Diet, Dessert and Dogs has moved! 

If you’re reading this page, you’ve landed on the old site.  Please visit the new location by clicking here–and don’t forget to update your readers and blogrolls!  And you’ll find lots more anti-candida recipes on the new site as well. 🙂

As always, thanks for reading.  I look forward to seeing you at the shiny new Diet, Dessert and Dogs!

“Um, Mum, we are coming with you, aren’t we? Because (and sorry to have to tell you this), we actually have more fans than you do on this blog.”]  

* * *

These days, I can’t think of a single person I know who isn’t stressed.  I mean, with all our modern amenities, our time-saving devices, our plugged-in technology, most of us are still plagued with a constant sense “never enough” or “not up to snuff.”  And I’m not too proud to admit that I myself am probably preternaturally sensitive to stressors in my life.  In fact, it’s possible that I react just a wee bit more forcefully to stress than the average person. Truth be told, I find it downright impossible to cope some days.  Oh, all right, fine; I admit it:  I’m basically a slobbering mass of quivering kanten who’s totally incapable of coping with excess pressure.  (I mean, do you know anyone else who had to quit meditation because it was too stressful?)

It’s not as if most of us can just take off for a few weeks to our  spectacular retreat in New Zealand when we feel overwhelmed by life’s little curve balls (how lovely for you that you could, though, Shania).  Some, like the HH, play records (as opposed to CDs) to de-stress; others play with their home décor, wardrobe or hairstyle. Some play the clarinet.  And then there are those who simply play around

Me, I like to play in the kitchen.

Throughout my recent hiatus from the blog, I kept encountering interesting recipes or ideas for baked goods and my hands would itch to get back to cooking.  There’s something immensely soothing about swishing a wooden spoon over and over through a clear, fragrant broth, or chopping mindlessly as carrots are transformed into mounds of tiny, uniform cubes on the cutting board.

But what to cook? As I mentioned last time, I’ve embarked once again on an anti-candida diet for a few weeks, which means my diversions in the kitchen will have to comply with the guidelines of that eating plan. For those who aren’t familiar with it, the anti-candida diet is basically a nutritional means to reduce the candida albicans yeast that’s present in and around us all the time, but which occasionally multiplies out of control in certain people (those with compromised immune systems, those with blood sugar issues, those with hormonal imbalances, etc.)   My personal weakness is an addiction to sweets; sugar is the number one preferred vittle for those microscopic opportunists.  

In order to reduce the number of candida organisms down to a “normal” level, the anti-candida program (I’ll just call it ACD from now on) commonly recommends cutting out any foods that could potentially feed the yeast or encourage it to grow.  In its most stringent form, the diet would eliminate:

  • anything containing any kind of sugar (cane, high fructose corn syrup, brown sugar, maple syrup, honey, brown rice syrup, etc.–plus fruits, fresh and dried);
  • simple carbohydrates, which convert to glucose very quickly (flours, pasta, bread, muffins, cakes, cookies, pies, tarts, biscuits, crackers, cornstarch and similar starches, and any other baked goods of any kind; candies, chocolate, ice cream, pudding, anything candy-like; white potatoes, white rice and any other white grains)
  • foods that contain mold or fungus or encourage it to grow (yeast is a fungus, after all): mushrooms, peanuts, cashews, melons, cheeses;
  • the most common allergens or foods that could cause allergic responses (which trigger the yeast): dairy, eggs, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, and soy foods;
  • foods that are fermented or might encourage fermentation (on which yeast feeds): alcohol, vinegars, all condiments (no ketchup, sorry); soy sauce, etc.
  • anything artificial, processed, containing chemicals or additives, imitation or artificial seasonings and flavorings and colorings;
  • pop, fruit juice, presweetened drinks, coffee, tea.

Right about now, you may be wondering, “what the heck CAN you eat??”  Good question.  The basic list of “permitted” foods is actually shorter than those that are prohibited.  Still, there’s quite a bit left that’s both tasty and nourishing:

  • all vegetables except very high-glycemic ones (such as white potatoes, corn, etc.)
  • whole, gluten-free grains (brown rice, quinoa, millet, amaranth, teff, etc.)
  • beans and legumes
  • some nuts and most seeds
  • water
  • natural, cold-pressed oils (especially olive oil)
  • a bit of lemon juice
  • stevia (a natural herbal sweetener that doesn’t affect blood sugar levels)

I was leafing through the book that became my ACD Bible when I was first on the diet about 10 years ago (called The Complete Candida Yeast Guidebook), and I have to admit I began to despair a little.  Life without pancakes on Sunday mornings?  Life devoid of fresh, juicy fruits? Life sans a little tipple on occasion?  How would I cope?  What could I eat when the HH and I went out to dinner?  What would I do when my friends invited me to Starbucks to catch up?  It was starting to feel mighty stressful around here.  So I exhibited my usual reaction when I’m feeling stessed:  I got into the kitchen when I couldn’t stand the yeast. 

