Poking One Of The Bears

Well, I said I was going to do it and I finally did it.  I composed a letter and sent it to a couple key people at Wegmans, a large supermarket chain headquartered in New York State.  Regardless of where you live, you’ve probably seen Wegmans’ name in print at some time in the past decade since they’ve consistently been in Fortune magazine’s top ten “Best Places to Work.”

Most of us (myself not included) do our shopping at a single store, and so each chain puts on sales and promotions each week to lure shoppers to their particular stores.  After waging this battle for years and not really coming out ahead, Wegmans decided they had to present something to the public that the other chains weren’t.  They developed a program they call “Consistent Low Pricing,” with which they try to convince the public that it doesn’t have to read weekly sales ads to see where the best overall deals are for the week.  Wegmans prints advertisements that show they have the lowest price of all local stores consistently, week after week, on many items people buy regularly, and therefore the best “bottom line” value for a weekly shopping trip is at their stores.

The problem is, and I made this point in the letter, that while it may be true that Wegmans may have the best total price for the items “test priced” from chain to chain, one does not get “something for nothing.”  The prices for most meat and seafood at Wegmans is astronomical (in my humble opinion).  I stated in my letter to their Senior Vice President for Consumer Affairs and their manager for nutrition programs that, with this marketing approach, Wegmans tends to steer shoppers toward keeping their weekly food expenditure low by buying inexpensive staple products that are typically, by nature, high in carbohydrates, and they therefore are contributing to the obesity epidemic our country is suffering. 

Wegmans has, over the years, significantly increased the number of store-branded items they stock their shelves with that cost a little less than the name brand versions.  One of their store lines is branded “Food You Feel Good About;” these items usually have some alleged “healthful” aspect to them, such as, “made with whole grains,” or, “low in fat.”  I mentioned to them in the letter that it is ironic that the motto doesn’t say, “Food That Is Good For You;” these are products with features that the public has unwittingly been led to believe is good for them, and they therefore “feel good” buying it for consumption.  I chuckle when I see a sack of Wegmans’ brand potatoes that have blazoned across the plastic bag the words, “Food You Feel Good About.”

I can’t fault the chain entirely; they still are the only store in my area that still carries Hood Calorie Countdown dairy beverage, and two flavors of Dannon Carb and Sugar Controlyogurt.  But I chided them that they carry only the chocolate and fat free white versions of the dairy beverage, probably in the erroneous assumption that fat, being a dietary enemy, should be eliminated.  If this is the case, why do they bother carrying the chocolate flavor, since it contains 2% fat?  I also mentioned that they recently decided that low carb adherents and diabetics do not need to choose from more than two flavors of yogurt (they used to carry four of the five available flavors), while everyone else gets to choose from the dozens and dozens of other types of yogurt cramming the dairy case.  (PS – They also moved the two remaining flavors to the very bottom of the yogurt case.  Easier to find?)

I considered reprinting the letter here in its entirety for your reading pleasure, but it’s six pages long (you all know how I tend to go on and on).  Other than the standard lessons in actual nutritional science, and advising that they all read Gary Taubes’ book as soon as possible, what I’ve told you in the above paragraphs pretty much sums it up.  This is what I advocated we all start doing in a post I wrote a while ago, and I think that I’m going to start writing my government representatives as well.  They may all toss my letters in the trash, but I’ll feel better that I at least tried to do SOMEthing to help.  Who knows?  Maybe one of them will make a change in their personal life as a result.  I know I did.

Another 5 Bites the Dust

Last weekend I spent some time hanging round in a different part of town, so to speak. If you’ve spent any time reviewing the info on the web about low carb, you’ve probably come across groups other than Atkins folks who follow a substantially similar dietary lifestyle, but approach it from a different angle. A couple I’ve found so far are:

  • Diabetics. Low carb is a great way to manage diabetes.
  • Bodybuilders. They tend to emphasize the exercise first, and eat way more protein, but these folks, looking for noticeable results, have some really good information on their sites. Here’s an example.
  • Gastric surgery patients. If the size of your stomach is small, you can’t eat junk food, nor can you fill up on junk. Low carb is nutrient-dense, and is the way many of these people lead their lives after surgery.
  • Paleo People. There are a few varieties in here, lumped together, but these people try to eat as natural and raw as possible. You’ll find these people frequently espousing raw milk – even raw liver – sorry, I’m not going there anytime soon, but they do have a number of points worth considering.

