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!

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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.

There’s nothing better than celebrating a special holiday with balance.  A bounty of food and alcohol may abound, but the best approach is to simply eat well, eat with a level head, and enjoy the abundance without going overboard.  Wake up the next day feeling great, ready to take on the day as if the previous night’s festivities never happened.  Hmmm. . . too bad I wasn’t able to accomplish that this year.

I’m guessing it will likely take a few days before my body feels like itself again.  Despite the best of intentions, I must have taken the wrong cue from The Girls, eating as if I might never again have the opportunity to fill up on any of this stuff (and really, some of it wasn’t even worth having again!  “Dump Cake“??  Whatever possessed me to acquiesce to my HH’s wishes for that thing?  And then–eating two portions of it?  Even if I did buy organic cake mix in a meager attempt to convert it to something a smidgen more salubrious. . . Gak.)

(“But Mum! Everything was wonderful–we just loved Christmas!  And what’s wrong with eating something special once in a while?  Or on every occasion you can get it? Turkey, Mum–Turkey.  We. want. turkey.”)

The ideal experience at a holiday feast, for me, would be to enjoy a moderate portion of everything, including dessert, and possess the innate ability to simply stop when I’d had enough.  (Forgot to use the small plate/two item trick at my own holiday dinner–did that have something to do with it?).  Instead, yesterday, I found myself drawn to the least healthy elements of the meal–repeatedly. Today, I don’t feel so hot.

Perhaps that’s a good thing, though.  For “normal” eaters, the “STOP EATING” switch goes off much faster than it does for those of us with a propensity to overindulge.  But I can honestly say that, finally, my own switch has tripped, and I am craving–seriously, craving–vegetables.  It may have taken me a lot longer than it took my honey, but I got there.  In the old days, I might have gone on a binge for days, finishing up the dessert leftovers in one afternoon. Today, I’m at the point where all I’d like to do with that Dump Cake is dump it in the garbage can.

One of the principles that keeps coming to mind is Newton’s Law, that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  Since the law applies to everything governed by the laws of physics, it would, of course, also include the way we eat and how our bodies react to the way we eat.  In other words, overdo it one way, and your body will subtly suggest that you underdo it the next.  This is a principle that my friend Karen, in her book Secrets of Skinny Chicks, documented well. As her subjects told her, when slim women pig out at a special occasion, they always compensate the following day, either by eating less or exercising more.  I suppose this is a variation of the approach I adopted when I skipped dinner after overdoing the Halloween chocolates.  And today? Treadmill, here I come.  (Oh, and my Holidailies entry, of course).

Another facet of this principle is one perfectly summed up by Sally in her great blog, Aprovechar.  In her post, Sally compared the patterns of eating/overeating to the financial principle of opportunity cost.  In other words, every opportunity brings with it a certain cost, and if you assess the cost beforehand, it can help you decide whether or not to take the opportunity.  I knew that last night’s dinner would cost me today (perhaps not quite as much as it seems to be doing, what with the backflips in my stomach, but still), and I made a conscious choice to eat anyway.  For me, true progress will be achieved once I learn to make a better choice, with a lesser cost.

Still, today’s craving for veggies is progress of a sort.  And while it may be difficult to find something positive in overeating, I am determined to let my body learn what it can and cannot comfortably do when it comes to food.  The initial mistake was allowing the unhealthy food into the house in the first place, but the ultimate goal remains the same: being able to enjoy a variety of foods (including dessert) at a multi-course meal, and naturally stopping when comfortably full.  That kind of action will signal a huge milestone in the way I approach food.

In the meantime, I’m off to raid the fridge for some broccoli and carrots.  And  I’ll just glance away as my HH polishes off that Dump Cake. (“Did you say carrots, Mum?  Because we love those.  Especially with turkey.”)

Fluffy Fruited Pancakes

December 9, 2007

DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS has moved!  Click here to go to the new site.

Well, since I didn’t make it to the gym today to record my weight, my HH and I decided to go out to brunch instead.  (But of course!  If you can’t exercise, may as well eat.)  

We do this a lot, it seems.  For me, the allure is the meal itself; breakfast foods have always trumped lunch or dinner in my mind.  For my HH, it’s simply the act of going out to eat.  (Apparently, at one point in his twenties, he lived in an apartment for 2 years and never once turned on the stove.).    

