Hunger, Cravings, Obession, and Food as a Utility – A Repost from 2008

[Did you ever get a rush of motivation out of nowhere to, say, clean every drawer in the house? Every one?

Full of energy, you go from room to room, drawer to drawer, pulling out the various effluvia you’ve collected over the years and NOW you’re going to clean house.

Once you’ve done that, and begin to try to make sense of the half-pencils with the rubber bands around them over there, and the pile of baseball cards from when you were a kid over there, and sll those extra packets of cut flower food you unnecessarily grabbed over there…your motivation suddenly slows…

…What is all this junk?!? Why do I have this stuff again? You begin to question your sanity, wonder if you shouldn’t call a reality show to film this mess and at least make a buck off of this on ‘Hoarders’.

And then you find that thing that you found so long ago that you forgot that you had it. It’s really why you decided to clean out every drawer in the house in the first place – you just didn’t know it. 

Four years later, this post from 2008, was exactly what I was looking for. It’s what I needed to continue New Happy Shiny Weight Loss Success.]

The ironic part of any diet is that so much of the focus is on food. For us low carbers, as well as for anyone following any sort of diet regimen, there is an almost all-consuming immersion in selecting, weighing, calculating, supplementing, hydrating, exercising, logging, and analyzing of just about every input and output our bodies have.

Many of us got fat in the first place not just because of unfortunate food choices, or because of an inherent tendency toward overweight, but also because of an obsession with food.

A diet replaces one obsession – overeating – with another obsession – regimented eating – which is a good thing in a way.

I’ve made the observation that it’s not easy to give up something like an obsession toward food. There’s too many psychological aspects to this. It plays to your strengths to feed your desire for a food obsession by channeling the energy into a diet regimen that allows you to obsess on that, so you trade a less healthy obsession about food for a more healthy one.

Let’s be clear: obsession in and of itself is not a bad thing. When I get on an airplane with my family, or ride in an elevator, I sure hope that the person who designed them was obsessed with making them safe.

I believe that this is a valid, and healthy way to lose weight. There’s a moral overtone to the word ‘obsession’ – one that connotes some sort of weakness or illness. That isn’t always the case. Obsession is just a stronger than average focus and concentration on a particular subject. If the result of this obsession makes you happier and healthier, then there is nothing wrong with it.

But as of late, I’ve been wondering if there is another way to think about weight loss.

As part of this, I first started thinking about the notion of hunger, and I believe that, at least in my case, there are 3 different types. They are:

  1. Cellular hunger. Your body is hungry from a genuine lack of food.
  2. Carbohydrate-triggered hunger. This hunger stems from eating too many carb-laden foods. Some time after eating them, you become consumed by a hunger that feels different that cellular hunger. It’s less reality-based, more irrational. This is about the time that an entire pint of Haagen Daz can disappear in a single sitting.
  3. Psychological hunger. This is where ‘comfort food’ resides. Food is fun, and our modern world has conjured up all sorts of goodies to indulge upon. Look at the commercials for food – eating to sustain ourselves is so old-fashioned – now it’s food as entertainment. This also encompasses our food habits – always eat at certain times, events, or locations when you’re not hungry? Clean plates so as not to waste food? These are all behaviors centered around eating food when not hungry.

Our cellular hunger should always be respected, the carb-driven hunger and the psychological hunger can safely be ignored.

Low carb folks can beat number 2 in the above list by avoiding carbs. This is, in my estimation, one of the big benefits to low carb lifestyles.

This only leaves the hurdle of psychological hunger to tackle, but the word ‘only’ is a misnomer, because psychological hunger can be a real bitch.

Part of the problem with psychological hunger is identifying it as such. How do we tell? And how do we deny ourselves?

Intellectually, a look back at what we’ve eaten and when can allow us to determine when psychological hunger strikes. Did you eat a properly-sized portion of healthy, low carb food just an hour ago? Then it’s probably some sort of psychological hunger. I’m not big into over-analyzing this – the why of this psychological hunger is really not all that important in this particular analysis. The thinking goes: I’m hungry. I ate an hour ago. It isn’t real hunger. End.

Great – you’ve intellectualized the problem – but you’re still hungry. What do you do except deny yourself food when you want it? And folks, there is so much psychological and sociological BS surrounding this denial that you can drown in it.

Hunger in and of itself is a form of discomfort in the body. We all live in a world filled with discomforts – my chair hurts my butt, the lighting in the room is poor, my knees hurt, etc., etc., etc.

The difference in hunger as a discomfort is that, perhaps more than other discomforts, the hunger can bring with it fear. Some people are scared of being hungry. They can’t allow it to happen. This conditioning probably goes back to the caveman, and gave him that extra something needed to take on that angry mastodon that didn’t feel like being a meal for a bunch of hairy ape-like human precursors.

Some of us – probably the thinner folks – don’t have this fear. These are the ‘eat to live crowd’. They get hungry, but they don’t have the same fear attached to the discomfort.

Do you think ‘fear’ is too strong a word? Maybe, but ask yourself this: have you ever stocked up on a food because you were afraid to run out? That’s the fear I’m talking about.

So, in this day and age, with our refrigerators stuffed with food, and the grocery store open 24 hours a day for some of us, why would we somehow have a fear response that would be more appropriate to a person cast adrift on a life raft with a few cans of beans?

