Can You Be Allergic to Red Meat?

There’s an old saying in journalism: if a headline is stated as a question, the answer is ‘no’.

This might be an exception.

I stumbled across this article in the New Yorker – Can Ticks Make You Allergic to Red Meat? – and figured that while the New Yorker is a perfectly cromulent publication, it isn’t where I would go for science news. So while intrigued, at first I dismissed it as bad science. There’s a lot of it (you’ll find plenty on my own blog).

The gist of the story was that when these ticks bite you, they excrete a substance found in red meat into your bloodstream that your body can develop an immune response to. This results in getting hives and even a tightening throat similar to anaphylactic shock symptoms some unfortunate people get from peanuts or bee stings.

Hoping the editors were asleep at the switch, I began to Google this. I had never heard of this and figured this must be some urban legend.

I wish.

WebMD is certainly a better place to find health information and I found it mentioned there.

I also found it mentioned on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amblyomma_americanum#Meat_allergy

Don’t trust either of them? You can also find it here: http://acaai.org/allergies/types/food-allergies/types-food-allergy/meat-allergy

Being in New Jersey, I selfishly thought this might be confined to Texas – the poor bastards – being it’s called the ‘Lone Star Tick’.

I was wrong – here’s a map of where the ‘Lone Star’ tick can be found.

Lone-star-tick-map-cdcSeems to me to be a very misnamed creature.

I happened to tell this to my 8-year-old daughter and her response was: “Aauugh! That would mean I couldn’t eat bacon!”

I did mention to her that it was an allergy from ‘mammalian non-primate meat’ only, so monkey-meat bacon would be just fine.

She didn’t even grace my nonsense with an answer.

The good news is this particular tick isn’t likely to carry Lyme Disease – just a bushel-basket full of other diseases to fuck you up.

Yet another reason for us to stay inside our hermitically-sealed, climate-controlled houses as far away from nature as possible.

Want ‘nature’? Find a documentary on Netflix!

 

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Week 1 Back on Low Carb: Not Exactly, But Sort Of

Here’s a day-by-day summary of my first week back:

Monday, March 23, 2015 – 257.8

That moment in a soon-to-be-dieter occurs: shuffle to the scale, get on, look at the number – and it hits. A flabby fist shakes at the heavens in defiance: “Damn you! I’m going to lose this weight starting NOW!” The act feels good: I know, I’ve done it for a year and a half. My wife calls it ‘The Tomorrow Diet’ because I would usually cave soon after my defying the Universe and my weight in it and resolve to try again – tomorrow.

This time, however, I managed to muddle through the day. I had done some prep the night before. Not exactly knowing I was going to plunge into a diet the next day, I had made some pork belly and eggs and created cup-sized portions for lunch the following week. I hadn’t lost my instinct to do these sorts of things – I just ate like crap alongside these behaviors.

I decided to skip the pork belly and just brought Fage Greek yogurt and butter to work. I put butter in my coffee and ate the Fage with the zero-calorie EZ-Sweetz. I decided at the outset that artificial sweeteners, which I have tried to do without on other attempts, would be A-OK – I lost 80 pounds guzzling them down my initial go at this in 2003. I wasn’t going to worry about them now.

I also bought some of that MiO ‘water enhancer’ – the ‘energy’ type that contains caffeine. That does help me get more water into my system – and the caffeine did help replace some of the coffee as my stomach had not been feeling good as of late and I cut beck.

Once out of work I passed through the gauntlet of stores and the fast-food restaurants with some concern – but I didn’t stop.

At home after work I had the pork belly and egg – swimming in pork fat and kicked up a notch with Tabasco sauce. Good stuff.

I then screwed up a bit, having two dinner rolls the size of a baby’s fist with butter, then mozzarella and tomato. Rumor has it a bit of chocolate cookie was also consumed.

Not a picture-perfect start, but way better than I had been doing.

Cals: 1,832
Fat: 146 (72%)
Carbs: 62g (14%)
Protein: 68.4g (15%)

Tuesday, March 24, 2015 – 255.4

Weight down a bit. Meh. I got my work cut out for me. A little more in the groove, I added a can of tuna to the day’s routine above, and had the pork belly for dinner again. I also had an avocado and 2 ounces of American cheese.

