Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Week #30: Build a Smarter Salad

I have eaten a lot of salads in my day. Some of them were the boring bowl of iceberg with a pale, mealy wedge of tomato, and some of them were big fat calorie explosions (Taco Bell taco salad in the fried tortilla shell anyone?).

Then three years ago, Mark Bittman entered my life with this article. "101 Simple Salads for the Season" became my salad reference book that summer. The list made its way around the members of my cooking club, and we even planned a gathering based on the list - everyone picked a number and brought it.

My recommendations from the list:

Salad #2 - yes, tomatoes and peaches DO go together quite nicely!

Salad #13 - I took this "red" salad to a party, and went home with an empty bowl. Turns out tomatoes and STRAWBERRIES go together well, too. Hmm, I sense a theme here.

Salad #19 - I haven't tried this one, but you white bean aficionados out there know who you are. Report back if you try it!

Salad #38 - watermelon and feta are a dynamite combination. Man, I love summer produce.

Salad #95 - this is in the grain salad section, so we're getting outside the box a little. This was breakfast one week!

These salads are great for improvisation. Swap out one fruit or vegetable for another. Season it a little differently. If you're using good ingredients, you can't go wrong!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Week #29: Activate Your Activity

This week marked the official launch in Southern California (and Boston and Chicago) of ActiveLink - our new activity monitor. It paired up nicely with the topic of the week, which was managing your environment to make activity easier.

I thought I'd share my experience so far with the device. I know that buying a new gadget for $39.95 with a $5 per month fee isn't something that everyone will be in a hurry to do. Some of you will want more feedback, know how it really works, what the benefits are. And so I will attempt to do that here. You should know up-front that as an employee of Weight Watchers, I received the device at no cost to me, and do not have to pay the $5 monthly fee.


ActiveLink is super easy to set up. You'll plug it in to a USB port on your computer, and you will download some software. My device was essentially fully charged when I pulled it out of the box, so by the time I'd downloaded the software and given it my information, it was charged and ready to wear. An eTools account is required to get your ActiveLink set-up, because the device needs to know your age, height, weight & gender so that it can ultimately perform the calculation of how many Activity PointsPlus values you earn every day. It also will drop those values you've earned right into your eTools tracker so they are available for swapping.

Assessment Period

The first 8 days you wear this device is the Assessment Period. Your goal during this time is to go about your daily business while remembering to wear the device. Do not attempt to increase or decrease the amount of activity you do. You want the ActiveLink to get a good feel for what your typical life is like. You should wear the device as much as possible, whether you're exercising, running errands, or just sitting on the couch. You can wear the device when you sleep, but since you aren't moving, there's nothing for it to pick up. You could also wear it in the shower (it's waterproof!) but really? Are you that obsessed? (Don't answer that question!)

I was so excited to receive my device and get started, I began my assessment the day before I left for a weekend away in San Francisco. My assessment period was most definitely not a typical week for me, but since I received this device on June 26th and here we are launching it July 15th, I'm glad I did, so that I could get real life experience with it before I had to pitch it in a meeting. My time in San Francisco involved a lot more walking around throughout the day than usual, but also didn't involve any structured workouts. When all is said and done, it could have been a wash. I may choose to do another Assessment at some point in the future, on a week that is more "typical."

During the assessment you don't get much feedback from ActiveLink. It's collecting data on you. You plug it into your computer regularly (say once a day, although if you miss a day, no big thing) to synchronize the information. You don't really get any feedback, and during this time you will need to manually calculate any Activity PointsPlus values you earn because the device isn't ready to do it for you yet. If you track via eTools, you won't be able to track activity in your tracker online during this time, so be prepared to track on paper until the assessment is over.

The Challenge

When the assessment ends, and you've synchronized your device, you'll learn on average how many Activity PointsPlus values you earned per day over the last week. You'll be prompted to answer a few questions about your activity habits, and you'll be presented with a challenge. It appears that whatever your actual average value earned was during the assessment, your challenge will bump that up by two. So for example, if your assessment showed you earned an average of 2 APPV per day, you'll have 12 weeks to increase that to 4 APPV per day.

This is when the fun starts. The lights on the ActiveLink will start giving you feedback on how close you are to your goal. One light = 25%, two lights = 50% and so on. When you plug ActiveLink into your computer, your movement information will show up on the screen represented by varying shades of green bars. The higher and darker the bar, the more you moved. You can look at this information by day, week, even hour and minute! This will help you spot those idle times in your day.

I am an exercise nut, but I also have a full-time job that involves sitting in front of a computer. So it was interesting to see those tall green bars for an hour while I was at the gym paired up to low green, even gray (no movement) bars representing time on my behind.

Activity Baseline

This is a new concept and frankly, probably one that I should leave for its own entry. Short story: Weight Watchers has always built into the program the assumption that we move a certain amount during the course of the day. The Activity PointsPlus values it allows us to earn are assumed to be on top of that. But the reality is that many of us don't move much throughout the day - technology these days doesn't require it of us! With this device, we can actually tell how much we are moving, and for many of us, we will realize that even by doing a dedicated workout, we might not be getting that "standard amount of activity" that was always assumed.

