“No thanks, I’ve had enough” – What’s that about?!

The herb flatbread was delicious.  I made it myself.  I revelled in the earthy feel as I kneaded the fresh oregano, olives and rosemary into the dough.  I enjoyed seeing it take shape under my rolling pin. By the time I rubbed olive oil, sea salt and more fresh herbs on top of the unbaked bread I thought to myself “wow, I am practically a chef!”  The smell as it baked in the oven was intoxicating. By the time lunch was served the stage was set for a bit of bready over-indulgence.

Herb bread

Herb bread: one plain, one with caramelized onions and mozzarella cheese

Bread is a rare treat for me these days.  I have it once or twice a week at the most and only one slice when I do.  Even then it is homemade, slow rising, with stone ground whole grain flour that I get from Eureka Mills.  Let me save you the trouble: no bread that you can buy in a supermarket can be trusted.  Don’t kid yourself with “Low GI”, “High Fiber,” “Seed Loaf” etc.  They are all made with white flour with a bit of bran added back in.  As much as I love good bread, I try to eat more of my grains completely whole (not ground at all) such as whole oats, quinoa, amaranth etc.

But where there is soup, there must be bread and we were having mushroom soup for lunch.  Hence the herb bread experiment.  I dished up 2 slices to go with my soup whereas these days I normally try to stick to one (in the bad old days I could have eaten the entire flatbread without thinking anything of it)  However, the smell of the bread had messed with my head, and hence 2 slices made their way to my plate.

Let me tell you something a bit embarrassing about myself.  On occasion I might manage to resist going for seconds.  But I have a strict “leave no carb behind” policy for whatever is already on my plate! Once the food is dished up, I have claimed it in the name of my kingdom. It will be mine, oh yes, it will be mine!  When it is in front of me I am not one to worry my pretty little head with the annoying thought that maybe I shouldn’t eat the whole thing.

As good as the bread was, the mushroom soup was pretty darned incredible as well, thanks to Jamie Oliver’s easy recipe.  He had this brilliant suggestion of topping the soup with a bit of lemon juice and lemon zest, which made for a fascinating flavor combination.  I was having my fill of surprising and complimentary tastes and textures, which always raises my level of satisfaction with the meal.

There I was cheerfully eating my bread and soup, well pleased with myself for having produced this meal in my very own kitchen, when I reached for that second piece.  Suddenly I had a very strong, but very unfamiliar message from my brain.  Translated into English the message said: “No thanks, I’ve had enough.”  Whaaaat???  This was a piece of freshly baked, fragrant herb bread we were talking about!  I had already decided to eat it.  I hadn’t exactly gorged myself either.  Just one bowl of soup and one slice of bread. What nonsense was this of having had enough?  I regarded the piece of bread.  It looked utterly delicious as before, but suddenly the thought of eating it seemed completely illogical to me.  It ended up in the fridge in a Ziploc bag for future consumption.

I am sure normal people have no idea what I am talking about.  I bet they have this impulse every day and can’t see how it can possibly merit a blog post.  But maybe there is someone else out there who gets it. Sure, I do stop eating when I am full.  It’s just that this usually well past the point of what I should be eating.  Especially when it comes to “cravable” foods like bread.   The reason that this is remarkable to me is that I stopped eating, not because I was over-full, nor was it because I was exercising restraint or “will power.”  I had already decided to have that second slice.  But some other, here-to-fore unfamiliar intelligence, decided otherwise.

Is it possible that my brain is starting to “see” leptin?  That magical hormone that tells normal people when they have had enough, making them behave, well, like normal people.  The one that many overweight people appear to be resistant to.  If so this is a great relief!  For the past few months I have been free of hunger pangs and cravings, but feeling full enough to stop before finishing what is on my plate is a new experience to me.  My mission is to eat food so delicious that I never crave junk food, so satisfying that I never get hungry, so nutritious that my body gets everything it needs and low enough in calories to steadily and naturally lose weight.  If this bread incident is anything to go by, then score one for The Bold Experiment!

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Diet and Children – Is it all up to the parents?

