Pretty Soon Now You're Gonna Get Older

I've entered a new phase of life, and it is terrifying. I am among the lucky to make it to this point, and I am grateful for all that has gotten me here. But I am at that point where I have realized I am most definitely in the second half of life, and what lays ahead of me is decidedly shorter than what is behind. This frightens me. It also is awakening in me a sense of urgency, a nudge to stop and consider how I am spending my time, how I want to spend my time, who I want to stay around with me.

Read More

Counting Points, and Surviving the Holiday Buffet

Quite recently, I went in for my annual physical. There I was made to step on a scale and was then forced to acknowledge my actual weight and discuss the health ramifications. Now, it wasn't too bad. It's certainly been worse. But it wasn't actually good either. So I signed up for Weight Watchers' online program and have been counting Points ever since. And I've lost 10 pounds, affirming my belief that Weight Watchers still is the safest easiest way to lose weight.

Read More

Golden Lady

When I first described her to my spouse, I used phrases like "put together", "a force to be reckoned with", "the most prepared one in the room", and "someone I can learn a lot from". Now that she has passed, I think of several things. A bright shining beacon standing tall, casting her light far and wide, providing guidance and direction to everyone around her. A giant bird from Greek mythology with wings spread wide and so many of us nestled in the warmth of her embrace. She was a role model, a mentor, a friend. She was strong and fierce and a little bit frightening to me at first. She was wide open to life and all its experiences, embracing the joy and the pain and everything in between. She was fearless.

Read More

Holiday Regret and a Resolution for the New Year

The last three months have been quite the food fest. Starting about the time the Halloween candy first appeared on store shelves, we've been gorging on sugar almost non-stop. Until about three hours after the New Year's Day brunch, it's been a constant feeding frenzy. And now here we sit at the dawn of a new year, Alka Seltzer in hand and pants undone wondering how we ever fit into our clothing anyway.

Read More

Know What You're Eating: Stevia

I admit, the catchy tune had something to do with it - those commercials for "all natural" stevia sweeteners featuring frustrated women and a jingle many of us can relate to. And I was pretty happy. I've often wondered why there are some many artificial sweeteners out there (especially in supposedly health items - Airborne anyone?) when there's stevia. Then I read the label. Here are two popular stevia products and what they contain:

Read More

How to Recover from a Sugar Hangover

In my posting about how to host a cookie party , I neglected to mention that as the host, you'll probably be right there with the kids eating cookie dough, as well as icing, candy decorations and the cookies themselves. If we're being realistic, there's a high potential you'll eat more sugar than you have since childhood. Shortly after your guests leave (for me it was about 20 minutes), you'll probably crash, and crash hard. Even with a good meal beforehand (my counterpart provided ham and eggs). Your pancreas will just be overwhelmed, and you'll go down.

Read More

An Inconvenient Truth

Today I faced an unfortunate truth that I have been avoiding for weeks. My cupcake habit has gotten out of control. Sure, it started simply enough. A once-a-week visit to the IcedGems truck on Fridays for a superior deviation from my usually low-sugar diet. What's wrong with that? I thought.

Then I burned some vacation time in August by taking Fridays off. Anxiety set in every Friday afternoon, and I began seeking cupcakes close to home. I justified this in the name of research. I am a food blogger, after all, and it would be remiss of me to not be familiar with the local scene. But then, as slippery slopes go, I began frequenting these local bakeries at other times, not just Friday afternoons, especially Flavor Cupcakery which is located next door to our new favorite restaurant, Fiesta Grill . Who doesn't like a little cupcake after an enchilada platter? I reached a peak of sorts when I stopped by for not one, but six cupcakes last weekend, fully planning on premeditated cupcake deviance during the week.

Over the ensuing weeks since the cupcake habit grew in August, my clothing has been getting a little snug. Still, I persisted in the myth that all was well and that I could get away with such behavior. I've been avoiding mirrors. (One of my favorite habits is to look at myself in the mirror and poke my soft spots to jiggle the fat. This may sound absurd and self-loathing to those who have never done it, but as a formerly overweight person and member of Weight Watchers, I know just how out of hand I can get - having gotten there not just once but twice - and this practice, while not endorse by Weight Watchers, actually keeps me in the healthy eating/healthy weight area. When I stop doing it, I am inevitably in Weight Gain Denial, where I can remain for months while accumulating an extra  20, 30 even 40 lbs, so this is a good thing for me to do. Really.) This weekend I pulled on a pair of jeans that fit comfortably about a month ago. And pulled and pulled and pulled. I held my breath to get them zipped and despaired at the muffin top (cupcake top?) that spilled over the waistline.

OK, so it's actually only been 7 lbs. But, supposedly that is a full clothing size. So, today I eat my last cupcake. It is - appropriately enough - carrot cake. And even though it is riddled with coconut, I am savoring every little bite, letting the dense cream cheese frosting melt in my mouth, because I know it will be a while before I can do this again.

 Farewell Flavor Cupcakery and IcedGems. We've had a pretty good run. Please know that my absence is because your products are just too good. I'll see you again when I can fit into those jeans.

What about the farewell cupcake?

How Did We Survive Before The Boston Market?