One aspect that I found interesting, and Megamas touched on in this recent post, was the notion of low carb junk food – recreations of high carb foods in a low carb way, that are supposed to be a replacement for our cherished comfort foods – the ones that are making us morbidly obese and killing us.

They have their place: I would much rather see someone gnosh on an Atkins bar than those sugar-laden ‘energy’ bars that are the norm – it’s just that a lot of people go on low carb, live on these things, don’t lose a lot of weight, and say it’s because low carb doesn’t work.

I myself have been in a stall since January. I lost 20 lbs. very quickly, but then stopped at 195. This weight has always been one of the weights my body is comfortable at, but I’m not. I have a pair of pants I call my ‘reference pants’ – they are the smallest pants I expect to wear in my wardrobe. I can get them on, but my eyes bulge slightly, so I have more weight to go – I want to be between 170 and 180.

Looking at my diet after reading the paleo literature, I saw that I was living on two things that might be sabotaging further weight loss: artificial sweeteners and deli meat.

Latest news on artificial sweeteners says that it makes us more hungry because our bodies taste the sweet and pump out insulin even though there’s no sugar – so it can still mess with our hunger mechanism.

On the deli meat, I have no research, but a lot of research says that the nitrates in a lot of them are bad for you, and many (like bologna – a guilty pleasure of mine) have added sugar.

Based on the above, I decided last week to try to be more ‘paleo’ and reduce the sweeteners and deli meats.

I upped my vegetable count with a lot of raw vegetables, ate more unmolested meats like hamburger, and reduced my intake of artificial sweeteners. I still had them, as well as some deli meat and some low carb bread, but it was much less than usual.

The result: 5 pounds lost this week.

I didn’t feel particularly deprived, though I need to come up with a way to enjoy water more. I find straight water is too ‘flat’ – I had a friend tell me the minerals they add to Dasani water gives it a subtle ‘flavor’ that makes it more paletable – I tried it, and he’s right, but I don’t like the waste of buying water. Anyone out there have a trick for flavoring water without artificial additives?

Also – to my surprise – I’ve been enjoying the raw vegetables.

In reflection, I think there is a possiblilty to resensitize my taste buds to more subtle flavors, without pouring on the fake sugar or salt. I had both this week – I’m no saint – but the reduction in both seemed to serve me well.

I’ll try to do this for another week and see how it goes.

“TV Allowance” – A Breakthrough In Reducing Childhood Obesity?

I suppose I should be proud to say this amazingly simple product, TV Allowance, was developed at a university in my locality.  Researchers came up with a large-calculator-sized device that lets families program “budgets” into their home televisions and computers, decreasing the available screen time from 10% to 50% over a period of several months.  They then studied 70 children of both genders between age 4 and 7 who had a higher-than-average BMI and watched TV or played computer games a minimum of 14 hours per week.  Along with the reduced screen time, the kids were also given inducements; monetary rewards and praise were doled out for doing something other than sitting idle in front of the boob tube.  Parents who reduced their family’s weekly video availability by 17.5 hours on average wound up with kids who ate less and lowered their BMIs.  The two-year study appears in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

“Results showed that watching television and playing computer games can lead to obesity by reducing the amount of time that children are physically active, or by increasing the amount of food they consume as they are engaged in these sedentary behaviors,” said one of the study’s authors.

The author, while admitting the overall changes were “modest,” believes the use of this device across the population may produce “important reductions in obesity and obesity-related health problems.”  Additionally, while it did reduce the time these kids were in front of a video screen, it did NOT increase their physical activity.  The study’s assumption is that the restriction minimizes cues to eat by limiting the number of child-targeted food ads to which this demographic is exposed.

