CF Reviews

Excruciatingly Honest Opinions About Health and Fitness Products.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Crankypants Meets Tibetan Bowl

Some folks are adventurous optimists. They assume that all new experiences will be fun. Ask one of these folks: "Hey, optimist, wanna go Naked Ice Fishing in the Antarctic?" Chances are they'll say "Sure, count me in!" And even if they go naked ice fishing, catch nothing but a bad cold and even lose a few extremities to frostbite in the process, you can still ask them next time: "Hey optimist, want to go sunbathing in the Sahara?" And their answer will be: "Sure, count me in!"

And then there are their opposites. I am one of these creatures. You can call us "party poopers," or just say we're "cautious." We are picky about how we spend our time. We assume that most new things outside of the tried-and-true will NOT be fun. Our default answer to most new activities is "no thanks!"

Before you say "how terrible! That's so limiting!" keep in mind that our ability to say "no thanks" is often hard-won. Most of us crankypants cautious types have been talked into outings and parties and performances for decades and we've been assured we will LOVE them. And then we go, only find ourselves bored, anxious, disappointed, or annoyed. We've learned to trust our own instincts and ignore the enthusiastic promises of the adventurous optimists. Don't get me wrong: we Party Poopers still have plenty of fun; we're just way more selective about how we have it.

All this is to say that while in San Diego, Crabby McSlacker, queen of the Crankypants Party Poopers, got talked into a "Sound Energy Healing" session involving the playing of Tibetan singing bowls (and bells and gongs and other exotic objects).

How did this happen? Well, it was one of those situations where despite some skepticism I couldn't really decline unless I wanted to be a total... what's the female equivalent of a prick, anyway? So the Cautious Crab went off with the Lobster to a sound healing session, generously offered by a friend's mother who happens to be a certified Tibetan bowl practitioner (and a very cool person).

So what does a Tibetan Singing Bowl Sound Healing session entail, and does research say it's effective or is it just a whole lot of hooey?

The Science of Sound

Actually, there does seem to research backing the notion that various kinds of sound, music and rhythms can have healing powers. According to oncologist, Mitchell Gaynor, "We know that music is capable of enhancing immune function, lowering heart rate, lowering stress-related hormones like cortisol that raise our blood pressure and depress our immune systems." Other research suggests that music "trims complications after heart attack, calms anxiety, slows breathing and increases production of endorphins, the body's natural painkillers."

Gaynor is a big proponent of using Tibetan bowls to help cancer patients, but says that there is more going on than just the effects of relaxation. He implies that there is something special about these bowls that taps into spiritual energy that can help cancer patients heal.

Furthermore, in a sound healing article in the New York Times, one practitioner explained: "When the body is sick - it could be a cold, a broken bone, an ulcer, a tumor, or an emotional or mental illness - it's all a matter of the frequencies of the body being out of tune, off balance, out of synch. Vibration can help bring that back into balance."

Er... maybe. I'm frankly skeptical about the whole vibrational balance explanation. I think that there is so much evidence about the beneficial effects of stress reduction, meditation, and even placebo power that we don't even need to go there. But hey, if people believe that the sound vibrations are going into their bodies and messing with their cells in positive ways and resetting their frequencies or whatever, I think that's a good thing, whether it's true or not!

What is a Tibetan Bowl Sound Session Like?

It's pretty cool.

We went into a room that had dozens of Tibetan bowls of all sizes as well as some bells and who knows what else. (If I were a proper reporter instead of a lazy blogger, I probably would have thought to ask what all the stuff was). Tibetan bowls can be struck or rubbed, and they have a very rich sound with lots of overtones. Apparently they are tuned to the frequency of "aum." In more technical terms, they sound pretty.

As instructed, we removed our shoes, lay down on a comfortable mat, were covered by a blanket, and were given nice little eye pillow thingies. This triggered pleasant massage associations and was a nice surprise.

Then I start to forget the order of things. Did our host make the trance-inducing suggestions about letting go and ripples and ponds and hearts blossoming open and such before she put the bowls on our chests and bellies? Or did the cool bell tones and chimes start first and then the suggestions and then the belly bowls?

Anyway, I do at least remember that the sounds the bowls made being struck and rubbed all around us (and on us) were VERY soothing. The tones were rich and warm and layered and luxurious. Because I could feel the vibrations, the sounds seemed to worm their way into deeper places in my head and body than regular music normally goes.

By the end, I was so relaxed I could barely speak.

I didn't go in with any specific medical issues to deal with, so I can't attest to the pain-relieving, disease-fighting properties of Tibetan bowls, but I can say that they are pretty wonderful things to be around. As someone who sucks at meditation, I am always looking for ways to turn down the mental chitter chatter a few notches. (Which is not to say that the yapping in my brain went away entirely, but at least it was contented, meandering, quieter yapping).

Anyway, the Crankypants Crab will continue to defend to her dying day the practice of saying "no thanks!" to new experiences. But, um... sometimes new experiences actually turn out to be awesome. (Thanks Diáne!)

(For more information on Tibetan bowls, Tibetan bowl music cd's, or attending sound healing concerts or presentations, check out Diáne Mandle's Sound Energy Healing site.)

Anyone else try something new that you didn't think you'd like? Were you right or were you wrong?


