The Weight is Over: Nothing Personal

When I started working out with Matthew R. Lister at Align Private Training in December of 2015, it felt, well, private.

My conversations with Matthew were private. My food logs were private. My challenges, failures and even successes were private. That was all great, because despite the fact that I bare myself in my writing here from time to time, the truth is, I’m kind of a private person.

Fast forward to now, May of 2017, and I cannot remember the last time that anything I did at Align – aside from using the restroom or dressing room – was private. I went from being closed off and containing my own “personal” problems to being an open book in a room of fellow open books.  The great thing about bonding with a bunch of other open books is the body of collective knowledge and experience is vast, and we all grow and learn from each other.

This occurred to me a few weeks ago as our merry band of Tuesday/Thursday workout buddies were all just where Matthew wanted us: captive, on our backs doing various floor exercises.

Doni's workout friends in various stages of finishing their assignments.

Doni’s workout friends in various stages of finishing their assignments.

Matthew had the timer going, which left him free to walk from person’s head to person’s head, where he stopped briefly to ask our most dreaded of casual questions.

How’s the food going? 

I don’t recall when the transition was made from private discussions about our food to public, but it’s our new normal. As we each wait for our turn to tell the food truth, and nothing but the truth, we all listen to each other with absolute empathy. We get it. We totally understand each other’s challenges because we face those challenges, too, or ones that are pretty similar.

Stress. Temptation. Fatigue. Emotional eating. Boredom. Discomfort. Taking our eyes off the goal. Slipping back into old routines. Fear (of success or failure).

Let me just say, that as someone who’s been working for weeks on desserts for yet another wedding (it was Saturday), I really, really dreaded this particular question this week. Not to make excuses, but Saturday’s wedding featured one of those popular wedding dessert buffets, with a modest wedding cake playing second fiddle to an array of desserts.

wedding cake by doni april 29 2017

The little wedding cake was one of many, many, many desserts at Saturday’s wedding.

How many desserts? Well, 13, thank you for asking.

Tiramisu, cannoli, ginger cookies, chocolate crackles and peanut butter cookies. Three kinds of cake pops (carrot, chocolate and vanilla), petit fours and lemon tarts. Jack Daniels whiskey cake, strawberry-cream-filled cream puffs, and puff pastry flowers topped with buttercream flowers.

Puff pastry flowers with purple buttercream flowers were among the wedding buffet favorites.

Puff pastry flowers with purple buttercream flowers were among the wedding dessert buffet favorites.

chris and petit fours

Chris Carter, Doni’s catering buddy, sets petit fours in a box for the wedding dessert buffet.

I hired a helper, my catering buddy Chris Carter, for a few days leading up to the wedding, and Saturday. I could not have done it without him.

To accommodate about 225 guests, we made 70 servings of everything except the cookies, of which we baked more than 200 of each variety. And the cake pops. We prepared about 150 of each kind of those.

chocolate crackle cookies

If anyone’s counting, that’s more than 1,000 little desserts.

Little lemon tarts, cut, dusted, adorned with a raspberry and ready for plating.

Little lemon tarts, cut, dusted, adorned with a raspberry and ready for plating.

Oh, and I almost forgot the wedding cake, with a vanilla-bean bottom layer and a Mexican chocolate top layer, all frosted in my favorite Swiss buttercream in a rustic, imperfect-smooth finish. And a groom’s cake, his favorite: carrot with cream cheese frosting.

There was also supposed to be bread pudding with a caramel sauce, but I unwisely decided to bring the pans of unbaked bread pudding to the wedding site to bake there (so it would be hot when served), but the ovens weren’t working. So no bread pudding. No surprise, nobody noticed.

So, yeah, all those weeks I’d spent a lot of quality time with ingredients that had been banned from my shopping list for more than a year.

Did I sample while I baked? Of course. Were those samples “on program”? No way. Did that sampling hurt me? I’m not certain, but probably. Remember, I don’t have a scale (Matthew confiscated it last year), and only Matthew sees the numbers when he weighs me. But I can tell by the way my jeans fit that I’ve probably gained a few pounds. Damn!

