Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Channeling my inner Italian Goddess

A few days had passed since my decision to switch to a more Mediterranean diet but I still hadn't made many changes. The one small success I had was with breakfast. I discovered that Kashi GoLean cereals had a tremendous amount of fiber and protein. I  sprung for a more expensive Greek yogurt (I like Chobani) and found that mixing the cereal and yogurt together tasted great, kept my belly full and my head out of a sugar-induced fog for most of the morning.  I had found a perfect breakfast bu  I was still struggling with  lunch and dinner. 

My problems with lunch and dinner revolve around taste and timing.  First of all, I am a sugar addict! Give me breakfast foods over typical lunch foods any day of the week. French toast versus a turkey sandwich? No contest! To be  honest, I've eaten a few too many cookies, washed them down with a Coke and realized I wasn't hungry for a real lunch on way too many occasions. The reality of needing to eat actual food for lunch is an issue that I need to deal with.

By dinnertime I am usually berating myself for the terrible food choices that I've made during the day and I attempt to eat a decent meal. But I find it frustrating when many healthy recipes that I've tried over the years have gone directly from my stove into the trash. (Cous cous and lentil recipes - I am talking about you!)  

I also struggle with timing issues. I have two young children at home so lunch and dinner need to be super fast to make and preschooler-friendly.  Excuses, I know, but this is where my head is at and I feel these are probably common issues for other people too.

I want to change, I know I need to change, and I have made some easy, small changes, but lunch and dinner have always been tough for me, and I am failing miserably so far.
Then one day something wonderful happened. We got a beautiful November Saturday in the Northeast. It was warm enough to take my two sons for a long walk about town. We walked to the park and then we walked home along the ocean. The sun was shining, the boys were on their best, most adorable behavior. We were making friends with strangers, the boys were not fighting and they were listening 95% of the time. I felt so happy and alive. I found myself imagining that this is how people in the Mediterranean tend to live. They typically walk everywhere and focus on friends and family and not fixate on  food.

While we were walking home I realized that I was starving and I began to mentally plan out my lunch - something I typically don't do, even though I know it's a great way to eat better. I realized that I was actually in the mood for some nice pasta with vegetables and olives so I seized the moment to try something out of my comfort zone.
Inspired by our glorious day at the park and my Mediterranean daydreaming, I decided to forgo stressing about a recipe. Instead I scoured my pantry, channeled my long lost Italian ancestors and just winged it. I chopped cherry tomatoes, green peppers, sun dried tomatoes and Kalamata olives. I added warm pasta to the vegetables, drizzled some Extra Virgin Olive Oil and took a taste. Missing some flavor, I thought.  I added some garlic and fresh lemon juice, but it still wasn't quite right. I went back to the fridge and found a smidgen of feta cheese. Took a third taste and I swooned.  I DID IT! I created something delicious, Mediterranean inspired and full of vegetables. I ate a properly sized portion, felt full and enjoyed every single bite. I was so happy and proud of myself.

On that particular day the mental image of  walking amongst Mediterranean olive trees definitely helped to propel me in the right direction. It’s a good start. Now I  need to keep adding more mental tricks to my repertoire and build a new lifestyle, one baby step at a time.