I’ve been questioning this response as of late and it seems that one way to explore this is to treat food as a utility. Imagine food as utilitarian as electricity. You’d never buy gourmet electricity – it’s the energy for other processes and just needs to meet a few criteria of voltage, wattage, and amperage to power your electric gizmos.

What if, as an experiment, the effort was made to think about food in the same fashion?

What if we say to ourselves that food is energy for other processes, not an end in itself. It has to meet minimum criteria for nutrients and calories to ensure health.

Nothing more than that.

Food ceases to become all the things that have surrounded it for a few millennium: social ritual, symbol of abundance, sensual pleasure, all disappear, and food becomes once again what it was to Man before the invention of cooking – and to almost all animals today – just an energy source.

If you follow food as a utility to it’s logical end, your life would be much different. Shopping would be damn simple – a few primary foods that you buy over and over. Your condiment shelf would shrink to a few bottles. you’d throw out less food, try fewer recipes, spend less time in the kitchen, eat more leftovers, probably, as freshness of a meal is an aesthetic aspect of food – only after the first few days does the lessening of nutrient quality and the potential for contamination make the food inedible.

You’re probably thinking I’m nuts about now, but this thought-experiment shows very clearly just how much about food has little to do with sustaining our bodies.

All of these thoughts came to mind as I thought about the period of time that I lost the final 15-20 lbs. I had decided to lose when I first went on Atkins. I had stalled at about 200 and stayed there for a year.

Then my family and I started the process of moving to a new area.

I recall the time as being one where I was very busy. There was no time for much more than work, sleep, and preparing for the move. The time for purchasing, preparation, and eating of food had to be compressed as much as possible.

For a few months I had to ‘eat to live’ – and the weight that refused to budge for a year came off seemingly by itself in about 3 months.

Well, that weight came back soon after the hustle and bustle of the move died down and I had some extra time. I then bounced back to that 200 lb. setpoint and hover around that today.

So what strategies might come from reflecting on that ‘live to eat’ experience that I can put into place now?

  • Get busy. Honestly, there is so much I can do other than eating that food frequently becomes a form of procrastination. Clearly outline what these projects are, and get to it.
  • Enforce a personal ‘food austerity’ program. I am compiling a short list of simple, healthy, low carb foods that are quick to prepare. This list is of foods I like, and I can eat over and over – eggs, tuna, fresh meat and fish, romaine lettuce, tomato, squash, Brussels sprouts, cheese, mayonnaise, and nuts are some examples from the list. All fit my criteria for simple and healthy – and not one comes processed in a box with a list of ingredients that looks like an inventory list from a chemicals warehouse.
  • Eliminate as much food preparation as possible. I’ve already written about this, but instead of using these strategies only when time-starved, enforce them at all times. ‘Eat to live’ people don’t spend hours in the kitchen. Salads fit the bill nicely here – and up the healthy veggies. Broiled meats, which might take some time to cook, but little prep time – also work. If you cook for your family, you can still do this and cut the time in the kitchen.
  • Let food go to waste rather than eating it. I don’t know how many unnecessary calories I’ve consumed because a portion size was larger than I needed to be full, or because the kids left behind some food that would have gone to the dog.
  • Notice your ‘Inner whiny child’ – then ignore them. When you hear that voice whining how other people are eating pasta, or ice cream, or any other example of situations where you consider veering off course, step back and recognize that this is only a part of you – it’s not the you that set long-term goals to get healthy and slim. It’s a thought-bubble – a brain fart. Try ignoring it or dismissing it, and you’ll hear it say things like: ‘you are depriving yourself for no reason! You can have a little bit! You’ll feel left out – what if you’re hungry later?’ Etc., etc., etc. Tell your inner whiny child that you’ve set goals for yourself and that they are reasonable – and that there’s nothing to be scared about – getting a little hungry later doesn’t mean you’ll starve to death. It’s funny how easy it is to tell our children that they can’t have an ice cream cone because it’s too close to dinner, but we find it hard to do to ourselves without our minds having a hissy-fit in protest.

Some of you out there reading this might conclude that this would deprive you of food, of choices, and limit you to a restricted regimen. It’s the whiny inner child again saying this. If you base your food list on a limited variety of high-quality food, your food choices will still be far greater and more varied than mankind has had the opportunity to enjoy for almost all of history, and your food obsession is battling reason.

Your inner child is right, in a way: you are depriving yourself of food. But what the inner child, and their short-term interests don’t see, is that an obsession with eating what you want, when you want it deprives you of your goals.

Thank You, Anthony Bourdain: It’s About the Food

I am an idiot. I only have a slight edge over some other idiots in that I am open to discovering that I am an idiot, so that I might actually learn something new, or discover, sometimes to my horror, how something I thought I knew was so blindingly wrong.

For the past month, I have been in an immersive course of Anthony Bourdain and his writing, as well as had the experience of cuisine of another country while on vacation. Not just as a tourist eating at the hotel restaurants, but more like a food anthropologist, spending a good portion of our time in the Caribbean in grocery stores, looking at what the locals eat, inspecting each aisle of the store, fumbling with packages in French, and trying to figure out what the hell was in them due to my not knowing the language.

