Tag Archives: Weight Watchers

I’m About To Ask You For Money

31 Mar

It’s been a crazy few weeks, friends. I’ve moved to a new living situation, which is working out quite nicely, and I’ve been continuing with my weight loss journey through Weight Watchers and keeping track of my activity through my FitBit Surge. To date, I’ve lost 26.8 pounds  and I’m still going.

I am a little disappointed in myself because my walking frenzy has slowed, partially due to moving to a new neighborhood, partially because of my work schedule, but mostly, if I’m being 100% honest with you, because I got a new TV and I’ve been enjoying that a little more than I probably should. I’m making a conscious effort to nip that habit in the bud and get back to being active, but in the meantime I’m continuing to track my food and, consequently, I’m continuing to shrink. The photo below will give you an idea of where I am and where I came from. The photo on the left is from last May and the one on the right was this morning. Same shirt, different body. It’s exciting!!

Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 2.40.02 PM

The last couple of weeks have become a bit more challenging, though, because the more weight you lose, the less you’re able to eat in order to continue to lose weight. I mean, it makes sense – I can’t eat the same amount of food I was eating 20 pounds ago and expect to continue to lose weight – but just because it makes sense, that doesn’t mean it makes it easier. Also, because I’ve not been walking as much, I find I’m going back to old habits of eating out of boredom. Luckily I don’t keep a whole lot of food in the house, so I’ve just had to get over it, but the temptation is getting to be too much sometimes.

So…in an attempt to motivate me to walk more and, just to be a good human being and hopefully make a difference while I’m walking, I have signed up to walk with the Walt Disney World VoluntEARS team in the 2016 AIDS Walk Orlando – a charity event to benefit Hope and Help Center of Central Florida.

And here’s where I ask you for money.

I ask you to consider sponsoring me in this walk. The minimum donation is $5, but you can donate as much as you’d like above that. And! The Walt Disney Company will match your donation of $25 or more. I think that’s pretty awesome.

Why are we doing this event and where would your money go? Well…according to the website:

  • All money raised goes to Hope and Help’s client-centered services, which cover the full continuum from HIV prevention to treatment.
  • In Florida, 15% of all new HIV infections reported among females in 2012 were under the age of 25.
  • Of those persons living with HIV disease in Florida, 49% are black, 29% are white and 20% are Hispanic. Men represent 70% of the cases. Persons   over the age of 45 years represent 60%.
  • Approximately 18% of individuals living with HIV/AIDS are unaware of their diagnosis.
  • 1 in 4 new cases of HIV are among those ages 13 – 24.
  • In 2014, Hope and Help Center administered  5,477 HIV tests to our Central Florida neighbors.
  • Hope and Help Center reaches many underserved high risk areas by use of mobile testing units.
  • Hope and Help served over 5,000 clients last year. We provide many services, with many of our clients requiring more than one service.
  • Hope and Help Center is the largest AIDS Service Organization in Central Florida, with 7 locations throughout Seminole, Orange and Osceola counties.
  • There are 12,500 of our Central Florida neighbors living with HIV/AIDS.
I would venture to say that each and every one of us knows someone who has HIV or AIDS, or someone who has lost someone dear to them to the disease, whether we realize it or not. Please consider donating to this worthy cause. If you’d like to sponsor me, please visit www.AIDSWalkOrlando.org. Next to “Donation Type,” choose “Donate to an Individual” and find my name on the list. Again, if you donate $25 or more, The Walt Disney Company will match your donation!

Thank you so much!

Episode VI: Return of the Merch Whore

3 Feb

Greeting and salutations, Dear Reader. I’m so glad you’ve decided to stick with me, despite my lengthy absence. So much has happened in the last year and I’m anxious to tell you all about it.

In last year’s big cliffhanger (OK…it was more of a series finale with the possibility of a spinoff), I was about to leave the Kinky Boots national tour and move to Orlando, Florida to pursue my dream of performing at Walt Disney World. You’ll recall that I was quite anxious about the move and the return to the “real world” after being on the road for so long, and those fears and anxieties were for good reason, and unfortunately, many of those fears have become reality.

Now, I don’t mean to start this reboot on a negative note. Let me first start off by saying that I did, in fact, get myself a job at Walt Disney World, but not as a performer. Within a month of moving, I was hired as an Attractions Host at Magic Kingdom, working at Big Thunder Mountain – the wildest ride in the wilderness! I spent nearly 10 months at Old Man Thunder before I was transferred to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, where I am now an Attractions Host at the new Star Wars Launch Bay. I enjoy my job at Disney very much, though it is not by any means where I want to be in my career. Performing in the parks is still the goal, and I’ve been auditioning as often as I can, time and health allowing, for Voices of Liberty, the Dapper Dans, Finding Nemo: The Musical and other shows around the parks. More on those auditions later.


Me on my last day at Big Thunder Mountain.

In addition to working at Walt Disney World, I also landed a job selling merchandise – surprise, surprise! – at Universal Studios’ Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which admittedly I knew nothing about when I interviewed for the job. Many would agree that I still don’t, but I do a very good job of faking it. I still can’t tell you what the horcruxes are. I’m not even sure that I spelled “horcruxes” correctly. Don’t you judge me!

