[Warning: this post contains material that some might find offensive.  That’s right–I’m going to be serious for once.]

 

Last evening, the HH and I went out for dinner to celebrate our anniversary (eleven years since we met—can it be possible??).  Actually, our true anniversary was last Sunday, but given the unexpected GBR that had me stuck in the house, we deferred until yesterday (sort of like we did with our Valentine’s Day dinner, celebrated on February 16th—guess we’re just wacky that way).

 

As we always do on this milestone date, we splurged and went to our favorite restaurant (something we do about twice a year—any more, and we probably couldn’t afford regular food!).  Even though it’s outrageously expensive, the place does deliver, and consistently: great menu, great service, great atmosphere. It’s never a problem to find a meal that suits my dietary restrictions (there’s often a tempeh option!), and even if there’s nothing suitable on the menu, they’ll whip something up on the spot—and it’s always absolutely spectacular (how does a starter salad of Belgian endive stuffed with puy lentils, candied pistachios and dried cranberries, topped with a pouf of lentil sprouts and misted with a light champagne vinaigrette sound?).

 

As usual, I enjoyed the meal immensely; as usual, I ended up consuming too much (how does a heaping plate of fresh potato gnocchi—nothing at all like my own feeble attempt a few weeks back—graced with a saporous, light and meaty wild mushroom sauce and laced with caramelized leeks and occasional hints of thyme sound?). 

 

Well, everything was fine and dandy while we were still celebrating, cleaning our plates and draining our champagne flutes, feeling pretty good about our decade-plus-one status.  But then, this morning. . .

 

Ah, this morning.  

 

 

When I first started this blog, I designated Sundays as “Progress Tracker” day, when I’d weigh-in (at the Workout Club), then record my weight as I lost it. Which means that this morning was weigh-in time. Needless to say, I haven’t been to the club since I hurt my back; but worse, today’s eye-opener was that my weight has now surpassed the original number when I started the blog!

 

 

Do I capitulate, and remove the “diet” from the blog’s title?  Do I keep mum and pretend that the pounds are melting away when they’re not?  Do I forget about the whole thing and just eat whatever the heck I want??

 

No, I decided, I can’t do any of those. Besides the fact that I am still a firm believer in the notion that healthy eating, even without counting points, calories, or carbs, will eventually lead to natural weight loss and health, I don’t feel good this way. I am still able to remember those days when I maintained a healthy weight, and how everything–from walking up the stairs, to getting out of a chair, to playing Frisbee with The Girls, even to pulling on my socks in the morning–was so much more free and easy.  And so, even before the anniversary dinner yesterday, I had decided that some drastic measures are in order.  Time to get some help with this quest of mine. Time to call in the Big Guns.

 

As serendipity would have it, I received an email from my friend and former teacher at nutrition school last week. She’s offering a nine-week course called  ClearBeing Total Health, aimed at one’s overall lifestyle. I registered immediately! The plan focuses on more than just diet alone, and that’s exactly what I need.  I’m also hoping this will be the necessary impetus for me to renew the habits that were already so natural when I studied nutrition a few years ago. 

 

Best of all, this approach is totally compatible with the kinds of food I’ve been highlighting on this blog. The only difference is, I’ll be eating less of them.  In fact, this may actually be the first time in my life I’m looking forward to starting a “diet.”

 

Wish me luck!  I’ll be keeping you posted.

 

 

 

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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.”)

Eat Dessert First

December 21, 2007

Years ago, during one of my very first visits to Toronto (and long before I lived here), my best buddy Ali and I spent an evening at the famed Pickle Barrel restaurant (in fact, the last time I went there was during Ali’s most recent visit to Canada from England, last summer–when I was rather unpleasantly surprised to note that the restaurant still offered basically the exact same, unappetizing, menu that it had in 1981). 

But back then, we were hyper, we were chatty, we were callow twenty-somethings who really were more interested in catching up with each other than any food we might consume (ah!  if only I could recapture that mindset. . . ).  We scanned the menu, chose something for dinner, and ordered.  We already knew that we wanted the killer chocolate layer cake for dessert, so we ordered that, too.  With the server still standing before us, we realized that dinner might take a few minutes, at least, and what we really wanted was that chocolate cake anyway–so we asked her to bring that over first.

After she recovered her composure (very professional of her, I thought), she nodded and trotted away, soon to return with two huge hunks o’ chocolate cake, which we consumed with lip-smacking zeal and thoroughly enjoyed before starting on our main courses.  In other words, we chose to eat the best part of the meal first.   No deferred gratification. No saving the best for last. No self-denial in the name of good health.  And then, because we wanted to, we still got to eat a darned good dinner, too.