And never, to my recollection, eating at a ‘touristy’ restaurant. It was either casual French-inspired dining, or simple local fare.

It has been illuminating, to say the least. Continue reading “Thank You, Anthony Bourdain: It’s About the Food”

A Year of Losing Weight – or Maybe Eight Years

Last Thanksgiving, after a year where I had ballooned up to about 238 pounds rather quickly, I recommitted to low carb yet again.

Today, one year later, I am down to 205.

That works out to 33 pounds in 1 year, or 0.63 pounds a week, an absolutely horrible number – if you’re in a rush about things. But for me, its different. I’ve been doing this low carb thing for eight friggin years. It’s not a diet I go on thinking I lose weight, then go back to old habits and somehow thinking the weight won’t come back.

You take a different perspective when you’re in it for the long haul like I am. Eight years ago I was 265. Today I am 60 pound lighter. Plenty of people can lose a lot of weight, and almost all of them gain it all back within five years. I didn’t, which makes me something of a freak.

I’m sure you’d all like to know my secret, and I’d love to tell you – but the more I reflect on it, it’s not all that simple.

I’ve concluded that low carb, at least for me, is not what you think. And losing weight is not just low carb.

Losing weight and keeping it off for the long-term is more of an elaborate con job that a person must consciously perform on their own mind, their body, and on other people. And a big part of the con is that what works now might not work later, so to keep the con going, you have to be prepared to adapt.

For me, 8 years ago, the place to start was Atkins. I got the book, followed it, and got myself into ketosis – lots of ketosis. I got used to living on very low carbs – maybe under 40g per day – and did so for months at a time. The weight came off: 70 the first year, and another 10 the second that got me to my target weight.

I felt great and had more energy and mental clarity than ever. I was also completely insufferable – blabbing on and on about low carb to anyone who would listen. The problem is: no one cares. And if they might care, like other fat folks, they think you are a little nuts to go on low carb.

Being an insufferable food fanatic aside, I had given up alcohol as part of this 2-year go at the diet. This was hard as I had always loved drinking. A die-hard beer drinker, I gave it up forever. At the 2 year mark, however, I thought I could add alcohol (though not beer) back in, so I would have red wine, martinis, and vodka & tonics.

Bad idea.

I’ve done a lot of (ahem) personal research in this area and have concluded that if I want to maintain my weight loss – as well as be able to manage the inevitable weight gain that tries to creep back – I need to completely abstain from the stuff.

So here’s the bargain: drink and gain weight or don’t drink and lose weight and/or keep it off.

I have been trying to prove this bargain wrong for the better part of the past 6 years and have not been able get it to work.

So I’ve stopped drinking, completely, about 6-7 months ago, and I believe it has contributed to my weight loss.

I’m lucky in that my life is not one where the conviviality of alcohol is an important component of my happiness. I don’t go bar-hopping, don’t ‘watch the game with the guys’, nor do I do much of the other things that usually involve alcohol.

I like reading and writing, and spending time with my family. Call me boring.

For those of you that do enjoy partying, I am well aware of the problem. People who drink to have a good time want you to drink as well, and it is awkward to say no. There is also the tendency to think that people who don’t drink and once did must be alcoholics – and if you are not drinking, you not only must be one, but you bring to mind in others that they might be one as well.

It is also hard to stop drinking without sounding sanctimonious.

I think PJ O’Rourke once said something to the effect that: you have to drink to prove you are not an alcoholic.

The subject of drinking came up yesterday with a bunch of young adults I work with. Asking my drinking habits, I said: “If I drink, I get fat – so I don’t drink.” Said to a bunch of skinny kids just getting their start in a world of alcohol-laced good times, I’m sure that I sounded weird. One girl said to me helpfully (as everyone is a diet consultant): “Just don’t drink beer.”

If only…

Our drinking discussion continued as I had much drinking-related experience to share with them, and I doubt I came off as sanctimonious, but you never can tell. No lectures necessary, no detailed personal stories required, except the personal excess stories that people relate in good humor about the joys of alcohol. I remember. I enjoyed them. I have only good memories as alcohol was never a problem for me – I just don’t drink anymore.

So maybe I’m not totally cool, but I’m OK, I guess. Or maybe not. I’ve long ago given up caring what other people think about me, which is handy if you are going to go on a low carb diet anyway.

Next up is that I have come to the conclusion that low carb doesn’t work in the long run. Now, before you freak at this heresy, let me explain.

Low carb is a con job that you can pull on your body and lose a bunch of weight that will stop working after a couple of years.

The good news here is: Low carb works for a couple of years.

In low carb circles, there is talk of ‘The Golden Time’. It’s that magical first-time shot at Atkins where the weight melts off. The story usually continues that the individual relating the story then gains the weight back, and their second go at Atkins does not work as well.

This is a complicated thing to understand (for me, at least), but as I see it, you are fat forever. Once you have gained weight, you have acclimated your body to that weight. No matter how thin you might get, your body remembers that higher weight, and wants to go there again. I read of a study that measured chemical markers (or some such thing) in fat folks who lost a lot of weight and they were similar to the markers of people who were starving.

I can only conclude that the best way to avoid being fat is to never allow yourself to get fat in the first place.

