Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday—all about friends, family, and food. I love a feast! And I kind of overdid it this year, which I guess is partly the point of a feast. High points of the dinner: the eggplant and cornbread stuffing, and the pumpkin pie with homemade cinnamon ice cream. And leftovers—poached eggs over the leftover stuffing for breakfast—oh my! Oh well.
We also had a family birthday just after Thanksgiving. So it will come as no surprise to hear that I ate more than I usually do. And perhaps more to the point, I ate more butter, more cream, more eggs—all that rich, high fat stuff. Looking at the list, I don’t regret one iota of it. However, I am finding myself very aware of all the reasons that I don’t eat like that everyday.
In fact, it’s been nice coming slowly back to our more normal routine (as the leftovers disappear), and nice too to have some new healthy things to enjoy. After listening to the interview with Dr. John LaPuma that I mentioned in my last post, I got ChefMD’s Big Book of Culinary Medicine from the library. I learned something from his chapter on satiety that I’ve been using over the last few days.
Apparently, our bodies have a different reaction to water than we do to foods that are full of water. When we drink a glass of water, it filters right through our systems. But when we eat a food that is full of water (lettuce, vegetable juice, soup) our bodies treat it like food and digest it more slowly.
One of my challenges is that I tend to munch in the evenings, from the time I start making dinner. The last few days, I’ve been drinking a glass of spicy vegetable juice before I make dinner, and I do notice a difference. It tastes and feels satisfying. It has another benefit, too. I’ve noticed that since I’m not distracted by hunger, it’s easier to pay attention to what I’m doing, and when I sit down to dinner, I’m more relaxed and ready to enjoy the food.
I’ve just listened to an interesting interview with Dr. John LaPuma on culinary medicine, which he describes as blending the art of cooking with the science of medicine.
Note: I typically take the science of nutrition with more than a grain of salt (groan), but I like this. It’s probably because it offers affirmation for some of my deeply held prejudices about food—particularly when nutritional fads appear to contradict common sense about food.
You may have seen him on TV (I haven’t, but that’s not surprising since I don’t get much exposure to TV). His books are Cooking the RealAge Way, The RealAge Diet, and ChefMD’s Big Book of Culinary Medicine.
He said, “I found that I didn’t know what to tell patients in the office about their own weight or their own health that had to do with lifestyle. . . . I went to cooking school to learn how to make a healthy diet taste good.”
He talked about bio-availability—the concept that our bodies’ absorption of nutrients depends on other what other nutrients are present.
Curcumin is thought to be responsible for much of the anti-inflammatory action of turmeric, which is a common ingredient in curries. But you only absorb the curcumin if black pepper is also present, because a component of black pepper is piperine, which increases the bioavailability of the curcumin. You don’t absorb much curcumin without piperine.
Or lycopene in tomatoes—you absorb four times the amount of lycopene if you cook the tomato than if you eat it raw. (Lycopene seems to be preventive for prostate cancer prevention as well as heart disease.) And you increase that bioavailability even more by using a little olive oil—or any other healthy oil.
When you add avocado to a spinach salad, you absorb about seven times the lutein, which protects against acute macular degeneration and cataracts among other things. You don’t get that kind of absorption without fat in the salad, or if you use a low-fat or non-fat dressing.
Vitamins D, E, A and K are all fat-soluble. He recommends that people who take their vitamins at breakfast make sure they have a little bit of healthy fat at breakfast. (The fat in an egg yolk, for example, is enough.)
Probiotics help you better absorb all B vitamins except for folic acid, which is vitamin B9. So if you have kefir or yogurt with probiotics for breakfast, you absorb six or seven times more of your B vitamins than you do without them (except for folic acid).
He also talked about a pretty comprehensive sounding USDA study (50 years of data) that shows the average supermarket vegetable is anywhere between five and forty percent lower in magnesium, iron, calcium and zinc than those harvested fifty years ago, due to our focus on increasing yields.
