Thursday, December 29, 2011

There's a reason why we call it "TMI"

Yes, I am alive and have not taken up residence at the bottom of a bowl of raw cake batter.  I apologize for falling into the abyss and disappearing. Thank you to those who have asked "Whatever happened to that blog you were writing?" It truly means alot to me that you are actually interested in my little "Diary of a Brownie Addict".

Honestly, I disappeared for a ridiculous reason.  I became embarrased, feeling like I shared a bit too much personal information (yes, I DO realize it's a blog.) It sounds backwards, but I have no problem sharing personal info in the interest of helping random strangers, but since many of you actually know me in real life I caught a bad case of stage fright. I think I'm officially over it now. From now on I will just picture you all in your underwear and the show will go on.


Sunday, August 7, 2011

Opposite Day: Follow Seinfeld's lead for healthy lifestyle changes

The other day I suddenly realized that I was living in a Seinfeld episode. In "The Opposite", a waitress assumes that George will be ordering his usual lunch - tuna on toast with a cup of coffee. George's reply seems to come from a moment of spontaneous inspiration: "I always have tuna on toast. Nothing's ever worked out for me with tuna on toast. I want the complete opposite of tuna on toast. Chicken salad, on rye, untoasted ... and a cup of tea." By the end of the episode, his character has undergone an amazing metamorphosis, simply by doing the complete opposite of every instinct he has.

There are a lot of days that I feel like George. In any given week, 80% of what I eat is the same as the week before. And I could definitely say "Nothing's ever worked out for me with a bagel and cream cheese for breakfast." If I'm always eating the same things, exercising the same way and making the same excuses  - how is my body supposed to change?

My "Opposite Day" began as I pulled into the parking lot of  my local warehouse club and accidentally drove to a section that I normally never use. That's right, I'm one of those crazy people who tend to park in approximately the same place. I always enter through the same doors and shop the aisles in the same order. It's borderline OCD.

Yet on this day, a quiet voice in the back of my head whispered "I wonder what it would feel like if I parked on the other side today?" It was an odd sensation, yet it somehow felt good to shake things up.  As I entered the store, I laughed to myself and thought, "Since I parked in the wrong spot,  I might as well go through the store in reverse order too."  As I made my way down the aisles, I realized that I actually felt more awake and aware. Typically I sleepwalk through the aisles, mindlessly grabbing the same items that I always buy, but on this "Opposite Day" I found myself consciously deciding to skip the snack aisles and try some new produce.

Later that same day I realized that I was starving and running late for my next appointment. Normally, this would have meant that I'd hit the drive thru for something that I could eat quickly and neatly in my car on the way to my next stop. But since I'd now remembered the infamous Seinfeld episode, I'd mentally declared today "Opposite Day." It took a bit of arguing with myself, but I eventually drove to a fresh salad place that I rarely go to. My excuses are usually that the parking lot is a pain to navigate, the menu is unfamiliar and I don't have enough time. But on Opposite Day,  as I sat and ate my salad, I was so happy and proud of myself. The food was delicious, I made it to my next appointment on time and I felt like a whole new world was opening up before me. The best part was that I felt happy instead of guilty and sluggish. 

That afternoon I had 20 minutes to spare before picking my kids up from school. Normally I would  have sat in the school parking lot reading a magazine. But since today was rolling on as an Opposite Day success story, I parked my car in an unfamiliar neighborhood and went for an impromptu walk instead. Instead of feeling stiff and lethargic, I felt energized.

For 40 years I've eaten the same things and exercised (or not) in the same way, made the same excuses and had the same lack of results. The Seinfeld line "If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right" truly hits home for me.  My Opposite Day started off quite by accident but, like George, by the end of the day I felt like a new person. As I find myself tempted by old, bad habits I try to remind myself of how good it felt to try something new. I hope you find inspiration in it too!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Weight – Food – Behavior – Spirit

Years ago, people like my grandfather would say “Cousin Thelma has a weight problem.” Often it would be said in the same tone as “Cousin Thelma has the chicken pox.”  Well meaning relatives told Cousin Thelma to do a few calisthenics like Jack LaLane so she’d “lose the weight” and find herself a man.