Yeah, I know: a little late for that wisdom.

So all this sucks, and if you’d like to set some time aside to feel sorry for yourself, please do so. I always recommend feeling sorry for yourself as part of a normal and necessary grieving process – but put a solid end date on it. Commit to a solid period of teeth-gnashing, wailing, and hand-wringing, but put a circle around the day on the calendar when you’ll stop. Get it out of your system. Then c’mon back and let’s get back to business.

OK – done feeling sorry for yourself? Then let’s continue.

Here’s why low carb doesn’t work in the long run: your thyroid.

Anthony Colpo, once a darling to the low carb community, has spent enormous time and energy bashing low carb because he experienced symptoms of hypothyroidism after being on low carb for a couple of years. I think he’s right. I myself have experienced some of the same issues he mentioned, as well as others:

  • Feeling cold when other people don’t
  • thinning hair
  • depression
  • crappy memory

As your thyroid controls your metabolism, and a slower metabolism means that weight loss becomes harder, this also means that extreme low carb will ultimately fail – and might lead you to go to a doctor because of the depression and crappy memory and instead of accurately diagnosing the lower thyroid, they misdiagnose you as depressed and put you on a anti-depressant, which might deal with the depression, but provide you with a whole host of new issues to deal with  – and still not address the fundamental issue of low-carb-induced hypothyroidism.

Here’s a link to Anthony Colpo’s article on low carb and hypothyroidism. Please be advised – he’s a bit of a jerk – and he knows it – but I still like him and think that his points here have some science to back them, as well as my own experience.

Anthony’s failure in all this is to think that low carb is bad because people in the low carb community think that low carb is forever. I think they’re both wrong.

I think – and am betting on – that ketogenic low carb is a great way to lose weight, but it’s use is limited to a few short years at most. After that, a more complicated meal plan – one that not only allows for, but needs carbs, becomes necessary to keep the metabolism up and running.

So if you’re new to this – ignore Anthony Colpo for a year or two. Then carefully read what he has to say. Use your one-shot at ketogenic low carb for all it’s worth, and be aware that just when you’ve acclimated yourself to avoid nasty, evil carbs, those same carbs will come back to save your ass from hypothyroidism.

Now, there’s one important assumption that I am making here that I freely admit I might be wrong about – because what the hell do I know?

My assumption is that hypothyroidism induced from ketogenic low carb is reversible. I might also be wrong, not being a doctor, that my self-diagnosis of hypothyroidism is even correct, though the fact remains that hypothyroidism is known to be under-diagnosed, at least this hyperbolic website – Stop The Thyroid Madness – thinks so.

Others do too, but I’m too lazy to link them – find ’em yourself.

Now you might make a reasonable argument here: why would I go on any diet that could cause hypothyroidism? Great question.

I answered that for myself as: because every other diet I tried doesn’t work.

I lost a lot of weight in my twenties by strict calorie counting and exercise. I gained all of it back in a year – and then some.

I lost a lot of weight in my thirties by strict calorie-counting and exercise. I gained all of it back in a year – and then some.

I tried going on an extreme low-fat diet (Dr. Ornish). I never lost any weight.

I went on low carb in my forties and lost 80 lbs., stopped suffering from the symptoms of GERD, stopped eating tums like candy, stopped getting low blood sugar plunges in the afternoon that I could barely keep awake through, have kept a family propensity for diabetes from occurring, had greater mental clarity, and more energy – and have more or less kept a good portion of this weight loss off for most of the last six years, and done so without exercise, which I don’t really enjoy.

I’ll deal with the possibility of hypothyroidism 60 lbs. lighter over all that other stuff. I ‘can’t have it all’.

The introduction of carbs is tough – it’s like threading a needle. I love carbs, and given the opportunity, I would sit and eat a bag of chips like any good fat person could. While I try to avoid bad carbs like the chips, candy, cake, cookies and the like – I don’t.

I do have much less than I used to, before low carb, in the days when my junk food consumption took on awesome proportions, but I am still able to pack away a good amount of carbs before I know it.

This probably has something to do with my 0.63 lb per week weight loss, but there’s another aspect to this.

Sustainability.

Is a diet that goes on for 8 years a ‘diet’? Is the whole concept of ‘dieting’ so screwed up that we are all doomed to fail at them? How can we possibly think that we can undergo some temporary period of deprivation to get thin and we’ll stay that way? It’s rubbish.

I might be spinning a fantasy out of whole cloth, but I might be able to look back at the past couple of years and say this:

After the first few inital years of ketogenic low carb success, the onslaught of age, along with the reduction in thyroid function, combined with alcohol, began the inexorable climb in weight – which I beat myself up over even though it wasn’t really willpower, but rather a combination of things. As I increased the effort, I not only saw no results, but decreased my thyroid function further, making me a cranky and depressed bastard to be around. I then recognized that I was beating myself up over it, with my family as collateral damage to all this, and stopped. When offered carbs, I didn’t act like I was attacked, I ate them. I enjoyed myself, the food I ate, and my family.

And my weight ballooned. Obviously, low carb works for me because when I stray from it even for a few short months, the weight comes back. Like I said before, my body is permanently fat, regardless of my weight, and unless I eat a certain way, I will gain it all back.

