Ultra-Minimalism

May 3, 2012

I am finding the idea of this lifestyle very alluring. It’s exactly what it sounds like. Live life with less. Much less. And like it. Some people go all out and even ditch their houses. I would be happy to just clear out our drawers and the crawl space.

It’s not like we’re hoarders though. We do a hefty purge about twice a year. But we’ve gone through five or six of these cleanses since living in this house, and I am starting to wonder how we still manage to get rid of so much every few months. Where does it all come from? Do the boys get that many Christmas presents?

I take some perverse comfort in peering into my neighbors’ garage and seeing clutter and children’s toys piled up to the ceiling. But somehow feeling superior to someone else =/= happiness. Weird, I know!

So I am going to put some new goals out there and we’ll see what happens. Now I am not shooting for living out of a backpack, but I must admit I am envious of a girl who can jump on a plane and travel the globe without a care in the world.

Unless you want ideas for doing this sort of thing yourself, you can probably safely stop reading now. (I never do when anyone tells me that… but I still appreciate the thought). So let’s go room by room, shall we:

I think Minimalist design is a pretense
to prepare us for living on spaceships.

Kitchen:

  • Get rid of obscure kitchen appliances (replace with ones we actually want to use with our new cooking habits)

Family Room:

  • Clear all the crappy, cheap McD’s toys from the toy box (replace with Imaginext or Playmobil sets?)
  • Bring down books and children’s games so they actually get used
  • Get rid of all the DVDs
  • Set up an art station to use up the building piles of markes, crayons, and play-doh
Living Room/Dining Room:
  • Hang the clock (stupid, I know, but this antique clock has been sitting on the floor behind the couch for months because I am afraid it will fall off the wall if I hang it!)
Basement:
  • Finish selling the obscure crap in the spare room
  • Sell/donate the HUGE bins of toys that we never drag out because we don’t want to deal with the mess
Boys’ Bedroom:
  • Pare down the boys’ clothes to 8 outfits each (plus dress clothes)
  • Bring down some games and books to store in the Family Room
Lego Room:
  • Sell off all the sets that are put up and away for “what the boys MIGHT be into someday” (pirates, castles, Batman, etc.)
  • Bring out, donate, or reduce the Playmobil sets
Master Bedroom:
  • Pare down to 8 outfits as well?? Put together dress outfits, buy items to match unused skirts/slacks or get rid of them
Garage:
  • Set up pool; move pool supplies out to the shed (get all that equipment out of the garage)
  • Get countertop for base cabinets and set up power tools

I wonder if all these lifestyle choices naturally flow from each other. Once you start thinking about one choice, you can’t help but think about others. It’s been an interesting process.

Body Shaming

April 2, 2012

How many of you hate your body? I’m on the fence. Most days I don’t think about it. But sometimes I catch a glimpse of my baby belly in the mirror at Old Navy and scream in my head!

And I am certainly no stranger to that cruel internal voice. You know, the one that says, “For crying out loud, put down that third piece of cake already, you heifer!” Do I even need to discuss the message that society broadcasts about body image? If Michelle Obama can be called fat, then there isn’t much hope for me.

Google “body shaming” and you will see that people (especially women) are getting tired of these messages. They don’t want to hate themselves anymore and they sure as hell don’t want other people judging them. I support this movement. Hate is never the answer.

We have to face facts though. Being fat is not just another acceptable lifestyle. It is the symptom of a whole myriad of conditions that reveal a broken society. Learning to embrace this symptom is like choosing to embrace the lump that is indicative of cancer. You shouldn’t welcome it or ignore it; you examine it, search for the cause, and strive to reverse or eliminate it.

We have to learn to fight the disease instead of the symptoms. Right now, the disease is the saturation of our food supply with non-nutritional food-like substances. Obesity is just one symptom. We have to fight for a society where everyday, normal activities result in health and well-being. Fit should be the default.