One of the things I’ve always had trouble with is “living in the moment.”  Years ago, as a way to deal wtih anxiety attacks, I took a course called “Mindfulness Meditation.”  It was terrific, really, and I’ve written about it before.  It allowed me to be present with my body for those 45 minutes or so as I meditated, and it worked wonders.  Problem was, once I returned to the “real” world and incompetent drivers; cashiers who can’t count if the register’s computer is broken; telemarketers who don’t understand “I’m not interested, thanks”; sour (soy, or any other kind of) milk, already poured over your cereal; automatic parking lot payment machines that swallow your Mastercard whole; malevolent ice patches hiding under that soft, thin patina of snow; puppies who eat kleenex and then vomit all over your hardwood floor–and about 7,352 other daily annoyances–I lost all my Eastern calm and was thrown immediately back into a welter of Western, frenetic living, anxiety and all. So how to recapture those wonderful feelings of mindfulness?

One of my goals this year, as I attempt to lose my superfluous 50 (oops, forgot: 45.5) pounds, is to gain a sense of inner peace (okay, I’d settle for a sense of inner not-freaking-out-daily) and purpose, by identifying the things that are truly important to me.  I’ve been working away at my little organic baking business and teaching holistic cooking on occasion, setting aside time to spend with my HH and beloved Girls, writing at every possible opportunity, and making a very concerted effort to pay more attention to what is going on in my life (especially during the month of Holidailies).  This latest house-move seemed the perfect catalyst to start afresh, in so many areas.

chasereatcup.jpg So I’ve decided to try to adopt more of the same approach that Ali and I fell into that faraway evening at the restaurant, only this time, I’m going to make a conscious decision to “eat dessert first.”   I don’t mean this literally (well, not every time, anyway), but simply as a way to ensure I do the things that are most important to me; that will bring the greatest sense of satisfaction and gratification; that, years down the road, will make me smile when I remember them–first.  If at all possible. 

In terms of dieting, this philosophy logically extends to literal eating of dessert first as well. If what you really want is the slice of chocolate layer cake, and eating it will effectively remove the desire for anything else, why not have that cake, and eat it, too? I don’t know about you, but I’ve found the standard diet advice to “eat something else and wait 10 minutes” when you have a craving to be totally useless.  I eat something else, then go have the thing I was craving, anyway.  By eating the cake first, I omit the second course.  Is that really so bad?

As we enter the final phase of the holiday tempest of parties, buffets, dinners, open houses, brunches, cocktails and all other manner of food-related gatherings, it may be the perfect time to pay attention to what you really, truly would like, right now, in this moment, and then just go for it. 

In other words: march on over and stand proudly under that mistletoe.  Take off those heels and just boogie. Send that heartfelt card to you-know-who. Or, if it’s what you are really craving,  just dig right in and enjoy the fleeting, sweet satisfaction of a tall piece of chocolate layer cake, right this minute.

Willpower and Panic Attacks

December 11, 2007

Yesterday, when I finally made it back to the workout club after my recent hiatus (Nice to see you again, Elderly Gentleman Who Always Wears Black Knee Socks! Good day, Sixty-Something Woman with the Spiky Hair!  How ya doin’, Teenaged Girl with the Chirpy Giggle!), I was astonished to find that I had actually lost more weight. (Oh, and also that an earlier blog entry appeared in the Best of Holidailies! Awesome!!). 

 

I got to thinking about what, this particular time round, has made the difference that’s allowed me to lose weight. Did I suddenly acquire some new form of willpower?

 

Well, “willpower” isn’t exactly the right word, I think.  Because what I’m experiencing just doesn’t seem to take that much effort on my part. Oh, and wait a sec, I did eat the majority of a 150 gram white chocolate bar the other day–so I’m not consciously depriving myself, either.  In fact, I seem to be able to basically eat whatever I want, whenever I want—even if it involves ingesting copious amounts of chocolate—without the same repercussions as when I last did more or less the same thing, about a year ago (when I capped off my weight gain with yet another 10 pounds, pushing me past my previous all-time record).

Something struck me as odd about this latest turn of events.  Decades ago–before there was even a term to describe it–I used to suffer from debilitating anxiety attacks.  Lacking confidence, living alone in a strange city without any close friends or family, I began to find myself at 3:00 AM fretting about the sudden pains in my chest or the alarming pace of my racing heartbeat. After hours of internal battles and too scared to sleep, I’d finally wear myself out and fall into an exhausted slumber for a couple of hours before daybreak.  

After fielding endless frantic queries about the myriad symptoms of heart attacks and several other fatal illnesses over the course of a year, one day The Nurse finally said to me, “Look, I just don’t get it.  Instead of staying up all night stressing about whether or not you’re having a heart attack, why don’t you just go to the emergency room as soon as it starts?  You’ll get examined, they’ll tell you there’s nothing wrong with you, and then you can go back home and go to sleep.” And of course she was right; the few times I did go, the doctor’s reassurance caused the the symptoms to subside, and I was able to relax and go home to bed. 

