September 30, 2011

Fun nutrition facts!

I can't even tell you how much my brain has grown in the first two days of grad school (and no, not in the ego-related head swelling sense). My fellow students are amazing (and come from such diverse backgrounds) and my professors are inspiring.

Alas, I am a bit tired from hiking all over campus (it's amazing how the transition from formal exercise (less) to walking as transportation (lots!) can affect the body differently. I kind of feel how I do when I go on a sightseeing vacation. Anyhoo, I'm going to briefly share with you four of the most interesting things I've learned so far:
  1. Only 3/100 of 1 percent of Americans meet the recommended dietary guidelines for sodium and potassium intake. I actually guessed 1 percent, since I was pretty sure that not many people eat enough fruits and vegetables for ample potassium and avoid junk food, fast food and the salt shaker enough to keep sodium levels low.
  2. If you think you are being healthier by buying soda that's newly formulated to contain sucrose (table sugar) instead of high-fructose corn syrup, think again. Sucrose is 50 percent fructose and 50 percent glucose. HFCS is about 55 percent fructose and 45 percent glucose. In an acidic environment (i.e., soda), sucrose just  breaks down (hydrolyzes) into its fructose and glucose components, anyway. My solution? Drink water!
  3. As soda consumption increases in a population, so does poverty. They track pretty much side-by-side. That's why some soda taxes (proposed or actually passed) are getting attacked: It's because those taxes are essentially being levied on the poor, which is considered regressive taxation.
  4. If you want to age well (not necessarily living longer, but living healthier), please, I beg of you....exercise! Be kind to your mitochondria! (Some of you will know what that is, other's won't, but I plan to say more about this somewhere down the line.)
Have a great weekend! You know what I'll be doing. That's right...studying.

September 29, 2011

A healthier plate

If you've read any of the discussion about the federal government's new MyPlate (the successor to MyPyramid), you know that there is a bit of controversy about how it was developed, namely that the monolithic food industry played a little too much of a role in suggestion what we eat, and how much.

Just as they did in response to MyPyramid, the Harvard School of Public Health has stepped into the fray with their own, more finely tuned plate: The Healthy Eating Plate. I'll let you check it out for yourself, but I will highlight a few of the important improvements that the Healthy Eating Plate has made:
  • Actively tells you that whole grains are much healthier than refined grains (and actively discourages consumption of the latter).
  • Does not treat all protein sources as equals, because clearly hot dogs are not as healthy as fish or beans!
  • Points out that potatoes should not be counted as vegetables (they are better counted as a starchy carb, as are grains), and puts the vegetable segment of the plate above the fruit section, because...
  • ...while fruit is a healthy part of a healthy diet, vegetables are healthier.
  • Includes healthy oils, which are completely missing from MyPlate!
  • Promotes water as a beverage (with additional mentions for unsweetened or minimally sweetened tea and coffee), and suggests limiting milk and juice.
  • Includes a reminder that physical activity is important for health and weight control.
As with Harvard's previous Healthy Eating Pyramid, I feel that the Healthy Eating Plate is a definite improvement over what the government offers. Some eaters will find fault with it, of course (especially those who advocate avoiding grains and/or fruit), but it is balanced and a good plan for many people to model their eating habits after.

As for me, I know how I'll be filling my plate this week. We'd put our weekly Full Circle CSA box on hold for the last month because we had bushels of cucumbers, tomatoes, beans and summer squash coming out of our garden. Now, I love all of those veggies...but I've been craving more variety! Today, my patience was rewarded with all kinds of lovely things: Kale, dandelion greens, arugula, Swiss chard, cabbage, leaf lettuce, Romanesco broccoli, orange and purple carrots, apples, pears, plums, peaches, radishes and red onions. All the colors of the rainbow!

September 28, 2011

Exit the food carnival

Here's what I read on the bus yesterday on the way to "nutrition school." Excellent, excellent opinion piece in The New York Time's Sunday Review section by Mark Bittman, "Is Junk Food Really Cheaper?" He rather neatly, and persuasively, shoots down three big food myths:
  1. That a fast food meal is cheaper than a home cooked meal (he rightly compares fast food with standard grocery store ingredients, NOT with organic food purchased from Whole Foods)
  2. That it's hard to drive to a grocery store (it's not any harder to drive to a grocery store than it is to a fast food outlet).
  3. That there's no time to cook! (Anyone who watches a few hours of TV after work has time to cook something quick and easy for dinner.)
He suggests that the underlying problem is that most people see cooking as work, and that they don't want to do more work when they get home from work. What needs to happen, therefore, is a cultural shift in which more people come to value cooking and see it as something worthwhile.

If you've been reading this blog for a little while, you know that I'm completely on board with that notion. I never think to myself, "I've worked hard today, I deserve to have someone else prepare my food for me." (Unless I'm married to that person.) I place high value on knowing what I'm eating, what I'm putting into my body. Because I'm worth it.

Sure, sometimes cooking feels like more chore, less fun, even for me. But when I feel that way, I simply step away from anything involving a recipe or multiple bowls or pans. I'll do something simple like make a salad with tuna, or scrambled eggs with whole grain toast and fruit, or beans (canned) and rice with salsa and plain yogurt, or tomato soup with grilled cheese and a side salad. It requires little mental bandwith, little cleanup, and you can talk on the phone, talk to your spouse, talk to your kids, talk to your dog while you do it. No sweat, and a heck of a lot better for you than fast food.

Bittman also tackles an issue that I've been thinking about lately: The old poor people need cheap fast food because they get more calories per dollar that way. Really? In a country where obesity is running rampant across socioeconomic boundaries, are we really concerned about getting "enough" calories. [Obviously, there is going to be a segment of society who is calorie-deficient, but the answer to that problem should be help, not fast food.]

P.S. To understand the title of this post, read the whole Bittman article. Go on, start reading!