So, is the underlying problem the amount of time these little couch potatoes sit doing nothing, or is it the continuous bombardment of sugar-peddling marketing schemes on their impressionable minds?  If they weren’t being active, as the study found, what were they doing?  Reading?  Meditating? 

So these kids “ate less” and had “modest” changes in BMI over a two year period.  Can someone do a study letting a similar group watch whatever they want but restrict their carb intake?

Kitchen Experiment #16 – Pork Krispies in Cream

You know – after some spirited discourse on the metabolic processes in regards to fat and alcohol – along with sundry interwoven threads regarding social alienation, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs,  smoking cessation, and the political and ideologocal struggle against trans fat – I’m ready to kick back and have me a big ‘ol bowl of pork krispies and cream.

Never had ’em? Here’s the recipe:

  • 1/2 bag pork rinds – salted is OK – BBQ style is NOT
  • 1/2 cup cream – mix with a little water if want to cut back on the calories
  • Splenda or DaVinci syrup to taste

Crush up the pork rinds to the size of your typical breakfast cereal. Just open the bag to let the air out, then fold the end closed and bang with your fist to crush the rinds to the right size for you. Place in bowl. Pour on the cream and stir in your sweetner. You might be surprised just how close this is to breakfast cereal – I was when I conjured this up.

Doesn’t go soggy in the bowl, either.

Addictive, Pervasive, and Seductive

I got this question from a reader and thought it so important that I’m posting the response here rather than bury it in an old post.

Your question:

what concerns me is so many people write in saying they’re doing induction again (and again and again) because even though they love low carb and lost weight, they went off the diet and gained all the weight back. i’m quite interested in low carb but if it works so well why does everyone go off it?

Is a damn good one – I wonder why it hasn’t been asked before.

My answer is that carbs are addictive, pervasive, and seductive. They mess with your blood sugar and can give you a high, they surround us in our homes, offices, and on every street corner, and they taste good.

You can live quite nicely on Atkins – you can eat a wide variety of foods and not be hungry – yet still lose weight. But it takes eternal vigilance to avoid an addictive substance that is in most processed foods, and is offered up by well-meaning friends a dozen times a day.

You end up having to commit to a lifestyle that makes you different than others. I’ve heard my office is having a beer and pizza day in the near future – I won’t be having either. Will this make me look like I’m not participating because of some issue that I have with the company? While it’s not the case, it might be the perception. Someone brings in donuts – can’t have them. A birthday party? You hear: “you’ve GOT to have a piece of cake.”

Do you want to lose weight on Atkins and keep it off? Then you have to be that person who asks if there’s any carbs in the salad dressing at a restaurant – see the server look confused and run back to the kitchen. Will they come back with the right answer? Who knows? Order diet soda. Do they fill the glass with diet or the real stuff? Can’t be sure, so I order seltzer or stick with water. Going to a dinner party? You might have to inquire to the host if there will be something to eat that’s low carb – if you don’t explain this you risk going hungry, offending the host because you don’t eat, or giving in, eating the carbs, and potentially backsliding into a high-carb lifestyle.

If you are the type that likes to ‘fit in’ – you won’t. It’s a great diet for iconoclasts and nonconformists who don’t care about this sort of thing or like to be different, but you’ll stand out in a crowd.

Like hardcore vegetarians, severe diabetics, and other people with very exacting dietary restrictions, you will be that ‘pain in the ass’ at the restaurant table.

The people here have decided that it’s worth the effort, even when they periodically backslide.

Scrambled Eggs with Grilled Chicken and Cheese

I did not hold out high hopes for this one – I thought it would be edible, maybe, but I was impressed as to how well the flavors went together.

Plus, it was so simple.

I have been playing with a bag of Foster’s Grilled Chicken strips – they are already cooked and frozen – just take out a few and put into whatever might go with grilled chicken – salads and soups jump to mind.

Of course, something so, well, normal as a salad with grilled chicken is just not me, so I have to toss it in scrambled eggs. Here’s what I did:

  • Handful of grilled chicken – nuked until thawed and chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 4 eggs
  • 4 slices American cheese
  • 2 tbsp butter

Toss in the eggs, let cook for a minute, break the yolks and mix around (you know how I hate extra mixing bowls). Now toss the chicken in, mix, then toss in the cheese. Let cook until the cheese melts, then scramble in the pan to be sure the top part of the egg is cooked.

