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Jan 21, 2014

Find What’s Your System on TueNight!

Hi friends and fans,

We’ve decided to continue the What’s Your System Tumblr as a column over on Please check us out there!

We may still post some stuff here occasionally. TBD!



Oct 10, 2013

Systems (Temporarily) Down

Hi folks, we’re on a bit of a hiatus as we’re working on another wonderful site, (check it out)

In the meantime you can…

Share a system in the comments below.

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Jun 3, 2013 / 2 notes

A History of My Life in Diets

I’ve been on a diet since 1982. Really. 

As I embark on this journey to a smaller me, I thought I’d take a long glance back at the times I’d been here before.

What follows is an abridged look at my life, as told through the diets I’ve been on — at least, the ones I can remember. The dates are approximate and the memories are hazy and salad-fueled.

Charting this, I realize how much my life has, in fact, been touched by my weight, my body, my dieting and my choices. I’m not yet in the “let’s analyze all this” phase, but those who cannot learn from history yada yada…

The highlights:

1979-1980: Discovered Mom’s tattered copy of Adele Davis’ health paperback "Let’s Eat Right to Keep Fit." The first time I remember thinking about making healthier dietary choices; something better than pop tarts and pancakes. At school, a cadre of mean girls teased me for being overweight. But when I look back at pictures of myself, I look like a pretty normal, dorky, tall kid.


1982: Weight Watchers #1 First foray into organized dieting. I attended a meeting in Philadelphia at 15, accompanied by my mom. I’m really not sure whose idea it was. All I remember is the looming stainless steel scale and a line of old ladies behind a folding table scribbling down my weight in a pocket-sized booklet. Not much has changed. I weighed about 145.

1983 Many of the diary entries as a kid and teen detail stuff I was eating — sometimes that was all I wrote. “Today: pancakes, ham sandwich, Toast-chee crackers.”  One entry in 1983 begins with the fact that “I’ve got to diet!!” as well as a note to watch “Video Rock" to try and perfect my Michael Jackson moves. I was up to 155

1987 or so In college I pinned a reminder “mantra” my bulletin board that just said, “I’ll have a salad.” I talked about losing weight all the time, but I don’t remember going on a diet in college. Just lots and lots of refillable Diet Cokes at Roy Rogers.

1993 Cindy Crawford and I joined forces. Every morning at 8 a.m. I’d workout to her VHS tape. Filmed on NYC rooftops, with a vaguely cool  soundtrack (Primal Scream and the Smithereens), Cindy showed basic moves like pushups and crunches all while her Romanian celebrity trainer Radu counted reps off camera. It was actually a decent, no frills workout. Here’s a clip.

1994: Weight Watchers #2 10 lbs down, but wrecked by a 10-day family trip to Switzerland, up to 200 lbs. Can you say Spaetzle?

1995: Herbalife Oddly, the single best, last time I lost weight.  I lost 30 lbs (from 200 to 170) by drinking two grainy milkshakes a day with one meal and a host of supplements. There’s something to be said about not deliberating over your next meal . But I’m here to tell you, once you’re let loose back on real food, you tend to overdo. Goodbye pyramid scheme, hello Nutella.

1997: Andrew Weil’s 8 Weeks to Optimum Health In an effort to be more “holistic,” my housemate and I followed the beard-y New Age guru’s plan for fish oil, saunas and advice to “buy yourself some flowers every week.” And of course that solved everything.

1997: The Trainer Perhaps a subconscious effort to make things easier on myself, I started dating my personal trainer. He created a signature breakfast for me made of egg beaters and pesto and got me into Zone bars on a regular basis. The Zone was the 40:30:30 diet (the ratio of calories you should get from carbs, proteins and fats, respectively). Naturally, because of this guy, I worked out, like, four times a week and was in possibly the best shape of my life. Needless to say, neither the guy or the workouts stuck.

1999: The Zone Kept the diet, broke up with the guy.

2000: Weight Watchers, #3 The thing I remember most about this go-round was a zealous leader who, in leading a discussion about “favorite naughty snacks,” shared that he’d once disappeared into a closet at a party “with an entire wheel of brie.”

