Saturday, May 31, 2008

Saturday Weigh-In: May 31, 2008

Weight: 385.8 lbs

Total Weight Lost: 6 lbs. in 3 weeks

Another good week. I'd been hoping to break my short term goal of 385 lbs but I'm happy with what I lost this week. I'm going to start keeping track of total weight lost since it helps reinforce how well things are going overall.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Bye-Bye Subway

It's just become a whole lot easier to not eat at Subway. It seems they are running a Every Sandwich Tells A Story Contest for kids but homeschooled children need not apply. Ostensibly the reason for the exclusion is because the grand prize is intended for the winner's school but homeschoolers do have organizations that would benefit from such equipment as well. The company could certainly have provided an alternative grand prize that would have been appropriate to everyone. Ironically the original contest announcement contained numerous misspellings. Most have since been corrected but I note that one of the prizes is still a Scholastic gift "bastket." I guess whoever wrote the copy wasn't home schooled.

I wasn't home schooled and I have no children to home school but I still sympathize with those who choose to take their children out of the public school system in order to give them a better education. It seems like every day there's a new story regarding some new outrage at a government school. Take, for example, the recent case at Morningside Elementary in Port St. Lucie, Florida where a teacher called an autistic 5-year-old to the front of the class and then had his classmates vote him out, giving each child a chance to comment on him, i.e. insult, in the process. When did elementary school become Survivor? Until the legislature stops dragging its feet on the issue of school choice home schooling is the only affordable option many parents have if they don't want to subject their child to the public school system.

From a nutritional point of view, it's just as well that I drop Subway. Despite the much vaunted Subway diet, their sandwiches have too much bread and the meat they use is low quality. You're much better off going to the grocery store, buying a loaf of whole grain sandwich bread and having the guy at the meat counter thin slice a roast turkey breast for you.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Diet Tip: Cheaters Sometimes Prosper

Here's a little something I picked up from the Body For Life program. As you adjust your diet to a healthier lifestyle, it's common to develop cravings for foods that you enjoy but no longer allow yourself to eat. It's also common to obsess over the foods you're craving until you finally break and go on an eating binge, gorging yourself on all that good stuff you've been denying yourself. Then you feel guilty about going off your diet, decide that it's too hard and you can't do it, and you give up and go back to your old eating habits. I've done it myself on several occasions.

Give yourself a cheat day. One day a week you are allowed to eat anything you want, diet be damned. When you find yourself craving something, make a mental note to have it on your next cheat day. When your cheat day rolls around, have that greasy burger or pizza or big bowl of ice cream and don't feel guilty about it. Since you're not denying yourself anything, just putting it off until your cheat day, you don't have to obsess over food and it becomes much easier to stick to a healthy eating plan. But there are a few caveats.

  • Don't overdo it. Keep meals reasonably sized. Don't go crazy and pig out. If you sit down to a burger and fries with a large pizza on the side washed down by a 2-liter Coke and a gallon of ice cream for dessert you may be getting a little carried away.
  • Just because it's a cheat day doesn't mean you have to cheat. If you haven't been craving bad food, why eat it?
  • Designate one day a week to be your cheat day and stick with that day. Don't move your cheat day around and, most especially, don't decide that instead of having a cheat day you'll have three cheat meals instead. If you do you'll get used to thinking you can eat whatever you want whenever you want, you'll lose track of when your last cheat day was or how many cheat meals you've had in a week and before you know it you'll be back to your old habits. You know, the ones responsible for you needing to lose weight in the first place.

My cheat day is Sunday. I chose Sunday because I almost always have lunch with my parents on Sundays and making it my cheat day means we're not limited to restaurants where I can eat healthy food. Just because I need to lose weight is no reason to punish them. I do allow myself a little flexibility on cheat days though that flexibility is tightly defined and based on a condition not entirely under my control. I occasionally have dinner with friends on Saturday and on those occasions I allow my cheat day to start with Saturday dinner and end with Sunday lunch so if my friends want to order a pizza I don't have to be a stick in the mud. Sometimes being a stick in the mud is unavoidable though. This weekend I may be having dinner with friends on both Saturday and Sunday in which case I'm going to have to insist that we eat healthy one evening.