I don’t look back at this as a bad thing. It was learning. Effort is not without cost. Willpower can get you through some things short-term, but long-term goals need something else.

When I recommitted last November, it was with the new angle that I would not allow myself to engage in self-abuse as part of the diet. I do my best. If the family wants to do something like go to a restaurant that’s high carb, I do my best there, too. And that might mean carbs, and it might mean a day in the proverbial toilet as far as the diet is concerned, but it’s family, it’s joy, life is a series of moments that never come again, and I am not going to miss them, or participate under a cloud of resentment and acrimony because of a diet.

There are plenty of other times that I can enforce an austerity in eating – a food monotony, if you will – that keeps this all together. Eating at work I reduced to a routine that is simple to maintain and that I enjoy. I have my Fage yogurt when I get hungry first thing in the day – whenever that is. I don’t manage my weight as much as my hunger. Folks – I find this to be the single most important thing you can take from this rambling post. If you manage your hunger, you won’t suffer as much. So I eat when hungry – screw the science about eating breakfast. If it works for you – great. I’m listening closely to find my own rhythms.

Next meal might be a can of tuna or sardines. If I cooked over the weekend, it might be some low carb meal I cooked.

Evenings are hit or miss. Sometimes its low carb. Sometimes not. I always aim for low carb, but if that falls by the wayside, I try to limit the portion size. Considering that my total carb count until evening is possibly as low as 5 grams, coming home and having some bread at dinner, which seems lavish for a low carb dieter, can still keep my total net carbs under 50. One slice of bread is maybe 11 grams net carbs.

You might argue that I am wasting my carb intake on bread, which is far less good for you than the carbs from vegetables. I agree. But unlike alcohol, I would like to maintain a truce of sorts with bread and eat it in limited amounts as the past year has proven I can.

For the past month, I have plateaued between 205 and 210. A lot of dieters get frustrated at plateaus – I’m not. On a long climb, a plateau is where you can rest, reflect, and gain energy for the next part of the hike. Switching metaphors, I went to the casino, and won – and I’ve walked away from the table, and kept my winnings. I still low carb, but I don’t do it guns a-blazing right now. The holidays are coming and I’ll focus on keeping my gains only.

The last part of this regards science. I’m sick of science, really, and at this point I’m giving that a rest. I’ve concluded that if I wanted to, I could pick any position regarding weight loss and nutrition, back it up with science I find on the Internet, and have rousing debates with other folks on the Internet who might believe essentially the same thing as I do, but differ in the details.

It can be quite interesting, the character assassination notwithstanding, but does all this science achieve what we all want it to achieve: health and weight loss?

Looking around, it doesn’t appear so.

Right now I’m spending my reading time on the history of diets and the history of medicines, as well as the sociology of diets and dieting. Without an understanding of history, we can fool ourselves into thinking ‘we’ve got it figured out this time!’ while with history, we can see that sometimes it’s the same damn thing all over again, it’s just this time our technology is better and more precise.

It doesn’t necessarily mean our thinking has evolved, but that we’re more sophisticated fools.

I’m going to conclude this ramble with an apology. I’m sorry I took you through this meandering mess of thoughts. The post I wanted to write is in here somewhere, but my time to write is limited. We’ll have to go with this – and I’m sorry if I wasted your time.

My Core Foods

I have a habit of noodling through an idea, then failing to follow through on it. Luckily, this blog helps me record these ideas when I come to revisit them from another angle.

One of these ideas is the notion of food monotony I wrote about in January of 2010. I’ve come to disagree with a number of the items in this post – in particular, the notion of counting calories, which I find so onerous that I would rather be fat than do it daily. And I don’t think it really works.

The food monotony part, however, has been a direction I’ve gone, perhaps coming to it from that other angle I mentioned.

Part of what I’ve been doing is to work on a new type of tracking system for what I eat. It’s strange, but I have been doing it for a few months and I have been losing weight – not dramatic, but the trend is in the right direction and I am maintaining a lower weight consistently than I’ve been able to in the past 2 years.

The the strangeness of this tracking system is that I don’t track how much I eat – I only track what. If I eat 1 hot dog or 3, all I note for a given day is that I had 1 ‘hot dog as a food’ for the day. This seems to make me focus on ingredients more than quantities, and after a few months, identify what I really like that’s low carb – and what I need to be careful about.

It also shows me very clearly that I can lose weight on low carb and still eat cake, and cookies, and bread – I’m still trying to figure that one out, so please bear with me on that.

Another thing it has shown me are that there are certain foods that:

  • Are high quality
  • Easy
  • Filling and do a very good job of controlling hunger
  • I lose weight eating them
  • Reasonably priced
  • Availability – if I have to search high and low for the stuff, it’s just too high a price to pay
  • Most important: I can eat them over and over without wanting to barf
By charting over the past couple of months my eating in the way I’ve described, I’ve found a few ‘core’ foods that allow me to eat more monotonously without it feeling monotonous. I do mix it up a bit, but some of these I eat quite a lot. I’ll list a couple as an example. You might think my choices are awful, and they might be – for you. Your core foods will probably differ, and you might want to experiment with identifying these.
Having a dead-simple meal plan makes adhering to a diet easier.