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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Salsa is a dance? Core Rhythms giveaway (US/Can)

Another review? Merry, what were you thinking?
I was thinking that I needed to balance out the last review with a positive one.
(Can I mention here that the vast majority of PR people are all kind, professional, polite, and nice to work with?)
I reviewed the Core Rhythms Starter Pack, a 4-DVD set featuring Jaana Kunitz and Julia Powers. There's a Kick Start DVD, a Quick Workout, a Full Workout, and a DVD called "Latin Dance Made Easy."

Have to confess, the title of that last one made me nervous. I liked the instructors, Jaana and Julia, but they were definitely slim and flexible, like lithe greyhounds.

Me, I resemble a different kind of greyhound.

Also, I had thought that salsa was something you ate with chips while you were waiting for your enchilada. Not the hippest chica on the block, in other words. I wasn't sure how they could turn me into a hot Latin dancer, but I was curious to see whether I liked the DVDs.

They passed the first test. My new criterion for whether I like a DVD or not is how much talking takes place before they start the warm up. In this case, I estimate it to have been about 12 seconds. Very impressive. Also impressive was the enthusiasm both women displayed. I got the impression they really thought these exercises were fun. They took the time to explain the movements, using the backup dancers as demonstrators. Most of the moves are similar to those in belly dancing, lots of emphasis on using all the core muscles around your waist, but the Latin dance rhythm gives the workout a different tone.

Below is the quick summary. If you click on the Read More, you'll see the full review and details about the giveaway, which incidentally is open to Canadians.

Good: The workouts were fast enough to get me sweating, but not so fast that I felt I couldn't keep up.
Better: The Latin beat made me want to get moving
Ugly: In most of the DVDs, there was a huge close-up of a dancing torso in the background; it was both distracting and surreal. (See the picture at the top of the page to get an idea of what it's like.)

Also, it was also really cool that these DVD workouts were bi-sexual.

Um, no, not like that.

What I meant was that while most workout DVDs are exclusively women-centric, these workouts had male and female backup dancers. In the Latin Dance DVD, Julia taught the woman's dance moves and her husband demonstrated the man's dance moves.

The workout DVDs all have front and back views, so you can watch the instructors from different sides to follow along easily.
The Help section of the Full workout was really cool. If you are following the workout and can't remember how to do a particular movement, clicking Help pauses the action and shows a video clip demonstrating the movement. I approve of this.
The Quick Workout DVD is good for days when you don't have time for the whole enchilada. A 20-minute workout can still work up a sweat, and this one qualifies.
I loved how the Kick Start DVD had a 'split screen' option so you could see a close-up of the torso one one side of the screen while following the instructor on the other. (This DVD did not have the huge surreal dancing torso in the background.)

The Kick Start is designed to show you the basic moves, while the Quick Workout and Full Workout use the moves to make you sweat. The Latin Dance DVD doesn't give you an aerobic workout; it's a dance video designed to train you in basic Latin dance moves. Which it turns out you've been learning all along unbeknownst.

It was fascinating to try the Latin Dance DVD after going through all the core rhythm workout DVDs. I could see each move as it had been shown earlier: the Salsa, the Rumba, and the Merengue. [Note: Some of the other DVDs demonstrate the Samba but the Latin Dance DVD shows the Rumba. Most of the moves in the Rumba are familiar from the workouts.]

While I was sweating off the calories, I was also learning Latin dance moves! Who knew? (Um... probably people who'd read the fine print on the box, but I'm not that kind of girl.) It's difficult for me to think of myself as having "slinky hips" but so long as the drapes were shut tight, what the hell.

I noted some complaints while I was doing the workout.
- The full workout, I complained at the beginnning that it felt like I was marching in place half the time. However, by the end of the workout I'd scratched this note out. I think the marching was phased out in favor of Latin moves about halfway in to the routine. I do remember stopping and feeling the muscles in my core section. It seemed easy while I was doing it, but the workout did have an effect.
- With the Quick workout, I have a note complaining that the exercises were absurdly easy. Again, by the end of the workout I wasn't complaining. My muscles were.
- Yes, the two instructors talked throughout, but at least it was about the workout. They were good at cueing you for the next move.
- Really, the only complaint I have about these DVDs is that dancing torso in the background. And since I can ignore it to concentrate on the instructors, this isn't a huge drawback.

Core Rhythm DVD Giveaway -- U.S. and Canada!

The people at Core Rhythms are so cool that they'll even ship a copy of the Core Rhythms to Canadians (as well as to USians). Clearly, they're worried about how cold it is in the Frozen North and want to send hot Latin rhythms to keep you from getting frostbite.

To win this DVD set, please leave a comment about how you see yourself: Hot Latin dancer? Or the other kind of Greyhound?

The giveaway ends on Thursday, January 29th at Midnight, Rio de Janerio time. Which by an odd coincidence is 6 p.m. Pacific Standard Time. ('Cause I ain't staying up 'til Midnight my time to meet up with Mr. Random Number Generator, that's why.)

Note to Anonymous: Hmmmn... either Anonymous has entered several comments, or different people have left comments anonymously. If you would like to leave an anonymous comment, but want to be entered in the giveaway contest, could you please leave a name (thanks Sara and Messymimi!) or other means of identification in the comment? A code word, a recognition symbol, e.g. "I'm the anonymous commenter who will be standing by the clock in Grand Central Station at 11 pm next Tuesday, wearing a red carnation." Something like that would be very helpful. Thank you.