Saturday Weigh-In: May 24, 2008

Weight: 387.4 lbs.

Once again I felt a small measure of fear stepping on the scale. Was what I've been doing working or was last week just a fluke? Down another 2.4 lbs. it's starting to look like I'm on track with my program. Stayed away from Subway this week but couldn't resist a trip to Quiznos though at least I got the oven-roasted turkey breast instead of the roast beef. Only other bad-ish food I had this week, not counting my cheat day (more on that later), was a spicy chicken salad at Pei Wei. First time I'd gotten it and I hadn't realized that the chicken would be "crunchy," i.e. breaded and fried.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Friday Fun: Cherry Chocolate Rain

Okay, so there's nothing new about this video. I don't care. I dig Tay Zonday and I'm in the mood for a little Cherry Chocolate Rain today even I would never drink the soft drink that its advertising.

He moves away from the mic to breath, you know.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Recipe: Strawberries with Balsamic Vinegar

Here it is late May and fresh strawberries abound at the local grocery stores. As the weather builds towards summer warmth, they're the perfect little treat as is. Still there are times when you want to do something special with them. Here is a simple recipe that makes for a tasty treat and a relatively healthy dessert.

(Photo courtesty of the USDA Agricultural Research Service)


2 quarts fresh strawberries, hulled
1 cup packed light brown sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup balsamic vinegar


About 1 to 2 hours before serving time, toss the strawberries in a large mixing bowl with the brown sugar, salt, and balsamic vinegar. Refrigerate for 30 minutes and toss again. Refrigerate for another 30 minutes and toss again. Drain and serve cold in a clear glass bowl.

Tip: In order to produce quality food you have to use quality ingredients. When it comes to balsamic vinegar, you get what you pay for. Balsamic vinegar is aged in wooden casks. The longer the vinegar has been aged, the more expensive it is likely to be. A cheap condiment grade balsamic vinegar is fine for making salad dressings but for a recipe like this you probably want an old vinegar that has been aged for at least 12 years.

Healthy Snacks

I frequently attend social gatherings hosted by a friend and his wife. Yesterday he asked me what sort of healthy snacks they could provide that would help me stay on my weight loss program. As it happens, due to my tendency towards compulsive overeating I try to avoid between meal snacking. I really should only be eating because I'm actually hungry. Still, it's a legitimate question. What sort of snacks can we eat that are healthy? (Photo courtesy of the USDA Agricultural Research Service)

A lot of traditional snack foods aren't particularly healthy. Potato chips, corn chips, tortilla chips, attendant dips, crackers, pretzels, cheese sticks, fried or otherwise, bagels, with or without cream cheese, cookies and candy are all bad for us consisting, as they do, largely of starch, fat, salt and/or processed sugar.

These days some nutritionists say we shouldn't snack at all and that the way to avoid snacking is, instead of eating 3 big meals, we should eat 5-6 fist-sized meals over the course of a day. That works out to eating about once every 3 hours. Unfortunately I don't know of too many employers who would looking kindly on their employees taking 3 meal breaks during the course of a day.

So what kind of snacks can we eat that's not bad for us? Fruit, raw vegetables and nuts (little or no salt added please) are all good. In moderation of course. Gorging on anything, even relatively healthy food, is never a good idea. Want a tasty snack? How about apple slices dipped in 100% natural peanut butter? Want to talk about convenience? Few things are more convenient than a piece of fruit like an apple, peach or pear that you can eat without any special preparation beyond washing it off. Many grocery stores sell ready-to-eat celery sticks and peeled baby carrots not to mention containers of pre-sliced cantaloupe, honeydew and watermelon. Nuts are also quite convenient though I would stay away from honey roasted and flavored varieties that may have a lot of added salt and/or sugar.

