Can you remind me of the rules for not gaining weight over the
holidays? I rolled from Thanksgiving out to my car swearing I would
never eat again. But of course I am already dreaming of pie.
I’m not such a great place to turn for this kind of advice, as I violate
the rules as often as I keep to them. But after decades of enjoying
both food and holidays, I know the guidelines. The biggest is to
remember that you are among festive people and occasions for
connection, not calories. I don’t think you need to eat first and go full
so that cannot enjoy sharing food. But focus on the people and the
festivities more than what you put on your plate.
Allow yourself to sample everything, but start by taking half (yes I said
half) as much as you would normally serve yourself. Holiday meals
have more courses and components so it is easy to end up with a plate
that is twice as full as usual, and the temptation to taste more of what
is best is always great. So start light and after your first plate, or when
you start to feel full, take a break. Avoid eating dessert right after your
meal. Enjoy the company and an hour or so later, if you are hungry,
have a thin slice of your favorite dessert.
Above all do not judge or berate yourself if you screw up. You and half
the people on the planet will be in the same boat, and most of you will
be making the same vows next month about eating less and exercising
more. So give yourself a head start by focusing on people not food and
try to think about feeling lighter rather than assuming you will fail.
I have recently started attending Silvers Sneakers classes at my local
gym. My Medicare plan gives me virtually free membership and the
classes are a great mix of strength, cardio, and balance training. I’m a
newbie in a class of 50-60 folks that look like all my friends, with the
same graying hair and assortment of limps and leans. I am happy to
be polite but don’t need new friends, and I don’t want to be seen as a
negative new member. Frankly I just want to come, work out, and
leave. I resent the idea that people have “their” spaces and that when
I get there early try to sit up front near the instructor because I am
trying to learn the routines, I am being told”You can’t put your
chair/equipment there because it is So-and-so’s spot.” Do you have a
polite answer? Sometimes people try to hold 10 or more places and it
has begun to move past annoyance to anger. That is exacerbated
because the specific woman in question is a very loud evangelical with
bad politics who annoys me just by existing. I don’t want to yell but
I’m paying dues too, in my fashion.
Trying to Get Fit
You can try being polite with the offenders over the seating but I
would avoid a public tangle about evangelism or politics. Stick to the
immediate turf issues, and start with, I’m sure you like to work out
with your friends, but this isn’t a theater with assigned seats. We all
like to be close to the instructor, so I suggest that your friends come
earlier if they want to sit up front.
If that doesn’t work, then say something to the instructor and ask her
to make an announcement saying club policy allows a member to hold
their own seat and one for a friend, but no more than that. If it’s not
the policy, it should be. You might also ask the instructor about moving
around the room when she teaches. But newbie or not, hold your
ground, and smile and chat a little with the folks who are not part of
the clique. I’m sure you’re not the only person who is annoyed by
I appreciate in the big picture of the world (like, Will we all get blown
up today?) my issues with dieting may seem small. But they are
struggles I have lived with for a long time and I am seriously trying to
make my peace with them and with my body. I am aging and
shrinking in height, so the disparity between my vertical and horizontal
is getting worse. I have always been an “apple” which I know is
especially bad for women. Now I am working with a nutritionist and
health coach to finally put this issue to rest. I am doing it the long,
slow way, as in the way everyone told me to do it all the years of yoyo
dieting. How can I convince people to stop throwing in my face all the
failures of my past? Yes I know I have failed, but that doesn’t doom
me to perpetually being fat. I want to get this right and I need
support, not nitpickers and naysayers. Is there something nicer than
“Please shit up!” that you can suggest?
One More Time
Dear One More Time:
Generally I prefer one-on-one communication to group emails, but in
this case I might make an exception, at least for your general social
circle, family, and folks that you think might carp at you just out of
reflexive buttinsky tendencies. What you want to tell them is what you
told me: don’t think of me as a loser, except in the good kind of way.