September 27, 2011

Just for the record

A food diary is an amazing tool for getting a clear look at what you're eating. Memory is faulty and it is sooooo easy to think you are eating more/less/better than your really are. Some long-term weight loss maintainers attribute much of their success to keeping a long-term food diary. Others may find it useful to keep short-term food diaries now and again. I saw some great tips on HealthDay last week on what to record in a food diary, and I decided it was the perfect thing to share during my crazy settling-into-grad-school week. So without further ado: 

(HealthDay News) -- Keeping a food diary can help you stick to a healthy diet, develop healthy eating habits and monitor caloric intake, which are important in maintaining a healthy weight. The American Academy of Family Physicians offers these tips on what to record in your food diary:
  • Exactly what foods you ate -- don't forget to include any condiments, sauces or other extras.
  • The amount of food that you ate, in either size or volume.
  • What time of day that you ate, and where you were when you ate.
  • What you were doing when you ate, and how you felt when you were eating.
  • Whether you were alone or with someone else.

September 23, 2011

Public health, personal health

Today I had the first of three grad school orientations, this one for the School of Public Health (since I'm working toward my MPH). The agenda included small group discussions of "Let's Do This," a local public health initiative (funded through CDC grant money) designed to reduce tobacco use, increase access to (and eating of) healthy foods, and promote physical activity.

It was interesting discussing this with a group of students from all areas of public health (epidemiology, biostatistics, genetics, global health, health services, environmental health and, of course nutrition) and all parts of the world. There was a mix of optimism and skepticism about whether increasing access to healthy food and making neighborhoods more walkable will help significantly curb the epidemics of obesity and related chronic diseases. Kind of the "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink" problem. I feel that way too, so it was energizing to have a spirited debate about it.

The chair of the Global Health department made an interesting point about non-communicable diseases like heart disease, diabetes, obesity and lung cancer. That point is that these diseases are communicable, in that "adoption of behaviors is communicable. In other words, the people around us, our friends, our family, or community, our society, influences what we eat and drink, how much we exercise and whether we smoke. And that is how public health very much intersects with personal health.

To celebrate my "first day of school," we went to my favorite restaurant, aka Whole Foods. Just give me a pile of kale & seaweed salad, some tandoori chicken and a lavender-elderberry kombucha, and I am a happy girl!

September 22, 2011


Hello, my precious...

I was tortured, tortured I tell you, reading about Trader Joe's fig butter on other food blogs but being unable to find it at my own Trader Joe's (they didn't even have an empty space on the shelf, so I knew they weren't simply out of it). So finally, finally I laid my hands on four jars (to start, my dear readers, that's only to start). The word on the street was that it tastes like the filling inside a Fig Newton, and that indeed is the case. It's fantastic on sprouted grain toast, fantastic dolloped on a bowl of oatmeal, fantastic stirred into plain Greek yogurt. It's simply...fantastic. I can't decide if I like it more than TJ's heavenly pumpkin butter, but it's way better than the mango butter.

The above photo isn't the sharpest, because it was taken with my iPhone (as are all of my photos) in quickly fading light. But I'll have you know that it is photographed in front of...wait for it...our actual backyard fig tree. Hahahahahah! (One of two, actually. The other is in a huge pot on the other side of the patio.)
Our house is just full of figgy goodness right now. Last weekend, Jeff made a small batch of fig jam (from organic figs from TJ's, not from our own figs, which pretty much ripen a few at a time, making them uncooperative with any jam-making efforts).

And last night, I made fig pizza! I really wanted to get back to Tutta Bella a second time before their seasonal fig pizza disappeared from the menu, but it eventually became clear that I was dreaming the impossible dream (I don't understand how people think it saves time to go out to eat...dining out is a huge time sink in my busy schedule!). So I took some whole wheat pizza dough from TJ's (yes, I need to make my will happen eventually), brushed on a bit of olive oil, sprinkled on a little salt and granulated garlic, then distributed chopped prosciutto, fig pieces (I cut them into eighths), fresh rosemary (from our garden) and crumbled goat cheese. For the final touch, I drizzled some reduced balsamic vinegar over the whole, lovely mess.
Jeff says we don't ever need to go to Tutta Bella again. I don't entirely agree (they do have wood-fired ovens that I don't have), but I'll take the compliment. He was probably just seduced by the fact that I was quite liberal with the figs (Tutta can be a touch skimpy on the toppings).

As I emerge from a fig-induced haze, I just have one thing to say: I can't wait for persimmon season!

September 21, 2011

Just call me Ms. Minimalist

I'll be sacrificing quite a few things in order to go to graduate school while continuing to work. Pleasure reading. Weekend trips. Vacations. Movies (but not TV, since I really don't watch it anyway). Sewing. Gardening (other than the bare essentials). Engaging with friends outside of Facebook. Engaging with friends on Facebook. Reading blogs that aren't nutrition-related. Cooking interesting-but-time-consuming meals. 

What I won't sacrifice are things like exercise, sleep and healthy home-cooked meals. Sleep will rely on how organized I am in all other areas of my crazy life. The healthy home-cooked meals I've been working on for the last month, with a freezer full of tasty soups and stews, a pantry well-stocked with fixings for quick healthy meals, and a list of easy and fast go-to recipes when I want to cook from an actual recipe.

Unfortunately, I can't exactly "stock up" on exercise the way I can on these healthy meal shortcuts. So I've been pondering how I can get the amount of activity I need for optimal health, while not overburdening my schedule. "Formal" walks were the first thing to make the cut. I decided it's more efficient for me to walk to the further light rail stop instead of the block-away bus stop. The buses that connect me from the last light rail stop in downtown Seattle to the University of Washington campus also mean I have to walk across campus to get to my building, instead of being dropped off right in front. When I have sizeable breaks between classes, I plan to walk to a further away library to settle in and work, rather than stick to the library in the same building my classes are in.