When I was a child, my grandparents had both a pear and a peach tree as well as some fig trees. One of their neighbors had black walnut and pecan trees. Some of my fondest memories growing up are of Sunday visits with them when we would sit out on the front porch, where they had a porch swing, or at the kitchen table snacking on freshly picked fruit and nuts. I look at modern housing developments, houses packed together tightly on small lots with little room for trees and nary a porch to be seen and I feel sorry for the people that live in them. Sure, they've got their Wiis and their X-Boxes, Playstation 3s and big screen tvs, and all the other amusements that modern life affords. Yet sometimes there's just no substitute for a lazy Sunday afternoon swinging on the front porch talking with friends and family while watching the world go by or stepping out into the backyard and picking fruit right off the tree.

Who is Rip Ford?

If you're looking to find out who I am, you're out of luck. One of the reasons I started this blog was so I could spout off about whatever issues interest me without having to worry that some prospective employer might happen across it while Googling my name and decide not to hire me for reasons not connected to my ability to do the job. If you're looking for information on the real Rip Ford, the Handbook of Texas Online and the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum are probably your best starting points.

To give a little summary, John Salmon Ford was born in South Carolina and raised in Tennessee. He came to Texas in 1836 intending to join the fight for independence from Mexico but arriving after the fighting was done. Over the next 60 years he would be present for most major events in Texas history. He wore many hats during his time in Texas. He was a doctor, a surveyor, a newspaper editor, the superintendent of the Deaf and Dumb Institution in Austin, Superintendent of Conscripts for the Confederacy's Department of Texas, and helped set up the State Historical Society. He held several elected offices: representative to the 9th Congress of the Republic of Texas in 1844, state senator in 1852, and mayor of Brownsville in 1874. In 1875 he served as a delegate to the State Constitutional Convention.

He earned the nickname "Rip" during the Mexican War while serving as a Texas Ranger under the legendary Ranger Captain Jack Hays. As a doctor, Ford had the duty of writing letters home to deceased soldiers' loved ones to inform them of their death. Roughly 13 percent of all soldiers involved in the war died, most from disease, and Ford found himself having to write so many letters that he soon shortened his closing to "Rest In Peace" and then later to simple "RIP". For the rest of his life he would be known as Rip Ford.

He passed away on November 3, 1897 in San Antonio.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Cooking 101: Baked Chicken Breast

It's very easy to bake a chicken breast. Prepare your breast for cooking. I trim off any fat, skin and bits of bone and then rinse it briefly under cold water and pat dry with a paper towel. I generally also marinate my chicken breasts because otherwise they can be a bit flavorless. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. When the oven is ready take a baking dish or pan, hit it with some non-stick cooking spray, put your chicken breast in it and place in the oven on a rack in the middle. Wait 20-30 minutes. To check to see if the breast is done, take out of the oven and cut into the thickest part of the breast. If the juice runs clear the breast is done. If the juice isn't clear, place it back in the oven and give it a little more time.

Because chicken can be a carrier for salmonella I like to be sure the breast is done and use a meat thermometer instead of the juice test. There's some dispute over at what point it's safe to eat a chicken breast but everyone I've read seems to agree that by the time the thickest part of the breast reaches 170 degrees Fahrenheit any bacteria should be dead so that's the target I use.

Cooking 101: Handling Raw Chicken

I don't want to spend a lot of time on this since I assume everyone already knows this but it doesn't hurt repeating. Raw chicken can be a carrier for salmonella which is why it is important to always cook chicken thoroughly before eating. Dry, chewy overcooked chicken is preferable to getting food poisoning. When working with raw chicken always be sure to thoroughly clean everything that has been in contact with the chicken. Don't just limit yourself surfaces that were in direct contact with the chicken but get the surrounding area as well. Be sure to wash your hands as well.