 2002: Zone Diet Delivery Now living in New York City, tried this early version of an at-home delivery service. There’s something magical about waking up and having fresh food on your doorstep. But like the shakes: easy but not realistic for the long haul.

2003: Carbwatchers Don’t remember how I found these guys, but they were a little brother and sister duo with an office on Broadway filled with shakes “Keto Bars” and other Atkins-like, reconstituted food. 

2003: Dr. Diet Saw an endocrinologist. She took all my blood work and handed me a slew of pills. Did it for about a week. I’m not a pill girl.

2004: Started dating a chef. Oops.

2005: Every diet imaginable all at once. Began a new job as the editorial director of AOL Diet & Fitness. I figured, if this wouldn’t do it… Also, the day after I started my new job discovered chef was cheating on me… with six other women… at once. Talk about indulgence.

2005: The 3-Hour Diet Delivery Jorge Cruise was one of our health coaches at AOL, so I tried his diet. The food arrived in giant styrofoam coolers. My cat spent more time hiding in the cooler than I did.

2006: South Beach Diet I now worked at where they also ran the South Beach Diet site. One of the better, more balanced diets I’ve ever been on. But still, I didn’t stick to it. 

2007: Weight Watchers #4 Now at Time Inc., I joined a coworker who was going to regular meetings. I went once.

2008: Love Diet Married an architect. The man who loves me, hips and all. All 245 lbs of me.

2009: Weight Watchers #5 A motto my husband and I have: “Every day is not a celebration.” Because we both like to indulge. So in an effort to combat that, I attempted to do this with my husband in Brooklyn. It made me feel great to do this with my husband. But we both dropped out.

2010: Weight Watchers #6 Let’s take a moment here and explore why Weight Watchers is a recurring theme: By all accounts it is one of the most practical, lifestyle-focused, supportive approaches to weight loss around. Plenty of people have lost weight via WW and kept it off. (Jennifer Hudson Holy Shit Girl!)  I know I should like it. But let’s face it, it  just never worked for me. Ever since that day in Philadelphia it’s felt like a depressing place to be.

2011: The Four-Hour Body My husband just said the other day, “Remember when you would get up and make eggs and beans every morning?” Yeah, that was Tim Ferris’ brilliant idea. I did love the idea of a “cheat day” once a week. In fact, my friend Nathan, who got me into this diet, would text me food porn pictures on his cheat day, usually something like waffles with whipped cream or sheets of praline. Nuff said.

2012: The Fresh Diet Cheesecake was part of this diet. What? WHAT! But overall meh food and they screwed up my delivery twice.

2013: Here we are, back in the saddle again. However, I honestly feel like my mindset is different. My knees hurt and at 263 lbs, I’m fed up. Is this finally rock bottom? I’m hoping to learn from my mistakes. So many diets, so little follow-through.

I’ll note my progress here and hopefully, by letting you readers in on the process, you’ll keep me honest.

Share your own diet histories below, won’t you?

May 22, 2013
May 21, 2013

What’s Your System Live at Internet Week

Here are a few system quickies from two of the folks on our What’s Your System Live! panel. Oh you mean, I didn’t tell you we are going to be at Internet Week tomorrow at 10am? Well we are. Check us out.

And share a question for our panel by using the hashtag #IWNYSystem

In the meantime, here’s some flavor.

We asked two of our panelists — The Awl publisher John Shankman and Van Alst Chef/ Sunday Night Dinner host Tamara Reynolds — for a few quick life systems. Given that they’re both crazy busy professionals, we wanted to know more about their behind-the-scenes life tips.

My System: Pre-Work Power Up


Tamara says: “Don’t be tempted to do ANYTHING work related before you are fully awake. For me, that means coffee. For you it could mean green juice and a Twinkie, or a run up and down five flights of stairs. Whatever it is, get your mind and body rolling before you are tempted with work.”