This contest is now closed. Sorry.


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Monday, January 19, 2009

Mad Merry Goes to Skinny Bitch Boot Camp

A note to PR people:
Below are my official product review guidelines. They have not been reviewed by my esteemed co-blogger, as Ms. Crabby McSlacker is currently in re-crab, trying out for American Idol, in seclusion working on her next post driving hundreds of miles to eat at her favorite restaurant.

Yes, I will be glad to review products, under the following conditions:

1 - I like the product, or at least think it will make an interesting post.
2 - You understand that I will write about the positive and the negative aspects of the product.
3 - You tell me up front, before I agree to the review, if there are any urgent deadlines for a product review. Otherwise, my aim is to review the product within 3 weeks of receiving it.

Please keep condition #3 in mind.

In particular, avoid the following scenario:

Do not send me a DVD on a Friday afternoon, then on Monday morning send me an email saying you need me to review it within the week.
If I demur, do not send me an irate email claiming you sent the DVD "a long time ago."
Also, do not then try to nice-guilt me into doing the review asap when I've already explained to you that that would mean breaking my word to other PR people, i.e. people to whom I've already given a commitment.

Okay, are we clear? Good.

With that in mind, I would like to mention that my review of the Skinny Bitch Boot Camp DVD might have a wee bit of a negative bias...

...because right now I'm kind of pissed off.

At the start, all I knew about the Skinny Bitches was a guest post written by the fabulous Jamie back in April. So aside from my encounter with a certain PR person, I put the DVD into the player without knowing what to expect.

I hit Play All and waited. Looking back, that was where I made my mistake.

The DVD started out with a brief talk by the Skinny Bitches. I'm not sure what it was about, because I zoned out after the first 30 seconds, but I think it was supposed to be meaningful and uplifting.

Then after a brief pause there came another uplifting and meaningful talk. Again, I zoned out. It wasn't a repeat of the first talk, because they were wearing different outfits.

Then came the warm up, and damn me if they didn't start that out with more of the uplifting and meaningful crap. The mouths get quite the workout in this DVD.

The Skinny Bitches (Mouth) Warmup:

They did glib little exercises. And they never stopped talking.
Then they did superficial little stretches. And they never shut up.

Most exercise DVDs have an instructor who stands up front and talks a lot, but usually they give the impression they actually mean what they're saying. Listening to compliments about the Skinny Bitches' cute butts got old very quickly. Likewise, comments like "Whew! I'm sweatin'!" one minute into the warm up came across as completely insincere. I found myself wishing they would depart from the "you go girl!" persona and delve into a deeply convoluted dissertation on Wittgenstein's views on neo-Nazi cross-dressing. Something, anything different from this meaningless patter.

Honestly, it was like being at the gym and having a neighbor who's constantly on their cell phone yapping with their friends about absolutely nothing. (You can't turn off the yapping and just listen to the music. I tried.)

A brief interval wherein I praise snarky bitchery

You'd think with a name like 'Skinny Bitches' there would have been some attitude, but it was all platitude -- with a few repetitions of 'bitch' and 'ass' thrown in to show that they were hip and cool. Every would-be sharp comment came out pat and rehearsed, like they were reading it off the script prompter.

I mean, I admire snarky bitchery when it's done right. The Smart Bitches, Trashy Books website is the epitome of snarky b. (These women review romance novels. Here's a link to one classic example.) They can be mean, but they can also be edgy and unexpected and funny.

The two Skinny Bitches... well, no.

The Skinny Bitches Boot Camp (no sweat) workout:

Doesn't the phrase 'boot camp' suggest a workout that's supposed to be challenging? Make your heart beat faster, make you feel like you're asking your body to work a bit harder?

I'm certainly not the fittest bunny on the block, not even close. And yet I had no difficulty keeping up with these chicas. At the beginning, they solemnly warned the viewer that if the routines were too difficult, just keep moving. Do what you can. Then they provide the most lukewarm example of a workout I've yet to come across.

This wouldn't have been so irritating if the workout hadn't been hyped "A Fat-Blasting, Body-Altering, Butt-Kicking Workout!" I had expected to be sweating at the end of the workout, but I wasn't.

The Abs section of the workout was missing from the DVD I was given to review. (The SBs announced "Now we're doing Abs!" Then 2/3 of the screen went magenta. When it cleared, the title read "Cool Down.")

If you want to see what the Abs workout looks like, here's a sample. Mercifully, they don't talk so much in this clip:

Skinny Bitch: Boot Camp- Abs on Mats - The most popular videos are a click away


At the end of the DVD, the SBs included some 5-minute workouts. Five minutes isn't long enough to get much of a workout, but to be fair I tried the 5-minute arms workout. It felt very lightweight, and damn me if they didn't recycle the same @#$! jokes that they'd used in the boot camp section. These were really irritating to listen to the first time, the second time around was beyond irritating. I can't imagine listening to this DVD several times a week. Not without some extra-strong Prozac.

There were a couple of interviews on the DVD as well, but after sitting through all the introductions, I didn't think I could take any more.