One last note: nobody pays me to write about these products, and I don’t get freebies – these are items that I sought out and paid for myself.

I probably eat this stuff 5 days a week. I still don’t really eat breakfast still, so I usually end up having one of these at work sometime before noon. I mix in 3 drops of EZ-Sweetz (a zero-carb Splenda product) and most recently cinnamon (as an experiment – it’s purported to have the ability to increase insulin response). My understanding is that the cultures are good for you, the process that the cultures perform on the milk makes it more digestible, the carbs are not at an Atkins-level, but it doesn’t seem to bother me.

Most importantly, it fills me for hours, and I really enjoy it, even though I eat it nearly every day in work. I usually don’t eat it on the weekends.

I’ve found what I feel are better yogurts – organic, grass-fed – but those little containers are handy, the price is fair, and I can find the stuff, though getting a full-fat yogurt is just too damn hard these days. I typically get it for about $1.79, so I think the price is OK.

I have a deep and abiding love for processed meat, which I don’t like about myself, but I have to live with. These wieners are the absolute best of the worst, as they attempt to remove every barrier that cause people to diss the stuff.

I enjoy them on a romaine lettuce leaf with mustard and have these at least 2-3 times per week.  I can find these at my Whole Foods on most shopping trips. They are about the most expensive dogs you can find – $7 a package, but at a little less than a dollar a dog, given the quality, I’m OK with it.

I know that many of you suppressed a gag reflex when you saw the word ‘sardine’ – so did I when I bought my first can many years ago. Why we have this reflex to certain foods is a complex psychological matter, but since I started low carb, I’ve learned to give good foods a chance. And sardines are good stuff. These little fishies are damn healthy for you – and opening a can of them is as simple as can be. I also find I lose weight when I eat them, and a little can controls my appetite for hours.

Now – about actually liking them.

To be honest, I don’t think I would ever be presented with a plate of the things and exclaim: “Oh, boy! sardines.” I like ’em, and that took a little work and a lot of experimentation. During my original go-round with low carb where I peeled off 80 lbs., I would sometimes have a can of the type in water with a big dollop of mayonnaise and some sweet relish sweetened with Splenda. That sometimes constituted my dinner – it was quite filling.

From time to time over the years I’ve tried different sardines and liked a lot of them, my current fave, however is the one listed above. I eat them straight out of the can at work. It seems like a small amount, but it satisfies hunger if I give it the 10-20 minutes it takes for my body to register that it ate something – then I’m good for hours.

The marinara sauce reduces the ‘sardineness’ of the little fishies. I probably eat this at least 2 times a week – and double that some weeks. These are available at my regular grocery store for considerably less than at Whole Foods – I just paid $1.49 a can.

The light tuna, in comparison to albacore tuna, is lower in mercury, and this particular brand claims to be lower still. The stuff is full of Omega-3 oils, and since I’ve given up on supplements (a story for another day), I consider it to be an important part of my diet.
Another curious fact about tuna is that the cheap-o tuna that you buy has been cooked twice – first on the boat, then in the can. This reduces the quality of the meat – and drains off some of the omega-3 oils, which they then sell to supplement manufacturers. Wild Plant cans the fish on the boat and only cooks it once. You get a better quality and more omega-3.

In addition, they don’t use BPAs in the cans. BPA is a chemical that is known as an endocrine disruptor and just might help make you fat. It’s in a lot of cans, but not these.

Organic Romaine Lettuce Hearts

Romaine lettuce has more nutrients than iceberg lettuce, and a stronger flavor. They also make great hot dog roll replacements – actually, I use these as bread replacements for other things that I would want to throw on a piece of bread. The hearts are pretty crunchy, not limp, and since I really don’t do salads, this is the primary way I get lettuce. These are typically available at my local grocery and cost maybe $1.00 per heart.  A bag of 3 lasts the week.

Whole Foods 365 Brand Canola Mayonnaise

I have to eat mayonnaise – OK? Some things in life are non-negotiable. Unfortunately, every commercial mayonnaise is pretty much made of soybean oil, and I try to avoid soy for the most part.

I could make my own – but I could also learn French, or take up surfing. I know me – I’m not doing any of these. I at least tried making mayo – it didn’t work out. So the reality of having to make a sub-optimal food choice becomes real.

The Whole Foods brand is made of canola – formerly known as rapeseed – not a good food name. Canola was once inedible but through selective breeding they were able to breed out whatever nastiness would make you sick eating the stuff and produced a light oil relatively high in Omega-3 compared to a lot of others.

The stuff I buy is expeller pressed, which means it wasn’t chemically removed from the seeds – which is good. Whole Foods doesn’t sell GMO food, so there’s no salamander genes or Roundup-Ready genes in it. Good.

The not-so-good is that it’s a new food, eaten for less than 100 years, and no one knows if there’s any long-term effects – nobody really knows, though I’m betting on: probably not. One thing that IS known is that it is higher in omega-6 oil than olive oil, but its way lower than a lot of other oils. While you do need omega-6 oil, Americans typically get too much. I reason that my diet doesn’t include all that many sources, so while canola is not great, but it could be worse.

There’s apparently a lot of haters who think this stuff is bleech – but I like it. It’s reasonably priced and I have it maybe a half-dozen times a week. It goes on the tuna above, and whenever there’s cheese – it’s there.

