your discretion comes in. I am perfectly happy with a half a cup of fat free chocolate frozen yogurt. If you are a purist, however, make the indulgence and have the Hershey’s chocolate (whether it’s a kiss or full candy bar). Just make sure you account for it in your daily intake.

Schedule a “cheat day” for yourself. I allow myself two cheat days a month. How you define cheat day is up to you. In my mind, I intend for it to be a day when I won’t track and food, drink or exercise, knowing the plan is to get back on track the next day. However, on cheat days I usually end up being aware of the long-term plan and find myself making smarter choices. Instead of a dozen buffalo wings and fried mozzarella, I might have only six buffalo wings and a salad with shredded mozzarella. Instead of that yummy 300 calorie IPA, I opt for a 95 calorie Amstel Light.

Weigh yourself only once a week. This is one that I have a very difficult time sticking to. I’m constantly thinking about the number on the scale. The prevailing opinion is to weigh yourself once a week because of how gains and losses vary from day to day. I’ve seen some diet experts recommend weighing yourself daily so that you can see the direction the scale is going. To see the big losses or gains, once a week is probably the best way to do it. Right now, I’m weighing myself every other day but I intend to change that habit.

Understand that a pound of muscle does not weigh more than a pound of fat. This reminds me of the old riddle, “What weighs more? A pound of feathers or a pound of rocks?” The answer is that they both weigh the same. The same applies here. A pound of muscle weighs the same as a pound of fat, so it should not be factored in to your weigh-in number. The difference is that muscle tissue is denser and leaner than fat tissue. The reality is that a pound of muscle takes up less space than a pound of fat. Where the change can be seen is not on the scale but when you compare your measurements over time.

Reduce salt intake. I am a saltaholic. I would sooner give up my dirty (read: salty) martini before I give up salt. Salt is another weakness of mine but I do know that it is a dieter’s enemy. In addition to the negative impact salt has on blood pressure, maintaining a high level of sodium forces our bodies to retain water in order to dilute the presence of salt. By reducing sodium levels in our diets, we stand to lose 2-3 pounds in water weight alone.

Eat spicy food. Adding chili pepper in the form of hot peppers, cayenne pepper or hot pepper sauce can help boost your metabolism and suppress your appetite. Studies have shown that people that add spice to their food consume less calories at meal time and burn in the neighborhood of 10 extra calories. In addition, I find that spicy food has me reaching for more sips of water, so it’s a win/win!

Plan meals ahead of time. When I’m watching what I eat, I am constantly thinking about food. This is the addiction factor creeping in, I know, but I am sure that this is not uncommon. Every morning, I plan out what I am going to eat that day. I try to have my biggest meal at midday and generally account for about 200 calories in snacks, which I have to do because there are couple of times a day when I have to drink juice or eat fruit to raise my low blood sugar. The benefit of planning your meals is that it helps to prevent last minute indulgences that can throw off your calorie intake. Another activity that I enjoy when planning meals is finding great low-calorie recipes. Two sites that I absolutely love are Skinnytaste and Hungry Girl. In addition to the recipes being healthy, tasty and interesting, each one includes the nutritional information as well as the Weight Watchers Points Plus values.

Find reasons to add extra steps or activity to your regimen. This is one that I’ve heard for years now but it is amazing how you can rack up additional activity points or steps just be being a little less lazy. Park in the spot furthest from the door, take the stairs instead of the elevator, use the shovel instead of the snow blower or get up from your desk and walk for five minutes. It is surprising how quickly this activity can add up.

Get a good night’s sleep. Sleep is a vital aspect to our lives and one that we tend to deprive ourselves of. A higher sleep efficiency leads to more focused and alert waking hours. In addition, the earlier you go to sleep, the less likely you are to engage in late-night snacking. More to the point, sleep deprivation increases the production of the hunger hormone ghrelin¬† and decreases the satiety hormone leptin. People who are sleep deprived tend to consume more calories, are less active and compensate for fatigue with poor eating choices.

Make weight loss fun! I don’t usually thing that weight loss and fun belong in the same sentence. However, one things that I have found surprisingly beneficial is doing a Diet Bet with some friends. In addition to the financial motivation of the Diet Bet, you have a group of friends with the same goal: to lose weight. The support of friends during a weight loss journey is invaluable. You can start your own Diet Bet or join an existing one at the Diet Bet site. There is also an app for Diet Bet, too!

