Thursday, March 29, 2012

It's Not Just Food That Feeds Us

There’s another very important element to eating well, and that’s dining together.

There’s even a biblical reference that “man does not live by bread alone.” It’s true. We need each other.

Aside from whatever nutritional properties our food might provide, I believe there’s also an alchemy that’s directly related to the social environment in which we eat. No matter how healthy a plate you have in front of you, eating food in a setting where your heart can be nurtured at the same time is the recipe for actually thriving.

Sitting down with other people in a non-stressful atmosphere not only makes food taste better, but it also affects how it’s metabolized inside your body.

But if you bring anger, or even just irritability, to the table, it can set the stage overeating and indigestion. This may sound radical, but if you’re trying to eat in an atmosphere of conflict, you’d be better off eating a hot dog in a less stressful setting.

(There’s another biblical reference that weighs a plate of herbs against a fattened calf; the better meal has love as an ingredient. My take is, it could be either.)

I suggest inviting people to dinner on a regular basis; at least twice a month. There can be a certain lightness and pure enjoyment to be gained from that because you bring a different part of yourself to the table; maybe a more elevated part of yourself.

Of course we know that’s not always the case.

If you regularly get together with people who are critical, negative, and spend most of the time complaining; you don’t tend to come away truly nourished. (I’ll include myself here, because there are times when any of us can slip into that!) Those may be the very situations where people are more inclined to overeat because, regardless of how much food they might eat, their hearts are starving in that setting.

If you understand what your needs are, it’s more likely they’ll be met because then you can be more purposeful about seeing that it happens.

If you want to feel optimistic about life, dinner table conversation shouldn’t revolve around how bad things are, and the lack of options for getting better. That kind of chatter carries a low, bottom-dredging frequency that will send your guests dragging out the door as you retreat to the dishes. Even if it’s just your family, dinner isn’t the time to talk about the bad habits that irritate you, your kid’s sliding grades, or how much you hate your job. (The caveat here, of course, would be if you’re moving from one point to explore solutions.)

The “heavy heart” is not just a metaphor. Neither is the “hungry heart.”

In a larger, but very real sense, people sit down together to find encouragement and support, and to talk of possibilities and the prospects for positive outcomes. Also, in a very real sense, those are the kinds of gatherings that feed our hearts.

Sharing meals with other people is a way to stay invested in eating well. It’s true. We need each other.

Just make sure you pick the right people.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Want Something New in Your Life? Try Wheat Berries!

Before one of the staff at Primary Care Partners brought in a wheat berry Waldorf salad to share at work, I had never tasted a wheat berry!

Like those Waldorf salads that appeared back in the 50’s, this one had plenty of diced apples and walnuts. But there was no mayo.

This was a combination of wheat berries (you have to cook them first), apples, walnuts, raisins and parsley, tossed with a dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, a little apple juice and apple cider vinegar, and spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg.

If you’re trying to stay away from foods containing sugar, fat and salt; the wheat berry can be your new best friend! Just ¼ cup contains five grams of fiber which helps cut those cravings and stabilize blood sugars. They are also an excellent source of magnesium and potassium, not to mention lots of B and E vitamins.

Just having that healthy, hearty salad in my fridge offered an underpinning for other meals. One salad can be used for a couple of days, depending on how many people you have to feed.

For example, one night I cooked and separated a small piece of salmon and tossed it with some whole wheat pasta, some basil, a little olive oil and some fresh grated Parmesan cheese.

I added just a spoonful of the Waldorf salad over a bed of salad greens, and the meal was complete.

The next night, I sautéed some collard greens, some onions and some mushrooms, and again served some of the wheat berry salad, and some of the left-over cooked salmon.

The point is, when you have just one prepared dish of whole foods waiting in the fridge, it’s so much easier to add something to it!

As far as the wheat berries go, you can create your own salad, combining whatever appeals to you. I love the apples, walnuts and raisins, but next time I’ll probably vary the recipe by adding some celery. I might also use basil, instead of cinnamon and nutmeg, and go with olive oil and lemon.

You can even use cooked wheat berries as a hot breakfast cereal.

You probably wouldn’t want to eat it every day, but fixing a batch a couple of times a month could be just the thing as a side for dinner, or as your main dish at lunch.

The thing to remember is you must allow time to soak the wheat berries (6-8 hours), and then they have to be cooked in boiling water brought to a simmer for about 50 minutes before you can begin adding any ingredients.

