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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Corn and Wheat Tortilla with Avocado, Red Pepper, and Gorgonzola Cheese

Our Favorite Quick Lunch

I mentioned this recipe in yesterday's post as one that worked well for the homemade corn and wheat tortillas. I had it for lunch and decided it was good enough to justify another post. 

This is one of the recipes I made up on a Friday night when I came in from Florence and found nothing thawed for dinner. Avocados, red peppers (jarred, organic), gorgonzola cheese, and corn and wheat tortillas are staple supplies in my house. I threw them all together to make this dish, and we just love it. I spend maybe five minutes throwing them together for dinner, and my husband has told me more than once that he could eat them every day. 




For One:

1        Corn and wheat tortilla (made with non-GMO corn - see "Fit and Feeling Fine After
          Fifty" blog for the recipe*)
1 oz   Gorgonzola, crumbled**
1        Roasted red pepper (organic)
2 oz   Avocado

I usually just toast the tortilla in a toaster oven, but the homemade variety toasts better on a cast iron skillet or griddle with a tiny amount of olive or avocado oil.

Arrange thin slices of avocado on top of the tortilla, then slice a red pepper into strips and layer it on top of the avocado. Finally, sprinkle the gorgonzola cheese on top of the peppers. 

That is all there is to it. 


Notes: 
*If you have a Trader Joe's near you and aren't inclined to make your own tortillas, I originally made this recipe with their corn and wheat tortillas. They freeze well if you are someone (like me) who has to drive bit to shop at TJ's. I do not think I'd like these as well on plain corn tortillas.

**I have made these with feta cheese when I've been out of the gorgonzola. I personally prefer the tang of the gorgonzola, but more sensitive palates might prefer feta or goat cheese. Though I love blue cheese, I have tried it on these and still prefer the gorgonzola. 


Monday, June 22, 2015

What's for Dinner?

As I thought about it, I realized that I had misled you in yesterday's blog when I wrote that not much had changed since my last blog. That's not quite true. I still strive to maintain a diet of healthy, non-GMO foods and still exercise every day. But my husband gave me a birthday gift last October that radically changed how I manage and monitor my healthy lifestyle. I had asked for a Fitbit, and he did what he always does - researched every activity tracker on the market, then got me what he thought was best - the UP24.

And for a change, I'm glad he didn't listen to me.

I cannot emphasize how much I love this activity tracker and (probably even more importantly) its app. My daughter had a Fitbit. She washed it twice (clipped to her bra). The second time seems to have been the death knell. Since the UP24 is worn around the wrist, that's not likely to happen. I don't take it off to wash my face or to do dishes, and it's fine. The only time I have to remove it is to shower. I wear mine backwards from what I see pictured, primarily because I would rather have the silver cap visible than the wider side of the band, but I also think this protects it better since the top of my wrist doesn't rub against objects as often as the underside of my wrist.

The reason my husband chose the UP24 over the Fitbit is because of the UP's better performance at monitoring sleep. It is uncannily accurate. It is supposed to get more accurate the longer you use it, but mine was on the mark from the start. If I woke up at 3:23, I would see that the next morning. If I tossed and turned for an hour before falling asleep, it would show up on the graph on my phone the next morning. I FINALLY knew why I felt tired when I'd been in bed for eight hours - I had only slept for six of them. My job stress at the time was through the roof, and I soon saw a pattern of good sleep on weekends, and poor sleep on week nights.

I like the ease with which I can log my workouts after I finish them. However, I am also glad it has the ability to detect increased activity and prompt me about what I was doing for those times when I forget to log it in. In addition to tracking sleep and steps, I love the food tracking function on the app. I usually just scan the bar codes of the food I eat as I eat them, but I have manually entered recipes I make regularly so I can easily add those as one item. As the day progresses, the app adjusts your calorie expenditures based on your step count so you know how much more you need to eat (or when to stop eating). It rates the quality of your food choices, but I completely disregard this information. I know that eating real food is always better than eating man-made food substances that are "low-fat." The app is basically assigning a rating based on prevailing wisdom, and prevailing wisdom just isn't very wise at the moment.

So if you need a little help with motivation (and believe me, I get motivated when I see I haven't met my step goal, which is customizable), this might be the very thing you need to get you started. Any activity tracker will do; I just like the UP24. Do NOT make the mistake I did and respond to a Groupon with an unbelievable price on the UP. I bought one for a Christmas gift, and then I realized the UP has to be manually synced. It is not the same as the UP24, which works via Bluetooth.

But I digress . . . dinner was the topic at hand . . . 


I decided that one of the easiest ways to talk about healthy food choices is to discuss the dinner menu item by item.



Tonight's Menu

Broiled Creole Salmon
Steamed Asparagus
Seeds of Change Organic Quinoa and Brown Rice
Pacific Organic Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Soup
Yogurt and Berry Medley
Herbal Tea

Salmon: I buy only wild-caught salmon, preferably Alaskan due to the state's fight against GMO salmon. I addressed my concerns against fish genetically modified with human growth hormones in an earlier post and agree with its nickname, Frankenfish. Its impact on us and on our supply of healthy fish could be devastating. I buy Tony Chachere's Creole seasoning as it does not contain MSG.

Asparagus:  I was unaware that I had to worry about asparagus being a GM crop until recently when I ran across this article. Shocker! So now when I can't buy organic, I check the PLU code of the produce. For my asparagus, the number was on the rubber band holding it together - 4080. When the produce is genetically modified, an "8" will be the first number. When it is organically grown, a "9" will be the first number. Conventionally grown produce has a four-digit code in the 3000 and 4000 series.


Seeds of Change Organic Quinoa and Brown Rice: I love Seeds of Change products. I have also tried their Spanish Rice (something I normally don't like), but it is great with a little cilantro, lime, and sliced almonds. Tonight's menu was for rice straight out of the package. It can be expensive, so I buy it in bulk at Costco. Their rices are a base for several of my lunches that can be made ahead and become more flavorful after sitting in the refrigerator overnight. I'll share those in the weeks to come.

Organic Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Soup: My husband and I both just love this soup. Pacific isn't the only brand, and I've seen it at just about every grocery store I shop. Red peppers make the list of super foods, but they also make the dirty dozen list most years for excessive pesticides (something like 16 different ones used on red peppers). I eat them a lot, but I ONLY eat organic red peppers. I find them for $5 per jar at Whole Foods, but at that price, they cost about the same as buying non-organic peppers at my farmer's market during the height of the season. I almost always get around five full peppers in a bottle. Once I showed my husband this, he stopped complaining (and started devouring them). Of course, most people don't think twice about sitting around the TV polishing off a similarly price big-man-sized bag of Oreos. I've never quite understood that!

