[It was great to read so many positive messages from all you okra fans in response to my last post.  Who knew there were so many okra supporters out there?  Here’s to a new image for our pal okra!  To the dawning of the age of okra–a new era is born, and it’s brimming with green pods and seeds! Okra is cool!  Okra is au courant!  Okra rules! O-Kra! O-Kra! O-Kra! Whoo!]

 

[No, you’re not allowed this on the ACD diet. Image courtesy of Naijablog.]

Now that I’ve completed my first week of strict adherence to the Anti-Candida Diet (ACD), I thought I’d put down some thoughts and reactions for those of you who are contemplating embarking on it, or for those who are simply curious. (If you’re here seeking a new recipe, please come back tomorrow–we’ll have cookies!)

First, I am thrilled to say I have not veered even one iota from the procrustean parameters of the diet.  Having said that, I’m also amazed at how difficult I am finding it this time round.

Maybe I’d just forgotten how painful the process was last time, nine years ago, but I don’t recall struggling with it this much back then. Somehow, a decade made all the difference!  True, I am also nine years older, and nine years closer to the dreaded “M” stage of life. ** Or maybe those little candida critters have been pumping iron in the interim and are now more resilient than ever. 

[You are allowed burgers (sans bread)–but who would want one? Image courtesy of Beltway Confidential.]

As I mentioned in my previous post, this diet requires elimination of any food that could feed yeast or help yeast to grow (ie, allergens, toxins, etc.), leaving precious little to eat.  For omnivores, the bulk of the diet would become meat, chicken, fish, eggs. But if you don’t eat those foods, not much else remains once you cut out all grains and fruits, plus some veggies (okay, not all grains; I’m allowed 1/4 cup of one gluten-free grain per day)–not to mention sauces, condiments, alcohol, fermented foods, and so on.

Here’s what you should know if you’re curious about trying the ACD.

The Challenges:

Because I’d done this before, I was already aware of a few of these challenges, which made it a bit easier to follow the diet.  Still, it can be very difficult to stick with it unless you’re prepared for some of the following. 

  • No Dessert for You.  Since most people on this diet are addicted to sweets, cutting out the usual baked goods, puddings, candies, cakes, pies, etc. is really tough.  Initially, my body went carb-crazy and I had to eat something every two hours or so to keep my blood sugar levels steady.  This passed by day three (thankfully–it can really mess up your schedule!). I’ve also managed to create a few ACD-friendly “desserts”–which I’ll post anon.

carrot1

[Here’s your dessert on the ACD. Image courtesy of Innocent Creativity blog.]

  • Precious Few Grains. The first phase of the diet eliminates most carbs, and allows very few of the “acceptable” ones.  To my mind, it seems very similar to a low-carb or low-GI diet.  Which would make sense, I suppose, since its purpose is to starve off candida albicans–an organism that feeds on sugar (including blood sugar).
  • Hunger.  Perhaps I should more accurately designate the feeling  as “unresolved cravings.”  I mean, I can count on one hand the times I’ve experienced true hunger.  On this topic, I think Mark Bittman has something useful to say. A couple of weeks ago, I heard an interview with the man, discussing his newest tome, Food Matters.  Among other things, Bittman mentioned how his “vegan until six” diet plan helped him lose 35 pounds and regain his health. 

In the radio interview, he was asked how he managed to alter his diet so radically and still stick with the plan. His response was enlightening (and I paraphrase liberally here): “Well, consider the three major needs in our lives, for food, sleep, and sex.  We all learn to control our sexual urges fairly early on; and certainly most of us in the working world regularly ignore our need for sleep.  Yet we never, ever, in our society, are willing to allow ourselves to feel hungry.  Like needs for sex and sleep, why can’t we just ignore it when we feel hungry sometimes?” 

For me, Bittman’s comment was a little epiphany. Clearly, my appetite is telling me to eat when I don’t actually require more food; the ACD supplies all the nutritional requirements necessary. What I’m fighting is the desire for those last six Hershey kisses just because they’re left at the bottom of the bag (and really, why would you leave six little kisses sitting there?) or the mindless crunching on handfuls of Red Hot Blues because I just got home from work and dinner won’t be ready for a couple of hours and what else am I going to do while I peek intermittently at Oprah?–well, you get the idea.  Remembering Bittman’s advice this past week allowed me to overcome those cravings, at least most of the time. 

  • Die-Off Reaction.  As the yeasty beasties die off, they release toxins into the system that must then be filtered and cleared out by your own detoxification systems of liver and kidneys.  This can be tough on your body.  The second day of the diet, I was convinced I was coming down with a flu: my forehead pulsated, my muscles felt weak, all I wanted to do was sleep.  By day three, it had disappeared.  Even though you may feel worse initially, it’s important to push through.

The Benefits:

It’s been a mere seven days, but already I can recognzie a few of the benefits of this cleanse:

  • Symptoms abate.  Almost immediately, I noticed that my chronically blocked sinuses began to clear.  I had a strange sensation of, “hey! What’s all that air in my nose?” before I realized, “oh, THIS is what it feels like to breathe out of both nostrils.”  Similarly, the muscle weakness disappeared, some tummy grumblings cleared significantly, eyes were less swollen in the AM, and so on.
  • Clarity of Thought. One of the oft-mentioned symptoms of candida overload is fuzzy thinking or inability to concentrate.  This will begin to clear once the yeast begin to die off, after about 3 days or so.
  • Energy.  Yeast and other toxins sap your energy.  Once they begin to take a hike, your energy returns–and you’re suddenly intensely grateful for the extra hours you have during each day to blog, read, meditate, spend time with loved ones, or do anything else you please.

chaserrollgrass

[I concur, Mum–it’s great to have boundless energy! You should try rolling on the grass some time!]

I won’t be chronicling the events of every week in this much detail, but will likely mention the more significant milestonres every now and again as I move through the process over the next five weeks.  If anyone has any specific questions about the diet or the experience, please let me know and I’d be happy to address them in an upcoming post as well.

Um, Mum, you know that no one could be more serious about food and eating than we are.  .  . but really, I think you need to take a chill pill on this one.  Because this post is really a downer.”

girlsscaredfaces

I don’t mean this post as a downer.  The ACD will tax your willpower and force you to confront your worst eating habits. . . but that can be a really good thing.  For me, it’s a necessity.  Well, every nine years or so, anyway. 

** no, not “Marriage,” though that might throw me just as much.  I meant “Menopause.”

© 2009 Diet, Dessert and Dogs

A Bowl Lotta Love

March 4, 2009

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.”]  

[Thanks to everyone who left such sweet comments and encouragement for the hellish week of marking!  (And I know I still owe some of you emails. . . coming soon!) Some of you who are students noted that you’d be doing as much work on the other side of the red pen. Whether students, parents, teachers or the lucky few whose only connection to academia is reading about it in the newspapers–hope you all survived the past crunch week or so of midterms, study week, or finals. Now get ready, ’cause there’s a lengthy return post ahead–on to the food!]

1stbowl51

[Base of rice and buckwheatsautéed rapini and chard with onions and garlic; tahini-miso sauce; sprinkled with hemp seeds.]

I’m sure we’ve all met her (or perhaps we are her?): that woman who’s incredibly competent at dispensing affection, comfort, nurturing or support–yet seems to ignore her own emotional needs and physical well-being.