This is a calorie and sugar-free Splenda. Those little packets have maltodextrin in them – a sugar. This stuff the pure splenda. I use this in my yogurt, mostly, so it’s 3-4 drops a day, every day. It’s powerful stuff, and an $11.00 bottle lasts 6 months.

Locavore Grass-Fed Ground Beef

I know the farmer. We talk each week. I know where the cows live. Where and how they are slaughtered. I like knowing this. I think I am paying for quality when I pay what seems like a lot at $8.00 a pound. Some of this has little to do with losing weight, but I do know that the cows ate grass, had no hormones or antibiotics given, and this means fewer chances of residues of that stuff getting into me and perhaps messing up my weight without me knowing it. I’d say I go through a pound a week.

Locavore Organic Eggs

Different farmer. Same story, more or less. We often get these eggs the same day they were laid. The yolks are a deep orange from all the beta-carotene that authentic ‘free-range’ chickens get. The yolks also seem to stand higher than a store-bought egg, which I was told can be a month old by the time you get it. These go for $8.00 a dozen and I have maybe 8-12 per week.

This is only a partial list. There’s other items that cycle in and out, and I am constantly experimenting with new items. Again, the point here is not to slavishly follow my list, but to experiment with your own list and see if it brings you any benefit. If your weight loss program is working for you, don’t mess things up and experiment (unless you’re like me and enjoy experiments), but if you’re looking for another approach, maybe something of this sort will work for you.

Food Paranoia

You know how you sometimes know things but really don’t know them?

I had come across this article in the New York Daily News about veggie burgers. Veggie burgers are looked upon by many as superior replacement for the much-maligned hamburger made from ground up cows. Leaving out the fact that cows are considered a stupid, but somewhat charming and endearing animal that no one wants to watch being ground up, veggie burgers are considered much healthier than the flesh of our barnyard friend and resident of children’s books. It is also supposed to be better for the environment: you picture fields of crops gently swaying in the breeze rather than the chaos of the feedlot and the horror of the slaughterhouse.

Most people don’t picture vats of hexane, a petrochemical byproduct found in gasoline, being used to extract the oil from the pesticide-laden GMO soy that makes up the main ingredient of your oh-so-low-fat veggie burger.

Yep – to make that veggie burger – or a lot of them, at least, you take the soybeans, crush them up, and soak them in this gasoline byproduct, which acts as a solvent and helps the manufacturer extract the oils from the beans and allow the consumer to feel proud of how little fat they are eating compared to those nasty, nasty burgers made from animals.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about the toxicity of hexane – slightly redacted so you don’t nod off:

The long-term toxicity of n-hexane in humans is well known.[6] Extensive peripheral nervous system failure is known to occur in humans chronically exposed to levels of n-hexane ranging from 400 to 600 ppm, with occasional exposures up to 2,500 ppm. The initial symptoms are tingling and cramps in the arms and legs, followed by general muscular weakness. In severe cases, atrophy of the skeletal muscles is observed, along with a loss of coordination and problems of vision. Similar symptoms are observed in animal models. They are associated with a degeneration of the peripheral nervous system (and eventually the central nervous system), starting with the distal portions of the longer and wider nerve axons.

In 1994, n-hexane was included in the list of chemicals on the US Toxic Release Inventory (TRI).[8] In 2001, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued regulations on the control of emissions of hexane gas due to its potential carcinogenic properties and environmental concerns.[9]

Yum!

Anyway, it can’t be all that bad, right? Manufacturers must get all that stuff out. When the extraction is done, it must be completely removed, or evaporate…or something…right?

Again, from Wikipedia:

According to a report by the Cornucopia Institute, hexane is used to extract oil from grains as well as protein from soy, to such an extent that in 2007, grain processors were responsible for more than two-thirds of hexane emissions in the United States.[10] The report also pointed out that the hexane can persist in the final food product created; in a sample of processed soy, the oil contained 10 ppm, the meal 21 ppm and the grits 14 ppm hexane.[10] The adverse health effects seem specific to n-hexane; they are much reduced or absent for other isomers. Therefore, the food oil extraction industry, which relied heavily on hexane, has been considering switching to other solvents, including isohexane.[11][12][13]

If you would like to read the full report from the Cornucopia Institute on soy, it’s here. It’s well worth the read if you are curious about the health benefits of soy.

The issue is larger than just veggie burgers, though. It turns out that most cooking oils are also extracted from their seeds in a similar process, so unless you buy expensive cold expeller-pressed oils where the oil is squeezed out rather than extracted through solvents, your oil – soybean, canola, olive, corn, etc. – has had a little hexane bath.

And don’t think if you don’t use those oils, you aren’t exposed. After the oil is extracted, what remains (at least for corn and soybean) ends up in a myriad of ‘low fat’ products.

This leads me to a larger – much larger conclusion that I already knew, but didn’t really act upon – until now.

I do not trust government to protect me from unsafe food. Nor do I believe their guidelines for healthy eating.

But I am not a scientist. And I take everything I read with a grain of salt. People have agendas. People distort findings. The truth is impossibly hard to find in all the conflicting messages.