Cooking 101: Marinating Meat

Marinating is a way of flavoring meat as well as helping it stay moist while cooking. Basically you want to submerge the meat in the marinade for 30 minutes or longer. This allows the marinade to soak into the meat adding flavor and moisture. To help the marinade penetrate deeper into the meat, so it's not just on the surface, it's helpful to stab the meat a few times with a fork before placing in the marinade. I find that lightly beating the meat, as though you were massaging it, before marinating also helps. You can marinate in a bowl, add just enough marinade to cover the meat, but I prefer using a Ziploc bag, squeezing as much air out as possible so it's just the meat and the marinade in the bag.

While your grocery store probably has a section dedicated to just marinades, don't limit yourself to just that. Pretty much any liquid can be used as a marinade. For example, I routinely marinate chicken breasts in Briannas Lemon Tarragon or Santa Fe salad dressings.

Cooking 101: An Introduction

Something that has quickly become apparent to me is that if I want to lose weight, I need to take control of the food I eat and the best way to do that is to cook it myself. Unfortunately I've never really learned to cook. Oh, I can follow a recipe as well as the next person but I don't know any basic cooking techniques. That's kind of important since I tend to prefer food that's convenient to prepare. I don't want to spend a lot of time measuring and chopping and otherwise laboring in the kitchen just to eat something. With a knowledge of basic cooking techniques that won't be necessary. Unfortunately I haven't been able to find a cookbook on basic techniques. I tried taking a cooking class once but instead of teaching us basic cooking techniques, like she advertised, the woman had us sit there and watch while she cooked various recipes and then let us sample the results. If I wanted that, I could have just stayed home and watched cooking shows on television. Anyway, as I pick up things I'll be posting them here to my blog.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Saturday Weigh-In

Weight: 389.8 lbs.

It is with some trepidation that I stepped on the scale this morning. As only the second time that I've weighed myself since beginning my weight loss program, this was the one that was going to tell me if what I've been doing is working or not. Under those circumstances there's always the fear that you're going to discover that you're only breaking even or, worse, actually gaining weight. This was compounded by several factors. First, I'm only working on the first of my life goals; eating right. Each life goal represents a major change in lifestyle and it's hard to make one major change much less three so I've decided to take them one at a time. First I'll get my eating under control. Next I'll start going to the park to get some aerobic exercise. Finally I'll start lifting weights. Right now I'm just watching what I eat. I'm about ready to start going to the park but I hurt my ankle a couple of weeks ago plus it's been rainy of late so I haven't been able to start that phase yet.

This week I also made some dubious food choices. I'm having a little difficulty staying away from Subway and Quizno's since they're both running specials where some of their large sandwiches are only $5. Unfortunately that's more bread than I should be eating and I tend to gravitate towards some of their fattier meats.

Despite that I weighed in two pounds lighter than I did last week, putting me at the top range for healthy weight loss, so I'm pretty happy this morning. My healthy eating plan is obviously working and if Subway and Quizno's are the worst of my vices, that's still a lot better than a bacon & cheese Whataburger with fries and a large Dr. Pepper made with Imperial pure cane sugar. Now if the rain would just let up so I can start going to the park in the mornings.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Book Review: Eating By Design by Carrie Latt Wiatt

It may seem strange to be writing a review of a book that, as far as I know, is out of print but I'm going to do it anyway. Eating By Design by Carrie Latt Wiatt is worth looking at if you're trying to lose weight. Psychologists will tell you that your habits are your habits because there's something about the behavior that you enjoy engaging in. Wiatt applies that principle to your eating habits to help determine why you eat what you eat.

The meat of the book is an eating personality test. When you take the test you'll probably find that you score highly on several of Wiatt's eating personality types. I suggest paying attention to all of those. For example, I scored highly as a "Passionflower", a "Soloist" and a "Lotus Eater". What does that mean? Well, a Passionflower is someone who eats for the pleasure of it. A Soloist is someone who makes food choices based on convenience. A Lotus Eater is someone who may actually have an eating disorder, compulsive overeating in my case. In short, I'm someone with a preference for food that doesn't require a lot of work to prepare or clean up after and is a pleasure to eat and I tend to eat for reasons that have nothing to do with what my body actually needs. I'm a lot more likely to be successful in following a healthy diet if I keep all of these things in mind.