After consulting with a few classmates currently practising as holistic nutritionists, I was reassured that the ACD diet had been revised in recent years.  Considered unduly restrictive (you think??) it’s since been amended to better reflect current trends in the fields of nutrition and scientific research.  Apparently, some sweet foods can now be included as long as they’re low on the glycemic index or GI (which means they don’t raise blood sugar levels very quickly). A low GI denies the yeast its main source of nutrition–glucose. In other words, this time round, I can include most nontropical fruits (such as apples, some pears, berries, or peaches) in my menus, as well as minute amounts of agave nectar, a natural sweetener that’s also low-glycemic. 

Scanning the ingredients of my refrigerator for inspiration, the first thought that occurred to me was to cook up some kitchari.  This Ayurvedic cleansing stew is a flexible recipe that always features rice, mung beans, and certain spices; beyond that, anything goes. It seemed perfect for that little flock of cauliflower florets waiting patiently to make themselves useful. There was also a lone sweet potato perched on the counter (the only survivor of the Sweet Potato and Ginger salad I made the other day), so those were my veggie choices, but you can use whatever you like or have on hand. The HH thinks this dish bears an unfortunate resemblance to Klingon gach, but I love its mushy, nubby base and nourishing, comforting broth.

The stew simmers gently for almost an hour, infusing your entire home with the fragrant, soothing aromas of Indian spices as it bubbles.  It may have been intended as a cleansing stew, but that doesn’t mean it’s devoid of flavor.  One serving of this, and your stress will evaporate, right into the swirling plumes of steam emanating from your bowl. 

Since the mung beans feature so prominently in this dish, I’m submitting it to Susan of The Well Seasoned Cook for her second My Legume Love Affair event.

Kitchen Sink Kitchari (loosely adapted from this recipe)

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

I soaked the rice and beans overnight before cooking, but that step is optional.  If you don’t soak your beans overnight, use the quick-soak method:  cover with boiling water, bring to the boil, and let sit, covered, for an hour.  Then drain and cook as you would pre-soaked beans.

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS has moved! 

If you’re reading this page, you’ve landed on the old site.  Please visit the new location by clicking here–and don’t forget to update your readers and blogrolls!

As always, thanks for reading.  I look forward to seeing you at the shiny new Diet, Dessert and Dogs!

“Um, Mum, we are coming with you, aren’t we? Because (and sorry to have to tell you this), we actually have more fans than you do on this blog.” 

[I thought it would be fun to run a little series over here at DDD: I’ll profile one one of my favorite foods, or a food that I’ve recently discovered and enjoyed, over several days.  For this third entry, I’m focusing on Avocados. The series is presented on an occasional (and entirely arbitrary) basis, before I move on to the next lucky comestible.  Today’s avocado-based recipe also happens to be quick and incredibly easy, the criteria for my Flash in the Pan recipes–so it straddles both categories!] 

 

Think smooth and creamy.  Think easy and delicious. Think sandwich spread, base for sandwich fillings, foundation for dips or savory pâtés.  Think avocado mayonnaise!

This incredibly quick and equally irresistible recipe comes from the wondrous Dr. Ben Kim’s Natural Health website.  A chiropractor and acupuncturist based in Barrie, Ontario, Dr. Kim is also a fount of information on all things holistic, and he offers incredible material about healthy eating–all for free through his newsletter, of which I am an avid fan (and no, I’ve never actually met the man, just in case you think there’s a little nepotism going on here–I just really think his info is great!).

I whipped up this mayo and enjoyed a daub on some steamed artichokes, but by the time I’d finished eating them, I knew I was hooked.  I plopped some over ripe, juicy slices of beefsteak tomato for a lunch appetizer and was enthralled.  After the first taste, I wanted to scoop this out of the bowl with a spoon (come to think of it, I did scoop this out of the bowl with a spoon).

You can use this as you would any other mayo, in sandwiches, wraps, salads (it would be heavenly thinned out just a little over field greens–turns out the recipe is very much like the avocado pesto salad dressing I posted about last March).

Avocado and Basil Mayonnaise

from Dr. Ben Kim

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS BY CLICKING HERE.

This creamy, heavenly spread can be used anywhere you’d use regular mayo.  I agree with Dr. Kim:  this is the best vegan mayo I’ve ever tried.