A draft email might be brief: Dear Ones: You know I’ve struggled with
weight for much of my life. You have witnessed my attempts to lose
weight and keep it off, as well as my failures. I’m asking you to erase
all the old tapes, to mute what you might think of as good advice for
this round of my efforts, and when we meet simply to wish me well
and ask how I’m doing in all aspects of my life. I am much more that
what I weigh, and if I seem thinner or heavier should not be the focus
of how we interact. Thanks for your love and support, and no thanks
to discussing this further.
This is very embarrassing to admit but here goes: I am addicted to
college football. I played on my college team and coach my son’s
kidsports team. This year my alumni team is played a night game that
started right after the end of the last Yom Kippur service. Usually I go
to a colleague’s house for break fast but this year I demurred and said
I had “other plans” without being specific about what they were. Our
sons are friends and I just had to listen to a ration of abuse about my
“priorities” from him. I suspect he too would rather have watched the
game but because he and his wife traditionally host the break fast he
was given no choice. My defense was feeble and I really did feel guilty
about letting down my friend. Ideas on remediation?
Eating crow is never fun. In point of fact, your colleague was right
that you could have taped the game and sped through the first half or
just picked it up when you returned home from the break fast. So you
were in the wrong. Especially because the time after Yom Kippur is
magical, and a slow glide path back into reality is simply more
spiritually gracious than jumping into the noise and bustle of a game.
But what’s done is done, so make it up to your buddy with a bro-date:
Either invite him over to watch a special game, just the two of you, or
invite him to go to a sports bar and treat him to food and drinks. I’m
assuming, btw, that you cheer for the same team. If you don’t a small
friendly wager would sweeten the pot even more. Even if you are
colleagues instead of close friends, a little bonding goes a long way.
Next year, make the right call. Unless you’re on the team, they will
rise or fall just fine without you.
Last year four friends and I went on a diet together with varied results.
Predictably, the people who stuck closet to the plan lost the most, and the ones
who “simply couldn’t” give up certain foods did not do as well. In the interim, one
of the ones who most needed to lose (as in medically obese and more) has had
a variety of health issues. Her doctor told her to immediately lose 50 pounds and
then work on the next 50, with still more to lose after that. I agreed to support her
and go back on the plan, because my last 20 to lose are about as hard as her
Each day we check in about food, but for the past week she has
sounded increasingly off program, and particularly defensive about saying why
she “can’t,” “won’t” or otherwise is having problems and is modifying the program
to suit her. I started by saying, “What did your doctor say?” and then moved to
“You have to do what works for you.” But I suspect she is on the slide to no
progress. I want to be supportive but not derail myself in the interim. Part of the
deal was trading homemade food that conforms with the requirements of the diet.
What can I say or do, both to help her and to protect myself?
It’s always frustrating when people who most need to change refuse to
do so, especially when the people around them have rallied to support
them. In this case, you should let her doctor be the hammer, not you,
if you value the friendship. Start the conversation that you will need to
have with: I know you’ve been struggling with this diet. I’m not tied to
what you eat, or what program you choose to be on. We don’t have to
do the same thing. Maybe you should talk to your doctor about what
s/he thinks is a good way for you to lose the weight, because your doc
is more in touch with the specific medical issues. For me it’s hard to
hear that you are choosing to modify the plan, because I am doing my
best to stay on it. So let’s not talk about what we are eating or not
eating. Let’s focus on our successes and how we can support that.
Re the food sharing, say you should each text the other when you
make something that is available for sharing. As simple message like,
I made XYZ soup. Do you want some? Then the recipient can choose if
it suits her program. I suspect time will have more of an impact on her
health than any words you might say. Focus on your own.
A friend and I agreed to be diet buddies. I have about 20 maybe 30
pounds to lose. She has well over 100 and has a history of non-
compliance, but is now facing very serious health issues that she
swears have motivated her to change her ways. Since I figured I
would succeed faster than her on pretty much any program she would
choose, I allowed her to decide which of the multiple possibilities we
would pursue, as long as it included many servings of veggies and
fruits every day. We also agreed on alternate days to cook and share
entrees. Here’s the problem: No matter what she makes it always
includes more fat or some form of sweetener or something that is
antithetical to the program and success we agree. We agreed to do
this together for a month but honestly two weeks in I don’t find her a
reliable buddy. I want her to live and lose weight but I don’t know that
she’s capable of following rules. I want to keep her as a friend, but not
as a diet buddy. How can I tell her that?
