Archive for the ‘Nutrition’ Category

I stopped. And I shopped.

January 2, 2011

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So I went to Stop & Shop. What I stopped was: eating those delicious oatmeal raisin cookies by the bin; and eating toasted and buttered bagels. What I shopped for was: apples; bananas; broccoli; oranges; and biscotti. The biscotti remain my go-to solution for the muchies: 100-calorie emergency satiety ampules. The fruit provides vitamins and sweet but healthy snacks. The broccoli gives me vital bulk, fiber and vitamins.


Redirecting my energies toward planning

January 2, 2011

It’s day two of being back on my diet, and I’ve had my small egg sandwich, a cup of tea, and a few nibbles on Gwyn’s fruitcake. Now I’m immersed in planning, not only for the sake of preparing to eat right, but as a means of redirecting my mind from all the food I’d love to be eating.

I just created a “Recipes” folder in my Yahoo mail and moved all the recipes I could find into it. Not only did I find some old family recipes that I’d sent myself over the years, I found some things I’d forgotten about. I’m very excited about one in particular: the Joy of Cooking refrigerator cookies that Grace made back in 2007. She made the butterscotch variant, and the cookies sent me into paroxysms of delight. So now I’ve got something to look forward to that will help me get through this week: making a batch of refrigerator cookies on my eat-whatever-I-want day next weekend.

Another recipe I found was for my mother’s “German Filled Cookies” that she made according to her mother’s recipe. I remember that the filling contains at least apples, pineapples, raisins and cherries; I need to suss out the details with my sister. Here is the recipe for the dough.

4 eggs
4 c sugar
1 c shortening
2 c sour cream
2 tsp baking soda
4 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp salt
2 tsp vanilla
add flour to make a soft dough – 10 or 12 cups

…and then of course there’s the other old family recipe I’ve been wanting to make for years: suet pudding. Next time I’m at the family home, I’ll have to get the recipe from the old black three-ring binder in which my mother kept all her recipes. January is the ideal time for suet pudding.

Now, on to my plans for today. First, I need to get some exercise. Second, I need to get to the store and buy some broccoli, bananas, oranges and biscotti so that I can get back into the habit of strategic satiety via healthy snacking. Third, I need to get some more exercise.

Well. Here I go!

What I did get at the cafeteria

August 20, 2010
Today's yummy salad

Today's yummy salad

Here’s a shot of today’s delicious salad. Aside from the standard heap of baby spinach, it contains the following.

1. Two small slices of grilled chicken
2. Half of a hard-boiled egg
3. A teaspoon or two of bleu cheese
4. A teaspoon or two of walnuts
5. Tomatoes
6. Olive oil
7. Blueberries
8. Beans (green, waxed, purple)

I’m showing you this because it occurred to me that I’ve come a long way in learning to enjoy salads over the years, and my techniques might prove useful to those of you who feel the way I used to about those yucky greens and vegetables.

Throughout my entire childhood I rarely ate vegetables, and never ate them raw. I’d eat boiled carrots, broccoli or peas, but only if there was butter involved. I never ate anything remotely resembling a salad because I despised every one of the constituents, and my parents never forced me.

In high school Health class we did a nutrition project, and I discovered that I had almost no vitamin A in my diet! It took me until after college to actually do anything about it.

When I started training myself to like salad, I literally could not choke down any of it without some sort of “dressing”. The problem was that conventional salad dressing always nauseated me. So I started going to Ponderosa, ordering the salad bar, and smothering my raw vegetables in apple sauce, pineapple chunks and cottage cheese. With enough masking, I could choke it down.

It took me a couple of years, but I gradually decreased the dressing-to-salad ratio until I was capable of chewing and swallowing unadorned raw vegetables. It was an interesting time: I remember awkwardly telling waitresses that I wanted applesauce on my salad instead of dressing. A few of them pleasantly surprised me by never batting an eyelash, as if folks ordered salad with applesauce every day.

Years went by and my salad stance remained static: I could eat raw vegetables if I wanted to, but I seldom chose to. I didn’t think to get creative.

Then, a few years ago, I started experimenting with the well-stocked salad bar in the Goldman Sachs cafeteria. One by one, I discovered salad acoutrements that would not only balance out the unpleasant edgy flavors of the greens and veggies, but would delighfully complement each other.

If you’re concerned that you aren’t getting enough vegetables in your diet, it may not be as hard as you think to learn to enjoy salad. In addition to the list above, here are some of my favorite ways to make a salad shine.