Having determined your eating personality type(s), Wiatt presents you with strategies for creating a healthy diet plan that you can stick with and even provides some sample diets. I wouldn't treat this book as the only thing you need to begin eating a healthier diet but it is a good starting point.

If you're looking to lose weight I suggest visiting a used book store or perhaps the local library and seeing if you can find a copy of Eating By Design by Carrie Latt Wiatt.

Eyes on the Prize

Now that I've established how much I weigh it's time to set some goals. It's important to keep those goals realistic so that I don't become discouraged. I need to lose close to 200 lbs. I'm not going to do that in 60 days and if I tell myself I am, I'm just setting myself up to fail. A realistic and healthy rate at which to lose weight is 1-2 lbs. per week. At that rate I can expect it to take me 100-200 weeks to lose the weight I need to lose. That's means I can expect it to take 2-4 years to accomplish my goal. On the plus side, if I can maintain healthy habits for that length of time they should be pretty well established by the time I reach my target weight.

Unfortunately I'm going to find it hard to remain motivated for 2-4 years so I'm going to set myself an intermediate goal. Something I should be able to accomplish in a short period of time. When I reach that goal I will celebrate, though not by eating fattening foods, and then I will set myself a new intermediate goal. My first intermediate goal is to reach 285 lbs. That means dropping 7 pounds. I'm hoping I can do that in a month but I'll allow myself 2 months just to be safe.

Long Term Goal: 200 lbs. in 2-4 years

Intermediate Goal: 385 lbs. in 1-2 months

Saturday Weigh-In

Weight: 391.8 lbs.

This is the first time in years that I've weighed myself. I had no idea I was this overweight. I used to joke that I was so fat it was like I was carrying around another person. Its no longer a joke. Looks like I need to drop half my weight, close to 200 lbs.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Movie Review: Speed Racer

Rating: 2 out of 5

I went into Speed Racer with low expectations. I'm not a fan of the Wachowski brothers. I thought The Matrix was pretty eye candy but that was about it. I didn't like what they did to V For Vendetta in translating it to the big screen and I didn't care for the way they treated Alan Moore in the process. I thought the trailers for Speed Racer looked terrible. So why did I go see the movie? I went to see it because nearly 40 years ago I loved to watch the original Speed Racer on television and there was a part of me that hoped I was wrong and that the movie would be good. Sadly it lived down to my expectations.

What was good about it? Very little. Most of the casting is spot on. I thought Emile Hirsch was good as Speed and John Goodman made a great Pops Racer. In fact, the only bad casting was Kick Gurry as Sparky and Roger Allam as the villain, Royalton. Gurry doesn't fit at all and Allam comes across as a Tim Curry-wannabe, to the point where I wondered why the Wachowskis didn't just cast Curry in the role.

Neither the plot nor the dialogue is particularly good. Given the movie's 2+ hour length you have to question the decision to include Speed's origin story. It's not like Speed is an alien rocketed to earth from a distant planet or a high school student who gained superpowers after being bitten by a radioactive spider. He's a guy who likes to drive fast. Do we really need to spend a lot of time on flashbacks of Speed as a little kid obsessing over racing? As far as plot goes, it can be distilled down to this statement: all corporations are evil and all races are fixed. Dialogue tends towards the heavily clich├ęd and the story isn't particularly well thought out.

I'm bothered that Racer X is fairly open about being a government agent. I'm also bothered that Pops isn't the one who tricks out the Mach 5. All Pops puts in, really, are the hydraulic jacks and pretty much every car in the movie has those. In fact most racecars seem to spend as much time airborne as they do on the ground. Pops does put a canopy on the Mach 5 but it takes the government to make it bulletproof. The government also gives Speed all his other gadgets. Remember kiddies, government is good, corporations are evil.