On Her Side
Dear On Her Side:
This is a classic problem among people who claim to have similar goals
but do not. There’s also a simple solution. What you need to do is
invite her for tea, not at your house and not at her house. When you
get together ask her what her goals are for dieting. Then listen after
she answers be sure to listen and confirm that she’s being consistent
in her words if not in her actions. Then say very clearly, My goals of
the same but I want to not do the food trade because your
interpretation of the rules is looser than my timeline for weight loss.
Add in that you’re happy to continue an emotional support relationship
and also to listen to her tsoris about how hard it is to lose but make it
very clear that you want to follow rules.
In truth, a person with serious health issues and more than 100
pounds to lose needs to be under a doctor’s supervision, not choosing
her own program. Sure, unless people are under lock and key, it is
difficult to keep anyone from cheating. But generally speaking, a
doctor saying You are going to die unless you do X, Y, Z, it is far more
motivating than a friend.
I was on a very rigorous diet for about a month. I lost weight and I was happy
about it. I especially liked all the compliments I got during the High Holidays,
when I saw many people who had gone the opposite direction. Then I took
several weeks off. Between break fast and succah hopping I took in many
thousand more calories than I should have. I want to go back on program, at
least between now and Thanksgiving, with the hope that I can maintain whatever
I lose through to the New Year. I think I learned my lesson but I have also gotten
lazy. Can you get me motivated to do what I know I will feel better doing, but
seem to have lost the will to do for myself?
A wise person once said abut weight, You’re either gaining or losing. Sadly that’s
truer than we might wish, though if you establish a range for a goal, say 143-145,
you will know when to bear down when you cross the bright red line and see a 6,
7, 8, etc. Weighing in every morning should become as automatic as brushing
your teeth. If you are afraid of stepping on the scale, that’s an indicator that it’s
time to go back on your program, whatever it is.
Techniques that work for me and others I know: Write down what you are
allowed to eat, meal by meal organized by category (protein, grain, vegetable,
fruit). Keep a list of what’s legal in what quantity with you in your purse. If you are
shopping, eating in a restaurant, or just need a reminder to say No I’m not going
to buy or eat that!, pull it out. Don’t tempt yourself with Just one bite, or Just this
one time, or I can keep it in the freezer for company. Organize your schedule
around getting to the gym or going for a walk. Enlist a buddy to go on program
with you until Thanksgiving. And set a reasonable goal, say five pounds lost by
then. If it feels hopeless, you won’t obey. If you see progress, even in ounces,
you will find more motivation.
This question is at the intersection of my health and my
marriage. My husband and I have been together for 25
years and the pounds have crept onto both of us. Okay we
ate our way fat, but for a very long time we didn’t encounter
any major health issues, just vanity and wardrobe. Then he
was diagnosed diabetic and was told to lose weight. He did,
but he found even more pounds and is back where he
started plus 10. I now have a mandate from my doctor to
immediately drop 20 pounds. I’ve put myself on a very
specific food and exercise regimen, but my husband seems
determined to undercut it. He brings home ice cream and
cookies saying “We deserve treats.” and he keeps inviting
me to late evening concerts and events that seem to
undermine my commitment to early workouts. I’d like him to
be alive longer too, but right now I’m most concerned about
me. What should I do?
Every relationship develops its own communications style.
Sadly, passive aggressiveness has crept into yours, teamed
up with long-term denial. It’s a scary and potentially deadly
combo to leave in charge.
You’re overdue for a serious conversation with your hubby.