Well, I admit it, I’m as guilty as the next gal.  Ten days away from the DDD home base had me reflecting often on this whole notion of self-love.  Actually, that was only one among a plethora of topics on which I mused during the hiatus, which included (but was not limited to) the following: 

  • how much I miss blogging when I’m away.  I was struck by a true sense of void during this time, and it astounded me. Honestly, who are “they” who post studies about the Internet and  prophecies of doom regarding how it diminishes social skills or limits interactions with other people? Seriously.  In some cases, I’m in contact with blog buddies more often than my “in-person” friends (some of whom live only five minutes away).  Don’t let anyone tell you that the society of bloggers isn’t a bona fide community of lively, vibrant, and very much interactive people–all of you!
  • how many different ways one can answer the same exam question (more than you might think, but not quite as many as the meaning of life, the universe and everything).
  • how to create a tasty, grain-free breakfast pancake. I wanted something that didn’t require refined, or even whole-grain, flour–and I found it!  (more on that anon).
  • how this &%$!!?* winter refuses to retreat, even though it’s March already and why are you still hanging around, Mr. Jack Frost, can’t you tell you’re not welcome anymore and nobody wants you here, so just go away and don’t come back, ya big bully!
  • how, with the economy as bad as it is, I’m hoping the HH and I might still save for our dream home (okay, I’d be willing to cut some of the frills and just be happy with a daydream home).  And while we’re both incredibly lucky to still be gainfully employed, on the topic of saving money and stretching a dollar, I’ve been mightily inspired by the frugal and fantastic Melody over at MeloMeals.
  • why, once again, I have been willing to risk my health, well-being and future for the evil (and truly, ephemeral) charms of that sepia seductress, chocolate.

3rdbowl4

[Oat groats and amaranth base; grilled eggplant and grilled marinated tofu; broccoli, avocado and green onion; orange-fig sauce.]

Yes, folks, it’s time to focus on the “diet” portion of this blog yet again. 

When I first began to ponder how I’d spend my break from the college, I considered traveling to a new locale, attending a retreat, picking up old hobbies like sewing or knitting–but it never occurred to me I’d get sick instead.  Then, at my annual checkup last week, I discovered that my old candida afflction has reared its yeasty head yet again, and this time, with a potency that could rival the combined superpowers of the X-Men.  

I’ve decided that in order to rid myself of this recurring problem once and for all, I’ll need to return to the anti-candida diet (ACD).  I’ll be facing a highly restrictive diet and a few detoxes or cleanses along the way (no wonder I’ve been avoiding it).  But I’ve had it with the persistent cycle of diet, dessert and destruction (you thought I was going to say “dogs,” didn’t you? heh heh!). To paraphrase that seminal queen of weight loss, Susan Powter, “the insanity must stop!” (And what the heck ever happened to her, anyway?). 

I’m going on an anti-candida diet so I can be healthy.  So I can move more easily, and feel comfortable in my own body.  So I can express a little more self-love and self-care through my diet and lifestyle. (Anyone familiar with Sally’s fabulous blog already knows what I mean by this:  treating my body, mind and spirit with the kindness, reverence, and care it deserves.)  So I can enjoy a social life without being fixated on food. Oh, and so I can lose 40 pounds by my highschool reunion this May. **

My last “true” candida cleanse occurred nine years ago, and in the interim, my eating habits have slowly reverted to those that got me in trouble in the first place (chocolate too often; sweets too often; wine too often). After reading the diet on  this site (which is slightly less ascetic than the regimen I followed before), I think it’s doable (the only recommendation with which I disagree is to use aspartame or aseulfame, so I’ll just omit those).

To those of you who’ve been reading for a while, I understand if you’re skeptical, and I apologize.  After all, I’ve tried more than a few times to cut chocolate and sugar from my life.  Well, I’ve learned it’s never a great idea to publicly declare such a complete lifestyle overhaul on the blog, because later on, if you don’t meet your lofty goal, your initial vow is indelibly there for all the internet to see. With that in mind, I’ll restrict my candida commentary to the Progress Tracker page (may as well give it a new use, as I long ago stopped recording my weight over there).

And since I’ve already done a bit of baking over the past couple of weeks, I can intersperse the spartan dishes with more interesting fare.  If I play my screens right, you folks will barely notice a difference.

2ndbowl21

[Rice and brown lentil base; spinach leaves and steamed sweet potato wedges with chopped green onions; topped with almond-curry sauce.]

The first step is to prepare the system with a week or two of clean, whole-foods eating that doesn’t worry about yeast or fermentation (yeast and fermented foods will be cleared out next).   Rice or noodle bowls are a great place to start.

4thbow3

[Barley and amaranth base; grilled red pepper strips and onions; steamed broccoli; sprinkling of cashews and sunflower seeds; topped with tahini-miso sauce.]

Meals-in-a-bowl like these have become very popular at health-food restaurants and stores around North America.  There’s a local haunt that serves an amazing bowl called, appropriately, “The Mish-Mash Bowl.” Every meal contains either brown rice or quinoa, topped with your choice of four toppings from three categories (protein, veggies, or good fats), then drizzled with your choice of one or two dressings.

My own variation on the Mish Mash is a quartet of at least one healthy grain plus a protein, healthy fat, and complex carbohydrate (ie, veggies).  I was amazed at how satisfying–and how filling–a clean, healthy bowl can be.  The marriage of fresh, colorful veggies with chewy grains and the crunch of nuts or seeds is entirely enchanting (almost as enchanting as that vixen, chocolate–though in a different way, of course).

In putting these together, what I discovered rather quickly is that “the sauce makes the bowl.” A grain bowl sans effective topping is sort of like a perfect outfit without the right shoes or accessories–it may be good quality, it may be tailored , it may even sport a designer label, but without the proper accoutrements, it’s just a length of beige, beige, beige. 

With a winning sauce, however, these bowls are stellar; they’re delectable; they evoke impatient yearning; they’re Zagat-worthy.  And, much like those lines of toddlers’ clothing that allow the kids to dress themselves by choosing one top and one pre-coordinated bottom, they’re fun to mix and match, just to see what comes up.  

The combinations here are simply starting points to get you going; play around with different grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, veggies, and sauces.  Use these sauces with any combination you please, or go with my mixes–either way, you’ll be treating yourself with love.   

**I asked this question entirely tongue in cheek–so please, no need to send me emails detailing how unhealthy a 40-pound weight loss in 8 weeks would be!  I have no intention of actually losing that much.  Besides, at the rate I’ve been going this past year, a FOUR pound loss by May would be nothing short of miraculous.

Tahini-Miso Sauce

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

4thbowl21

Almond and Curry Sauce 

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

2ndbowl1

Orange Fig Sauce

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

3rdbowl3

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

© 2009 Diet, Dessert and Dogs

DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS HAS MOVED! PLEASE VISIT US AT THE SHINY NEW HOME OF DDD, BY CLICKING HERE.

* Or, “Nothing Like Fried Rice, Really, But Still One Darned Tasty Cauliflower Salad”

rawfriedrice

[Sorry about the blur.  I may need to return to my old point-and-shoot until I finally read that new camera manual!]

For those of us fascinated by the topic of food, December is more or less highjacked by baking projects.  Cookies for the cookie exchange.  Bars and squares for the gift tins.  Cakes for the pot lucks.  Croquembouche for the neighbourhood party.  

Taken to its syllogistic conclusion,  the state of affairs in which many of us find ourselves this month would go something like this:

Major Premise: December is filled with many types of baking. 

Minor Premise: All types of baking require taste-testing. 