I put no seasonings on this and thought the flavor was great. Safe for induction.

    If Low Carb Makes So Much Sense, Why Do Other Diets Work?

    As I’m in bed this morning waiting for the precise perfect moment to roll out, I happened to dwell on the several ads that I’ve been glancing at in magazines and the newspaper recently.  I say recently, but they’re always there, just more so in the beginning of the year, it seems.  You’ve seen the ads, I’m sure: Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, the hypnosis ads, the food plan ads, all the health clubs, and plenty of before-and-after photos and testimonials to go with them.  When you’re at the supermarket checkout line, count the number of magazines that have a sure-fire diet plan on the cover.  (Even Dr. Atkins’ diet was the darling of the Vogue readership for years before he published his New Diet Revolution in 1973.)

    I’m to the point in Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories that I firmly believe that the only effective way to lose weight is to cut out carbohydrates and make dietary fat a good percentage of your daily diet.  Exercise is not necessary and can actually work against you if you’re trying to drop pounds.  I’m in the middle of an experiment right now, so I can’t really carp for the time being that I haven’t lost any weight doing just this for the last seven weeks.

    But come on… other people lose weight doing other things.  Even I have.  One year, I lost over 20 pounds by simply eating a bag of raw vegetables for lunch every day.  Boring as all get-out, but I got into a routine, stopped thinking about it, and the pounds came off.  (Yes, after I stopped that routine, they went back on.)  My first wife and I paid a lot of money to a chain called “Weight Loss Clinic” where we had to go every day to be weighed by a nurse and report what we were eating on a very low calorie diet.  We both lost over 50 pounds each and we both regained most of the loss within six months.  Around that time, we started getting postcards from the business asking if it wasn’t time to come back in if we needed to.  Perpetual customers, what a concept, but hardly original:  the obsolescense factor is a well-known marketing tool.

    So why do all these other approaches work at all?

    Maybe the key word is “effective,” as I used earlier to describe low carb.  Do you know anyone who lost weight through exercise who gained it back when (if) they stopped their routine?  How about eating low calorie?  I know plenty of people who’ve tried this, and for them it’s a continuous battle with hunger; all they ever seem to talk about is food and how much they want it and how many things they are tempted with.  I personally don’t know anyone who’s lost weight by being hypnotized, but my wife tried it once to quit smoking many years ago and she sat through one session and came back with the report that it was a bunch of nonsense.  (To this day she will occasionally cluck like a chicken, but she doesn’t realize it and I don’t say anything.)

    If you’re overweight and you want and need to lose a significant number of pounds, isn’t keeping those pounds off the real issue?  Look at how many studies of subjects on various diets end with those people losing either an insignificant amount of weight or not being able to stay on the eating plan long enough to make a difference.  How many subjects maintain a significant loss for a year or more, a factor considered essential in rating the effectiveness of an eating plan?

    I’m not saying low carb is going to work for everyone.  Not because the science is at fault, but because we’re human beings.  There’s a psychological element to dieting to lose weight, and even if we’re losing, we’re leaving something behind that we enjoyed.  Maybe some kind of special food or drink, maybe the camaraderie of joining friends eating things that we now know are very bad with regard to overall health.  Working out takes time away from other things we’d perhaps rather be doing.  Some people get bored doing anything for too long, especially if it takes effort and discipline.  Even some of the women in the Atkins group in the recent Stanford University study of popular diets strayed toward the end, although this group did better than any of the other groups in both weight loss and “sticktuitiveness.”

    John Galt knows, I don’t consider myself a poster boy for low carb.  I’m just as guilty of regaining a lot of the weight I lost in 2003.  Almost all of it was because I returned to eating high carb foods, and it started immediately after I started eating carbs.  It was not difficult to eat a low carb diet month after month, year after year.  I never had a problem turning down celebratory cake slices at birthday parties, or dessert when eating out.  I haven’t felt a desire to patronize the snack machine at work except for an occasional bag of peanuts. 

