Friday, August 17, 2012

Hunger Journal

As promised, below is my hunger scale journal of a little under 36 hours of observation.  Needless to say, it didn't really... work.  That is, I didn't really succeed in using the scale to cultivate healthful eating habits.  BUT I learned a lot as I monitored my hunger during these two days (as I re-read this, all I can think is gosh, look how much time I spent either hungry or thinking about how hungry I'm going to be - is that normal??)  Much of these realizations I plan to share in later posts.  But in the meantime, here is the journal, in its entirety and (mostly) unedited:


3:15 pm - 6 (perfectly comfortable) sliding fairly quickly into 5 (comfortable).
I feel pretty good!  Nice way to start off my experiment.  Started getting peckish again immediately after lunch, but I ate a peach about a half hour ago and that seems to have done the trick, at least for now.  I can feel myself getting hungry fairly quickly though... talking about that peach made my stomach rumble a little.  Mmm.  Yup.  Just in the process of typing this, I'm a solid 5.

4:15 – Still sitting surprisingly well between 5 and 6.  
Wow, I definitely expected to feel hungry by now, but I'm still perfectly fine.  I can sense  the hunger creeping on, though, and it's making me nervous.  I wish I could snack on something, just to be on the safe side.  There are pickles in the walk-in that I could eat…  Will not, though, as an experiment, since the idea is to not eat anything when I'm feeling perfectly comfortable.

5:15 - WHOA.  Started biking home and dropped all the way down to a 3 (uncomfortable).  
I am HUNGRY.  When did that happen???

6:15 – 2 (Oh my god oh my god oh my god.)    
I'm still not home yet, and I'm so hungry.  I'm having trouble biking, I'm so hungry.  The wind feels like it's going to blow me over, I actually feel weak.

Now I'm worried.  I'm ready to EAT THE WORLD right now.  This is the point where I become a bottomless pit. 

If I had eaten those cucumbers even though I wasn't hungry, maybe I wouldn't be going batshit insane right now.  

Okay, game plan:  Go home, have a quick salad and a handful of almonds IMMEDIATELY in an attempt to sate me till I finish making dinner and stave off bad choices.  

7:15 – 4… I think?
Game plan did NOT work.  Immediately shoved a handful of almonds into my mouth and then got to work making the salad.  Accidentally ate, like, a pound of cheese.  I don't even know how that happened.  Opened the fridge to get the stuff dinner all the sudden the cheese was in my mouth.  And I didn't even care.  

Ate a big spinach salad and a decent-sized slice of pizza (homemade), which I decided was an appropriate-sized meal.  But despite having eaten cheese, almonds, salad and a big slice of pizza, was still hungry, holding steady at a 3, 3.5.  I tried to hold out for a full 20 minutes, as I've been told that's how long it takes for the stomach to process fullness... but I was just. too. damn. hungry.  UUUUUUUGGGGGHHHH.  Ate another (smaller) piece of pizza.  

It's been over 20 minutes now, and I'm still hungry.  Could definitely eat some more, but can refrain.  I guess that puts me at a 5?  No - no, I'm not comfortable, I'm still HUNGRY.  I'm a 4!  Wait, no, AM I a 4?  W

But when I think about how much I ate, I feel a little queasy, like I ate too much.... maybe I'm a 6, working up to a 7?  No, that CAN'T be right.  I can’t be a 4 and a 6 at the same time.  I don't know! 

How is it that I can’t TELL how hungry I am!?!?

8:15 – Ugh.  Officially FULL (7).  
Right at the number that I wasn't supposed to be at.  I'm not SUPER-full - not terribly uncomfortable, but definitely full.  And starting to think about how much cheese I ate.  Oh god, why did I eat that much cheese?  What is wrong with me??

9:15 – 4.  DUDE WHAT THE HELL?  
I'm hungry again.  “Slightly uncomfortable and starting to think about food again,” that's me.  Well, whatever tummy.  It almost time for bed.  That's all you get. 