Early on in my work with Matthew I remember he talked about the importance of not having tempting foods and drinks around, because the more exposure we have to the forbidden stuff, and the more times we say no, no, no, no, no, the risk is that eventually, we’ll weaken and say yes. That one yes can lead to another yes, and another. It’s a dangerously slippery slope.

One weirdly wonderful thing about Matthew is he never judges. He has the measured manner of a kindly poker-faced priest in a confessional booth. No matter how “bad” the report, he doesn’t scold or shame or even give a disapproving look. He’s nearly impossible to read (and I’m a darn good face-reader), but if there’s any facial expression at all, it’s compassion, maybe mixed with a touch of disbelief as his clients confess their “sins” to him.

Matthew R. Lister of Align Private Training. Photo by Brad Garrison.

Matthew R. Lister of Align Private Training. Photo by Brad Garrison.

You drank cocktails – as in more than one? 

You didn’t drink water all day? 

You skipped snacks? 

You ate carbs at dinner … didn’t we remove nighttime carbs a month ago? 

Then he’s onto a solution.

Let’s see what we can do to get you back on track. 

Let’s make sure you write everything in your food log. 

Let’s really eat clean this week. 

He says “let’s” as if our problems are really his problems, which makes us feel even worse, because we all know exactly what we need to do to succeed: Show up for workouts. Stick to the food plan. Drink water. Log what we’ve eaten.

Doni, how’s the food going?

My turn. Gulp.

Well, I had that wedding, you know … 13 desserts, and the wedding cake, and the groom’s cake …

He smiled.

Let’s get back on program, OK?


Back on the road again; the straight and narrow and carb- and sugar-free road to continued health and fitness.

Yes to all that.

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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19 Responses

  1. Beverly Stafford says:

    The good thing is, you know exactly why your jeans are a bit snug, and with just a tiny bit of extra caution, your zipper will again move easily.  Yes you had to taste your creations, but you also expended a ton of calories making them.  I was wondering just the other day whether Matthew had returned your scale.  It will be a right of passage when it’s back with you – maybe in your new home!  It was fun seeing your formerly-pink house right on the ANC home page with Josh’s for sale sign.  Now that you have your new Soul and the wedding is behind you, I hope the search for your new digs and the sale of the once-pink house are on the horizon.

    • I doubt I’ll ever get my scale back, and I’m OK with that. Even today, which is usually a weigh day, Matthew mixed things up and said no, he’d weigh our group next Thursday. I protested, saying I thought my weight results would look good today.

      He just smiled and said he wanted my mind off the scale and weight-loss and back on the food log.


      Yes, this is a year of change: Health and fitness to a new level, and a new house (eventually) and my new Soul.

      I’m up for it!




  2. I think you are amazing to be able to pull off that kind of incredible dessert bar and do it with such style – amazing. Ah, well… is full of wonderful reasons to momentarily step away from the program and (fortunately) many more reasons to step back on. Good for you.  The sacrificial bread pudding, though — that’s a little heartbreaking. 🙂

    • Thank you. Yeah, I know it was an incredible feat to pull off all those desserts, one I wouldn’t try again.

      That said, I’m not beating myself up about my “departure” from my food program, but I knew while I was doing it that it was temporary. I know plenty of slim bakers, so there’s no reason I can’t be one, too. I’ll figure out how to bake and stay healthy, too.

      (Yes, the poor bread pudding, indeed. All that cream, all those eggs, vanilla bean, and it featured three loaves of Cinnabon bread. It kills me to think of the waste. At one point, about an hour before the wedding, I actually ran the puddings to another set of ovens on the premises, but they never actually got the puddings up to a proper temperature. I seriously wouldn’t have dared serve it, or even save it to bake later, because it would have been dangerous at that point. So I threw it all away. Boo hoo! 🙁  )

  3. A. Jacoby says:

    And then there’s the illness challenge. Doctor says . . . … . blah, blah, blah. and with that bah, blah, blah goes what had become so routine for me a month ago becoming an insurmountable challenge this month. Learning to accommodate an eating plan when you can’t chew anything. It’s pretty amazing how many off-plan foods are easy to chew. Can you spell M-A-S-H-E-D  P-O-T-A-T-O-E-S? Nope, didn’t succumb to that one, but the temptation was there.