Cals: 1,506
Fat: 120 (70%)
Carbs: 30g (8%)
Protein: 86g (22%)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015 – 251.8

Screw the weight loss – I was feeling a lot better already. My Tums usage had plunged and I didn’t hit the snooze button a dozen times before dragging myself from bed. My energy was returning. I was also beginning to feel some of that weirdness that comes from going into a ketogenic state. Headache, though mild. A slight dizzy feeling. All manageable – and familiar.

I got derailed by an afternoon hunger that just wouldn’t quit. I had my yogurt but then tucked into to way too many macadamia nuts, then a can of sardines kept for emergencies, then another yogurt. Lastly, I had 2 squares of the Lindt dark chocolate with butter between them like a sandwich. This was way better than I expected – the butter adding the creaminess the brittle but tasty hard chocolate was in short supply of. I’d have to remember that trick.

It didn’t stop there, though. Home was some fresh-made potato salad and steak. I could have left the potato salad alone, but that didn’t happen. Four large slices of pepper jack cheese an a few slices of low carb bread also helped to put me way over the top. It wasn’t worth counting – or I was too mortified to try.

Thursday, March 26, 2015 – 254.2

Despite the excess eats and the weight gain, I was feeling way better and sleeping better. A bad day here and there wasn’t the problem – it was too many of them in a row. I switched things up a bit and brought the pork belly concoction at work, though something that oily is almost like handling nuclear waste in an office – and I’m glad no one asked me what I was eating.

I was a bit hyper as well. Caffeine has a stronger effect on me when I go low carb and it showed. I apologized in a meeting and blamed the coffee for my over-exuberence.

I was hungry on the way home and had a number of fast-food fantasies as well as internal negotiation (‘If I get the double cheeseburger and throw away the bun…’) but I resisted.

At home I had almost a third of a head of lettuce with 3 ounces of cheese, then a bit later caved for some of the potato salad. I also had some of the leftover kilebasa and hard-boiled egg mixed with mayo on a slice of low carb bread.

Not a perfect day – but not a bad one, either. I was off to shaky start, but trending in the right direction at least.

I decided not to count just because whatever measurement I came up with would be wrong – and counting all the time, well, sucks.

Friday, March 27, 2015 – 252.4

Another uneventful day at work. Had a Greek yogurt and that’s it. I do drink maybe 4 cups of coffee, and a 16 oz glass of water with the MiO energy stuff squirted in – one with 2 tablespoons of psyllium husk, the other without.

Psyllium husks, typically used for constipation, were a staple of my first time on low carb. This is what Metamucil is made out of. Here’s the thing, however: it might have other benefits. I’ve read that it can act as a prebiotic, and while no one is really sure, it might – just might – have had a hand in my initial weight loss.

As this is a possibility, I’ve added it back in.

For dinner I bought hot Italian sausages and cooked them with 4 onions and olive oil until the onions were nicely carmelized and the sausages cooked. The entire family pounced on them and I ate their leftovers – the sausage and onions along with boiled potatoes.

I also had a few glasses of red wine and one large sugar cookie.

Saturday, March 28, 2015 – 250.4

A quick review of the past weeks shows what I’d call a pretty poor performance at doing low carb. Despite that, however, I’ve shaved off over 7 pounds. I’d argue that it’s water weight mostly, and nothing to crow about, but two things jump right out:

  1. I have certainly stopped the upward trend of weight gain – at least in the past 5 days
  2. I have lost what most people would consider a considerable amount of weight in a short amount of time

I also feel better in general.

But what have I done right, exactly? Right now I think it’s little more than:

  • Keeping clear of takeout food – burger, pizza, and sandwiches at lunch
  • A level of accountability about what I eat
  • A lower carb level

Even though I’m not keeping my overall calorie intake to what’s considered an ideal level for me – and my carb levels are too high for generating ketones, it’s apparently been enough to start a course change.

In a way I’ve failed, however: I expected to be in a full-out ketogenic state. Perhaps this is a better way to start, though: easing into it.

As far as the day went, weekends can always be a problem because being home makes me much more able to grab a snack when I like. It’s far too easy to eat as a cure for boredom and I don’t consider any attempt to navigate a diet to be successful until I’ve run the gauntlet of a weekend.