You need to agree that you won’t be each other’s food
police, but also that you will commit to standards for the
household that you will both honor. Those standards can
whatever you want, but he needs to honor your
commitment, even if he won’t agree to toe the same line for
himself. Why not give him a special place for his stash: a
corner the freezer where you never look (say, behind the ice
cube tray) for hi, and a corner cupboard very high up for his
cookies. Simply say, The only other thing I’m asking is that
you not offer it to me or eat it in front of me. I’ll let you
know when I think I’ve earned a treat. Then it’s up to you
set the alarm every morning to get to the gym. If you’re up
for an evening event, agree on a come home time or tell him
that if it means taking separate cars you’ll do it. This may
take the next three months or even six, but I promise he’ll
get more on board when he sees how happy you are with
A group of four friends decided to go on a 28-day diet together. I’m
probably the one who is the closest friend to each, but they’ve all
heard a zillion stories of each other’s lives, and met at parties here for
decades. We all need to lose weight. Some 30 lbs and others much
more. One of us found what seems like a very effective program that
actually is healthy and – IF YOU FOLLOW THE RULES – and we all
agreed to start on a date about 10 days out. That was enough time for
me to detox off coffee (Yikes I know!!!), read the book, do some meal
planning, and even develop a spreadsheet with lots of cues about what
to do when and how that I shared.
The others waited until Sunday
night to look at it, decided I’m not ready, and only one started on time
with me. We’d set up a group email to share our experiences. But the
gal who’s on program with me and I are feeling great and positive, and
the other two are posting snippy remarks and saying how hard it must
be and how scared they are, and how sorry they are that we‘re
suffering. In fact we are not!!! Not hungry and not tired and beginning
to feel the burn. They’re annoying me and I want to tell them to diet
or shut up. Can you say that more nicely?
Less of Me
Set up different email connection with you and your friend who’s on
track with you. Tell the others they can join when they are a week into
the diet, but in the interim they are please, please, please not to post
any more discouraging or apprehensive remarks to the two of you that
are on program. Tell them they are not only annoying but also
distracting and untrue. That, like most diet, if you follow the rules, the
plan will work. But if you cheat or look to negotiate with what you’re
clearly not committed to, it’s likely to fail and discourage you even
Say all that in a semi-friendly email to the whole group. Add into it tips
that you’ve learned in the prep time or first week, thinks like: Do a
week of meal planning and make sure you have all the ingredients in
the house. Drink all the water they say to. Use tea as a snack.
Veggies, veggies, and more veggies. Tell yourself every morning why
you are doing this. Take it one meal at a time. If they cannot respect
your decision, tell them you’ll check in on the other side. You are to be
applauded, not demoralized.
My brother is addicted to pills, though will just get drunk if that’s all he
has. He has now lost her room in the house she was staying and her
fourth job as a nursing aide in a year. He relocated to my city to live
with our other, who is in the last stages of a terminal blood disorder,
though Mom has already outlasted the doctor’s predictions by almost
two years. Two points: (1) Mom is not supposed to drink, but often
they do that together; (2) David is “exhausted” from the move, and
wants to “take a month off to recuperate” before he looks for work. I
think he should not get a vacation but start putting out resumes today,
but both of them loudly told me off and said I was being “controlling
and judgmental.” I’m the responsible daughter who has to pick up the
pieces when they break things. Is there any way to avoid this train
The Good Daughter
Dear Good Daughter:
In a word: No. You can try to ban alcohol from the house but addicts
always find a way to get their fix until they get clean and sober. You
can try to scare your mother with mortality, but if she’s already past
the doctor’s predictions she probably figures she can do as she
pleases, and who knows, maybe she is right. But it sounds like the
codependence will not help your mother as much as your brother.
Regarding the proposed vacation, your suggestion makes sense to me,
unless he needs the month to prepare for a pee test that would likely
be required to get a job. But even so, getting his resume together and
sending out letters and applications seems like a basic reality check to
reinforce the idea that he is there to help your mother, not live off her.
It might help to start with optimism when you speak to them, even if
you get heartburn and grit your teeth. But short of a miracle I think
you will be in this soap opera for a while.
Long, ugly, medical story made short: I had ankle surgery that went
bad and I was on too many meds for too long. Even after I got off the
opioids I was on anti-inflammatories for a long time. Two weeks ago I
landed in the emergency room with an attack of diverticulitis.
