Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Eat like a kid

Have you ever seen the movie Little Miss Sunshine?  It's one of my favorites!  No matter how many times I've seen it, I can't help but simultaneously laugh and cry hysterically at the final scene  (I won't give any further details in case you haven't seen it yet...but definitely go see it!).  It gets me every time!  I also cringe every time I see the ice cream scene.  If you need to be reminded (or have never seen it), here's the clip:

I cringe when I see this because I feel like I'm watching the moment when this little girl's innocence about dieting and body image is taken away from her forever.  Sure, she's bound to learn about this stuff eventually, whether through images and messages in the media, friends at school, or a myriad of other sources, but don't you sometimes wish you could stay innocent and ignorant about all that stuff forever?

I had a similar moment when I was in high school, so considerably older than Olive in this clip.  I remember hearing someone refer to fettuccine alfredo, which was my go-to carbo-loading pre-race meal when I was out of town for competitions, as a "heart attack on a plate."  I was mortified!  I felt guilty for having ever eaten something so horrendously unhealthy, and I vowed to never eat it again.

While I suppose in some ways it was good that someone clued me in to the fact that this probably wasn't the smartest pre-race meal choice, sometimes I wish I had never learned that fact.  It's not like I was eating fettuccine alfredo all the time-- I ordered it at restaurants before big races, so probably only a few times a year.  But the fact that I now knew that this dish was so maligned made me question everything I ate, to the point of eventual obsession.  If I had never known it was "bad" for me, I'm sure I would have continued eating it on a very occasional basis and it probably wouldn't have changed my health status one bit.  Instead, I almost knew too much for my own good, and it led to destructive eating and thought patterns down the road.

Does this mean that ignorance is bliss when it comes to nutrition?

Sometimes I think so.  But I guess in the end it comes down to balance.  I believe it's a good thing to know a little something about what kinds of foods should make up the bulk of your diet, but this knowledge shouldn't necessarily dictate every decision you make when it comes to eating.  Sometimes you just need to eat like a kid and pretend you know nothing about the fat in ice cream and go ahead and order your waffles a la mode and enjoy the hell out of them!

Friday, January 20, 2012

In defense of cheese

I love cheese. In fact, I often say that for me, a life without cheese is a life not worth living. So you can understand my horror at seeing this article talking about a nonprofit organization that is launching a smear campaign against the dairy product of the gods. Recently, they've put up billboards in Albany, NY like this one:

My question cheese the real culprit? Or is it the quantity of cheese that people are eating? In the article, a registered dietitian makes the claim that "cheese poses a bigger dietary problem than other foods because people have a hard time gauging portion size." So it's cheese's fault?! I don't think there's anything inheritantly different about cheese that makes people eat more of it (besides the fact that it's AWESOME!). I think it has more to do with the fact that people view cheese as a "bad" food, and when we are given access to foods that we view as forbidden, we tend to go overboard and eat too much of it because we're not sure when we'll have access to it again.

For an intuitive eater, this is no longer an issue. Once you have truly given yourself permission to eat any food, and reject "good" and "bad" labels, then there is no reason to binge on any "bad" foods because you can have them any time you want them (and you wouldn't think of them as "bad" anymore either). Furthermore, when you're eating that food (regardless of what it is), you should have no problem gauging portion size because an appropriate portion is whenever your body tells you to stop. If you're in tune with your hunger and satiety signals, and eat slowly and with focus, you'll stop eating cheese (or any other food) when you're satisfied.

This is not to say that intuitive eaters ignore nutrition altogether. Instead, we use our nutrition knowledge to make healthy food choices that do not diminish the eating experience. Eating should be pleasurable, and if taking the cheese (or bacon, or butter, or any other rich food item) off of a dish would make it significantly less pleasurable, then you're better off leaving it on, rather than take it off and feel deprived (which triggers all kinds of negative feelings and behaviors!).