By my reckoning, I ate too much. After coffee and cream in the AM, as well as an extra-large Dunkin Donuts coffee with cream, I came home and had another serving of the pork belly and egg I had made earlier in the week. Not content – though I should have been – I followed that up with some kilebasa in mayo on a piece of low carb bread.

Late in the afternoon I had a few ounce of American cheese, as well as some egg salad on another slice of the LC bread. A bit later, cleaning up, I found a jar of Tapenade misplaced in the wrong cupboard. What is one to do with a misplaced item?

Eat some, of course.

I had it with some pork rinds.

It was some time after this that the family decided to go out for dinner. I hadn’t planned for this, but I was also easing in to the diet and we really needed some time together as a family because, as of late we’ve all been too busy in our own stuff to spend much time together.

I’d survive.

We decided to go to a new restaurant, Seasons52. I wrote a review for the place that you can find here if you’re interested. I had a bit of flatbread with lobster, mozzarella, and diced peppers, and for the main course had a cut of roast salmon on a cedar plank with a creamy mustard sauce and the root vegetables potatoes and carrots. I skipped dessert but did have a taste of my wife and daughter’s. It wasn’t part of my diet plan, but it wasn’t an outrageous cheat, either.

Sunday, March 29, 2015 – 252.0

A minor uptick in the weight is nothing to worry about – I drank a LOT of water the night before and whatever triggered this usually like to retain some of it for a while. What I continue to notice are the things that have nothing to do with the scale that are changing. I woke up rested at 6am. This sort of thing had stopped happening a while ago. It’s coming back. My upset stomach, the unquenchable fire in the belly each time I eat, has disappeared. The feeling in my throat where it felt like I couldn’t eat when I haven’t eaten for a while has also gone.

I haven’t gone hungry, shed a few pounds, and have more energy – changing bad habits can be difficult and are fraught with booby-traps that catch you unawares – see ‘ironic rebound‘ – but so far it’s been a gentle and positive easing into a better routine.

I didn’t eat much – not particularly hungry – but did have a bit much wine in the evening as a sort of ‘goodbye’ as wine drinking has never been compatible with weight loss with me.

The combo of which knocked me flat.

Monday, March 30, 2015 – 252.6

So even off to a crappy start I lost 5.2 pounds for the week.

Let’s see if week 2 gets any better as I’ve ‘acclimated’ myself (somewhat) to a new routine.

Seasons52 Restaurant Review

We decided to go to a new restaurant, Seasons52. It’s a new concept to me: a place where the menu proudly states that no entrée is more than 475 calories. There are no ‘endless bread sticks’ or huge portions dripping in butter. The portions are small compared to most chain restaurants, the food carefully prepared to bring out the natural flavors, and the ingredients seem high quality. It is minimalist, portion-controlled, and a much healthier choice than the majority of the restaurants in the area.

Maybe that’s why it was a 2-hour wait to get a table. The place was packed. While the ‘value proposition’ of the place goes against the grain of competing restaurants offering huge portions, perhaps there’s a niche for a place that serves artfully prepared but unpretentious food in adequate portions. It’s an European sensibility applied to food that I would call ‘American’.

The menu makes little attempt to define their food as derived from any ethnic cuisine. Some restaurants have entrees that seem as if they are representing the United Nations, with Italian entries next to Asian entrees next to Mexican entrees – all bearing little resemblance to the authentic cuisines they steal from. At Seasons52, the food is uniquely theirs. I give them credit: it’s a bold move to become the anti-Cheesecake Factory – and I’m sure that – with one not far down the road – many people – having tried this place, never come back because for the same price you get way more food at The Cheesecake Factory.

But for people who don’t need to equate the quality of the dining experience with the volume of food nor the number of ingredients, Seasons52 might be worth a try.

The first thing you notice is that there is no free bread at the table. Instead, they sell different varieties of flatbreads as appetizers, baked with a selection of toppings. We ordered a lobster and mozzarella flatbread and a long, thin bread, topped with not only lobster and mozzarella, but basil and diced peppers and squirted with a bit of lemon arrived on a long, flat board designed just for this dish. The long rectangle was cut into 8 triangular pieces and we each got two. They were delicious, with none of the flavors overpowering the others.