I recently heard someone who opposes the regulation of sugary food argue for “personal responsibility” and when asked “what about children?” the response was “well, that’s parental responsibility.”    Articles such as this one argue much along the same lines: Junk Food Studies Ignore Parent Responsibility. Really?!

When I hear stuff like this I am grateful that I don’t have kids, because I know that getting them to eat right would be a challenge that I would not be equal to!  However, it has lead me to reflect on my own childhood, the diet I was raised on and the diet I ended up with.

I can’t say enough about my late mother and her understanding of nutrition and the immense skill and patience with which she tried to raise my brother and myself to eat a healthy diet.  I often smile when I think about how much of the “eat real food” advice I am embracing now is exactly the principle that governed cooking and meals in our home.  So much so that I am even digging up her old recipes, and going through boxes in the garage to find old appliances that I used when I learned to cook as a child and later inherited for my own kitchen.  (I have her electric mixer that is older than I am and still works like a dream.) Never was there a mother more committed to giving her kids “the best start in life.”  Although I wasn’t exactly paying conscious attention at the time, I am told that she ate the best possible diet while she was pregnant with me.  She was lean and healthy at the start of her pregnancy and remained that way until shortly before her death.  I was, it goes without saying, breast-fed.

Once I started on solid food my mother tried, with the force of a thousand angels, to keep 2 things out of my diet: sugar and meat.  We’ll get to the meat bit in a moment, but she was up against it from the start when it came to sugar.  I am told that a nurse fed me sweetened condensed milk while I was in the neonatal unit, unbeknown to my starry-eyed 22 year old mom.  When she found out about this she was near hysterical with outrage, and she got to take home her first baby with streaming diarrhea, most likely as a result of the ministrations of this nurse.  I am not sure who told her, but my mother seemed well aware that sugar at high doses is toxic, especially to newborn infants!  However, she got a hard early lesson in just how much “parental control” she would get to exert over the diet of her first born daughter.

Once she had me safely at home, I am told that there was no more sugar for the first few years of my life.  Until a certain someone named granny arrived on the scene!  You know how grandparents are.  The dote on their grandkids and want nothing more than to make them happy.  So granny dearest snuck me my first chocolate and it was love at first bite.  Again, I was later to learn that this was the cause of considerable tension between my mom and my gran.  My gran, however, did not cease and desist from supplying the choccies, she would just slip them to me with the admonition “Don’t tell your mom.”  I was only about 3 years old, but I was eager to play along because I understood that secrecy was key to my continued chocolate supply, and to this day I can’t help but feel that we would have got away with it, had she not made the fatal error of giving me Smarties (candy coated chocolates like M&Ms).  As I clutched the precious treasures in my 3 year old fists, the food coloring came off in my hands, and was later transferred all over my cherubic visage, so when my mom arrived to take me home, gran and I were literally caught red handed!  I will confess that when asked by my mom who had given me the Smarties, I ratted out granny without a moment’s hesitation!

So my theory is that despite my mom’s best efforts, between the nurse and my grandmother the damage was done, and I have been engaging in drug seeking . . . uhm . . I mean sugar seeking behaviors ever since.  My mother began allowing occasional treats at home in the hope that she could prevent my rebellion by not depriving me completely, but alas, these treats were merely in addition to the ones I was obtaining elsewhere, not my total intake. There were the kids at school who I would do lunch trades with, the other kid’s parents who would ply me with candy when I played at their house, and of course, the school tuck shop where I could just blow my pocket money on the cheapest sweets available.  What’s more, when it came to anything containing sugar I was highly susceptible to advertising.  If a new chocolate came onto the market, I simply had to try it.  And then try it again a few more times to confirm that I really liked it as much as I thought I did 🙂  I remember thinking that eternal bliss and happiness would be mine, if my mother would only succumb and buy me Froot Loops instead of that 7 grain porridge she would lovingly prepare at home and cajole me into eating.

So you get the picture: Mom doing everything right, offering whole foods and occasional treats, encouraging healthy eating every which way she could think of.  Me, the addict, sourcing my own supply through skilled manipulation of well-meaning relatives, an illicit sweet trade with friends, and, when I entered the free market as the proud owner of a monthly allowance, through my own buying behavior. I therefore put it to the journalist who argues that “junk food studies ignore parent responsibility” that he has failed to consider a child’s resourcefulness!  Radford writes:

But parents, not fast food chains, have near-total control over what their kids eat. If parents can’t say no to little Billy when he says he wants a Happy Meal, that’s not McDonald’s fault; that’s poor parenting.