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS BY CLICKING HERE.

The Dirt on Cleansing

June 8, 2008

DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS has moved! 

If you’re reading this page, you’ve landed on the old site.  Please visit the new location by clicking here–and don’t forget to update your readers and blogrolls!

As always, thanks for reading.  I look forward to seeing you at the shiny new Diet, Dessert and Dogs!

“Um, Mum, we are coming with you, aren’t we? Because (and sorry to have to tell you this), we actually have more fans than you do on this blog.” 

For those of you who read my blog regularly, you know that I’m on a cleansing diet this week, an outgrowth of the Total Health course I’ve been taking for the past month and a half.  Well, I hadn’t intended to post yet another non-recipe entry this week, but since I’ve received quite a few questions about why I’ve chosen this particular cleanse and how it works, I thought it might be useful to share a bit about cleansing in general and my own choice for this week in particular.  I’ll warn you, though: what follows is a fairly long post (word count: 2443).  If you’re simply interested in the food I’ve been eating, I’ll post that later–so feel free to come back then!

[Please note: This is a condensed and somewhat simplified account of the process, based on what I learned while studying to become a nutritionist, my own reading on the topic, and my personal experience with cleanses over the past five years.  It is by no means intended as any kind of medical or professional advice and is purely my own perspective on the topic, presented for informational purposes only. ]

Q: Why Detox at All?

Whether you use the term “fast,” “cleanse” or “detox diet,” the process focuses on a single goal: detoxifying and rebalancing the body’s internal operating systems, primarily the digestive tract (but also the liver, respiratory system, urinary system and lymphatic system).  Given the environmental factors, lifestyle, and eating habits of most of us in the modern world, I believe that everyone, no matter how thin, active or deemed “healthy,” could benefit from a cleanse once in a while.  Even the instructor for our course (who has been following a strict regimen of ultra-healthy eating coupled with cardiovascular exercise, strength training exercise, yoga, dance, nia, sports, and a daily spiritual practise for over 20 years) undergoes a cleanse twice a year. 

As denizens of the modern, industrial world, we are exposed to myriad toxins daily, both from within and without.  Just by virtue of living near the great and wonderful metropolis of Toronto, I have the pleasure of inhaling highly polluted air most days of the week.  For the first two months that we lived in this house, I could smell the distinct aroma of fresh paint gases (courtesy of the landlord, who was actually attempting to do us a favor) every time I entered the house.  I ingest all kinds of unsavory substances that leach through plastic water bottles, the plastic containers I use to transport my lunches to work, the dyed and bleached clothing I wear, or the cleansers I use (though I’ve tried to eliminate as many of those as I can).   

And that’s only the exogenous toxins.  We also take in toxins from the food we eat, whether hydrogenated oils from junk food, artificial colors or flavors, or “milk” shakes at McDonald’s or Burger King. Because these substances are not made in nature and our bodies weren’t designed to process them, the liver works overtime to detoxify them out of the body (as much as possible) to keep us healthy. 

When your liver is on overdrive neutralizing toxins that you take in, free radicals are formed.  Free radicals are basically cell-killers, and they can result in cancer and chronic diseases that are often connected to inflammation (such as arthritis, heart disease, etc.). Those of us with weak immunity or overworked filtering systems (such as myself) suffer the consequences and wander around with stuffed noses, digestive distress, joint inflammation, or other chronic conditions that are so often attributed to “aging” or simply “life in general.”

One of my natural health practitioners put it this way:  imagine a pile of bricks that’s being built into a little tower, one brick at a time. Each brick is a different toxin that your body has to deal with and try to eliminate.  As with a pile of bricks, you can add quite a few to the pile without any dire consequences at all; in fact, observed from the outside, everything appears hunky-dory, stable and unchanged. One would even infer that the extra weight being piled on top is doing no harm, making no difference whatsoever. 

But then you reach the point where the pile can no longer support even one more brick.  You place that last brick at the top of the pile and–BAM! (not to quote Emeril in such grave matters, or anything)–the pile completely collapses.  Your body works the same way.  When you were younger (or healthier), you may have been able to tolerate a huge number of toxic “bricks” in your system. But tax the system long enough and then, suddenly, it appears as if everything breaks down at once.

That’s what happened to me several years ago.  After assuming all was well for years (even though I drank up to a liter (quart) of aspartame-sweetened pop a day, had 3-5 coffees a day, imbibed wine and spirits on weekends and consumed whatever junk food, candy, cookies, cakes, or other garbage I desired on a regular basis), everything came crashing down.  I spent about a year suffering from symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, endured multiple recurrent sinus infections (one so serious that it required four–FOUR!–courses of antibiotics to eradicate), and suffered almost continuous yeast infections, coupled with fatigue, depression, and general feelings of “lousy.” At that point, I really needed a cleanse.