My System: Keep It Clutter Free


John says: “My number one productivity tip pertains to email: Inbox Zero.” And the same goes for his personal life. “Less is more when it comes to personal belongings. Less clothes, less stuff. Can you pack your life up into one box (not including furniture)? If so, #WINNING.”

Joining us will be Happiness Expert Gretchen Rubin and yours truly. See you mañana.

May 13, 2013

Geeta’s Top 10 Uses for Duck Tape


Who: Geeta Simons — Philadelphia mom, radio producer, musician and instructor at Girls Rock Philly

System: “I use duck tape for just about everything. It’s a musician’s best friend, but I also use it for baby stuff and fashion mishaps.”

By the way, is it Duck tape or Duct tape? “I always thought it was ‘duct’ as in ‘I am finishing this duct work with my duct tape. And it is, but the brand name is Duck.” And originally it was made from cotton duck cloth. So it’s actually both. Here’s further explanation.

Here are Geeta’s Top 10 Uses for Duck Tape

1. Band promotion: “Taping up band flyers to a telephone poll. Works really well on brick walls.”

2. Multiple music uses: “Taping extra guitar picks to a mic stand; muting a snare drum head or cymbals; keeping the 9 volt battery in a guitar effects pedal; taping set list to monitor; taping guitar case shut (note: don’t do this if you actually like your guitar.)”

3. Fashion Mishaps: “Taping a stiletto heel back onto a shoe (note: this didn’t work so well). Taping a vinyl catsuit back together - this worked remarkably well ! Duck tape + rock pants = yes.”

4. Antique Repair: “Taping shut my vintage leopard hatbox that serves as a gig bag.”

5. First Aid: “Used once with a bar napkin to make a makeshift band-aid when I cut my hand on broken glass that I didn’t see on the dark corner of a grungy stage.”

6. Volunteering: “To make a man-sized guitar strap fit a little girl guitar for a student at Girls Rock Philly.”

7. Baby-Proofing: “Used with wash rags for makeshift baby-proofing at a hotel. (why are all sharp corners eye level for two-year-olds?)”

8. Airline Travel with Baby: “When you check your stroller at the gate (so you can wheel your kids around the airport and also restrain them from running off), the airline staff basically just throws the stroller into the bottom of the plane. Usually something is broken or missing when you get it back. If you put it in a bag, you’ll at least have the broken pieces to put back on, and you’ll get less scuffs. So you fold up the stroller, then put one enormous garbage bag over the bottom, and another over the top, and make a Duck tape belt to seal the two together. Then, if something does break off, Duck tape it back on, by all means!”

9. Hotel Safety: “Used to cover the locks of bedroom and bathroom doors so toddlers don’t lock themselves in and us out.”

10. Peace & Quiet: “Used to tape the power switch of annoying electronic toys into the “off” position (toys that I can’t throw out because they were given to us by alternately vengeful or well-meaning grandparents.)”

Apr 11, 2013 / 1 note

System: How to Get Your Picky Eater to Eat


photo: © Schindler

On the flip side of diets, here’s one from a Brooklyn single-mom who attempts to address the classic dinnertime struggle: How to get your picky-eater kids to eat (or at least stop complaining about it).

As someone who was told, “You must eat as many peas as you are old,” I can appreciate the bit of autonomy and respect she gives her daughter as well in the lessons in healthy eating. I’m curious what other parents think and whether you agree?

Who: Dori Fern, Brooklyn-based digital media strategist, blogger, latke award-winning chef

Her System: Dori has four commandments for her kids at dinnertime. She writes about it in depth on her blog. Here they are, in summary:

1. You don’t have to eat dinner if you don’t want. But

2. This is the only dinner I’m going to make. Getting yourself an apple or carrot or the like if you’re hungry is acceptable.

3. If you don’t eat dinner, you don’t get dessert.

4. Please don’t insult what I’ve cooked. It hurts my feelings.

How did these commandments evolve?  When Dori’s (then) four-year-old would not eat and complain that she didn’t like the dinners Mommy was dishing, Dori developed her meal-time manifesto.

