I am sure I am not the only overweight woman who traces her food issues to her childhood and thinks, “what if…” and “if only….”

I am always quick to say I don’t blame my parents for my choices in life. At the same time, the habits ingrained in me as a child have made it hard to change my patterns as an adult.

I really believe that people try to do the best they can with the information they have. If the truth is elusive and confusing now, how much worse was it for our mothers? Women who were figuring out how to be working mothers while still living up to impossible standards as caregivers and homemakers?

That doesn’t change the fact that I grew up thinking water could only be consumed with Kool-aid mix and a cup of sugar. That a lunch consisting of deli meat on white bread, a Little Debbie snack cake, and a juice box was healthy because I threw in an apple. And if you ask 20 random people today if Honey Nut Cheerios is a healthy breakfast, I bet at least 19 of them would say “Yes”, so how was my mom to know any better back in 1985?

But darn it all… I was a skinny kid so I must’ve been healthy, right? I played a lot of sports, rode my bike to school, and was outside every evening until it was too dark to see. Maybe that kept the weight at bay, but I don’t think a return to that lifestyle is the answer for today’s children. For one… it’s just not going to happen in a world where recess is being cut, parents don’t feel safe letting their kids roam the neighborhood, and free time takes the form of “play-dates” in order to fit it into the family’s calendar.

For another, you’ll still wind up with me. The minute I entered the adult world, that level of activity was not sustainable. Things changed drastically in college. I got out of class, went to work, came home and studied. All I wanted to do during my free time was sit at Denny’s with my friends. Not much changed when I entered the workforce. And the weight crept on. 

Look around… I am certainly not alone in this. We have got to learn to eat right. For ourselves and so we can teach our kids. Skinny kids are NOT healthy because they are thin. They are walking time bombs. Just like me.

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I said something in my post yesterday that I want to elaborate on:

Many children’s “main sources of food” are “school lunches and convenience foods (Kraft dinners, Tyson nuggets, Betty Crocker pot-pies, Lean Cuisines etc.). The problem with those foods is not so much that you can’t make a meal plan of them that fit the dietary guidelines because you most definitely could.”

I used to count calories when I needed to lose weight. Admittedly it is a very useful strategy to expose and examine your current lifestyle. For awhile I chose to believe the “calorie is a calorie” hype and ate whatever I wanted while “dieting” and just stopped eating when I hit my meal totals. I clearly remember days where I would eat a bowl of cereal for breakfast, grab a Twix bar and a pop for lunch, and a Happy Meal for dinner and be well within my calorie limits. Obviously this is a ridiculous way to eat, but I was a “normal” weight in college and arrogantly thought that meant I was healthy. I did not even suspect that I was sabotaging my body.

But let’s paint this picture with shades of gray and see how it gets more complicated. Here is an example of a nutritionist approved meal plan from my gestational diabetes days:

Nutritionist Approved Meal Plan:
Breakfast:
1 cup Cheerios cereal — 110 calories
3/4 cup skim milk  — 85
1 cup Tropicana OJ — 110

Snack:
Yoplait Light Yogurt — 100

Lunch:
Turkey sandwich on white bread — 320
1oz pretzels — 110
1 mozzarella cheese stick — 100
Lite applesauce — 50
Pepsi — 150

Dinner:
Lean Cuisine Sweet and Sour Chicken — 300
12 oz Crystal Light — 10

Snack:
1 cup Edy’s Slow Churned Rich & Creamy Light Chocolate Chip Ice Cream — 240

Total: 1,685 calories

That looks perfectly acceptable on paper, doesn’t it? At my current weight and activity level, my body will burn 2,300 calories a day. So 1,600-1,700 is a great caloric intake for weight loss. The above looks like the perfect plan. All those items can be purchased at any grocery store and whipped together quickly and cheaply. And since meal plans like this are all over the Internet for free, I don’t even have to think ahead or plan! So here you go everyone…. go forth and be fat no more!

But wait… why isn’t this happening?!  No one is pulling this off!  I like all of the above foods. This really sounds like a diet I could stick to. It has ice cream and pop in it for crying out loud!!

To be honest I have pulled this diet off in my day. When I was 21 and needed to lose weight to get into the Air Force, I ate like that for four months and lost 20 pounds. I lost weight this way again when I was put on the military’s “Fitness Improvement Program.” I even managed to lose a few pounds eating like this once I was diagnosed with the gestational diabetes (no small feat when you are pregnant).

But are you noticing a pattern here? Is there something wrong with this picture? Whilst I lost all this weight by counting calories, I also put the weight back on every time. Undoubtedly the calorie counting works to lose. But I never kept the weight off or was able to stick to this sort of plan to maintain. It was never an enjoyable lifestyle. And each time I tried it, I fell off the wagon sooner. My body wasn’t going to live that way and my brain could not overcome what my body wanted.