All this to say, if there’ are any actions we can regularly take to diminish our load of toxic “bricks,” we should do so.

Q: What Is a Cleansing or Detox Diet?

Basically, cleansing means “cleaning up the diet (and, ideally, environment) to allow the body to rest from fighting off and eliminating toxins for a while, so that it can repair and rejuvenate.”

There are many levels of detox, depending on where you find yourself to begin with. It’s recommended that people start at a level just one echelon away from (less toxic than) where they are now, because detoxing encourages the toxins to exit the body quickly (through elimination and sweating, primarily), and if too many to escape too fast, you’ll end up feeling sort of like a deflated baloon in a mud puddle–or one really sick puppy (this effect is called a “healing crisis“). 

The very first time I went on a detox diet, my naturopath–only two months into her practice–didn’t think to warn me what could happen if I changed my eating habits too drastically. She prescribed what is essentially a NAG diet, but without any animal products. After one day of the diet, I was felled by my body’s extreme healing crisis (I describe the event here).  Luckily, it passed in a couple of days.

By starting “slowly”–that is, without altering too many aspects of your diet or life at once–you avoid a severe healing crisis.  Most people feel a little bit tired or sleepy; some experience mild flu-like symptoms such as a sore throat, but these ususally disappear in a day or two. 

Q: How Do You Know What to Eat and What to Eliminate on a Cleanse?

The diet you choose should depend on the diet you eat regularly before the cleanse.  If someone enjoying a SAD (Standard American Diet) decided to embark on a water fast, it would likely spark a full-scale healing crisis and the person would feel rather sick. So decide where you are now, then move in baby steps toward a full-scale cleanse.

There are basically five or six levels of cleansing diet.  Ideally, you would work your way up to the most challenging level as you clean up your diet over the years. 

Level One: Basic non-toxic diet for everyone. (from Elson Haas, The Detox Diet)

Level one is what I often refer to as the NAG diet, the diet that, if followed regularly, should allow your body to exist with minimum toxic intake and to keep you pretty healthy. (Other versions are Anne Marie Colbin’s diet in Food and Healing, Tosca Reno’s The Eat Clean Diet; or Elson Haas’ diet in Staying Healthy with Nutrition.).  If you’re not already on this type of diet, it would be the first step.  Try this for a week and see how you feel. You could theoretically stay on this diet for the rest of your life.

Level One: The NonToxic Diet (from Elson Haas, The Detox Diet):

  • Eat organic foods whenever possible.
  • Drink filtered water.
  • Rotate foods [ie, eat each of these no more than once every four days or so], especially common allergens such as milk products, eggs, wheat, and yeasted foods.
  • Practice food combining.
  • Eat a natural, seasonal cuisine.
  • Include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and, for omnivarians, some low or non-fat dairy products, fresh fish (not shellfish) and organic poultry.
  • Cook in iron, stainless steel, glass, or porcelain cookware.
  • Avoid or minimize red meats, cured meats, organ meats, refined foods, canned foods, sugar, salt, saturated fats, coffee, alcohol, and nicotine.

And while it’s not stated in this list, Haas also prohibits anything processed or made with chemicals or artificial colorings–this should go without saying.

[“Sounds good, Mum, but do we have to do the part about avoiding meat?”]

Level Two: (this and later levels from Caroline Dupont, Enlightened Eating).

Level two is a step beyond level one, as “it eliminates all animal products and glutenous grains.”  As Dupont points out, this can be a lifelong diet rather than a detox diet if mostly organic foods are eaten and sources of protein and vitamin B12 (which can only be acquired naturally through animal products) are carefully monitored. 

For those who already eat a Level One diet as their regular fare, Level Two would be considered a mild cleanse.

Level Three: Living Foods Only

This level kicks it up a notch (seriously, WHAT is Emeril doing in this discussion?) by allowing only raw foods, effectively eliminating grains (except for sprouted grains). People at this level eat raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, freshly pressed juices, sprouts, and possibly raw dairy.

Q: Why Is Raw Supposedly Better?  Why Are There No Grains? Isn’t That a Lot of Fruit–Why is All That Sugar in the Fruit Acceptable?