With the Wachowskis making the movie you would expect it to at least be decent eye candy but even at that it's a failure. Everything just looked horrible. This is the latest movie to be shot with the actors in front of a green screen and then everything else added in with computer generated images (CGI). Other recent movies to use this technique would be Sin City and 300. Unfortunately Speed Racer doesn't do a very good job of integrating the live action actors with their CGI backgrounds and the results look horrible.

Perhaps most disappointing are the race scenes. In the world of Speed Racer all car races are a combination of drift racing and demolition derby. Being the best driver apparently means being the best at forcing other people to have accidents but its okay because every car has a special system to ensure the driver escapes even the most horrific of crashes without a scratch on them. Cars constantly slip and slide as if they're on ice no matter what the surface whether it's a racetrack, the desert, a dried out mud flat or a road. In fact there's a sequence where Speed, Trixie and Racer X, all driving separate cars on a winding mountain road at high speed, have a conversation via radio. At no point in the conversation do any of them stop fishtailing back and forth. Not even on the straightaways. There are even points where cars just spontaneously begin doing 360s for no apparent reason. When they're not busy driving sideways, which seems to be how most drivers in the movie spend their time, they're flipping through the air since everyone has hydraulic jacks.

My advice? Skip Speed Racer and go see Iron Man instead. Even if you've already seen Iron Man you'll still find it a more enjoyable movie than Speed Racer.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Scale Is Not Your Friend

One of the most common mistakes people make when trying to lose weight is hopping on the scale every day to see how they’re doing. Let’s be clear on something. The scale is not your friend. If you want to lose weight, don’t weigh yourself more often than once a week. Here’s why.

A healthy and realistic weight-loss goal is to lose 1-2 pounds per week. If you lose weight faster than that there is a good chance that you’re doing something unhealthy. You could even be doing something to damage your ability to lose weight and keep it off, like burning muscle instead of fat.

If you’re only losing 1-2 pounds per week that translates into .143-.286 pounds per day. That’s not much progress and may be imperceptible thanks to natural fluctuations in body weight. If you weigh yourself every day, especially when just beginning a weight-loss regimen, it’s very easy to become discouraged and give up. Instead just weigh yourself once a week and don’t worry about the days in between.

Get Off the Yo-Yo-Go-Round

Those of us who have been fighting the Battle of the Bulge for a long time are familiar with the yo-yo effect. That’s where you lose some weight, then gain it back and probably a little more as well, lose some weight, regain it, and so on.

My own ride on the yo-yo-go-round began in college. Truly free to make my own food choices for the first time in my life, I chose poorly. I ate lots of fat, starch and sugar and my weight went up accordingly. I used diet pills for a couple of months and lost some of that weight. During a spring cleaning, my roommates found the diet pills and I was so embarrassed that I stopped taking them which was probably just as well since the FDA eventually banned them as unsafe. My weight continued to climb until I graduated and returned home. While I searched for my first professional job I got on the SlimFast diet and lost a lot of weight. I found a job and stopped using SlimFast because I’d reached my target weight. Unfortunately I didn’t stay there long as my weight began climbing once again. A coworker talked me into joining a gym with him and being workout partners and I began eating a low fat diet. I lost a lot of weight and was feeling pretty good about myself. Then I changed jobs and started eating lunch with coworkers who liked a lot of the fattening foods I like and weren’t that concerned about their weight. Up my weight went again. A friend introduced me to the Body For Life (BfL) program and my weight headed down again. Another job change was accompanied by another change in eating habits and up my weight went again. This brings us to the present.