Adjusting to life in the real world has been difficult. Money is, as always, a constant struggle for me, which was one of my greatest fears of delving back into reality. My money management skills are pretty much non-existent. Of course, I had to have a car, so I got a cute little green Kia Soul and named him Elliott (SEE ALSO: Pete’s Dragon), and then I realized that 90% of Kia Souls on the road are also Elliott Green, but I still love him. I nearly had a heart attack when I found out how much my car payment was going to be, though. I hadn’t had a car in 14 years and had just quit my job and had no prospects on the horizon. It was no exaggeration when I dramatically exclaimed to my Dad, “It’s fine! I’ll just get a third non-existent job to pay for it!” Even though I work nearly 55 hours a week between the two jobs, it still isn’t enough to cover all my expenses. I’ve fallen way behind on my student loan payments – again – but on the bright side, one of my credit cards is nearly paid off thanks to the credit consolidation plan I started before I went out on the road. Once that’s paid off, I can start applying that money to my loans. So there’s that.

There’s also my health. I would like to go on record to state that I never missed one show while I was on the road. Not one in two years. I was healthy as a horse. But here in Florida, I have been sick with something almost from the day I got here. Allergies, colds, bronchitis, sinus infections, ear infections, strep throat, the flu…you name it, I’ve had it since I moved here. I’m sick now, in fact, getting over some sort of malady that laid me out at home for two days. But I can’t afford to call out of work, so I plow ahead, shortening my lifespan by a few years with each mucus-filled shift. I know that most of this illness stems from the other thing that has been difficult to adjust to: the weather.

Let’s be honest with ourselves, Floridians…we live in the Devil’s Armpit. It’s hot, moist and, frankly, sometimes smelly down here. I’ve never lived in a place where a summer rain shower (and by “shower,” I mean “deluge”) actually makes the temperature hotter than before. I have accepted Swamp Ass into my life and should just go ahead and buy stock in Gold Bond powder to foolishly attempt stop the chub rub and chaffing between my thighs. Here’s the truth: It doesn’t work. It’s a fool’s errand to try to soak up all the moisture, so just accept the Swamp Ass and move on with your day.

It took me about three weeks to accept that every time I stood up from my seat on the shuttle bus from the parking lot or from a chair in the break room, I would leave a stamp of sweat behind. Sure, you can try to slide out of the seat to wipe some of it away, but after a while, you just give up. It’s a sad, sick, disgusting part of life down here and I hate it. I worked a parade shift once in August in which I sweat so much that I was sent back to change clothes because it looked like I’d wet myself.

I miss the snow! I miss the cold! I miss the air!

“But what about the good things,” you ask? “Surely something makes it worth being there!”

Yes. The people I’ve met down here make it worth it. I’ve made wonderful friends at both of my jobs. Getting to go to Disney World pretty much whenever I want to makes it worth it. Mickey and I are very tight, and I get to talk about Star Wars all day long. I even run into Darth Vader – sometimes, quite literally, run into him – backstage and he scares the bejesus out of me, because I get to be an 8 year old again. At work. And that’s awesome. I’ve met some of the most incredible Guests and made Magical Moments for people and

Me and Neil

That’s me behind Neil Patrick Harris.

have gotten choked up over meeting the coolest little kids on the planet in their cute Princess gowns and their little Darth Vader costumes. I’ve seen people weep over being chosen by a wand. I even got to perform at Epcot this Christmas as part of the Candlelight Processional, finally singing again and getting to do it behind people like Neil Patrick Harris and Daniel Dae Kim. And one of my best friends in the world, Brance, moved down here this summer and we’ve played mini golf and watched movies and played in the parks and shopped for Star Wars t-shirts and I’ve loved getting to spend that time with him. I’ve hung out in the parks with my college friend, Sara, and her wonderful husband and totally amazing daughter, Nora. I’ve seen old friends from all aspects of my life when they’ve come to the parks on vacation and I get to see my Mom and Dad more often than I did when I lived in New York because my Dad works in Tampa for a few days every month, and we meet up for dinner when he’s near.

So things aren’t all bad, and part of the reason that I’m rebooting the blog is to remind myself of that. Don’t get me wrong, y’all – the struggle is real – but I’m not alone in this. And I’m still pursuing my dreams. I’ve started taking better care of myself and taking control of the enormous amount of weight that I have gained over the last 3 years. Oprah and I are doing WeightWatchers and I’m making excellent use of my new FitBit Surge, walking an average of about 14,000 steps a day. More, if I’m able. It turned out to be one of the best Christmas gifts I could have asked for. And I’ve lost 11 pounds in the last month.

FitBit Report

Almost every night, I take a screenshot of my FitBit summary and post it to Instagram (jasonb1976) and Facebook, mostly to keep myself accountable and excited about going out to exercise, but hopefully to also encourage others to do the same. Tonight, a friend of mine from the Evita tour sent me a message on Facebook to let me know that she was inspired by my FitBit posts and that she’s about to embark on a 28 day fitness challenge that’s making her a bit nervous. She wrote, “Long story short..it’s going to be hard for me but I was thinking about your posts and they just put a smile on my face and made me excited to work toward a healthier me.” Guys. Pick me up off the floor. I don’t even know how to respond to something like that. I have inspired someone to work toward being healthier!?! That’s one of the nicest things anyone has ever told me. If I can inspire her, maybe I can inspire someone else on here, too. And then I can inspire the world! Or at least take over the entire tri-state area!