Yogurt and Berries: Okay, so this is an area in which I am currently trying to improve. I always buy organic dairy products due to my "non-negotiable" - corn. Cows are fed GMO grains unless you pay to avoid it. So I've been buying organic yogurt for years. I also only buy whole milk dairy products (see earlier post - "Real Food in an Unreal Time") to maximize the nutrition and my body's ability to correctly utilize the fat. I have learned to love plain yogurt more than sour cream on potatoes. I do not love it with fruit. I have always had to add maple syrup as a sweetening agent. But I know that plain yogurt is more nutritious. So I committed to making the switch, and I found a trick that helped. I got a great deal on frozen organic dark sweet cherries the last time I was at Costco. They can pretty much serve as the sweetening agent by themselves, then I can throw in some blueberries, raspberries, strawberries - whatever. Be careful, though. Berries are almost all on the "dirty" list, some more than others, so they are on my organic priority list with red peppers, corn, white potatoes, soy products, etc. You can often find organic berries for the same price as non-organic. Something is always getting close to its "use-by" date, and I take advantage of this whenever possible (like yesterday at Publix for my organic blueberries).

I love the Food Babe, and she recently wrote about how to pick yogurt that is really good for you. Most yogurt is about the same as eating candy for breakfast (in my humble opinion). I have tried a few of the brands she mentioned, but Stonyfield is still my favorite and easy enough to find, even their whole milk line.

And finally, the beverage -
As I've mentioned before, I just don't like water. I have finally stopped craving Diet Coke, but it took a while. I honestly didn't think I'd ever conquer that demon. But I don't even want it now. I think I may have had one a year ago, but I really don't remember. It has been that long.

The trick for me was to find a tea I like and to keep it cold and ready in the refridgerator. The winner for me turned out to be Trader Joe's Pomegranate White Tea. But there's a catch. Darn that Food Babe! 

Just when I thought it was safe to go back in the water . . .

. . . she does this bit about one of Trader Joe's teas.


So I knew when I first tried the tea that it was only 96% organic (says so right on the box). I also know that "natural" means absolutely nothing from a legal standpoint, so I was bothered by the "natural flavors" in the ingredient list. But affordable, mostly organic teas of the type I like are difficult to find. I priced the teas the Food Babe recommended the last time I was at Whole Foods, and they were HIGH, as much as $10 a box (the TJ's tea is $3 for the same 20 bags). So I wrote to Trader Joe's, and to their credit, they wrote back to me promptly. They assured me that it is not their "general" practice to treat their paper wrappers with epichlorohydrin, but I only felt slightly better. I don't know how often they veer from their "general" practice and what the alternative practice might be. I'm just not all that sure what they really expected me to take away from that statement anyway. I despise the word dance advertisers do, but that's a blog for another time. 

So that was my husband's dinner. I'm a girl, and as everybody knows, metabolism favors men with muscles. At 125 pounds, I just don't get to eat bite for bite with my husband. My dinner looked like this. 


I didn't get the rice. I had my grain for a snack earlier in the day (my homemade corn and wheat tortillas), and yogurt and berries served as my breakfast. So I had a nice crunchy pear for dinner. They aren't supposed to be crunchy, are they? Maybe that season is just too long gone to still be buying pears. Anyway, life isn't fair for the ladies, but I guess I'm not the one who has to change the flat tire, so it's all about trade-offs. 

Next Time - Nature's Anti-depressant!


Until then. . . eat healthy, be healthy!












Fit and Feeling Fine After Fifty

Well I feel better than “fine,” but I couldn’t resist the alliteration of the title.

I have had an all-consuming job for years, and it has prevented me from attending to this blog in the manner I would like and as was my original intent when I started this blog years ago. I have taken a major step to simplify my life by leaving the job I loved (and hated for its demands on me). Now one of my goals for this new phase of my life is to do better with my lifestyle blog (have another on grammar, but this one is my passion). 

Other than leaving my job - a decision I made in the interest of maintaining my health - not much has changed in terms of the way I eat and stay physically fit. I still focus on eating foods that are health-enhancing. With the reduction in caloric needs as we age, I even try to avoid neutral foods - those that don't necessarily harm my health, but don't improve it, either. I am still working on my husband's choices where these types of foods are concerned. As long as something is organic and tasty, he'll buy it and bring it into my line of site - something that makes me crazy when it is key lime pie or another delectible treat that tempts in ways that are sometimes too difficult to resist. It is not enough to be non-GMO and organic in my book. A corn chip fried in organic canola oil and made from organic corn is still a corn chip. Yesterday was Father's Day, so I made him a completely non-GMO taco salad and ate it with him, but it's not something we need to be on more nutritious foods. 

I love finding ways to enjoy the types of dishes I love made out of only health-enhancing foods. If you buy tortillas at your local grocery store, you are probably eating trash food (check the ingredients and compare the list to any recipe you find for DIY tortillas; you’ll be shocked). So I started making my own tortillas that are made only from REAL FOOD. I found great recipes that I love for whole wheat and white tortillas, but I hadn’t been able to find the corn flour I needed (at a price the average person like me could really afford) for the one recipe that looked similar to my favorite Trader Joe’s corn and wheat tortillas. So I kept buying TJ’s knowing that the company claims to use no GMOs for foods carrying their labels. Their unwillingness to be transparent about their suppliers and the lack of a “non-GMO” claim on the tortilla package, however, always makes me nervous. I finally found a recipe that calls for cornmeal, something I can easily find, and they meet my “Could Grandma Buy This?” criteria. These tortillas are fabulous in my mom’s authentic taco recipe and as a “meatier” base (compared to the organic corn tortillas I can buy in the frozen section at Whole Foods) for many of my favorite quick meals. They are even easier to make than wheat tortillas because you don’t knead them. It is pretty much like making pancakes. 

Note: I carefully measured the batter (1/4 C) and diameter (6”) of my tortillas as I made them, and I only got 16 tortillas from the recipe. So my nutritional information is based on a count of 16, not the purported 24. Please also note the specific ingredients I used, as this is what makes them non-GMO. And just FYI - I buy free-range eggs from a farmer, not organic eggs. I am always suspicious about “organic” and “vegetarian” claims on free-range eggs because chickens aren’t vegetarians, and if they truly are roaming around eating whatever they can find as is their nature, how can they be “organic”? That measure of control over their diet pretty much guarantees to me that the animals are confined. 

Corn and Wheat Tortillas




Start with this recipe, use the non-GMO version of each ingredient (see table below), then follow the procedures outlined in the recipe. 



Storage: Since these are not chemical-laden with preservatives, I freeze what I am not going to use this week. After I cool them on a rack, I place a small piece of unbleached wax paper on top of each tortilla to keep them from sticking together. 


Meal Ideas Using Corn and Wheat Tortillas



  • Toast them in a toaster oven until slightly rigid, then layer them with avocado slices, gorgonzola cheese (or feta, if you prefer), and roasted red peppers (I use jarred organic red peppers from Whole Foods)
  • Cut them into triangles, toast them in a toaster oven (then I leave them in the hot toaster oven to harden without becoming too brown), then serve them with hummus. You'll need to start these "chips" earlier in the day if making them for a family. 
  • Lightly fry them on both sides using a cast iron griddle with a small amount of olive or avocado oil, fill them with a mixture of one pound cooked 100% grass-fed ground beef and a can of organic pinto beans (I process them in a food processor) with two teaspoons of minced garlic. Then brown them on both sides for INCREDIBLE tacos. Make them really healthy by using spinach instead of lettuce, raw milk cheddar cheese, avocado slices, organic roasted red pepper strips, organic salsa and plain whole milk yogurt (instead of sour cream). I get all of these ingredients at Trader Joe's or Whole Foods. 
  • Sauté baby portobello mushrooms in Kerrygold grass-fed butter. Brown both sides of the tortilla in the hot griddle with remnant butter, then fill them with the mushrooms and cheese (while they are still hot enough to melt the shredded cheese) and fold them in half like a taco. 