He says, “In selecting for high yield, you basically select for higher carbohydrate content in vegetables with little assurance that any of the other nutrients – the thousands of phytochemicals that are part of a vegetable . . . all increase at the same time.”
He agreed with the interviewer that locally, sustainably, organically grown food is likely a healthier option, saying that the organic vegetables have more phytochemicals and antioxidants because they have to fight off disease more aggressively. But he also said “any vegetable is probably better than a Twinkie.”
In other words, the really important point is that anything we can do to get half our food in vegetables is good for us—whether that’s organic, fresh, frozen, or whatever.
He did however, have a list of foods he’d recommend buying organic over conventional:
• Conventional milk has antibiotic residues and high levels of progesterone and progesterone-related hormones
• Peanut butter because of the aflatoxin on conventionally-grown peanuts and the fungicides with which they are sprayed
• Ketchup because it has triple the lycopene in organic form than conventional
• Apples because they are commonly sprayed heavily even before harvest and then stored for three to six months (and we eat a lot of them)
• Potatoes because they have such thin skins; pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides go through thin skins much more easily than they do thick skins
He also had some suggestions for the meat-eaters among us:
If you simply dunk your meat—that is, fish, chicken, beef, or any other muscle meat—into a marinade, you cut the carcinogenic heterocyclic amines by seventy-seven percent. And adding higher oxidant herbs like rosemary increases HCA protection even more. For ground meat, he suggests marinating it or using a dry rub for the same benefit.
His other suggestion for people who typically eat meat every day is adopting some vegetarian days—finding delicious recipes using beans or a pasta recipe that is rich in other plant proteins.
But his main message is one I heartily agree with: it’s small, simple changes that make it easy for people to change the way they eat.
“Could you have guacamole instead of full-fat sour cream? Could you order fish instead of beef? Could you eat nuts – tree nuts – instead of chips? Could you try one new food? Could you change the size of your plate so that it’s six inches with a rim?”
Which brings me to another point he made about the dangers of paying too much attention to the latest diet advice: We are so carb-paranoid these days that many people won’t eat beans, and yet beans are both a good source of carbs and a good source of protein and many of the phytonutrients. And the darker the bean, the higher the antioxidant and flavonoid composition, so you get an extra anti-inflammatory and antioxidant boost that way.
And fat. Let’s face it: we are afraid to eat fat. That might be good in the case of processed foods, especially if you’re looking at tortilla chips or cookies. But it isn’t true for something like guacamole. It isn’t true for healthy fats like nuts that derive many of their calories from fat, but have important cardiac effects and important effects against the development of diabetes in particular.
Healthy fats in general are important in the treatment of diabetes, in lowering cholesterol levels, reducing risk of heart disease, and for metabolic syndrome. Typically we don’t get enough good fat for good health. We need Omega 3 fatty acids, the polyunsaturated fats that are so prevalent in coldwater marine fish like sardines, herring, rainbow trout, and salmon.
There are other sources of Omega 3 fatty acids: krill, the organisms fish eat to get Omega 3s, and plant-based Omega 3s found in flax, walnuts, and purslane (my favorite weed).
These Omega 3 fatty acids have really important effects lowering triglyceride levels and preventing pancreatitis/attacks of pancreatitis, in preventing sudden death from heart disease, reducing pain in osteoarthritis and reducing certain forms of mood disorders, particularly mild anxiety.
It’s good to know that overcoming our fear of food has major health benefits, isn’t it?
For those working on weight control, our next evening group session will be Thursday evening, October 27 at 6:30. Email me at email@example.com for details.
The headline above is from an article in the National Institutes of Health’s Research Matters, on a recent Harvard School of Public Health study by Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian and Dr. Frank Hu. It’s encouraging to see some recognition that weight gain and loss are not simply a matter of balancing calories in and energy out.
Highlights of the article:
Weight gain is associated with poor sleep, and also with TV-watching. Weight loss is associated with eating more vegetables, whole grains, fruits, nuts and yogurt–especially yogurt! “The idea that there are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods is a myth that needs to be debunked,” Hu says.