There's a great example from the Intuitive Eating book, in which one of the authors is at a restaurant and orders an egg white omelet with cheese. The waiter snickers a little at her request, and she explains that for her (and I feel the same way), having an omelet without cheese would take away from the omelet-eating experience-- she would miss it. The egg yolks, however, she wouldn't miss, so knowing that the yolks are higher in fat and calories, she made the choice to take those out.

I do realize that there are people who genuinely don't know what foods are more nutritious and which ones are high in fat and calories and low in nutrients, so there is some education that needs to be done before they are able to make these choices. But, first of all, cheese does offer some nutrients (calcium, protein, etc), so I don't believe that eliminating its consumption is even appropriate, especially compared to some other commonly consumed foods and beverages (soft drinks, chips, etc) that offer little to no nutrient value whatsoever. Secondly, I do not think that the approach of this group helps with the cause of preventing obesity. Instead, it feeds into the diet mentality of foods being "good" and "bad", which only creates more problematic behaviors in the long run.

So back off, Cheese Police! There are plenty of people who use cheese responsibly, and live happier lives for it. I'd say the real issue is not the consumption of cheese, but the fact that we live in a diet-obessed culture where people are so out of touch with their hunger and satiety signals that they eat beyond the level of satisfaction and, thanks to campaigns like this, they see cheese as a forbidden food, which only exaggerates this behavior even more. Of course, my argument is not as easily made into a billboard.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Damn skinny friends

I've said to my friends and family before that someone with a history of an eating disorder must be completely recovered before entering into a nutrition Masters program, or else they'd lose it. I say this because studying nutrition forces you to talk about food and weight all the time, and means being surrounded by people who have their own ideas about what to eat and how to stay fit, and if you're not confident in your recovery, it would be easy to be influenced by them and slip back into destructive thought patterns and behaviors.

Even though I wouldn't say I ever had a full-blown eating disorder, my past struggles with body image and disordered eating behaviors make this statement ring true for me as well. So far I've handled it fairly well. I try to ignore the extreme diet regimens championed by some of my classmates ("sugar is evil!", "eat raw foods only!", "OMG, can you believe she ate a candy bar?!", etc.), and I resist the urge to compare my body to others'. I assure myself that I know the true path to staying healthy, both mentally and physically, and while my diet and body shape may not be perfect, this philosophy works for me, and I think it can work for many others.

Even though I only started Winter Quarter a week ago, I can already tell that a certain lab will present some interesting challenges for me personally. On the first day of class, I was less-than-pleased to find out that we had to do a "24-hour diet recall" with a partner, meaning I had to tell my vegetarian, practically-no-sugar-eating friend and classmate what I had eaten in the last 24 hours. While I survived this exchange surprisingly unscathed, the next step, in which I had to report my height and weight, was not as easily tackled. Her numbers were, of course, more favorable than mine, and I have to admit that it stung a little. I felt inadequate that I couldn't be as thin as she is, and then I was further upset by the fact that I cared. I'm supposed to be this intuitive-eating, body-loving, free-from-dieting advocate...why should something this trivial upset me?!

This only reminds me that I will never be perfect when it comes to this intuitive eating thing...I will constantly be on this journey, and have to deal with situations that challenge my resolve throughout my entire life. This won't be the last challenge I'll have to face (in fact, I'm already having a mini panic attack thinking about the "anthropometric measurements" we'll have to take of one another in a few weeks...can't wait for one of my inevitably-skinnier classmates to know my waste size and body fat percentage!), but I know that if I keep reminding myself of the principles of intuitive eating, and keep on practicing positive self-talk, I can get through anything.

This all sounds very intensively introspective (I just read it!), but I don't think there's anything wrong with acknowledging your negative thoughts. In fact, I think it's a good thing, because unless you do, there's no way to actively counter them. Even if I weren't in a Master's of Nutrition program, I would still be confronted with images and messages that might make me feel bad about myself, and I think that being aware of how things make you feel is the first step to changing your reaction to them. You can't always control what's around you (dieting messages, people who are thinner than you, etc), but you can change how you react to them, and therefore how it affects you.