Emily Rosenbaum over at the Ms. Magazine blog had something interesting to say about food this week. In this week's post, she writes about how the convenience food industry has managed to convince the American public that cooking from scratch is a monumental task. She indicates that it took them a whole generation to do this, but that they have done it nonetheless. How did they manage that? She discusses the creation of an artificial market for pre-packaged meals that is based on the myth that you cannot get dinner together in 30 minutes or less and  that "processed food freed women from the kitchen, allowing them to join the workforce." Ms. Rosenbaum dissects this in more detail in her blog, and I encourage you to follow the link above and read for yourself.

The end result of people eating less real, home made food is exactly what we have been seeing over the last decade - increases in obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and the acceptance of snacking as a way of life. Convenience foods lack the basic nutrition of the raw ingredients that are used to actually make a meal yourself. Because these foods are not nutritionally sound, they do not satisfy, and soon we must eat again. And again. And again.

The other big problem with convenience foods is how they are flavored. Because any raw ingredients used in these pre-packaged meals has been cooked beyond recognition, additional flavoring has to be added. Over the last few decades, this flavoring has evolved from simply trying to make the food taste the way it should to the creation "hyper flavors". In his book The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite, former Commissioner of the FDA Dr. David Kessler discusses how these hyper flavors change and condition our palates. Various flavors are layered to touch specific senses in a particular way to induce a craving for those flavors even if they do not actually taste like food. My mother discusses this layering concept in her commentary on Dr. Kessler's book here.

As we become convinced that we do not have time or energy to cook for ourselves and increase our reliance on pre-packaged convenience foods and take-out, are we raising a generation that is not only over-weight and under-nourished, but also doesn't know what actual food tastes like? In addition to the increased risk of disease and lower life expectancy, what does our long-term survival look like if we have forgotten how to fend for ourselves?

Food From the Dieter's Perspective

Something interesting happened to me this week. I was at work when I looked at my reflection in the mirror in the Ladies room and didn't hate what I saw. This might sound less than eventful, but think about this for a moment - when was the last time this happened to you?

Like many of my peers, I've been on some variety of diet or weight-loss plan for most of my life. My weight has vacillated from around 100 in high school (all-time low was 93 lbs in 1986) to 185 (2002, shortly after getting an office job, moving to the suburbs, getting married, and not changing my eating habits even though my physical activity came to a screeching halt). I've done Atkins, The Zone, Weight Watchers (which actually worked and got me back down from that high point). I've given up some foods for good - soda, Rice-A-Roni, frozen dinners and other assorted things I know I shouldn't eat. I've also maintained a gym membership since 2002, working out at least three times a week most of the time. Plus subscriptions to various magazines like "Shape" and "Fitness", which basically repeat the same articles every month about how giving up soda and taking the stairs will make me lose 10 lbs. But what if I'm already doing that?

All this attention on weight and what we eat and what we should eat (and what we shouldn't eat) takes a lot of time and energy. Add to it the mental static of being convinced that your own reflection is horrifying every time you are even close to anything shiny and it's a wonder some of us accomplish anything. It certainly explains why I felt like shit after those Suzy-Q's the other day. Sure, part of it was the sugar and chemicals and other assorted bullshit that no one should eat - ever. But part of it was also a good dose of self-loathing for indulging in a 200-calorie snack. (I know this because I googled "Suzy-Q" to get the calorie count before I hit the vending machine. I do this every time I think about something in the vending machine. Sometimes several times in a single day.) That lasted for a good day or so.

I know more about the caloric content of junk food than I do about world geography. Meanwhile, my male counterpart can hand-draw a map of the Middle East and correctly label all - yes all - of the Stans (Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kurdistan, etc.) Why? Because he doesn't feel like crap after every meal, snack, desert, secret binge in the middle of the night. He sees food as something nourishing, to be shared and savored. I see food as a necessity and something to have as little of as possible. Food relaxes him and makes him feel satisfied. It stresses me out and most meals leave me feeling lousy for hours (sometimes even days) afterward.

Of course, this is not how it should be. This denial of a basic need that so many of us devote so much of our time and energy to distracts us from real happiness. It can lead to the opposite of dieting - overeating. I've watched this other end of the spectrum among my family and friends. Either situation results in a maladjusted view of food and self.

There is a wealth of reading material available about this now, from "Eat, Pray, Love" in which a woman reclaims her sense of self by first reclaiming food, to "Women, Food and God", a seriously deep dive into recovering from eating disorders like bulimia and overeating and building a normal relationship with food. Plus a lot in between. I've been reading some of these and, while interesting and easy to relate to, they are all somehow unsatisfying. They contain truth, but no real answers, no resolution for us chronic dieters.

So how do we get so fucked up about this in the first place? How old were you when you first started dieting? What was your favorite dieting short cut? (Mine was always water pills) Can you maintain a normal weight yet? I'm still gaining and losing the same 20 lbs on a regular two-year cycle.

I'll admit, I'm at the high peak of that weight-loss cycle and just gearing up to drop those two sizes. When, out of the blue, in the middle of a busy, hectic day when I was preoccupied thinking about really what it is I am supposed to be doing, I caught a glimpse of my reflection and thought it was OK. I stopped and took an actual look at myself. And it was still OK. Even that belly. I went to my toning class at the Y and thoroughly enjoyed my dinner and slept soundly that night without a trace of anxiety. If I figure out how to make this last, I'll let you all know.