I thought I’d penciled in the bubbles on my last test form when I graduated from college, but I found myself hunting for a number two pencil yesterday so I could fill out my 1-year follow-up questionnaire for the National Weight Control Registry. The goal of the registry is “to identify and investigate the characteristics of individuals who have succeeded at long-term weight loss.” I think their secondary goal is to help subsidize the pencil-makers of America, because I perfected the art of coloring in an oval during the hour I spent hunched over the 23-page survey and the accompanying 8-page food questionnaire.
After a point, I wasn’t sure if I was answering the questions correctly, which is strange since there aren’t any wrong answers. But when I’m asked how often in the past month I’ve felt confident about my ability to handle my personal problems, I’m not really sure what number to mark on the scale of 1 to 5. And when I’m asked a zillion of those types of questions in a row, I don’t know how close to the truth my self-reporting actually is.
Those questions were on the follow-up questionnaire, but there is also a food questionnaire which is the dietary equivalent of making line item deductions on your taxes for every item you’ve eaten this year. There were about a hundred questions asking if I’d eaten specific foods any time in the past year and if so how frequently and how much in a serving? It got confusing. Had I had any hamburger buns in the last year? There might have been one time. And what do I put down for peaches? I eat them a lot when they’re in season, maybe 4 or 5 times a week. But I haven’t had any in the last month or two because they’re not available. Do I average it out? Do I put down the amount I eat at the peak season? As I kept plowing through pages I started hoping I’d run into foods I hadn’t eaten so I could just skip the questions. Unfortunately I eat just about everything, except for Chinese cabbage and tempeh. (What is tempeh, anyway?)
Which is why I put off doing these surveys for a month. After which time they sent me a follow-up packet with a new cover letter which included an underlined sentence saying, “Even if you have gained weight in the past year, we consider you an invaluable member of our registry and are very interested in hearing from you.” No, I haven’t gained weight NWCR, I’m just lazy. All that pencil scribbling burns lots of calories and I needed to carbo-load between pages.
These questionnaires are a pain in the ass to fill out, but I joined up with the NWCR because I think the work they do is important. If they can learn something from my success, than it’s worth an hour of my time and all the graphite I can buy. But whenever you see an article in The Washington Post or USA Today citing statistics from the registry, please think of us self-sacrificing souls who spend our evenings debating how many corn flour tortillas we’ve eaten in the past year. Or at least stop to buy us a pencil.