5:45am – A low 3.
Heading to yoga on my bike, and I don't want to bite anybody's head off yet, but am about as hungry as I can be before reaching that point.  Not going to eat a thing, though, as during hot yoga you can feel every little thing in your stomach.

6:45 – N/A
In hot yoga.  Want to throw up, and never look at food again

7:45 – 2 and dropping.
If I had a fork, I would take out my breakfast and start eating them right now.  But I don't, so I have to wait. 

8:45 - Hunger level somehow moved back from a ravenous 2 to a manageable 3. 
AND it's finally breakfast time, so all is well!

9:45 – A meager 4.
So much for breakfast.  Still hungry, still thinking about food.  It’s only going to get worse from here and it's not even 10:00am.  And I have nothing to snack on.  It's going to be a long, hard trek through the morning.  I'll probably have to open a bottle of Perrier in an hour or so and hope the bubbles trick my stomach into thinking it's full long enough to get to lunch.

10:45Almost a 5.
Went for the Perrier and the bubbles trick is totally working.

11:45 – Back down to a low 4.
The bubbles never help for long.  Grabbed a handful of carrots meant for lunch about 45 minutes ago, but it didn’t help.  Lunch is a 1pm.  Think I can last without going crazy with hunger.

12:45 – Still sinking – now a low 3
REALLY hungry, thank God it’s lunch.

1:45 – 5 (finally.)
I could definitely eat more, but I've packed nothing more to eat and I'm okay with that.  I'm already getting hungry again, though, unbelievably. 

2:45 - A solid 4.
Which is not the worst at all.

3:45 – 3 and falling fast.
OMG OMG.  Was planning on getting a muffin and fruit salad at the coffee shop for dinner, but I need that muffin NOW.  Okay, muffin now, maybe a sandwich for dinner.  That seems like an extravagant snack, but at this point, I don’t effing care.

4:45 – 5.  Woo!
I seriously inhaled that muffin.  But I feel sooooooo much better.  And it’s practically dinner time – maybe I shouldn’t get a sandwich after all?

5:45 – Still 5 (!?!?)
Okay, sure!  Still feeling good, so I left the coffee shop for rehearsal this evening sandwichless.  I feel comfortable, but nervous about my choice.

6:45 – 4. Yeah. Bad choice.
Everyone around me is cracking open sack-dinners.  They look so good.  Rehearsal is until 10pm.  This is going to suck.

7:45 – 3.
God I’m dumb.

8:45 – 2.
Dammit.  When I get home I’m going to eat too late and too much.  

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Practicing Mindfulness

58. It's okay to be a little hungry.
59. Don't let yourself get too hungry.
60. Consult your gut.

Right, so, as we all know by now, MP has a lot of rules not just about what to eat, but how to eat.  In fact, if you break it down, about 30% of the rules in the book are about how to eat - a ratio that is clearly not reflected in the blog.  Because, as I've also mentioned, these are the rules that I really, really want to pretend don't actually exist.

(UPDATE: I am doing NO BETTER at leaving food on my plate.  I'm compelled to lick the damn thing clean, God help me.)

So, in an effort to better listen, and react accordingly, to the cues my body is giving me, I employed the use of this nifty hunger chart I ran across recently while cruising the interwebs:

So this chart is lifted off a post on some British chick's blog (thanks, StumbleUpon!) about her philosophies on dieting and healthy lifestyle.  I agree with about 85% of what she says on the blog, and I think she's got the right idea with this hunger scale. 

I am, admittedly, slightly skeptical of the numbers this girl throws out there.  She recommends starting to eat when you hit a 4 on the scale, which is defined as "starting to feel hungry and think about food."  I find this utterly baffling, as I am always kind of hungry and thinking about food, so, basically, to fully follow this advice I'd have to eat all the time, which can't be right.  Furthermore, she advocates stopping eating at a 5, as defined as "more or less satisfied, but could eat a little," which falls pretty well in line with Pollan's ideas about stopping eating before you get too full.  BUT, that's only if you're trying to lose weight.  For those happy with their weight and simply trying to maintain, she recommends stopping at a 6, or "perfectly satisfied/content."  Conversely, Pollan repeatedly advocates for stopping while you're still a little hungry.  Rule 58: it's okay to be a little bit hungry.  Rule 55: Stop eating before you're full.  So, there's obviously a small difference in philosophy here.