Until Next Time . . . 

Please plan to follow my blog as I share ideas, tips, and recipes that help me stay healthy and fit as I age. I don’t pretend to be an expert at anything, but I know that anyone who is dissatisfied with the way he or she feels upon waking each day can make small changes that will undoubtedly improve the person’s general feeling of well-being and stamina. It is definitely more difficult after the age of fifty when youth is no longer on one’s side, but it can be done. I have done it. I got sick and tired of feeling sick and tired and did something about it. I lost 60 pounds in 2008 and have never looked back. To read that story, see my "Then and Nowblog from April 2013.







Sunday, March 23, 2014

Real Food in an Unreal Time

Real Food in an Unreal Time

When I go to the grocery store and try to find the wholesome foods that were a given for my grandparents, I realize how unreal our food supply has become. "Natural" means nothing, but we buy it thinking we are doing right by our bodies. I cringe when my friends talk about fat-free this and lowfat that. If cream cheese is fat-free, then IT'S NOT CREAM CHEESE. It's entirely fake, but people buy into the health claims on food packages and trust that it wouldn't be available if it were harmful. I want to ask them how they can maintain such a belief when any adult can buy cigarettes, alcohol, meat containing pink slime or sawdust, soda, or any of the myriad harmful, but perfectly legal products on the market today. I'm getting a reputation for being "weird" about food, so I usually don't comment when I hear people talk about the unreal products they buy; this is my forum to make a case for some sanity in our food choices.  

I started my day watching a video about the Chipotle company. That led me to the company's website and to their "ingredients statement." 

I have seen lots of criticism directed at the company for not limiting their menu to totally organic foods, but how can they? Consumers have not demanded product labeling for GMOs, which has given the food industry carte blanche to do as they please with our food supply. I don't eat much meat because finding sources that are never fed GMO feed is difficult and expensive. To find sources on a scale needed by a large restaurant chain like Chipotle is not going to be possible unless or until there is enough money to be made in raising farm animals with organic feed to revolutionize the industry. So when I really want a chicken, I pay $15 for a free-range chicken from Trader Joe's. If I want to make my mom's special tacos, I schedule a trip to buy 100% grass-fed beef from the farmer who brings it into my town twice a week. Otherwise, I eat fish that isn't farmed knowing it is the safest alternative available to me right now.  

But I hope that there will come a time when the success of Chipotle Mexican Grill's emphasis on healthier ingredients, Whole Food's decision to require GMO labeling, and the sharing of information on social media sites will spark change. If not for me, then for my grandchildren. 

So in the meantime, I do what I can do. 

It is the end of my first regrouping week, and it was a successful one. I lost three pounds and have made more progress than I anticipated with regard to running. I began the week running six minutes and ended it running 24 minutes (consecutively). I am always amazed at the resiliency of the human body. I had quit trying to run after hurting my knee and had gotten to the point that my joints were regularly reminding me that I inherited my mom's arthritis. In just seven days, I am no longer feeling much pain. I felt none at all today when I was running, which allowed me to push myself through the second mile. For me at least, running is the best analgesic. 

As I planned my food each day, I made mental notes about the different ways I have come up with to find wholesome foods I enjoy without resorting to adding processed foods to my diet. Here are a few of the ways I survive on a diet while greatly limiting GMOs.

Sweeteners: I know cane sugar is non-GMO, but it is still highly processed. I use organic maple syrup (the real stuff; grade B is best) for my sweetener in hot tea and on oatmeal and the few organic cereals I eat. People frequently ask me if that makes my food taste funny, but in truth, it is only the artificial maple flavor that is strong. I do not taste maple in my cereal or tea. I don't like the taste of honey, so I only use it in recipes containing other ingredients that will modify or overpower the honey taste. If you like honey, it may be your non-GMO sweetener of choice.

Dairy: I like yogurt and cheese, and I need milk on my cereal. I am completely unwilling to consume milk that is not organic. I also learned from reading Real Food by Nina Planck that drinking lowfat dairy is more likely than whole milk to cause any weight gain associated with milk consumption. It may sound counter-intuitive, but it is the fat in milk that contains the nutrients that allow the body to appropriately utilize the fat in milk. Furthermore (and this was surprising to me), all reduced-calorie milk has to be synthetically fortified because the nutrients in milk are generally found in the fat. So when the fat is removed, artificial nutrients have to be added to the milk to replace the nutrients lost by removing the healthy fat. Well I don't want artificial nutrients. I'll take mine in their original form, thank you very much. So I buy only organic milk, organic cheese, organic butter, and organic yogurt made from whole milk. 

Whenever possible, I buy dairy that is made from raw milk. The pasteurization process kills many of the nutrients in milk because they are heat-sensitive, and the homogenization process breaks up the fat into smaller particles that aren't natural and may (or may not) negatively impact the health of those who drink itAnd it is entirely unnecessary!

Where I live, it is almost impossible to find raw milk from cows that are totally grass-fed. I can find raw milk, but nobody within driving distance from me claims that their milk comes from 100% grass-fed dairy cows. The few who have "grass-finished" dairy cows have admitted to me that the grain they primarily use is GMO grain. As always, they identify the high price of organic grains as their reason for using GMO feed (but I would argue that the long-term health effects are costlier). So I give up the benefits of raw milk to avoid GMOs. Luckily, I usually can find raw-milk cheese, butter, and yogurt from grass-fed cows. 

Raw milk and raw milk products contain more heat-sensitive nutrients that are destroyed in pasteurization.

Benefits of Raw Milk
  • Folic acid and vitamins A, C and B6  
  • Lactase to digest lactose
  • Lipase to digest milk fats
  • Phosphatase to absorb calcium and aid in the digestion of lactose
  • Beneficial bacteria that lives in the intestines (aids digestion, boosts immunity, and eliminates dangerous bacteria)
  • Cortisone-like agent that combats arthritis, arteriosclerosis, and cataracts (found in cream)
  • Myristoleic acid, a nutrient that fights pancreatic cancer and arthritis (found in butter)
Source: Real Food by Nina Planck

Note: Contrary to historical claims, raw milk products do not present increased health risks any more than vegetables grown in nutritionally depleted soil, animals fed nutritionally inadequate diets, or either of these foods processed in dirty environments; check the history of pasteurization if you care about being an informed consumer.

Beverages: I love Diet Coke. Truly! It is a constant struggle for me to exercise a total dietary ban on sodas, but I have become more and more able to do so. The key has been to educate myself on what it really is. To quote a source I can no longer identify, diet sodas are the mother of all GMOs. Not only are soft drinks completely devoid of any nutritional value, they are harmful. Whether you drink regular or diet sodas, they all are linked to obesity. And the list of other probable and possible adverse side effects is long and growing with every new piece of research. 
  • renal problems
  • memory loss
  • heart disease
  • cancer
  • nervous system disorders
  • accelerated aging
  • osteoporosis
  • asthma
  • COPD
  • digestive system disorders
Read more about it
"9 Disturbing Side Effects of Soda"
"This is what happens when you drink soda."
 