As I said, I'm not perfect at this "eat with your gut" thing. All I know is that if I had had to deal with a situation like this 10 years ago, I may have fallen apart and considered going on some crazy crash diet. Now I'm able to share it with you and even laugh a little at my expense. I'd say that's progress :-)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Unattainable standards

I saw this video posted on Facebook, and it made me think about the unattainable standards we're constantly exposed to in the media. Enjoy!

The video is supposed to be funny, but it also brings up some good points about how images we see in the media, particularly of women, are altered, often drastically. Meanwhile, we are made to believe that this is what we should strive for, and that this is the standard by which we should measure ourselves. How unfair is it that we're made to believe that we've somehow failed if we fall short of this standard, when in reality, it doesn't even exist?!

Before I became an intuitive eater, during a time when my body image was extremely poor, I really did think that I should look like the women I saw in magazines, on TV, and in movies. I thought, "if they can do it, why can't I?" At the time, I was still in that competitive, "must-win" mindset, so I felt that if it was humanly possible to have a body like that, then with enough hard work and determination, I could do it too. The problem is, as we've seen from this video, more often than not the images we see are not the originals, so in reality it isn't humanely possible for most people to achieve a body like that! I say "most people" because the truth of the matter is that, yes, there are some very thin and virtually flawless people in the world, but we need to remember that they make up a tiny portion of the population (while magazines would have you believe they make up the majority!), and some of them might actually be suffering from an eating disorder, which is definitely NOT fun!

I feel like ALL people (especially women) need to see videos like this to understand how truly unattainable modern standards of beauty have become, rather than beat themselves up about the fact that they don't measure up.

So, the next time you pick up a magazine, try to remember when you're looking at those images that they aren't real, and that there's no point in comparing yourself to an altered image. Try to see the photos as a work of digital art rather than a photo of a real person, because in actuality, that's a lot closer to the truth!

Monday, January 9, 2012

School lunches: Attempt #1

Tomorrow marks the beginning of a new quarter in my graduate program. I had a whole month off (during which time I was able to start this blog), but now it's back to the reality of juggling part-time work and full-time school. Ugh!

One of the things I've struggled with in the two quarters I've been back in grad school is the challenge of knowing what to bring for lunch. When I work, I generally bring yummy leftovers from the previous night's dinner. When I'm at school, however, there's no refrigerator for me to store my lunch, and I have to carry it around with me all day, so it has to be compact enough to fit in my bag, and something that doesn't need to be kept cold all the time. It also has to be satisfying enough so that I'm not distracted during class thinking about how hungry I am!

What I wound up doing during the Summer and Fall quarters was to fall back on an old standby from my elementary school days...PB & J! At first it was sort of fun, and reminded me of simpler times. But by the end of the Fall quarter, I was over it. Also, it wasn't nearly as good as I remembered from my childhood, which could have something to do with the fact that I was using Ezekiel bread (which is really good, but not nearly as sweet and cake-like as Wonderbread) and almond butter to make it healthier. Nor was it filling enough for my needs.

So I've finally decided to tackle this problem head-on and start trying out different recipes for foods I could easily bring with me to school that will satisfy me during my long days of classes. Tonight I tried my first one, and I must say I'm quite pleased with the results...this could definitely be added to the rotation! It's a Cranberry Orange Quinoa Salad, which I found on a blog called Gluten-Free Cat (the fact that it's gluten-free is completely inconsequential to me...I just like it because it's GOOD!). Here it is:
Cranberry Orange Quinoa Salad
by Heather
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 2 T red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 c chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/3 c dried cranberries
  • 1 c mandarin oranges
  • 1 T orange zest
  • 1/4 c pinenuts
1. Soak the quinoa in water for 15 minutes, drain, and rinse to wash away the bitterness of the saponin (the one I bought had already been rinsed, so I skipped this step)
2. Soak the cranberries in water to liven up the wrinkly babies.
3. Bring the quinoa to a boil in 2 cups of salted water in a sauce pan. Reduce the heat, lid, and simmer on low for 15 minutes. Remove from heat for 5 minutes with the lid in place. Then remove the lid, fluff with a fork, and cool.
4. While the quinoa is cooling, prepare the ingredients that will easily transform your quinoa into a sweet, tangy salad . Chop the cilantro, drain the oranges and cranberries, and zest the orange.
5. When the quinoa is cool, mix in the olive oil, red wine vinegar, and orange zest. Then gently fold in the mandarin oranges, cranberries, and cilantro. Sprinkle pinenuts on top and garnish with cilantro.
Serve cold and enjoy!