RAW:  A raw diet provides the body with readily available digestive enzymes in raw, but not cooked, foods; these would otherwise need to be generated courtesy of your saliva, stomach, and pancreas.  For that reason, it is much easier to digest raw versus cooked food; raw foods give the body a bit of a break so it can concentrate on other functions, such as detoxifying, maintaining, and repairing.  People on all-raw diets have experienced incredible boosts in energy as well as healing effects. 

GRAINS:  Unsprouted grains (the kind we normally eat) are more difficult to digest than raw foods.  There is nothing inherently wrong with eating grains, especially if your digestive system is in tip-top condition; but for those of us with digestive issues, or when cleansing the system, grains are just a bit too challenging.

FRUIT SUGARS:  It’s true that a raw diet provides a large number of fruits, and fruits do contain natural sugars.  But please don’t confuse naturally-occurring sugars with refined white sugar (or even honey or maple syrup, which are both concentrated sugars).  When you eat something refined, the sugar is converted to glucose (a monosaccharide–the smallest sugar molecule, as it’s broken down by the body and passed into the bloodstream) extremely quickly, because it’s already practically in the form of glucose when you eat it. 

With fruits, the sugars are bound up with fibre and other nutrients, and the body must work to extract the different elements in the fruit and to convert the sugars to glucose in the body.  This means you won’t get the same kind of spike in blood sugar levels from eating a fresh fruit as you will from eating a piece of cake or even cup of coffee with sugar in it.  Sugar in fruits is healthy and doesn’t generate toxins in the body. (Think of diabetics, for instance–they’re allowed most fruits).  Fruits with extremely high sugar levels could be eaten in smaller quantities, but even then, they are still healthy foods.  And fruits are digested very quickly and easily in the body–they are the easiest foods for your body to break down, so they don’t tax the system.

[“Give us more fruits is what I say, Mum!’]

Level Four: Blended Foods, Smoothies and Soups

By blending foods, you render them yet more easily digestible.  Dupont suggests incorporating some of these foods into a raw foods diet; furthermore, this level is presented as an excellent “introduction to fasting for people with hypoglycemia, bowel disorders [or] constipation.”

Level Five: Juice Fast And/Or Master Cleanse

At this level, you’re basically removing the need for your bowel to process any fibre and are providing very nutrient-rich clear liquids that are processed very easily by the digestive tract. At level five, a person consumes only freshly squeezed or pressed fruit and vegetable juices, or the Master Cleanse, a mixture of filtered water, lemon juice, maple syrup and a pinch of cayenne pepper.

Level Six: Water Fast

At this point, only those who have already gone through the other five phases should attempt a water fast; drinking only pure filtered water gives the body’s internal organs the ultimate work break. According to Dupont, no one should even attempt a water fast who has not first “established a consistently healthy diet for at least 6 months first.”

[“Yes, pure water is definitely good, Mum.  Especially in summer.”]

Q:Why Did You Choose the Cleanse You Did?

When I was in nutrition school, after spending a full year following the NAG diet and trying out most of the other diets we learned about, I felt ready to complete a Level Five (Master Cleanse) diet for almost a full week.  At that point, my “regular” diet was so non-toxic that the Master Cleanse was a good step.  I felt great while on it and did reap the benefits of better digestion and more energy.

These days, however, my regular diet is more like Level Two, above.  I already don’t eat meat; I already don’t eat refined foods; I already don’t eat most gluten grains on a daily basis.  When I examined the next level–all raw–I realized that would be too challenging for me, and I was afraid I’d slip if I tried to limit myself to raw foods alone. As a compromise, I chose a diet that still eliminated the grains, but retained some cooked foods. I’m happy with the compromise and am feeling some pretty good results so far. 

Maybe next time, I’ll be ready for another raw-go-round. 

Q: Readers: What Do You Think?

If you’ve made it this far, I’d love to know: how many of you have tried detox diets or cleanses?  What was your experience?  What worked, and what would you warn against?

Here’s how I was going to start this blog entry:

I simply can’t believe it–it snowed yet again yesterday.  Will this accursed winter never end? The drifts on the driveway (oh, lord, another few hours of shoveling!) have already enveloped my car in a duvet of white, and little tempests are performing pirouettes in our back yard, propelled along by the wind. 

The newscast today said that we’ve already received 72 cm. of snow this season (that’s about 33 inches), when the average for a Toronto winter is around 20 cm.  That’s more than triple the snow we usually have–pretty much a new record!!  That’s more snow than I can remember in the last decade!  That’s more snow than any human should reasonably be asked to shovel or trudge through or brush off their coats or blink against as they stumble through the assault of bitter cold flakes!  That’s just TOO. . . MUCH.  . . . SNOW!!!!!!! 