I am just not a water-drinker. Unless I've run a few miles or been out in the sun for a couple of hours, I have to choke it down. And that just doesn't work for me on a daily basis. So I have my morning coffee and then drink organic herbal teas (cold during the day and a cup of hot tea before bed). I found one brand of tea that I liked without sweetener, but then I ran across an article about high levels of pesticides in the tea.

I wrote to the company and asked for its response to the allegation, and I got a canned response that did nothing to reassure me. I checked again today to see if the company had issued a response since I contacted them, and I found this

Since "natural" has virtually no meaning from a legal perspective and it is in the first sentence of the company's response, I'll just stick to the organic tea I found at Trader Joe's. When I'm feeling really indulgent and not in slim-down mode, Tazo has a wonderful organic chai latte that I just adore. I heat it up and mix it with organic whole milk (half tea, half milk). A one-cup serving like this is 205 calories. So it's not a daily habit for me, but it's a great treat when I need some indulgence, but want to stay GMO-free!

Dessert (or a sweet treat that's guilt-free):
I love dark chocolate, and Trader Joe's has quite a few varieties of organic dark chocolate that I really enjoy. Unfortunately, I can't just keep it in the house. It's kind of like Diet Coke - one of those pleasures that I enjoy too much to resist if it were always available to me. So I keep a Larabar in the pantry for those times when I want to have a cookie. Not every brand is made exclusively of whole foods, but plenty of them fit into that category. One of my favorites is Cashew Cookie. The ingredient list is simple - cashews and dates. It's totally non-GMO (and for those who narrow it down more than I, also vegan, kosher, gluten-free, and dairy-free). 

I'll keep jotting down ideas as I run into temptations and solutions for satisfying them on my regrouping plan. 

Until then, remember that we're never too old to reclaim our health and fitness. 

You just have to want it badly enough to take the first step. 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Beginning Again

Beginning Again


It's been a loooooooong time since my last post. I have been so busy, and my blog is just one of those things that gets postponed when time constraints force me to make sacrifices in my daily activities. I've found that when my life gets as busy as it is right now, it's not just my blog that gets ignored. I have been sticking to my real food diet 90% of the time, but the choices I make the other ten percent of the time have been indulgent comfort foods; I'm flashing back to old patterns. 

And I have the tight pants to prove it.

Yikes!

Well the good news is that I know what to do about it. If I get a package of Saint Patrick's Day cookies at a luncheon or a very nice young man brings me Lindt Dark Chocolate Truffles as a thank you gift, just don't eat them! 

Hmmm. . . easier said than done! 

It is interesting how we rationalize our choices. I put on a few pounds over the summer and decided that my face just looks better with a little more fat on it. That is a true enough observation. Unfortunately, my body is an equal-opportunity fat distributor. It likes to lay its fat EVERYWHERE. The real problem is that as we age, we slow down. And as we slow down, we simply have no choice but to be more rigid in our diets if we want to stay healthy and slim. I've noticed that as I have indulged dietary whims, I am having more arthritic pain (now a constant in my life - Argh!). I have never stopped my daily walks (though an injury sharply curtailed my ability to run five miles in a stretch), so the increased pain must be at least in part related to my food choices. I wonder how much better we would all feel if we totally rejected all processed foods and ate only the wholesome real food God put on our planet for our consumption. 

So starting today, I'm back to making my daily food plans with exclusively healthy foods and tracking my daily caloric intake and expenditures. In an effort to determine the existence of a causal relationship between food and my general feeling of wellness (unscientifically, of course), I am eliminating food that wasn't available to Grandma and Grandpa back in the day for the first month. 

I am attaching my fatter face shot for future comparison. So this is before. 

                 Before



 I'll keep you posted!



Monday, May 27, 2013

What Happened to My Food?

For the first few years after I reached my ideal weight and found a good balance of nutrition and activity that was right for me, I didn't change much about how I lived and ate. Why fool with success? In January of 2012, however, my concerns over how our foods (especially meats) are processed led me to start researching the differences between the diets of my great-grandmother's generation and what we eat today. My great-grandmother lived to be 96 and enjoyed great health for most of her life. My grandmother died at 74, and my mother died just this past year at 72. Most of my life, I've heard that every generation is living longer than the previous one. Credit is invariably given to improvements in medicine and medical care. This increased longevity certainly can't be proven by my family, and according to Sally Fallon in her book, Nourishing Traditions, it just isn't true today. According to Fallon, less people who make it to the age of 70 today will still be alive in 20 years than made it to 90 just four decades ago. And as I watched my mom fight and lose her battle with cancer, I had that epiphany moment when I realized that age is just a number anyway. The ability to keep people alive with modern medicine doesn't really matter if those years are plagued by chronic disease that severely diminishes the quality of life.

In my research, I found that it isn't just my sense that more people are dying of cancer. According to the US Public Health Service, the mortality rate from malignant neoplasms (cancer) between 1900 and 2005 has nearly tripled from 64 in 100,000 population to 188.7 per 100,000 population. Improvements in modern medicine should, one would think, show the exact opposite trend.

Unless something we are doing today is very, very different than it was in 1900 ...

The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates is quoted as saying, "Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food." I believe that we are what we eat, and I am living proof of the validity of that statement.  So I began reading books, watching documentaries, and conducting Internet research using valid sources to learn what really constitutes a healthy diet. It's like the "WWJD" bear I got from my mentor teacher years ago, except I ask myself, "What would Great-grandma Lisa eat?" And the answer is always the same - real food.

So it is fitting that the first book I found and read is Real Food by Nina Planck. She defines real food as old food, foods we've eaten for millions of years like meat, fish, and eggs, or for at least ten thousand years like butterfat. But it's not real food strictly by virtue of how long it has been in the diets of humans. Real food is also traditional - it is eaten the way it's always been eaten.

As a child, I ate healthy farm food, mostly what we grew in our two gardens, but also dairy products and meats my parents bought from the farmers in our community. I was trim; I was healthy. For most of my adult life (my fat years), food has been industrialized. Small farms have been put out of business in obscene numbers in our quest for efficiency - for cheap food that can quickly go from freezer, to microwave, to the table. Planck calls industrial food "recent and synthetic." It is designed to be a replica of real food, like margarine impersonating butter.

In the introduction to Fallon's book, Nourishing Traditions, she makes the observation that there has never been a time in American history that we have eaten so poorly, and medical statistics prove the premise that the way we eat determines our health.

From Nourishing Traditions:
*Heart disease and cancer were rare in 1900 but continue to increase today despite billions of dollars spent on research and advances in diagnosing and treating them. One in three Americans now dies from cancer. 
*One in ten Americans will have ulcers.
*One in five Americans is mentally ill.
*One in three Americans has allergies.
*One in five pregnancies ends in miscarriages.
*One-quarter of a million infants are born with some kind of birth defect each year.
*Diseases that were extremely rare a generation or two ago now affect a large segment of the American population: arthritis, multiple sclerosis, digestive disorders, diabetes, osteoporosis, Alzheimer's, epilepsy, chronic fatigue, and learning disabilities.
*Chronic diseases that once struck primarily the elderly are increasingly afflicting children and young people.