Conclusion: Therefore, December is filled with all types of  tastetesting  sampling quality control eating–something like 4,287 different sweets, types of chocolate, candy, cookies, fudge, frosting, glazed nuts, trifles, truffles, cakes and pies–thereby creating a massive spike in caloric intake for the month, which will lead to outright neglect of all other food groups and the overindulgence of rich, alcoholic and chocolate-based comestibles during the next four weeks or so, to the inevitable result of chocolate overload and the proverbial 7 pound weight gain over the holiday period. *

Well, given my own propensity to binge on sweets and carbs over the holidays, I thought I’d take some advice I heard dispensed by a dietician on a local CBC radio show the other day about “How Not to Gain Weight Over the Holidays.”

Get a load of this:  the dietician (who shall remain nameless–she probaby wouldn’t want you to know her name after this advice, anyway, but mostly because I can’t actually remember her name) said something to the effect of, “Well, I know that people are always told to eat a meal before going to a party to avoid overindulging, but I find that people will overindulge anyway.  And then they’ve basically eaten two meals, which is really not so good.  So what I suggest is, if you do eat a bit too much at a party, then–and I’d never suggest that you do this on a regular basis–but then you can just skip a meal or two the next day to compensate.  If you follow this plan over the holidays, you shouldn’t really gain any weight.”

Hallellujah!  In a nutshell, here’s December: Pig out.  Fast.  Pig out.  Fast.  Pig out. Fast. Pig Out. Cut back a wee bit.  Pig out. Fast. Drink champagne and kiss a bunch of strangers.

Truly, I don’t think this plan is very wise, but I’m going to adapt it to my own needs, anyway.  During this festive period when I’m more likely to succumb to the siren call of chocolate, I’ve decided to deliberately make the rest of my meals as clean, simple, and vegetable-based as possible.  To wit, Raw Imitation Fried Rice.

I came across this recipe a while ago and then, a few days later, happened upon this version by Veggie Delight.  Since the dish is raw, it’s much easier to digest than a cooked meal, and won’t tax the digestive system the way heavier, fatter meals can. It’s also mostly vegetables with a hint of dressing, which provided me with yet another novel way to incorporate cauliflower, a vegetable I’m otherwise indifferent about, into my diet.

The salad is crunchy and even a bit juicy, with a hint of toasted sesame and just enough saltiness from the tamari to provide a satisfying contrast to the neutral cauliflower. It’s incredibly easy to make and comes together very quickly courtesy of the processor. I thoroughly enjoyed it and could even feel virtuous as I chomped away. 

And it’s the perfect light meal to help you detox between all those tastings of baked goods and treats.

*Okay, so it’s not technically a syllogism.  And the conclusion is drawn from the predicate of the premise rather than the subject (totally illogical).  And (well, according to Giz, anyway) the average weight gain is only 1.5 pounds over the holidays.  As if.

Raw Imitation Fried Rice (aka Cauliflower Salad)

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

rawfriedricetop

Asian-inspired flavors meet light and refreshing salad in this mock fried rice dish.  Makes a great side salad or raw main.  And a sneaky way to include cauliflower!

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

elsieconeheadbed

Yes, it really is the pits, Mum.  It’s also very difficult to lick all the crumbs off the floor with this thing on my head.”

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

Last year at this time:  Dog Day: How Elsie Got Named

I know, that title sounds like something straight out of my Post-Modern Literary Criticism class (oooh, I shudder just re-thinking it!).  But both bits of news cheered me so much that I wanted to share them in the same post!

The Wait is Over:

Just when I thought I could wait no longer, I received my prize, as one of the winners in Shellyfish’s great 100th Post (Felty Love) contest!  Those of you who’ve read about this here will recall that I’m not the luckiest person when it comes to randomly selected contest winners (another way to say I could buy 50 tickets for the [1-in-3 chances to win] the Heart and Stroke Lottery, and still not win–then again, I suppose that means I’ll probably never be struck by lightning, either).  So this prize was doubly delightful:  not only was it a first-ever win for me, it was also awarded by one of my favorite bloggers, Shellyfish of Musings from the Fishbowl!  I received my prize package in the mail on Friday.  And what a package it was! 

I ripped the parcel open and was immediately touched by the remarkable care and attention to detail taken in choosing the items, packaging them, and mailing them (all the way from France to Canada!). 

Hey, have a look!

[Top row (left to right): Postcard of the Château de Fontainbleau; Felty Love pouch; hand-crafted card emblazoned with maple leaf and ladybugs. Bottom row (left to right): box that contained vegan chocolates, from Chocolaterie Bruyerre–from Belgium; dark truffle square; dark liqueur-infused (I think) round truffle; dark mocha truffle square.]

First, the main prize: a sleek, fuzzy and cozy, handcrafted azure felt change (or whatever else you choose to put in it) pouch.  I loved the hand-embroidered leaf motif when I first saw it on Shelly’s blog, and it was even more impressive (and cute!) in person.  But the finishing touches tickled me the most; to wit, the ribbon trim, the whimsical orange and white lining and–the pièce de résistance–the little custom “shellyfish” tag sewn into the seam!  Now I will remember the source every time I use this sweet little change purse. 

[Just look at that adorable tag!]

Shellyfish also sent along a box of vegan Belgian chocolates! (she really knows how to steal a gal’s heart).  Now, I do love me some chocolate, and have even been known to munch on it daily for extended periods of time. . . .well, let me tell you, these were exquisite.  Each one contained a velvety truffle filling coated with rich, smooth and glossy bittersweet chocolate.  I knew I’d devour the whole set myself and so offered a bite of each to the HH, who noted that they were the best chocolates he’d ever eaten.  And–miracle of miracles–they made it across the ocean intact!  Not even a scratch. I’m planning a vacation to France at this very moment, just so I can sample some more of those babies.

In addition to the pouch and chocolate were a hand-made card with the cutest little ladybugs and maple leaf imprint (thanks for the nod to Canada, Shelly), as well as a postcard of the Chateau Fontainbleau, a lyrical castle in Shelly’s neighborhood, where she lives alongside snippets of history every day (lucky duck!).  

All in all, it was a perfect way to end the week, or start the weekend, and flooded me with memories of my own long-ago stay in Bandol as a teenager. It also made me long for another visit now, as an adult!

Thanks so much, Shelly.  I will treasure my pouch and the cards. . . and my memories of that insanely rich-tasting chocolate! 🙂

 

The Weight is Under

And what about the “weight is under,” you wonder? (No poem intended, there, though I created one nonetheless–must be that literary influence again).  Well, I haven’t written a blog entry related to the “Diet” portion of my blog’s title in quite some time.  Partly, I’ve felt there was no sense in rehashing old news (I mean, how many times can one re-start a weight loss plan?).  About three months ago, I gave up tracking my weight on a weekly basis, and decided that, given the achingly slow progress of my quest, I’d post an entry no more than once a month.  Well, in the interim, something seems to have shifted.

What’s the best way to stop craving sweets all the time?  Write a dessert cookbook, that’s how, and bake three or four test items perforce each day! 

Have you ever walked into an ice cream parlor, or chocolate shop, or patisserie, and marvelled at how slim the counter folk were?  Countless times in my  life, I’ve asked the shop person, “How do you stop yourself from eating everything in sight?”  I’d usually add, sheepishly, “If I worked here, I’d weigh 300 pounds in no time.” 

“No, no, you wouldn’t,” they’d inevitably respond.  “If you work with it all day, you just get sick of it.”  Well, sorry to say, when I ran my little bakery, I was surrounded by baked goods for 16 hours a day–for two years.  My taste for sweets never waned during that time, and my weight began its ugly ascent during those years as well. 

