The Fallacy of Abundance

Too many of us believe that tucking into a large plate equals abundance. Many believe that feeling stuffed at the end of a meal means that our hunger has been satiated–because in America, a heaping plate makes for a good meal. Go to any Las Vegas buffet, grab a tray on the all-you-can eat line, and you’ll see a scramble for sub-par food: greasy chicken wings, stale bread, hardening rice, slop-like sauces,and muddy looking desserts. There’s no end to a meal at a Las Vegas buffet, just as there’s no end to any meal in America. And that’s the problem. Big plates and snacking have replaced sitting down to table, picking up a fork, knife, and spoon, and connecting with a friend over a tasty meal and conversation.

Back in the 1970s, lunch hour really meant taking an hour for lunch. Today you’re lucky if you get fifteen minutes. And if you do occasionally take a longer lunch, it’s rare to find a friend who can join you at table. So what do most Americans do for lunch? They grab something to go, or buy a microwavable item, and scarf down at the desk. An hour later, hungry for something other than food–say a conversation or a nap–the worker bee turns to sugar-loaded junk food. After all, the office kitchen is overflowing with a never-ending series of birthday cakes, chocolate chip cookies, and other celebration foods that no longer feel very celebratory. Boredom, loneliness, and fatigue join up for a temporary party in the office kitchen. It’s a sad state of affairs. So what should the post-millennial worker do to stave off obesity?

Take a hike. At lunch, take your 15 minutes for a walk. Take another 15 minutes to eat a salad–away from the desk–with a friend or colleague. Talk about something other than work. Laugh a little. And don’t head for the office kitchen when sugary snacks sweat on the counter. Say no to eating between meals. If you have the urge to get up from your desk, visit a friend. Don’t eat until you’re back home. And if you’re sitting in a restaurant that serves heaping plates the size of platters, save your wallet and share. And finally, remember: abundance isn’t always about how much you pack into your stomach.

Eat For Health

Begin at the beginning. Wake up. Every action and everything you eat should lead you to vitality. There’s no secret to what makes you feel good. Your body tells you. You might gormandize on something that tastes exceptional–like leg of lamb or lobster–but an hour later it might leave you feeling drab and worn out. If this happens, don’t eat that food quite so often. Be aware of how you feel after you eat. If you find that certain foods or spices leave you feeling heavy, moody, or–in some cases physically uncomfortable–avoid that food or spice. If, however, you eat something that invigorates you, put that food on the table more often. 

You might also find that certain foods mix well together, while others don’t. For instance, corn might be great alone. So might beets. But if you eat the two together you might get an upset stomach. Be aware of how you feel after you eat. Watch your moods. Your body speaks to you. When you eat right, your body treats itself right. Health, on all levels, is all about awareness. Listen, feel, watch and, most importantly, live right!

Shopping To Vegetate

Forget your TV, laptop, and iPad with their commercials for greasy fried chicken or visually trumped up but palatably mediocre burgers–because piles of freshness await your cart: peppers, collard greens, romaine lettuce, carrots, cilantro. The list goes on, and if you’re lucky enough to live near a market that gets its produce from fields close to its doors, then you have no excuse. It’s time to vegetate away from your TV, computer, or hand-held device.

You’ll want to pick produce that’s priced to sell. Why? Because good prices show that the produce is in season. If you’re shopping in a market whose prices for produce don’t fluctuate according to supply, well then, you might want to do some research. Find out when crops are in season in your area. Buy accordingly. The food will be fresh and won’t leave a large carbon foot print. 

At home, explore recipes you’ve never tried. Go stir fry crazy, roast and grill and sear. Or, simply slice and serve. If you’re into french fries, pull out a pan, slice up Idahos, sweet potatoes, and yukon golds. Drizzle with olive oil, shake on some salt and pepper or other herbs/spices you enjoy, and bake until crisp outside and soft inside. Roast green, yellow, orange and red peppers by following a similar approach. Carrots and other root vegetables are similarly delicious when roasted. Between the oven and the stovetop there’s a world of delight for the person hankering to vegetate. Enjoy food like this on a regular basis and you’ll thrive!

