This was the last week of open auditions on American Idol, and there were a few highlights worth discussing from the Atlanta auditions, both good and bad.
One young teen with dyed black hair seemed to mainly want to make cracks at judge Simon Cowell's expense. Simon, of course, was not amused. The kid wasn't good enough to consider passing anyway, but if it had been, he definitely would not have received Simon's vote.
On the flip side was a guy about the same age who looks very androgynous. He'd tried out once before, but this time he chose a different some. He was confident but very much the showoff, and I doubt he'll go very far. The judges put him through to Hollywood, though.
A much better was a biker chick who's also a home nurse. Her hair was dyed outrageous colors, but she did the best cover of a Janis Joplin song I've heard this side of Melissa Etheridge. They weren't sure about her, because it's hard to top Janis, so they had her do another song before giving her a golden ticket to the next round.
Another young woman absolutely loved Simon and was sure he'd love her audition, but he didn't, in part because of her strange dance routine, which included a nasty fall. He did, however, consent to give her a hug.
One of the best voices was a young guy who's living out of his car and is also a songwriter. He sang a song he'd written, plus another song at their request. Simon insisted that when he sings he has a British accent, but I think that perhaps he's just had some voice lessons and is using proper singing diction.
They almost turned down another young singer, a bleached blonde with a low-cut tank top and a Kelli Pickler quality about her. At first they turned her down, but since judges Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul insisted that she sounded like Dolly Parton, they had her learn a Dolly Parton song to prove their point. In the hallway, she learned "Islands in the Stream," and when she came back and sang it, the judges changed their minds and put her through.
On Wednesday night, they finished up with a recap of the auditions, both good and bad, plus a preview of Hollywood week. They revealed what's been buzzed about for weeks: that they'll be allowing contestants to play musical instruments. I'm not sure how that's going to work, because one of the things people always get zapped for is a lack of performance ability. If you're tied to a keyboard or a drum set, will you be able to compete with someone who has a lot of stage presence and is working the audience? I don't know, but I guess we'll find out.
I've just finished reading an excellent book, Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink. The author is a researcher who studies eating behaviors, with an eye to finding out why people eat the way they do and what methods might be employed to get people to eat healthier.
What he found was that, regardless of what we think we do, we engage in fairly predictable patterns that affect how much we eat. So for example, in one study they gave people at a movie free popcorn. Half the audience got medium-sized containers and half got large containers. All of the popcorn, however, was equally bad as it was deliberately given to them stale.
Regardless of what they thought of the popcorn, the people with the larger containers tended to eat more.
The same kind of psychology applies to plate size. Those given larger plates ate more than those given smaller plates in several studies. Those who used tall, narrow glasses, where the level of liquid appears higher, drank less than those given short, wide glasses, where the level appears lower.
His lab conducted many studies that provided a full overview of eating behaviors. I found the results enlightening.
At the end of the book, an appendix identifies several problem areas (such as overeating at dinner or grazing on snacks), plus tips to overcome those patterns. He suggests choosing three methods to practice on a regular basis. Although they might be small, he says they will lead to new behavior patterns that will painlessly correct bad behaviors and lead to benefits. While not a dramatic change, it is also much easier than most diets, he writes.
Just to prove his point, another appendix compares some popular diet plans, most of which are fairly complicated and some of which eliminate essential food groups.
I highly recommend people check out his Web site, MindlessEating.org, where you can find free information and also sign up for the Mindless Eating Challenge. You then take a quiz that identifies your eating behaviors and helps you figure out a plan to correct some of them. I'm definitely going to do that, as well as copy the appendix before returning the book to the person I borrowed it from.
Even though I wasn't perfect, I used some of Wansink's tips at the party we attended last weekend, and I feel it made a difference. Namely, I tried to stay at least an arm's length away from the table, to put my plate down while talking to people, and to have no more than two items on my plate at a time.
This week, when I stepped on the scale, with some trepidation, I was relieved to learn that I'd gone back down from the bump I'd seen the previous week, brought on attending a different social event. Parties tend to be my problem area. They always have been, perhaps because they take me out of my usual routine. The food is there and accessible, and people eat while they're being social. It's hard not to join in.
I learned that if I set rules for myself, I can keep better tabs on what I'm eating. I've been modifying my behavior for years, with much success (having gone down 6 dress sizes from a top weight of 220). One of them, for example, is that I no longer get snacks in movie theaters.
When I first started to lose weight, back in 2000, my first steps were simple. I eliminated candy as a snack, I cut back on serving sizes, and I stopped taking seconds at the dinner table. These were all tips my sister suggested after I expressed to her a desire to lose weight. They were simple, and because of those steps I lost my first 20 or 30 pounds.
Since then, I've started paying more attention to exactly what I eat, most recently following the Weight Watchers program, which emphasizes low-fat, high-fiber foods, low-fat dairy, and lots of vegetables but also allows for splurges.
However, I can say from experience that, by making small changes, you can see big results.
"A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step." — Lao Tzu