Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Eating well vs. dieting

I just saw this article in the NY Times. Entitled Instead of Eating to Diet, They’re Eating to Enjoy, the author talks about how people are choosing to pay more attention to what they eat than counting calories. The first paragraph:
AFTER decades of obsessing about fat, calories and carbs, many dieters have made the unorthodox decision to simply enjoy food again. That doesn’t mean they’re giving up on health or even weight loss. Instead, consumers and nutritionists say they are seeing a shift toward “positive eating” — shunning deprivation diets and instead focusing on adding seasonal vegetables, nuts, berries and other healthful foods to their plates.

A little further down:
The market research firm NPD Group gets a glimpse of national eating habits through the food diaries it has collected from 5,000 consumers since 1980. The percentage of those consumers who are on a diet is lower than at any time since information on dieting was first collected in 1985. At the peak in 1990, 39 percent of the women and 29 percent of the men were dieting. Today, that number has dropped to 26 percent of women and 16 percent of men.

The diarists also report eating more organic foods and whole grains, said Harry Balzer, an NPD vice president.

“Instead of trying to avoid things, they’ve started adding things,” Mr. Balzer said.

Even the Calorie Control Council, which represents makers of commercial diet foods, notes the percentage of people who are dieting has declined — to 29 percent in 2007 from 33 percent in 2004.

And there are other indicators of a shift in eating habits. In May, the market research firm Information Resources reported that 53 percent of consumers say they are cooking from scratch more than they did just six months ago, in part, no doubt, because of the rising cost of prepared foods.

And then there's this:

[T]he more time people spend on tasks like food shopping, cooking and kitchen cleanup, the more likely they are to be of average weight. The Economic Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture found that people of normal weight spend more time on meal-related tasks than people who are overweight or underweight.
Since I can't remember how long the Times makes articles available before sending them behind a fire wall, I want to also note that the article references these books (none of which I've read, by the way, but all of which I've heard good things about):

Good Calories, Bad Calories (by Gary Taubes)
In Defense of Food (by Michael Pollan)
What to Eat (by Marion Nestle)

Monday, September 29, 2008

Gaining new habits--food choices

Before having lunch with me a little while back, Tech thought I was a vegetarian. There's good reason for this: I tend to enjoy eating "weird" stuff like kale and brown rice and tofu, which leads people to think that I never eat things like sausage or fried chicken or hamburgers. I love all of them! In fact, it's pretty safe to say that I love food in general. But quality counts. I'd rather have one of my dad's incredible hamburgers a few times a year than get a sad, pathetic excuse for a beef patty at McDonald's once a week.

In addition to avoiding fast food--which I'd been eating almost every day for lunch due to time pressures from the job--I also have added in as much unprocessed or low-processed food as possible. And I make sure to read the labels on everything. For example, instead of buying instant oatmeal, which has all sorts of additives and preservatives and things I can't even identify, I buy whole, rolled oats. Not only do they take a whopping six minutes to make in the microwave (good), but they're a whole grain (very good) and a whole lot cheaper than their processed cousins (even better). Generally speaking, for two equivalent items I buy the one with more identifiable ingredients listed on the label.

One thing I discovered through label-reading was that eating foods with high fructose corn syrup tended to cause my energy levels to drop much more quickly than when I ate equivalent foods without HFCS, which meant I got hungry faster and ate more. After a few months of avoiding HFCS almost entirely (can't vouch for restaurant food, for example) I noticed that I was no longer having such difficulty with hypoglycemia despite the fact that I hadn't yet lost much weight. And not getting hungry so quickly after meals eventually helped quite a bit with loosing weight. HFCS might not affect you in the same way, but paying attention to food labels will help you to figure out whether it is.

Now, the other side of food choice is actually eating what you buy. There's no sense, or cents, in letting food go to waste. A few months ago I was visiting a friend in Kansas City. While at the grocery store she bought a container of fruit pieces and I commented that buying the whole fruit and chopping it up herself would be a lot less expensive. However, she had learned that in order to have fruit in her diet she needed to make it as simple as possible. Sometimes we have to strike a balance between what we'd like to do and what is convenient. Since there was no sugar added to the packaged fruit, my friend felt like the added cost for convenience was an acceptable trade-off.

So if you want to add in more vegetables but don't like to wash and chop them, get the frozen ones. Just be sure to get the plain ones, not the ones with overly salty sauces added. If you like beans, cook them yourself instead of buying them canned. You'll be avoiding a lot of salt, and beans freeze quite well. For chicken, find packages of normal-sized, not gargantuan, pieces and wrap them singly to freeze. In addition to buying better food, this will also help you control portion sizes more easily.

I could go on and on, but for me food choice boils down to one simple rule: don't settle for foods that are bad for you. We think of convenience foods as time savers, but then end up spending more time exercising, at the doctor's, and at the pharmacy to make up for eating them.

Friday, September 26, 2008

What I ate on Thursday

A friend and I were chatting last night about what we normally eat in a day, and I thought y'all might be interested.