Winter on Broadway: The Times So Dark & Dreary

Closing NoticeJanuary is typically a bleak month for Broadway. Every year, the winter months prompt the curtain to fall on the final performance of many shows. It’s just the cruel truth of the Great White Way. As audience members, we can look at a certain show and, if there is any artistic merit, we scratch our heads and ask, “Why?” Believe me when I say that any theatre producer worth his (or her) salt does the same thing. They crunch the data and look at shows that have recouped and/or have had long runs and they try to come up with the magic formula that will make their production the next Wicked or Phantom of the Opera.

My colleague and Editor in Chief of OnStage, Chris Peterson, published a blog post regarding the recent shuttering of shows and those that have posted closing notices, specifically Side Show and The Last Ship. He is of the opinion that dramatic musicals in the 21st century, by and large, are destined for failure because people don’t want to shell out the high price for the ticket. On the surface, I can see how he could come to this conclusion. It would appear that musical comedies and epic musicals fare better than their dramatic counterparts but his post got me to thinking about the many other factors that are involved in the closure of a Broadway show.

Without doubt, I am a fan of the original musical. Likewise, I prefer the darker, more dramatic shows to the lighter fare. However, it is getting harder and harder for audience members to take a leap of faith and trust a show written by unknowns about a story that is unfamiliar to them. More and more, Broadway is offering up musical adaptations of well-known films or jukebox musicals. According to the Broadway League’s report of the Demographics of the Broadway Audience in 2013-2014, 80% of the admissions into Broadway theatres were tourists, 21% of them being international. If a tourist is going to purchase a ticket, it is likely going to be for a show that is familiar to them in some way. With a commodity like a well-known film or popular musician’s canon, there is some familiarity, even if the audience member happens to speak a foreign language.

An additional factor to examine is the demographic of the typical audience. In that same study, it was revealed that 68% of Broadway audiences are female and that the average age of the Broadway theatergoer is 44. Since the beginning of the 21st century, the average audience age has remained in the early to mid-forties. Now there is always an exception to the rule but let’s look at shows that have garnered critical or commercial success in the past decade. The Pulitzer Prize winning musical Next to Normal, a rock musical about mental illness, is far from a comedy. Despite the dark subject matter, the show ran for 733 performances. Perhaps it was because the central character was a middle-aged woman suffering from bipolar disorder. Likewise, the three act drama August: Osage County, which ran 648 performances, is a play that explores many dark topics: alcoholism, drug addiction, suicide, incest, marital discord and pedophilia. Clocking in with a running time of three and a half hours, this Pulitzer Prize winner centered around one of the most monstrous matriarchs in contemporary drama and her three middle-aged daughters. These were two very successful, very dark shows that resonated with a principal demographic of the Broadway theatre.

To say that a Broadway production, comedy or tragedy, will not succeed without a celebrity is a little shortsighted. Yes, a celebrity from film or television can pique a person’s interest in a show but it isn’t a guaranteed ticket sale. Look at the musical comedy Honeymoon in Vegas which is based on the 1992 film. Despite having well-known B-list celebrity Tony Danza in a starring role and Tony Award winning composer Jason Robert Brown to its credit, the show has been gasping for air to get to opening night. With a capacity hovering at 75-80% and only 36% of the potential grosses being pulled in during its preview run, it is sure to have investors nervous. Conversely, Spring Awakening, a decidedly dark musical, won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2007, ran 859 performances and starred Lea Michele, Jonathan Groff and John Gallagher, Jr. who were, at the time, virtual unknowns.

When we see closing notices we should also consider elements that are beyond a producer’s control. January is a rough month for New York City. In December 2013, Manhattan Hotel Occupancy was at 90% and plummeted to 77% in January 2014. This is a pretty good barometer of when those 80% tourist theatergoers are in the City to see a show. Even domestic theatergoers feel that post holiday pinch, not to mention Mother Nature’s impact on travel plans. Furthermore, current events could have an unpredictable impact on a show’s success. When hot topics like gun control or racism are constantly in the headlines, shows like Assassins or The Scottsboro Boys do not provide the escapism that an audience member may be craving.

Theatre, despite all of its magic and majesty, is still a business. When a show doesn’t play to capacity, money is being lost. Whatever the reason, be it the economy or the production itself, a show that is losing half a million dollars a week is not going to last long. There will continue to be the warhorses and the surprising juggernauts that come along and fill the pockets of very happy producers but those productions account for a small fraction of all of the shows on Broadway. Instead of mourning the loss of a favorite show (and believe me, I’ve seen favorite shows prematurely close), I prefer to see the glass as half full and look forward to all of the new shows that are waiting in the wings to become the next Wicked.