Sorry if this is tedious, but it illustrates my thought process, and indeed my attitude toward walking as general activity. I've almost always preferred a mass-transit option that drops me about a mile from my destination (unless I'm dressed up for some reason). I always embrace the opportunity for a short walk, even if I've already had a long walk.

While I think that "general lifestyle activity" is great, and definitely contributes to good health (hitting the gym for an hour a day only to sit on your butt the rest of the time will kill you), I also believe in the power of formal exercise. Weekend mornings, I will roll out of bed, pull on the workout wear and hit the streets for a long, fast walk. Then I'll hit the weights.

I've been really, really enjoying lifting weights four days a week on a modified push/pull split (chest, shoulders, abs and triceps Mondays and Thursdays; legs, back and biceps on Tuesdays and Fridays). But I can't count on fitting four weight workouts into my schedule anymore. So I'm planning for "push" on Saturdays, "pull" on Sundays, and then doing a quick mid-week full-body circuit. It will be quick and dirty and hard, but it will serve to get every muscle group fully engaged twice each week.

I don't know what I'm going to do about yoga (sob!). I have been loving yoga. Loving it! But it has never been my "priority" exercise, and I don't think that's likely to change. I do have lots of DVDs at my disposal, including some with very good 20-30 minute routines. I also haven't ruled out the simplicity of starting each morning with a few rounds of sun salutations. If it helps wake me up and give me more energy, it could offer huge returns on the minimal time investment.

So there you go. I'm going to become an exercise minimalist. I kind of like that term, even though I can't claim credit for it. I learned it, and got quite a bit of inspiration, from this Precision Nutrition blog post.

September 20, 2011

Topsy turvy

Can I just say that my mind is going a million different directions this week? It's because I have only one more week before I officially start graduate school. I have three different orientations that start this Friday, so really, it's like I'm starting in a few days.

I can't believe it.

Two years ago this fall, I had just made the decision to pursue graduate work in nutrition, and started taking my first prerequisite classes: an intro to nutrition class and a remedial general chemistry class. From there it was more gen chem, and biology, and organic chem, and anatomy/physiology, and biochemistry, and microbiology. And then there was the GRE test and the whole application process...and now here I am. Wow. I'm excited and  a little nervous. Mostly excited. (The photo above is not a photo of me, but it pretty much captures how I'm feeling right now.)

I'm still doing a full-court press to get healthy meals in the freezer and my pantry stocked and my warm weather and cold weather wardrobes swapped out. I still need to cook a few more batches of muffins and stews to freeze, and I won't have time to do much garden cleanup (or house clean up) once classes start, so I need to give the ol' homestead a good once over.


And thank you for reading my giddy ramblings. You're the best.

September 19, 2011

In the nick of time

Wow. I thought I was going to go postless today (something that hasn't happened for a while, unless I announced it in advance). Then this evening I finally got around to checking The New York Times health page. I was scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, and not seeing anything of intense interest, when, BAM! I got the big information payout.

"Calories in, calories out" has been the golden rule for people wanting to lose, gain or maintain their weight. For some people, this rule seems to work pretty well (in fact, it's a rule that has seemed to apply to me pretty well). But then there are those for whom it just doesn't work, frustratingly, and there have been plenty of weight loss "experts" (credentialed or not), who have been yelling for years that our biochemical makeups are more complicated than the "energy is neither created or destroyed" notion of ultimate balance.

Today Tara Parker-Pope had a great column, "Why Even Resolute Dieters Often Fail," summing up one of the research articles in The Lancet's obesity series. (Tip: If you want to read the actual article, titled "Quantification of the effect of energy imbalance on bodyweight," enter the title into Google. A PDF of the article shows up about halfway down the first page of search results.)

This article is of professional as well as personal interest to me, because I've found myself a bit stymied this year with my attempts to lose the few pounds that crept on last winter, despite doing exactly what I did last summer when I got into my best shape ever (and since I kept meticulous records, I was able to quantify what I was doing). Clearly something has changed in the last year, and I didn't know what (still don't, but I have a few theories). Cutting out one snack and practicing mindful eating has placed me solidly back on track (whew!), but as someone who has never had trouble losing weight when I was sufficiently motivated to do what needed to be done, it was a little disconcerting to have my body ignore my efforts!
"The model shows that lasting weight loss takes a long time to achieve and suggests that more effective weight loss programs might be undertaken in two phases: a temporary, more aggressive change in behavior at first, followed by a second phase of a more relaxed but permanent behavioral change that can prevent the weight regain that afflicts so many dieters despite their best intentions."
The "relaxed but permanent behavioral change"? Yes, that is the tricky part, and that's what I'm still navigating, and what I think every weight loss maintainer must navigate, in ways that may be more individual than was once thought. I'm not going to go into more detail about the NY Times article, because I encourage you to read it for yourself if you struggle with weight, or simply have an interest in issue of obesity. The original  research report is much more "chewy," but if you have a liking of scientific journal articles, you should give it a go, as well.

September 16, 2011

What's cookin' this weekend?

What's on your menu this weekend? I hope you don't have any fast food on your agenda...but how about some Slow Food? Slow Food USA is sponsoring a fun little challenge:
"This September 17, you're invited to help take back the 'value meal' by getting together with family, friends and neighbors for a slow food meal that costs no more than $5 per person. Find an event happening near you, host a dinner, or have a potluck. 
"Why? Because slow food shouldn't have to cost more than fast food. If you know how to cook, then teach others. If you want to learn, this is your chance. Together, we're sending a message that too many people live in communities where it's harder to buy fruit than Froot Loops."
Being the super overachiever I am, I'll be taking on the challenge several times over. For dinner, we'll be grilling grass-fed T-bone steaks from our share of local beef in the freezer, along with organic potatoes roasted with rosemary and garlic and sauteed summer squash from our garden. But I'll also be cooking up a batch of lentil soup to create several very inexpensive, very delicious, very nutritious freezer meals. And probably using up our really ripe bananas in some tasty muffins to freeze use for quick, portable, inexpensive, healthy breakfasts on the go. Yum!