WARNING: Look up the nutritional information of each item before putting it on! A big scoop of raisins will not result in a healthy salad.

1. Craisins. OH yeah. Craisins.
2. Hummus
3. Beets
4. Sunflower seeds
5. Raisins (I find that they tend to be cloyingly sweet, but they’re absolutely lovely if you also splash on some…
6. Balsamic vinaigrette

I enjoyed the flavor combinations in today’s salad so much that I even surprised myself. If you do some experimenting with different permutations, I’ll bet you’ll be surprised too.

My brownie

August 19, 2010
My brownie

My brownie

If work stress wasn’t so peculiarly acute, I suppose that my now-familiar ritual would wholly blunt my reaction to all the tempting food at the office: I’d take my pictures, write about my reactions, post each blog entry, and thus redirect my obsession.

But for the last few days I’ve needed more than redirection. It was the Ferro Rochers that pushed me over the edge. Since then it’s been no harder to resist the food, but it’s gotten a lot harder to let go of my anger that the food is there in the first place. I believe that I’m feeling what a dry alcoholic would feel upon walking into the office to find that a “generous” co-worker had “thoughtfully” placed a tray of “free” martinis on a table five feet from his desk.

In short, it’s no longer a joke: I’m angry at all these people and their thoughtless thoughtfulness. It’s no longer a matter of choosing to passively not eat the food rather than to eat it. I want a third path: an active antithesis of eating the food.

One day way back near the beginning of my diet, I prepared a big mug of hot chocolate and then realized how many calories were in it. I very nearly finished it anyway, on the assumption that I had to. The pattern of “see food, eat food” was such a well-worn path that, having taken the first step, the outcome might as well have already happened. But by some fluke it hit me: I didn’t have to drink it. This gave me a valuable insight: nothing that hasn’t happened yet is fait accompli. Every moment is an opportunity to modify my habits.

So, with that insight in mind, let’s approach the brownie from an existentialist perspective. This morning, when someone carried the brownies into the office, they were that person’s brownies. In placing them on the table, the giver surrendered his sugary charges to the vicissitudes of passersby and peckishness; they became “the brownies”, and waited like Schrödinger’s cat for someone to come along and collapse the waveform of that discomfiting indefinite article. And when I picked up a particular brownie, it became my brownie.

The social contract is somewhat vague in such cases, but there are a few obvious truisms: I must not take more than one brownie until everyone in the largess zone has had a chance to partake; and, once I take the brownie, no one can take it away from me — it is my brownie.

A fatuous exercise, you say? Perhaps not. Because by emphatically establishing the brownie as my brownie, I take full ownership of the brownie’s disposition: it is mine to do with as I please. Thus I am called to examine my choices for what to do with the brownie. Finally, this consideration leads me to question assumptions that, having been so long ago established, were nigh invisible. A halting voice inside asks, “Must I eat the brownie?”

A loud and querulous chorus answers back “Of course you must eat the brownie! Someone went to the effort of making the brownie! Someone was nice enough to leave the brownie there for you! You took the brownie! NOW YOU HAVE TO EAT THE BROWNIE!”

But this is not the only option. Moreover, eating the brownie is not morally preferable to not eating it. The brownie giver, upon setting the plate on the table, relinquished control of each brownie’s ultimate disposition. That particular brownie, in becoming my brownie, passed beyond an associative event horizon; the giver’s intent for the brownie was untethered from any use to which I might put it.

Unencumbered from any moral qualms over what I should do with the brownie or, indeed, from the notion that the word “should” has any place in my considerations, I may now examine my options in the light of rationality. Should I eat the brownie?

Certainly not.

The brownie is, in its most basic essence, a block of protein-suspended sugar, fat, and cocoa. My body may respond with glee to the smell and taste of the brownie, but that impulse was formed in the dual kilns of my distant ancestors’ evolution and my own early upbringing. I can choose to respond rationally rather than viscerally. And reason tells me that there’s nothing in that brownie that my body needs.

So what do I do with it?

I’m gonna burn the little fucker.

That’s right. That’s my solution. That’s how I’m going to assuage my anger over people shoving martini-analogs right under my damned nose all the time. I’m going to take a reasonably helping of each offering, bring it home with me, and when I have a good big heap saved up… I’m going to have a bonfire. So far I have a box of Ferro Rocher chocolates, a few chunks of that big honkin’ Dove bar, two pieces of kaju katli, and that brownie. Along with samples of whatever treats will be offered during my final weeks at work, they should satisfy my pyrotechnic tendencies quite nicely.

It’s only sensible.


