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.