This time, however, something is different.  I’m testing recipes in my home; I’m basically forced to eat at least a mouthful of each one (to ensure quality, you understand); and somewhere along the line, I became indifferent to the piles of bars, cookies, cakes, tarts and whatever else positions itself alluringly on the counter.  Now, don’t get me wrong; I’ve retained a desire to taste everything, and I’ve definitely indulged.  But for some unknown reason, the impetus to keep going even after the first two or three tastes (or two or three brownies, cookies, slices of cake, etc.) has more or less vanished. 

Why has this miracle from heaven been bestowed upon me?  I have no idea.  How can I ensure that this state of affairs never changes?  Again, I’m stumped.  Will I manage to stay the course this time and keep losing weight?  Beats me.  All I know is, I am unspeakably grateful, I embrace this current reality, and I am ecstatic to be experiencing it. The greatest mystery of my life so far seems to be, “why have I been able to exercise “willpower” and lose weight at certain periods of my life, but not others?”  And so far, like the secret location of Atlantis, like the methods of building the pyramids, like where Sasquatch is really hiding–like the reason for Julia Roberts’s popularity–the answer has eluded me (and all of civilized humanity).

If anyone out there has insight into this particular conundrum, please do let me know.

Mum, it’s easy to exercise willpower when someone else feeds you.  Just get an owner to dole out the food. Oh, and it helps if you learn to raise a paw when asked.”

Sweet Things (Times Three)

August 17, 2008

[Sweet Potato and Ginger Salad–recipe below.]

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.” 

Ah, yes, life is sweet.  Not so much in the “I’m a celebrity, I haven’t a care in the world, I’m revoltingly rich, beautiful and vacuous” kind of way; but more in the “every which way I turn I see or think ‘sweet,’ most recently the chocolate chip blondies I devoured last week” kind of way.  Also in the “I’m finally finished marking for the semester and it feels so sweet to be able to breathe for a few days before it all starts up again next week” kind of way. But I wouldn’t want to forget the “blog readers are truly some of the sweetest people in the world and the principal reason I’m so thrilled to be back here and blogging again” kind of way, either.

I have to tell you, as a rule, I consider myself pretty lucky in the friends department.  I mean, I’ve made some really great pals over the years (in fact, I’ve known a few of my friends even longer than I’ve known my younger sister!–take that, Oprah and Gayle). 

But you know what?  Ever since I started blogging last year, I’ve been repeatedly amazed at the level of support, compassion, and just basic goodwill that abounds among blog readers and writers, rivalling any of the best friendships out there. I can’t tell you all how much I appreciate that you keep coming back to read  and comment (even when I disappear for a spell) and how much I enjoy my forays into reading all my favorite blogs out there as well. And so, without disintegrating into pure mush, please accept my heartfelt thanks, and a big virtual bear hug.  Truly, sweet

And now, on to our other “sweets” of the day. . . 

First:  My diet, temporarily an official “No-Sweets” Zone.

Forget the term, “yo-yo dieter.” With me, it’s more like a “bungee-jump” dieter.  Up, down, Up, down.  Waaaaay up, waay down (and note how the “waay” down is smaller than the “waaaaay” up–in other words, a net gain).  Seems the more I diet, the more my weight rebounds upward after a fall.  Recently, it struck me that I am more or less at the same weight I was when I began this blog (at which point my goal was to lose 40 pounds!!).  Still, like die-hard smokers who wish to quit, we overly zaftig people who wish to lose weight must persevere!  I’m thankful that 90% of the food I put in my mouth is healthful and very nourishing.  The other ten per cent, well. . . that explains the weight gain.

Several times on this blog, I’ve mentioned the anti-candida diet I endured a few years ago when my symptoms got truly out of hand.  Well, I’ve decided it’s time to return to that diet as a way to rid myself of the sweets addiction once and for all (I think of it as the “Chunky Monkey on my back“).  This time, the cleanse will be somewhat shorter than previously (which lasted 2 years!). 

What does this mean for the blog?  Not much, I’m hoping. Most of my eating habits already fall in line with this new regimen (about which I’ll blog anon–this post will be long enough without fitting it in today).  The restrictions represent a new and–truth be told–somewhat exciting culinary challenge for me: can I concoct appealing, delicious dishes, even some alluring desserts, all within the bounds of the diet?  And afterwards, can I learn to consume dessert as a regular part of my menu, yet in moderation and sans cravings?  Only time will tell (and so will I, right here on this blog).

Second: Announcing Sweet Freedom!

As I mentioned last time, I’ve been working on this project for a while now (just about a year–even before I started this blog!).  After I closed down my full-time baking business in 2006, I decided to begin working on a cookbook containing recipes for my most popular products; because I’d been running the business for a few years, I already had a full compliment of proven recipes at the ready.  So in August 2007, I began mailing out cookbook proposals to various publishers (I eventually heard from two who expressed an interest in the project, only to decide against it after months of correspondence). And then, as I plowed my way through yet another set of student papers last week, I wondered:  why not just publish this book myself? And so, I averred, I shall!

Now, before I go on, yes, I do recognize the irony of doing a dessert book when I’ve just sworn off desserts.  But as I said above, my goal, ultimately, is to be capable of incorporating healthy desserts into my diet, in moderation–and these happen to be just that kind of dessert!  

I also know that there are scads (not to mention oodles, a plethora, loads and a real glut) of bloggers’ cookbooks already out there right now.  Who needs one more?  But when I started receiving emails from people asking if I had a cookbook, and when my former customers asked if I’d consider printing up my recipes so they could bake their treats at home, and when I thought of all those existing recipes just lying idle in a filing cabinet. . . well, I just couldn’t leave them to such an ignominious fate. 

Mine will be a dessert-only book, and everything in it is compatible with the NAG diet that I try to follow all the time.  Many of these recipes are already familiar to my former customers here in Toronto, so when the book is published, they’ll be able to bake the same muffins, cookies, and cakes that they used to buy at local health food stores. And once I made the decision, I got really excited about sharing the recipes and “doing them up right”! 

The book, called Sweet Freedom, will contain recipes for a wide variety of baked goods and other sweet treats, all in a style similar to those you find on this blog (in fact, a few of the DDD recipes will also find their way into the book). However, the majority of the cookbook’s 100+ recipes will be new, having not appeared anywhere else.  All the recipes are made with without wheat, eggs, dairy, or refined sweeteners; many are gluten free, soy free, and corn free as well (I’ll tag each recipe according to the category into which it fits).  In other words, these are sweets that even people with food sensitivities (like me) are free to enjoy! Eventually, I plan to post a full Table of Contents with the names of all the recipes, but for now, if you’d like a peek at some photos of goodies from the book, I’ve started a blog that’s devoted just to that.  I’m aiming for a publication date late this year or early next year; I’ll keep you updated occasionally on this site, too.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you all about what you’d look for in a “good-for-you” baking book, or whether you’ve got specific items you’d like to see in it.  And it you’ve ever tried any of the desserts from this site, I’d love your feedback on the recipes.  Just leave any thoughts, ideas, or suggestions in the comments section, or send me at email at dietdessertdogs AT gmail DOT com.

And finally: A sweet (potato) ending to this post. . . 

Sweet Potato and Ginger Salad

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

I couldn’t very well leave without posting a recipe, could I?  I actually mentioned this dish way back in my second blog entry, but since there were only two readers that day (no, literally, two readers), I thought it was worth repeating.  This is a salad from Everyday Food magazine, and it’s both simple and delicious.  I like it so much that I’ve made an entire meal out of it, in fact. The trick to its appeal, I think, is that Martha advises us to bake the sweet potato rather than boil it–and that seems to make all the difference.