But the general idea - pay attention to how you feel and don't stuff your face - is essentially the same.  So I decided to do a little experiment and check in with my place on the hunger scale for two full days.  The goal was to start eating when my hunger fell between a 3 and a 4, and to stop eating when it reached somewhere between 5 and 6.

The results were surprising.  I don't know what exactly I was expecting; my best guess was that I would fall on the hungry side of the scale most of the time, and occasionally - accidentally - be way too full.  Which is not actually not an inaccurate summation of my observations, but the little details I started to notice about why and when and how I moved from one number to another on the hunger scale were eye-opening.  The full journal proved fascinating, but somewhat epic, so I'm going to give it its own separate post.  Stay tuned tomorrow.  In the meantime, how do you think you would measure on the scale?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Sugar Addendum

So now we know all sweet things are not created equal, and it's preferrable to eat certain sweet things over others.

But you know what you should definitely not use?

Agave nectar!  That's right!  That's stuff they sell in the health food store and advertise as purest, most natural form of sugar ever. 

Not so, according to this article, which I found via the amazing Local Foods in New Mexico.  Apparently, it the article is to be believed, agave nectar is actually agave carbohydrates processed into its sugary components.  Just like corn syrup.  It's the high fructose corn syrup of agave.  High Fructose Agave Syrup.  AND it has an even higher percentage of fructose than high fructose corn syrup.

Ugh.  This just goes to show how alienated we are from our food.  Distributors can just make up stories about the products they sell us and we'll believe them because what do we know about where are food comes from?  

I don't know what the solution is here.  But the problem is worth pointing out.  Again.

Also, don't buy agave nectar.   

Pour Some Sugar On Me

38. Eat sweet foods as you find them in nature.
49. Regard nontraditional foods with skepticism.
50. Avoid ingredients that lie to your body.

A lot can be inferred from these three tiny rules about our relationship to sweet things.  Artificial sweetners are out; nothing more accurately defines an ingredient that "lies to your body," than the chemical cocktail in a diet soda.  But it's also worthwhile to point out that, if you've been playing along, diet soda was nixed a long time ago for a lot of different reasons.  But Pollan goes through the trouble of condemning diet sodas and fat-free alternatives and the like, not simply because they're full of chemicals, but specifically because those chemicals lie to your body

Why?  It's simple.  That artificial sweetner in your tea, say, may have zero calories for your body to process, but your body is still processing it.  You put it in your body, now your body has to do something with it.  You don't have to be a biologist or a chemist to understand that - that's just logic.  But how is your body processing it?  I think it's safe to say we don't really know.  It may not be doing the same thing real sugar is doing, but it is doing something.  Multiple studies have proven a link between the consumption of diet sweeteners and obesity.  It's not a get-out-of-jail-free card.

But artifical sweeteners aren't the only thing on Pollan's bad list.   It turns out nature is actually pretty smart about understanding how much of a sugar rush our bodies can handle all at once.  That even goes for things like juice - as Pollan points out, fruit juice, once freed of all the pulpy, fibery goodness that surrounds it, is sugar that gets immediately absorbed by your system.  It's natural but it's not "as it's found in nature." 

And if juice is out, then regular old granulated sugar is definitely out.  Sugar is definitely processed.  It's highly processed.  So, what's left?  Honey, I guess?  Raw honey, to be specific? Maybe maple syrup?  I'm not totally sure how maple syrup comes out of the tree.  And I'm not totally sure if even those count.  I thinking the point that Pollan is trying to make is that nature makes sweet things sweet (like apples) and makes not-sweet things not sweet (like broccoli).   If God didn't sweeten it for you, don't freaking sweeten it!  That's right, no brown sugar in your broccoli stir-fry! 