August 19, 2010
Purslane with egg, cheese and toast

Purslane with egg, cheese and toast

While walking around Rye I noticed lots of purslane growing in the cracks and verges along the sidewalk. It looked so good that I had to harvest some. I took it home, rinsed and sautéd a huge serving, and ate it with my egg and cheese on toast. It was delicious!

In case you’re not familiar with purslane, it’s a low-growing green succulent that most folks in the U.S. think of as nothing but a weed. But it’s nutritionally comparable to spinach, and as far as I’m concerned the taste leaves spinach standing. I’m looking forward to purslane omelets in the days ahead!

Bonus pictures and video from the weekend at camp

July 7, 2010

Here’s a video I took on top of Snowy Mountain on Saturday.

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Here’s my ingenious improvised steamer in action. Years ago I discovered that the lip of the little stainless steel bowl at camp fit perfectly over the edge of the electric kettle at camp. Then I realized that, if I were to put an aluminum foil hat on the whole affair, steam would come up through the spout and circulate through the bowl and its contents. Thus my steamer was born, and thus I ate lots of steamed broccoli after our hike on Saturday.


June 17, 2010

OK, that’s just alarming. It just doesn’t seem right that I’m dropping so much weight so fast. I know that I’m capable of it, but in the past it’s only happened when I’m getting massive amounts of strenuous exercise in addition to the dieting. During the last few weeks I haven’t gotten much exercise, except on the weekends.

I’ve been under tremendous stress because of work. Could I be underestimating its possible effect on my weight? I’ve not read any studies on that. It seems like I’d be manifesting other symptoms such as severe insomnia and acid indigestion before reaching that stage, but I feel fine. Stressed out, but fine.

Another possible explanation is the psyllium husk. I take ony three teaspoons per day, which is the recommended maximum. And since I’m bigger than the average guy, I can’t imagine the recommended maximum dose of anything having that dramatic an effect on me.

And yet, I’m once again led to Occam’s razor. The psyllium is the only change in my intake that I can think of, and I’ve been thinking about this a lot. And the accelerated weight loss began soon after I started taking psyllium every day.

This morning Grace suggested that I reduce my psyllium intake to see if anything changes. I think I’ll go her one better: I’m going to stop taking psyllium entirely for a week or two. Using my body as a testing apparatus, I should be able to definitively establish the correlation, if one exists, between psyllium intake and unexpected weight loss.

Halfway there

June 16, 2010
Weight Chart

Weight Chart

Woo hoo! See how the red line just touched the green line? That means that I’m halfway to my target weight!

I should be feeling unalloyed joy today, right? Well, unfortunately my joy is most emphatically alloyed.

First of all, it just seems too good to be true. When I started this blog in April, I did it out of desperation. It makes me think of something that Abraham Lincoln said.

“I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom, and that of all about me, seemed insufficient for the day.”

The decision to start this project was the third time that I’ve created a blog in the face of my disdain for blogging. It was an engineer’s decision. I was walking around a blasted, darkened landscape littered with shit- and ichor-stained machines, and I laid eyes on a particularly garish tool. I was filled with disdain, not only at its design but at its very function.

But I was in distress. And nothing else had worked. And I hadn’t tried that tool. And I saw that the tool was capable of performing a function that the other tools I’d tried couldn’t. It might be useful. Once I saw that, I couldn’t unsee it. I couldn’t not pick it up and try it.

So here I am, blogging away like a big blogging thing, and every day I grow more wide-eyed with incredulity that *it’s actually working*. I had this wild idea that a blog might help me to reify my situation through enforced attention, and to redirect my obsessions. And it’s doing so, albeit ten times better than I’d allowed myself to hope!

So why am I being all angsty? Well, like I said, it seems too good to be true. But I’m also concerned that I seem to be losing weight *too* fast. This is particularly worrisome for me because my diet has crashed and burned several times during the last few years, mostly as a result of my getting sick. I’ve sprained each ankle. I’ve had Lyme disease twice. I’ve had recurring sinus infections. And most recently I had debilitating asthma. So I’m terrified of getting sick again.

The thing is, I don’t feel sick. Sure, I’m tired; heck, work pressure alone would explain that one even without the physical changes I’m putting myself throug. But I’m also strong. My body is responding well to conditioning. My sinuses have felt remarkably healthy, with the exception of the cold I got, and quickly kicked, last week. I simply do not feel like a person who is dropping weight because of sickness. Believe me, after having Lyme disease a few times, I know the difference between normal and unexplained fatigue.