1/3 cup oatmeal (cooked in 3/4 cup water)
1/4 cup raisins
1/3 cup unsweetened soy milk
a dash of straight cranberry juice diluted with 1 cup water

1 mug of herbal tea (regular mugs, not the gigantic sort)

1 6 oz nonfat yogurt
4 triscuit-type crackers (about 1/2 a serving)
1 piece from a Ritter Sport dark chocolate bar (1/6 of a serving)

one mug of herbal tea

(this is a little weird even for me)
1 baked sweet potato (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 tbsp low fat sour cream
1 pita bread
2 tbps babaghanoush
1 cup water

1 mug green tea
6 tea biscuits (one serving; very low sugar)
1 piece chocolate

1 cup water

1 1/2 cups cooked corkscrew pasta
2/3 cup peas
1 tbsp crumbled bacon
1 hardboiled egg
1 tbsp unsalted butter
fresh ground black pepper
1/4 cup fresh grated parmesan
1 glass pino grigio

1 Edy's fruit bar (no sugar added)

1 mug chamomile tea

Oh, and I forgot to mention yesterday that one way to help with portion control is to use smaller dishes. Just like restaurant meals have gotten larger, so have the plates and bowls we're sold. I have a set of dishes from the late 1960's and the dinner plates are much smaller than, for example, a Fiesta dinner plate (which I also have--in pink!).

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Gaining new habits--portion size

As I mentioned previously, for me the key to loosing weight was to relearn how to eat. There were several habits I had to break myself of:
  1. large portions;
  2. poor food choices; and
  3. eating too fast.

Today I'm going to talk about the first one.

Portion size is tricky. Sometimes portions are given as weights and sometimes as cups or tablespoons, so having a food scale and a stack of measuring cups and spoons helps immeasurably (sorry, couldn't resist). Measure everything. Because I was overeating so badly, I would often consume six or seven servings of vegetables in one meal when I only need three in a day. Veggies are good for us, but in those quantities they'll contribute to weight gain just as surely as any other food.

Measuring allowed me to get a feel for just how much I should be eating, so now even when I go to a restaurant I can eye-ball the huge portion and only eat as much as I need. When I'm at home, though, I still measure on occasion just to recalibrate. It's easy for those portion sizes to slowly grow without us noticing. (There are some good equivalents listed here.)

While I'm not big on calorie counting, some of you may be. If so, take a look at this page, which shows 300-400 calorie meals. The people who took those photos have also designed daily meal plans that help you visualize how correct portions work throughout a day, and they show calorie and fat counts as well.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Introducing myself

Hello, all. Tech invited me to post here but since most of you don't know me well, if at all, a little background information seems in order.

The first thing you need to know is that I deal with stress by eating. Usually this isn't a problem because life cycles in and out of stressful times on a fairly regular basis and a few extra calories now and again are no big deal. However, for two and a half years I was stuck in a high-stress job and scarfed my way to nearly forty pounds of excess weight.

Given than I'm not even 5'3", it isn't too surprising that that weight had negative effects on my health. The biggest one--the one that was really the wake-up call--was that I became hypoglycemic. As y'all may already know, that means I was just on the brink of becoming diabetic.

When I was able to leave that job, loosing the weight became a priority. In order to do that, though, I needed to relearn how to eat. I'll get more into the specifics of how that happened later. The important thing is this: it worked. For two years now I've maintained a healthy weight.

I don't know whether what worked for me will work for you. Bodies are as different as our personalities and just as an introvert and an extrovert have varying needs, so too do bodies at different ages, abilities, health levels, etc. So what I will do here is present what I did as a test case. I might be a good example, but do your own research. Talk with your doctor. And let me know if you think I'm full of crap. It's entirely possible.

Friday, September 19, 2008

SmartOnes for Breakfast

I just saw this ad on SparkPeople and followed it. I'm not a huge fan of Weight Watchers frozen meals, but these breakfasts look yummy. Three of them are four points and the fourth is five points. The quesadillas have the best fiber content of the four and are only four points. To me, the Canadian Bacon English Muffin looks great (competition for MickeyD's Egg McMuffin?).

I know several of you are working with Weight Watchers, and breakfast can be a tough meal to do right. Maybe these will help -- or give you ideas for things you can do quickly and easily on your own.

Added: These all have 27 or 28 grams of carbs. According to my nutrition adviser, I'm supposed to keep my carb intake to 30 grams or less per day. If that's what you're being advised, these would be a no-go for us.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Nothing Special Right Now

I'm afraid I don't have anything special or even exciting to report. Weight loss has halted for now. I'm trying to keep it down. I love losing when it takes no work or thought, but when it stalls, I get frustrated.

I feel like it should always just fall off with little conscious effort. Yes, I know that's silly and foolish, but it's just the way I feel (and I doubt I'm alone about that).

I'm still checking in at the blog, and, while the dressing recipe is yummy, I really wanted to see something else at the top of the page.