Apparently the meds had inflamed my gut in bad, and hard to
remediate way. My birthday is in two weeks, fortunately one ending in
a 7 not a 0 or a 5. In my social circle most people like to take the
birthday gal out to lunch. But right now food is sweet potatoes,
steamed vegetables, rice, broth, and applesauce, with an occasional
treat of oatmeal. I’m not eating gluten, sugar, dairy, salads, pizza,
alcohol, or a host of other delicious things. While it’s making me
healthier it is also very boring and unequivocally not very festive. As
people are asking about taking me out to celebrate, I sound like an old
wet blanket. Do you have an idea about how to enjoy being the center
of attention without destroying my tender tummy?
Sick of Being Sick
I have two ideas and suggest you employ them both. Idea number
one: Tell folks what you can and cannot eat and a safe set of
restaurants you can go to. Explain that what’s much for fun for you
now is doing and experiencing rather than eating. Suggest that your
friends invite you to a movie or a show, with a light bite or cup of tea
before or after. Say the pleasure of their company should not be
overshadowed by the after-effects.
Idea number two is to spread out the joy. Explain that your system
is on overload, both from the medical events and the number of folks
who want to express their love. Ask if you can take a rain check until
your gut is healed, and set a specific date on the calendar that feels safely
far off. Good friends would understand either option, and you can give
them a choice. Sound appreciative for whatever they say yes to and focus
on getting healthy. By next birthday I hope you are eating everything that
you enjoy and that’s good for you.
For the past two years I have played ping pong for exercise. The club
has about 100 members and at the time I play, 9:00 am, many retired
folks, some of whom are completely out of my league excellent and
others welcoming and helpful. I was a newbie for a while, but got
pretty good, certainly mid tier. One of the very regulars is a man in his
80s, who had eye surgery that seems to have failed utterly. He used
to be mid-pack but now couldn’t hit the ball if it were the size of a
basketball. In addition he tells long stories and jokes to cover up his
frustration, which just slows down the game even more. I like him,
and I feel sorry for him, and I know this will happen to us all. But for
me this is exercise time, and I cannot give it all over to kindness, even
though I feel guilty saying that. Is there a gentle way to convey my
need to rotate with other players without offending someone who was
kind to me when I needed it?
There’s a certain amount of kindness and grace that’s required from us
all, in every situation. Here’s your chance to step up. When you play
with him, gently suggest that stories are great and interesting, but
they slow down your need to keep in motion, something your own
doctor has said is essential. Say you’re happy to hear them but could
he please keep playing while he talks. If he complies, hooray. If not,
try to rotate to a different table after a politely appropriate amount of
Most clubs have some kind of manager or facilitator. Quietly take that
person aside and ask if s/he has noticed to decline in this person’s
play. Say that you like him and are happy to keep playing with him a
little while each time you come. But that given the large number of
players, there should be a rotating pool of people to help care for the
elders. Ask him if he would be willing to speak to the man directly,
suggesting that he schedule a follow-up with his eye surgeon. The
difficulties might be temporary, or they may presage something that
requires more medical attention. No matter what, stress your
willingness to be a good person. You’ll need the same grace someday,
as will we all.
My name is Jessica and I love watching football. I feel like someone in
a 12-step program who is supposed to confess my sins and never turn
on the television on weekends in autumn and winter. I know there are
bad injuries caused by the game. I would not want my child to play.
But I am a real fan of the local college team and of some of the pro
teams that my guys now play for. Someone just compared me to a
person who likes dog fighting, and I was horrified and insulted.
Football is coming. What can I say or do, and is it as bad as that?
Yes, and no. Yes what happens on the football field is violent and yes
there is increasing evidence that the sport damages people. At a
minimum it damages players who get clunked in the head. It is
possible it damages us viewers (and yes I too am a college fan) in that
we become too desensitized to violence and start to care less about
people’s health and too much about our own entertainment. Does that
mean I won’t be watching kickoff Saturday? No. Does it mean I think
much more than I used to about why this sport, like boxing or other
full-contact sports? Yes. Do I think we can make a transition to
watching sports like tennis, track and field, or other ways people use
their bodies competitively, or even to chess or bridge or mental
sports? On a good say Yes. But as I watch the horrifying news cycles
we are living through, I fear more often than I used to for our
collective humanity, and for our ability to see kindness as a goal at
least as worthy as winning.