    But the trick (I think I’m learning) is to stay the course to the very utmost of one’s abilities, whatever that my be at any given point in one’s life.

    One thing is for sure . . . LIFE IS NEVER STATIC!!

    • You’re right, AJ. Part of life is change and adapting to those changes. You’re doing it, without mashed potatoes. (When you’re allowed carbs, can you make mashed sweet potatoes? And there’s always scrambled eggs … )

      Hang in there, AJ!

      • A. Jacoby says:

        Our friend, Jan’s contribution to my good health: REALLY good, free range eggs. Since I can only have a half an egg a day I mix 1 egg with 1 cup  (=4 eggs) egg beaters, then cook half today and half tomorrow. Yup  . . . . have done the several days this past week. Would usually throw in some mushroom, but even they are difficult for me to chew right now. Good thing I really love scrambled eggs!! The most frustrating challenge is not being able to breath. Being able to knock out 2K ropes or 15 minutes on the ski machine only a month ago and now the least little thing leaves me seriously winded. I just have to keep reminding myself . . . DO WHAT YOU CAN AS MUCH AS YOU CAN AS OFTEN AS YOU CAN.!! And you are so right. Matthew never seems to judge. Evaluate and analyze in order to make corrections and adjustments, yes. But never in the form of a judgement. BTW . . . . thank you for that gift!

  4. Darcie says:

    That slope is so slippery.  It seems anything can start the snowball rolling, illness, stress, wedding, etc.   I have struggled all winter to get back to clean eating gaining back some pounds.    A quote from my weight management class struck a cord with me this week.  It is strange how powerful words can be.

    “Don’t think of it as ‘getting back on’  think of it as ‘defending your amazing weight lost’      That somehow did it for me.    I am going to be like a mama bear defending her cubs!

  5. Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

    If those lemon tarts were in my house right now, I’d probably eat six of them.

  6. Diane B Hill says:

    What a great article!!!   Just by reading it, (first off I laugh because I remember that day so well)  I get inspired to eat clean and get back on track.  Funny thing I was just thinking about what to have for lunch.  Well needless to say the food I was going to get vs the food I am going to get is quite different.  Thank you DOni.  lol   You are so right in saying that Matthew R.   NEVER shames us if get off track a little.  He leads us back to the path of laen living once again. He is very wise beyond his years.  I want to say thank you so much to you and our group for  for being my work buddies.  It really does help listening to each one of the stories because as you said we all can relate one way or the other.  Have a great weekend buddy.  Eat Clean and see you Tuesday.


  7. Joanne Lobeski Snyder says:

    I  have been fortunate to have tasted the extraordinary creations of both  you and Chris Carter, so I know how courageous and on-course you are about your fitness goals.  My  solution years ago to the two or three lbs I was gaining each year was to stop bringing sugar into the house.  Except sugar for the hummingbirds.   You on the other hand have faced that dragon, and brought pleasure to many people at important events such as this weekend’s wedding.   There really is magic in finding the right coach for any sport of fitness goal.  Great article.

  8. Ginny says:

    The main thing Doni you learned is that you “Could Do It” to change your life. I am very proud of your effort…..

    Love you!

  9. Canda Williams says:

    Ouch, yes, the dragon certainly is sugar!  It’s a constant struggle, and as my pants continue to get tighter and tighter, I rationalize, “Well if I only had a Matthew Lister, maybe I’d turn my evil habit around.”  The truth is, we can make excuses until the cows come home (or until the ice cream is gone), and excuses won’t change a thing.  Every time I read one of your columns, I’m inspired to munch on veggies rather than Girl Scout cookies.  I’m making some progress, but not enough to make a difference.  As soon as Don and I retire (again), we can set up a program and trainer at our health club, and see if we can turn our habits around.  Thank you for continuing to share your life and life change with us, Doni.  As always, I loved your article, and drooled over those desserts!  Love you!

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