The Trader Joe’s Dilemma

You walk the aisles, faintly hungry, tired, and harried by the craziness of the parking lot. MUZAC-appropriate lyrics drizzle over the line-up of cellophane veggies: iceberg lettuce, broccoli, shredded carrots, broc-o-slaw. In the freezer section you’ll find faintly exotic items like the veggie dumplings and everything tamales. These are warm-up and eat items. And like much in Trader Joe’s, everything is packaged–apart from bananas and apples. Even limes get a netting of containment, leaving you with the sensation that nothing need be messy or in disarray. This German-owned chain is the office worker’s dream. It’s truly the greatest market to hit the earth, because no mess means no headache. And everything can be microwaved–or almost everything. Even the “10 minute” barley packets that recently slapped the shelves are no-brainers. What a dream. And still, amid all that fantastic convenience, one wonders why kale–the wonder vegetable which has risen to an all-time high in local markets from $0.89 to almost $2.00 a bunch–should be packaged as a “wasabi” or “cheeze” drummed chip. Do we need every healthy alternative to become another packaged alternative? If this kind of commodity grabbing continues we’ll no longer be able to purchase our daily vegetables from the fresh bins at our local stores. Everything will cost twice or three times as much, all in the name of convenience. Meanwhile, those kale chips–inside bags made to look and crinkle like potato chip packaging–will certainly fall short of “healthy.” Because, let’s face it: once you mess around with nature to improve shelf-life, you’re going to mess up the whole-healthy-point.

So, we all love Trader Joe’s, but come on. Let’s keep the fresh stuff fresh for everyone.

Next time: shop for fitness.

 

Bring Down The Scale! Walk!

Time to get out for some exercise. You’ve sat at the desk most of the morning. Lunchtime is just around the corner. You don’t need a gym. All you need is the great outdoors!

Outside it might be raging sunshine, or it might be raining. No matter the weather, bring your sunglasses or your umbrella. It’s time for some fresh air. Put on your walking shoes–and if you don’t have walking shoes, put on your walking feet. 

If you have the choice, take the stairs and bring a friend. Find a ten or twenty minute circuit, and as you walk, enjoy the sounds of life around you. Find something interesting in your environment– Whether you’re in a parking lot or on a busy street, there’s plenty to observe. Keep a steady pace. Walk with a straight back. Take deep breaths. Remember how it felt to be a child, walking towards something you wanted to see or do. Make every walk into an adventure. What will you see next? Are flowers blooming or have the leaves just fallen? If there’s snow on the ground, watch for ice and enjoy remembering how you felt as a child, playing in snow. 

There’s nothing like a walk. Walk your way to fitness. Take office meetings and lunchtime outside. At the end of your walk, stretch your legs by leaning, face forward, against a wall and flexing your calf muscles. Don’t forget to take another deep breath of fresh air! Do this every day and it will wake you up and bring down the scale. Walk!

 

Addicted

“What kind of person doesn’t eat dessert?” You might hear this question if you’re trying to cut out refined sugar. “Who has time to check the ingredients?” might be another quip when you’re in the supermarket, dallying by loaves of bread or the dairy section rife with sugary yogurts.

By now, thanks to Doctors David Kessler and Marion Nestle, and food writers Michael Pollan and Michael Moss (a.k.a the “two Michaels”), every American tuned-in to the media knows that sugar, salt and fat are manipulated to make eaters into addicts. Sugar, today’s culprit, has become every eater’s demon. We all know that refined sugar, including refined fructose, is digested through the liver–unlike more complex carbs. The result is a fatty liver, high triglycerides, and fat build-up everywhere else. What is a person to do when this culprit coats everything lining the supermarket aisle? How does the sweet-tooth shopper get over this readily accessible, apparently beloved-by-all edible? 

Take the story of any middle-aged woman whose life leaves little time for exercise or sit-down meals. Let’s call our friend Cara. For breakfast she eats toast or cold cereal or a frozen waffle. Lunch consists of anything she can buy at the deli or cafeteria or in the frozen food section of her market. Every evening Cara prepares a frozen meal because it’s so much “easier,” and she follows this up with a piece of chocolate. She believes this piece of chocolate is the only treat she consumes per day.