So here's a warning: you may find out you're not earning as much as you thought. Tough to swallow, but think of it this way - technology is now allowing you to get better information. And that better information might help speed up your rate of weight loss. To me, that's worth it!

But What About Those Other Devices?

ActiveLink isn't the only activity monitor on the planet. There are other companies putting out similar devices, there are GPS watches, heart rate monitors and pedometers. Here is how I think ActiveLink compares:

vs. a GPS Watch/Pedometer

ActiveLink won't tell you how far you've gone, how many steps you've taken or how fast you went there. If that kind of thing is important to you, you won't get it here. It will track your movement in 3 directions - front/back, side/side, up/down. Distance covered isn't the only kind of movement out there! But if you're an avid walker/runner who is keeping a mileage or step log, you'll want to keep whatever tool you've got for that.

vs. a Heart Rate Monitor

ActiveLink doesn't keep track of your heart rate, and it also won't tell you how many calories you've burned. I find that kind of information informative and helpful in managing how hard my workout is, so I continue to wear my HRM strap & watch in addition to my ActiveLink.

vs. Other Activity Monitors

You may have heard of Fitbit or Bodybugg, and it's even possible to buy a monitor from the same company who makes ActiveLink (it's called Direct Life). The cost of those devices varies - but they are typically priced $99 and above. Some devices have a monthly subscription fee and others don't.

ActiveLink has a lower entry cost, in that the device will only set you back $39.95. Some of the costlier devices do keep track of more data. Some will analyze your sleep, many track your calories burned. Fancier devices come with a fancier price tag.

The biggest upside to me (as someone who on many occasions was ready to pull the trigger on ordering a Fitbit) is that it integrates with eTools. It calculates your Activity PointsPlus values. So many people out there use devices that calculate calories burned, and then want to know what the APPV equivalent is of that calorie burn, and you just can't do it. (Oh, I know, you can create some rules of thumb, but it's never been an actual part of the Weight Watchers plan to do that.) This device tells you exactly what you've earned, in a language that doesn't need translation. Bottom line, if I were a member paying for meetings, and I was considering a device, that feature would probably have been the thing that would have sold me.

So, have you picked up an ActiveLink yet? I'd love to hear your feedback....

Friday, July 13, 2012

Week #28: Turn Slip-Ups into Success

It's a cruel fact of life: none of us is perfect. And the fact that I just typed that out means there is now real live proof that I admitted that, much to my chagrin. At any rate, accepting that we slip up, I think it's important to figure out how to get back on track, right?

I joined Weight Watchers 3 times. The first two times, obviously something happened that caused me to drift away. What if I could have gone back in time and prevented that? Short of finding myself a DeLorean and 1.21 gigawatts of electricity, that seems highly unlikely, so about all I can do is lead YOU by example.

I didn't get to almost fifteen years of Lifetime membership by giving up, or saying "oh to heck with it." I figured out some strategies to get me back on track before any weight gain became too much. Here are some of my ideas:

1. When I've overindulged in something that is sugary and sweet, one of the things that helps is to get the taste out of my mouth. So if I'm able, I brush my teeth. I'm not sure why, but this strategy seems to help more when it's a sweet indulgence, rather than a salty or savory one. Keeping that sweet taste in my mouth seems to be a recipe for disaster.

2. Do something small to get right back on track. This is mostly a symbolic measure: filling up my water bottle, looking through some Weight Watchers material (cookbooks, the magazine, website, whatever), even chewing on a stick of gum to keep my mouth busy. It doesn't have to be a fresh start from a new day...why waste the hours left in THIS day, right?

3. Focus on how I'm feeling after the indulgence. Am I feeling good? Am I feeling healthy? Usually not! If I feel so poorly, why would I subject myself to this again? (note: this one doesn't always work - I have amnesia that I can only imagine is similar to whatever mothers go through in which they forget about the pain of childbirth - thankfully a big meal isn't THAT painful!)

Any other suggestions?

Friday, July 06, 2012

Summer Goals Update

Okay, so by now you know I've been missing in action (in the meeting rooms) for a little bit. Between work travel and personal travel, I managed to go almost TWO WEEKS without working a Weight Watchers meeting. Goodness!

But I am back to my normal schedule for now, and will resume posting some thoughts on the weekly topic...once I've actually SEEN the weekly topic in our meetings next week. I feel so out of the loop!

But what I did want to update was the progress on my summer goals. I posted about these in early June. The one I have progress to report on is the Half Marathon. I said I was going to decide on a race and register for it. Well, thanks to a deal that resulted in an entry fee of only TWENTY DOLLARS (a fraction of the going rate these days) I am signed up for the USA Women's Half Marathon in September. That website is like a flashback to the early days of the internet, and they don't yet have the course posted, but for twenty bucks, I was sold.

Now I guess I better have laser focus on my training!