It had never before occurred to me to just “give in to it.”  I’d always felt that I was required to somehow vanquish the fear, that if I succumbed and went to the emerg, it would mean that I was intrinsically weak willed and would, therefore, never overcome those panic attacks. 

Well, after about 3 or 4 weeks of acknowledging those symptoms and having them deemed harmless, those panic attacks naturally began to diminish. To this day, I don’t really know why; it was something about giving up the fight, acknowledging them as the current reality–however negative–instead of trying, for the entire course of an excruciating night of pain and hyperventilating, to deny their existence. They just went away.

As I’ve mentioned before, the last time I lost a fair amount of weight (also rather effortlessly) was about 4 years ago, as a student at my much beloved nutrition school.  About a year after that, the weight began to sneak back up.  Since then, I’ve been struggling to lose it again, failing miserably time after time.  Except now, since October.  Why?

Perhaps the same principle applies to binge eating as to those anxiety attacks. Accepting the bingeing as reality (which is NOT the same as condoning it or embracing it as a welcome practise) without trying to deny, suppress, erase or judge it–may just be the ticket to eradicating it.  At that point, the binges may just decide to go away of their own accord.

I don’t know whether this is the case in my situation, but I am most thankful for the current trend.  It may simply be that trying too hard to prevent a particular activity–protesting too much–may, ironically, exaggerate the activity even more.  I’d love to know how others feel about this one. 

(“Well, Mum, we think it’s a great strategy.  We just eat whatever we want, too, though we never do get quite as much food as we’d like.” 

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?

DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS HAS MOVED! TO VISIT THE NEW HOME PAGE, PLEASE CLICK HERE.

TO VISIT THIS SAME PAGE ON THE NEW SITE, PLEASE CLICK HERE.

I’m beginning to think this blog should be called “Chocolate, Chocolate and Chocolate.”  I was truly not aware that one person could consume so much Lindt in a 4-day period and still survive. I think they should give me danger pay, or something.

So: what to do about my chocolate addiction? I’ve maintained for years that sugar is just as addictive as any drug, illegal or otherwise.  Only it’s worse:  you can live in a world without alcohol by removing it entirely from your life and cupboards.  But you can never eliminate food entirely from your life (or even dessert, if you live and socialize among other humans). And given that my own mother died of complications related to diabetes, one would think I’d take special care to avoid a similar demise.

But that’s the conundrum:  I am intelligent, educated, nutrition-savvy, quirky (okay, “quirky” isn’t really relevant, but I like that fact)–yet can’t seem to get a grip on my eating habits.  I do know that, like any other addict, if I make it through an initial “drying out” phase and avoid chocolate and other sweets for a period of about a week or two, it will be smooth sailing from then on.  So I’ve tried, many a time, to begin a new, healthy regimen and get past that hump.  Lately, it seems an impossible task.

And so, back to a fresh attempt tomorrow.  No, wait, not tomorrow, but right now!  Just because I ate a bag of Lindt minis today doesn’t necessarily mean I need to stay off the wagon, does it?  I can eat a healthy, nutritious, delicious dinner.  I remember that obese woman, Stacey Halprin, who’d lost the equivalent of a person or two. At one point, she was interviewed on Oprah, talking about what she’d learned after being slim for over a year.  She basically said that you don’t have to blow it just because you’ve eaten something ‘bad.’ She said, “If you wake up in the morning and you’ve been to a buffet breakfast or in my case, have a row of Oreos in the afternoon, I don’t starve because I know by noon, I’m going to tilt back the fridge. . . . What the winners do is they go to the exact next meal, and they start like it never happened.”

And so I shall (update tomorrow). 

(“Good for you, Mum!  We don’t mind healthy eating, either.  Can we have some more of that sweet potato you gave us for dinner?”)

Setback

October 29, 2007

Hmmmm. . . guess I should have made that halvah, after all.  Instead, I baked 2 batches of cookies for a last-minute customer, and ended up “taste-testing” 4 of them (okay, five.  Okay, six).  Yes, they were very delicious.  Yes, I feel like crap now and am overwhelmed with guilt.

 BUT WAIT!  No, no, no guilt.  I will never become a normal eater by hating myself for overeating.  So. . . what would a “normal” eater do in this situation?  (Oh, wait, of course, a normal eater would never have eaten six cookies in one sitting in the first place). 

Well, this may be a radical move, but I’m going to do what my slim friends would do:  I’m going to skip dinner to compensate.  So, six cookies, fine; but all the extra calories, not fine.  This is not a punishment.  This is a compensation. This is a natural consequence.  This is a re-balancing of nature.  I will survive without dinner for one evening.  Back to the “normal” routine tomorrow.