So for contrast’s sake, here is the clean eating menu I (mostly) stick to now:

Daily Clean Eating Meal Plan
Breakfast:
Quaker Old-Fashioned Oats w/ Craisins and whole milk — 225
Coffee w/ stevia and heavy cream — 50
1 medium banana — 100

Snack:
1 cup homemade vanilla yogurt from whole milk — 135

Lunch:
Chicken sandwich (leftovers on homemade bread) — 500
Apple slices — 60
Carrot sticks — 10
Iced tea w/ lemon and stevia — 0

Dinner:
Large slice homemade meatloaf — 300
Potato wedges — 100
Green Beans — 25
Side Salad (bacon bits, no dressing) — 50
Water — 0

Snack:
2 cups popcorn, oil-popped 110

Total: 1,665

Most of my dinners clock in around 450 calories, lunch is around 600 and breakfast is generally 350 with two light snacks. But I am never hungry. On weekends we make homemade brownies and on Fridays we order pizza. But I am slowly losing weight. If I can eat well, not be hungry, splurge every weekend, and lose weight… what more can I want in life? And I am not dieting. I am eating real food with realistic portion sizes.

So why is it that I can’t maintain the first plan? Well for starters… I don’t eat those portion sizes. 1 cup of cereal? Maybe I pour exactly one cup the first few days of a new diet, but I am never satisfied, and that never lasts. And am I going to teach my kids to weigh and measure every bowl of cereal as well? Is that the lifestyle I want for them? Counting every mouthful? Is that realistic or the recipe for an eating disorder. Or rebellion and an obesity epidemic?

The point is, the first menu gets a USDA stamp of approval. You could find something like it on most of the big food manufacturer’s websites because they are happy to promote the myth that losing weight is simply a matter of cutting calories with the occasional splurge. All of them reformulate and repackage their products to line up with the newest government health claims (“Low Fat”, “Whole Grain”, “No HFCS”).

But the first menu does not lead to a healthy lifestyle. Improvements are temorary. It doesn’t last! You don’t feel good eating this way. You don’t feel full and you never feel satisfied. You roam around your kitchen opening and closing cabinets and poking your head into the fridge. These processed, refined foods turn immediately into sugars that go right through your system and send you scrambling for more.

I don’t like to talk about weight loss on this blog, because I don’t think we should wait until we are obese before re-evaluating our food priorities. Especially where the kids are concerned. I wasn’t raised to eat right but I was thin. I didn’t even know I was “broke” until the weight packed on in college and I didn’t know how to stop it. My parents were great in every other way, but they didn’t have this information. We do. Let’s change.

Can I Get a Coke With That?

February 29, 2012

Yeah, that’s about how I felt…

Okay, I don’t know why I did it, but I had a Coke with lunch today. And sure enough, now I can’t stop eating. Why is that a cheese sandwich on homemade bread with water keeps me satisfied all afternoon, but a cheese sandwich on homemade bread with Coke leaves me a ravenous beast until dinner?!

Seriously, since lunch I have eaten, another sandwich (but on one of those yummy Turano French rolls), a cinnamon bagel, a box of raisins, and a glass of milk. STOP the insanity!! I am going to go have a glass of water and some carrot sticks.

(Update: I found some leftover minestrone in the fridge and finally got a grip.)

Kicking Habits

February 21, 2012

I always imagined myself as being somewhat resistant to addiction. I never much liked getting drunk, and have never even tried any type of drugs. I smoked a few times in the service, but it didn’t get a hold of me like it did my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.

When I was younger though, I used to bite my nails. For as long as I can remember I struggled with that habit. I remember vividly trying to quit. The deals I would make with myself, the tricks I would try. Nothing ever worked.

Every now and again I would manage to grow my nails for a week or so. Then I would look down and notice a snag. I would give myself permission to work on just that one nail. Then bam… it was all over with and I had war torn hands again. Once I started I just could not stop.

I am finding that true with food. If I wake up in the morning and have my oatmeal and coffee, I am usually good to go until lunch. If I think of snacking, a cheese stick or cup of yogurt will do it. Then comes my daily nutritional black hole… lunch.

Like I mentioned before, I really don’t have lunch figured out. I am, however, starting to notice something important: my body knows when I feed it crap. I have just been misinterpreting that information for years. Today, for example, I had a hotdog on a store brand bun. I wanted to eat again within five minutes. Literally, 5 minutes. I then had a bowl of rice pudding. Whilst it was homemade, I used white rice, so that didn’t fill me up either.