Next month I’m moving into a new living situation that I think will be better for me both financially and emotionally and, as you can see, I’m writing again, which excites and scares me. I’m under very strict guidelines regarding what I can and cannot write about with both of my jobs, so please understand if I don’t mention work very often. You won’t get any secrets out of me. Nor will you get free tickets, but that’s another entry for another day.

So there it is, folks! Episode VI: Return of the Merch Whore. I look forward to seeing you again very soon. May the merch be with you.



Return To Neverland

10 May

Do you ever have moments in your life where you stop and think, “When did I become such a grown up?!” I had one of those moments a couple of days ago as I began to put the finishing touches on my upcoming (and much needed) vacation. We’re in Houston, Texas, now, just wrapping up our first week with one more to go and, apart from my general distaste for Texas in general and Houston specifically (this is the only city in my 18 months of touring that I’ve been cussed out by a patron because I told her grandmother she couldn’t walk away from my booth with merchandise she hadn’t paid for), I cannot wait for this upcoming layoff.

“Layoff” is often a scary word to “normal” people (read: those of you who don’t work in the theatre), but to those of us on the road, a layoff is doesn’t mean you’ve lost your job – it just means that you have a week or two (or four) off before your next city. For the cast and crew of the show, it means they’re able to file for unemployment insurance for the duration of the layoff. For me it just means a week off and, for the first time in my adult life, a full-blown vacation! Normally I would either go home to Kentucky for the week and sit at home or be put to work by my mother on various projects that she always has going or I’d go back to New York to work whatever shows our company has running on Broadway, but I opted out of both of those options because I have an incredible opportunity to take a very cheap cruise on the Disney Dream for 3 days.

One of my best friends from undergraduate school is a cast member, both by Disney and theatrical terms, on the Dream, performing in their stage shows for the cruise guests. As a Cast Member, he is allowed to have guests on the ship from time to time and they can either stay with him in his cabin or, if space permits, the guest can upgrade to a stateroom for $60/night. There’s a $12 charge per day to cover food, as well, so basically it’s a cruise for $72 a night. That’s an absolute steal. The ship sails out of Port Canaveral, FL, on Thursday afternoon and returns on Sunday. Since our first city after layoff is Miami, I asked my boss to book me a flight from Houston to Orlando on Monday and a flight to Miami the following Tuesday. That means I get three days at the parks before I head to the ship, and then an additional day at the Magic Kingdom the Monday after the cruise! So much Disney, so little time. I know, I know…I was just there less than a month ago, but this time will be different. This time I don’t have to work shows at night, so I can spend the entire day in the parks, allowing me time to do whatever I’d like without feeling rushed or worried about time.

Even better? I’m not paying for a single night in the hotels in Orlando. Not with money, anyway…though I am paying with months and months of hotel stays. After being on the road for so long, I have racked up some serious hotel loyalty rewards points – enough to book 3 nights at a Hampton Inn (with free shuttle to the parks) for free and still have some Hilton HHonors points left over, and I barely had to dip into my IHG points to get two free nights when I get off the ship. As I’m allowing myself to splurge a little bit (I haven’t had a proper, non-working vacation since 1991), I bought myself a 4-day Park Hopper pass and made reservations for lunch at two of the full-service restaurants (Liberty Tree Tavern at Magic Kingdom and the 50’s Prime Time Cafe at Disney’s Hollywood Studios). I’m going to try to get into Be Our Guest for lunch one day, though as I wrote in a previous post, it’s nearly impossible to get in without a reservation. We’ll see… Anyway. As I sat at my computer making hotel reservations and arranging transportation and things I thought to myself, “When did I become the grown up who books his own vacation?!”

Sometimes I find myself feeling that way on travel days – especially if I’m traveling separate from the company. I find myself walking through the airport thinking, “Did I really just get myself from Los Angeles to Miami on my own? Aren’t I the grown up!” It’s usually at that point that I find myself face down on the sidewalk with my suitcase, full of Disney plush toys, splayed open for the world to see, having tripped over a floor mat or small child, and I am suddenly snapped back to reality.

After my three days at the parks I will (somehow) get myself to Port Canaveral to board the ship. If I’m lucky, this will be the most stressful part of my vacation. I still haven’t found an affordable way to get myself to the Port, but Brance and I are working on that. I know there is a shuttle bus that runs from the Walt Disney World Resort Hotels, but in order to get a spot on one of those shuttles, you must have a ticket confirmation number – essentially a boarding pass. Since Brance is walking me onto the ship as his guest, I don’t have a proper ticket, so I can’t get on that shuttle bus. Not even Disney magic could make that happen, apparently. I also know there’s a shuttle from Orlando’s airport, but I’d have to take a cab all the way back there, which won’t be cheap. I tried calling the Hampton Inn to speak to their concierge, who is actually a Disney concierge, but s/he wasn’t available after noon. That totally makes sense to me – who needs a concierge after noon in a town that is solely driven by tourism? If any of you have any insights or ideas about getting from WDW to Port Canaveral without having to cab it back to the airport, I’d be very appreciative!