On The Importance of Stuff

Welcome, January, you cruel month you. For the past six weeks most of us have stuffed ourselves with turkey, attended decadent holiday parties, unwrapped gifts galore and rang in the New Year with perhaps a little too much to drink. Now we are perched at the top of 2015 preparing to traverse the road before us, no matter how smooth or rough it may be. We are at the point now when we face the burgeoning debt accumulated over the last few months, start setting our alarm clocks for the daily grind that now seems to grind harder and begin the hibernation forced upon us by winter’s chill.

Yesterday, I was looking for a Phillips screwdriver to fix a chair that had gone wonky. For weeks that screwdriver had been in a certain drawer. Naturally, when I went to get it, it wasn’t there. Was it in the Elf Kit? Was it misplaced after Izzy put batteries in her RC quad-copter? The only thing I knew was that I couldn’t find it when I needed it. So that got me to thinking about the things which I will, for want of a better label, call “my stuff.” I spent a good deal of time this year filling two 10-yard dumpsters with “stuff” that we no longer used or that was damaged beyond repair. There were many moments during that process that the word “stuff” made me think of this infamous George Carlin skit.

Every year, shortly after Thanksgiving, my husband and I get requests for lists of what we want for Christmas. I try throughout the year to add things to my wish list and to my children’s so that when I am asked it is only a matter of sending a hyperlink. As I speed toward my 50th year on this Earth, I find that I am less concerned with tangible objects and more with experiences which, again, leads me think about stuff. So, I’ve come up a timeline, of sorts, about stuff.

Infancy to 3 Years: “I am so glad that there are people that make sure I get all of the stuff I need. Food to eat, clean clothes to wear, a warm place to sleep at night and people to love me because I can’t do that stuff for myself.”

3-10 Years: “I still like the food, the clothes and being warm but now I could really use some stuff to entertain me because, let’s be honest, hanging out with grown-ups is boring unless they are playing with me and my stuff.”

11-15 Years: “I really need more stuff. Stuff that will keep me out of my parents’ hair. Stuff that will make me popular and attractive and stuff that will make people want to be my friend. Also, I wish my siblings would stop touching my stuff.”

15-18 Years: “So you’re telling me that in order to get more stuff I need to get a job and pay for my own stuff? Oh, by the way, thanks for the food, clothing and shelter. Or not. Because I’m a teenager and I’m entitled to all that stuff.”

18-21 Years:¬†“Oh. My. God. My roommate is touching my stuff. Also, can you please send me money and stuff like laundry detergent, Ramen noodles and spending money because they don’t have the same stuff here in the dorm as they do at home?”

21-25 Years: “Wow! I have a credit card and I can buy a lot of stuff for my new apartment and pay for stuff at the bar (and I won’t realize how much it will cost until I am in my thirties). Also, I look amazing in all of the stuff I bought at the mall yesterday. I’ll make my school loan payment tomorrow.”

25-30 Years: “So I can’t buy any more stuff because I have to save money for my wedding and/or down payment on a house/apartment. Once I have the house, though, I will need to fill it with stuff.”

30-35 Years: “Wait! My stuff is now our stuff? WTF? And, Oh. My. God. People are coming over so we need to move “our” stuff out of the way so that people think we live life according to Martha Stewart Living.”

35-45 Years: “After I have spent most of my money on a mortgage and paying bills, anything I have left is spent on buying stuff for my kids. Also, it would appear that my stuff is now their stuff. WTF? I need a drink. So the stuff I need has to be 80 proof or higher.”

45-55 Years: “We can’t afford any stuff. We are paying off a legacy of debt and sending three kids to college. Also, we are having a lot of tag sales to sell our stuff.”

55-65 Years: “This house is really big and there isn’t as much stuff in it anymore because we threw it in a dumpster or sold it at a tag sale. Time to move to a smaller place where we intend to only bring the special stuff with us.”

65-75 Years: “Now that we’ve retired and live in a smaller house, we don’t need any more stuff. We will gladly buy stuff for our children and grandchildren but we have everything we need. Also, we’re on a Social Security budget. So there’s that.”

75+ Years: “The stuff we want can’t be shipped via Amazon. The stuff that is most important is the memories we made, the traditions we established and the people that we share our time with. We are so glad that there are people in our lives that make sure we get all of the stuff we need. Food to eat, clean clothes to wear, a warm place to sleep at night and people to love us. Because we can’t do that ourselves.”