So I am proceeding on my own personal set of assumptions. I don’t know if they are right. I don’t know if I am wasting my time. I don’t really know if my low carb diet is going to kill me tomorrow – but it is my decision. If I am wrong, I only have myself to blame. Here they are:

  • Become a hell of a lot fussier about what I eat. Even more so than I am already.  Yes, it makes me even more of a pain in the ass, which might be hard for some to imagine. So be it.
  • Eat animal fat and protein from animals raised properly – from a real farm, not a corporate farm.
  • Get all my carbs from veggies. No grains.
  • Eat minimally-processed foods.
  • Eat everything possible organic.
  • Read every damn label. If any ingredient sounds like something from chemistry class – don’t buy it.
  • If it comes in a box, has a glorious 4-color picture of what it’s supposed to look like when served – don’t buy it.
  • If it comes in a box and is endorsed by the American Heart Association – don’t buy it.
  • If it has the word ‘healthy’ anywhere on the box – don’t buy it.
  • If it is considered a ‘convenience food’ – don’t buy it.
This totally eliminates a wide swath of what I call ‘crutch foods’ – ones that help you stay on a low carb diet because they mimic high carb foods.
Sorry, Atkins bars – this means you, too. And my beloved low carb bread. And my cheap bologna habit.
It means eating a much smaller variety of foods. It means paying a lot more for the organic versions. It means cooking more. It means going to 3 or 4 stores to find what I want. It’s a big damn hassle.
And it might not change a damn thing with respect to my health or my weight.
But I’ve placed my bet.

Losing Weight Without Self-Hatred

About 9 weeks ago, I consciously decided to ‘make peace with myself’ as my wife calls it. I ate what I wanted – including candy and whatnot. Nothing odd here – it’s just that I didn’t beat myself up over it. I bought some new clothes that actually fit me and took the stand that no matter what my size, I should never have to go through the day being uncomfortable in my clothes.

I gained about 10 pounds during this time – and that is OK. It’s OK because I think I needed to do this in order to gain weight without the self-hatred. To prove to myself that I can do it. Maybe I need to love myself at whatever weight – in order to lose weight.

What’s interesting is that this temporary abandonment of a diet has shown me a few things. Continue reading “Losing Weight Without Self-Hatred”

I’d Go for the Cake

I’ve been way busy with work – and my commitment to losing weight has suffered for it.

I have long work-days filled with an extraordinary amount of details to remember – and often need to improv on what I know as meetings are called on a whim and I have to go in cold without prep – sometimes talking to ideas that are not mine that I only saw when the Powerpoint slide was shown in the meeting.

This is all day, every day. While I don’t consider myself a genius, somehow I seem to act like a savant and the words just come from somewhere. I walk out of these meetings and colleagues tell me I did great, while I thought I babbled nonsense.

My mind is shot in the evening – and my hour commute does nothing to clear my head. It keeps firing and knocking about like some old cars that I had where you’d turn the thing off and it would continue to fire and cough for as long as it felt like it.

These kind of days don’t help a diet – especially when you live in a house where people love their carbs. I come home, and the diet goes out the window, as it’s easier to grab the available crap food than it is to start cooking. Continue reading “I’d Go for the Cake”

The Incredible Roasted Kale Recipe

Kale?!?

This green, leafy vegetable appears at the top of the list for nutrient density – calorie for calorie, it packs the more nutrients than nearly any other food you can buy. As part of my project to eat less of better foods, I decided to try it – but I don’t know how to eat the stuff.

I had it once, stir-fried. It was really tough and somewhat bitter, if I recall correctly. I could understand why it has so many nutrients – it lies on that same moral continuum of ‘the better it tastes the worse it is for you’ – which is why deep-fried french fries taste so good. Continue reading “The Incredible Roasted Kale Recipe”

The Food Monotony Project – Day 6 Update

A screenshot from the iPhone app ‘Lose It’

I started what I’m calling the Food Monotony Project on Tuesday, Jan 19, and since that day I’ve eaten mostly to plan. The thinking behind this goes back to a blog post I wrote in July of 2008. I forget a lot of my posts, but the points in this one kept rattling about in my head -I kept thinking: maybe I should try out these ideas for real.

Only took me like a year and a half to get around to it.

This past week, eating during the day was some combo of Atkins shakes and bars. The evenings were mostly bologna on a slice of low carb bread. The calories from Tuesday through Thursday were below my budget of 1,683 (more on that number in a minute). Monday through Thursday worked because I ate my evening ration (hard to call it a ‘meal’) and took a nicotine lozenge right after. Friday was a blowout – way too much food in the evening – simply because I forgot the ‘lozenge after eating in the evening’ rule.

No matter – Saturday morning showed me 6 lbs down since Tuesday – and the application I am using to count calories – Lose It (see screenshot above) – tracks calories by the day and week – which put Friday night into perspective by showing me that – for the week, I was right on track – the previous few days of being below my calorie budget added up to the amount I overate on Friday.

I’m not exactly thrilled to count calories, but eating fewer foods, and foods that are easier to measure, make the task suck less. In reality I am counting carbs first, but watching my calories as well. And – except for Friday, I’ve been able to keep those carbs, on average, in the low 20s. Continue reading “The Food Monotony Project – Day 6 Update”