When we were done we wanted more – but isn’t that the long-forgotten point of an appetizer? Americans have become accustomed to going to a restaurant, filling up on bread, sharing a big appetizer, then forcing down what many times ends up being a mediocre entree.

The entrees were consistent in philosophy and execution as the appetizer. We each had ordered different ones: I had a cut of roast salmon on a cedar plank with a creamy mustard sauce and the root vegetables potatoes and carrots – not a lot in terms of portion-size, but all the ingredients clearly were high quality and did not need to be tarted up with sauces and unnecessary spices. I very much enjoyed my salmon dish and was satisfied without being stuffed.

My wife had the carmelized scallops which came on a bed of roasted crushed potatoes with some small amount of vegetable mixed in. I had a bite of the scallop and they did a wonderful job of adding just the right touch of sweetness without overpowering the taste or ruining the texture of the scallop – a delicate balancing act done successfully.

My older daughter had a pork chop with some sweet potato mash. Again the same sensibility. I did not try this, but both my daughter and wife remarked how tender and flavorful the meat was.

My youngest daughter had the pasta. Again – the same sensibility. Instead of piling on the cheap pasta and throwing shrimp in top then drowning it in sauce, the pasta complemented the shrimp in roughly equal proportions, with fresh spinach added and a light sauce that didn’t steal from any cuisine but came straight from the restaurant’s own esthetic.

My older daughter, who is long and lean as well as a lacrosse player, can tuck away quite a volume of food, yet at the end of the meal announced she was stuffed. I imagined that very few ‘doggie bags’ were carried out of this place. To me, a ‘more-is-better’ type of person (the reason I’m fat), they executed the ‘less-is-more’ approach to food flawlessly.

But we weren’t done yet.

Their execution of the ‘dessert menu’ is again sensible – and shrewd.

We were stuffed – remember? They do not ask you if you want to see a dessert menu – instead they bring over a tray of desserts – each in a small glass – dessert flights as they are called. Each is a tiny taste of decadence that won’t make anyone feel guilty about having dessert. The shrewd part is that: the dessert is *there*. They bring it to you without you asking for it, entice you with the actual dessert and not a picture, and if you want one they take it off the tray and give it to you. Immediate gratification after putting the damn thing right under your nose.

Our reservation was after 9pm it was late by then and the kids were fading fast, but were roused by the dessert. While I skipped it, the three of them took one. I had a taste of two of them. Again, well done, with flavors that complemented rather than competed. My wife got one with a tiny squeeze tube of amaretto so you could apply just a few drops to heighten the experience.

Seasons52 is food crafted with the precision of a Mars mission. It is novel approach for an American chain restaurant. When ‘healthy’ food is served at restaurants it usually flops – or is done as a sneaky psychological ruse. In fact, many chains put healthy items on the menu knowing full well that it lures customers in – who then order the high-calorie decadent stuff next to it. Others put faux healthy items on their menu – usually salads – then pack so many calories into the thing that your perceived sense of restraint was instead a sneaky con job by the restaurant.

Here the food is honest, minimalist, and fulfilling. It’s a fine dining experience in a relaxed atmosphere with beautiful woodwork throughout the space – yet it avoids pretension. As I stated before, this is the anti-Cheesecake Factory down to the decor – The Cheesecake Factory having the most overwrought, overstated, and garish decor and architecture that screams everything but good taste.

Seasons52 only has about 42 locations so far in the US, but if you have the opportunity to try it out – and don’t feel like you are somehow being cheated by not getting ‘endless breadsticks’ or huge portions, it’s worth a try.

Kitchen Experiment: Low Carb Pork Belly Chili

It didn’t start out as ‘pork belly chili’. In fact, I had no idea what I was making. There was a nearly 2 pound chunk of pork belly aging in the freezer and I needed to make something low carb for the coming week. The pork belly would be the star – but who would be the supporting characters?

I put the still frozen pork belly in the oven at 300 degrees and shook some of Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute – a mix of spices that seems to work for anything – on top. I tented the thing with foil and went to Trader Joe’s to figure out what was going to be the supporting characters for our porky star – and hoping the house wouldn’t explode while I was away.