When nearly half of a country's population gets some kind of chronic illness and three out of four of those people die from their illnesses as is now the case in America, it is time to examine the cause and to look for a solution.

With new killer viruses striking us that are often drug-resistant, increased chemical sensitivities and food allergies in children, and more immune system disorders, we shake our heads, think it's a darn shame, and then stick those same heads in the sand. I kept hearing about men getting prostate cancer and finally asked my mom if prostate cancer is just inevitable if you live long enough. She said that she knew of few men of her generation who managed to escape it. Recently (and I no longer remember where) I read that prostate cancer has increased 230%. I don't remember the comparative time frame, but it almost doesn't matter - 230%???? And men aren't alarmed? Really? It seems to prove Fallon's point. She writes, "We have almost forgotten that our natural state is one of balance, wholeness and vitality."

In my view, God gave us everything we need to be healthy, energetic, and free of chronic disease even into old age. But then man decided he could do a better job making food than did God. First he started removing healthy parts of foods like fiber from fruits and bran from grains and selling the public on these processed foods, usually by associating food with emotion and fun, often with misinformation. Despite the abundance of healthy fats already available to us, man decided to make trans-fats, hydrogenated fats, and homogenized fats, all of which are either less healthy or actually harmful to us. To increase profits, the industrial giants decided to force-feed grains to cows that should be eating grass and then set forth on an advertising campaign to convince us that "corn-fed beef" was somehow desirable, which it's not. The food industry added artificial flavors, artificial colors, emulsifiers, stabilizers, and preservatives (and the list goes on and on) that not only don't add to the nutritional value of food, they harm us and are usually added to achieve such insignificant ends as being more visually appealing, better imitations of the real food (like yellow food coloring in margarine to make it look like butter), or so we don't have to give the milk jug a quick shake before we pour it on our cereal.

And then it started getting really insane. Man decided to play God and synthesize totally unnatural, doesn't-exist-anywhere-in-the-real-world food that our bodies don't recognize or know how to deal with.

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)

Beginning with the introduction into the food supply of a genetically engineered tomato in 1994, Americans have been eating GMOs whether they know it or not. Approximately 70% of the food on the market today is contaminated with GMOs. I remember hearing about the GM tomato years ago and not being the least bit alarmed. It sounded like a good thing; I bought the sales pitch. However, when I saw the movie Genetic Roulette by Jeffrey M. Smith and learned the exact nature of the genetic manipulation applied to corn, I was truly shocked! Why would any scientist anywhere in the world think it is a good idea to splice the DNA gene of bacillus thuringiensis into the DNA of corn? If this genetic manipulation enables corn to continually produce a pesticide that kills pests that feed off of it, what does it do in my body? I am not a scientist, but I don't need to be one to know that we are gambling with our health and our lives. These genes are living things. One area of study pertaining to genetically engineered pesticide-producing crops is the rise in inflammatory bowel diseases. An interesting graph I ran across plots the incidence of these diseases against the acres planted in Bt corn. Not surprising to me at all is that they correlate very well. Of course, you can "prove" any position you want using the Internet, but it is scientific fact that our bowels contain flora that aids in the digestive process. Therefore, when you consume pesticide DNA that has been manipulated to stay "on" so it can continually produce its pesticide, it's not a huge leap to at least theorize that your bowel flora can become pesticide manufacturers, as well. We want to believe that the digestive process kills or renders harmless the living things we swallow, but research on rats that ate GMO corn proves otherwise. The body of evidence is mounting, but a scientific French study concludes that there is a significant increase in deaths from the use of GMOs. I will not eat corn. Period! That means I have to read every food label looking for corn syrup, corn starch, cornmeal, etc. Actually, I now just go to Trader Joe's and buy their brands since they say they do not use GMOs in foods that carry their label. Whole Foods has committed to requiring GMO labeling of all products in their stores within five years. I guess it takes that long for all their suppliers to shift to "real food" since they know (as Norman Braksick, president of Asgrow Seed Company was quoted as saying in the Kansas City Star) that requiring GMOs to be labeled is tantamount to putting "a skull and crossbones on it."

I guess that means that the biotech industry knows that we don't really want to eat their food-like products. So why is our government allowing them to hide it them in our food?

Corn isn't the only genetically modified item on the market. Soybeans, canola, and cotton make up the list of the top four (in terms of prevalence), but there are more. The Weston A Price Foundation has a great site for a quick education on which GMO foods and fabrics are on the market, the dangers GMOs present, and how to avoid them.

From the Weston A Price Foundation website but credited to Jeffrey M. Smith's documentary, Genetic Roulette:
"The only human feeding study on GMOs ever conducted showed that genes 'jumped' from GM soy into the DNA of human intestinal bacteria and continued to function. That means that long after you stop eating GM soy, you may still have GM proteins produced continuously inside of you."

So the DNA you eat becomes part of your DNA. 

What's on the horizon? How about a nice piece of transgenic salmon? AquaBounty has been working to get to market salmon that has been genetically engineered with growth hormones to make it grow much larger and quickly. To prevent an environmental catastrophe, it is also going to be genetically engineered to be sterile (let's hope that part really works with 100% accuracy). 

And it all just makes me wonder. If I eat these man-made DNA sequences and they become part of my DNA, what will happen to me? I may have a small tumor growing inside of me at some point in my life. For all I know, I have a tumor just starting to grow in my body at this very moment. Will ingestion of the salmon engineered with a growth hormone like that cause my tumor to grow exponentially? If a woman eats the salmon with the sterility gene, will it cause her to be sterile, too? 

These are questions that must be answered before GM foods are fed to human beings. I frequently see claims that these foods are the most thoroughly tested foods on the market. These claims are made by bloggers and in advertisements with absolutely no offer of substantiation. What little research has been done by the biotech industry seems to be short-term. I guess that if we don't immediately start convulsing or seeing blood squirt out of our navels, we accept that what we just ate is safe. The very resilience of the bodies God gave us makes the effects of these foods difficult to identify until a tipping point occurs after years of exposure. Our need to see an immediate cause and effect connection before we change our behavior just proves how very gullible we can be.

Or maybe we just have to cling to that childlike belief that our government wouldn't allow these foods to become part of the food supply unless they are safe. If we believe even a bit of the research, we must deduce that we have all been turned into lab rats, unwittingly participating in an experiment that most likely will take years from our lives and from which there is no turning back; much damage has already been done even if we commit to change today. Our government gives into lobbyists and political pressure as standard operating procedure. It has failed the American consumer while protecting the people who secretly started this experiment with our food and thus, our health. And it's an experiment that has no control group. So how can anyone prove that the current state of American health is directly related to the introduction of GMOs in the food supply? The truth will eventually come out. Many countries currently ban or significantly limit GMOs, so they'll have to serve as the scientific control group for this particular experiment when Americans finally demand to know why our health stats just don't stack up against the stats of the citizens of countries.