He can argue this only because he asserts that the parent is the only person who feeds a child and that children are only able to obtain food from parents.  From this I can only conclude that he is either not a parent, or his kids are remarkably maleable and compliant! I, on the other hand, employed my resourcefulness, not only as an older child, but from the moment I could bat my eyes and look cute.  Family legend has it that as a toddler I would wander around restaurants taking french fries off the plates of other patrons, much to my parents’ horror.  When they tried to intervene and teach me some manners, the other patrons kept reinforcing my bad behavior by offering me more, because I was a cute kid.  You can imagine how easy it was to get me to eat my vegetables with so many more appealing options available to me!

Earlier I mentioned that in addition to a low sugar diet, I was also raised a vegetarian.  Now given my track record on sugar consumption, what do you think my level of compliance was for avoiding meat? Was I scoring cheese burgers on the side? Was I taking a bite out of grandpa’s steak or spending my lunch money on hot dogs?  Given the lengths to which I would go to obtain a food item I craved, would it surprise you to learn that my compliance on the meat issue was 100% and has been to this day?  This notwithstanding a huge amount of social pressure to eat meat, ample opportunity to do so behind my mother’s back and just as many willing accomplices eager to slip me a chicken wing as there were pushing candy my way.  I was having none of it.  No way, no how, not interested, not now, not ever, take your meat as far away from me as possible thank you very much!  I could detect meat at 100 paces and would go to any lengths to avoid it, with or without parental supervision.

The purpose of this post is not to argue the merits or demerits of a vegetarian diet, but this story from my upbringing is fascinating to me and makes me think “parental responsibility” isn’t a simple answer to the problem of childhood obesity.  Here we have the same parents, the same kid, and the same set of circumstances.  And yet on the meat issue their parental authority achieves 100% sovereignty and success, but on the sugar issue they score exactly 0%?  Of course we know that babies come out of the womb craving sweet stuff, so in an environment where sweet stuff is readily available, who seriously rates parents as having a decent chance of keeping their children’s intake at acceptable levels? People who have never tried, that’s who! Especially in a world where not everyone in the child’s social circle is on the same page about what kids should eat, and a massive food industry actively markets sugary food to kids at every turn!

You need to consider when people other than my parents gave me the bad stuff, my parents were in a position of not only having to discipline me, but they had to navigate their relationship with the other adult, and this adult was often a person they respected and wanted a good relationship with, and also needed me to respect because that person was also a carer who had charge over me for at least some of the time (grandparent, teacher, friend’s parent).  An unenviable situation, I am sure you can understand!

I know there are many parents out there who are doing an amazing job, and I look on in awe!  Neither do I presume to offer any parenting advice, as I am not qualified to do so.  All I am saying is that, after reflecting on my own upbringing, given their best possible efforts, there was nothing more that my parents could have done to prevent me from becoming a sugar addict.  And even if there are other parents who are having greater success, it is way harder for them than it should be.

While I am not denying that parents have a pivotal role to play, the food industry, government, schools and society should not get to get a free pass and simply cry “leave it to the parents!”  They should not call for parental responsibility and then use this as a license to be grossly irresponsible themselves! No responsible adult would get away with giving a toddler alcohol, and any reasonably sane person would grab bleach out of a kid’s hand before they could chug it.  But not everyone will respect the wishes of a parent not to have their child fed cookies and flavored milk!  And let’s not be naive, the food industry actively, deliberately and expertly strives to undermine parental responsibility at every turn.  So yes all you, “parental responsibility” advocates out there, if a parent is willingly buying their kid large quantities of junk food, clearly that is a problem.  But it is a massive error of logic to assume that if the parent is not doing so the child will eat their vegetables, stay off the junk and grow up healthy!  For that to happen we need a paradigm shift in society, reform in our schools, regulation of the food industry and appropriate government legislation.  Because as my former self, the sugar-loving 3 year old, with candy smeared all over her pretty little face,  can tell you:  “It ain’t going to happen any other way!”