The place was crowded and my first choice – cauliflower – was nowhere to be found. Trader Joe’s is a great store, but produce is not one of their strong suits. Instead I rounded up the following:

  • 2 green peppers
  • 2 eggplants
  • 1 container of organic white button mushrooms

These are all good low carb ingredients, though one might quibble over minor flaws in each of them if you really tried. Eggplant is part of the ‘deadly nightshade’ family, for example.  I didn’t want to play that game of going so extreme to analyze each one to that level of detail. They might have their flaws, but they were ‘good enough’.

At home I added some things from the cupboard and some castaways:

  • 3 onions
  • 3 jalapeno peppers
  • 1 box of cherry tomatoes that had not aged well after being abandoned in the vegetable drawer. I cut away the bad parts and tossed them in.
  • 1 large can of fire-roasted tomatoes

I had let the pork belly cook for 2 hours, then had taken it out to cool. Once I could cut it without getting burns I chopped it into bite-sized pieces and tossed it in to the veggies I cut while it was cooling. The beauty of pork belly is it comes with its own oil, so the vegetables cooked in delicious pork fat.

I peeled the eggplant and diced it into small chunks – going for roughly the size of the pork belly chunks – about the size of a pinky tip.

I had no idea what i was creating until it was done. When I tasted it, it had too much of an eggplant taste. Blech. I then decided to turn it into a chili by adding:

  • chili powder
  • cinnamon
  • cumin

No measuring, just eyeballing. I *do* tend to be heavy-handed on the spices, if that’s any help. Lots of chili powder, half as much cumin, and half of that in cinnamon is the best guidance I can give.

When my carnivore daughter came home her nose caught a whiff of meat, chili powder and cumin. Her eyes widened: “What smells so good?”

“Chili.” I said.

What I haven’t told you is that she is not too fond of pork belly. Bacon she’s good with – in fact, any part of any animal – if prepared well – had better watch out. THIS 16-year-old girl will not be turning Vegan any time soon.

“Is it ready?” She asked.

“Yep”.

She took a bowl and tried some. She gave me the thumbs up sign as she ate. While she has a sophisticated palate for a teenager, she has been exposed to Dad’s low carb cooking for over a decade. While she would rather starve than eat anything sub par – I wish I were the same – she liked this.

I personally find that the eggplant, if diced into small pieces, can bulk up the chili – and eggplant has the wonderful ability to soak up oils which works well with pork belly. The strong flavors of the spices minimized the eggplant flavor notes – which just did not go with pork belly in my estimation – and made the texture more complex.

I’ve done similar recipes – I’ve played with the definition of ‘chili’ enough to create what some people would label ‘abominations’ – but this one got readily eaten by the members of the family who could care less about diets and low carb, so for me – it’s a keeper.

What Does Gaining 50 Pounds Feel Like?

It might be worthwhile at this point to spend some time detailing how it feels to gain 50 pounds. It can be summarized as ‘it sucks!’ but beneath that lies a litany of things that ought to be detailed in case I forget.

My newfound shortness of breath. Wearing a 50-pound bodysuit every day makes me winded easily. My disdain for exercise doesn’t help here, but I’ve certainly noticed that climbing a flight of stairs can leave me winded to a point where I need a minute or two to catch my breath. Just the normal exertions in life – like rummaging through a low cabinet for some cooking gizmo – can do it.

A rekindled relationship with massive amounts of Tums. If you follow the stock market and see the stock of the company that makes Tums go up unexpectedly – that’s me. It seems nearly *any* carb-laden food that ‘normals’ regularly eat quickly turns into a fire-bomb in the pit of my stomach soon after. Only a handful of Tums can extinguish this.

The resurfacing of GERD symptoms. Waking at night choking. Coughing, sometimes for a good part of the day. It’s connected.

The lack of accessibility to body parts. My feet seem further away and putting on socks has become bit of a challenge. This ain’t cool. I don’t like to think of myself as handicapped nor incapacitated, but being close to not being able to get my own damn socks on is one of those things that is really pissing me off. I wrote a review of mobility scooters as snark – it’s beginning to seem my fate if the current trend keeps up.