A few decades later, conventional wisdom said that the real problem was the food itself. A dizzying array of conflicting reports confused us to the point of not knowing what was safe anymore.  Do you remember when bagels were the darling of the no-fat movement?  There’s not a drop of fat in them, what could be wrong!  Fast forward fifteen years and now bagels are nothing but 700 calorie behemoths that will send you into a gluten-induced death spiral. Every few years there is another food put on a pedestal, only to be sent to the chopping block later.  Don’t eat fat! Don’t eat carbs! Eat only raw food! Juice everything! If you would just follow this 28-day Fat Loss Diet, you’ll be healthier and happier! Food choice obviously matters, but even when a food plan is sane there is a giant chasm between seeing a diet printed in a book and actually following through on putting only the approved food into our mouths.

More recently experts began focusing on behaviors. Weight loss advice concentrated on when and how you ate:  Don’t eat anything after 7:00 p.m. or it will instantly turn to fat on your hips.  Fill up on soup and carrot sticks before going to a party with a tempting dessert table. Don’t go to the grocery store hungry. You can’t eat junk if it's not in your house.  While this is all sound advice, there is still a disconnect between knowing what we should be doing and actually adhering to the plan.

I am not saying that food choices and behaviors are irrelevant, but I believe that for many of us the underlying problem is a crisis of spirit.  You can interpret the word spirit in a bunch of ways, but I’ll start with a basic example. We know that certain foods are better for us then others, so why can some people consistently make good choices when others can’t?  Think back to a day when you realized that you were making healthy decisions easily and almost effortlessly. I’ll bet that it was probably a good day. For me, those days are extremely rare. But when I have those magical days where everything seems to be going right, it’s far easier to also make good food choices.
The rest of the time, when I didn’t get enough sleep, the kids are fighting, the car has a flat tire and customers are running amok at work, it’s really difficult to pay attention to how much better I’ll feel if I skip the drive-thru and eat a sensible salad for lunch. I guess that’s kind of the definition of emotional eating! But when I do things that feed my spirit, like connecting with friends, doing something nice for other people, giving my family some undivided attention and getting enough sleep and exercise, it starts a wheel in motion that naturally brings about more frequent “good days.”

Some people are comfortable taking that term spirit even further.  There is a growing trend that connects a belief in a higher power to the ability to make successful lifestyle changes. Overeater’s Anonymous (OA)  uses the same 12 step program as Alcoholics Anonymous. The foundation of both programs is believing in a higher power of your own understanding and leaning on that higher power in times of weakness.  Don’t let the term higher power scare you. For many people it’s a traditional God, but for many other people it could be the higher power of the group itself, or any other way that they envision a higher power. This is a foundation of many traditional rehab programs. I’ve included a link to OA in the resource section of this blog. If you feel like an alcoholic who eats instead of drinking, check them out.

However you wish to define spirit, it makes sense to include some spirit enhancing activities in your wellness plans. If you want to change your diet,  your spiritual state can either help or hinder your best laid plans. So if you haven’t done it already, start your emotions and eating journal. It’s the research that you need in order to take the next step in gaining control.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Lessons from the Fat Shrink - Step 1

There was a very specific reason why I named this blog Brownie Rehab. For most of my life, I've truly felt like an alcoholic who ate sugary confections instead of drinking. I frequently searched for an actual rehab, not for alcohol or drugs, but for food. I found treatment centers for anorexia or bulimia, but I never found a place just for compulsive eating. All of that changed when a good friend of mine underwent gastric bypass surgery recently. As part of her surgey, she had mandatory counseling with an eating disorder specialist. And luckily for me, she was more than willing to talk about what she learned.

The first step was to create an "Emotions and Eating journal". Now this is not your typical "track your food" advice that many dieters receive. The idea is NOT to log the day's descent from pious breakfast to afternoon binge. Instead, you are to track what you were feeling and what events were happening at the time you are eating. My friend and I were both shocked at how obvious our emotional eating was, once we started logging the correlation between events, feeling and food. Here is an example:

6:00 AM - tea, toast, peanut butter, fruit salad - house is quiet, kids are still asleep

7:00 AM - piece of cheese - making kid's lunch for school, starting to run a little late, mindlessly put it in my mouth

9:30 AM - yogurt and banana - running errands, getting alot accomplished

11:30 AM - grilled chicken sandwich - potato chips - at a restaurant and they came with the meal, so I ate them

2:30 pm - 3 cookies - boys home from school, cranky transition

2:45 pm - 3 more cookies - youngest son is having a temper tantrum and I'm trying hard to ignore it

3:30 pm - scoop of peanut butter straight out of jar - just got off phone with my Mom. She insisted on telling me all of the family gossip even though I'd rather just stay out of it.