This salad is filling and satisfying, with a tangy ginger and dijon-based dressing to complement the yielding sweetness of the potatoes.  I enjoy this most at room temperature, but it can be eaten cold or hot as well.  Great for a picnic or party table.

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

On Being Mindful

May 1, 2008

I know I said I’d relegate comments about my Total Health program to a coda each week, but last night’s class spurred such a barrage of ideas that I wanted to set them down (despite last week’s blathering about eating styles–we all know how well that one went over). So be warned:  this entry features no recipe, and it’s about dieting.  Please feel free to skip if that’s not of interest!

When I first started this blog back in late October (six months yesterday!!), I wrote quite frequently about my diet and (tenuous) attempts to lose weight.  I actually never intended it to morph into a food blog, but once I started reminiscing about different recipe origins, preparation methods, ingredient sources, etc., it seemed to move naturally in that direction (at least, most of the time). I preferred to write about the dishes themselves rather than my reactions to, or feelings about, them.

Well, one of our “assignments” last week in my Total Health course was to “eat without distractions.”  From what I gleaned from our instructions, this meant virtually the same thing as “eating mindfully.”  For any of you who’ve read Jon Kabat Zinn’s seminal book on mindful living, Full Catastrophe Living, this concept is familiar.  In the book, Zinn suggests eating a raisin with full attention to its shape, color, texture, smell, size, mouthfeel, taste, and effect on your emotional or psychological state.  Giving that wrinkled grape your full awareness while consuming it takes several minutes at the least, and you’d presumably experience every nuance, every physical reaction, every sensory impact of consuming that raisin.

I was a little hesitant to embrace this homework, as my schedule these days is beyond hectic and I feel I barely have time to heave a heavy sigh before the day is over.  But I did it.  Breakfast became a private communion between me and my oatmeal (or scone, or almond butter-topped apple, etc.) as I cleared the table and sat and ate. . . mindfully. 

And what did I discover?  That my mind didn’t have very much to contribute to the exercise.  That I didn’t like it. Not one bit.

For me, trying to focus exclusively on my food as I observed, smelled, tasted and then mused upon it was like “torture lite”–maybe not a figurative year in a Medieval prison, but more like recess trapped in the corner of the schoolyard with the class bully.  As with meditation, my mind kept wandering, I found myself scanning the rest of the room as if searching for a deus ex machina to release me from my penance, and I twitched and evaded and couldn’t wait for it to be over.

Me?  Wishing EATING would be over??  It’s unheard of!

In our class last evening, I raised the issue.  Was I the only one who’d had a hard time with it?  Apparently, yes.  For the rest of the class (to be fair, not everyone actually did the exercise, so I don’t know about those few who didn’t), eating with no distractions was like an oasis of peace and calm in an otherwise crazy welter of their days.  One woman even said that she’d come to rely on her breakfast ritual, in particular, as a way to start her morning on the right note, and felt unmoored without it. 

According to our instructor, sitting one-on-one with your food and forcing yourself to focus exclusively on it accomplishes a few things.  First, you are more aware of the quality of the food itself.  As she mentioned last week, it’s virtually impossible to plunk yourself down and devour a cannister of Pringles mindfully.  I found that to be true as well (not that I’ve eaten Pringles in the last decade or so):  once you know you must to sit and attend to every puff of popcorn, or every corn chip, or even every goji berry, one at a time, over and over, the idea of grabbing a quick snack between writing assignments doesn’t hold the same allure.  Similarly, if you’re eating food that is of poor quality, paying close attention to every sniff and bite will only highlight that fact, and you may find you’re not as inclined to scarf down that McDonald’s burger and fries quite so often.

In addition, eating mindfully slows down the process of how you select, bite, chew, and swallow the food, so bingeing is virtually eliminated.  When I succumb to a chocolate binge, I’m not paying very close attention to the quantity I ingest.  Basically, I eat as much as there is, until it’s gone (which is why I try not to keep it in the house).  With mindful eating, however, I realized very quickly that I didn’t need all that much to fill my belly.  After one apple (cut in segments and smeared with about a tablespoon of almond butter) for breakfast, I realized I’d had enough.  Maybe I wasn’t used to this bizarre new physical awareness, and it made me uncomfortable.

Finally, I realized that this exercise simply highlighted for me how much I’m overstuffing my schedule as well, and how I usually attempt to fit in too many items in a day; so many, in fact, that taking an extra hour or two to consume meals in isolation throws off the rest of the itinerary.  As I sat chewing my apple with awareness, I was also painfully cognizant of the newspaper draped across the opposite corner of the table, and that my solo meal meant I wouldn’t have another moment to read it that day (well, my teacher would say, you shouldn’t be reading the paper anyway–too much negative energy).

I’m going to try to stick with the practise, despite my discomfort.  For one thing, it’s helped me to determine whether or not I really want to eat something before I dig in; if it’s worth stopping my current activity to sit down and spend some alone time with a food, then I figure I must really feel like having it at that moment. Our instructor promises that the purpose of the exercise is to create a greater appreciation of what we eat, and, ultimately, a greater enjoyment of the food.  I’m waiting for that to happen.  In the meantime, I am glad for the decreased caloric intake.

This week’s homework:  incorporate greens into the diet once a day, along with cultured veggies.  Recipe coming up!

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.”]

 peardandelion2.jpg

Why, oh why did I choose Sundays? What was I thinking?  I must have been on a chocolate high at the time and totally out of it.  Otherwise, why on EARTH would any sane person choose Sunday morning to track her weight loss (which, at this point, is actually a misnomer; for, as of this morning, I am now tracking my weight gain.  Oh, woe).  

Well, I suppose I can take some small comfort in the fact that we spent all of last evening at a spectacular birthday bash for my friend Gemini I’s husband. And, given that my mouth was basically open for business between 6:00 PM and midnight last night, I’m assuming some of this is temporary (I’m hoping. . . .).  Enough self-recriminations–must move onward!  And man, that gal sure knows how to throw a party. 

For your entertainment pleasure, I thought I’d try to remember as many as I can of the continual flow of appetizers and h’ors doeuvres that floated by all evening, aloft many a wait-staff’s capable hands. In addition to a huge buffet table heaving with platters of cheese, crackers, olives, breads and spreads and cut fruits, there was also an endless array of hot and cold appetizers, including stuffed button mushrooms, garlic-stuffed olives, one-bite caramelized onion quiches, mini crab cakes with wasabi dollops, bocconcini-stuffed sundried tomatoes, mini shrimp dumplings, mini hamburgers (yes, with mini buns–looked like plastic toys, actually!), mini cold rice paper spring rolls, chicken satay skewers, mini grilled cheese sandwiches, and a probably six or seven other choices I’ve forgotten. 

The dessert trays were deadly, heaped with one-bite brownies in three or four flavors, double-chocolate chip cookies and plain ole vanilla ones, three kinds of biscotti, miniature individualized banana splits served in shot glasses, all topped off by the birthday cake, an enormous rectangle of vanilla sponge decked out with cream and fresh strawberries, all tied up with white chocolate ribbons and bows. 

One side of the room served as a bar station, where servers were generously dispensing custom pomegranate-blueberry martinis (I have no idea what else was in it, but it was delicious) and any type of wine or liquor you choose.  I was thrilled to see my favorite Australian shiraz in the group. . . all I can say is, good thing I wasn’t the designated driver last evening (thanks, HH!).

As it turns out, Gemini II’s daughter is actuallly a vegetarian in a highly carnivorous family, so there were lots of veggie options there–though I’m not sure whether that was actually good for me or not.  I threw WOCA to the winds and ate more than my fair share (and am paying the price for all that wheat I consumed).  