As for me, I've seen all the data I need to make my decision.

So that's what happened to the real food that evolved over millions of years and kept man healthy and thriving.

Can we get it back? Is it even possible to eat only real food in America today?

I am working on it, but it is an ongoing process and one that I often find overwhelming.

A good starting point for your own education is this brief interview of Jeffrey M. Smith (Genetic Roulette). Our health is too important for us to be complacent about these foods. And as much as I didn't want to know any of what I now know, I am so glad my daughter forced me to watch Smith's film. In doing so, I believe she added years to her mother's life.











Saturday, April 6, 2013

Then and Now

There wasn't a lot about my childhood in rural Kansas that wasn't organic. Okay, so Mom seemed to have an affinity for Kool-Aid, but other than that, we grew up eating vegetables that we had grown in our two gardens, beef from the cows my parents picked out directly from the pasture for slaughtering, and drinking milk from large glass jars through which you see the milk separate from the cream. Mom even used that cream to make butter, which I despised for reasons I've yet to figure out. We did our chores, played outside, watched minimal TV (though with only a couple of stations in the days before cable, that wasn't much of a sacrifice), and did our homework without the slightest intervention from our parents. And though it wasn't at all unusual for the times, there wasn't one of the seven of us who was even the least bit overweight. What large family can say that today?

Sadly, the answer is very few.

As I grew up and moved away from that farming community, my eating habits changed. I managed to stay slim until I began having children. I held onto ten pounds after each pregnancy and then started adding a few pounds to that each year after I turned forty. I sometimes think that people who are skinny during early life see themselves as just a good diet away from being skinny people again, and those who are fat throughout their early lives and shed the pounds after puberty see themselves as fat people who are one over-indulgent year away from being fat again. I was definitely the former and just couldn't see myself for the way I really looked by the time I tipped the scale at 182 pounds. That's a lot of excess weight for my relatively short frame (5', 4 1/2 ").

I still loved and ate the vegetables that were the staple of my childhood diet. I ate the wholesome meals I grew up on, as well. But I also indulged daily on the other things I loved - sweets. I loved to bake and had something in the house all the time. Like most Americans, my concept of an appropriate portion size was greatly exaggerated. I also took the bag of cookies to the TV room and mindlessly snacked on them or something like them nearly every night. If I weren't such a high-energy person, I would have been much more obese. That is clear to me now.

In April of 2008, my daughter told me that I was going to be a grandma. I was thrilled! My daughter knew she had to quit smoking (a habit she clearly got from me no matter how much I preached against it, while puffing on a cigarette), and she asked me to do it with her. I had just celebrated my twenty-fifth wedding anniversary the month before and recalled thinking that given the smoking, the slight and persistent wheeze in my chest, the annual bout of bronchitis I seemed to get, and my weight, it would probably be the last milestone anniversary I would be alive to enjoy. My husband even agreed with me when I mentioned my concern to him. I knew it was finally time to quit forever. I had quit for my pregnancies and to nurse but always picked up the habit again. I decided to join my daughter to positively impact my own health and to be a better example to her than I had been as a smoker throughout her childhood.

About a month after I quit, I was watching TV and heard a statistic about how difficult it is to lose weight once a person quits smoking. It was a shocking statistic that I can't quote now, but my memory is that is was something like losing five or six pounds over a period of several months was great because the woman had quit smoking at the same time. I worried that if I didn't diet, this statistic suggested that I might actually gain weight, and I just knew that I couldn't get any fatter. So I decided to go on a diet.

Changing EVERYTHING!

Nothing conventional for me!  

I read, read, read about how to lose weight in a healthy way and then developed a diet and fitness plan that worked for me. I lost nearly sixty pounds in six months almost five years ago and have kept it off since that time. It was all about how I looked when I started and ALL about how I feel now. 

Left: 182 lbs. March 2008
Right: 124 lbs. Summer 2012


   
  



As I said, my metamorphosis started a few months after I quit smoking and then learned that this would most likely make it difficult to lose weight. I most definitely did not  want to look like a grandma while still in my forties, but the news that I would soon be one also made me realize that I already looked the part. Of course, I colored the gray hair, but I was a frumpy, middle-aged woman in appearance, and my appearance affected the way I lived my life. I made up my mind that I was not going to look grandmotherly by the time my first grandchild was born at the end of December 2008. It was the end of May, so I had almost six months to get 'er done!

I started my diet at the beginning of June. And if you knew me at all, you'd know that when I set my mind on something, I go all the way

I had been on diets before and had always been successful in losing weight. It really isn't that difficult with all the diet products available to us. We can buy non-fat yogurt, diet colas, fake desserts, skim milk, lean frozen dinners, etc., etc., etc. The problem for me was that the weight would (always) slowly come back. 

That is where my research started. I wanted to lose weight in a healthy way so that it would be gone for good. I knew that it would require lifestyle changes, but I also understood from my early reading that the way I lost the weight (like losing as much muscle as fat) was a big determiner of how quickly it would come back. I knew I needed to eat a "diet" that I was prepared to eat for the rest of my life. I'm not talking about eating a certain number foods from a list that values those foods at certain point levels or eating foods full of fake fat, fake sugar, and just a whole butt-load of chemicals. I wanted to lose weight eating healthy foods that would allow me to burn fat without losing too much muscle, since muscle loss during diets decreases the person's caloric needs after he or she stops the diet, thus setting him or her up for weight gain. Basically, you can never stop "dieting" because you no longer have the muscle you had prior to the diet to burn the calories you eat (and you gained weight at that level when you had more muscle!). 

I had watched a news program about a study done on how diet sodas affect the body. I learned that your body responds to the anticipated sugar load, not to the real one. So when we drink a diet cola and our taste buds sense a large intake of sugar, the brain signals the pancreas to produce insulin to help the cells take in the glucose and convert it into energy. When the perceived sugar intake is entirely false, as in the case of artificial sweeteners, insulin is produced but has nothing upon which to act. High levels of insulin in your bloodstream are harmful, so your body seems to trigger a hunger response or a craving to get you to eat something to use the insulin it produced. Study after study has demonstrated a link between drinking diet sodas and weight gain. And though the theory offered in the original news program I watched has yet to be proved, I knew enough to decide that with this diet, I would not use any artificial sweeteners. 

I began my diet with a "before" picture. What a shock! Somehow I just really didn't see the truth when I looked in the mirror. It's a phenomenon I don't understand, but when looking at those pictures, one frontal shot and one from the side, I just couldn't believe they were pictures of me. I started my period the next day, and I used that as a justification for why I looked so "bloated" in the picture. As I write this, I laugh at that memory of myself. I mean, really!  How could a few pounds of water weight possibly explain the extra fifty or sixty pounds I was looking at in those pictures? I guess we tell ourselves what we need to believe. At any rate, the pictures got me motivated. I bought and read a book that I won't name (because no matter what you put out there, someone is going to challenge it) that I found very useful as I defined my goals for the diet. I learned that everybody loses muscle when they diet no matter how well-designed the diet. To combat this, I decided to incorporate weight-training into my weight-loss plan. I also learned from this and another book the importance of including some aerobic exercise in my plan. This would allow me to lose weight at a little faster pace - and I was on a deadline! 