By default, a person should be able to walk into a grocery store and fill their carts with nutritional food without scrutinizing labels. By default, a family should be able to eat at a restaurant and not wonder if they are being served food made from natural ingredients.  We should not have to petition for the right to buy milk straight from the source. And we sure as hell should not have to wage a full scale war to stop pink slime, sugared milk, and heavily processed fruits and vegetables from being served to our children at school.

I don’t think these battles will be fought by people who are only looking inward and hating what they see. Certainly the battle won’t be fought by people who don’t even recognize the enemy (and instead blame only themselves or fat people in general). I think these battles will be fought by people who love themselves. Who are sick of being lied to and deprived of good food choices. In that respect, fat acceptance is a good thing. A step in the journey, even if not the ultimate goal.

I choose not to look in the mirror with loathing. This body got me through all-night study sessions fueled by Coke and Twix bars. This body made it through Operation Enduring Freedom subsisting on MREs (possibly the world’s most processed “food”). This body gave birth to three beautiful babies. So I choose not to hate the body that brought me to this point.

But I can decide that from now on that I will take better care of it. I am not going to do it by forcing it to survive on 1,200 calories a day or wearing out the cartilage in my knees at the track. I am going to keep tweaking the food I feed it until I find a natural balance. I am going to move it and use it in ways that are productive or that I enjoy. Like swimming with my boys. Or playing racquetball with my husband. Weeding the garden, taking walks, riding my bike and living life out in the world (and away from this computer).

That’s the bottom line I think. If we are going to turn this obesity epidemic around, then we need to create healthy living conditions. Dieting is a band-aid. Going to the gym turns us into hamsters on a wheel. Can’t we figure out how to be active as part of living life? Can we think big? re-engineer our lives and communities in such a way that demands healthy choices? Let’s plan community bike paths. Plant gardens on school grounds. Spend our food dollars on CSAs and Farmer’s Markets. Walk to work. Bike to the store. Throw the kids outside.

Convenience has made us lazy and entitled. And being lazy and entitled has made us fat. Should we be ashamed? Yes, but not of our bodies. We should be ashamed that we crowded out small farmers, drove out local grocers, and now worship a body image that is unattainable without Photoshop.

I just finished watching the premiere of this movie (available for free until March 31st). Although the information isn’t new to me anymore, I still find it fascinating. The first half of the movie lines up perfectly with the “clean eating” aspect of this blog.  I wish everyone in America would watch at least the first 50 minutes.

My favorite quote:

“We’re overfed […] but starving to death.”

They make the point that a human could easily eat 10,000 calories a day but still desire more because we are not getting what we need from the “edible non-foods” that make up most of our diets. I totally agree with that and I think the average shape of the average American today backs up that fact.

I related very much to the stories about dieting and deprivation. I also like their first few suggestions for change:

  1. Focus on adding in good food instead of forbidding the bad (e.g. serve a salad with dinner) 
  2. Replace overly processed bad foods with it’s exact same healthy equivalent (e.g. replace hormone filled and anti-biotic laden milk with local, fresh milk)
  3. Watch out for MSG, HFCS, and other addictive, harmful chemicals

Towards the middle of the film, the focus shifted away from hard facts to what I felt was more speculative. They encourage you to spend time visualizing how you want to look and feel and loving yourself. It all comes off as a little hokey, but at the same time rings true, if that makes any sense. I do know that we are masters of shaming ourselves, however, and that certainly is not working!

I am also not loving the juicing plug. I guess if you are cutting out so many other foods, you almost have to juice to get enough calories into your body. To be perfectly honest, the one time I tried a “green” drink, I could barely choke it down. Besides, I have no moral or health reservations against buying a happy cow and using it all up over the course of a year. So while I am very supportive of giving our bodies more natural foods, I consider eating happy cows and chickens to be perfectly natural.

I also don’t like that they talk up the diets of our ancestors, but only propose a diet super high in vegetables as optimal. In fact, any traditional ethnic diet is optimal. The Inuits lived almost 100% off of animal products (which they do mention in the film, but then use that to justify adding wild-caught salmon to your menu). But Inuits did not just eat salmon. They ate seal, caribou, polar bear, and whale (including blubber). And their health was off the charts.