Rather than bore you with the menu from today’s excursion, I thought I’d share a recipe for one of my favorite brunch foods, pancakes. So often, the ones you get in restaurants are heavy, wet, and shiny with griddle grease (how appetizing!).  The recipe that follows, however, really does live up to its name.  You’ll find these light, fluffy, and, as their eponymous title suggests, cake-like.   

To avoid overdoing the maple syrup when I eat these, I prefer to pour syrup on the side and daintily dip my pieces of pancake one at a time into it (rather than slathering it over the top of the stack, as in the photo, below).  This way, the pancakes don’t soak up too much of the syrup at one time (as they tend to do), and there’s no need to repeatedly re-pour when the pancakes start to appear dry on top. 

 Another way I like to eat these (perhaps while reading some Holidailies entries?) is topped with fruit-only jams–blackberry and mango are favorites–and forgo the syrup entirely.  

For the omnivores out there, feel free to use regular milk instead of soy or rice milk, and replace the flax seeds with 2 eggs.

  Fluffy Fruited Pancakes 

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

 pancakes.jpg

These light and foolproof pancakes are great with berries, apples, pears, or bananas. Unlike most vegan versions, they provide a good amount of protein on their own, due to the protein powder added to the batter.  You can use leftovers for another day’s breakfast or lunch: simply spread one pancake with your favorite nut butter and/or jam, then top with another pancake for a quick and delicious pancake “sandwich.” 

 

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

pancakeswbite.jpg 

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

 

 

 

 

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.”]  

 

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.”)

Well, I’ve got it bad.

It’s exam time at the college, and there are something like 204 papers to be marked by the end of the week.

Yet, as I sit here at my desk, wind vaulting stray flakes of snow across my window, what do I do? Do I even glance in the direction of those essays?  No. Do I take a few minutes to admire the vista of white that I haven’t seen in maybe 10 years? (Seems this new location is just above the no-snow line—two blocks, and suddenly, we’ve got real winter.) Uh-uh.  Do I stop and meditate for even 5 minutes, as I’ve solemnly vowed to do? Absolutely not.

No, what I do is go immediately to the Holidailies website and check out the recent posts. And read, and read, and have a laugh, and nod in agreement, and wipe a tear from my eye, and then go to my own blog and start writing.

It’s Day Four of Holidailies, and I’m totally hooked. Since I still can’t seem to figure out how to get that cute little icon pasted to my page, I’ve decided to honour the event in my own unique way: every day of Holidailies (well, except today, I guess, since the jig is already up), I’m going to attempt to channel Alfred Hitchcock (except for the weight part, that is), and surreptitiously add a link to the Holidailies site, somewhere in my post. Think of it as the “Where’s Waldo?” of blogging.

On a completely unrelated note. . . .

I’ve been thinking more about the notion of intuitive eating, as that seems to be the approach I’ve adopted, more or less, in my quest for normal eating. The idea, as I interpret it, is to learn to let your body eat what it really wants, and then stop as soon as it no longer wants it.

I’ve recently read several posts that touch on this idea, most recently at Angry Fat Girlz. Granted, for Erin, the writer of the post, the notion of intuitive eating was a short digression in her larger discussion of how we should each find what works best for us as individuals. But she seems to decry the concept of intuitive eating as basically self-destructive when she recalls trying out different diet plans, including Weight Watchers:

“I eventually ended up half-embracing Intuitive Eating, but I could never really buy into the idea of unconditional forgiveness if I decided to eat a 5 gallon drum of peanut butter because my body said it wanted it.”

To discount intuitive eating because it feels impossible (or downright wrong) to forgive yourself because you FEEL like eating, say, a kilo (oops, sorry American friends, that’s about 2 pounds) of Chunky Monkey is, I think, a misguided conclusion. Because in reality, a true “intuitive” eater would never WANT to eat a kilo of ice cream in the first place, so there’d be nothing to forgive. No healthy, intuitive body out there craves that much rich, highly caloric, sugar-laden food, unless it’s recently been lost in the Tundra for a week or so, or has been traipsing through the Sahara a little too long without provisions. In other words, true intuitive eating brings us to a life of balance and health, and is naturally inclined toward what is good for us. And unfortunately, my body is completely devoid of that sort of intuition.