If you've never had quinoa before, you should try it. It looks and acts like a grain, but it's actually a seed, and it contains lots of protein and all sorts of nutrients (including calcium, phosphorus, and iron). I've used it in other recipes with moderate success, but for me, this one tops them all. I think the sweetness of the oranges and cranberries balances the slight bitter taste of the quinoa, which is why I liked it so much better than other preparations. Plus, the crunch of the pine nuts adds a nice texture. Even the hubby liked it!

Now that I know I like it, next time I'll definitely make a double batch of this so it will last me a few days. In the meantime, I'll still be on the lookout for yummy, satisfying, easy-to-make, portable lunches that don't remind me of elementary school.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Loving yourself at every age

I was looking back at old photo albums today, reminiscing about the old days, and I stumbled upon some pictures of myself in a friend's wedding about 7 years ago. I distinctly remember looking at the other bridesmaids at the time and thinking "Ugh! Why can't I look as good as she does in this dress?! I'm so fat!". However, looking at the photo now, 7 years later, I marveled at how thin I looked. In fact, next to the bridesmaid I was comparing myself to at the time, I look to be just about as thin as she is. What was I thinking?! I hate the fact that I didn't appreciate what I had when I had it. Not that I'm that much heavier than I was then, but it's only natural that my body has changed a bit since my 20s, and part of me wishes I could have that same body back.

This reminded me of my Be Here Now mantra, as well as my resolution to love my body as it is. If I had lived in the moment back then, instead of thinking about what I could or should be, maybe I would have enjoyed life a bit more, or experienced things more deeply. Hindsight tells me that, based on the photos I was looking at, I had nothing to worry about in terms of weight loss, but since I didn't realize that at the time, I now know that I wasted all that time and energy, which could have been focused on something more productive and enjoyable.

I realize that, no matter how much I exercise or how well I eat, my body will inevitably change over time. There's no possible way (probably not even with lots of plastic surgery!) that I will have this same body at 50. So rather than stress about it and hate myself, I hope that I will be able to embrace whatever body I have at any given time in my life. Even if I'm a little overweight, I will have to love myself and appreciate my body for all the good it does for me, because hating it will do nothing but make me depressed and destructive.

Does this ever happen to you? You look at old photos, realize you looked damn good, and wish you had appreciated what you had back then? Rather than chalk it up to "You don't know what you've got 'till it's gone," why not use this as a lesson, and learn something from it so as not to repeat the same mistakes again? Like I said, our bodies are destined to change with time, and chances are, 10 years from now you'll stumble upon a picture of yourself now and realize how good you look.

Rather than repeat this same experience over and over again, try to truly love yourself for what you have now, even if it's not the best you think you can be. Hating your body won't motivate you to eat better or exercise more. In fact, it will more than likely have the opposite effect. As I've said before in my post The Anti-Resolution Revolution, loving your body will make you want to take better care of it, and do the things that make it feel good and function at it's best. I know it's scary to consider loving a body that you know could be better, and could possibly even be the reason for health problems, but trust in the fact that thinking negatively about it will do you no good at all, and could even be detrimental.

If you're successful in truly loving your body and living in the moment, maybe in 10 years when you're looking back at old photos, you'll notice something truly'll be happy!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Stickers for veggies

Just read this short article called Getting Kids to Eat Their Veggies. According to the results of a study cited in the article, it's as simple as giving kids stickers as a reward for trying new foods. Who knew?!

I was a VERY picky eater as a kid. I would decide, without even trying something, that I didn't like it. It wasn't until adulthood that I started challenging some of my preferences, and trying the things I had previously turned my nose up at (although I still won't go near mayonaisse, mustard, or raw tomatoes...yuck!).