 But since that would have sounded totally juvenile and excessively emotional over, well, snow, I decided not to start my entry that way.  And so, instead, I will start it like this:

One of the things I enjoy about blogging is the ongoing discovery of new blogs I like to read, and, of course, learning about the people behind the blogs. Comments are great for this (and I never cease to be delighted–and always a bit amazed–each time I receive a new comment on any post). Memes are also useful this way, as they provide more information about the authors as well. 

And so it was particularly rewarding (pun intended!) when I discovered that a blogger I’ve recently “met,” and one whose blog I regularly enjoy, presented me with an “Excellent Blogger” award.  Whoo-hoo! Thanks so much, Romina!  I’m very honored and extremely delighted.  What a great way to enter into the weekend. (“We are so proud of you, Mum!  Um, so is this a reward of food, Mum?“)

excellentblog-award.jpg

Part of my responsibility as a recipient is to pass along the award to others.  I’ll take a few days to mull it over before posting about it (I take my duties very seriously!).  In the meantime, I’ve been thinking about some other weighty issues.

While driving to meet with my book club cohorts the other night, I heard an interesting interview on the radio, and one that got me thinking.

[Short pause for puerile rant:  the book we were discussing was Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, I thoroughly enjoyed the book, even though I wasn’t entirely enamoured of the author’s own portrayal of her personality during the year she spent hedonistically chowing down, assiduously seeking spiritual nirvana, or unintentionally attaining true love.  I found her writing to be evocative and entirely engaging, frequently burning with a hard, gem-like flame of well-crafted prose, yet still highly accessible and firmly rooted in the world of the mundane.

And so, you can only imagine the depths of my dismay when, while surfing the net in preparation for our discussion, I came across this piece of information.  Can you imagine a better way to ruin a perfectly good book??  The irony is palpable. Ah, well, there goes another movie I’ll never see.  *SIGH*].

Ahem. Sorry about that.  Back to the radio interview:  the host was chatting with Rick Gallup, the man who popularized the concept of the Glycemic Index, in his book The GI Diet Now, rather than being just another diet guru, Gallup is extremely well equipped to discuss such issues as blood sugar levels, lipids and hormones, as he was the past president of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario.

Surprisingly quick-witted (not to imply that doctors can’t be funny, or anything), Gallup offered a wealth of information about the diet itself, and how to lose weight by eating whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and healthy protein sources.  Basically, he was advocating a NAG-friendly diet.  That much, I already knew.  It’s how to stick with that diet that I find inordinately difficult.

Well, the interview provided one more item in my endless search for weight loss motivation, which I thought I’d share here.  Gallup suggested to people in his diet clinic that they keep a bag, box, basket, or any other container in the bathroom alongside their scale.  Then, as they lost weight, he said, they should place an item of equal weight into the container.  In other words, if you lost a pound, put a one-pound can (or box, or bag) of something into the bag.  The following week, if you lost 3/4 pound, add something of equal weight to the bag.  Eventually, you’ll have a bag that weighs quite a bit–just as much as you’ve lost (just be sure the items are non-perishable, or you’ll end up with a compost bin in your bathroom).

This seemed a brilliant idea to me, and I’m determined to try it out.  Imagine, if you lost 10 pounds, how heavy that bag would be!  In my case, if I were to lose my desired 40 pounds, the bag would actually be too heavy for me to lift!  Quite a sobering thought, as I am obviously already carrying that much weight around with me right now.

I’d love to add this tip to my (far too short) list of “What Actually Works,” but will wait until I’ve tried it out for a while. Of course, this presupposes that one actually loses weight.  Another sigh.

*Or, “Everything I Know About Eating, I Learned From My Dogs”

As we all know, dogs are great role models for living in the moment.  And boy, do they love their food.  In fact, sometimes I think I’m nothing but a food dispenser for my Furry Girls.  (“That’s so unfair of you, Mum, really.  Don’t you know that we also rely on you for shelter and walks?).  

From what I’ve observed living with two dogs, this is how they eat:

  • Be Willing To Eat Anything.  In other words, if it’s organic (I mean that in the “derived from living organisms” sense, not the “no-pesticide” sense), they will eat it.  In Chaser’s case, she’ll even occasionally eat something that isn’t food at all, such as thrown-out tissues (“But they were in the garbage beside the food, Mum.”). Lesson for People:  Go out on a limb and be willing to try new foods once in a while.  My HH is totally open when it comes to anything made of animal parts, for example (such as organ meats or more exotic forms of sushi), but has become less willing in recent months to try some of the vegan ingredients that I love (such as teff, or a sprinkling of nutritional yeast over pasta).
  • Eat fast.  Dogs just hoover up that chow as quickly as they can; no mindful eating here, no taking time to appreciate the subtle flavors of the P-Nuttier biscuit versus the Freshwater Trout  one. After all, you never know when another cur will drop in and want what’s in your bowl, so better be sure there’s nothing left for them when they arrive.  Lesson for People: If you live with dogs, you’ve surely been exposed to the various smells associated with that kind of guzzling and its effects on digestive systems. Do yourself a favor: avoid the same rumbling, bloating and eau du flatulence by chewing food properly and eating more slowly.
  • Eat it all. No leftovers with these Girls. Since you never know when you’ll next be fed, better eat it all now. This rule may not apply as much for domesticated dogs, as my Girls seem to be keenly aware of dinnertime. I can always tell when it’s 4:30 PM, more or less, from the rhythmic poking by a gentle wet nose against my thigh as I sit at my computer around that time of day (“Well, we’re just being helpful, Mum, just in case you forget.”Lesson for People:  Since we have the advantage of being able to tell time and we can head to the cupboard any time we please, it’s better for our health to stop when full, rather than continue eating until stuffed.  (Reminder to self: Must. Work. On. This. One.) 
  • Eat with Gusto.  Dogs put their all into dinnertime, as if every bowl is the last meal they’ll ever ever eat.  They focus entirely on the food, and attack it with enthusiasm.   Lesson for People:  Here’s where we can definitely learn something of great value from our canine companions. Eating with alacrity and paying attention to all those wonderful sensations we experience while feasting is the perfect way to appreciate our food.

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I recently read something somewhere (sorry, I’ve forgotten where, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t on Holidailies ) that linked binge eating to anxiety.  In other words, bingeing can be interpreted an outlet for the anxiety, and one that occurs due to fears about whether we’ll have sufficient food in the future.  On some level, this theory does make sense to me; if you’re subconsciously worried that the universe will be insufficient to provide for your needs–emotional or otherwise–you may be inclined to use bingeing as a release (and a way to “stock up” in case you’re bereft later). 

Since dogs don’t have control over when or what they eat, for the most part, and since they aren’t aware of our (humans’) reliability as food dispensers, could it be that they eat that way to allay their own anxiety about foods?   

Possibly; but I doubt it.  Even when my dogs are calm, submissive, and totally anxiety-free, they are apt to gorge themselves on whatever is around. They just want to eat, and eat, and eat.  Take Chaser, for instance, who was rushed to our vet’s one afternoon a few weeks ago after consuming the entire contents of our mini-composting bin in the kitchen, which, on that day, contained the remains of some chocolate birthday cake I’d made for a customer, blue frosting and all.  Agave-based or not,  that called for immediate action. I whisked her to the vet’s and they did whatever was necessary to void her little tummy. 

Luckily, I had caught her in the act, and, apart from a few moments of whining, she was back to normal in no time. (“Oh, right, Mum.  I also forgot to mention earlier that we rely on you to save our lives whenever we do something  stupid, too“).

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[“Sorry about that cake thing, Mum.”]

On my first day at nutrition school our lecturer was a petite woman resembling Natalie Portman: a teeny, tiny brunette with a regal air about her. As she expounded on macrobiotic diets and food combining and fat metabolism, I couldn’t help but think, “All these nutritionists here who are, like, a size two and never had a weight problem in their lives—how am I ever going to feel like I belong to that club?” 

Well, subsequently, I discovered that this sylph-like woman had actually lost 50 pounds during her first year as a student at that same school, a result of following the very eating plan she now advocated (and the one I’m pursuing, the NAG diet).  Oops.  My bad, as they say.  Still, that didn’t change my mind about the majority of professional dieticians and their unsuitability to dispense advice to those of us who are willpower-challenged.   

Consequently, what I decided to do in today’s post is have some fun (almost as much fun as Holidailies!) and assess a few of the numerous websites purporting to deliver the last word on avoiding weight gain during the holiday season, when most of us pack on an extra 7-12 pounds.   

Please note: this is a purely personal opinion.  These sites were chosen at random, and I have no idea how well the ideas they present actually work in reality.  I’m only responding to whether or not they’d work for me.  

First up is this article at Suite 101. The five tips for preventing weight gain over the holidays include: 

  1. Curb alcohol consumption.
  2. Stop eating when full.
  3. Deal with hunger.
  4. Use a smaller plate.
  5. Curb emotional eating.