My summary advice: If you have a team you really care about, go
forth and cheer, both for them and for the sport to become more
humane, and more protective of its players (in rules and equipment).
Then go out to do something good for the planet for at least as long as
you watched the game.
Yikes! The resolutions lasted but a few weeks and here I am, again
feeling fluffy and addicted to sugar. I tried to go cold turkey, then got
the flu and ended up back on jello, which let to one treat after
another, and down the rabbit hole. I need to take off not just the five
pounds of holiday fressing, but the twenty that they landed on top of.
Don’t tell me about diets and Weight Watchers. I need something that
threatens to cut off my hand at the wrist if I move it towards my
mouth with sweets in it.
Desperation isn’t always the best time to make decisions, especially
not a draconian one. Instead of a meat cleaver, you need a muzzle. Or
perhaps better, a cup for tea or a glass for water. Or perhaps a long
manifesto you are obligated to read aloud each time you want sugar.
The hard part is remembering to read it or drink it before the sugar is
already down your gullet. How to do that? Make sure there’s a longer
reach than your arm for the sugar you swear you don’t want to eat.
Don’t buy sugar. Don’t buy it in any form. Don’t stop at store, “just for
one thing” and then crack and have a treat to keep around “to prove
you are strong enough.” You’re not. You will eat it. Just don’t let sugar
in house. When you are driving part the market, tell yourself all the
reasons you want to NOT EAT SUGAR until you are safely home.
Practice just saying No until your habit is to say Yes to health instead
of treats. And don’t discount monitored weight-loss programs that hold
you accountable for what you eat. Once you are on track you may be
allowed desserts like fruit that are natural sugars. Carb counting is a
simple plan that shows you how “expensive” a choice sugar can be.
Work with your doc, not a machete.
I just inadvertently lost a lot of weight. Don’t get me wrong. At least
half my adult weight has been a struggle with mild obesity. Mild if you
consider thirty pounds a small problem. Before that it had much more,
as I put on a whopping ninety pounds in my first marriage. I know it’s
an old cliché to say that shows I was unhappy, but in this case it was
true!! Slowly I managed to lose and keep off ten pounds. The last
twenty-thirty was a fifteen-year battle. I’d get close and then fall
I recently survived a medical struggle. Maybe it was the meds
or maybe it was just the right time, but now I am ten pounds from
goal. I feel lighter in a way I haven’t for a very long time. People are
noticing. They keep telling me “how much smaller” I am, and that they
“hope I won’t put it back on this time.” Frankly, I’m a little insulted. I
always dress nicely, in clean clothes appropriate for the occasion. I am
intelligent, kind, and helpful to others. Why should what size I am
matter to anyone except me? How can I accept the compliment and
educate people at the same time? Should I just be grateful that I am
healthier and thinner and leave it at that? How can I get through the
holidays without backsliding?
Dear On Track:
Sadly we live in a society where everyone feels like they have the right
to have, and to share, an opinion about virtually everything in
everyone’s life. Also a society that idolizes thin and young, despite the
fact that most people are getting fatter and older. So if you go by the
cultural norms, you’re doomed to feel like a loser, and I don’t mean in
the good way that you are proud of becoming. So first of all
congratulations on surviving your medical battle, and secondly on
having kept off the bulk of your bulk for a long time.
The happy accident of recent weight loss is an achievement you can be
proud of. It’s one you should be able to hear praised by others. So
learn to accept a compliment and be proud of your success. You can
mention to others that you feel relived and happy about your medical
success, and that the weight loss, while a boon, isn’t what’s making
you so happy. In fact, what you’ve learned is that thinner is good, but
healthier is better. Say you plan to stay on track with both weight loss
and healing, and that you are happy to talk to others about why being
thin is fine, but not an answer to being happy. Tell them they should
go out of their way to compliment people who have worked hard to
heal as much as those who have dropped a dress size.