Once the cruise is over, I’ll head back to Orlando and check into a Staybridge Suites for Sunday and Monday night, and I’ll spend Monday at the Magic Kingdom again. Tuesday morning I’ll be on a plan to Miami, where we’ll open that night. It sounds a little hectic, and perhaps it is, but I’m excited for it. And who knows…maybe this time I’ll get to meet Anna and Elsa…?

And in other news…I’ve lost 25 lbs. Have a magical day!

Cinderella's Castle at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

Cinderella’s Castle at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

I See Your Schwartz Is Bigger Than Mine

3 May

Greetings from San Antonio – home of the Alamo, some of the most delicious carne guisada I’ve ever eaten and the city where the MerchWhore blog got started nearly a year ago. This is also one of the busiest cities I’ve ever played in terms of merchandise sales. While I love being busy, this particular city presents some problems that other cities don’t – primarily that the merchandise booth is situated in the back of the theatre. I’m talking…inside the auditorium. That’s pretty typical in a Broadway theatre that seats around 1,000-1,400 people, but it’s almost never the case in a touring house. Working in the back of the theatre means that I have to turn out all my lights once the show starts and basically can’t make any noise so as to not disturb anyone around me, including the light and sound technicians sitting near me…not to mention the actors onstage.

The backside of my booth at the Majestic Theatre in San Antonio. This is what the actors would see from the stage...

The backside of my booth at the Majestic Theatre in San Antonio. This is what the actors would see from the stage…

Working in the dark presents challenges, as well, such as counting money, pulling and folding stock and doing paperwork. With Flashdance, I had a little flashlight that I held between my teeth so that I could see what I was doing. For Evita, our head carpenter let me borrow a headlamp so I could have my hands free. It’s very useful, but I still have to be careful not to turn my head too quickly or in the wrong direction or I may find myself working as an unintentional spotlight operator. But seriously, I do have to be careful not to become a distraction with my light to the audience or the people onstage. A random light bouncing around on the back wall of the house can become not only distracting to the actors, but it could be dangerous. This is one of the many reasons flash photography is not permitted in the theatre – a sudden burst of light can distract or even temporarily blind an actor or dancer and they could potentially hurt themselves because of it in a whole host of ways: falling into a trap door, not moving out of the way of a moving set piece or falling off the stage. It sounds silly, but it’s happened. The setup in this house is not an ideal situation, but being flexible is all part of the job.

Me, looking very handsome in the headlamp that our head carpenter lent me for the week. Anyone up for spelunking?

Me, looking very handsome in the headlamp that our head carpenter lent me for the week. Anyone up for spelunking?

Another challenge this setup presents is a shorter selling period. Typically when I’m set up in the front lobby of a big performing arts center, I’m set up and open an hour before the show starts. Because I’m not inside the auditorium, I can keep my lights on and I can open and close doors and drawers and move things around without fear of disturbing anyone but the ushers. I can also sell to patrons who have maybe stepped out to use the restroom or get a drink. I don’t like doing it, but as long as they’re not disturbing the people inside…I’ll make the sale. I mean, that’s my job.

Here, however, the doors to the auditorium aren’t opened until 30 minutes before curtain, so I have half the time to do twice or sometimes even three times my regular sales. Again, this is typical of a Broadway production in New York, but tours generally play to houses twice or even three times the size of a Broadway theatre, so that extra half hour of sales time is important. Still, I’ve been doing this a long time and I am quite good at getting people through the lines quickly and accurately. It generally means I don’t have time for small talk or banter – just get ’em in and out – and sometimes people get offended by that, but my priority is getting through 50 people in 15 or 20 minutes. I don’t mean to be rude or short with anyone…I just have a limited amount of time in which to do my job.

During certain periods of the year, the actors in the show will sometimes collect donations from patrons at the end of the show for an organization called Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. If you don’t know about them, you should read up on them. They do wonderful work not only in AIDS research and support, but also in women’s health and other organizations such as the Actors’ Fund, which helps actors with a whole host of things. I’ve even used the Actors’ Fund’s services by way of the Al Hirschfeld Free Health Clinic when I’ve had anything from a sinus infection to mono and didn’t have insurance to cover the bill. Anyway, that’s not the point of this post. During those collection periods, some of the cast members would come out with their little red buckets and be absolutely appalled at the number of audience members that would leave during what’s called the curtain call, which is when the actors come out after the show to take their bows. The curtain call is an opportunity for the actors to thank the audience for their attention and support and applause, and it’s a chance for the audience to show their appreciation for the work that the actors did onstage. In our business, it’s a sign of disrespect to get up and walk out while a company of actors is taking their bows – even if you are just leaving to beat the traffic or because your babysitter needs to get home by 11:00. As much as I dislike it, I do sell during the bows when my booth is out in the lobby, but because I’m actually inside the theatre here, I don’t. Not only do I feel it’s disrespectful, it’s also impossible to do in the dark.

Tonight during the last few minutes of the show, I headed to my booth and started to get set up for the walk-out. I carefully chose my moments to move the booth in and out, choosing only the loudest musical moments so that I wouldn’t disturb anyone. The last 4 or 5 minutes of the show are very somber and quiet – SPOILER ALERT: she’s dying – and it would be an absolutely awful time to accidentally knock over a mug or drop a CD. As I was standing behind my booth, watching Eva die through the hinged cracks of my back booth, listening to her quietly sing, “The choice was mine and mine completely…I could have any prize that I desired…,” a man approached me in the dark and started talking to me in his full voice, not even bothering to whisper.