Monday, December 27, 2010

I'm told it's very healthy

After years of bad behavior, my eating habits are catching up to me. In early November, my doctor did her best to “scare me straight” by emphasizing that my triglyceride levels were through the roof. I have two beautiful young boys and if I want to make sure that I am around to see their major life events, I need to make a serious effort to change my lifestyle.
My doctor suggested that I follow a Mediterranean Diet. My first smart-ass instinct was to wonder if I could get my insurance company to sponsor a “research trip” to the Greek Islands.  My doctor’s instructions were far less glamorous.  She told me to “Focus on fruits, vegetables and beans. Eat a little bit of meat and dairy. Most importantly, cut out refined sugar and processed foods. A few good carbs are ok, but anything out of a box will spike your triglycerides.”
 I can’t eat anything out of a box?! 80% of what I eat comes out of a box! Not only are boxed foods convenient and tasty, but I am a picky eater and boxed foods are CONSISTENT. When I open a box of crackers and spread some cheese on it, it will taste the same every single time. But when I put in twenty minutes of effort to chop a salad, at least half the time the tomatoes are flavorless or the lettuce is wilted. This is one of my hurdles to healthy eating.
I spent two weeks mulling over what the doctor said. It’s not the first time I’ve heard it. Over the past ten years various doctors have warned me that it’s time to change my ways. What’s different this time is that I am finally starting to feel the effects on my body. I am experiencing hypoglycemic episodes more frequently and they are frightening.  I’m seeing the outside of my body begin to age and I’m realizing that the changes I can’t see inside are probably sobering. I’m tired all the time. And I am so in love with my sons that I really want to be around to raise them, see them graduate college, get married, etc.
I decide to take a first easy step. I go to the liquor store and buy a bottle of red wine. Hey, it IS part of the Mediterranean diet! The people in that region famously have a few small glasses with lunch and dinner.  I am easily amused, so I am cracking myself up with how I am subverting the system by focusing on alcohol as the first step to a healthy lifestyle. Since visualizing a beautiful, sun drenched olive grove is helping to inspire me, I skip the California Wines and head straight to the Italian section. I'm normally a white wine kind of girl, so I find my favorite brand of Pinot Grigio and check out the same brand's red offerings.  
I know that change has to come, but for today, this is all I can muster. One step at a time.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Surviving the Grocery Store

 Food wars must be fought on many different fronts.  We have to learn survival skills for our home, workplace, restaurants, special occasions and the other myriad of places that food is present in our lives.  If we weren’t born with a “naturally thin” mentality, we need to have some strategies to help us gain control over our decisions.
When you gain control over the temptations lurking in the grocery store you will have achieved a major step towards a new you! If there is a bag of potato chips sitting in my pantry I will have to be strong every single time I step into the kitchen. With two small kids and a husband to feed, that means I will have to summon up willpower at least five to ten times a day. Honestly, why torture myself? It’s much better if the bag doesn’t even make it into my house.  We’ll talk another time about techniques for keeping junk food in the house for family members who insist on it, but today I want to talk strategies for those of us who really are tired of beating ourselves up for hiding in the pantry shoving Mallomars in our cheeks.
·         Make sure you are in the right frame of mind before entering the store. We are all busy and food shopping can typically be a stressful, rushed, hated chore. If I head into a store when I am tired, hungry or upset I will end up with a cart full of junk almost every time.  This is probably the hardest strategy to control, but it is supremely important. 

Before you get into the car, check in with yourself. Are you in a good frame of mind? Or are you pretty sure that a pint of chocolate chip mint is calling your name right now? If you realize that you should not be setting foot anywhere near an aisle full of chocolate, do yourself a favor and turn the car around and go home.

If this is a chronic issue, try using one of the awesome new shop at home services like Peapod. ( For ten bucks you can shop in your pajamas in the middle of the night when you have some peace and quiet and they will deliver it right to your house the next day.  Prefer to support your local grocery store? Check with them – many are offering a similar “shop online and come pick it up in the store” program.  Don’t think online shopping is for you? Try it once or twice  - you might never step foot in a store again!

·         Imagine that you are a racehorse with blinders on.  Sometimes we have no choice but to enter the store. We ran out of milk, the baby needs diapers, and we have nothing for dinner. When I first started seriously trying to reign in my eating habits, someone gave me this bit of advice. I felt kind of silly, but I literally would look down at the floor and put my hand up besides my eye when I knew I was passing by the candy, chip or ice cream aisles.  You could even take it a step further and mentally chant “I am Seabiscuit” in your head if that helps.  In fact, I wish I had those blinders on for real sometimes.

·         Imagine you just saw a guy on the beach in a Speedo. Why is it that most men who seem to don the famous swimsuit are usually the kind that shouldn’t?  If the racehorse image didn’t appeal to you, find another horrifying image that does.  The idea is to mentally scream “Avert your eyes! OMG I’m blind!” to avoid spotting those grocery items you just can’t resist. The other day I spotted a gigantic poster that screamed “Brownie Tray only $5.99!” as I entered the store and I almost gave myself whiplash trying to look away from the luscious Kryptonite.

