Sunday, August 30, 2009

Eating Right Takes Focus!

When Bill Maher, TV comedian, was asked by Larry King what he thought would be the silver bullet for solving our health care crisis, Maher quipped: “Eat right!”

Maher doesn’t even shop at a grocery store ~ he gets his whole produce elsewhere. But the rest of us shop at supermarkets most of the year ~ except maybe when we can take advantage of seasonal farmers’ markets.

People generally DO want to eat right, Bill ~ I just don’t think they know how to go about it.

I would say a big part of the issue is lack of focus.

Feeding our bodies is somehow jammed into lives already crammed with way too much detail. In our culture, we have to take time to program our TV remotes, remember passwords for any online transactions, and read ingredients on food packaging. If you’re a diabetic, you’ve got another whole array of calculations to deal with.

The problem with focus generally translates into too many choices.

You know you’d eat right if you were hiking in the boonies with a backpack containing only bottled water, some apples and nuts, and a cheese sandwich. You wouldn’t even have to think about portion control. You’d have focus because you’d eat and then you’d walk, and if you got hungry, you’d stop and eat some more.

But when I opened up the fridge today at lunchtime, I found it difficult to focus because there was so much in there. (My husband also grocery shops. Ideally, one person should have that job!)

Lunch used to automatically mean a sandwich. I’m trying to get away from that routine. So as I gazed at the food, I decided once again to leave bread out of the equation. I filled a small salad plate with several things. I spotted a tropical turkey salad from the deli. The currants, pineapple, celery and turkey would all be good if they weren’t swimming in mayo. So I just took a spoonful, but also added some hot spiced cabbage and carrots I had picked up, and a few yellow pear tomatoes. I then sliced part of a nectarine to top it all off.

My focus was making sure most of what I had on my plate was whole, unprocessed food. The turkey salad was the exception. Most of what was on the plate was fruits and vegetables.

The litmus. I felt satisfied ~ but not stuffed. Food truly is an appetite suppressant if you choose the right food.

With the exception of the turkey salad, there were no ingredients to read ~ and since I only took a spoonful, I figured it didn’t matter that much anyway. Using a small plate cuts calories right away.

I’ve made a habit of eating small amounts more often during the day ~ so midway between lunch and dinner, I’ll have some nuts and the rest of that nectarine.

Right now there’s still way more food in there than we both need, so I need to call some friends to come dine and share it.

But I have to say it’s liberating to know that you need to eat relatively little to sustain your life ~ and to eat well, at that!

So, Bill ~ what do you think?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Dining on Peanut Butter & Jelly

My five-year-old grand daughter and I have a routine whenever we go to an evening yoga class (I do the yoga and she socializes!) We eat together afterwards.

She got a picnic basket for her birthday, and so this week she wanted to pack something to have after class. She’s overheard me talking a lot about portion sizes, and I guess some of it sunk in.

“Meemaw… let’s order a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to split,” she said.

Now the irony is, since we were ordering sandwiches, I was envisioning portabella mushroom and grilled vegetables on a panini bun.

For all that preaching, after a work out, I was prepared for something I felt I deserved ~ and more than half of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich! I wasn’t excited. But I had to be supportive of her suggestion. It was a teachable moment ~ for both of us.

It centered around our relationship with food.

She was ready to savor the experience of a picnic with her new picnic basket, regardless of what we ate. So I went with it.

She asked for a side of carrots and celery rather than chips. Good for her! I could have weakened for the salty taste of chips. I relented when she asked for a small Dr. Pepper. We collected our order at Spoons Bistro & Bakery, placed it in the basket, and then went out on the lawn.

A ritual was unveiled before my eyes. First, a tiny, napkin-sized cloth was spread on the ground. Then she pulled out small, plastic glasses and two little saucers. She placed a generous half -a- sandwich on each saucer with the raw vegetables, and my tea and her pop were poured into the glasses. It was something to behold. We were ready to dine!

She took her time ~ much longer than I had planned ~ as she talked about how much fun this was, and got up a few times to run across the lawn.