September 15, 2011

You are not what you eat

Lately, I've been doing a bit of pondering over the fact that not only can people be pretty dogmatic about how they eat ("Eat my way or hit the highway."), but an awful lot of people seem to form their identity around how they choose to eat ("I'm vegan/vegetarian/paleo/macrobiotic/a locavore, therefore I am.")

While I believe wholeheartedly that we are what we eat in the sense that the foods we eat provide the raw materials our bodies need for things like cellular repair and energy production (and, if you're pregnant, for growing a whole human being), that's all physical. I also believe that eating quality food not only provides us with quality raw materials, but it can also contribute to our mental well-being. So there's a mental aspect, as well.

But is that all we are? Bodies and minds? Those things are important, to be sure, but think about your friends and family, those nearest and dearest to you. When you consider all the qualities that make them the unique individuals they are, it goes way beyond body and mind. Call it soul, call it something else, but you know what I mean.

I am exactly the same person I was seven years and 85 pounds ago. Sure, I've learned some new things and had some new experiences since then, and those things help shape my evolving identity, but my core identity hasn't changed. Which is one reason it truly shocks me sometimes when I come across photos from back then. I look like a different person, but I'm not.

It's easy to beat ourselves up, at least a little, because we don't weight what we want to weigh or didn't eat how we though we should eat today. It can be a struggle sometimes to stick to a healthy path, but life presents lots of struggles...why should food and body weight take on such importance that we sometimes believe that it's all we are?
  • You are not your diet.
  • You are not your jeans size.
  • You are not a loser if you don't eat healthfully.
  • You are not a paragon of virtue if you do eat healthfully.
I admit, I sometimes engage in the little mental game of "let's judge people based on what's in their shopping cart." But I always feel bad when I do, because there was a time when I was far from perfect ("Hello? Pot, meet kettle.") Of course, I'm not perfect now, either, because no one's perfect. Perfection isn't attainable, nor should it be, or you'd have nowhere left to grow as a person.

I feel better now than I did 85 pounds ago, but I don't feel morally better. Physically, I feel better, simply because moving around in the world with less body weight is easier. (Duh!) I enjoy shopping for and sewing clothes more now. I do like how I look in the mirror (and photos) better now. I enjoy the peace of mind of knowing I'm doing everything I reasonably can to protect my current and future health. But other than that, I'm the same ol' me.

I don't throw around the word hate lightly, but I might hate someone because they kick puppies or treat their children like utter crap, but hate someone because they are a vegan? Or because they eat meat? Or because they weigh 100 pounds more than what is probably healthy? Absolutely not. Yet there are many who do hate for precisely those reasons. It's ridiculous. May I offer a nice side of perspective with your meal tonight?

I want to help people eat more healthfully and be more active because I done the "before" and the "after," and I know "after" feels better. I think a lot of people get caught in a rut where they are eating a lot of junk, and they don't feel their best, and they don't realize it's possible to feel better. Or they do know, but they just don't know how to start to make a change. Or maybe they're afraid that if they make the switch to healthier food, they won't enjoy their food as much anymore. Those are dilemmas, not moral failings. And they can all be remedied, if people choose to take that first step toward change.

September 14, 2011

Link + Recipe = Food for Mind + Body

I heard that the medical journal The Lancet published a large series of reports on the obesity epidemic last week, then forgot to go foraging for the articles until today's little memory jogger from The New York Times. On the series page, The Lancet makes the series executive summary and some related content available for free (basically everything down the right side of the page), but for the really good stuff, you have to have a subscription for access. Fortunately, I was able to find four of those seven reports for free online by plugging the titles into Google. Probably aren't supposed to be posted anywhere for free, but my motto is: If I can find it, I'm gonna read it.

I'm still reading my way through them, but they are so far nicely dealing with the complexities of what is a global epidemic. In extremely simplistic terms, it looks like society went off the rails in the 1970s. Great...those were my formative years.

Speaking of The New York Times, one of the kajillion books I have out from the library right now is The Essential New York Times Cookbook. (This came out almost a year ago, and in the crush of published-in-time-for-the-holidays cookbooks, it wasn't one I ended up perusing at the time.) Once my temporary copy was at home and in hand, I made a beeline for the meat chapter, looking for some interesting-but-simple ways to prepare all the beef and pork cuts in my freezer. Page after page went by, and nothing really called out to me. "Well, this is a bust," I thought. Then I turned another page and found a perfect recipe! And then another, and another! Then I went to the soups chapter (you know, looking for freezable meal ideas), and while many of the recipes are not something I would ever make, there were a huge handful that looked so amazing that I want to make them all right now. And several more that I would definitely like to try sometime.

"Uh-oh," I said to Jeff. "Looks like this is going on my Christmas list."

One recipe that jumped right into my lap and begged me to cook it was "Crispy Chickpeas with Ground Meat." When I saw that this was a Mark Bittman recipe, I scooped his cookbooks (I have three) off my shelves and started searching. I found slight variations of the same recipe in The Food Matters Cookbook and Quick and Easy Recipes from the New York Times. Excellent! One recipe I don't have to photocopy to tide me over until Santa comes.

So Crispy Chickpeas it was for dinner last night. It was quick, delicious, and one of those recipes that needs minimal prep, doesn't take long to cook, and most of that cooking time needs only occasional stirring, giving you time to make a salad or side dish, or do some dishes, while you keep an eye on it. It was savory, comforting goodness. And not too spicy, so I think it would be pretty kid-friendly (if your kids like taco meat and don't mind chickpeas, they should like this). The recommendation is to serve it with rice or pita bread, but I served it with a side of sauteed yellow summer squash from my garden. The recipe below is how I made it, after looking at the three variations. I've included notable variations below, for your customizing pleasure.