At this point in my journey, I know where this sort of thing is headed–an out of control binge-a-thon that only ends once I have polished off the chocolate chips and mini-marshmallows I keep on hand for hot cocoa. I opened the fridge and searched desperately for something to stop the madness. I spied some leftover vegetable and beef soup and finally, that did the trick.

Ever experience anything like that? Ever have a bowl of cereal at a time when you weren’t rushing out the door? Like on a lazy Saturday afternoon? How long is it before you want to eat again? Immediately? Does that bowl of cereal ever make you want to put off dinner? Have you ever found yourself mindlessly pouring another (or four)? If you haven’t felt that you are probably at a healthy weight. You already know that food should not be like that. But for so many of us it is. Some of us can eat and eat and eat and nothing triggers us to stop. 

The cereal thing used to happen to me all the time. I won’t lie, it would still happen if I kept it in the house. Once I figured out it was the nature of powdered, transmogrified corn products to practically dissolve in your system without filling you up, I stopped buying breakfast cereal. But what about hot dogs? Why do they do they same thing? My only conclusion is that they must not really be food. Food should fill you up and leave you satisfied.

So that is my new litmus test for real food. I have to listen to my body and make different choices. In the past the message I heard was “You are not full, eat more of that!” Now the message I hear is “You are not full, that was not real food!” So my new criteria is food must nourish me in order to be considered food. And I have to start over every day. 

Yeah… like duh, eh?

But seriously… if you don’t know what I am talking about then be thankful. But also please stop judging. You can’t know what we go through and what brought us to this place. People used to look down on alcoholics, but now we recognize that they have a disease. I think we need to get to this point with food. It takes more time and it is not as obvious, but bad food is destroying lives. 

We are a sick nation. We have corrupted our food supply and this is the legacy we are passing to our children. You cannot judge an unhealthy eight year old. There is no way they did that to themselves. So please stop judging the overweight 22 year old or 35 year old. At some point her body lost the battle against the barrage of crap being shoved in her face. She lost control and will power won’t restore the balance. Food will. Real food.

That’s where I am at. I was fat and then I started eating right. I haven’t lost it all, but for the first year, I was just happy to stop gaining. And as I take steps, the weight has been coming off. It’s slow, but for the first time in my life, I don’t care. This isn’t about the weight loss anymore. It’s about feeling good. It’s about liking myself and feeling alive.

So I didn’t mean to turn this into a rant. But I finally understand. Stop telling us to just watch what we eat and have certain foods in moderation.  It’s not working. We need to learn to eat real food. Oh and it wouldn’t hurt to stop shoving the crap in our faces.

Okay so I started this blog to record this journey, but so far I have mainly been preaching. I just have been shocked by so many of things that I never knew. And it’s February, so it’s not like I’m growing or preserving anything at the moment.

But I really want to share my progress as well. My victories and setbacks. I want to remember what was hard and what was easy. What worked and what didn’t. I want to be able to look back and see how my attitude, desires, and cravings changed, not just when I learned that junk food is addictive and even cows are being fed candy.

So here’s a new one… I might be over McDonald’s.

We went last night to grab Happy Meals before my son’s recital. Jeff pulled up to the drive-through, ordered for the boys, turned to me with that questioning gaze… and nothing. I didn’t want a single thing. I suppose I could have gone for a salad, but I was actually in the mood for chicken. Just not that chicken.

For the record, my husband and I have always love(d) McDonald’s. I never had a twice a day habit or anything, but we were solid 2-3 times a week customers before we had kids. We ate McDonald’s the first time we made it back to civilization after we met. We ate McDonald’s while touring Germany, France, London, Scotland, and Wales. We included McDonald’s on our first major date after having kids. (Rock n’ Roll McD’s and Wicked baby!) It was our thing. Our place.

My confession was a big blow, but my husband took it well.

Oh and in the interest of full disclosure… I did snag some of his fries.

If You Give a Kid a Sucker

February 14, 2012



(source)

Why is it that if we pick up a bag of suckers I do not hear the end of it until every last one is gone?!

So kids, in case you are wondering why you only see yogurt, granola, and apples in the fridge, it’s all your fault! We would happily keep a bag of suckers around to dole out on a sunny afternoon walk. But nooooo…. If you so much as sense those suckers are stashed in the closet, you turn into grasping, clawing, sneaking, little whiners, and I am not listening to that each and every day.

So that’s why we don’t have suckers. Or those giant boxes of fruit snacks we used to buy. Or the occasional sugar cereal. It’s not worth it. Have a carrot stick.

And Happy Valentine’s Day.