I wondered, Has this writer ever actually known an overweight person?  We’re not fat for nothing.  Uh, hello, news flash:  if I could just “stop eating when full,” I wouldn’t be fat. (I used to have a friend who said that, during the holidays at her house, you hadn’t eaten enough if you left the table without feeling nauseated. That’s a family that understands overeating.) Ditto if I had already mastered emotional eating—there’d be no problem if I could simply “curb” it.   

I did like the writer’s suggestion to “use a smaller plate,” however.  In his 2006 best-seller Mindless Eating:  Why We Eat More Than We Think, Brian Wansink explains this phenomenon of people eating more when they use larger plates. (His study also implies that it would behoove all us fatties to eat only monochromatic meals for best diet results, but that’s taking it a bit too far).   

Unfortunately, when the article writer then went on to explain, “This works with smaller bowls for soups, and plates for dinners, appetizers and even deserts,” well, he lost me.  I just can’t imagine how much water I’d need to wash it down after consuming even a small desert (all that sand and everything).  

Rating: 42,000 extra calories (12 lb.) consumed with this advice.  

Another expert-supported site was the Cleveland Clinic’s “Eight Steps to Surviving Holiday Weight Gain.”  In this case, the advice seemed a little more realistic (since it is, after all, backed by their successful diet clinic). A couple of the suggestions did, however, sound patently preposterous.

For instance, they recommend that you “make a pact with co-workers that goodies will be kept solely in the break room, not at the front desk or in various offices.  And while you’re at it, may as well ask them to stop stealing your ideas and taking credit for them, gossiping during coffee breaks, or arriving late to meetings, too. 

The single piece of advice that riles the most, however, is the one that seems to surface in every “how not to gain weight over the holidays” article. Here it is: “Never Go To A Party Hungry.”  

How many dieticians, personal trainers, nutritionists, doctors, and other professionals have said something like this to you: “Oh, be sure to eat something before you go. That way, you’ll already be satisfied, so you won’t be hungry and overeat once you get there.”  I don’t know about you, but whether or not I’ve just eaten before arriving at a party is totally irrelevant when I get there.  If I see food I adore, I want to eat it. Period. Even if I already ate something before I got there. Even if it was a three course meal.  Even if I’m already full.   

So I eat before I go to the party, and then arrive to the tantalizing display of punch bowls brimming with nutmeg-dusted eggnog, trays overflowing with cute little star-shaped orange-pistachio shortbread and frosted chocolate-cherry cookies, triple-layer cakes adorned with crushed candy canes, dainty trays of Kalhua truffles, individual pots of chocolate mousse, (God help me) platters of mincemeat tarts—that’s it, game over, I’m doomed long before I even get started on the real “food” (never mind the champagne).   

I know that the theory behind this last one is, “a person can consume only so many calories before feeling full, so if that person arrives at the party already having consumed sufficient calories, overindulging will not ensue.”  Again, this writer has probably never really known, and certainly never was, a fat person. 

I really like the Cleveland Clinic’s final piece of advice, though:  “Focus on Socializing.”  After all, to paraphrase Woody Allen’s character at the end of Crimes and Misdemeanors, it’s our closest relationships, with the people we care most about, that ultimately confer meaning to “the indifferent universe.” (Okay, along with chocolate.)  But focusing on the people in our lives provides not only a feeling of belonging, a feeling of being cared for, a feeling of satisfaction—it also acts as a great distraction, so that overeating may never enter our minds (or our mouths) in the first place. 

Rating:  24,5000 extra calories (7 lb.) consumed with this advice. 

Finally, getting back to Wansink, it was one of his ideas I most appreciated, published in the November issue of Consumer Health Reports. 

Even though Wansink is also clearly not someone saddled with weight issues (on his webpage, he describes himself as a person who “regularly enjoys both French food and french fries”), he does seem to know whereof he speaks. Maybe there’s actually something to all those thousands of hours of experiments, observing the actual eating habits of scores of people in a controlled study after all.  

Here’s what Wansink advises:                

“At a reception buffet, follow the ‘rule of two.’ You can have whatever you want, but you have to use the smallest plate and can put only two things on it at one time. Always have something to drink in your hand, because that’s one less hand to eat with.” 

I find his approach the most refreshing—and most pragmatic—of those I read today. The part that appeals to me most? No self denial, no measuring or weighing, no keeping track of what goes down the gullet, no guilt. If you want to refill that little plate 74 times, go ahead.  (But he’s betting you won’t). You can still eat everything you love, enjoy it, and, given the right set of china, avoid excess weight gain.  

Rating: 5250 extra calories consumed with this advice (1.5 lb–still better than the average, right?). 

(“Mum, you’re not planning to change the size of our bowls, are you? Because it already feels like we don’t get enough food.”)