As you might expect, repeatedly gaining and losing significant amounts of weight isn’t the healthiest thing to do. So how do you get off the yo-yo-go-round? I found the answer to that question in the Body for Life program. Now it is important to note that the primary goal of BfL is to sell EAS weight-loss and body-building supplements. That doesn’t change the fact that beneath all the marketing for diet shakes and creatine supplements and fitness magazines, there lies a solid core around which a good fitness plan can be built.

As BfL pointed out, I’m fat because I don’t have healthy habits. I’ve been on the yo-yo-go-round because I lose weight via methods that I can’t or won’t do for the rest of my life. I’m sorry but I don’t want to spend the next 50 years drinking a SlimFast shake for breakfast and lunch. When I reach my target weight or something happens to disrupt what I’ve been doing, I revert to my old unhealthy habits and the weight comes back. This even happened when I did the BfL program because I wasn’t really practicing the “for Life” part of the program.

If you want to lose weight and keep it off permanently, you don’t need diet pills. You don’t need fad diets. What you need is to break yourself of your unhealthy habits and replace them with healthy habits that you can maintain for the rest of your life. To this end I have three goals.

  • Eat a healthier and more nutritious diet. (Note: I’m using the word “diet” in the sense of what I eat on a regular basis, not in the sense of restricting the amount of food that I eat.)

  • Engage in aerobic exercise at least 3 times a week and preferably more often.

  • Engage in weight-lifting exercise at least 3 times a week.

If I can establish new habits based around these three goals and maintain them even when something happens to disrupt my established patterns then I will lose the weight I need to lose and keep it off for the rest of my life. That is the only way to get off of the yo-yo-go-round.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Results Not Typical: 21st Century Snake Oil

Last night I saw a weight-loss commercial that left me speechless. It was for the latest and greatest diet pill and its big selling point was that it would not only make you lose belly-fat but it would also make you lose fat from the rest of your body as well. I was flabbergasted by this because it was rather like advertising that water is wet or that ice is cold. Anything that makes you lose weight is pretty much going to cause you to lose fat from all over your body and not just one specific area, the sole exception being liposuction.

This is a perfect example of how the weight loss industry has become the snake oil salesman of the 21st century. We want to lose weight. We want to lose weight right now. We don’t want to have to work at losing weight. The weight loss industry is well aware of this and is only too happy to take advantage of these desires.

Back in the 1800s, snake oil salesmen would travel the countryside selling patent medicines that they claimed could cure any ailment, real or imagined. Today, the weight-loss industry bombards us with pills, shakes, diet plans and exercise equipment that they claim will cause us to lose all the weight we want to lose in virtually no time and with no inconvenience at all.

The commercials all start the same. A spokesperson, either a celebrity or some modern Adonis with a perfect body, tells about how their product transformed their life while pictures flash on the screen showing normal people who lost 60 bajillion pounds in only 3 weeks on the product. We then segue to how easy the product is to use and how minimal its impact will be on your life as you continue to eat burgers and pizza and pasta and even chocolate! Finally we hear about how cheap it is, especially if you call RIGHT NOW!!! Sadly these commercials aren’t that different from a 19th century medicine show. I guess what worked then still works today.

One thing that has changed is that today there are truth in advertising laws. You can make misleading claims but you can’t make false claims. This is why all of these weight loss commercials have disclaimers written in fine print that you couldn’t possibly read before the commercial is over. These typically start with the phrase, “Results not typical.” Sometimes, for variety, they say, "Results may vary." That’s because the average person doesn’t experience anything like the results they claim in the ads and the odds are good that you won’t either.

Forget the pills. Diet pills have been around for quite some time. Remember Cal-Ban 3000? That was the miracle weight loss pill when I was in college. You can’t get it anymore. It was banned after a number of users had to be hospitalized and one even died from it. Then there was Fen-phen which was popular up until it was banned for having such side effects as damaging users' heart valves. Ephedra was great stuff until it turned out that it could cause heart attacks and strokes among other side effects. Now there’s a pill on the market that makes you lose weight by keeping your body from digesting fat. Of course your digestive track isn’t really designed to handle undigested fat so if you’re taking it I hope you’re also wearing Depends. The Mayo Clinic has an excellent page on the effectiveness and potential side effects of over-the-counter weight-loss pills that I highly recommend reading before taking one. Dying isn't much of a weight-loss plan after all.