I find this rule to be totally unfair, and flies in the face of thousands of years of culinary tradition.  So I get around this a little loophole: I'll use regular sugar in anything I cook myself.  I mean, Pollan said I could eat all the junk food I want, as long as I cook it myself.  Is he gonna take that back now?  Is it, "all the junk food I want as long as it's made with raw honey" now?  No.  I refuse.

But his point is well taken.  Don't use artificial sweeteners if you can use real sugar.  Actually, scratch that.  Don't use artificial sweeteners EVER.  Don't use sugar if you can use honey or maple syrup or fruit juice.  But don't just drink fruit juice, it's not as healthy as you think.  And don't sweeten with anything if you can get away with it.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

It's Pronounced "Keen-wah."

42.  "The whiter the bread, the sooner you’ll be dead." 
43.  Avoid sugary and starchy food if you're concerned about your weight. 
44.  Favor the kinds of oils and grains that have traditionally been stone-ground.

In case you've been wondering to yourself, WTF does a millet casserole look like?  It looks like this:

And this:

And since there seemed a lot of speculation in general about what on earth a millet casserole is, and why in God's name I would be inspired to make one, I thought the topic of millet and other lesser known grains merited a bit more discussion.

Millet is in my opinion, is a highly under-rated grain.  Often dismissed as birdseed, it's actually a nutrient rich whole grain packed with protein.  It's so good for you that I often find myself wondering, "what's the catch?"  It's way too delicious to be as good for you as it is; it's got a mild, bready flavor that I mentioned earlier makes a great base for a casserole.  I got turned on to millet, along with quinoa, buckwheat, kamut, barley, and farro last year, during the week and a half my friend Jenna somehow convinced me that it would be great to go on a macrobiotic diet.  I don't know how she convinced me of this; nothing about macrobiotics is in any way conducive to my lifestyle or tastes.  I mean, don't get me wrong, I think there's definitely something to the idea, but I just love bread and cheese way too much to adopt a largely vegan diet that relies heavily on whole grains.

And by whole grains, I don't mean whole grain like your bread is whole grain or like General Mills claims their cereal is "whole grain."  I mean, like the whole. grain.  The whole thing.  Apparently you don't just have to eat grains after they've been ground up into flour.  And apparently there are other grains besides wheat, rice and corn!  Who knew?  Before I went on my brief but informative macro-spree I was vaguely aware of such grains, but never considered them a viable option.

So the basic idea of macrobiotics (if I remember correctly, which I probably don't) is that you should eat leafy greans ALL THE TIME.  Just, like, all the time.  With every meal.  Tons.  And then you supplement with various vegetables and grains.  But whole grains; refined flour is kind of a no-no.  As are meats and other animal by-products.  But I did learn two important things from the experiment:  1) I really love leafy greens and 2) other grains exist besides wheat and rice.

These revelations proved to be important when starting this project because, as evidenced by the rules above, the Food Rules don't look too kindly on bread.  Definitely not white bread.  Number 42 speaks for itself; as for 43, I can't think of anything that says sugary and starchy better than a big, white baguette.  And what Pollan means when he says stick to grains that were traditionally stone ground is this:  if you had a mano and metate right now, and you ground those grains down yourself, would the flour make the bread you're eating now?  If you've got a piece of Wonderbread sitting in front of you, the answer is no.  You can't stone-grind white flour.  It's a whole process.  

I think if you were to really do the rules right, you might want to cut out bread all together.  I mean, when you think about just turning grain into flour is process, isn't it?  Of course, I can't get that hardcore.  Just sticking to whole wheat flour is a project in and of itself.  Sometimes I want to scream at the top of my lungs in the middle of the grocery store (the co-op, even), OH MY GOD SERIOUSLY PEOPLE HOW HARD IS IT TO GET A LOAF OF BREAD WITHOUT WHITE FLOUR WHAT IS WRONG WITH THE WORLD!?!?  