In fact, from morning to night she tosses back almost 28 teaspoons of the highly-refined stuff–much of it bursting from the breads, juices, boxed cereals, and sauces she consumes during breakfast, lunch, dinner and “snack-time.” When Cara’s doctor points out that her triglycerides are dangerously high and that she might need to go on a Statin, Cara knows something radical needs to happen. She comes up with a plan to cut down–if not eliminate–sugar, bread, and other simple carbs from her daily diet.

Cara doesn’t need a 12-step program like AA or an organization like Weight Watchers to achieve her goal. All she needs to do is keep the addictive additive as far away from her body as possible. Here’s how she does it:

She practices buying and eating only whole foods or foods that are only marginally processed or prepared. No offending food product is allowed to grace her table (at home or in a restaurant) or reside in her refrigerator or pantry.

For example, her breakfast consists of homemade oatmeal (no sugar added) with fruit and tea. If she’s in the mood for pancakes, she prepares the batter from scratch using whole wheat flour bucked up with oat bran or wheat germ. For lunch and dinner she prepares salads, cooks up dishes like sautés, using fresh vegetables–not frozen–and she leans heavily on whole grains like bulgar wheat, kasha, millet, quinoa, and barley. If she loves sandwiches, she buys her bread from a local bakery or bakes the bread herself, being careful to avoid recipes that include extra sugar beyond what is necessary for yeast. Her meat preparations do not include sauces thick with corn starch or MSG, and she eats meat only twice per week. Finally, she enjoys chocolate only on weekends or during special occasions. She achieves this whole food approach (thus radically cutting down on sugar) by avoiding, as Michael Pollan suggests, the interior aisles of the supermarket.

Most importantly, when her sweet-tooth flares in the middle of a work day or while watching TV, she gets up and either jumps up and down or takes a walk. She might also listen to some soothing music and drink a glass of water with lemon juice. Or–if she’s really having a tough time–she might pop a carrot in her mouth.

Eventually, discovering that whole foods are far more satisfying than processed foods, Cara no longer eats refined sugar at all. She prefers foods that aren’t overly sweet and enjoys more fresh fruit. Her triglycerides have dropped down to normal levels, her energy is much better, and her skin and body look great. 

Believe it or not, this is possible! In the real world there is actually an American who hasn’t ingested refined sugar–that means no ice cream, chocolate, birthday cake, brownies, cold cereal, etc–for 27 years. That person is the writer of this blog. If the writer of this blog can do it, so can you!

 

Baby Steps

Getting into shape doesn’t mean you have to abandon life’s comforts. In fact, over time, fitness and good nutrition provide the active person with more comfort and relaxation–not less. With this in mind, begin to change your habits by defining what you’d like to change.

To begin, determine your long-term goal. For instance, in the next year you would like to: cut out sugar, lose twenty pounds, start jogging every other morning, grow your own vegetables, etc. etc. Write these large goals down.

Now get more specific. Pull out one of your goals, and decide which one you will focus on today and the next day. If you’re really ambitious, commit to the rest of the week. By chunking down your long-term goal, you are giving yourself a realistic game plan.

So, let’s say you decide to tackle the goal of cutting out sugar. After you’ve written down today’s date and the goal for the day, take action. To break the habit of pouring a packet of sugar into your frappuccino or of munching on M&Ms at work, provide yourself with an alternative. Bring some Baby Carrots to the desk. Fill a thermos with coffee and milk. Avoid the sugar bowl at every junction. Don’t go near the M&Ms. If you can get through a single day without sugar, reward yourself with a $1–which will be put towards a new outfit or a vacation you’ve never been able to afford because you’ve spent so much on frappuccinos.

When the urge to down sugar becomes too great, distract yourself. Go for a short walk, or listen to a song you love. Getting some fresh air is an excellent way to overcome craving, but if these tricks don’t work, call someone dear to you and tell them you love them. Do whatever you need to do to rid yourself of this craving. If you can get through day one, then you can get through day two. There’s no end to your strength!

To be continued!