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 anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. 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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