I guess my big problem is that I don’t think we are going to win over the population by promoting veggies and juicing. But I do believe that good foods can crowd out bad foods so we can at least start there.

So overall, I highly recommend at least the first half of this video. If you can bring yourself to follow all the suggestions in the last half, by all means do so. But anything that shines a light on the problems with what we are putting in our bodies and calling food is a winner in my book.

UPDATE (3/26): After discussing this movie with a few others, I felt I needed to update my review. I really want to stress that I do not agree that juicing is critical to a healthy lifestyle. I actually think it is rather wasteful. I completely agree with what my sister posted today about juicing fruit. If you have the fortitude and resources to juice and drink that quantity of vegetables, however, I am not going to try and talk you out of it. I really don’t want anyone to feel like juicing is the only way to a healthy life though.

The weekend before last we went down to my parents’ place for my son’s fifth birthday party. My sister and I have talked with my parents about our new eating habits ad nauseum; they are both interested in what we have to say but don’t see our new lifestyle as being practical or sustainable.

Poking around their cabinets, I see exactly what they mean. I forget just how much tasty, convenient stuff is on the shelves in grocery stores. And my mom has always had a knack for “doctoring up” store bought foods. She was the master of “semi-homemade” before Sandra Lee ever set foot on the stage.
 
I brought dinner for the party Saturday night because my son made a special request, but I woke up Sunday morning hungry and unprepared. Now I am not a stickler about what the kids eat at Grandma’s house when I’m not around. If she wants to feed them cookies all weekend… whatever. She’s the one that has to watch them bounce off her walls all day. But it didn’t even occur to me that I would miss the routines I have established for myself over the past year.

My mom was ready for guests. I found plenty of cereal, bagels, muffin and pancake mixes.  But nothing had an ingredient list that worked for me. It made me recognise just how foreign my eating habits have become.

It’s true.. once I start eating sugar, I just can’t stop!

I chose a bagel and it left me snacky by 9:30am. I added a bowl of cereal, but was ready to eat again when my dad started fixing our waffle brunch an hour later. I ate a large Belgium waffle with strawberries and whipped cream but was already jonesing for more when we got in the car to drive home that afternoon. We only made it forty minutes down the road before I was directing Jeff to pull into McD’s for a “snack”. Oh and did I mention the leftover cake I grazed on every time I walked by the kitchen?

And it’s just that simple to fall back into the downward spiral.

The strange thing is that I went into this “lifestyle change” with a goal of 80/20 (eat right 80 percent of the time and don’t sweat the other 20). Even as I type “lifestyle change” in quotes, I laugh at myself. Like Chris Farley doing air quotes on SNL’s Weekend Update, I use the phrase “lifestyle change” as if it is a concept that I pretend to strive for but don’t really believe in down deep. Those quotes that I used without thinking reflect that subconscious belief.

It never occurred to me that the 80 percent clean eating habits would become the ones I enjoyed. That the 20 percent wouldn’t feel like an indulgence. I always figured people who ate right all the time managed it because either they were lucky enough to have grown up ingrained with good habits or they exercised a  major feat of willpower each and every day. I just never believed down deep in my heart that people didn’t eat fries nonstop or swill Coke all day because it just didn’t taste good to them. Inconceivable!

But the paradigm is shifting. I no longer view a tasty Marie Calendar meal as a treat. It’s a salt pie that sits in my stomach and makes me feel bloated. I eat McDonald’s and feel like crap immediately afterwards. I drink a Coke and can’t wait to have some water to wash the syrupy taste out of my mouth.