This is me as a kid, clearly not interested in eating whatever food item had been offered to me.

I am hoping to raise kids that aren't as picky as I was (or am), so maybe I'll try this sticker trick to get them to like all foods, especially veggies and other healthier options. If only it were that easy to get ME to like more veggies as an adult!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Work out with your gut

I had a request from a follower (okay, it was my mom...whatever!) to talk about how exercising fits in to this whole "eat with your gut" concept, and then I saw this hilarious article called The 27 Rules of Conquering the Gym, and decided it was time to address the issue.

My feelings about exercise have evolved over the years. From about 9 years old until my mid-20s, I was a competitive track athlete, so working out was simply a way to reach my goal, which was to win. I was incredibly motivated, but it mostly came from a fear of losing, not because I necessarily enjoyed exercising, and definitely not because I wanted to lose weight. I remember saying that I couldn't imagine how people worked out every day just for health or fitness without the motivation and intense pressure to win that was constantly with me.

Once my competitive days were behind me, I found myself looking for challenges to stay motivated. That's when I started running marathons. I loved the structure of training for a race of that distance, and the feeling of accomplishment when I finished. I also loved the fact that I could eat whatever the hell I wanted and weight was still falling off of me! I became sort of obsessed...I would read books about marathons, I was a frequent contributor to online marathon message boards, and I talked about marathons probably more than my friends or family cared to hear about them. I would say that running was my meditation, that it was how I stayed sane, and I would shutter at the thought that I could get injured and it could all be taken away from me.

And then it happened. After my third marathon, I had pain in my right hip that wouldn't go away. Three years and two surgeries later, I'm still not right. Even though it's been a huge pain having to deal with this, in some ways it's been a good thing. Despite the fact that I was no longer trying to win, I was still in that competitive mindset that I'd always known, and being injured forced me out of my comfort zone and into a world I never understood...people who work out without the motivation of winning.

Needless to say, I don't find it as easy to motivate myself to exercise, and as a result I don't do it as often either. I'm still doing something active at least 3 days a week, but that pales in comparison to my previous routine of 5-6 days/week. In all honesty, it's been a difficult transition, and I'm still trying to figure it out, but I'm trying to approach exercise with an intuitive eating approach...focus on what feels good, and you'll be more likely to do it. Even though I don't particularly enjoy sitting on an exercise bike or sweating on an elliptical, I feel damn good when I'm done, and that's what motivates me to keep going.

Now that I don't have the pressure of winning, however, I'm not nearly as psycho about my exercise routine. I used to stress about working out to stay thin, but even that's mostly faded. What I've realized is that exercising will make you feel hungrier, and if you're truly an intuitive eater who listens to your body and eats when you're hungry, then you'll eat more anyway, which kills the whole weight loss theory.

The bottom line is that exercise feels good and makes your body function better (unless you run a few too many marathons!), and if you focus on how you actually feel during and after a workout, you'll want to make it a part of your routine. I equate it to brushing my's not a particularly enjoyable activity, but you know you'll feel better after you do it, so you make it a regular thing.

The trick is finding something you don't mind doing. Like I said, I don't particularly enjoy the bike or elliptical, but I've realized that I can tolerate them if they're broken up into smaller increments, so I'll do 15-25 minutes on one, and then another 15-25 minutes on the other. Trashy reality TV doesn't hurt either ;-) On the weekends, I might go for a walk or a hike instead. I might not sweat as much as when I'm on a stationary machine in a gym, but I'll go crazy and never stick with exercising if that's all I allow myself to do. I find that doing something that's lower intensity but different and enjoyable is better than forcing yourself to do high intensity exercise for a few weeks and then stopping altogether.

Also, try to get away from the "all or nothing" mentality. On days when I don't have enough time to do a full workout, I used to forgo exercising altogether because I felt like there was no point. Now I realize that it's better to do 20 minutes of exercise than no exercise at all. You'll still feel the benefits of the workout, and that's what it's all about!