But I have been playing around with more whole grains under the basic philosophy that the whole-er, the better.  I made that millet bake last week.  I made a buttermilk farro salad this week:

For the recipe, click here.

Though, full disclosure: the faro is pearled, which means that some of the nutrient- and fiber-rich outer bran removed, like in white rice.  I'm not sure where things like that lie on the Food Rules continuum, but someone told me that grains that have had some of their goodness stripped away are still better for you than, say, whole wheat that's been turned into flour.  And at this point I feel so saturated with nutritional philosophies, I have no idea.  It probably depends on your definition of "good for you."  Anyway, pearled farro was what the co-op had, so pearled farro was what Leigh made.  And it was good. 

I'm getting off topic.  Moral of the story: whole grains unexplored healthy fun.  Even before I started this project, I rejoiced when I discovered all these new grains because, as much as love bread and pasta, everything eventually gets old.  So... next time you're feeling bored in the kitchen... try some millet?  And stop making fun of me for eating birdseed.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Saddest Thing

51. Enjoy drinks that have been caffeinated by nature, not food science.
52. Have a glass of wine with dinner.

If I'm going to be completely honest, I would not have even considered this project, were it not for these two rules condoning the consumption of certain strong beverages.  Specifically, the coffee.  Limit myself to things caffeinated by nature?  No problem!  I don't care for Coke, and Red Bull terrifies me.  But Don't. Mess. With. My. Coffee.  I'll give up meat, I'll give up white flour, I'll give up delicious Morningstar Buffalo Wings.  But go without coffee?  I did that for the first 18 years of my life, and I don't care to do it again, thankyouverymuch.

And while I've never been a huge drinker, I've been taking full advantage of Pollan's encouragement to open the vino.  A glass of wine with dinner?  Don't mind if I do!  Normally, I'd refuse (extra calories - you know) but if my buddy MP says so... 

I've also, by extension, included beer in this line of logic.  No, Pollan doesn't specifically mention beer, and it doesn't really have any of the nutritive properties of red wine, but clearly alcohol is not verboten and if I'm drinking LOCAL beer... well, it's practically my duty

The only thing is, I fear my zealous embrace of the thumbs-up to wine and coffee isn't working for me. 

Oh.  It pains me to even type those words.

Okay, I know that the book is the Food Rules and not the Food Bible and that there are bound to be some things that don't work for everyone, and part of this journey is discovering what works for me.  But, man, it was SO much easier to say that not eating meat wasn't working for me.

But I've been feeling extremely emotionally volitile lately.  Except, "emotionally volitile" makes it sound so simple and sterile.  Here's the messy truth:  less than a year ago, I moved over a thousand miles away from the place I'd called home for the past ten years.  I violently shifted career paths; I started working three different jobs totaling a fifty-hour work-week if I'm lucky.  I'm exhausted, driven, exhilerated, terrified, focused, overwhelmed, lonely, confused, and determined, sometimes all in the same day.  Sometimes all in the same hour. 

And I don't think all the coffee and wine is helping.

Cutting down on the coffee is kind of a no-brainer.  There have already beens studies that have conclusively linked the consumption of caffeine to increased anxiety.  Wine and alcohol took me a little longer to figure out.  I mean, alcohol isn't a stimulant; it doesn't wind you up, it chills you out - and isn't that exactly what I need, to chill out? 

It's counter-intuitive to think about sitting back at the end of a rough shift with a glass of wine, or kicking back with a beer on the back porch on a Sunday and tell myself that, despite seeming like the best idea ever, this will actually stress you out more. 

But the fact is, alcohol and caffeine, no matter how benign they may seem, are still drugs.  And drugs affect your mood.  That's what they do.  That's what they're made to do.  So maybe, just maybe, when I'm not feeling in control of my emotions, I should cut out things that take that control away from me?  It's just a wacky idea. 