Which leads me to. . . .salad.  After that kind of indulgence, today I’m craving something basic.  A simple, cleansing salad seems in order. 

Now, I must admit that I’ve never really been a salad person.  Is it because I don’t like salads?  No, that wouldn’t be the reason; I thoroughly enjoy my mixed baby greens, for instance, whenever the HH and I have dinner at one of our local haunts.  After reading about the need to properly toss a salad on The Good Eatah’s blog recently, I thought my tossing skills might not be up to snuff.  Or maybe the idea of cold, raw veggies smack dab in the middle of a cold, raw winter is just too painful to bear? But that’s not it, either; I do still enjoy munching on my cold, raw apples and grapefruit.

Part of my aversion to salads may be rooted in the meals of my childhood, when “salad” meant iceberg lettuce, woody tomatoes, and wobbly cucumber slices, unceremoniously slathered with mayonnaise.  Still, I was confident that years of therapy had finally eradicated that association. No, I’ve decided that the reason for my anti-salad stance is actually twofold:  first, being basically lazy, I’ve always found it just so much work to wash, peel, and cut up all the veggies.  And second, my frugal (okay, downright cheap) nature has too often prevented me from taking advantage of time-saving salads-in-a-bag, as I’m unwilling to fork over my hard-earned discretionary spending money on those overinflated prices. You see my dilemma.

Still, once in a while I encounter a salad that does seem worth the extra effort, and today’s recipe came to mind.  Just like a fulfilling relationship, a bowl of delectable salad greens may take some work, but the result is eminently satisfying (hear that, HH?). Such is the case with several of our staple salads here in the DDD household, such as the Asian-Inspired Napa Cabbage Salad, the always-popular “Broccoli Delight” from my friend Caroline’s cookbook, or the super-easy and absolutely irresistible Raw Kale salad (“Ohh, Mum, that kale salad is our favorite!  Pick that one!”).  All these are delicious (and I’ll post recipes in future), but this time, I favored dandelion.

This simple, appealing salad accompanied our highly successful Savory Stuffed Crepes, which the HH and I enjoyed for brunch the other day.  Originally, this recipe called for the duo of pears and dandelion, but once, when I ran out of pears I subbed apples, and have now come to prefer the latter combination. 

I first tasted dandelion greens during my year studying nutrition, but had been daydreaming about them since my early twenties, when I read the novel The Bone People by New Zealand author Keri Hulme. In the book, the protagonist (an eccentric hermit whose lifestyle I sorely envied at the time) produced her own dandelion wine.  Well, if I can’t have the wine, I suppose the leaves will have to do. . . .but I would still love to sample that fermented version one day.

The salad marries a subtle, slightly sweet and creamy dressing with the bitter gusto of the dandelion.  Being high in calcium and other minerals, dandelions are a natural health food.  They’re also a great liver tonic, stimulating that all-important organ to filter the “bad” cholesterol out of the body.  And after all that booze last night. . . .well, come to think of it, I could have used a fresh juice with some dandelion leaves in it, too!

The recipe produces an abundance of fresh dressing that pools gently at the bottom of the bowl, perfect for sopping up with scraps of bread or for treating The Girls to a dressing-topped dinner. (“Um, Mum, did we hear that correctly?”) Overall, the salad is crisp, light, and very refreshing.  (“Didn’t you just say, ‘dinner,’ Mum?”) And it offers a fabulous array of minerals and vitamins. (“We were sure we heard ‘dinner.’ Isn’t that right, Mum?”)  And, as dandelion is both a high-antioxidant food and a leafy green, I’m submitting this recipe as my contribution to Sweetnicks’ weekly ARF/5-A-Day roundup (check it out on Tuesday evenings). It would make the perfect accompaniment to a healthy dinner.  (“Knew it!  Is it time yet?  So, when do we get some?“)

 Bittersweet Salad with Apples and Dandelion Greens

adapted from Enlightened Eating by Caroline Dupont

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

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The recipe was created by the exceedingly talented Jennifer Italiano, owner of Toronto’s first all-raw restaurant and one of my personal favorites, Live Organic Food Bar (they’ve now expanded the menu options to include macrobiotic and some other cooked items). 

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

My Diet: MIA

February 15, 2008

For the three of you who’ve been following this blog since the beginning, you may have noticed that my “diet” posts (ie, posts in which I talk about how my diet’s not working, posts in which I discuss how I’d like my diet to be working better, posts in which I examine how I might be able to make my diet work better, or, simply, posts in which I use the word “diet” a lot) have gone MIA.  Wherefore art thou, O Ricki’s Diet, and why has she forsaken you?

Well, I must apologize.  It’s not that I’ve forgotten about my diet (ha! AS IF), but more that I haven’t felt there was anything worth reporting or mulling over lately without sounding terribly repetitive. Given that the original intent of this blog was (at least, partly) to chronicle what I hoped would be a monumental (40-lb.) weight loss over the next year, and to share with you how I was going to go about doing that, I seem to have lost sight (but never taste, apparently, or I might have actually lost an ounce or two) of the goal. 

Honestly, it’s not because the “diet” aspect of the blog is any less important.  It’s not because writing about food–desserts, especially–is any more fun (even though it is). It’s mostly that I haven’t been feeling very worthy of writing about dieting lately, given my recent eating patterns (which, suspiciously, resemble my pre-blog eating patterns).  How can I write with any authority about losing weight when I’m not doing so?  If you’ve looked at the progress tracker at all, you’ll see that the numbers have been going up, down, up, down, up, down, even more than the Paul McCartney-Heather Mills negotiations.  I’ve been so taken lately with all the appealing, interesting recipes and food in the world of blogging that I’ve neglected taking care of me and my health.

Well, that’s all about to change.  Now that Valentine’s Day is almost over (in our house, it’s taking place tomorrow), I’ve made a resolution.  True, most people make their resolutions on January 1st; but I’ve always been a later bloomer. 

Soooo. . . I’m going to declare the rest of February a “Chocolate-Free Zone.” 

You see, since I was a wee tot (who am I kidding?  I was never “wee”), chocolate has been the bane of my existence. Like an ex-boyfriend that you can’t quite let go of, like a Canadian winter, like the Oscars–I both love it and hate it.

The “love it” part is easy:  it’s a perfect base for dessert (which, after all, is my area of specialization); it’s creamy, smooth, sweet, delectable; it’s a booster of serotonin levels; it’s a portable bite for that 3:00 PM sugar crash; and it’s my very, very favorite, “I-can-eat-it-any-time-even-for-breakfast,” food.

The “hate it” part is less black and white (or milk and white, depending on your predilection): it’s a source of sometimes uncontrollable cravings; it’s the cause of weight gain (though not of acne, as once believed); it’s a pathetically poor substitute for a hug, a phone call with your best friend, or therapy; and it’s usually not as good as you thought it was going to be (sort of like that ex-boyfriend, again).

For me, the only way to avoid the inner turmoil around chocolate is the extreme move of cutting it out entirely.  Not forever (I couldn’t live with that), but for at least a week, until the urge passes. I’m embarking on a chocolate fast.  No chocolate.  No eating it, no baking with it, no buying it, no hiding it in the cupboard for a little nip when I’m feeling down. 

Instead, I’m going to try out a week (or, if I can make it, two) of eating in a way that’s worked for me in the past: a NAG-friendly , semi-detox diet of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds; minimal whole-grain flours; and only stevia as an added sweetener.  And NO CHOCOLATE.  (“How about cocoa, Mum?”) No, not even cocoa. (“How about carob, Mum?”)  Carob is acceptable. I’m also going to aim for over 50% raw foods each day. 

