Halloween Hierarchy of Needs

Even as an adult, Halloween remains one of my favorite holidays. I love any excuse to dress up in a costume. Back in the mid’90’s, I splurged on a sexy, long red cocktail dress from Neiman Marcus where the only thing higher than the slit cuts on each leg was the price tag. But you can repurpose it as a cool Halloween costume, I said, convincing my credit card to reluctantly absorb the charge. And that vow has been kept. A couple of times, I added a tiara, a sash that says “Miss America Pageant Loser,” a couple of snarky buttons with bitter phrases like “the winner slept with the judges” and “my baton twirl was better than hers” and was off. Most recently, I added long white gloves to the dress, put my hair up, donned large costume jewelry and walked around a party all night asking people who they thought I was. The answers ranged from Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman to Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality, though my distinct lack of resemblance to both actresses did cause everyone to add a cautious “I think” at the end of their guess.
But besides the costumes and parties, Halloween’s big draw has always been the candy. I’ve created a personal ranking system for treats similar to Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Those mini Reese’s peanut butter cups and Snicker Bars are at the top. The following tier is the mini Hershey bars with different flavors and M&M packets. Next comes the non-chocolate candy that still tastes rich, like caramel creams. Tart candies like Starbursts and Sweet Tarts appear down one more tier, with the lowest rung going to hard candies like Jolly Ranchers, Nerds and the lot. There’s no room, you can see, for healthier fare. After all, those well-meaning but misguided people who gave us apples and raisin packets growing up probably had their houses toilet papered more than anyone else’s on the block.
Over the years, I have made the mistake of keeping my favorite candies around for potential trick-or-treaters. And if not many kids showed up, they usually went into my mouth as opposed to the garbage can. Like last year, when I moved into my new townhouse. Had those little Hershey bars in a festive bowl, waiting for some kids to show up. It’s a good thing they didn’t, because I methodically tackled the Goodbars, Krackle and Milk Chocolate variety until only the Special Dark flavors were left.
Finally open about the fact that the candy has really been for me, I’ve decide to employ a new trick. Tomorrow, I’m going to buy a bag of my least favorite candies in case sporadic kids in costume show up before I head out for the night. You better believe it will contain 0% chocolate and probably be dyed a neon color within its packet. What isn’t taken will be given away to the cute little girls who live next door on Sunday. Who knew such strategic thinking could go into Halloween?

Just like a Bridesmaid Dress

From punch lines to fashion faux pas, bridesmaids’ dresses occupy a unique place in pop culture. Just about every wedding has them. Depending on the temperament and taste of the bride, the dress could actually be attractive and worn again outside of a Halloween costume…or, more likely, could descend into a puddle of unhappy fabric dyed strange pastel colors that certainly never occur in nature.
Personally, I’ve strolled down the aisle in a size 20 forest green number that transformed me into a human Christmas tree, and a Laura Ashley special that looked like a bouquet of blue and yellow roses threw-up all over the skirt. Yeah, good times.

Last week, when I was vacationing in San Francisco with my super cool boyfriend, I realized that today’s hotel gyms have become the equivalent of the taffeta bridesmaid dress. Most three star and above hotels these days – and a few intrepid two star brands – feel compelled to have them. Sometimes they are well-stocked, giving you just what you need. In fact, I’d like to give shout outs to the Millennium and Westin hotel groups, who always seem to have plenty of cardio and strength training options in their mini-fitness centers. But all too often, hotel gyms are less than stellar. Like the well-known historic hotel in San Antonio I frequented last year, who tried to offset three sad pieces of cardio equipment with a big screen television on the wall. Or the hotel we visited last week. They had a comfy sleep number bed, great hot showers, and a small fitness room that felt on the verge of retirement. The control buttons on the elliptical machine were completely rubbed off and the lone treadmill made a sad wheezing sound when activated.