When I decided what to eat, I chose to follow the practice of calorie shifting. In one book I read, the author basically said that we aren't going to outsmart our metabolism, which has evolved over millions of years. If we stay at a static daily caloric intake, our bodies soon figure this out and learn to conserve energy at that intake level to protect its fat. This author recommended tracking one's calorie expenditures and then having low and high days. These are defined as high or low by the percentage of the day's caloric expenditures that one would eat. I don't recall the recommendations from the book because I never followed them exactly. They were too high for me. I chose to eat around 70% of my caloric expenditures on low days and 85% - 90% of my caloric need on my high days. I usually practiced a schedule of three low days and one high day, but I also made a point to avoid rigidly following any specific schedule in the interest of at least trying to outsmart my body's evolutionary response. I made an Excel spreadsheet to calculate my intake of fat, carbohydrates, protein, and calories to ensure they stayed at about a ratio of 15% fat, 60% carbs, and 25% protein. The protein level was slightly less than what the author of the first book recommended, but I just found it too difficult to eat that much protein. 

And it worked it for me, which is the point I'm trying to make. I took a lot of information from a variety of sources and designed a plan that suited MY lifestyle, MY tastes, and MY priorities. I don't believe anybody can tell you what works for you. If you really want to change your life, you'll be willing to invest the time to do the research, sort out what you believe and don't believe based on your own experiences, and then do the work. People who have asked me how I lost the weight have said time and time again that they just couldn't do it. It is too much work and takes too much time.  My thought is that they will do what it takes (whatever that may be for them) once they want it badly enough. I wanted it badly. 

Doing the research, reading the books (the first one was over 300 pages), and developing my diet and exercise plan and spreadsheet did require a sizable initial investment of time. Once all of that was in place and I had developed a database of diets to use in my daily meal planning, the administrative time each day was minimal. 

So here is what I did!

Monthly
Body Measurements: On the first day of each month, I measured my waist, bust, upper arm, thigh, and hips with a tape measure and recorded the measurements for comparison. 

Weekly
Body Composition: I assessed my body composition with an Omron monitor like this one so I could understand my overall gains and losses and make adjustments to my plan if they seemed necessary. I know that no device is going to compare to professional measurements, but I was not going to go somewhere every week and pay a person to measure my skin folds and calculate this for me. I took the measurements in all the places I could reach on my own and then compared them to the scale's calculations when I first got it. They were amazingly accurate. The scale was enough for me. It allowed me to see that I was actually gaining muscle most of the time while I was losing fat. It also has a visceral fat reading, which for me was always at a healthy number. This was not the case for my husband, and it helped him see the need to get on board with me since visceral fat can be an indicator of heart disease, a health risk that runs in his family. 

Photographs: I took a set of pictures - one frontal shot and one side shot. I took them in the same clothes (a bra and jeans, so I won't be sharing those), in front of the same door, at the same time each Saturday morning. I would then crop the shots and put them next to the previous weeks' photos on a digital page to allow me to visually compare the photos and see my progress in a way a number can't explain. It was one of the most motivating components of my plan. I had to buy two more pairs of the same jeans in different sizes and one identical bra in a smaller size so all the pictures would be the same. This was money well-spent. The pictures of my shrinking self are amazing! 

Daily
Meal Plan: I made a daily food plan. As I said, I used a 15:60:25 ratio of fats to carbs to protein as a rough guide. I intentionally planned meals significantly outside those limits on occasion to keep my body guessing. Most of us eat a fairly static set of foods. So after a couple of weeks of making food plans using a program like Excel, you have a pretty good database of foods with their nutritional information from which to draw. I usually started with the previous day's plan, gave it a new date and number, and then conducted a search of my diet folder to find the foods I wanted. I either got the nutrition facts from the food labels or went to www.calorieking.comwww.calorieking.com for fresh or unlabeled foods. There are lots of other food databases out there, but Calorie King was my favorite. 

Fitness Plan: This changed more than any other part of my plan. I started off walking twice a day - once in the morning and once in the evening. Three or four times a week I did a full-body weights routine from an old Jane Fonda video I bought online (dirt cheap). It included a starter level that was to be used for at least the first six weeks and then a more advanced level that I used later. I had an elaborate fitness plan tracking page that took too much time to complete, so I eventually simplified it to just a small box on my food plan page. I varied the length of the morning and evening walks to ensure that my calorie burn was never the same two days in a row. Once I added running, I cut out the evening walk. I worked up to five miles of running per day in the first couple of weeks and stuck with that, but I still varied the length of my morning walk. 



The Omron scale gives a reading of your basal metabolic needs ("daily caloric need" at the top of the box above), but I had started with figures from a page of the About.com website that worked for me. I always chose the sedentary level so I could calculate my exercise calories on my own. To do this when I walked outside, I wore a pedometer and used another function of the About.com site that gives calories burned per mile by walking. I found it much more accurate than the treadmill figures I had available to me at the time. I eventually took up running (or jogging, as a friend of mine likes to remind me, though I think my sweat and fatigue gave me the right to call it as I see it, and I was working way too hard to call it anything but running). This necessitated the purchase of a new treadmill that could handle the demands of a daily five-mile run. My new treadmill allows me to put in my personal stats, and the figures are dead-on with what I've found online. 

Note: You do not have to run to achieve good results. My daughter used my plan to lose weight and just couldn't run. I love the physical high I get from running and the sense of accomplishment I get from being able to run for an hour. I had to quit running every day after I achieved my goal weight because I got too thin and couldn't seem to eat enough to counter the running without going back to my old unhealthy food choices (cookies, chocolate, Little Debbie's whatever). I hurt my knee in a "dog" accident a little over a year ago and couldn't run at all for quite a while. It did not cause me to gain weight. Running is a personal choice, but all of us need some type of physical activity on a regular basis (meaning every day, as far as I'm concerned) for optimal health. Our bodies were designed to be active. 

Journal: This was second only to the pictures in terms of motivating me to stay focused. I usually started my journal entry (on computer) at the beginning of the day outlining my plans for activity and diet. I included my daily weight. I know experts say you shouldn't weigh every day, but I needed to do it. For me it was an accountability issue. I learned not to get upset at a pound or two weight gain in a day if I had eaten something higher in sodium (like my favorite "Quick Broccoli with Beef" recipe, which contains soy sauce). I expected it and knew I'd see the correction the next day. I also learned that if I had eaten watermelon, asparagus, and some herbal tea all in the same day, I tended to see a greater loss the next day because of the diuretic properties of those foods. I learned not to get too excited about that, either. But the journal was a way for me to plan my activities of the day, to express my joys and frustrations over how things were going, and to speculate on cause and effect relationships (like the fact that my "calorie deficit" never matched the actual loss one would expect based on that percentage of a 3500-calorie pound; it tended to be a much greater loss). I finished my journal at the end of the day, and this was another way I held myself accountable for sticking to the plan. I printed it on the back of the day's food plan and put it in a notebook. I even took pictures of my new self or pictures when I got back into old clothes that I loved and included them in my journal. When I hit milestones, I'd take a picture of the scale and put it on the journal page, so it has become like my scrapbook of my metamorphosis, and it's a book I now treasure. 