On the positive side, this workout is not difficult to pick up. It's a little irritating when they change exercises while the camera is showing an above-the-waist closeup, which happened two or three times, but aside from that it is quite easy to do. And I did like the fact that they threw in some balance work. I can't find any other reasons to recommend this DVD.

I can respect that they want to make this workout something pretty much everyone can do, but they should have hyped this DVD as something other than a "butt-kicking" workout. [Note: I found a couple of other reviewers who agreed that this workout was too easy. On the other hand, this review of the same DVD claims that it's too hard for an absolute beginner.]

I was also sent a second Skinny Bitches DVD to review, but since this review was a rush/screaming emergency I don't feel guilty about putting the second review off for another day.


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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Send your mind to the Gym? Lumosity vs. Laziness

Terry Pratchett, a best-selling author of dozens of books, was once asked by his doctor if he had any problems with his memory. Pratchett paused, considered the question, and replied, "Not that I recall."

This anecdote got a laugh when he told it at a book signing, but when he announced a few months later that he was suffering from a rare form of early-onset Alzheimer's disease, it didn't seem so funny.

You'd think the nice part about losing your memory would be that you wouldn't remember that you were losing your memory. No. I think of all the diseases you could get, Alzheimer's must be the worst. The thing is, people often are aware when something's not right. They know there's a problem, though they don't always know what it is.

There was a big kerfuffle on Pasta Queen's blog when the comment was made that receiving a cancer diagnosis would be better than bearing chronic pain and never knowing what was wrong with you. Similarly, Pratchett claims that he'd rather have cancer than Alzheimer's. "I'd like a chance to die like my father did - of cancer, at 86.Remember, I'm speaking as a man with Alzheimer's, which strips away your living self a bit at a time. Before he went to spend his last two weeks in a hospice he was bustling around the house, fixing things. He talked to us right up to the last few days, knowing who we were and who he was. Right now, I envy him."

Even if you don't develop Alzheimer's, your brain will change as you age. It's not all bad news, though.

Richard Restak, the author of the best-selling Mozart and the Fighter Pilot's Brain points out that as we get older, the number of nerve cells decreases, "but the richness and complexity of brain circuitry increases." (My translation: Old age and treachery will always overcome youth and skill.)

Physical exercise can help with memory loss. To quote wonderful Dr. Mirkin (yes, again), in an article he wrote about memory and blood sugar, "Hundreds of other studies show that 1) exercise slows loss of memory with aging, [and] 2) diabetes markedly increases risk for dementia...."

But according to Restak, the memory expert, physical exercise is not the main priority to help your brain. "The best protection against developing a memory disorder? Exercising the brain's memory mechanisms."

This seems to me to be rather important. The thing is, unless I get run over by a bus or develop a horrible disease, I'm going to get older. And I don't want to spend my last years confused while life goes past in a blur. It's heart-breaking to see someone deteriorate from a healthy alert personality to a confused faded forgetful shell of themselves.

While I was pondering this, I got an invitation to try out Lumosity. It's a web site devoted to cognitive learning. Sounds fancy, doesn't it? What it boils down to is a series of mental exercises, in the form of different online games, that are supposed to help keep your memory sharp.

When you start out, you complete a series of memory games that establishes a baseline. Then you perform memory workouts, for about 10 minutes a day, to work on improving your ability. You can also compare your results against the average test results for someone of your age group, which could prove useful.

One thing that I like about Lumosity is that it's a website where games are being updated and new games are being added, as opposed to some other brain programs that I've seen, which allow you to download a static software program.

Why do I want to play these video games? I've got bubbleshooter!

The nice part about doing memory exercises on the web is that I associate them with video games, i.e. it feels like I'm doing something fun. It's like chocolate-covered broccoli: something that's good for me and tastes good. (Okay, so I've never actually tried covering broccoli with chocolate. It's an analogy, okay? Work with me here.)

I love the idea of 'brain games,' the same way I love the idea of playtime exercise as opposed to working out on a treadmill. Some of the games were fun, some were frustrating. (Argh! I do not have an aptitude for spatial memory!) It was encouraging that I could re-try the frustrating exercises and see an improvement.

All that I've learned from playing games like Bubbleshooter was that I have a low frustration level -- and it doesn't improve the more I play the game.

What are these games like?

At first the games on the Lumosity site are childishly simple. I felt like I was playing at the two-year-old level. Then... um ... they're got more challenging.

One game tested peripheral eyesight and memory, which they claim helps with driving. (You had to watch for something appearing on the corner of the screen while remembering a letter that flashed in the middle of the screen at the same time.) Another game involved matching name tags with people, which is something that I have a helluva problem with at parties. Another had me trying to think -- under the clock -- of all the seven letter words out there that start with "Ann_____" I would've thought I was good at that, but not when I've got a clock ticking away.

I keep thinking that I should be able to improve my memory without paying some website $80. On the other hand, how much do you pay for your gym membership? Is your brain worth less than the rest of you? (That's $80 a year, or about $6.66 a month.)

Hell, why can't I just do these memory games on my own?

That's fine, if you've got access to games that will help you improve your memory. And if you're disciplined enough to actually do the work.