However, I like to exercise while traveling. So armed with my trusty iPod and bionic heart rate monitor, I logged in some sweat time a couple of mornings. Sure enough, it made me feel great while taking the edge off of the large dinners we enjoyed. With hotel gyms, sometimes you’re going to get the stylish little black dress that flatters all of the bridemaids, while other times it will be the lime green outfit with the big bow on the back. Either way, it’s up to you to make the best of it.

Photographic Evidence

Some people don’t like to be in the spotlight. Alas, I’m not one of them. From the moment I first stepped on stage for a tap dance recital at age three – apparently a few steps out of beat and missing cues right and left – being the center of attention has rocked my world. Taking the role of King Arthur in the third grade school play, complete with a paper crown from Burger King and my mom’s burgundy and gold trimmed satin bathrobe, was thrilling. So was competing in public speaking events throughout high school and college.

It wasn’t any different for me socially either. I would happily climb on top of a speaker platform at a disco and dance my butt off (my rhythm has significantly improved from those early tap dancing days). Donning creative, handmade Halloween costumes like a Chiquita Banana and Bazooka Bubble Gum ensured I stood out amongst the crowd of sexy nurse and witch outfits. One year, I pretended to be a fake fortune teller, Madame Gaza, for my best friend Samantha’s birthday celebration. There is plenty of evidence to prove it. I’ve got pictures galore of me entertaining, cajoling and generally annoying crowds of people.

I bring this up because throughout all of those occasions, I was overweight. Sure, I wasn’t thrilled with my appearance. But it has always been important for me to capture life’s moments visually. That way you can go back and revisit those memories anytime. Over the years, I’ve talked to a number of women who don’t like to be in photos because they aren’t crazy about their size. You know what? Starting to participate in pictures instead of hiding behind the lens can do you a world of good.

For starters, you might just see something you like. Do you have a killer smile or thick, naturally blonde hair that people pay hundreds of dollars for at a salon? Perhaps you’ve never noticed how your husband still hugs you so tight even after 18 years of marriage. Or it could be the adoring look of your four-year-old as his arms are wrapped around your leg.

Photos can also be great catalysts. The pictures of me at my heaviest helped prompt the weight loss. Looking back on them whenever I hit a plateau or felt fat during PMS kept me motivated by showing how far I’ve come.

So start jumping in front of the camera more often. Who knows? The shot you take today could appear as your success story “before” shot in a future issue of Shape Magazine …or it might serve to remind you how fabulous you already are.

Exercise vs. Sleep – A Shifting Opinion

When my younger brothers were kids, they used to debate which Japanese low-budget movie monster would win in a face-to-face smack down between Godzilla versus Megalon. Now I could care less whether the huge land lizard (Godzilla) or the undersea creature (Megalon) won the battle for world domination…and have to admit that I’m scaring myself a little with the strong recall of details. The point is that some debates continue for decades, just like the conundrum of exercise versus sleep.
For years after losing weight, the morning exercise session won hands down. It was part of my original blueprint for becoming healthier. Didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to realize that going to the gym before work minimized my chances of skipping exercise. It took about a month for me to “retrain” myself to get out of bed when the alarm sounded. At first, I was angry to see any number starting with five on the alarm display. But strategically placing the most unattractive photo ever taken of me next to the snooze button would prevent me from rolling over and going back to sleep. Packing my gym bag and outfit for work the night before also helped.
Sure, I was skimping on sleep several nights a week as a consequence. I averaged six hours or so for a while, occasionally vacillating back and forth between the heaven of seven hours and the tired haze of five hours of slumber too. That routine worked beautifully for many years, through married life and the past post-divorce decade. But when I hit my early 40’s, something changed. All of those years caught up with me hard. Some mornings I just couldn’t get out of bed at all, or had to drastically shorten my exercise time. Started shifting to night workouts once a week just to catch up on my rest. I resented the change in my body clock something fierce. That is, until I started doing research for my book – and learned that sleep was just as important for your wellness as working out or good nutrition.
Let’s throw some statistics in here to make it official. In May 2009, a new study conducted with nurses at Walter Reed Army Medical Center found a link between sleep and weight. http://tinyurl.com/yzqpma2 Participants who got less than six hours of sleep per night had an average higher body mass index than longer sleepers. Here’s another one just released this August, where findings indicate that not enough sleep can contribute to weight gain – http://tinyurl.com/ylbv2dp.
I know this news isn’t surprising to some people. One of the women I interviewed for the book, Stacey Grieve of Toronto, credits improving her sleep quality as one of the contributing factors in maintaining a 135 pound weight loss for more than seven years. But it was revolutionary for me. Take this morning, when the alarm clock blared at about 5:30a. It was raining hard in Atlanta – not the Noah’s Ark quality that produced the floods several weeks ago, but still enough to make my warm bed even more comfortable. My body was still worn out from traveling to San Diego last week and a very social weekend. I reset the alarm for another hour of slumber and hit the office early instead. While my gym bag sits cautiously optimistic in the backseat of my car, it’s okay if I end up not going tonight. Will just eat a little healthier and go gangbusters tomorrow way before the crack of dawn instead. How about you – who usually wins the smack down between sleep and exercise?