·         Make a list and stick to it. This is usually the first piece of advice that nutritionists will give you. It makes a ton of sense.  If you are not wandering the aisles you will be less likely to say “Hmmm…that macaroni salad looks delicious!” Make a shopping list and if you spot something decadent, remind yourself that you are only buying what’s on your list today. And no, bringing a pen and adding “lollipops” to the list while you’re at the store is not allowed.

·         Shop the perimeter.  This is usually the second piece of advice that weight loss professionals give. It also makes a tremendous amount of sense. The perimeter of the store is typically where all of the fresh food is: fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, milk, eggs, etc. This is usually the healthy fare that will help you achieve your goals. I think of the center of the store as a minefield full of packaged,  high fructose corn syrup bombs waiting to erupt. That’s not to say that I don’t wander through the middle of the store – a girl needs salad dressing and Triscuits occasionally. But as I enter the “wasteland” section, I mentally put my guard up. And be forewarned that the “safe perimeter” is only a guideline since items like bacon and hot dogs lurk on the perimeter and they are not nutritional darlings.

·         Leave the kids home or find a store with childcare This goes along with “make sure you are in the right frame of mind before entering the store.” I have two small boys and I know it is really difficult to find the time to shop without them. But try making a few phone calls to your local grocery stores.  You might find one that has a free or low cost playroom and decide that it’s worth driving an extra ten minutes if you can shop in peace!  If your town hasn’t caught on to this phenomenon yet, maybe you could get together with some other local moms and suggest it to the manager. You can tell them that it’s a great way to attract new shoppers! I drive fifteen minutes out of my way for a childcare room and am forever devoted to our new grocery store.   

Well, those are my top tips for keeping junk from hopping into your grocery cart. Now it’s your turn: sound off in the comments and share what works for you at the store.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

I am probably alot like you!

I have been at war with my body since the fourth grade.  Like so many women, I have watched my body  betray me by expanding  and sagging. I look in the mirror and think “How the hell did I let this happen?” I have read dozens of weight loss books and fitness magazines. My mother and I were charter  subscribers to Shape Magazine in the  1980’s. I’ve made countless menu plans, shopping lists and workout plans, only to mercilessly berate myself when I ignore them.  I’ve been to Weight Watchers meetings, weight loss hypnosis seminars, nutritionists and personal trainers. I’ve “donated” at countless gyms.  I’ve had doctors tell me that I am going to start paying for my  dietary misbehavior sooner rather than later.  I am probably a lot like you.

I’ve learned a lot about what I should be doing to lose weight. Most of us know what we’re supposed to eat, how often we’re supposed to exercise.  But after thirty years of beating myself up for failure, I’m searching for the answers to how. The diet industry tends to focus on menu and workout planning.  Magazine articles feature titles like: “Amazing Three Week Fat Loss Diet!”  “Six Weeks to a Bikini-Ready Body!”  Why my problems are solved! I had no idea that I should be eating a grilled chicken salad for lunch and not six Oreos, a bagel and a Diet Coke!  
Well meaning friends and relatives will offer advice like “You know what you should do? You should just take a walk three times a week.”  “Drink more water.” “Eat lean meat and vegetables.”  Naturally thin people have a hard time understanding why the rest of us don’t choose to eat salmon more often than pizza.  We will have a long discussion about that on another day.
No, I am all too aware of what I SHOULD be doing. What I need is an electronic collar that will zap me when I walk into my pantry four times in an hour and grab three cookies each time.  I’ve always been looking for someone to teach me how to MAKE MYSELF do what needs to be done.  I’ve needed  advice on winning the mental part of weight loss.
If I were a smoker, I’d get the patch. If I were an alcoholic, I could go to rehab. But when we are addicted to food, it’s like being told that we’re allowed to have three small glasses of wine a day, but no more!  We have to eat, we can’t avoid it like other addictions. So that means we have to learn control. Control comes easily for some people. I’m not one of them!
For the past few months, I have slowly begun to find the advice I’ve been searching for.  My goal for this blog is to share it with you, thereby reinforcing it for myself! I also want this to be a place for idea exchanges. If you have a technique that you’ve learned to help you make the best choices, share it! I’m also planning to feature inspiring stories from real women who have lost weight the old fashioned way – through learning to change long ingrained habits.  I have two friends who have been major inspirations to me this year – look for their stories soon!