There probably are people who are self-disciplined enough to do something like this on my own. Me, I'd find excuses and rationalizations and it probably wouldn't get done. I've had Restak's book on my nightstand for the past three months, intending to go back and do some of the memory exercises that he describes. I'm sure I'll get around to it... one of these years... Why is it that it feels like work to perform exercises from a book, yet I always can find time for ten minutes of playing games on the computer? That's why I'm inclined to like the idea of this memory training website -- I'm more likely to actually do it.

I'm seriously considering giving a membership to my mother, since she's fixated on not losing her faculties.

Try it yourself. No strings.

If you're curious, check the Lumosity site out. They've got a seven-day trial version you can play with -- and you don't have to give any credit card information before starting the trial, which makes for a nice change.

Plus, it's a sweet setup: you get to play video games and no one can say you're not doing something useful! (Except perhaps the boss. Try this at home, eh?)

If you'd like to read more about the theory behind the Lumosity games, here's their Brain training page.

What do you think? Is this something you could (or more important, would) do on your own? Or would you consider trying a mental gym?


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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

One Rule for a Flat Stomach!

Really, there's just one rule?

And if we follow it, we can all have a flat stomach?

You've seen the ads all over the internet. They're almost, but not quite as annoying as the woman with the fakest looking wrinkles ever in the history of fake wrinkles, who gets her face magically erased, over and over and over again. (God I HATE THAT AD!!!)

At least the "1 Rule" ad doesn't usually come with a picture, but it's still all over the place. It says there's 1 rule for a flat stomach, and you must Obey it. If you do, you will lose one pound a day, or eleven pounds in two weeks, or 45 pounds in 12 weeks. Whatever. Bottom line: you'll shed buckets of belly fat in no time flat.

Just one simple rule! Do you know what it is? Seems like if it was that powerful, we'd all have heard about from other, more reputable sources. But still... what could they be referring to? Could there really be some simple principle we've all been overlooking?

So raise your hands... (Virtually, that is--unless you want the folks at work looking at you funny). How many of you smart, educated, sophisticated, health-conscious, discerning Cranky Fitness readers just couldn't help yourself and finally had to click on the link to find out the One Rule?

I did.

After swearing to myself, over and over, that I would not let curiosity get the better of me and send traffic (and thus, money) to whatever sleazy entity no doubt lurked behind the come-ons, I finally couldn't help it.

So you want to know what the secret is? As a public service, Cranky Fitness will tell you, so you can avoid soiling yourself by clicking on any of these slimy ads.

Hi Anna! Hi Pam! Hi Brook!

Here's what happens when you click on the "1 rule" ad: you usually end up at someone's blog or web page. There you find out the secret, which we will now reveal.

The secret is buying the right combination of weight loss products. The funny thing is, the products change, so the "1 rule" is really "many rules!" Sometimes it is an acai berry thing and a colon cleanser. Sometimes it Wu Yi, or a mysterious fat burning concoction called Slim 365. Do these products work? Well, they must, right, just look at the photographic evidence!

Photographic Proof the One Rule Is Totally Awesome and Effective

What more do you need? Here is a picture of Pam Burgess, from Burlingame, California. She has 2 kids and a wonderful husband. She lost 45 pounds using a combination of two free trial products she saw on TV! Here is a picture of her in July and another one three months later.

Pam in July, and 3 months later

Still skeptical? Well, there's more proof:

Here's Anna Matthews, who also has 2 kids and a wonderful husband. She also lost 45 pounds using a combination of two free products she saw on TV. Here is a picture of her in October, and another one three months later.

Anna in October, and 3 months later.

Isn't that amazing? Two entirely different women, using different versions of the 1 Rule, with such amazingly similar results! So see, there's nothing at all fishy here to worry about.

Endorsed by Oprah, WebMD, Dr. Oz, and CBS!

Depending on the ad you get, you can read the less questionable claim that some of the ingredients of these products have received favorable attention in the press. But some versions take it further and claim the products themselves are being touted by folks who would obviously know better. WebMD, for example, has since updated its acai berry article to make clear that there is little research supporting the weight loss claims, but it's still being held up as a major endorser of these products.

Scam Scam Scam Scam

Regular readers of Cranky Fitness do not need me to tell them these ads are bogus. But many folks out there do not have the time, energy, or motivation to educate themselves about what it takes to lose weight in a healthy and realistic way. Others know damn well what it takes, but don't want to face the depressing reality of eating less and exercising more. They allow wishful thinking to take over and they order this crap and hope for the best.

Here is a link explaining how at least some of acai berry weight loss scams work. But the fact that I even clicked on one of the little f*ckers just shows you how even the sleaziest of come-ons can be tempting to check out.

Ick, I feel so dirty!!!

Heard of any other Creepy Weight Loss solutions you want to warn folks about? Ever been taken in by one?


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Monday, January 12, 2009

Why I refused to review Diet Girl's book (plus, a giveaway)

[The scene: In the palatial Cranky Fitness Headquarters (C.F.H.), Merry sits writing a letter.]

Dear Diet Girl,

Thank you for letting me read your memoir, The Amazing Adventures of Diet Girl.

However, I don't want to review it.

I think I would rather pitch it as a movie proposal.

I see this story as a saga. Nicole Kidman could play the lead, with Hugh Jackman as the romantic hero. (Or Gerard Butler might work, since the hero is Scottish.)