Chia Pet Hair

Over the years, we’ve all learned some tricks to feel slimmer. Wearing black, investing in undergarments that lift and suck with industrial precision and creating the illusion of cheek bones with a good blush brush are a few of my favorites. But for us girls with naturally curly/frizzy hair, a smooth, sleek ‘do is pretty much the Holy Grail for tapping into your inner super model.

Whenever my hair is professionally blow-dried, a process that can take longer than some elective surgeries, I’ve totally got my groove on. That’s because my long history of super big, bad hair always seemed to add five imaginary pounds to my face…except during the 80’s, when they actually did. While the locks weren’t quite as big and blue as Marge Simpson’s coif, they have definitely been within the arena of Chia-pet-ness. Lest you think I exaggerate, here is the proof. http://projects.ajc.com/gallery/view/living/friends0528/

This photo gallery appeared last year within an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that compared me and my three best friends to the Sex & the City girls. Yes, I willingly provided them with those bad hair photos of myself with my buddies. And my photos with straight hair all involved a trip to my stylist Francis a few hours before.

Over the years, I’ve tried everything to tame those locks. Growing up in the 70’s, I awkwardly used a curling iron to try to recapture the magic mane that adorned Farrah Fawcett. That didn’t work out so well though – by lunchtime, my flattened biscuit-sized bangs poofed back out into their original shape. Earlier this decade, I experimented with the Japanese straightening process. Great concept, except for one hiccup – I wasn’t Japanese. The fourth time around, my hair got fried. Literally, like something you’d prepare at a fast food restaurant. It took a year for my locks to slowly return to health. I was scared of chemical processes, and turned to a supersonic Chi flat iron and hairdryer instead.

Then over a week ago, Francis tried a new deep conditioning process called Kerastase. I was skeptical, but pretty darn tired of all of the time and effort my normal hair prep took. But lo and behold, it actually worked! Folks, it actually works! Have done my hair four times now and it’s coming out just right every time, saving about 25 minutes in the process. Saying goodbye to my natural Chia pet head means I haven’t felt the need to suck in my cheek bones once since. Ahhh…it’s the little things that make life better.