Are Cupcakes Like Crack?

January 31, 2012

“After all, you don’t see newspaper headlines about obese people holding up convenience stores to feed their potato chip habit.” —Kelly Luck

Most people don’t really believe that junk food is addictive. They think fat people just have no willpower. Sure it tastes good, but you can master it. Look at all the skinny people on TV!

But still, the rising rates of obesity have gotten national attention. Our government can’t ignore it much longer because they are footing the tab for more and more people’s health care. Why won’t people just eat right and exercise more like the experts are telling them too?!

Maybe because the answer is yes, cupcakes are like crack. Here is the News Release from The Scripps Research Institute that makes this claim.

Articles heralding the new discovery appeared in news publications around the world, focusing on the point obese patients have been making for years – that, like addiction to other substances, junk food binging is extremely difficult to stop.

The study goes significantly further than the abstract, however, demonstrating clearly that in rat models the development of obesity coincides with a progressively deteriorating chemical balance in reward brain circuitries. As these pleasure centers in the brain become less and less responsive, rats quickly develop compulsive overeating habits, consuming larger quantities of high-calorie, high-fat foods until they become obese. The very same changes occur in the brains of rats that overconsume cocaine or heroin, and are thought to play an important role in the development of compulsive drug use.

Other points of interest from the article: rats who become accustomed to eating junk couldn’t stop eating it even if they learned to associate painful shocks with the unhealthy foods. If the addictive food was taken away and replaced with healthy food (“‘the salad bar’ option”), the rats stopped eating altogether for two whole weeks! They couldn’t even overpower their natural instinct to survive if it meant replacing junk with a healthy diet.

Now compare these rats to the young girl in yesterday’s article. I’ll admit it… my first instinct was to say that mom should have cut off her nugget supply a loooooong time ago. A kid is not going to let themselves starve, after all! But how many of you moms out there would have had the fortitude to watch your child refuse food for a whole week, much less two?! It’s easy to say, “Well I would never let this happen.” But here’s the thing… it is happening. If you feed your kid (or yourself) a mix of frozen meals, take-out, and boxed foods, you are creating a junk food addict.

On the November 8, 2011 episode of The Biggest Loser, contestants met with Dr. H and his guest Dr. Linden, a brain scientist from Johns Hopkins. Here’s what he had to say:

Typically, a lean person will crave a food much less than an obese person, but they’ll get a greater pleasure response. So obese people don’t overeat because they want food more – it’s that their level of satisfaction is so much less.

The visuals on the show really helped hammer his point home. They showed the brain scan of a thin person eating a burger. The firework show going on in his pleasure center got smaller as he ate. Basically, he derived satisfaction from his food, and could stop when his desire was satisfied. But in an obese person, it was the opposite. The blazing ring of pleasure got bigger as he ate! The more he ate, the more he wanted! It kind’ve broke my heart. Now, we can’t know from this study whether a person is born that way, or whether somewhere along the way he got broken by bad habits. But it does put things into perspective.

I think it’s official. Food addiction is real and we have to start addressing the problem before it’s most obvious symptom manifests. Obesity is not just a moral failure or a lack of willpower. Obesity is the result of a fractured relationship with food. It really is easier for a skinny person to stay skinny than for a fat person to just stop eating.

So tomorrow… I am going to get away from the science and get personal. I think we shall call it tomorrow’s feature: “From Skinny Kid to Fat Chick.”

P.S. This topic reminds me of a documentary I watched at some point last year that discussed the correlation between the FDA’s dietary recommendations, and the rising obesity epidemic. If anyone knows which documentary I am referring to, please remind me, as that will be a topic I’d like to discuss later.

So You Can OD on McNuggets

January 30, 2012

Have you seen this article yet?

It’s about a girl in the U.K. who collapsed and was rushed to the hospital because she has eaten almost nothing except chicken nuggets since the age of two. My goal here is not to vilify McD’s (she would also eat frozen nuggets made at home), but to introduce an idea that is at the core of my problem with processed foods.

Processed foods are junk food. Junk food is addictive.

Let me just tell you, I have been working on this post all day and it just keeps getting longer and longer. I spent less time on certain papers in college. So I am going to have to break it down. Here’s what we are going to discuss over the next few weeks and then tie it all back to the article above:

  1. Some current research concerning addictive properties of junk food
  2. Why processed foods should be classified as junk food, or “edible non-foods” *
  3. What about the children?
  4. Time to stop blaming the victim
  5. How can we get this stuff out of our lives?

*Erika to the rescue! Her blog posts this week (parts III, III, & IV) explain the problems with processed foods! Yay! Go read them. I am not going to try and repeat all that here.