I can see the movie poster:

Thrills! Travel to exotic locations!
Chills! The Aussies encounter the Scottish winter!
Suspense! Will Diet Girl be deported forever?
Death-defying feats! See how she masters complicated maneuvers such as kick boxing and weight lifting!
Weight Loss! The woman lost an amazing 175 pounds!
A romance that spanned three continents and four weddings!!!

Sorry, but I need to stop writing this letter for a moment. Crabby's over there waving a claw at me. I think she's trying to get a word in edgewise. (Seems appropriate. How else would a crab get a word in? )

Crabby: Merry? You can put down that pen now. Look who's coming through the door, it's the Amazing Diet Girl herself, Shauna Reid! So we can ask her questions and tell her in virtual-person what we thought about her awesome book.

Merry: She's here? [Hides the autographed copy of Pasta Queen's book.] Shauna! How lovely to see you!

Shauna: Howdy ladies! Thanks for having me over.

Crabby: It's our pleasure! Oddly enough, we don't get many visitors at Cranky Fitness headquarters. [Hurriedly brushing away cobwebs and dust bunnies].

Merry: So, Shauna, thank you for letting us read The Amazing Adventures of Diet Girl. Even though I don't want to review it, I have a question. Well, several questions, really.

Shauna: Fire away!

Merry: Especially in the beginning, when you weighed over 300 pounds, you suffered from fat girl panic attacks that threatened to stop you. By the end of the story, the panic attacks were noticeably fewer. Did they drop off with the pounds or was there some shift in your attitude that discouraged them?

Shauna: The Fat Girl Freakouts got less frequent as I got less freaked out about being fat. I started out with really rubbish self-esteem - I was almost apologetic for just existing, like how dare I take up so much space! My confidence grew somewhat as I started to lose weight, but what really helped along the way was, for lack of a better phrase, doing stuff. Things that most people wouldn't see as particularly radical, like trying a weights class at the gym and training for a 5K race. It was a revelation after so many years of being a hermit and convincing myself I was "too fat" to try. I started to feel less defined by the size of my butt and less worried about what people thought of me.

Merry: I loved your description of 'Vampire Exercise' -- walking by yourself at night rather than during the day when people could see you. How did you go from that mindset to walking into a gym?

Shauna: I just applied the same Vampire Method to the gym - I always went the hour before it closed - that way I avoided the Hot People Peak Hour with all the nubile supermodel types! Eventually I got bored with the cardio machines and wanted to try group classes but they were earlier. So I'd arrive really early and hide up the back row so no one could look at me wobbling around. So at first I think it was more about finding crafty ways to work around my fears as opposed to tackling them directly :)

Merry: I was impressed that you didn't wait to start living until you'd gotten stick thin. A lot of people think that no one will look at them until they're skinny. You went out and fell in love anyway! Um... does Gareth have any brothers?

Shauna: He does! He's single too. Come on over, baby!
The whole falling in love thing was a real shock. I admit that I was convinced that no one would look at me until I was svelte - which is probably why it took me months to notice that Gareth was interested. I wish I'd taken off my fat goggles years earlier and believed I was worthy of some good lovin' - who knows how much action I missed out on over the years!? :)

Merry: Hmmmn... I wonder if mortgaging the C.F.H. would afford me a ticket to Scotland... oh, sorry. My mind was wandering for minute. Anyway. Comfort food. It sounds like chocolate and you had a very special bond. Has this changed? What do you do nowadays when you feel down?

Shauna: I still eat the chocolate! I know you're supposed to Phone A Friend or Take A Bubble Bath when you're down but sometimes only chocolate will do. I've learned to eat smaller portions of the good stuff and savor the hell out of 'em. I eat my wee ration as slowly and quietly as possible - Gareth knows not to interrupt me if I am having a Chocolate Moment. If I scoff it down quickly I'll inevitably want more, so I try really hard to eat mindfully.

Crabby: Well, Merry may have decided not to review the book, but I can't help gushing a bit. I'd give it two enthusiastic Claws Up! I thought it was dramatic, moving, inspiring, and funny as hell. It was fast-paced and was almost like a novel, in that it had a great "plot"-- all the more fascinating because it was all true. I agree with Merry, it would make a great movie.

But part of what made it so gripping was that it was a messy, complicated journey. It's one thing to disclose this stuff on an anonymous blog, but was it scary at all to think about "going public" with your name on the cover of a book? And is it strange to have your private thoughts about, say, the size of your undergarments, read by people all over the world? Or friends and neighbors and co-workers?

Shauna: I'm glad you enjoyed it, cheers! I was a wee bit nervous about going public and committing my looniest moments to print - there's no Undo button with a book! But by the time it was finally published in the UK in January 2008, it was almost two years after I'd started writing. And another year has passed now it's out in the USA, so the distance helps. I can almost look back at the Me in the book like a bemusing fictional character: Wow, that Shauna Reid sure was a nutter! It's also a great ice breaker - people who were previously distant acquaintances come up to me at parties and say, "Dude, I totally eat Nutella straight from the jar too."
I also know how much I left out of the book - it could have been so much worse!

Merry: I think the book was pretty good as it was! But Crabby has a good point. You write frankly about body issues. How do you feel about your body now?