Crispy/Sauteed Chickpeas with (Ground) Meat
Serves 4

1 pound ground beef (can use as little as 1/2 pound; can substitute other ground meats)
2 14.5-ounce cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed (or 4 cups home-cooked chickpeas)
2 cups water, broth, or a mixture (or 2 cups reserved cooking liquid if you cooked your own chickpeas)
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
2 teaspoons minced garlic
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups shredded spinach (or chopped veggies like squash or green beans)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
minced fresh cilantro or parsley for garnish (optional)
  1. Turn heat to high under a large, deep skillet and add the meat, breaking it up into small pieces. Stir and break up the meat a little more, until there isn't much pink showing. 
  2. Add the chickpeas. Keep the heat high and continue to cook, stirring only occasionally, until the chickpeas begin to brown and pop, about 5 to 10 minutes. Don't worry if the mixture sticks a bit, but if it begins to scorch, lower the heat slightly.
  3. Add the cumin, chili powder and garlic; cook, stirring, for about a minute. Add the 2 cups liquid and stir, scraping the bottom of the pan if necessary to loosen any browned bits that have stuck. Season with salt and pepper, then turn the heat to medium-low. 
  4. Add the spinach or veggies. Continue to cook until the mixture is no longer soupy but not completely dry.
  5. Stir in the olive oil, then taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Garnish (if you like) and serve immediately.

September 13, 2011

About face

Uh, yeah...about that weeklong fall detox I was planning to do? Not gonna happen. All weekend, I was lightly stressing because there was no more forthcoming information on what to expect in terms of the daily detox routine. Which would be fine if I didn't have a job or responsibilities, but I do have both of those things, and I needed to at least have an idea in mind about how this little endeavor would mingle with my regular day-to-day routine.

Then this morning, which was supposed to be Day 1 of the detox, I get the Day 2 e-mail in my inbox. I love Yoga Journal (and have subscribed on and off over the years), but they've been having some major technological issues, and I decided I just didn't need to deal with it. People were stressing out all over the place over on Facebook (and musing about the irony that what was supposed to be a healthful detox was such a source of stress before it even started), and what I was so excited about last week quickly became something I wanted to avoid at all costs.

The clincher was the all the discussion I saw about how important it is to avoid processed food while doing an ayurvedic detox. I realized that, hey, I already avoid processed foods. And I've already been doing a lot of yoga. And I've already been doing some serious work on eating the right portion sizes so that I feel "light" after meals. And I already eat nutritious food and lots of veggies.

When I said I was middle-of-the-road about the need for detox, I think I miscalculated my position. I would rather IF (intermittently fast) one day a week to give my body a break from digestion than eat kitchari three meals a day for a week. (!) [That said, despite Facebook grumblings from some, I found the kitchari to be quite tasty, if a bit heavy on the starchy carbs for me, personally.] Basically, I stopped myself from doing something that wasn't the best fit for me, even though it might be just the perfect thing for a lot of other people.

I decided I'd rather keep spending quality time with Mindless Eating and cooking healthy, delicious meals so I have healthy, delicious frozen leftovers during the busy times than eat the same thing for one of the few precious weeks I have left before those busy times kick in. So you can expect some more recipes this week! The one bit I'm keeping from the YJ fall detox is to start working in at least a tiny bit of meditation into each day. And when I do a yoga DVD that ends with Savasana, I will not skip that part! I've been guilty of doing that, but last week I was watching an interview with Seane Corn, and she said that Savasana might be the most important yoga pose, and that it can mean the difference between leaving the yoga mat feeling hyper or energized, depleted or relaxed.

If you're interested in the kitchari recipe, you can find it here. It's something I would definitely make again, and I liked the technique of briefly cooking some whole, unground spices in oil and then adding rice and water to cook. The capper was the fresh coriander (cilantro) chutney, which you'll also find on that page, but I'm including it below. If you like cilantro, you'll love this (I know that to some people, cilantro tastes like soap, and I feel sorry for you!). I plan to make this frequently, perhaps leaving out the coconut and swapping lime juice for the lemon juice and a bit of chopped onion for the ginger, to use as a sort of "pesto" for Mexican food. Yum!

Fresh Coriander Chutney

1 bunch fresh cilantro
¼ c fresh lemon juice
¼ c purified water
¼ c unsweetened dry coconut
2 T fresh ginger root, chopped
1 tsp. raw honey
1 tsp. sea salt
¼ tsp. fresh ground black pepper
Blend lemon juice, water, and fresh coriander until the coriander until the herb is coarsely chopped. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend until it is the consistency of pesto. Store covered in the refrigerator for up to one week.

P.S. Seattle has finally broken out of its long string of unseasonably warm 80-degrees-plus days. I am so relieved! Now I can cook roasts with impunity! I'm not a fan of cold, but I do not do well in heat, at all. I am a total pitta dosha, and indeed the heat was making me feel out of balance.

September 12, 2011

The roast with the most

I seriously don't know what I was thinking when I planned to cook a roast on a day that was forecast to be in the mid-80s, and indeed I was cursing my decision when it came time to preheat the oven. However, the ease with which this recipe went together, and its delicious results (which we ate on the patio in the blessedly cool late evening breezes) made me glad I did make it, because now I have another simple, nutritious, tasty go-to recipe in my arsenal.

The recipe is from Everyday Food: Fresh Flavor Fast, and I'm including the recipe as I made it below. I deviated only slightly from the original. The recipe calls for an eye-of-round roast, and since I had one in the freezer, that's what I used.  I'm guessing you could substitute a different cut, but make sure it's a cut that's suitable as an oven roast, and not one that's best used for pot roast!