“I want a Star Quality t-shirt.”
“I’m sorry…I can’t sell while the show is still going,” I responded.
“Oh!,” he said, a little miffed. “Well then, never mind.”

A few seconds later he came back to me. Eva was still dying.

“Y’know what, just go ahead and get it ready.”
“I’ll get it ready when the show is over. She’s still singing, sir. I can’t sell while the show is still going.”
“Forget it! You lost a sale,” he said. “Your loss.”

I thought that was the end of him. I thought he’d left. I watched the rest of the bows, waiting for the blackout onstage so I could turn on my lights and start selling as I heard what sounded like a herd of cattle leaving the theatre behind me. At the appropriate time, I switched on my lights and turned around to find the man and a younger guy (I assume his son?) standing at my booth. His son very snarkily said to me,

“Dr. ______________ would like to buy a t-shirt. Is that alright with you? Is he allowed to do that now?”
“Yes. The show’s over now, so I’m happy to help you. What can I get for you?,” I responded, as pleasantly as I could, despite his complete douchtasticness.
“I want a medium Star Quality,” Dr. ________ said.
“Unfortunately, I only have that one in a ladies’ large or extra large. Would you like to see the large?”
“Seriously? Y’know what? Forget it. And you know somethin’? You should learn some respect,” said the man who tried to buy a t-shirt during the show. As he walked away, he added, “This is why you’re going to be stuck working for $15 an hour for the rest of your life!”

And y’all wonder why I dislike people so much.

I’ve worked with the public for a long time and I’ve had a lot of insults thrown at me in that time – it comes with the gig, unfortunately – but for some reason, I’m having a hard time shrugging this one off. I guess it’s always kind of bothered me that I have a Masters degree and I’m seen as just a guy selling t-shirts and I guess that’s a personal insecurity that I need to deal with, but what was I supposed to do? If I served the guy while the show was still going on a few hundred feet behind me, it would have disturbed the audience and the technicians near me. It would have been disrespectful to our incredible Eva, Caroline, as she stood up on that balcony…still singing after being onstage for 2 1/2 hours. It would have been disrespectful to the sound and light techs sitting mere feet away who had to listen for cues in order to run the show that was still going on. Had I turned on my lights, the house manager and probably stage management, as well, would have pounced on me – and rightfully so. So what else could I have done?

I suppose I don’t really care about Dr. Whatshisname, but that last comment was the one that got to me. Yes, it stung a little, but it also just felt like he was trying to establish some sort of dominance. Mine is bigger than yours, if you will. I half expected him to pull it out and pee all over my booth to mark it as his own. I get the feeling that he wasn’t accustomed to being told “no” and therefore felt he needed to assert himself, but really he just came off as being an asshole.

It must have affected me more than I expected, though, because it triggered me to go eat WAY beyond my Weight Watchers points for the day. I was aware of what I was doing as I ate that giant burrito, though, which is progress. I recognized that I was eating my feelings and I knew that I was choosing to go way over my points for the day. If I have gained weight next week, I have no one to blame but myself. Well, myself and that San Antonio doctor who wanted to buy himself a woman’s fitted shirt.

The giant carne guisada burrito I had on the Riverwalk in San Antonio, TX.

The giant carne guisada burrito I had on the Riverwalk in San Antonio, TX.


I Want A Feast! Cream Buns And Doughnuts And Fruitcake With No Nuts So Good You Could Go Nuts. No, Now!

22 Apr
I Want It Now!

I Want It Now!

I owe you an apology, dear readers. I’m sorry I haven’t been writing more, for one. I’m feeling less-than-inspired about things to write about. Some people believe in just writing every day, no matter the content, but I feel like that’s a waste of everyone’s time and I really don’t want my blog to become known for being full of fluff. That’s not to say that I haven’t been guilty of writing about inconsequential things, but I’d like to think it’s only happened on occasion.

I also need to apologize for the onslaught of weight-related entries you are going to encounter over the next few months. I have a goal and a course of action to reach that goal and that has become a major focus in my life over the last few weeks. I’m working hard at it and it’s not easy and well, honestly, I need the support. Once I’ve gotten a few more weeks of this under my ever-tightening belt, hopefully it will become more second nature to me rather than an effort and I won’t feel the need to talk about it so much. Right now I’m like a scrapbooker who has just discovered a new paper cutter or an extreme couponer – I eat, sleep and breathe Weight Watchers points and portion control. I remember when I was learning Spanish back in high school. I was so interested and enthralled by it that it took over my life and I actually found myself thinking in Spanish. I would even talk to myself in Spanish. I’m finding that the same thing rings true of this new food language I’m learning – I think in points and servings. It’s not at all a bad thing – in fact, it’s a very good thing – but I know it can be annoying. Sorry ’bout it! Just bear with me. It gets better.

The good news is, the program is working! Thursday was my weigh-in day and I’m pleased to announce that I have lost 18.8 lbs. since that dreadful day that I weighed myself in Tampa. That’s about 4.5 lbs. per week, which is fast, even on Weight Watchers. They claim that men lose weight faster than women – especially in the first 3 weeks of being on the program, so I fully expect my weight loss to slow down over the next few weeks to a healthier rate of 1-2 lbs. per week. Though I’m hesitant to say it, it’s actually been quite easy for me the last few weeks. As I said before, I do very well with boundaries and guidelines, so I’ve been pretty strict with sticking to my “budget” of daily and weekly points. The fruit I’ve been eating has been staving off the cravings for sweets and keeping me satisfied, so I’ve not had any binges or even been tempted to binge.