Just Google wheat berry recipes, find one that appeals to you, and then give it a try!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

How Do You Handle Sugar Cravings?

There are few people who don’t seek a “sugar fix” on a regular basis.

That’s because the food industry has “hard-wired” us. (There are also those who have a gene that stimulates those cravings, so it’s a tougher battle for them.)

Of course, whole foods have natural sugars. That’s not the problem.

It’s the huge amounts of those other sugars in our diets that add up without us even knowing it! No surprise that in this country we have an epidemic of obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

If you’re trying to break the sugar habit, don’t try and rely on will power alone. You need the nutritional support that comes from whole foods.

They contain the fiber needed to balance blood sugars, along with other important vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

Carrying some high-protein snacks like almonds, a hard-boiled egg, or cheese cubes to graze on if you feel your blood sugars are getting low. (Key symptoms are irritability or feeling “edgy.”)

Also pay attention to times when that sugar fix is most attractive. Are you bored, frustrated, stressed or sad? If that’s the case, it’s really not sugar that you’re looking for.

What we know now, but didn’t know back then, was that the remedy for a more successful Lenten fast from candy wasn’t to just abstain. (I can testify from the rigors of practicing earlier Catholicism, that LOTS of people were frustrated, stressed and sad!)

It’s a matter of seeking balance, and, truth is, we are what we eat.

I’m among the sugar addicts because I have that gene. My “fix” used to come from breads, pastas and donuts, so I rationalized that I really wasn’t “hard-core”. The moment of truth arrived when I was surprised to find myself 25 pounds overweight. That was when I was in college, and few of us could button our skirts at the end of the first semester.

But I was fortunate enough to be on a campus where there were lots of fruit trees, and I started eating pears and apples. Lots of them. I was amazed that my appetite shifted, and I began to lose weight. (Deprivation wasn’t the answer at a secluded, all-girls’ college in rural Kentucky!)

The silver bullet was eating more fiber, and pears and apples have plenty of that.

What’s so easy about this approach is that whole foods are the best source. You won’t find much fiber in processed foods.

So if you want to reduce your craving for sugar, make it a goal to eat about 35 grams of fiber each day. (The average serving of fruits and vegetables has 2-3 grams, so you won’t be depriving yourself!)

I’m betting you won’t miss sugar at all!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Addictions Exclude None of Us

We’re all addicted to something. For some of us, it happens to be food. Any addictive behavior we engage in, regardless of the particular vice, is only our feeble attempt to balance ourselves out.

I saw a film many years ago called “The Addicted Brain.” (At that time I was working for the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse.) It postulated that people who abuse drugs and/or alcohol are only trying to balance their brain chemistry. The problem is, they’re acting as the “pharmacist,” and they’re simply choosing the wrong medications.

The addicted brain can’t make the best choice as long as it’s ~ well ~ addicted.

Like that great definition of insanity, you do the same thing over and over again, hoping for different results. So nothing changes.

Think about it.

You know that second piece of “molten lava” chocolate cake isn’t going to get you a job, but your addicted brain tells you it will make life so much better - for about five minutes. The insanity of it is that that doesn’t matter when you’re staring at the cake.

It’s no different than how the addicted brain looks at the next drink or the next pill. But what keeps us stuck in these patterns are our perceptions, and particularly our beliefs, as much as reality. Our beliefs frame our reality. So the first important very first step is to change any negative beliefs.

You are NOT your behavior! You simply make choices, some better than others.

That’s how we should view our relationship with food if we don’t want it to control our lives. And that’s how we should view alcohol and drug addiction.

But we ALL need support when we’re embarking on major lifestyle changes. And that support is out there for those who can admit that their eating is out of control. It’s not so easy to openly admit that you struggle with alcohol or drug addiction. That’s something we hide from everyone else, and even ourselves. And the fact that we have no real treatment options here only reinforces that.

The attitude is that those folks get excluded until they can pull themselves up by their boot straps. Meanwhile, it remains a painful secret in many families and for many individuals, and that’s the saddest part of all.

An addiction isn’t a choice. People don’t decide they want to live lop-sided lives, and then consciously go about making that happen. They don’t decide they want to drink all the time, any more than they want to be a hundred or more pounds overweight. In most cases, they arrived there, and their addicted brains didn’t see it happening.

People struggling with addictions don’t need judgment; they need options for getting better. That can be as simple as a food plan, or as much as a complete detox in a treatment facility.

An addiction isn’t a character flaw. It’s an imbalance. And we share that continuum.

All of us.