Roast Beef with Peppers, Onions and Potatoes
Serves 4-6

5-6 mixed red, yellow and/or orange bell peppers, ribs and seeds removed, cut into 1-inch wide strips.
2 red or yellow onions, halved lengthwise and cut into 1-inch wedges
3/4 pound new potatoes, scrubbed and cut in half (if very small) or into quarters. You want roughly 1-inch pieces
12 garlic cloves, or more if you love garlic!
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
2.5-pound eye-of-round beef roast
3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place peppers, onions, potatoes and whole garlic cloves on a large rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Toss to coat.
  2. Move vegetables to sides of baking sheet and place beef roast in center. Mix the remaining 1 tablespoon olive  oil with 1.5 teaspoons salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and the dried thyme; rub the mixture all over the beef.
  3. Transfer the roast and veg to the oven. Roast, moving around the vegetables a bit every so often (I actually only did this once at the 30-minute mark) until the vegetables are tender and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the beef registers 130 degrees F for medium-rare. This will take about 40 to 50 minutes. Remove pan from oven, cover the roast loosely with aluminum foil, and allow to rest for 10 minutes. 
  4. Slice the amount of meat you wish to serve into very thin slices, and serve with the veggies!

September 9, 2011

Sinking in

I've stalled a bit in my reading of Jan Chozen Bays' Mindless Eating (I'm still idling in the chapter on the seven types of hunger). However, I've clearly been processing the information I've taken in this summer from both Mindless Eating and Marc David's The Slow Down Diet, because I suddenly made a big surge forward in actually applying the principles of eating mindfully to my day-to-day life. This recent change happened without effort, as I haven't been actively doing any of the exercises in the last month or so. (I imagine that this processing is like when a program is working in the background on your computer. It is indeed working, even if you aren't aware of it.)

Now that I'm a bit more tuned in the language of the body, a few things have become crystal clear:
  1. I don't need snacks on a regular basis. I had locked myself into a pattern of three meals and two or three snacks each day, but I've found in recent weeks that I can go without snacks, and even greatly delay a mealtime without suffering undue cellular hunger (i.e., I don't get weak or shaky or headachey). My stomach may rumble, yes, but those rumblings come and go, and don't always warrant an immediate intake of food.
  2. I do not like feeling full. Satisfied, yes. But full, no. It has become much, much easier to stop eating at around the 80 percent full point. Interestingly, yesterday I happened to eat food that was denser (i.e., more starchy vegetables and fewer fibrous vegetables), and I just did not feel good, even though I didn't eat huge portions. I realized that although my mind was wanting autumn-type foods, my body still wants lighter, summer-type foods, because we're still in the middle of the hottest weather we've had all summer!
I've done so well with cutting out my mid-morning snack (my stomach hardly growls at that time anymore), that I'm planning to do away with my afternoon snack. That, combined with applying the 80 percent rule to meals, should allow me to manage calories intuitively, without logging food intake and crunching numbers. While I feel that food logs and counting calories can be valuable tools, I have used them too much in the recent past (read: last summer), and burnt myself out. I know I'll have to so some short-term food logging for at least one of my classes, which is fine, and I can see myself doing a log for a few weeks now and again to assess nutrient intake, but as a weight management tool, I'd like to do without, if at all possible.

Like many healthy changes, my attempts to put mindful eating theory into practice has had its fits and starts. But what proved to be important is that I continued to keep those theories in mind, to regularly try to apply those principles, and to not beat myself up if I didn't put down the fork between every bite or ate part of my meal without really noticing what I was eating. Apparently, I plugged away at it enough where it has all started to gel in my mind, and is starting to become a solid habit.

Now, onto the project I mentioned yesterday. I think that it's hard to have a serious interest in yoga without having at least a passing interest in Ayurveda (aka yoga's sister science of medicine). I myself have a handful of books about Ayurveda on my shelves, the first coming into my possession many years ago. While I've read them with interest over those years, I can't even really say I've dabbled in the practices. But last week, when I saw that Yoga Journal was sponsoring a 7-day Ayurvedic Fall Detox next week, I was all like "Sign me up!" I'm sort of middle-of-the road about the need for detoxing, especially if healthy eating and lifestyle practices are a daily deal, but the idea of doing a detox as I get closer to embarking on a big life transition (i.e. graduate school) strongly appeals to me. I don't know exactly what the detox will entail (all I have so far is the shopping list and recipes), but I'm really excited! 

If you have any interest, here's the link to sign up:

September 8, 2011

The Thinker

Reason Number 4,023 why I love exercise: I do some of my best thinking while moving (the rest of my great thinking happens in the shower, naturally).

Why, just this morning as I was lifting weights, in between sets of skullcrushers (triceps) and stability ball rollouts (abs), what might be a fantastic topic for my graduate thesis popped into my head (no, I'm not going tell you what it is).

I try not to think too much while lifting weights (research has shown that you actually have a more effective workout if you focus on the movements you are doing), but sometimes the mind has a mind of its own. Where I usually do my exercise-related thinking is on my walks. I can't even tell you how many times I've had a great insight while walking. An idea for a blog post. The perfect approach for an article I'm writing for work. What to make for dinner. How to reverse climate change and achieve world peace. You get the idea.

So even though I've been loving yoga lately, and recognize that it has a unique melding of body-mind benefits, it's important to remember that almost any form of exercise can contribute mental benefits, like a clear head and lowered stress. Our bodies are meant to move, and if we don't move them, our bodies are not the only thing that will suffer!

Tomorrow, I'm going to talk about a real breakthrough I've had recently in mindful eating, as well as a little project I'm planning on doing next week.

September 7, 2011

In the yoga zone

In the relative lull offered by my break between summer and fall classes, one of the "projects" I've taken on is to do more yoga! I use the term "project" loosely, because I really enjoy yoga. It's just that usually I don't get to do as much of it as I would like, since it's not my primary (aka priority) form of exercise (that would be walking and weight lifting).

The Seattle library system closes the week before Labor Day (budget cuts), and being the sly, smart person I am, I've figured out that if I put items on hold and then check them so that they would normally be due the week of the closure, they get automatically renewed and I practically have them forever (it actually works out to be more than a regular renewal...sort of weird). So I checked out a TON of yoga DVDs. It's been really fun to try out yoga teachers that I don't already have selections from in my personal library (Seane Corn, Shiva Rea, Brian Baptiste).