    When I read that eating carbs begets an urge to eat more carbs, I believe it because I’ve been through it and I see it all around me every day.  There’s little satiety in carbohydrates.  Conventional nutritional wisdom tells people to fill up on fiber to make them “feel full” and therefore fend off their appetite.  I’m amazed when I think about how infrequently I feel any hunger at all, in fact, I probably eat when I do because it’s “time” to eat more than for any other reason.

    I’m still looking forward to correcting the results of my backsliding, and maybe, just maybe, this time I’ve learned my lesson for good.  Anything’s possible.

    Kitchen Experiment #13 – Ham & Cheese Biscuits

    As mentioned in previous posts, I’ve been exploring George Stella’s cookbooks and had played around with his ham and cheddar morning muffins – except that I used SPAM instead of ham because of a poor cellphone connection (should have used Sprint).

    Anyway, I had enjoyed that experiment, so I thought I’d come up with my own variant. I had some store-cooked deli ham that needed to be used up, so I decided to make the muffins (or biscuits – what is the difference between the two anyway?) with the much maligned american cheese instead of cheddar.

    Here’s the ingredients:

    • 1-3/4 cups soy flour
    • 3/4 lbs sliced deli ham
    • 7 slices american cheese
    • 3 large eggs
    • 3/4 cup heavy cream
    • 1/4 cup granulated Splenda
    • 1/2 cup sparkling water
    • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder

    I first set my convection over to 375. I then chopped up the ham and cheese. I wanted the ham ‘chunkier’ this time so I sliced the pieces approx. 1/2″ square. I did the same for the cheese.

    I mixed the other ingredients in a bowl, then threw in the ham and mixed. OK so far. The problem was the american cheese – the slices stuck together, and I didn’t want huge blobs of the stuff, so I peeled the little squares apart and threw in a layer, mixed, and repeated this until they were all in the batter.

    Now to the muffin tin. I had a problem with the muffins sticking the last time – George Stella recommended using the flour to coat the sides of the tin, but because I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, it took a long time and didn’t work. Genius I am, I decided that just spraying the hell out of the muffin tin with cooking spray would do the trick, so I filled the kitchen with atomized oil and had one throughly greasy muffin tin as my reward.

    Next, I used an ice cream scoop to fill the tins – my thought was that if the batter just drops in rather than getting smeared in, it wouldn’t disturb the oil coating and stick less. I prided myself on my foresight and powers of reasoning.

    Lastly, I had the idea that some low carb ketchup would go well with these – so why not bake some on top? It would dry a bit and be a built in condiment. Sounded like a good idea, but I decided to experiment only on a few of them. I made a well in the center of the top of 4 of them and added a squirt of ketchup to each.

    Batter in place, it went into the oven for 25 minutes.

    After 15 minutes, they looked done, which seemed awful fast. I poked one with a toothpick, but because I put so much darn cheese in the things, it came out gooey – from the batter not fully cooked or from the cheese? I couldn’t tell.

    I let them sit a bit longer – to 20 minutes.

    Took them out of the oven and let them cool for a bit. Then I tried to remove one.

    It was as if they were glued them in place – the cooking spray didn’t work.

    I tried turning over the muffin tin and giving it a bang over a dish towl, hoping the percussion would shake the muffins loose. The muffins stayed put, but the globs of ketchup, not fully dessicated, obediently came free and splashed globs of ketchup on the dishtowel and the counter. Note to self: next time I try this, I’m using those little paper cupcake cups. I used a butter knife to loosen the edges -to hell if I scratch the non-stick finish – it wasn’t helping anyway, and was able to get the majority of the muffins out intact.

    After all this, I gave them a taste. My verdict: not bad. I had them with ketchup and without, hot and cold – they’re good. I froze a few so I can have a grab-and-run snack when I need it.

    Next time I’ll probably try less Splenda – I had already cut back from George Stella’s recommendation of 1/3 cup, but it was still just a tad too sweet. I also like the ketchup idea and will probably try it again with a thinner layer of the stuff rather than a blob.