Sorry...but I have to brag just a little bit.

Sorry…but I have to brag just a little bit.

Today, though, has been a tough one. I don’t know why, but I’ve had a sudden craving for cake and ice cream. The ice cream craving I’ve been able to take care of with Skinny Cow’s Fudge Bars (3 points each). One bar fulfills all of my ice cream desires: it’s cold, it’s chocolatey, it’s creamy and it’s delicious. The cake, however…? That’s another story. I’ve always been a fiend when it comes to baked goods – I absolutely love cakes and cookies and brownies and such, and while I have the extra weekly points to afford a slice of cake or a cupcake, I’m being stingy with my points and not having it. This is both good and bad – it’s good because, well…I don’t need cake, but it’s also bad because the more I deny myself of it, the more I’m going to want it. The more I want it, the more likely I will be to go crazy and buy and entire cake and go nuts. I’ve worked hard to lose these 19 lbs. and I want to keep going, so I’m having to make tough choices about where I want to “spend” my points. Talk about first world problems, right? Look what cake did to Marie Antoinette.

Let Them Eat Cake! - Marie Antoinette

Let Them Eat Cake! – Marie Antoinette

Still, I can see changes happening and I like that. A lot. Of the three pairs of jeans that travel with me, two of them had become my “skinny jeans,” meaning I couldn’t fit into them. I’m proud to say that I’m wearing a pair of them now and feeling fine. My t-shirts are fitting me better and my underwear aren’t digging into my waist anymore. They do still roll down a little from time to time, but at least I don’t have a bright red ring around my waist, dividing me in two like the equator. I’m getting compliments from company members who don’t see me often as they start to notice slight changes in my face and belly. My jackets and sweatshirts aren’t tight around the middle anymore. I went out in just a t-shirt yesterday – no jacket covering me up – and I came this close to going up and introducing myself to someone I saw at the Aquarium that I thought was cute. I chickened out, but the fact that I even considered it is amazing. These are all very good things. I’m quite proud of myself for how far I’ve already come and I’m encouraged to keep going. In the meantime, I’m just going to have to be satisfied with pigging out in my dreams…kind of like that scene in “Young Sherlock Holmes” when Watson is attacked by killer pastries, or the dream sequence in “National Lampoon’s European Vacation” when Audrey is brought so much food that she explodes. That sounds like heaven right now…

‘Orange’ You Sorry You Clicked On This Entry?

16 Apr

Hello. My name is Jason and I cannot peel an orange.

Sure, I can get the orange peel off the fruit, so I suppose technically I can peel one, but not without practically squeezing the thing dry before getting it into my mouth. And even then it is coated in a thick white skin that makes me want to gag, so I spend more time attempting to scrape the white stuff off, which inevitably leads to an even bigger mess. Have I mentioned that I have a Masters degree?

As I’ve written previously, I’m back on the Weight Watchers program to lose some weight. As part of the program, I’ve been eating a lot more raw fruits and vegetables than I used to (read: I’m actually eating fruits and vegetables now). I worry about getting bored with my fruit selection, so I try to have a few options on hand – apples, bananas, oranges and grapes…sometimes pineapple – but the oranges are usually the very last thing I eat simply because I can’t be bothered to peel them.

After seeing FoodBeast links about how we’ve been eating bananas and apples incorrectly, I decided to go to the internet to look for tutorial videos on how to properly peel citrus fruit, which eventually led to me buying a citrus peeler. Yes, believe it or not, there is a specific tool for peeling an orange.

The peeler was delivered to my hotel today (thank you, Amazon Prime!) and I tried it out before I headed to work. In my defense, I was in a bit of a rush, but I seemed to make just as much of a mess with the tool as I did without it, and when I’d finished getting the peel off, the fruit was completely covered in that tough white membrane. The creators of the citrus peeler planned for that, though, having built in a scraper of sorts to…well…scrape the white stuff off. The problem with that is 1) it’s entirely too time consuming. I’d pretty much lost interest by that point and was ready for a banana. And 2) an orange is a delicate thing and hacking away at it just made it a pulpy mess in my hand.

So now I’m at a quandary. Am I really so dense that I can’t properly peel a piece of fruit? Is this an issue that everyone has, or is it just me? And short of buying a knife to cut the peel off, how does one skin an orange without leaving that white stuff all over it? Are there certain kinds of oranges that are easier to peel? I enjoy a good clementine from time to time, but I have found that those are kind of hit-and-miss in the flavor department. Some are really sweet and delicious and others just seem to have no flavor at all.

So what’s the skinny on citrus? Do you have any tips or secrets to getting a good, skinless orange?

Bad News. The Fog Is Getting Thicker. And Leon’s Getting Laaaaarger!

12 Apr

I hate summer. I hate the heat, the humidity, the indifference to the use of deodorant by a frighteningly large portion of the country’s population. But mostly I hate the way summer makes me feel about myself.