The Zen of it all was when we finished, I was satisfied ~ but not before experiencing some moments of discomfort. I realized I’m usually in a rush, and I can easily put aside resolve when it comes to food. I got a peak at my addictive side.

At the end of our “dinner”, I felt somewhat liberated ~ at least for today. Like those tough yoga poses, I had coaxed myself into a new and unfamiliar position.

I know all about good choices, as most people do. I’m writing about it all the time on this blog.

But it’s well worth noting here that few of us are paragons of virtue. We strive to succeed, but we often fall short until our awareness catches up with what we’re trying to accomplish.

Our relationship with food reflects much of where we are on the journey! More to come ~

Monday, August 24, 2009

Eat More ~ Crave Less?

I heard it today ~ “Food is an appetite suppressant!”

It was in the context of a presentation by Ryan Andrews, a registered dietitian, who lectured at Mesa State College this afternoon. It’s unequivocally true ~ if we’re talking about natural, whole foods.

I tried it out. A friend shared a recipe for a zucchini soup ~
made by basically packing a blender full of raw zucchini, thawed frozen peas, avocado, fresh basil, garlic and lemon juice ~ along with a cup of water.

I ladled the pureed mixture into a small bowl, topped it with a few slivers of goat cheese and some ground pepper, and savored it. It’s what would be called “energy dense” food because it’s loaded with nutrients.

There were no cravings for a slice of sour dough bread slathered with butter to go with it, or for a dessert afterwards since, after all, it was just soup. I felt as though I had had plenty to eat ~ and since it was the last meal of the day, I most likely had.

I still had some work to do on my computer, and I felt alert enough to do that ~ unlike if I had consumed some carb-rich foods that would left me partly thinking about the work I had to do, and partly about what else I might find in the kitchen.

Andrews is right. If you choose the right stuff, it satisfies you.
If weight loss is your goal, you can think less about counting calories, and focus more on choosing from a wide selection of energy-dense foods. How liberating is that?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Your Body Is a Temple ~ Or, You Are What You Eat

Your body is a temple.

("...of the Holy Spirit", in the Catholic genre.)


I never got that as a kid, and I heard it all the time in the context of Catechism classes. That was back in the fifties when I was devouring chocolate Hostess cupcakes and Twinkies. My grandmother kept harping that Coke would turn a penny green, but I didn’t think much about that either.

I took my cue from what was served up at our dinner table, and we had desserts most nights of the week. My parents put sugar in their coffee, we dumped sugar in our Kool-aid, and allowance went for candy bars and comic books.

No wonder that whole “your body is a temple” concept was tough to grasp. When we were older and reached middle school, (“junior high” then) we decided that adage mostly had to do with avoiding heavy petting, or foreplay, in today’s vernacular. Few adolescents in that day were having intercourse.

Now the ancient teachings are starting to make sense ~ no matter if they’re Buddhist, Jewish or Christian. We’re now coming to understand that rituals like Lenten fasts and Hanukkah observances promote spiritual health because they also promote physical health. They offer our digestive tracts ~ our bodies ~ a break from the toxic stuff we ingest all year. They provide a cleansing for the cells ~ which turns out to be a cleansing of the soul.

But this "temple" connection isn't miraculous ~ it’s science.

If we overload our systems with fat, salt, sugar and chemicals, we create a toxic sludge that parks in our body parts to ferment into a costly diagnosis later. It also affects our ability to think clearly, to concentrate, to relax, and to generally feel happy.

Some would argue that the link between nutrition and illness is not evidenced based.

It’s actually beyond that because we believe the anecdotal accounts of people who've eat well and gotten better.

That's not rocket science. We’re an energetic field, made up of atoms and molecules that are constantly rearranging themselves. It's probably in sixth grade text books.

We can feel better tomorrow based on we eat today. That checks out by experience. We may still battle the same medical conditions, but fueling our bodies with energy rich fruits and vegetables gives us a little more leverage in regaining our health. The more often you make those kinds of choices, the better what's going on at a cellular level.