What’s for Breakfast?

In my post, Top 10 Tips for Winning the Hunger Games, I wrote about the strategies that work for me in managing hunger.  This was a brief overview and probably too much for one post, so I thought I would write a series of posts going to each “tip” in greater detail.

Let’s start the series where I start my day, with breakfast!  If you identify with my description of “unnatural zombie hunger” and want to do something about it, just start eating breakfast if you do nothing else. Yes, your annoying mother was annoyingly right when she told you that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”  So if breakfast is the most important meal, I say it should also be the most delicious!  When you wake up in the morning, how awesome would it be if your first thought were not that you need to check email, rush to get ready for work, sort out the kids but “what’s for breakfast?”  Yum!

I can already hear the excuses: “I am not hungry in the morning.”  “I don’t have time.”  Yeah, yeah, I know you people, because I was you people 🙂  Let me give you a clue:  You are not hungry in the morning because you are hung over from your TV and snacking binge of the night before. What’s more, you can find time if you get organized and make a few minutes to throw something together before you rush off into your stressful day.  The bottom line is if you don’t eat breakfast, plan to stay fat, hungry and miserable!

I started my breakfast habit by drinking a meal replacement.  Not ideal but better than nothing and it allowed me to gradually transition to smoothies and then to a full main meal.  Start with whatever works for you and just have something every day and soon you will wonder how you ever got by without it!

My breakfasts include:

  1. Fruit: I choose berries for anti-oxidants and deliciousness!  I get a month’s supply from Hillcrest Berry Orchards.  They have a great variety and their quality is out of this world! I then divide the berries into 100 gram portions in Ziploc bags and keep them in the freezer.  I normally indulge in 200 grams of 2 or 3 kinds a day.  This special treat alone is enough to keep me showing up for breakfast every morning without fail!
  2. Protein:  My go-to choices are eggs, whey powder or Greek yoghurt.
  3. Healthy fat: Favorites are nuts or a bit of Coconut Oil.
  4. Fiber:  Chia seeds are the perfect choice because they keep you full for hours and can be eaten on their own or added to just about anything.
  5. Whole grain.  If I am having grain on any given day I make sure at least one of the portions is for breakfast.  My new discovery and current favorite is puffed amaranth, but also love whole oats.

Need an exotic breakfast idea?  Here’s one that includes all of the above that I keep coming back to:

flapjacks, berries and ice cream

Puffed Amaranth and Chia flapjacks with berries, nuts and homemade ice cream

I love this breakfast because besides being so decadent that it should be illegal, it allowed me to make creative use of the interesting ingredients I have been collecting from The Ethical Co-Op and local Farmers Markets.  I have Ashley of Edible Perspectives to thank for the fantastic amaranth recipe (she calls hers French Toast but mine came out more like flapjacks because I made the batter a bit wetter.)  Between the flapjack and ice cream layers are blue berries, black berries, raspberries, brazil nuts and pecan nuts. Sigh. . .

This would be a great time to introduce my new recipe page.  Swing by to get the ice cream recipe for this breakfast and see Edible Perspectives for the Amaranth French Toast recipe.  Hope you like it and that it  inspires you to begin your own Breakfast Adventure!

Tick Tock Goes the Clock!

One of the most effective marketing strategies of the food industry has been to collectively convince us that “we don’t have time to cook.”  Basically none of us have enough time for anything these days, so if someone came along and said “hey, you don’t have enough time to breathe, let me do it for you” we would probably sign up, no questions asked! And so we let a bunch of drug pushers take over our food preparation and keep us addicted, sick and miserable. The “no time” belief has become so firmly entrenched in modern culture that we hardly even question it anymore.  I see it in action every time someone hears about the changes I have made to the way I eat.  Almost without exception they say: “Oh that is so great, but I just don’t have the time to do all that!”