For me, this move is part desperation and part a yearning to regain to the experience of vibrant energy and health I enjoyed during my year studying natural nutrition.  At the time, one of my teachers there followed a 100% raw-foods (or living-foods, as it’s also called) diet. She also taught cooking classes, and I attended every one.  I was amazed at how fantastic the food was–colorful, delicious, a veritable feast for the senses.  I’m hoping to share some of her recipes, as well as others I’ve discovered over the years.

Hopefully, this new hard-line regime will help me ride out the chocolate-DTs, followed by a more moderate approach to eating (and, of course, chocolate)–and maybe even a little weight loss.

I do have a couple of desserts and one or two other dishes that I’ve recently prepared and will post as blog entries over the next two weeks, but for the most part, I’ll be sharing my healthier, detoxifying, health-conferring goodies with you.  And I’m hoping that declaring it this way on the blog will help me to actually follow through!

So I hope you’ll bear with me after the recent influx of indulgent baked goods.  Like some of you, I sometimes feel that a day without baking is a day devoid of some ineffable, necessary primal “something,” something that satisfies at the chromosomal level. 

No doubt, the baking will return.  Part of my goal when I started this blog was to lose 40 pounds before my next birthday, and unless I somehow get the chocolate habit under control, I know it won’t be a very happy one.  (And speaking of birthdays, another HUGE impetus for the chocolate ban is the upcoming birthday bash for Gemini I’s husband–a massive party in the works–on March 1st.  Two weeks away; need something nice, nothing fits, don’t want to have to buy something new. Think I could lose 10 pounds by then?  Me, either.)

And so, chocolate, adieu.  It’s only for a short while, but I’m hoping that absence, in this case, will not make the heart grow fonder.  No doubt I will miss you; I may even pine for you.  Still, one day, I hope to look at you with the same indifferent eye with which I gaze at Cream of Wheat, or paisley, or Josh Groban (sorry, Josh, not a big fan). After the week is over, let’s renegotiate our relationship in a more level-headed manner. In the meantime, I’ll attempt to forge ahead on my own, without you. But we’ll always have Paris (it is, after all, home of your finest specimens).

(“Oh, Mum, you’re so histrionic.  Really, get a grip. Who cares about chocolate?  It’s not a big deal.  But, um, you’re not thinking of changing your mind about carob now too, are you?  Because, you know, we’re allowed to eat carob, and we really love that carob-date thing you make.  So we can keep the carob, can’t we, Mum? Can’t we?  Mum???”)

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Driven by Distraction

January 8, 2008

I wouldn’t have believed it myself if it hadn’t happened to me personally (why, yes, you’re absolutely right, that does sound like the opening line of a letter to Penthouse Forum! But sorry, it’s not).

Two whole days, and I have consumed not one single sweet. No cookies.  No cake.  No muffins, even.  But best of all:  no chocolate! My small intestine is saying, “thank you.”  My gastric juices are whispering, “we appreciate the time off.”  My liver is chanting, “Bless you, my child.”  The scale is even winking at me in gratitude. The Girls–well, they’re not as thankful.  (“We really do miss getting the leftover bits of those oatbran banana muffins, Mum.“)

How did I accomplish such a feat, you ask? Well (like so much else in my life, unfortunately), it wasn’t a conscious choice.  I have discovered since our new semester began this week that it is just soooo much easier for me to eat healthfully when I have some distraction.  During the past two days, I’ve had distraction squared.  Exponential distraction.  To wit, dozens of students emailing with questions, numerous pieces of coursework to put into place, several meetings with colleagues, coordinators and Chairs (and chairs, too, actually), a cooking class to present in a major grocery store, a doctor’s appointment, and myriad other little errands and domestic tasks that I’ve left by the wayside for too long (hmmmm. .. why don’t we see just how long we can live without unpacking the second half of our kitchen, still in boxes from our recent move?)

On some level, I guess I know that my dietary habits are curbed by being busy, so I tend to overbook myself, sometimes to the point of exhaustion.  But hey, I like it that way; I get too stressed out when I’m not so busy that I’m stressed out.

It just seems that the ability to exert willpower over poor dietary choices is much more effective when I have many things to occupy my time and mind.  This fact tends to convince me that my eating is, indeed, emotional, as I am able to easily ignore even the most insistent rumbling of my stomach during times that I’m involved in what Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (I swear, that’s his real name) would call a “Flow” activity.

I guess I’ve always been someone who requires structure and consistency to be comfortable and stave off anxiety. As an undergraduate, I was exceedingly organized, so much so that I could work part time, go to school full-time, be a teaching assistant part-time, and still have a social life.  I was one of those annoying students who elicited the gag reflex in others by always having her course readings done (with notes) before class, and always finishing essays long before the due date (though I never actually handed them in before the due date, because I didn’t want my professors to think I hadn’t used the maximum time allotted, thereby designating me a slacker).

When it comes to my eating habits, however, I tenaciously resist the idea of structure.  Why? There have certainly been times in my life when I did diet according to “Diet Rules,” whatever fashion dictated they were at the time. 

Ah, nostalgia: I remember clearly when The Nurse first explained to me (a mere tyke at the time!) about the concept of calories. The rules were easy:  it didn’t matter where you got your calorie buzz as long as your sinful activity never exceeded a certain number per day (I think it was 1000 at that time).  You could eat anything you wanted, no matter how decadent, and you’d still lose 5 pounds a week as long as you followed the rules. But if you went too far, or enjoyed too much, you’d pay for breaking those rules by growing fatter and fatter, and your friends would ultimately reject you. So we went on a chocolate cake diet, eating one slice of it for breakfast, one for lunch, and one for dinner in order to lose weight. (Come to think of it, that was also about the time she explained the birds and the bees to me as well, so maybe I’m getting those two sets of rules mixed up.)

Later on was the “same thing for each meal” diet (not to be confused with the previous one, which is technically the “same thing for every meal” diet).  In its second incarnation, the diet prescribed a bowl of corn flakes with skim milk for breakfast, a salad and orange for lunch, and chicken and vegetables for dinner.  At that time, I was working lunch hours in the high school cafeteria, so I’d get my orange and salad for free (I know, I can get my entire lunch for free, and what do I pick?  Salad and an orange).  Back then, in my early teens, that diet also worked beautifully. I did lose weight, my first large weight loss.  Unfortunately, I also lost my period and felt pretty crappy most of the time.  (Oh, and losing the weight didn’t help me get a boyfriend, either. Bummer.)

I could go on (but I’ll spare you).  Suffice it to say that, over the years, I tried sundry and various ways to lose weight, always keeping it off for a short time (except my one big “lose,” after which I maintained my slim self for about a decade).  But eventually, I gained back the weight in the most cliched fashion, even surpassing the previous “high” weight.

Lack of success in the past may explain why I’m diet-shy at the moment and bristle at any mention of counting points, calories, carbs, fat grams, or anything else that would cause me to practise my rusty addition or subtraction skills before eating.  I am truly thankful that I haven’t felt the urge to consume anything unhealthy in the past two days, but I’m still not entirely sure why that’s been the case. 

What I’m aiming for, eventually, is to regain the power in that equation (there’s that darn math again!), allowing me to assume conscious control of whether or not I lean toward the slice of chocolate cake or the scrambled tofu for dinner.  And judging by the last couple of days, it would make sense to examine just what it is that distraction offers.  Because in the end, I think it’s far preferable to meander through your days, relaxed and aware, than to rush through a predetermined schedule just to avoid the temptation of unhealthy eating.