Take my Human Honey, for instance. (He loves it when I tell this story, even if it is drawn and tired by now, but it’s true.) He has never had a weight problem, and has always been a “normal” eater. In his childhood home, dessert was just another course, take it or leave it; and there was never a need to “hide” food because Daddy Will Get Mad if He Sees That We’ve Eaten Four Donuts in One Day. So when my HH eats, he eats what he feels like having, he thoroughly enjoys every mouthful, and he stops when he’s full. Period. He might be eating something he highly enjoys—loves, even—but when he’s full, that’s it; the switch has been pulled, and there will be no more food going into that mouth just then, no matter what is still on the plate.

“But it’s just ONE PEA,” I implore, “Just eat the damned thing!”

“No,” he calmly replies, “I am full, I don’t want to eat any more.” And he pushes the plate away.

Now, that’s intuitive eating. And the only way to achieve it, I think, is to allow your body to learn how to do it, even if it means making mistakes along the way. Even if it means eating a kilo of ice cream once in a while.

I’ve come to believe that for overeaters, their appetites are somehow out of whack, just like an overactive immune system when it reacts to an allergen. The IgE antibodies detect something otherwise harmless and freak out: “Attack! Attack!” just as my appetite alarm detects something yummy and bellows, “Eat! Eat!” Even if, in both cases, the extreme reaction is totally unwarranted.

That’s why I don’t believe in guilt when I overeat (don’t get me wrong here: just because I don’t believe in it, doesn’t necessarily mean I don’t experience it; but I’m working on that one). Why would you want to punish yourself twice—first, when you eat the “wrong” thing, and then again when you flagellate yourself for it?

I’ve read that, for those of us who are overweight, part of the reason may be an enhanced sense of taste. Those who taste foods more “fully” may crave them more, because they appreciate the flavors on a deeper level (which makes you feel kind of sad for those taste-deprived skinny people, doesn’t it?). And since flavor is dissolved and distributed more in the fat content of foods, we well-padded individuals tend to crave fatty foods. Sugar is just plain addictive, so combine the two (chocolate, anyone?), and you’ve got a recipe (sorry, couldn’t resist) for disaster. For me, I’m sure this is the case. I’ve been indulging in sweets since I was a child, and it makes sense to me that I must have developed this kind of hyperactive taste sensitivity.

On the other hand, I have noticed one very positive by-product of eating only NAG-friendly sweets. To begin with, all the flours are whole grain, and on top of that, my baking uses a lot of fruits and nuts as ingredients (you kind of have to when you eliminate eggs, dairy, refined sugars, and wheat). So I end up with many products that are high in fibre, and relatively low in fat (though that’s not the goal of the NAG diet, anyway—it’s just aiming for healthy fats, within a reasonable limit).

Because these goodies are brimming with whole, natural ingredients, they are also much more nutrient-dense than other sweets, so they tend to fill you up more. I really, honestly, cannot eat the entire pan of my alternative Chocolate Walnut Brownies (made with spelt flour, flax seeds, dates, cocoa, organic walnuts, etc.) because I simply get too full too fast. But a whole pan of Sara Lee brownies? Or Entenmanns’s? No problem.

So I’m hoping that, over time, eating a whole foods, healthy diet will result in my body learning, even if it takes a while, how to say “no” when it’s had enough. Without guilt, and without self-recrimination. After all, how long would it take to learn any other new skill at my age? I wouldn’t expect to be able to successfully build a doghouse, or play the stock market, or conduct a symphony, either, without a few years of experience at it, or a few mistakes along the way. And anyway, eating brownies is so much more fun, n’est-ce pas?

Tea Biscuits at the Ready

November 11, 2007

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With no stove and no way of cooking anything, I’m grateful for the few baked goods left in the freezer.  These are tea biscuits I created while experimenting with vegan and sugar-free biscuits and scones.

These are light and surprisingly tasty, considering that they have no butter, eggs, or refined sugar.  They’re made with spelt flour and agave nectar, one of my favorite sweeteners.  I use organic raisins and organic sunflower oil (just a touch).  While I do use organic soy milk in these, I think they could just as easily be made with rice milk (and definitely with almond milk). 

So, amid the boxes and newspaper, the cartons and garbage bags and two dogs miling about, I enjoyed a quick and easy breakfast of tea biscuits with organic peanut butter.  ( “The peanut butter was particularly tasty, mum!”).

Basically a healthier variation on a PB sandwich–but much more yummy. ( “We have to agree.  You can feed us tea biscuits any time! Now, what are all these boxes doing everywhere?”)

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