The bottom line, just like with eating, is to listen to your body and do what feels good. You might say "Well, sitting on the couch with a box of chocolates and a glass of wine feels pretty damn good!", but if you focus on how you feel after this activity vs. after exercising, I'm certain I know which one you would choose to do more regularly.

So, listen to your gut and exercise your butt! ;-)

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Anti-Resolution Revolution

So, I was going to type up this whole post about how New Year's diet resolutions don't work (because diets in general don't work, so why the hell would they work just because it's the start of a new calendar year?!), but then I stumbled upon this fantastic article in which two anti-diet sisters (both of whom are Licensed Clinical Social Workers and authors) discuss this very issue, so I thought I would just share it rather than rephrase everything they said.

And, below, I will share a few of my resolutions (which aren't really resolutions, per se, because these are things I am already working on, and will probably continue to work on for my entire life) that are related to food, my body, and my health. You might find these helpful for you as well.

Be Kind to Your Body
Our inner dialog regarding our bodies can be considered downright abusive at times. Looking at yourself in the mirror and pointing out all your imperfections is counterproductive and depressing...if you hate everything about your body, why would you treat it nicely? Try pointing out all the things you love about your body, even if it's just that your legs function well enough to get you from A to B (which, I can tell you after having 2 hip surgeries, is not something to be taken for granted!). Buy clothing that actually fits you, not something too tight in the hopes that you'll lose the weight. Being comfortable in your clothes will help you feel comfortable in your body. Try to focus on how different things make your body feel. Do you feel refreshed after going for a walk or sweating in the gym? Are you more energized and alert after eating a well-balanced meal? If you focus on how you feel after doing these things, rather than just doing them because you're supposed to, you might find yourself participating in these healthy activities more often. Love your body enough to make it feel the best it can feel.

I plan to love myself more in 2012. I will practice positive self-talk, and I will seek activities that make me feel good in my own skin.

Listen to Your Hunger
This means eating when you're hungry, and stopping when you're satisfied. Try to check in with your body every once in a while to gauge your hunger level. You might find that you're hungry at unusual times when you wouldn't normally allow yourself to eat, such as an hour or two after you've just eaten...just go with it! Trust that your body knows when it's time to eat again. If you don't listen, you might let it get so bad that by the time you eat, you're ravenous, and you'll scarf down whatever's available! And that's another thing...when you're eating, eat slowly so that you'll start to feel it when you're satisfied.

I still struggle with this. Sometimes I let myself get too hungry, and then I eat really fast and go past my point of being satisfied, and by the time I realize it, it's too late. This year, I hope to be more in touch with my hunger signals. I will honor these signals by eating when my body tells me to, and stopping when I'm satisfied.

Be Here Now
I had to participate in this "Cultural Transforation Retreat" for work, and while my co-workers thought that it was a little hokey, and joked about "drinking the Kool-Aid", one of the concepts I actually really liked was the mantra to "Be Here Now." In other words, try to live in the moment, instead of letting your mind race and think about everything else you need to accomplish. I tend to be a planner, and I think there's something to be said for planning (buying certain ingredients so you can cook a nice, well-balanced meal, for example, takes some planning), but if you're constantly thinking about what you need to do in the future, then you'll never really enjoy where you are or what you're doing in the present. This concept can be applied to food and eating as well. When you're eating, try to be present. Really taste the food, feel the texture in your mouth. Turn off the TV and really focus on what you're doing. Besides making the eating experience more enjoyable, you might also find that focusing on the act of eating will help to cue you in to when you're satisfied, because the intensity of pleasure from eating will diminish as you approach satiety (and when the food stops tasting good, you should stop eating it!).

This is something I will probably have to work on for my entire life. Maybe this year I will attempt to take up meditation as the ultimate "Be Here Now" activity. The thought of it kind of terrifies me...which probably means I would really benefit from it!

So, those are my "resolutions", if you really want to call them that. The most important resolution I can propose is NOT to make a resolution, especially one that has to do with dieting! They don't work, despite what your family, friends, and co-workers might tell you, so resist the urge and join the Anti-Resolution Revolution! ;-)