"I’m sure some kids do have more finicky palates than others, but picky eating can also be a child’s way of asserting their independence, " says Dori. "Parents think if they get better recipes, or if they can figure out what their kids like, they will get their kid to eat. But the truth is, what most parents want is peace. Yes we want our kids to be healthy, well-nourished, but let’s assume that what our pediatricians say is true: that our kids are probably going to be just fine.  What we really need to give them is a framework that empowers them while reducing conflict.”

She has a younger brother, too. Is he also a picky eater? “Oh no. He’s always loved to eat everything and between him and I geeking out over food all the time, she started to feel, ‘well, if I’m going to be a part of this, I’m going to have to start liking more things.” She’s not a super picky eater, I just knew what she needed was independence and choice.”

The 4th rule feels like just good manners? "The 4th rule is really the rule that gets violated all the time. You don’t shit on the meal somebody just made. It’s a bit frightening how de-socialized children are these days which is in part parenting, but really it’s society in a big way, everything is so coarse."

Ok so #3 if you don’t eat your dinner, you don’t get dessert. How very Pink Floyd of you. What constitutes not eating dinner? "I don’t really have a hard and fast rule on that. Just attempting to be a member of the dinner table team is kind of it. Eat some of what’s on your plate. I feel like some parents have an equation on this. Parents need to get out of the negotiation business. You can make your kid really neurotic, so I think it’s really important not to get too crazy about it. Talk to your kids about what it means to be healthy. What kind of vitamins does broccoli have? Where do you get vitamin C from? And having those conversations about food so they’re aware and can be in control of their health and well-being. It’s a very tricky track because you don’t want your kid growing up with an eating disorder or a fetishism about food. You just want to be a part of helping them make good choices.

Right, when I was a kid my parents made me eat my age in peas. And I HATE peas. Still  to this day I hate peas. And I’m like, “You can’t make me eat 45 peas, damn it! ”

That kind of proves my point. Pickiness in general is just a response to being a child. I went through a thing in college when I learned to love the foods I didn’t like which were beets and Brussels sprouts — widely disliked foods for kids who grew up in the 70s because they were coked so badly. I just didn’t want to be ruled by food habits based on childhood dislikes.”

You write that your daughter never insulted your cooking again after you gave her these “rules.”

Never.  She agreed to the terms and kept up her end of the bargain. And because they respect my wishes,  I really try to not make stuff that my kids don’t like, just like I would for anyone eating at my table. My daughter doesn’t like mushrooms, my son doesn’t like nuts in foods. Do I never make things with mushrooms or nuts? No once in a while I’ll make them if I’m in the mood and I know there are other options they like on the table. It’s a balance.


Dori today with her kids. [Photo courtesy Dori Fern]
[top photo: iStockphoto]

Apr 8, 2013 / 3 notes

System: Weight Loss Attempt #64


(Me, circa 2005, having a salad and starting a diet.)

It’s time. Or at least that’s what I’ve said about every time, since about 1982.

It’s always time and it’s never time to lose weight. There’s always a new artisanal grilled cheese shop waiting for me to experience. Damn you Brooklyn.

This time it’s different. This time I’m in pain. You mean vanity hasn’t prompted me to try and lose weight? Nope. The fact that I’m a fashion hound and can’t shop anywhere but tasteful and drape-y Eileen Fucking Fisher? Nope. That I do my best to afford a first-class ticket so I don’t have to worry about oozing into my neighbor’s spot? Nope. The fact that my 5-year-old niece likes to giggle and say to me, “You’re fat!” and then slap my belly with her little paw.


And funny thing that thing called love. My husband and I like to tell each other, “Every day is not a celebration.” Because sometimes happiness is yet another great excuse.

Back to the pain thing. 

At the end of last year, in an effort to ignore the food part of losing weight, I’d decided to sign up with a trainer three days (and a thousand dollars later) a week. At the same time, stairs had become a problem; I would grip the railing, huff and puff to reach the top of several flights of subway stairs and notice my legs, feet and knees hurt all the time.