Shauna: I'm cool with it. I admire its resilience - I've put it through hell and back and it's still hanging in there! I never had any illusions that I was hiding a supermodel body under my fat suit, so I've accepted my wobbly bits and focus on my best features. I spent far too many years glaring at my reflection in the mirror and thinking evil loathing thoughts... now my mind and body are finally a team.

Crabby: Do you feel any pressure to maintain a particular size or weight, now that you're a success story for others? Or do you feel it's your own damn business whatever you weigh?

Shauna: There were times last year when the book first came out in the UK and Ireland that I thought I would explode from the pressure to live up to the happy ending. I'd get lovely emails from people saying they looked up to me as a success story, and not-so-lovely emails from people saying I was DOOMED to regain the weight and mark their words, they would be waiting to laugh maniacally when I FAILED. Both kinds of email left me gnawing my fingernails with angst. But now I'm more chilled and as long as I'm happy with my weight, that's all I need to worry about. I'll just keep on doing what I've always done with the blog - share the ups and downs with honesty, and let people draw from it whatever they will. I try not to put any pressure on myself other than make sure I keep doing the Healthy Things as much as I can, for the sake of my sanity as much as my waistline!

Crabby: I've very much enjoyed checking in with your blog, The Amazing Adventures of Diet Girl. It seems you manage to be funny about whatever subject you take on. Do you see the blog changing emphasis away from food, exercise and weight issues in the future as you get further from your own incredible weight loss journey? Or will it continue to be a major subject you blog about? (I'm guessing a lot of folks interested in weight loss will be joining you after the book comes out in the United States!)

Shauna: Dietgirl will always be the place for the lard-related thoughts! Even when I don't post as frequently, I still come crawling back because let's face it, it never ends. After eight years I still need a place to touch base and spew my thoughts. The writing is part of the maintenance just as much as my meal planning or exercise schedule. And I love the support and friendship you get from blogland. As for other topics, I've had a personal blog since 2000 called What's New Pussycat which is where I write about my non-fat passions - travel, music, sport, Scottish life and general bitching about what's on the telly. I started Dietgirl as a separate, anonymous blog because I didn't want to alienate WNP readers with my weight loss shenanigans. I'm totally out of the fat blogging closet now, so I just write wherever the mood takes me!

Crabby: What does the Mothership think about this whole book thing?

Shauna: I think The Mothership quite enjoys it. The mother-daughter relationship is never a straightforward one so I was worried about publishing some of our darkest moments. But she read all the drafts and encouraged me to be even more honest and open. She also gets some of the funniest lines so she's quite happy with how she was depicted! She's also a great saleswoman and is always moving my book to prominent shelves in Australian bookshops!

Merry: What's the big deal with kickboxing? I mean, it's not complicated. You simply find a box and give it a good kick. Why's that considered fun?

Shauna: It gets fun when you swap a box for a real live person! You wear these ridiculous padded shoes that all round and shiny, like you've raided Mickey Mouse's wardrobe, so you can't do any real harm. But that thwack thwack thwack sound when you land a kick is pure music, and any stress you felt before class just flies right out your toes! I never thought I would look forward to doing exercise but I am thoroughly addicted to kickboxing. Even though I'm quite rubbish at it.

Merry: Okay, time for the hard-hitting question. [Sets up the bright spotlight] Time to tell the truth. Who's better looking: Hugh Jackman or Gerard Butler?

Shauna: I'll have to stay loyal to my homeland and go with Australia's Hugh Jackman!

Merry: Excellent choice! I'll have my people call his people about doing the Diet Girl movie.

Crabby: Thank you, Shauna, for answering all our questions! And it was a pleasure to read your book. We hope some of our readers might be inspired to go out and pick up a copy... or to stay in and pick up a copy! Either way--it's a great book no matter how you get ahold of it.

Oh, and I think Merry had a lovely parting gift for you, she said something about baking a special chocolate cake just for the occasion...[voice trails off]

Merry: Um... gosh, I can't understand how that turned into a plate of crumbs... I could've sworn I had told that cat not to... hmmmn....
humorous pictures

Diet Girl Book Giveaway

Yes, we're giving away one copy of Diet Girl's fabulous book.

You have to be a USian, but I don't feel so bad about this. I mean, this book is already out in Canada, and the U.K., and Norway, for pete's sake.

Deadline: Please leave a comment and let us know what you think! Mr. Random Number Generator will pick a comment at Midnight 6:48 pm (PST) Monday, January 19th.

This contest is now closed.


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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The English Major's Diet (plus a scale giveaway)

Wait a minute, you say. That's a picture of the Mary Lou's Weigh scale up there. What's that got to do with the English Major's Diet, whatever that is? And did you mention a giveaway?

I'm so glad you asked.

(Really, I am. Makes it much easier to segue into the post.)

What is Mary Lou's Weigh?

Mary Lou Retton was a gymnast who won a gold medal in the 1984 Olympics. She has a reputation for being extremely focused, highly determined, and hella perky. So it makes sense that when she branched out into the weight-loss field, she would specialize in products that helped people stay focused, keep motivated, and feel perky.

Despite the perky part, the scale is kinda neat. That's the short version of the review. I'll get to the longer version in a moment. First, I know you're curious about the giveaway details.