I completely understand!  For most of my life I have believed the “no time” lie with as much conviction as anybody.  Preparing my own meal, let alone a meal for anyone else, was the absolute last thing on my agenda.  I lead an extremely busy, pressured life just like the rest of you.  I probably would have continued believing the lie until my dying day if it were not that the state of my health finally forced me to make time.  If you don’t have time to cook you better consider if you have time to manage a chronic disease like diabetes!  Trust me, a few minutes of food prep pale into insignificance compared to the stress, inconvenience and time wasted on managing a totally avoidable, lifestyle induced illness.  And then there are the insane number of hours of exercise I am going to need to do to get all this blasted weight off my body!  Exercise is great, but the amount I need to do to effectively lose half my body weight is daunting, to say the least. When a personal health crisis forced me to reconsider my time and how I spent it I suddenly realized how ridiculous the “no time to cook” deception really is.  It struck me that if I continued to buy into this myth, I better make time to be sick, exhausted and ultimately prematurely dead! A few minutes of cooking a day is a small price to pay for years added on to my life!

Here’s the thing: after a bit of initial reorganizing and re-education, preparing food from scratch at home is not nearly as time consuming as the food industry would have you believe.  In fact I am prepared to race you on the time it takes for just about any fast food option you can think of and a home cooked meal, and in many cases I believe I can not only equal your time but beat it.

Here’s an example.  Timed my last trip through a McDonald’s Drive through:

10 minutes to get in the car and drive there.

20 minutes to get to the front of the queue and place order.

10 minutes in the “waiting” bay for my veggie burger to be prepared.

10 minutes waiting for them redo part of the order they got wrong.

10 minutes to drive home.

Total time: 1 hour

Time taken to prepare lunch yesterday:

2 minutes: Get ingredients and cooking utensils together.

10 minutes: Cook Quinoa Pasta

While pasta is cooking: Chop artichoke hearts, pink oyster mushrooms and cherry tomatoes and sauté in a pan with Coconut Oil.  Season to taste with herbs and spices and a pinch of Maldon salt.  Grate an ounce of Mozzarella Cheese.

2 minutes: Strain pasta and plate up with veggies and cheese.  Sprinkle generously with Alfalfa sprouts for extra crunch and yummyness!

Total time: 14 minutes

So the pasta won hands down, not only on time, but also on flavor and even on cost!  And it goes without saying that it was much higher in nutrition and lower in calories than the burger and chips from MickyD’s!  It was so delicious in fact that I think I will have the same for lunch again today but I honestly don’t care if I never eat another meal from McDonalds in my life!

What about having your take aways delivered to your door, you may ask?  Certainly an option if you are willing to add on the delivery cost and tip.  But guess what, I also have my food delivered, and not only one meal at a time but enough for a whole week!  After a bit of googling I found this wonderful service that delivers in my area: The Ethical Co-op.  My last order included a family sized box of organic vegetables, kale chips, flax seed crackers, organic coconut palm sugar, raw chocolate, pink oyster mushrooms, spelt bread and amaranth.  More than a week’s worth of food for less than the cost of having pizza delivered for a family of 4.  (Luckily the price of healthy food in my country still compares favorably to that of fast food.) You might not be lucky enough to be able to conveniently buy healthy food online and have it delivered to your door, but then again maybe you can and you just don’t know it yet!  Certainly worth researching and you may be surprised to discover a wealth of local, alternative food vendors right in your neighborhood!

So you can make a great big ordeal out of cooking if you want to, but it really isn’t necessary.  After a day or so of cleaning the junk out of my kitchen and restocking with the good stuff, the rest has been surprisingly easy.  Here are some tips that have made it a breeze:

1) Maintain a shopping list of foods you use in your diet and restock as needed so that you have the right foods on hand and are too broke to buy any junk food!

2) Stock up on BPA free tupperware and Ziploc bags and save your glass jars for easy food storage.

3) Spend a little extra time on the week end preparing food for the week that will keep in the fridge or can be frozen.

4) Google for recipes and local food suppliers.

5) Try at least one new dish a week to grow your repertoire.

If you do all of the above I promise you that you can walk right over to your own kitchen and grab a fabulous meal in 5 to 10 minutes during your work week, or spend an hour on something fancy on the week end if you feel like it.

So there you have it, one ridiculous lie of the food industry debunked.  I am off to throw together the most fabulous berry smoothie you will ever taste.  Wish you were here – I might even consider sharing!