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

We’ve all done it. You know, purchased an amazing item of clothing that is absolutely perfect…except for the fact that it doesn’t fit and not even a wrench could get the zipper to close in the back. But it was nearly fifty percent off on sale or miraculously the last left on the rack in the color you liked. Must have been a sign from above that one day, if you worked hard enough at the gym, it would fit like a glove….right? Self-delusion is pretty powerful stuff.
I’ve had an eight year exercise in frustration with an “aspiration” dress. It was a simple black shift that miraculously fit one day in the dressing room at Nordstrom. I eagerly snapped it up, but sometime between the drive home and hanging it in my closet, it must have shrunk two sizes. Don’t ask me how or why. All I know is that it never, ever fit on its own volition again. Extra-strength Spanx did help, admittedly, when breathing freely was less important than giving that full price purchase a field trip. But most of the time, it hung in a corner of my closet beckoning like a sexy yet aloof boyfriend who you couldn’t stop obsessing over.
Twice a year, I methodically go through my closet when the seasons change to get rid of things that no longer work for me. It’s better to donate what I’m not wearing to others who can really use it. But that dress has managed to survive the cut…until now. Last night, I decided to try it on again after a two-year hiatus. Switching workouts over the past year to include more strength training and Pilates classes meant that my regular clothing size was smaller now than the dress label. Should have been a piece of cake, right? Well, I pulled that sucker on and somewhere in the middle of my hips, it refused to budge. If the dress could speak, it would have taunted me with a “nanny-nanny-boo-boo.”
That’s when I decided to break up with the dress for good. I had to admit that it was never going to fit properly, no matter what I did. I gingerly placed it on top of the donation bag, ready to drop it off tomorrow morning with the other discards. Hopefully its next owner will have a lovely, trouble-free relationship with the garment. My closet and my life don’t have room for petty frustrations anymore. How about you? Any stories to share about clothing breakups?

A Perfect Storm

Sometimes, things happen that are completely beyond one’s control. You know, like solar eclipses, being late for work after hitting ten red lights in a row, or having your cable television box fail the night your favorite show airs. A couple of days ago, I found myself in the middle of such a quandary.

My boyfriend’s parents were in town visiting from the UK. When we met over dinner, these delightful souls presented me with a box of Godiva chocolates for my birthday. I’m not talking about the dainty containers with a nibble of four squares either – this was a premium box of about 20 pieces, each with individual names and bio descriptions that rivaled professional athlete trading cards. In prime PMS mode, my brain silently screamed “jackpot!” But I tried to take the high road and hide the box from myself in the depths of my kitchen pantry. It didn’t work. The next day, alone and struck with an intense sweet craving, I broke into the box like a crack addict seeking a fix. The cute little chocolate covered cherry in the pink foil wrapper – appropriately named “Cherie,” was the first to go. Many of its friends soon followed. Within an hour, about 2/3 of the box seemed to magically disappear.

The reason I wanted to share this story is to clarify a misnomer. After you lose weight, you don’t have to be “perfect” to keep it off for good. Sure, I do make healthier food choices most days of the week, and exercise very often. But it’s okay to sometimes indulge your sweet tooth. In fact, I usually plan on one day each week to eat whatever I want, which might be a dessert, or tortilla chips or something fried that doesn’t typically hit my radar. That means that I don’t have “all or nothing” rules to rebel against. What I’ve learned, though, is to accept the indulgence and then move back into my regular habits. A couple of hours after the chocolate binge, I ate a very healthy dinner…whereas years ago, my instinct would have been to gravitate towards something intensely fattening since the day was “ruined.” Then I went back to my gym workout and my regular eating habits in the following days, balance and harmony restored.

So what did I learn from this experience? While premium chocolates and PMS might comprise the perfect storm, taking a long-term perspective can minimize any damage.

The Siren Call of the Desert

Just got back a couple of days ago from my annual girl bonding trip to Canyon Ranch in Tucson, Arizona. Been going for the past three years courtesy of my dear friend, Jennifer Grizzle, who is altogether sassy, smart and incredibly likable, despite her enviably low body fat ratio. This year fifteen “ranchettes,” as Jenn calls us, participated in the experience. Being my third outing, I didn’t have the dewy glow of a newbie visiting the mothership of fancy spas for the first time, or last year’s sense of being a pilgrim returning to Mecca. I just knew that it was important for me to be there.