I know…that sounds weird, but when you’re built like I currently am, any kind of jacket, sweatshirt or cover-up is preferable to having to pull out t-shirts that are just a little too tight around the middle section or shorts that dig into your waist – or where you approximate your waist to be that day. I have always preferred cold weather to hot because I can cover myself up and smooth out the lumpy lines of my love handles and back fat, and to go from 30° weather to the high 80’s sends me into an emotional tailspin of worry, regret and self-shaming.

I have written about how difficult it can be to maintain one’s weight on the road, and if you’ve been following my blog at all and have looked at photos of me throughout the year, you can clearly see that I’ve gained weight. I have no delusions about that fact. I’ve basically eaten whatever I’ve wanted for the last sixteen months and I’ve gained weight. What I didn’t realize, though, was just how much weight I have gained in my time on the road. Three weeks ago, while grocery shopping at a Publix in Tampa, my world was turned upside down when I decided to step on the large scale they inexplicably had in their front entryway. (I still think it’s an odd place for people to weigh themselves). I was crushed to learn that I had gained back every single pound I’d lost several years ago plus some.

I was never aware of my weight until I went to graduate school. Our director of the musical theatre and opera program planted the seed of self-doubt and loathing just three days into my two year sentence at OCU and he made sure to use it against me at every opportunity. Until he brought it up, I’d never thought about my build or what I ate and looking back at photos of myself, I would be thrilled to go back to that size again. I was taking dance classes three days a week, rehearsing for shows five nights a week and trying to have a social life in addition to all my school studies – I was in great shape and yet I thought myself fat because he told me I was, and as the person who made all the major casting decisions, his was the ultimate word. If he said you were too fat to play a role, you were too fat. No one else was going to stand up for you or argue in your defense.

When I got to New York, things just got harder. I didn’t have a kitchen in my first apartment, so I ate out every meal. I quickly learned that this was typical for New Yorkers, but having just moved there and not having the money to eat at good restaurants, I ate at the Burger King and McDonald’s on the corner. I started working a desk job, which meant less exercise and constant snacking on office birthdays or on the pretzels and cookies they kept in the kitchen. Soda flowed through my veins instead of blood. The longer I worked that job, the fatter I got and I started developing health problems because of it.

At 32 I had a sleep study done to confirm that I had sleep apnea – a sleep disorder that means you stop breathing in the night, sometimes waking up gasping for air, but often characterized by very loud snoring and frequent bathroom breaks in the middle of the night. It is often a result of excess weight pushing down on the air passage during sleep, thus cutting off your air supply. The sleep study confirmed that I had moderate sleep apnea – I was waking up an average of 27 times an hour! – which meant that there was no quality of sleep whatsoever. Sleep deprivation can lead to high blood pressure (check!), weight gain (check!), irritability (check!), memory lapses (check!) and a whole host of other undesirable and potentially deadly issues. I was prescribed a CPAP machine with which to sleep – a ghastly looking contraption involving tubes and a Darth Vader-esque mask attached to a machine that basically pumps a steady stream of pressurized air down your air passage as you sleep, making it impossible for the air passage to collapse, thus eliminating the snoring and the apnea episodes. It worked beautifully, though it was uncomfortable to wear sometimes and looked ridiculous. After 10 years, I was finally sleeping through the night. I started dreaming again. I had more energy. Life was peachy. But I was still overweight.

An artist's rendering of a CPAP in use.

An artist’s rendering of a CPAP in use.

In 2006 or 2007, my friend Toni invited me to join her in going to Weight Watchers. I was a little offended when she first suggested that I was fat, but I knew that I needed to make a change and so I decided to try it. I had no idea what it would do for me. I want to say it was hard, but the truth is – the program was easy. I’ve always responded well to having parameters, so when I was told that I had a certain number of points to eat per day, I stuck to it. Within 9 months I had lost 55 pounds basically by eating whatever I wanted…just in smaller portions. I went from a 38 waist to a 28 at one point (that lasted for about a week before I had to go back up to the 30s) and I had never been so proud of myself. At 183 lbs., I was the thinnest I’d ever been in my adult life and I felt great about myself. So good, in fact, that I went back to auditioning and actually booked a tour which got me my Equity card. I had learned about portion control and had even gotten to a point where I could eyeball portion sizes without having to measure anything out. I was confident that I could continue with the program while I was on the road for the 6 weeks of the tour. By the end of the first month on tour, I’d gained 7 lbs.

I tried to stick with the program when I got back from the tour. Toni had lost close to 100 lbs. and I was back to hovering around 190-195 lbs. No matter how I stuck to the program, though, I couldn’t seem to dip back down below 190 lbs., even though I’d reached 183 just a few months before. I was starting to feel hungry and deprived of the things I wanted, which I’d never felt before, and before I knew it I had settled with myself, being ok with hanging around that 195 lb. mark. Within a few months I re-negociated with myself and settled on 200 lbs. And then 205. I still looked good. My clothes were a little tighter, but I could lose 5 lbs. quickly if I needed to. I had the tools. And then the FBI showed up at my front door.

