Saturday, August 05, 2006


I'm a pretty big guy. I'm 6'3". And for something more than the last decade, I've weighed anywhere between 215lbs and 230lbs.

Now I knew I was fat when I was up to 230lbs. That was somewhere back at the end of my career at my first startup and I immediately dropped 15lbs when I left the company. (In fact, I was so happy at my next employer that I dropped those 15lbs in about 3 weeks.) But I've basically hovered around 220lbs, plus or minus five pounds ever since. And if you asked anyone (other than my mother), they would have told you that I wasn't fat. Because when you're my proportions, you can haul around a fair bit of weight - as much as 20 pounds in my experience - without the average person really noticing the difference. But I knew my weight was not a good thing and I would never own up to the fact that often I weighed over 220. I would just round it to 220 if the subject ever came up.

Back in April, Sherpa Dan suddenly began shedding pounds. Now I've never thought of Sherpa Dan as needing to lose weight. At all. But as the weight fell off, it was undeniable that he looked better and better. K. took a look at this and asked him, "How the heck are you doing this?"

Now Sherpa Dan always has a system. Always, always. (That's what makes him such a good sherpa!) And he replied, "Weightwatchers.com."

K. wondered, "Are you going to those meetings?" Her distaste for the meeting concept was evident.

"Nope," he said smiling.

"Do you buy their food?" We both knew there must be a catch. Sure you lose weight, but you have to eat icky food, right?

"Sometimes. Not much."

"So you don't buy their food and you don't go to meetings? What exactly do you do on this website?" We were mystified.

Well, we now know the answer. Because shortly after that, K. signed up for the site. I watched the pounds fall off her for about six weeks and I caved, too. I signed up in the beginning of June.

It's now exactly eight weeks after I started and as of yesterday morning, I weigh 199lbs. I started at 223lbs. (Of course, I did my usual fibbing and listed my weight as 220 when I signed up.)

So....what's the secret to this website? Here's how it works: you sign up, you use it to track what you eat. It assigns a number of "points" worth of food that you can eat each day (daily points) and it also allots you points you can use any time during a given seven day period (weekly points).

Often you won't know what the value is of a food you are considering eating or have already eaten. The site has a searchable database that enables you to determine the "point value" of most foods that can think of. If you can't find it, a Weightwatchers devotee named Dottie usually has the answers on her "Weight Loss Zone". (DWLZ is perhaps one of the least navigable sites on the Internet, but she's a dear for putting it together and the information she provides fills in critical gaps in the WW site's database.)

Here's what I've learned in this process:

1) I consumed way more food in any specific meal than I could ever have needed.
It's astonishing to me to think about it now, but if K. and I ordered a regular pizza, I usually made sure there was nothing left. Now I eat two pieces and I'm happy. I cannot imagine eating four or five pieces of pizza, especially given that that would have been only part of what I ate for that particular meal. Honestly.

2) It's much easier to do this as a couple.
It's hard when only one of you is changing their eating habits. K. and I find it's so helpful to have your partner doing it at the same time. Your expectations of the answer to the fateful, "What's for dinner?" question are synchronized. And you have someone to keep you honest, help you remember exactly what you ate. (K. has what must be near photographic memory for meals. It's insane. She can remember where and what we ate in whatever city we might have been in - going back years.)

3) Balsamic vinaigrette is a highly deceptive thing.
Remember Clinton's "It depends on what the definition of 'is' is?" Well, "I'm eating healthy food" turns out to be a similarly complicated issue. Seriously. So many foods you think of as "healthy" turn out to be tricksters.

Balsamic vinaigrette has become the poster child example for me in my newfound understanding of good eating habits. Formerly, I would douse a salad in balsamic vinaigrette as a "light and healthy" option vs. say blue cheese dressing. All good. Except balsamic vinaigrette (if it's not going to be inedible) needs to contain a LOT of olive oil. So you slather it over your salad greens and you've just created a pretty "pointy" meal out of a simple salad.

Often it comes down to a matter of volume; of portion size. You say to yourself, "I'll put olive oil on my bread because that's a healthier choice than butter." And perhaps that's correct. (Who knows? Every year they decide something that was bad is now good or vice versa.) Except that I know that in my case I would then proceed to happily ingest a tablespoon of olive oil soaked into each piece of bread...and clean out the whole darn bread basket in the process.

Here's another example: I love Pret. There's one downstairs in my building and I think their food is great. And it's all fresh, organic-y goodness, right? Sure. But find me a lo-cal sandwich there. Good luck with that. No problem, get a salad, right? How about some balsamic vinaigrette with that?
You see how easy it is to eat yourself into a doughball if you're not paying attention? And that's what this whole Weightwatchers.com phenomena comes down to for me: it helps me stay awake, to stay conscious of what I'm eating. Because if I know, if I'm conscious of the fact I'm about to make a bad choice, I won't do it. Logging what I eat into the site helps me to do just that.

So - in case you hadn't noticed - that site is the new thing I'm evangelizing. Because it's the first tool I've ever found that has made achieving my goals in this arena so easily achievable. (Now I just hope I never have to eat those words.)
The beauty of internet dieting! If Atkins had only seen the world wide web coming, he could have been the first to buy the URL http://www.carbohydrates_are_your_evil_nemesis.com before dying fat and happy. Alas, he passed away without a website to log and upload his calories.
What is the actual website?
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