There are many things that I adore about Canyon Ranch. For starters, my naturally curly/frizzy hair looks amazing in the absence of humidity. The athletic facilities and workout classes rock. I love their desserts, especially the peanut butter mousse and to-die-for chocolate ice cream topping that is paradise in a little 90 calorie serving. Their spa treatments are sublime, which isn’t that surprising since a few even sound like desserts themselves…just ask my friends who tried the warm vanilla float. But the thing that I really dig is the enlightenment.

You see, right now I’m figuring out how to infuse my passion for health and wellness into my career. My PR firm already handles food and consumer clients, so it makes sense to add more in those areas and others related to healthy living. As some of you already know, I completed a book proposal last month on how to maintain weight loss for good once the diet is over. Been interviewing women who lost at least 50 pounds or more and kept it off for over five years, the point at which your chance of regaining the pounds really diminishes. The insight I gained from my soul sisters in lifetime weight loss has been amazing…we’ve got some great, empowering information to share with the world. All factors considered, I felt that Canyon Ranch would help me develop even greater clarity about the future.

So I booked time with a counselor in their healthy living practice. Had a reading with Catherine, the astrologer, who is so good that she converted me from a non-believer into a third-time repeat client. Even had a reading with their psychic, Pat, who was spot-on. Took spiritual walks and soaked up the ambiance. Wrote in my journal like crazy and spent hours in self-reflection. And you know what? It turns out that like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, I had the answers within myself the whole time.

My experience proved that sometimes you’ve just got to get completely out of your everyday life to see what lies ahead. Glad I heeded the siren call of the desert. Might not have had any celebrity sightings this year, like sitting next to Diana Ross in 2007 or spotting anchorman Ted Koppel with his wife in 2008. But I’m starting to build the bridge to my future, and that is incredibly exciting!

Seventeen Years of a Lighter Life

Seventeen years ago this month, something rather mundane and yet earth-shaking, at least for me, happened. That’s the day I decided to adopt a healthier lifestyle for good. You see, I was a trans-fat addict, with an extra fifty pounds on my 5’4” frame to prove it. The average day consisted of Oreo cookies for breakfast, French fries as my primary “vegetable” and multiple vending machine treats preserved to last a couple of decades. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? Add in an aversion to exercise and it is no wonder the scale topped 175 pounds.

Yes, I tried diets in the past. And that was part of the problem. There was always something to rebel against. I was doing it for everyone else in my life except for the most important person… me. Inevitably, a few pounds would be shed only to return a few weeks later with new friends in tow. Unhappy with my life, I started working with a therapist earlier in 1992. That spawned, after a few months, the desire to treat myself like a friend. It all came to a head on Friday, September 4, 1992. My college friend Leslie came into town for a visit and Samantha, my then and still best friend, decided we would all hit her gym for a step aerobics workout. This was 1992, people…a time of big hair, big shoulder pads and aerobics classes filled with skinny chicks wearing spandex tights. While intimidated, I decided to go. Didn’t have anything remotely appropriate to wear, so I grabbed a big t-shirt and extra large pair of shorts from my-then guy’s dresser drawer and headed out. I was the biggest girl in the class, by far. But I loved it. I loved the music, and feeling like I was dancing, albeit with a four inch high rubber platform. Positive energy filed the room. An hour later, completely exhausted and out of breath, I finished the class. It was an ecstatic moment, and ultimately life changing. I decided to join the gym and the following week began taking classes before heading to work in the morning.

Over the course of fifteen months, I ended up losing the weight. Taking it off slow really made a difference. I methodically focused on eating healthier, began guzzling water like a frat boy inhales a keg of beer, and continued to increase my exercise. That same approach has helped me keep it off for good too. In fact, that is why I started this blog…to share what I’ve learned along the way and the wisdom of others who have embraced a permanently lighter life. Looking forward to sharing with you!