Well, I hope everyone out there had a Happy New Year.  Ours would have been very pleasant and laid back–after all, we were guests at my friend’s 8000 square foot “cottage” (you read that right–were we lucky, or what??), we were in a pastoral wonderland of snow, lake, birch trees, rare birds and other wildlife prancing past the picture windows between the stone and wood walls, and we spent the time with two of my very favorite people in the world, Gemini I and Gemini II, as well as their families.  Could it get any better?

In our pre-Chaser days, we used to go up there fairly frequently, and have spent many a lovely Thanksgiving or Christmas with the Gemini I family. This time, however, we discovered a tiny, heretofore unseen quirk in our (post-Chaser) Elsie Girl, something we’d never witnessed before:  she has a newfound propensity to lunge at and–if permitted–eat any of the other dogs up there (Chaser excluded).  What the–?? 

My beloved fur baby, the one I’ve adored since we got her from the pound back in 2002, the one who is consistently docile and sweet and gentle?  The one I refer to variously as Sweet Face, Sweet Girl, Honey Girl, My Darling Girl, My Little Love, and innumerable other nausea-inducing, endearing sobriquets?  The one who timorously permits Chaser to nibble endlessly on her ears like popcorn at the movies, who hangs her head in submission when I see her even walking toward the open garbage can, who lies at my feet silently here at the computer and reminds me, with a barely perceptible, feathery whisper of a touch with her nose, that it’s dinnertime? 

Yes, that one.  What on earth has gotten into her?

As a result of this sudden possession by the Dog Satan, we spent most of the time hovering over Elsie to ensure that she didn’t consume Gemini I’s new cat, or bundling up in our snow suits to accompany Elsie on the leash to do her “business” outside.  How I wish Cesar Millan lived in Canada. Sniff.

I also realized, as soon as we were on the road and past the point where it would be feasible to turn back, that I’d forgotten my camera up north.  Granted, it’s a cheap little unit (I must be the only blogger on the face of the planet who takes pictures with a camera she got for free using Air Miles), and also I have no photographic ability, but I am inordinately fond of the thing and it feels like traipsing around the house naked to post without photos of any kind. 

The final rather unpleasant discovery to greet me after the weekend (well, actually, the last two weeks) is that it appears I have gained a couple of pounds (really?  pigging out on baked goods and chocolate can do that to you?).  As a result of all these events, I’ve been feeling pretty disheartened since we got back.  Boo hoo.

Well, as Cesar himself would say, it’s the owner, not the dog, that needs training whenever there’s a problem.  Don’t I know it: time to listen to The Great Emperor of Dog Training and get my ass in gear, literally and figuratively.  Also, a perfect opportunity for some goal setting (notice I didn’t say, “resolutions”). 

Every year around this time–sometimes right on the first of the year, sometimes not until April–I sit down and write out a “Five-Year Plan,” a set of goals to reach within 5 years, 2 years, one year, and the next six months.  This is something I learned about from the original study at Harvard (I didn’t participate, just read about it) that confirmed how those people who actually write down their goals are more inclined to someday achieve them.  Some years it works better, some years worse, but it always seems to help keep me on track and steer me toward my goals, even when I immediately put the list back in its desk drawer and promptly forget about it till the next year. 

I’m also always amazed at the goals that eventually come to fruition even when I’ve literally forgotten about them in the interim.  To wit, a couple of years ago one of the goals I wrote was “Work with a business coach for free.”  Through a series of serendipitous events, I ended up with three full months of terrific coaching. Similarly, “guest appearance on TV morning show.”  Or, “Adopt second dog.”  At the time I wrote that, my HH’s response was a definite “no.” As the months rolled by, for some reason, he ultimately changed his mind, and eventually he succumbed.  Now, he’s Chaser’s greatest fan, and the two of them are almost inseparable.(“Thanks for changing your mind, Dad!  You’re so much fun to wrestle with. . .but wait a sec, Mum, if you’re not also my greatest fan, then whose fan are you–?“). 

So, to that end, I am going to list my goals.  I will say straight up that this isn’t the complete list, as there are still some things that I’ll keep private (goals related to relationship, family, etc.), but given the name of the blog, I think I should at least include all the food-related and health-related ones here. 

Of course, everyone and their cousin is making resolutions about now, and to that end, there was a humorous send up of these kinds of lists in the Arts and Life section of the National Post today.  Near the top of the list was this goal:

“Shed those unwanted pounds, or, if that’s too hard, spend some quality time with those pounds at a Wendy’s and make them feel wanted again.” 

In that same spirit, I shall not berate myself for those “unwanted” two pounds, or the fairly unstable wagon off of which I’ve fallen. Instead, I’m going to set about outlining some goals for the next while.

And So:

Five Years Hence:

  • Post and Beam.  My lifelong (okay, adult-long) dream is to own a post and beam, slightly north of the city, with my two dogs and HH (and in it, I’ll still be writing this blog, of course).
  • maintain normal, healthy weight and eating habits (continued since year one), following the plan I outlined, below, in the 6-month goal. 
  • go swimming on a regular basis (something I used to love as a kid/teenager, and have been too embarrassed to do in public since the weight gain).
  • Have meditation as a daily part of my life, yoga (or other easy-on-the-joints, meditative exercise) as a weekly part of my life.
  • continue to have an easy, healthy relationship with dessert, able to enjoy with moderation without being thrown into binge mode, as outlined below in the one-year goal.
  • have a healthy, effective method in place for dealing with stress (hey, may as well reach high once I’m setting goals, right?).

Two Years Hence:

  • maintain normal, healthy lifestyle and eating habits since year one (as outlined below, in the 6 month section).
  • maintain a healthy, normal relationship to dessert, as outlined below in the one year goal.
  • have meditation as a daily part of my life, yoga or similar type of exercise as weekly.
  • go swimming again–take lessons if necessary.
  • have healthy, effective method for dealing with stress in place and almost perfected.

One Year Hence:

  • reach normal, healthy weight (about 50 pounds from now) 
  •  achieve a sense of control around desserts–that is, the ability to eat them within reason, without breaking into a binge because of one chocolate bar, or brownie, or piece of cake
  • continue to create healthy, delicious desserts for fun and profit
  • continue to eat a balanced, NAG-friendly diet.
  • complete an intro to yoga course, and continue throughout the year.
  • improve work on weights, to previous levels, working with trainer if necessary.
  • continue with regular exercise at least 6 days a week, as outlined below.

Six Months Hence:

  • down 25 pounds from now
  • eat a balanced, NAG-friendly diet.  (I know from past experience that this will help me with the dessert goal, above, as I seem so much less inclined toward unhealthy foods when I regularly consume veggies, whole grains, and the like).
  • exercise regularly:  weights/club at least 3x per week; treadmill at least 4x per week (I know this can be done, as I’ve done it before, for years at a time)
  • take intro to yoga or similar exercise course; begin meditation, with the help of a course if necessary.

I think these are realistic goals, especially since I know I’ve mastered some of them in the past.  I’m also giving myself a fairly lengthy period to establish new habits (I’ve read that it takes about 6 weeks of repetition to establish a new habit, but have never found that to be true for me; even after 2 years of eating no sweeteners whatsoever, it didn’t take long to return to old habits once I allowed sugar back into my life).

Now, of course there are many other goals on the piece of paper written out here at home, such as those related to my writing career or travelling (basically, I’d like to do some).  But for now, if I can focus on the physical health and psychological wellness, I think I’d have a great head start toward everything else. 

(“You go for it, Mum!  My goal this year is to earn more treats.  Oh, and I suppose not to attempt ripping apart other dogs would be good, too.’)