So I’m going to shed my oh-so-savory angst and enjoy the damned day. I’ve spent months rewiring one of my most fundamental reflex arcs, and to say that I’m mentally and physically healthier as a result would be a positively British bit of understatement.

I’ve earned this.

The Zone Bar that I’m not eating

June 9, 2010
Zone Bar

Zone Bar

Work has been stressful enough lately that I’ve often been indulging in a second Zone Bar at 4:00 rather than the small handful of nuts and raisins that usually fills that meal slot. Now, if you only look at the numbers — calories, grams of sugar — that doesn’t seem like a bad thing. But I know that my body will process the sugar in raisins differently than that in the Zone Bar, and likewise the peanuts have natural fiber and vitamins that my body wants. It’s never a good idea to think of processed foods as an acceptable substitute for raw ones, regardless of the numbers.

Nor is it good to allow myself scope creep, and that’s what I felt happening in my head around 3:30. “Work is stressful. Tonight is my celebration anyway… why not just have another Zone Bar?”

No. I cannot afford to think like that. I’ve got to stomp on scope creep hard whenever I catch the slightest whiff of it. So I had my small serving of peanuts and raisins. Because my celebration is tonight, and now ain’t tonight.

Questions about Psyllium Husk

June 2, 2010
The psyllium husk powder that I take every day

The psyllium husk powder that I take every day

Last week I got concerned because I was dropping weight much faster than I can remember. I was reasonably certain that there was nothing wrong with me because my sinuses felt great and my body felt strong. But I still wanted an explanation beyond my body shifting into fat-burning mode. What external factors could have caused the drastic weight loss?

My first thought was that the warmer weather could have made me work harder, sweat more, and burn more fat. But it didn’t seem likely that heat could explain it all: first, I haven’t been sweating that much more than I did when it was cold; second, I’ve exercised in much hotter weather than this and not dropped six and a half pounds like I did last week.

Again I did a mental check on what I’d been eating. My diet had remained perfectly constant, hadn’t it? Then I realized that maybe it hadn’t.

A few weeks ago I was eating several pieces of fruit each day: apples, bananas and oranges, or at least orange juice. I’m still probably averaging at least one piece, but the difference might amount to a few hundred calories per day. That couldn’t be enough to make me lose an extra three pounds in a week, could it?

That’s a good question, but I can think of a more important one: Why haven’t I been eating as much fruit? The vitamins and fiber in those bananas, apples and oranges were important to me, but not as important as their satiety value. I needed them to make it through the gaps between meals.

That I haven’t been running around to street vendors means that I haven’t needed the fruit as much. Why haven’t I needed it? This is an important question because I must always consider my mental state. I need to prove, both to myself and to those who love me, that my perceptions are accurate.

Around 2005 I got down to my lowest weight since fifth or sixth grade. I hit 188 and I felt fabulous. When I bottomed out at 183, Grace and at least one of our friends became concerned: they felt that I had gone too far and couldn’t see it. I disagreed because I still felt fabulous, and more importantly I was continuing to get stronger. If I had gone too far, I would have started weakening as my body sacrificed muscle mass.

But even when I disagree with other’s concerns, I need to consider them. I am not immune to skewed perception. My mind is strong. I believe that, if I gave my obsession free rein, I could fool myself into ignoring what my body tells me. That’s how anorexia happens. That’s why I had to answer the question “Why haven’t I needed the fruit?”

My mind kept returning to the psyllium husk. I’d recently gotten into the habit of taking three or four teaspoons of the stuff every day, solely for bowel health. Suddenly it hit me: could all that extra bulk be affecting my sense of satiety?

Psyllium is a nutritionally inert bulking agent that keeps the bowels happily occupied while cleaning them out. It’s no surprise that it makes me feel fuller. But the core of my pathology has always been wanting to eat regardless of whether I’m physically hungry. Could the bulk be affecting that? Could the sheer volume be telling my brain that I’m getting enough, despite the material having no nutritional value?

I can’t answer that question because I don’t know the extent to which the body can register nutritive content. It seems clear to me that, for instance, when I haven’t had carrots or greens for a while, my body knows that it needs them. But as an occupant of my mind, I have no way of knowing how much of that craving is a neurological response to forty years of nutritive data-gathering, and how much is a psychological construct.

Right now my body is free to draw from about forty pounds of fat reserves, so the question is academic. But as I shed those forty pounds it will become less so. Is it possible for the psyllium to harm me by giving my satiety center a false positive? Given sufficient psyllium and psychosis, could I starve myself without knowing it?