I've also been revisiting some discs from my collection that I haven't done in forever, mostly because when I got them they felt too hard and I wasn't up to the challenge. Even though I only do yoga at home, I am amazed at how much more I can do now than I used to. Not that there isn't some's just a manageable challenge.

My yoga project has been fun, but it also has a practical side. Even though I don't rely on it for exercise's physical aspects, it does offer unique benefits for body and mind that are good for stress reduction (not that that idea is anything new). Stress reduction will be key as I begin the real juggling of work and school (these last two years of science prerequisites have been like practice for the main the end of the month, the training wheels come off!).

For another take on yoga, check out Garance Dore's latest and last "Changing Lifestyle" post. I loved her account of her awkward attempts to exercise...and like it. I liked it even more because she persevered and now actually does enjoy exercise. It can be done!

September 6, 2011

Eating healthy for less

I've talked about eating healthy and affordably before. Two keys to succeeding in this area are to pounce on sales and to actually use what you buy. Let me assure you that I practice what I preach!

We try to eat only quality meat (i.e., organic and/or local and humanely raised). We've got our beef and pork needs covered from shares we buy from local farms, but for chicken and lamb we rely on Whole Foods. Since the good stuff can be pricey, we almost always wait for sales. Last weekend, Whole Foods was offering $10 off a $50 meat purchase. We made a special trip downtown to take advantage of that offer (ganging our trip with some other errands and a nice Saturday morning urban hike). Even better, most of the meat we purchased was already on sale, so we got double discounts, and came home with some really nice chicken breasts, bratwurst, chorizo sausages, ground lamb and a small lamb shoulder roast.

With a new supply of meat and the results of my weekend "cooking now to eat well later" project, I needed to take a hard look at what was already in my basement freezer. In goes the new goodies, out comes frozen homemade chicken stock (as an ingredient for said project) and a whole mess of chicken thighs that need to be used soon (and they will, tonight, in chicken curry). We have a few previously frozen meals that need to be used soon (pasta sauce, chicken & veggie soup, chili), and I've worked then into my menu plan for the next few weeks.

Since everyone knows it's bad to stand in front of an open freezer, trying to find something, we try to keep our basement freezer pretty organized. Every year, when we get our new shares of beef and pork, we inventory the butcher-wrapped cuts as we seal them in freezer bags and stow them on their designated shelves. Then I update and print out a computerized list. It has little boxes that we check off as we use things.

For miscellaneous items, I generally take a handwritten inventory and post it on the freezer door, adding and crossing off things as we use them. If I don't do this, stuff gets completely forgotten about, so it's essential! Not only does it significantly reduce food waste, but it's also a time saver (much like the list of "recipes to make" I'm working on). Much easier to peruse a list of freezer contents or list of recipes than it is to go rummaging through the freezer (risking frostbite) or leafing through half a dozen cookbooks looking for the perfect recipe (risking frustration)!

September 5, 2011

Labor of love

Happy Labor Day! I hope most of you are having a nice three-day weekend (I know some people do have to work today).

In spite of the mini-break from work, boy, have I been laboring! Some of it's been dirty work, like gardening and loads and loads of laundry, but some of it's been fun, too. I single-handedly dismantled our guest room bed to make that room, which is also my home office, more office-like. It's part of my organizational strategy to get ready for grad school. I am going to have to be ultra-focused on school and work, and I need a cave in which to do it. All I need to do is haul up an easy chair from the basement (which we were going to sell), and I'm good to go. 

(So what about guests, you ask? Well, in a pinch, we can reassemble the bed, but honestly, we've had guests maybe twice in as many years, partly since we haven't exactly encouraged guests since we started taking classes).

I also cooked up two big batches of soup yesterday to freeze for fall meals (when schedules will be crazily tight). Split pea and navy bean, both from The Joy of Cooking. Simple, basic, easy, and always tasty. I added a few extra veggies, and used some homemade chicken stock from our freezer in place of some of the water, but otherwise I made the recipes as-is. 

Ironically, we seem to have fallen into a belated endless summer here in Seattle. Temperatures have reached around 80 degrees for days, and are expected to stay there for at least another week. Not the best time to be making big pots of soup (almost no one has A/C in Seattle)! Fortunately, I started the soup in the morning, when it was fairly cool, because by mid-afternoon our house felt "hot as a chicken in an oven" (to quote my precocious 5-year-old niece, Zola).

Since things got hotter as the day progressed, I've opted for cooler foods for dinner. And hey, guess what? I finally made a salad version of Tutta Bella's fantastic Calabrese pizza! For two people, I quartered eight black mission figs (on sale at Whole Foods) and combined them in a bowl with about two ounces of prosciutto (cut into small pieces) and some crumbled goat cheese. Then, I poured some balsamic vinegar (nothing comes in a big bottle from Costco) in a small pan, brought it to a boil, then reduced the heat to a simmer and let it cook down. I went a leetle too far, however. I thought I should let it cool in the pan, but when it did it hardened! So I heated it back up a bit until it was pourable. However, it was sticky enough that the whole concoction was a bit sticky. But, most tasted A-MAZING! Oh, my gosh it was so good! Next time (i.e., tonight), I just won't reduce the balsamic quite so much.

This is why I have no photo of the fig salad: It did not look pretty. Of course, this has been a recurring theme this weekend. I also tried a new recipe for cottage cheese pancakes. Something about them was slightly sticky, and they were impossible to flip without sticking to the spatula and falling apart. They tasted fantastic, but looked like the pancake equivalent of a train wreck. So I will not be sharing that recipe!