After The Incident, pretty much everything in my life spun out of control: my housing, my finances and, most especially, my eating habits. I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I don’t do drugs. I never have. Those things don’t appeal to me. But chocolates, candies and cakes do appeal to me. Greatly. And they’re my go-to drug of choice when I need to feel comforted. Had a bad day? Have a Twinkie…or two. Frustrated with your roommate? Bake some cookies and then eat a dozen of them as they come out of the oven before anyone sees. Bored? Eat a half a bag of Frito’s while you lay in bed watching Netflix. Freezing in Milwaukee? Eat a sleeve of Thin Mint cookies. You get the idea…

Food hasn’t just been an emotional crutch for me when I feel down or need to be comforted. Growing up in Kentucky, our culture practically revolves around food. We are the home of the largest fried chicken restaurant chain in the world – my Dad even worked for the Colonel, so I literally grew up eating fried chicken – and almost any cause for celebration – a birth, a graduation, a marriage and, of course, any holiday – meant that a feast was not far off. The cooking of food is an extension of one’s self – it’s a demonstration of love, taking the time to create something that will bring happiness and comfort to the recipient. That you made it makes it even more special. And let me tell ya, we can cook in the South, y’all. The food is delicious and good for the soul, but unfortunately, it’s not very good for the rest of you.

I’ve been told stories of my Grandpa’s childhood in Illinois during the depression. He had to quit school at a very young age to work the farms. He used to talk about how they cured their food in salt and had to scoop hunks of meat and chicken out of buckets of lard to fry up their breakfast, lunch and dinners. Because nothing went to waste (and because it just tastes so darn good), anything that could be used for seasoning was used – including ham hocks and bacon grease. All of my grandparents grew up with variations of these cooking techniques and have passed their recipes down to my parents and now to me. Unfortunately, they also passed down bad eating habits and a lack of knowledge of good nutrition. Don’t get it twisted – I am so grateful and fortunate for the abundance of food we had growing up, and no one will ever top my family’s cooking (my Dad’s fried chicken is better than anything the Colonel could ever have come up with) – I just wish I’d learned healthier eating habits earlier in my life.

For years, my Popaw kept a drawer full of Hostess snack cakes, which was usually the first place my brother and I would go when we got to their house. I never met Popaw’s parents, but my Mom tells me that my great-grandmother was over 400 lbs. My Granny, who is 92 years old and has a whole myriad of health problems, sits and eats boxes of dry Cap’n Crunch cereal because it tastes good. (I agree with you, Granny!) Ever since I can remember, my Mom has had herself on diet after diet, “failing” time after time, which eventually leads to her gaining more weight than she’d lost. My Dad has a sweet tooth like Granny’s, and I see that in myself, too. And my brother seems to have absolutely no regard for his weight and eats whatever he wants whenever he wants it and doesn’t care how much weight he gains.

The bottom line is, in my family’s culture, we didn’t learn to eat to live…we learned to live to eat. The health value of food was never discussed – just how it tasted and, subconsciously, how it made us feel. We didn’t eat fruit instead of Twinkies – we just ate the Twinkies because that’s what we wanted. If there was a salad, it was iceberg lettuce covered in salad dressing and cheese and crutons, which makes me salivate just to write about, but there’s no real nutritional value to it. It’s no one’s fault, really, that we didn’t know any better, but at some point someone’s got to learn better and make a change.

So I’ve started doing the Weight Watchers Online program again. They’ve changed the program since I did it last – fresh fruits and vegetables used to carry point values and now they don’t – but it’s harder this time around, mostly because in some cities I am completely reliant on eating out for meals. If I’m lucky enough to have a refrigerator and/or microwave in my room, it’s a huge help, but there’s still no substitute for being able to cook your own food and to be able to refrigerate any leftovers. I wasn’t raised to clear my plate – that is rarely ever an issue with the Bratton boys – but as I’ve struggled with money, it has become harder for me to justify throwing food out once I’ve paid for it. What’s worse…wasting food or overeating for the sake of not wasting food? Neither of them are a very great choice. I’m relearning about portion sizes and soon, as I did the first time around, I will be an expert in counting my points and knowing what food has what point value without even having to look it up on the Weight Watchers website or app. It’s the first few weeks that are the toughest, though.

This week I have focused on replacing snacks (read: cakes, cookies, ice cream, etc.) with fruit. I love bananas more than you could possibly understand, so I’ve been relying heavily on them as well as apples, grapes and oranges to satisfy my need for something sweet or just to have something to snack on when I find myself wanting to eat out of boredom. I haven’t weighed in yet, but I do feel a very slight difference in the way my t-shirts and underwear fit me. I still look in the mirror with dismay at my belly and love handles, but I know that if I keep on track, those will diminish with time. I’ll even get my jawline and cheekbones back again. I’ll start to sleep better, which means the bags under my eyes will start to go away, too. And, according to an episode of Oprah that I saw once, for every 35 pounds a man loses, he gains an inch of…well…”manliness.” I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I’m game for finding out.

This week I’ve also tried to cut myself a little slack and be nicer to myself – to forgive myself for allowing myself to get to this point again and to be proud of myself for making a change. My friend Colleen and I were chatting the other day and I told her I felt like a fat heifer. She promptly reminded me to be careful with my self-talk. It occurred to me that if someone else had called me a fat heifer I’d have been terribly hurt and it made me realize that it is not OK to bully myself, or as Colleen put it, “No need to beat anyone to punches by punching yourself.” She’s a good one and I love her for it. So I’m putting it out here for the world to read – I’m taking control of my weight and I’m going to be kinder to myself about it. By all means, hold me accountable to that, please.