While I am happy that these foods no longer have such a powerful hold on me, it also feels like I am severing a bond with humanity. Okay, maybe that’s a bit melodramatic… but seriously. Food is such an important part of community. To turn my nose up at something my mother puts on the table is unthinkable. I never want to do that, and I don’t want to teach my boys to behave that way. And for the record, I still enjoy everything my mom prepares. But it’s unrealistic to expect breakfast, lunch, and dinner from scratch when I go visiting family. At the same time, my body just feels so much better eating real food. I can’t go a whole weekend eating out of boxes anymore. It’s not a welcome break; it’s no longer a treat.

So I need to learn how to be better prepared. I am sure I can live off of oatmeal for at least a few days….

An interesting question was posed this morning on my favorite discussion forum:

Question:

I’m wondering something here after reading so many responses with [stepkids] that are SOOOOOO overweight. WHY? [….]

Do you think being the child of divorce made this happen or having two separate homes?

My Answer:

We are living in a society with a broken food supply. We feed ourselves and our kids nutritionally devoid foods, we develop a dependence on those foods, and we lose the ability to listen to our bodies and self-regulate. It is NOT about will-power or self control. It is about eating “edible food-like substances” at mealtime instead of real food.

The obesity epidemic among kids is not confined to children of divorce. If you watch any of those documentaries (King Corn, Fast Food Nation, etc.) you will start to see the big picture. I am so concerned about this issue (for myself and my family) that I started a blog about it.

I think my stepson is a good example of this phenomenon. He is a “husky” boy but spends 8 weeks in the summer with us and every summer he slowly loses the extra pounds. I give all the children in the house unlimited access to food, but I do NOT keep any “non-food” (i.e. junk) in the house. And it’s not diet food… it’s stuff like fruit, veggies, whole milk, full-fat cheese, full-fat yogurt, whole wheat crackers and homemade bread with real butter. We even have take-out once a week as a treat. My boys are thin as rails, my husband is normal weight and I have been slowly losing weight since we started changing habits. And like I said, my stepson slims down when he is with us.

My stepson’s main source of food at home is his 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. The problem is that those foods do not satisfy. They are practically pre-digested then reconstituted to resemble real food. The fiber and nutrients that make you feel satisfied are lost. This information is not making it out to the world because of marketing and lobbyists. The government considers pizza sauce and french fries to be vegetables.

Kids can’t make these choices for themselves so they CANNOT be blamed for not having access to real food. It’s sad… but all we can do is teach them when they are with us so they can learn how to shop and cook for themselves when they are old enough.

Let me just add that I really don’t blame my stepson’s mother for any of his weight issues. She is doing the best she can with the information she has. This blog is intended to help people like her. People who do their very best, follow the rules, and still struggle with weight loss, hunger, and health issues.

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.

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.

It Begins…

February 5, 2012

Basically I’m taking steps that will remove fake and introduce real into my family’s life.

I could get very negative, writing about all of the bad products and approach my journey as a rejection of the chemically laden, environmentally irresponsible, and socio-economically harmful products that we all buy every day. But I rather like the positive and more pro-active term my sister coined…living “ultra-retro”. As Michael Pollan would say

“eating things my great-grandmother would recognize as food.”

This means that in order to eat real food, i probably have to cook it. and to trust said food, i probably have to source it locally, or even grow it and can/preserve it. this is a lot of work, and a revolution in thinking that has been in the works since beginning a weight loss journey in 2005. Some documentaries such as Food Inc., King Corn, and books like Fast Food Nation really kicked this into high gear for me.

I thought it would be fun to blog my journey, which is now fueled by my desire to do right by my baby boy.

About Me
I am 37 years old, recently married and also a first-time mom of 9 month old Trace. We live in the west burbs of MPLS (Minneapolis, MN). Before all of this I was a freelance graphic designer living in Chicago. I’d like to say I’m still a freelancer, but that would be a lie. Babies are WORK. So for now I am at home with the little man.

Having lived with PCOS and a weight problem from my teenage years on, I am hell-bent on making sure that it is not a problem my children have to deal with. In blogs to follow I will speak to how processed food contributed to my struggle, how I’ve had to take responsibility for my life and various attempts to remove bad products (and still trying!).