Speaking of recipes...probably my favorite chore this weekend was pouring through cookbooks with a notebook and pen in hand, writing down lists of "I want to make this!" recipes under several categories (beef, pork, fish, packable lunches and breakfasts, weekend breakfasts, freezable, quick & easy, main dish salads and the hodpodge list of Other Tasty Recipes). This is huge for me, because, as you know, I have a LOT of cookbooks. It has always been a problem that when I'm leafing through one of them, I'll think to myself, "Oh, I need to remember to make this, and this, and this." But I rarely remember! So now I just need to consult my list. Gosh, I'm so smart ;-)

September 2, 2011

Veggies for breakfast

When at all possible, I like to begin my copious daily vegetable intake at breakfast. Since I am not worldly enough to have embraced some of the savory breakfasts I've heard about from friends who have traveled far and wide (especially to Asia), my efforts in this regard have mostly been limited to scrambled eggs with veggies, quiches and other members of the egg genre.

Lately, my breakfasts have alternated between veggie scrambles with a side of sprouted grain toast, and nonfat Greek yogurt with fresh fruit and ground flaxseed. Both are healthy, but fruit takes a slight backseat to veggies, nutritionally speaking.

Well guess what? There's a new veggie vehicle in town...oatmeal!

 I don't know why I thought of it (and I'm sure I'm not the first to have done so), but it occurred to me the other day that if grated zucchini is tasty in quickbreads and cakes, it would be tasty in oatmeal, too. And I was right! Actually, you couldn't taste it much (kind of like when it's in zucchini bread), and I might use more next time. I topped mine with a bit of unsweetened shredded coconut, a small spoonful of Trader Joe's sunflower butter, and a small sprinkle of granola for crunch.

Zucchini Oatmeal
Serves 1

1/3 cup regular or thick-cut oats
1 tablespoon oat bran
1 tablespoon chia seeds
1/3 cup milk, soymilk or almond milk
1/3 cup water (or more, depending on the consistency you like)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 pinch nutmeg
1 pinch salt
1/3 cup grated zucchini (mine was even a little rounded)
1 tablespoon raisins
1 tablespoon ground flaxseed
Optional: shredded coconut, nut butter or other toppings
  1. Place the first nine ingredients (oats through salt) in a small saucepan over medium heat and stir well to combine. Add zucchini and flaxseed; stir again.
  2. Stir occasionally until the mixture starts to bubble, then turn down the heat to low and continue to cook, stirring more frequently, until the mixture has the consistency you prefer, usually around 5 more minutes. You can add more water if it's getting too thick for your liking.
  3. Remove from heat, stir in ground flaxseeds, and scoop it into your bowl. Add any optional toppings you prefer, and eat up!

September 1, 2011

Things that make you go hmmm...Part 2

So about that calorie-cutting I mentioned. Every winter since my huge weight loss, I gain back a few pounds over the winter. Not ideal, but happens. Every spring, I ramp things up a notch or two and lose those pounds. But not this spring.

Try as I might, those stubborn winter pounds would not budge. And I was tired of my jeans feeling a bit tight. I kept persevering, certain that progress would happen at any moment. But it didn't. Things came to a head about six weeks ago when I looked over the meticulous records I kept last summer when I got in to my best shape ever (so meticulous it sort of got boring at the time, but I am glad to have those records now). 

"Surely," I said to myself, "I was eating less, eating different foods, exercising more...something had to be different."

Only it wasn't. I didn't exercise any more last summer then than I have been this year. And I wasn't starving myself last summer, either! I was eating between 1,700 and 1,800 calories a day, average. That's when I started to fret. I started thinking hard about what was different now than it was a year ago. I started eating oatmeal regularly last fall, but I ate a surprising amount of sprouted grain toast last summer, so all things were pretty much equal. I started to wonder if this was some weird side effect of the major surgery I had right after I was finished getting in great shape (like, right after...that was some bitter irony). I even started to wonder if my thyroid was not functioning quite right.

That last bit is huge, because never once, even at my heaviest (aka, obese), did I toss out the words, "Oh, I must have a slow thyroid." I took full responsibility for my gradual weight gain, and my subsequent weight loss. Not to make light of hypothyroidism: My research (and baby, did I do research) tells me that it is underdiagnosed,* and there is a lot of disagreement about what levels of thyroid hormone are "normal."

A year ago (right after surgery), my levels were just a touch sub par by "new" standards, but normal by the old standards. On Monday, I found out that my levels have worsened a bit since last year. Enough to result in difficulty with weight loss? Hard to say. So at the moment, I'm stuck in let's-retest-in-three-to-six-months land, which is annoying but not unreasonable place to be. But I'm an action type of girl, so I'm not going to just wait around for three months. I'm trimming back my calories, and accepting that I might simply have unknowingly stepped over one of those lifespan milestones that means that losing weight and keeping it off is a little bit harder. But not impossible.

When a healthy lifestyle is indeed for life, some curveballs are likely to crop up occasionally. That's life, after all. Just as no one way of eating is right for everyone, it may be that no one way of eating is right for all points in your lifespan. It seems obvious that young children, pregnant women, and people recovering from trauma or illness have different dietary needs. But subtler differences do exist outside of those rather clear cut examples.

Ah well, c'est la vie.

* If you ever suspect you have thyroid issues, make sure you have more than just your thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels tested, because that only tells one part of the overall picture (TSH is secreted by the pituitary gland, and generally tells your thyroid to "make more hormone!" when it senses that levels are low.). You also want to have your free T4 and free T3 levels tested (T4 and T3 are the two forms of thyroid hormone, and the "free" part refers to the supply of those hormones that are actually circulating in your blood, ready to be used. "Total" T4 and T3 counts can be misleading, because some of that hormone is "bound" and not readily available.). Finally, be tested for thyroid antibodies. In my case, my TSH levels are a little high, but my T3 and T4 levels are on the very low side of normal. So even though my pituitary has raised it's voice a little, my thyroid isn't quite jumping to attention. I don't have a problem with thyroid antibodies, which is good, because no one wants an autoimmune disorder. To learn more, check out the American Thyroid Association's excellent FAQ page.