My Results

The weight truly just seemed to melt away. As has always been the case for me, I shed a lot of pounds very quickly - 20 pounds in the first month! Then it slowed down, as it should have. What was radically different for me this time was what didn't happen. 

I never cheated on this diet. Not once!  
I remember years ago when I joined Weight Watchers after I had my last child. My husband followed my diet. I bought the groceries, planned the meals, and cooked all the food, so he didn't have a lot of choice at mealtime. But he saw that I was losing weight and decided to stop snacking and stick to a man-sized serving of what I was eating. When I would cheat, which was all the time, he wouldn't cheat with me. He would act puzzled at my behavior and say something along the line of how cheating defeated the purpose of dieting. As if it were that simple!  But I bought lots of the Weight Watcher desserts so I wouldn't feel deprived and continued to feed my sweet tooth (with artificial sweeteners) and to drink diet soda. Of course I cheated. I almost had to given all the insulin floating around my system with nothing to do!  I still lost the weight and got down to my pre-pregnancy weight. Then I gained it all back in two years. I believe it was different for me this time because I consumed absolutely no artificial sweeteners and planned my meals ahead of time. If I got hungry, there was something I could eat to satisfy that hunger. I planned three meals and three snacks a day, but I ate them when I was hungry. It was quite often difficult to make myself eat that last snack. I also ate lots of vegetables and fruits that were high in fiber and gave me the sensation of being full, thus reducing my desire for food. I also noticed that my sweet tooth pretty much disappeared. In the 4 1/2 years since I lost the weight I have noticed a correlation between indulging in the occasional dessert  (which I recommend - balance is everything in life) and wanting something sweet later in the day. For me at least, eating sweets begets eating sweets. I now know this and plan a high-fiber food for later in the day (the Weight Watcher soup recipe I got long ago is both delicious and great for curbing my hunger). One of the books I read addressed the glycemic index. I was eating rice cakes and watermelon, both of which are high on the glycemic index. I learned that if I wanted to continue eating those things, I should pair them with foods that are low on the glycemic index to slow down the rate at which they are broken down. When you're satisfied (barring an eating disorder), you are much less likely to cheat. I really wasn't hungry past the first month. I didn't allow myself to go hungry for hours on end because I didn't want to trigger energy conservation. Which leads me to my next point.  

I never plateaued on this diet. Not once!  
This I attribute largely to the calorie shifting. I remember getting "stuck" at one weight or another for a couple of weeks at a time when I was on Weight Watchers. They would give me an alternative plan to follow for the next week, and it usually worked. But I did not engage in any exercise when I did WW and ate the same number of points for weeks on end. With MY weight-loss plan (so much more than a diet), I was constantly shaking things up with different daily calorie goals and different levels of exercise. 

And the Best Part Is . . . .

Once again, my husband saw what I was doing and didn't want to eat my dust!  He joined me in changing his lifestyle. He ate the foods I was eating, got on the treadmill (albeit only on the weekends, and he would never run), and he shed the pounds, too. The difference in our 25th anniversary picture (on the left) and our 26th anniversary picture (on the right) pretty much tells the story. 



When I started my story, I said my "diet" started out of concerns about how I looked. Since every previous diet I've been on was solely calorie-reduction in nature, the primary benefit I received was improved physical appearance, not improved physical fitness or improved health. Since this weight-loss plan was really a health and fitness plan that included giving up smoking, exercising every day, and making healthy food choices (which I continue to tweak today, but that's an even later post), what I got out of it went way beyond looking better in my clothes. There just aren't words to describe the difference in how I feel now. 

But I'm gonna' try. 

I remember the early days of my lifestyle change. I started out walking a couple of miles a day, which was tough! Then I added an evening walk, and there were literally mornings (most of them, in fact) when I walked painfully across the bedroom taking one slow step at  a time because every muscle in my legs ached. I was carrying all that extra weight around on my arthritic knees and ankles with muscles that had NEVER been taxed in such a way before. 

After the first month, I was walking ten miles a day. But that takes a long time, and I wanted to do more with my day than exercise. Since I wasn't willing to give up the calorie burning benefits of my exercise, I got this wild idea that maybe I'd try running. 

I literally laugh at the memory of those first days. I ran for three minutes on the treadmill and was sooooooooooooo out of breath - in three minutes and after a month of walking miles and miles every day! But the next day I did ten minutes, and the next day, 12 minutes. In two weeks I was up to an hour a day. I had never been a runner, never been an athlete, and I was able to run five miles a day in only two weeks. I remember talking to my mother about my goal, and she said she just knew I could do it. Her picture was on my dresser right there in front of the treadmill. So when I doubted myself, I just looked at her picture and remembered her unfaltering belief in me, and I pushed myself a little harder. 

I expected to have some physical backlash from all the running I was doing just as I had when I increased my walking. But the most amazing thing happened. Rather than having more pain and an adjustment period, I noticed less pain and then none in a very short time. I truly believe that running prevents arthritic pain for me. I've read (since then) that it does this for many people, but I can't wrap my mind around the cause and effect. I run on a good treadmill with a cushioned deck and I wear good running shoes, so I guess that helps reduce shock to my joints. That just can't be the whole story. A friend of mine always tells me that we just have to accept some things as true even when we can't explain them. So about eighteen months ago, I got tripped up in my dog's leash and fell. I injured my knee (fractured an arthritic spur I didn't know I had), and I couldn't run for months. It only took a couple of weeks for the pain in my ankle to return.  It is never there when I run faithfully and is only minimally painful when I walk daily. So now I accept the truth that for me, for reasons I don't understand, running is my preventive medicine. 

Less arthritic pain was just one of the health benefits I noticed. Another was (to my husband's delight) that I stopped snoring (and you don't know how difficult it is for me to admit that I possibly might have done such an unladylike thing as snore). I have had sleep problems for years to the degree that I finally went through a sleep study. I'm sure the excess fat that caused the snoring was probably why I was diagnosed with borderline sleep apnea. I still wake up a ridiculous number of times each night, but it's not because my airway is obstructed. 

It took some time, but I eventually was able to go off my medication for Restless Legs Syndrome. I did it to transition to a different medication with every intention of getting on the new medication in two weeks. To my complete shock, I no longer needed it. I had such severe problems with RLS for over a decade that I couldn't even make the hour-long car trip home from concerts I go to with my husband without having my medicine with me to take right before we left the concert hall. I sometimes have minor issues with it now, but they are rare and only a slight nuisance. RLS does not keep me up anymore. 

I used to have a lot of problems with nausea (go figure, put a bunch of junk in your body and your stomach gets upset). I never do now. 

I used to have headaches. They are rare now and only seem to happen when I forget to sleep on my "special" pillow for the arthritis I have in my neck. They aren't from riding the sugar roller coaster.  

I take no medications anymore - hardly ever need my allergies meds, either. 

I just feel good all of the time now. 

We truly are what we eat.

And I eat the good stuff.