So, sorry, MP.  As much as it pains me to say it.  I think I've found a couple more of your rules that just don't work for me.

And in the meantime, a glass of sparkling mineral water mixed with muddled mint straight from my backyard is just as enjoyable on the back porch, and totally Food Rules-approved.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Spicy Success

46. Love your spices.
37. Sweeten and salt your food yourself.
82. Cook.

Unless you want to ask every server, barista, and counterperson at your favorite sandwich shop, "What is in this?  Is there any way I can see a complete list of ingredients?" (And - FYI - the answer to that question is almost always no), Rules 37 and 82 are pretty much unavoidable.  Still, when you live a busy life, you have to learn very quickly how to cook efficiently for yourself.  You need meals that are fast, simple, (link)utilize massive amounts of seasonal produce, that can be cooked in huge quantities and frozen easily for the weeks ahead.  It's rough and often deeply stressful tightrope to walk. 

Which is why I'm so extremely proud of the taco millet bake I made up last week: not only does it meet all the above requirements, it's also so rich in spices I don't even feel compelled to top it with cheese (a big feat for me - I want to add cheese to EVERYTHING).  This is the idea behind the "love your spices" philosophy, and an old standby in weight loss circles in general: if you spice your food properly, you won't have to slather it in so much fat and salt. 

I scavenged my recipe from a millet bake by Mark Bittman (who we've already established is awesome).  This is absolutely nothing like my taco bake, but it was the only thing I could find online with instructions for baking millet.  Millet is a lovely and undervalued food; it's a whole grain and loaded with all kinds of fiber and protein.  It's also got a very mild, bready flavor which I think makes it a great base for just about any kind of casserole. 
Unfortunately, since I just sort of made this dish up as I went along, I have nothing that bears any resemblence to a comprehendible recipe.  Instead, here's some detailed instructions for how you can make this casserole, if "you" are actually "me."  ...Which also serves as a pathetic peek into how Leigh functions in the kitchen.

1. Get out some ground meat from the freezer - you happen to grab a pound of lean, grassfed beef, but really any meat from a well-fed animal will do - and brown it.

2. While the ground beef is cooking, chop up every vegetable you can get your hands on; everything that you bought at the growers' market that weekend, plus some other stuff lying around that you did.  This could (and does) include red peppers, zucchini, summer squash, oyster mushrooms, and corn kernels.  Oh, and some organic black beans, because they're in your cupboard and why not? More protein.  Chop up an onion too, but set that aside to sautee with the millet.

3. Dump all the vegetables in a bowl with some tomato paste (note: it is difficult to find a can of tomato paste with just pure tomato puree and no weird stuff like sodium citrate, but not impossible) and nice big heap of cumin (probably a tablespoonish?) some salt, and some cayenne pepper if you want it spicy.  Mix it up so that all the vegetables are evenly coated.

4. Spread the veggies out on the bottom of a big casserole dish.... and then transfer to an even bigger casserole dish because there are a TON of veggies in there.  Layer the ground beef on top and set aside. 

5. Start sauteeing your onions in some oil until the onions are transucent.  Take out your millet, measure out a half a cup like in Bittman's recipe and then decide that a half a cup doesn't look like near enough, so just dump out all of it (probably another half a cup) into your pan and cook until the millet is golden brown and fragrant, just like Bittman says.

6. Layer the millet on top of the veggies and beef, and cover the top with a little more tomato puree, just for good measure.  Realize with all the extra millet, you have absolutely no idea how much liquid to add, so fill with vegetable broth until it covers the mixture by about an inch.  Hope that works. (It does.)

7. Cover with foil and bake at 400 degrees for... 20 minutes, maybe?  Half an hour?  Keep an eye on it, just to be safe, and bake until the millet is cooked.  It's obvious when it is - it changes color, and looks all puffy and delicious and edible.

8. Divide into individual portions, freeze and sprinkle with a little cilantro when served.  Congratulate yourself on NOT wasting precious time in the kitchen on an utter failure.  Good job!