For those working on weight control, our next evening group session will be Thursday evening, September 22 at 6:30. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
For those working on weight control, our next evening group session will be Thursday evening, June 30 at 6:30. Email me for details.
Quit Smoking with Hypnosis is a one-session workshop at Whatcom Community College on May 2 at 6:30 pm. You can quit smoking in one session! $25 course fee; $15 material fee.
Also, the next Continuing Support for Weight Control session will take place at the Ohio Street Workstudios on Thursday, April 28, 6:30 – 7:30 pm. This group session is open to everyone who has attended previous Weight Control workshops. $10 session fee.
Do contact me with any questions.
I guess it’s common knowledge by now that the food industry has created a monster of a problem. They did it by aggressively pursuing a market (that is, us), offering high fat, high sugar, high salt food that’s ready to eat. It is a technological marvel, if you think about it. I like to cook, and I spend a lot of time doing it, so I can appreciate the appeal ready-to-eat meals have for people who don’t like to cook, or the growing number of people who don’t know how to.
What people who don’t like or know how to cook may not realize is that many of the ready-to-eat foods don’t have a time or cost advantage over home-prepared foods—I’m thinking about a package of frozen sweet potato fries I recently tried. I’d ventured into the frozen food aisle looking for frozen lima beans and chanced across a series of fancy fried potato offerings. I bought a bag of seasoned frozen sweet potato fries.
Sweet potato fries are easy to make from scratch. You slice up sweet potatoes, toss them with oil and seasonings, and put them in the oven on high heat for 10 or 15 minutes. Simple. Very few ingredients. Pretty cheap, too. The frozen ones on the other hand are more expensive, have a lot of ingredients, most of them unpronounceable, and to a palate used to real food, they taste funny—greasy, mushy, and overly salty. But if I hadn’t had the experience of making my own with sea salt and some spicy Cajun seasoning, I might think they tasted good. And if kept on buying them—and the other offerings on the freezer shelf—I might be a candidate for addiction. Because that’s what the high fat, high sugar, high salt foods are designed for—producing a craving that will bring us back for more.
It’s a slippery slope, especially for hard working, busy families racing between work, child-care, the soccer field, etc., trying to figure out how to cram a full meal into that busy day. (I can attest to how hard it is to use your last bit of energy to put a meal on the table, only to hear the kids whine about having to eat vegetables.)
The food industry has some genius marketing people. But even if they didn’t have experts ready to craft the perfect selling points—who came up with the idea of putting a toy into a “happy” meal, anyway?—they have allies in our own physiology.
An over-simplification of the problem goes something like this: Cravings are a function of our biology, a result of evolution. In a world of scarce—and seasonal—resources, our ancestors who had cravings for nutritional powerhouses like sugar had a great advantage. And that “advantage” shows up today in their descendants—that’s us, right now, in this time of over-abundance of food.
All of us. And there are all kinds. People who have never had a problem because frankly they are not interested in food. Or people who never have a problem with overeating because they naturally monitor the food they eat and have no problem staying within a pound or two of their perfect weight, whatever that is. And others who maintain a perfect weight by obsessing over every bite and exercising every spare moment of the day. And at the other end of the spectrum are the folks who have never been able to reach a normal weight except by Herculean deprivation and who see-saw toward and away from that “normal” weight.
In between the few, naturally thin, attentive-to-their-bodies people (who aren’t reading this anyway), and the fully addicted, are the people who haven’t developed an addiction, but who’ve lost their ability to listen to their bodies’ natural instincts about exercise and food—how much they really need, or when they need it. There are many of us, in that in-between place.
Let me clarify: I am thankful that we are so fortunate, that we have access to such abundance. All we have to do is look at the news to realize how fortunate we are. But we do pay a price for that good fortune. The optimistically titled The End of Overeating by David Kessler, which I’ve mentioned before, is a great overview of the problem, if you want more information on the topic. Or read anything by Michael Pollan.