You’re outlook on life is a view from that temple. Be mindful of what you eat, because you’re feeding both body and soul!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Confused About Food ? Just Pay Attention!

One thing is for sure ~ There are very few of us who always “walk the talk”. After several weeks of grazing on healthy stuff, I noticed that the sum total of a recent day’s worth of healthy eating was a few carrots.

It started with a chai tea and a scone at the coffee shop around 9 a.m., and then I worked through lunch, munching some cheese and peanut butter crackers in my desk drawer. Mid-afternoon I headed out for a quick sandwich, succumbing to a grilled cheese. I had the choice of a side of chips or carrots, so I opted for the carrots. Dinner was crackers and tuna. Eating that day pretty much totaled a bunch of carbs with a trace of nutrition from vegetables and fish. The only plus that day was that I don’t drink soda pop.

But it was only because I’ve been journaling what I eat that I could see how well I can still fool myself about my own level of awareness as I went about my day. That day, I had other things on my mind, and so that day, I wasn’t focusing on what I know should be a priority.

So I realized this ~ Just like myself, most people know what they should be eating, so they really don’t lack information. Magazine, newspaper articles and health brochures abound with that kind of stuff.

I think it’s life. Other things get in the way.

It boils down to mindfulness, and being crystal clear on where you want to focus your energies. And every bite is a choice.

We assume that eating right is something we’ll get around to while we attend to everything else in our lives. For lots of people, it begins with a diagnosis that tells them their state of health has reached a tipping point.

There’s no alarm bell that goes off as you ingest food that’s been engineered, processed, or “pesticized”. You very gradually get older and sicker until one day a battery of medical tests validates it.

We’re living in uncertain times, true enough, and daily distractions can send us in a million different directions.

But every choice that isn’t mindful is siphoning away life energy, bit by bit. And the most important choice we can make is what we eat, because every single bite is an investment.

I think of it as a sort of retirement account. A healthy 401K will mean nothing if you get to age 60 just to hand it all over to pay medical bills!

If you get the chance, see Food, Inc. ~ the recently released documentary about America’s food industry. Small wonder we have the health crisis we’re experiencing now. Maybe our health reform package should subsidize anyone who has an organic garden and doesn’t eat processed food!

This all may sound radical, but that would be because it sounds too simple. It sounds simple because it is. We need to be mindful of what we eat. We’re all smart enough to figure out the rest!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Eating Right? How's Your Energy Level?

So why is eating right so tough?

Most people know what they need to eat less of, and what they should eat more of. It's not like good food is not easy to get. But like so many of the things we do ~ or fail to do ~ that aren't in our best interests, it's really beyond just "knowing" it.

Of course, the whole eating thing is incredibly complex ~ and eating disorders abound in this country.

However, the prescription is not a simple matter of just not eating stuff (or, in the case of anorexia, eating stuff).

Dr. Judith Orloff presents an interesting point of view in her new book, "Positive Energy". She says for many people, over-eating is an unconscious attempt to buffer negative energy at work, home, school ~ or just about anywhere. She suggests that for some, obesity is like a sort of protective armor against overwhelming vibes.

An interesting proposition. That means people who are highly sensitive and atune to the negative emotional energy fields emanating from people or situations around them may head to the refrigerator to diffuse what is, for them, an energetic overload.

This, Orloff says, is why dieting often fails.

Her solution is to look to the foods that will restore energy to your cells ~ foods that have a higher energy quotient, like organic vegetables and fruits.

Here's a quick test you can apply to find out if what you eat has positive energy ~

It radiates a healthy appearance, and it is chemical and preservative-free.

It's filling, and you don't have the impulse to overeat.

Negative energy foods, on the other hand, are loaded with preservates and chemicals, often make your feel bloated, and stimulate over-eating and sugar/carb binges.

Protein is important in keeping your energy levels balanced ~ but limit portions of meat or chicken to 2 -3 ounces. Most of us eat far too much protein ~ which contributes to acidity. (Another topic for later ~)

Be sure and drink water! Six to eight glasses is as good an idea now as when you learned that in grade school!