The trainer idea sounded smartish. Except that my 20-something, former professional soccer player trainer — I’ll call him Guillermo — decided to have 255 lbs of me running laps on the treadmill and jumping dup and down from those aerobic step benches. When I’d complain about the sharp pain in my knees and “maybe I have arthritis?” he just waved me off laughing, “I always thought I had arthritis after a match but it probably just means you’re really getting a workout!”

Uh, yeah… turns out, it was arthritis. And, an MRI indicated a torn meniscus in both of my knees. Ugh. Major ugh. I can’t say it was the trainer’s fault, exactly, it’s possibly something that I’ve had for a while (have an MRI and you don’t what the heck they’ll find.) I may never know. 

I traded my trainer for a physical therapist, and after six weeks of massage, ice, stretching and strengthening to help alleviate the pain around the torn-up knees, I started to feel a bit better. When my doctor told me surgery wasn’t entirely necessary, at least for now, I asked him if there was anything else I could do to help alleviate the pain. He said, in words a bit more diplomatic than my five-year-old niece, “Lose weight.”

So here I am again.

But this time, I want to do it right and I want to do it for good. The doctor suggested I perhaps try medical weight loss or a nutritionist, two approaches I’ve never tried - and I’ve tried them all. I’m by no means a diet newbie; in fact at one point I was the editorial director for AOL Diet and Fitness. 

To wit: Me on Fox’s Good Day New York in 2005 or so. 



I was definitely overweight then, but it didn’t matter, I was just hiring well-heeled nutritionists to write and edit the copy… and occasionally star in hilarious “Aol Beach-Ready Boot Camp” videos with Jillian Michaels (thankfully I can’t find those videos anywhere).

Honey, I know everything there is to know about dieting, it’s just that putting it into practice thing.

The trick is that my brain has to be completely focused, a little “fooled” and in the game. I remind myself that this is only temporary; that slice of pizza is in my future, just not right now.

It’s also about not battling myself and anyone who’s ever called me “fat” throughout my life. As in, “F you, I can have that cheeseburger and fries, I can do whatever I want! Fat is a Feminist issue, people.”

It is, until your legs start to give out and you can’t get up the stairs anymore.

So in my true system-obsessed fashion, and the way I approach everything when I have a myriad of options (finding an apartment, hiring the right person), I create a spreadsheet. A spreadsheet detailing each possible option, service, doctor, nutritionist, hospital, private office, group that I might want to try.  I detail their services, what kind of specialist they are (nutritionist, endocrinologist, dietician, integrative doctor), their website, phone and rates as I get them. Then I create a 1-5 ranking system based on the qualities I’m looking for: Are they Nearby? Expensive? Professional? Are they comprehensive? Meaning, do they address body and brain.  And finally, do I like them? Then I tally up the scores to get a good picture of which way I should be leaning. Here’s a fuzzy abridged version which is a work in progress. If you’d like the template I’m happy to send it along.


So stay tuned, I’ll be tracking the methods, doctors and approaches I like as I go.

Wish me luck and share any doctors, nutritionists, tips or techniques that have worked for you, below.



(This is last weekend at 826 NYC's “Scrabble for Cheaters.” The last time I will “cheat” for a while.)

Mar 20, 2013

What’s Your System Goes Live!


Hey folks,

Here at system headquarters we’re hoping to take our show on the road and we need YOUR help.

Vote here for our panel, “What’s Your System LIVE!” for Internet Week New York’s the Make Your Stage “Productivity” category .

The scoop:

Our panel of “system addicts” will talk about their own lifestyle hacks and habits: from how they manage their insane social media lives to how they force themselves to floss every day to maybe even carving a pig. Expect a fun, lively Q&A featuring a wide variety of busy New Yorkers offering real (and ridiculous) solutions. We’ll invite strong interaction and insight from the audience, asking everyone, “What’s Your System?”

Our esteemed troupe of systematizers:

Gretchen Rubin
Author, The Happiness Project and Happier at Home @GretchenRubin
Sara Jenkins
Chef, Porchetta and Porsena, @porchettanyc
John Shankman
Publisher, The Awl, @JohnShankman

And me, Margit, your moderator.

Vote for us won’t you?