I believe there’s really only one thing we can do about this fix we are in. In this moment, in this place, we can accept where we are and love ourselves anyway. All of ourselves: body, mind, and spirit. I truly believe that’s the foundation upon which every step toward greater health and true wellbeing rests.
I believe that’s true for those who have lost touch with the body’s wisdom about what we need for sustenance, and those who are dealing with goad of those relentless cravings we call addiction. I believe that self-acceptance and self-care is the foundation we need to allow us to change our behavior, and ultimately banish those cravings and regain our innate wisdom about the body’s needs.
I don’t believe there’s any magic wand that can make the changes happen overnight. But I do believe the path begins where we are right now, that the first step is accepting who we are, accepting where we are, and loving ourselves anyway. With that first step, and with a clear focus on good health and wellbeing, I think the next steps on the path will appear—as if by magic.
The Holiday Season is over—it was delightful in our household, but I am sure I’m not alone in looking forward to a reprieve until next year. With the end of the season come the inevitable New Year’s resolutions—take off the extra pounds, make a new (healthy) habit, save money . . . .
I’ve noticed that SMART goals are popular these days: that’s specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-framed. SMART goals are structured to ensure clear, immediate feedback, which is helpful. For example, applying the acronym to “I need to lose weight” leads to “I need to lose 15 pounds before the wedding, and I need to weigh myself every day to ensure that I am on track.” I know which of those two goals I think is more likely to be successful.
The concept of SMART goals was originally developed for evaluating projects during the planning stage, and as you can see, they’ve proved a useful way to evaluate some kinds of personal goals as well.
Thinking about the ways people approach making New Year’s resolutions led me to the internet, to see if there’s any research out there that might shed some light on the subject. I found a treasure trove—a summary of 35 years of study, “Building a Practically Useful Theory of Goal Setting and Task Motivation: A 35-Year Odyssey,” by Edwin A. Locke, University of Maryland and Gary P. Latham, University of Toronto.
It turns out science confirms that making and striving for goals is in itself important.
A long-term study of managers at ATT shows that conscious goal setting leads to action, and to success. Goal setting increases both performance and satisfaction—especially among people who are pro-active and “purposeful.” Choosing a goal and pursuing it allows people to feel more in control of their lives, and it also directs their focus to what’s important to them and enables them to ignore what is not. So, on a day-to-day basis, they are more likely to act on what’s important to them, with the result that they are less likely to miss opportunities.
The research review had more to say about how goals affect performance: goals encourage effort, encourage persistence, and encourage learning related to their goal. And the research distinguishes between goals for simple versus complex tasks. Performance goals are about achieving a specific, simple outcome (like, “I want to lose 15 pounds before the wedding,”) and learning goals are more about building skills (“I want to learn how to maintain a healthy weight.”)
What’s important to known when setting goals is that motivation and strategies for success for simple and complex goals are necessarily different. (By the way, Dan Pink talks very entertainingly about how motivation differs for each type of goal in Drive and in his TED presentation.)
I’m excited about my upcoming workshop in Goal Setting for Success at Whatcom Community College. We’ll cover the strategies that lead to success for both types of goals, with hypnosis sessions to provide support for motivation and for clear visualization of a successful outcome.
I’ve written before about the evidence that visualizing a healthy outcome healthy outcome and a healthy lifestyle under hypnosis has the same kind of power as actual experience. So, under hypnosis, I’ll guide everyone in visualizing themselves 1 year, 5 years, and 10 years into the future—as they will be when they reach their goals.
One of the odd things about goals is that they loom large when we’re looking up at them from the starting point, but once we’ve achieved them, they don’t seem so daunting. That’s easier to see with SMART goals, but long-term goals have the same effect. I remember deciding to go to college when I was a mom in my early thirties—just making the decision felt like a huge step. At forty, I had a Master’s degree and a basket of new skills that I had built one class at a time, and while I was proud of what I’d done, I didn’t think about it much—I was already focused on the next set of goals.