Forget the gimmicky exercise gadgets too. Like the belt you wear around your waist that shocks your ab muscles while you watch television. It's not going to give you a six pack. Remember, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. There are a few gimmicky exercise gadgets that might be worthwhile, and I'll talk about them in later posts, but by and large they're just a waste of money.

You can also forget the fad diets. Look, losing weight isn’t rocket science. It’s actually very simple. If you consume more calories in a day than you burn, you gain weight. If you burn more calories in a day than you consume, you lose weight. If you're overweight its probably because you don't eat in a healthy manner and you probably don't get enough exercise. If you're overweight for some other reason then you should probably be talking to a doctor, not getting weight loss advice from some random schmuck on the Internet.

I'm overweight. I need to lose at least 100 pounds. I started this blog for the express purpose of helping me achieve this goal. In the future I'll be talking about how I'm going about losing weight, what works and what doesn't.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Movie Review: Iron Man

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

I went into Iron Man with high expectations. I've been looking forward to this movie since I first saw the trailer. Back when I was reading comic books, I was a fan of Iron Man and regularly followed his adventures. I've long felt he was a good choice for a movie since I thought the armor would translate to the big screen better than some spandex costume. I'm happy to say that the movie didn't disappoint. This is easily the best Marvel superhero movie since Spider-Man 2.

Unsurprisingly the movie starts with the origin of the Iron Man armor. In the comics, Tony Stark was in Vietnam when he was captured and forced to build weapons for the NVA. In the movie, Vietnam becomes Afghanistan and the bad guys become the Ten Rings, a multinational terrorist agency. Otherwise the origin plays out pretty much as it did in the comics. Once Tony escapes from the Ten Rings he returns to the States where he works on building a refined version of his armor while trying to shut down his company's weapons division, setting up a conflict with his business partner, Obadiah Stane, and finding out who has been supplying his weapons to the terrorists. More anal retentive comics fans may be upset with the change in the Stane storyline from the comics but I thought it was a reasonable adaptation and it works well in the movie.

Robert Downey Jr. is excellent as Tony Stark. I had my doubts when his casting was first announced but he totally owns the role. At this point I can't imagine anyone who would have done a better job. I'm not a big fan of Gwyneth Paltrow but I thought she did a decent job as Pepper Potts and I certainly had no complaints with her performance. I thought Terence Howard was okay as Jim Rhodes but I think I would have liked to have seen a more forceful and dynamic portrayal of the character. This is the man who took over as Iron Man during one of the times Tony crawled inside a bottle and he does eventually become War Machine after all.

My one real complaint with the acting is Jeff Bridges. Obadiah Stane should, in my opinion, be intense and perhaps a little sinister. This is a man who is utterly ruthless in the pursuit of his goals but Bridges plays him as a rather relaxed and affable person. If I wasn't familiar with the character from the comics, I probably wouldn't have any problems with Bridges performance but as things stand it just didn't match how I've always imagined Stane to be.

Special effects are excellent and I enjoyed the action. Especially the sequence when Tony dons his upgraded armor and heads back to Afghanistan to deal with the Ten Rings.

What does the future hold? I'll be very surprised if this movie isn't profitable enough to kick off a new Marvel superhero franchise. The next Iron Man movie will hopefully feature Tony's nemesis, the Mandarin, as the head of the Ten Rings. There's also some foreshadowing of Rhodey donning the Iron Man armor so perhaps we'll see a little War Machine action as well.

Now why are you still reading this review? Go see Iron Man!

Rove, You Magnificent Bastard!

The Telegraph has published a list of the most influential political pundits in the US. Clearly the UK is out of touch with what's happening in the colonies these days.