The snoring. Apparently quite loud according to innocent bystanders. Might involve sleep apnea, which at the worst isn’t good for your health long-term – oxygen being somewhat important to we humans – but it also ensures a crappy sleep, which is going to contribute to…

The total lack of energy. While there are bursts of energy here and there, the default state is ‘tired’. I wasn’t exactly a ball of energy to begin with given my love of sloth, but I could rise to the occasion when needed. Now I am more or less exhausted by the time I *get* to work, revived by coffee, then go home completely spent. I’m pretty much worthless in the evenings – a pile of protoplasm in sweatpants with butt affixed firmly to couch until I drag said butt to bed.

Joint pain. Especially my knees. I’ve known a number of people who’ve had their joints sawed out and replace with spiffy titanium substitutes, but I’m the kind of guy who’d like to make due with the knee joints I was born with. This dovetails nicely with my plan to use this as an excuse to not exercise until I’ve done some serious debulking, but this is a topic for another post.

My diminishing wardrobe. My clothing choices are becoming less and less, and the few items that still fit are comically tight. The button of my khakis is about to come off so I need to get out the sewing kit – and I’ve become more fond of the riveting used in jeans as it can better hold back the boatload of blubber attempting to burst from its constriction within garments to small. I haven’t even gone into how uncomfortable I feel in my clothes.

My crappy blood work. Bad cholesterol high. Triglycerides high. Blood sugar elevated. A doctor warning of a 17% potential for a heart attack within 5 years and pushing statins. My blood work was always pretty good when I kept the carbs to a minimum and swam in fat.

People telling me I’m not fat. I’m not sensitive about my weight. I’ve gotten fat – and I’ll come right out and say it. When I hear people say: “Oh, you’re not fat.” despite the evidence in front of them as well as my forthright admission, I translate this to: “Oh. My. God. You’re. Fat. You’re so fat my prefrontal cortex has shut down and I’m sputtering lies because I don’t know how to deal with how fat you are.”

All of this I attribute to eating like a ‘normal’: don’t get all hung up on this ‘carb’ thing – just eat what you like in moderation and you’ll be fine.

Plenty of people pull this off. I can’t. I have to accept this.

It Doesn’t Get any Worse Than This

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As I write this, watching the circle of pointlessness spin on my work computer to remind me that it is too busy to allow me to work, I thought I would take a few minutes to say: hi, I’m back.

A few things have changed, however:

For a number of reasons, some known as well as some probably unknown, I have gotten fat again – really, really fat. This morning I was 257.8 – the highest I’ve been in a decade. If you’re going to fail – fail big – and that’s what I’ve done.

The weight gain has been phenomenal. It appears I have no set-point. For the past year and a half, I’ve averaged a 1.6 pound weight gain per week. It doesn’t ever seem to even plateau – like the energizer bunny, it just keeps going and going.

Clothes have become a bit of a problem – like they don’t fit anymore, but I stubbornly stuff myself into them regardless. I refuse to buy new ‘fat clothes’ because I refuse to cave to the obvious: I’ve gotten fat and my clothes are going to experience stress-failures soon. Buttons will pop and seams will be bursting soon if I don’t get new clothes or reverse the course of my weight fast.

I have also mostly abandoned low carb, which had worked for me so well in the past. At present that seems a mistake. When my doctor saw me recently he commented that this proves low carb doesn’t work because it is unsustainable – this despite my keeping the weight off for nearly a decade.

Needless to say I don’t follow my doctor’s diet advice.

I honestly think it had something to do with my appendectomy. Since that time in October of 2013, I’ve gained 50 pounds. My doctor said that it had nothing to do with my weight gain – but this guy also said that gaining weight after a 10-year weight loss maintained by low carb show it to be unsustainable.

It really doesn’t matter if it was my appendix that caused the weight gain or space aliens – what I need to do right now is STOP IT.

When I say it doesn’t get any worse than this I mean I am drawing a line in the sand. 257.8 is the highest weight I’ll be. I am going to lose the weight and will do so by looking back on how I did it the first time. I’ve got a lot of notes, at least 3 unfinished books, and this blog which contains about 500 posts (some of dubious quality) that document just what the heck I did to succeed.

So it’s back to low carb.

The circle of pointlessness has completed its turning – I’ll catch ya later.