You get the idea. I made it nice and obvious in the example above, but after a few days I really could see a blatant correlation between stress and snacking. My friend had a similar experience. A few years ago I would have told you "I'm not an emotional eater. I only eat because I'm bored, it tastes good, packaged food is easier and has a consistent taste, etc." But now I know better.  I've finally realized and admitted that I am a classic emotional eater.

Try it yourself for a few days. It might be an incredible eye opener for you. For years I felt like I had a good understanding of what I should be eating, I just didn't have the willpower to stop myself from sabotaging an otherwise healthy day. In fifteen minutes I could completely destroy ten hours of good food decisions. I was completely frustrated and angry with myself. But the emotional eating journal was truly my first step to finally finding my way to sanity.

After learning from my friend that counselors specializing in compulsive eating actually existed, I finally sought one out myself. And once I found one resource, many more resources appeared soon after. In the next few weeks I'll tell you everything that I've learned so far. If you've been spinning around the weight loss Merry-Go-Round, please follow my journey to get off the same Merry-Go-Round and reclaim my health, my body, my sanity and my life.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

What Real Food Looks Like

I'm having another day where I am inspired to try something new and Mediterranean. I've always been a fan of Giada DeLaurentiis's cooking show and I've made a few recipes from her book Giada's Family Dinners. On this particular day, I decide to try a soup recipe that I've never made before.

Giada's Winter Minestrone has a few things going against it. First of all, it calls for Swiss Chard - an ingredient I have never eaten before and one that sounds bitter and far too green for my taste. Seriously, CHARD? What marketing genius devised that name?

Second of all, it calls for a Parmesan cheese rind - like I should just have a stash of them that I've saved from previous hunks that I've freshly grated over hot pasta. That idea seems as ludicrous as the low cut blouses Giada cooks in. I love her, but c'mon! A rogue splash of hot oil must have singed her bra at least once in her career.

And there is no meat! I never trust a soup recipe that doesn't start with browning some sort of pork product in the bottom of the pan. But I am in the middle of an upswing in motivation, so I step outside of my comfort zone and go for it anyway.

I head to our local Wegmans because they have a cheese counter where I'm hoping to score a leftover  Parmesan rind.  I have to ask the produce guy for help because I am leaf illiterate and couldn't find Swiss Chard. It's two dollars for a rather puny looking bunch, so I buy far less than the recipe calls for and decide that if it's good I'll buy the real amount next time. At the cheese counter I am too embarrassed to ask for any left over rinds, but I stumble upon a stack of rinds that are actually for sale. That' s right, no cheese attached, just a container of five or six Parmesan rinds, all ready for real Italian cooks. I was excited to find exactly what I needed, but the fact that it looked like they were selling what I would normally call "garbage" cracked me up. (Clearly I am easily amused.)

My usual M.O. is to buy fresh produce and then stash it in the crisper, only to throw it out weeks later when it rots and turns into a slimy green science experiment. This time I force myself to get off my butt and make the soup while I'm still inspired. I actually like to cook, so chopping vegetables and assembling a soup is relaxing to me.

Half an hour later I suck in my breath as I am struck by how absolutely gorgeous this soup looks. The best word to describe this soup  is VIBRANT. The canned tomatoes are a brilliant red and they contrast beautifully with the deep green of the Swiss Chard (which turned out to be delicious.) While marvelling over the color in my soup pot, it occurred to me that food that is good for you actually looks good too. We're not supposed to be eating beige carbohydrates out of beige cardboard boxes. We are supposed to be eating natural produce that is the color of the rainbow. Now, somebody remind me of that the next time I top a bunch of Triscuits with Wispride and attempt to call it lunch.

Score one for the Mediterranean Diet!