Well, what are the scale giveaway details?

To win the scale...

leave a comment by Midnight (Pacific Standard Time) on Monday, January 12, letting us know why you think this would be a good scale for you to have. (We want it to go to a good home.)

Please be a USian, or at least have a U.S. mailing address where the scale can be sent.

So why would I want this scale? What is the English Major's Diet, anyway?

I like this scale. I think it's neat.

And I'm not saying that because they sent me one to review, either. I already have a scale, a very sturdy and accurate doctor's scale. It's a great scale; I don't have a problem with it. The problem is my reaction to it.

What's different about Mary Lou's scale is that it does not tell you how much you weigh. Ever. What it does is calculate how much you've gained or lost in relation to what you weighed when you first stepped on the scale.

The Mary Lou's Weigh scale is designed to help you lose 10 pounds at a time. That's a major plus, in my opinion. One problem with my current scale is that I can see the long line of numbers on the balance part of the scale, showing the looooong distance between where I am and where I want to be. Showing how much I have to lose, and how much of a loser I am if I don't make it. That's a helluva thing to look at first thing in the morning.

That's why I call this the English Major's diet: it takes the numbers out of weight loss or maintenance.

If you never weigh yourself, you have to rely on less precise methods. I like the Skinny Jeans method, but that only measures the weight around your waist/hips/butt. (Unless you really like wearing low jeans... I mean, are those jeans or leg warmers?)

Anyway, who wants to try on their skinny jeans every morning to see whether they've gained or maintained (or even lost)?

I think this scale is cool because it keeps me from falling into the old numbers trap. Am I on track? Cool. If not, I'll deal with it. But no calculations, please. They make me focus too much.

English Majors do it by the book. We don't need no stinkin' numbers.

If I weigh myself weekly, the results can vary by as much as six pounds. If I weigh myself daily and average it out, I can get a good idea of how I'm doing, but I end up depressed. The process runs something like this:

Step 1. Weigh self on the scale.

Step 2. Note that I've either a) lost weight or b) gained/maintained.
-- If a. I lose an infinitesimally small amount of weight, become elated, and immediately expect to lose 20 pounds by the end of the month.
-- If b. I gain an equally fractional amount of weight, become discouraged, and mentally flagellate myself for being such a horrible loser.

I will never make it a goal to lose 2 pounds a week!

I finally have learned not to make a goal, New Year's or otherwise, that goes along these lines: I will lose 2 pounds this week. Unless I'm planning to do a Shylock on myself and cut out the fat with a knife, there's no way I can ensure I will lose two pounds this week. (That calories in = calories out stuff works long term if it works at all.)

What I can do is make a goal to eat X amount of calories per day, or walk 5 miles a day, or something along those lines. This scale helps me focus on what I can do, not what I can't.

As luck would have it, Liz the Kind from Healthbolt notified me that I won a pedometer from the Healthbolt Month of Giveaways. So what I'm doing is tracking what I can control, i.e. the number of steps that I take, and not tracking what I can't, i.e. my weight. (Or rather, I'm letting the pedometer track my steps. It's not an English Major; it doesn't mind.)

I've learned from past experience that when I pay too much attention to the numbers on the scale -- the numbers I can't directly control -- I will end up obsessively focusing on them, which is a recipe for frustration, futility, and the F word.

Did you just use the F word?

Yes, the F word: fat.

How does obsessing over your weight make you fat?

If I try to track something I can affect only indirectly, I end up giving up in disgust and moving on to something easy to control, like developing my couch potato skills to a high level of perfection.

My weight shifts up and down like a seasick stock market. Progress, if any, is very gradual. After a few days of using this scale I found I'd lost count, in the back of my mind, as to what exactly my actual weight was. All I knew was whether I was on track or not for that day. And that's exactly what I needed. I was able to tune out the useless worrying about the future or the past and focus on the present day and what I needed to do.

Are there any drawbacks to Mary Lou's scale?

The scale has a cartridge inside it, with pre-programmed messages from Mary Lou Retton. In addition to telling you whether you've gained, lost, or maintained, Mary Lou adds cheerful, perky messages to encourage your progress. I'm sorry, but I don't respond well to perky. I have no doubt that Mary Lou Retton is a wonderful person, but she's pretty damn chipper. Not sure I can take that first thing in the morning.

On the other hand, I'm probably impossible to please in this regard. I mean, a scale that sniggered would be even worse. And I have no doubt that some people will find these messages helpful.

And I think that Mary Lou is aware that this style is not to everyone's taste. The FAQ list mentions that it's okay to swear at the scale, but "the platform is not bulletproof. It will no longer work if you shoot it."

Another drawback might be that the maximum weight capacity for the scale is 330 pounds.

And there's more!

If you leave a comment saying why this review is so much better than Charlotte's or Pasta Queen's review, I'll know you're lying but say thank you anyway let you in on a secret. If you don't win the scale, the kind people at Mary Lou's Weigh have thrown in a promotional deal: if you order the scale from their web site and use the coupon code Crabby50, they'll take 50% off the cost of the scale. Now that's the kind of number I like!

Are there any other English Majors out there? Or number-counters who might want to try a different way to weight loss/maintenance?

This contest is now closed. Sorry.


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