Friday, October 29, 2010

Halloween Candy—An Annual Treat? You’re only tricking yourself.

Eat the candy. Break the rules!

Halloween candy doesn’t have to be scary. That is, if candy and sweets aren’t viewed as evil. We never called it junk food in my house. Junk food, by definition is high in calories and low in nutritional value. And while there may be little nutritional merit to candy, anyone who has ever eaten a fine piece of chocolate knows better than to call it junk. There is value in the form of pleasure that we get when we eat foods that taste good, and take the time to truly enjoy the experience. And in the scheme of things, it is better to allow ourselves to include these satisfying sweets—not just on Halloween, for one night, but throughout the year.

Halloween in our home

From their earliest years, after trick or treating, I had my kids place their candy in plastic bags, each marked with their names. We then placed their stash in a kitchen drawer, easily accessible to them. Candy was to be eaten in the kitchen—not with the TV, not in the bedroom—and they could opt to take a piece or two to have with their lunches at school as well. When they were hungry for a snack, they could opt for a Snickers, Kit Kat or whatever delighted them, perhaps with a glass of milk, eaten mindfully at the table.
It may be hard to believe, but their Halloween reserve lasted well into the next year, with the least desirable candies remaining until the following October. Unlike the approach taken by many, I did not restrict their access to candy, warn them that at the end of the week the rest would be thrown out, or send them (the candies, not the kids) to my husband’s office. As a result, I believe they trusted that the candy was going to be there. It was not “now or never” eating chocolate. And they were not told to finish their vegetables in order to earn their candy. And they never binged on candy, or anything else, for that matter.

When my kids were little, we never bribed them with candy, not even to potty train, as many parents do. Ok, that’s a lie. There was one time my husband and I decided to bribe our sons, then 5 and 7, to motivate them. It was their first really hard hike in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, a trail up to almost 5,300 foot elevation, an almost 9 mile hike round trip. Seemed necessary at the time to hand out the Skittles one by one as they progressed along their challenging climb. While it’s definitely not my style to use food rewards, I must admit it worked. To this day, my boys have a love of hiking to great heights (although I’d caution that it wasn’t solely the result of the Skittles!)

This may seem like a crazy approach, legalizing junk food, but it works. It’s valuable for you, and if you have them, for your kids. And it’s not too late to change the system, to let go of the rules. As for weight management, where does that fit in with my freedom to eat candy? Perfectly! Restricting access to desirable and enjoyable foods hardly solves or improves our relationship with food. It increases demand, and makes us feel deprived. And even if you see some short term “success”, I caution you to look at the big picture. What was your experience around chocolate weeks later? How did you handle social eating situations when you finally had exposure and access to those beloved sweets? And did restricting these items, the junk food, solve your eating problems?

I return to that definition of insanity, referenced in a previous post. It makes no sense to maintain the same thinking and approach to eating hoping that this time it might work. Perhaps it’s time to sit down with a good piece of chocolate, add a glass of milk or chai tea, and truly enjoy it!

Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Fairytales Of Weight Management.

Everything was stunning, from the calligraphy-adorned table assignments to the flickering candle-lit tables with their elegant glass and floral arrangements. My sea bass begged to be photographed in its Asian inspired preparation. And the desserts were splendid to watch disappear. Sorry, I was so busy enjoying them that I totally forgot to take photos! And then there were the guests. Truly gorgeous, strikingly so, every one of them. I aspire to be as healthy looking and as fit as my 60 and 70- something year old aunts, uncles and second cousins—really!
You might naively look around the room and yearn to be like the beautiful guests—happy, seemingly carefree, enjoying the celebration, apparently having it all. But just like everyone else, they aren’t free from knowing pain and suffering. They’d struggled with depression, in years past and present and lost loved ones prematurely, like my Dad, a non-smoker, who died of lung cancer. There was my beautiful, sweet cousin whose permanent absence resulted from a drug overdose and attendees present because they survived in spite of themselves. “It’s so great to see you up there dancing”, I was reminded by an acquaintance, acknowledging not only my diagnosis with MS, but the difficulties her mother struggles with, with the very same disease.
It’s easy to project onto others, to assume that everyone else has it easy—that they manage everything with ease, and can even effortlessly manage their weight, eating whatever they want—but that you are different. You may watch someone eating a meal, a small part of their day’s intake, then believe they eat that way all the time, with such control, perhaps. Yet you have no idea what they are really going through beneath the surface. You may conclude that you, and you alone, struggle with eating (and other) issues.

It may seem strange, but this has everything to do with managing your weight.

If you start comparing yourself to someone else at the table resisting dessert, you may feel bad about yourself as you clean your plate of chocolate cake.  Even if others are enjoying dessert, you may think that you are not entitled, that the same rules just don’t apply. “You shouldn’t be eating that”, you may say to yourself. And that bad feeling may lead you to thinking that you already blew it, that it just isn’t worth trying anymore, resulting in the “what-the-heck-effect”. And this can trigger continued slips, in terms of eating and eating disordered behaviors, causing you to sabotage your own efforts to stay on course. And then you’re left feeling even worse.
We can’t help but compare ourselves to others, or so it seems to me. But we can focus on better meeting our own needs, regardless of what others are doing. Take half the prime rib home, or ask for a sauce on the side, if it makes eating out easier. You’re not alone in your struggles with food! Don’t just go with the flow, if you’re not comfortable doing so. And don’t eat to be like the others, or not eat to be like the others, as the case may be. But listen to your body and its signals.
Ask for foods the way you’d like them, to help manage challenging situations. Tend to overeater? Remind yourself that this is not your last chance to eat this delicious food. Move foods off their lists. You know, the good food, and the bad food lists, allowing yourself to eat what you truly enjoy—but just as much as you truly need. It really helps, and it’s quite liberating! And remind yourself that every day should start with a clean slate (not a clean plate!)—a fresh start, even if you’ve eaten way beyond your need the day before. It’s the only way to break the cycle.

By the way, that beautiful couple in the photo? My parents, divorced after 27 less-than-perfect years of marriage.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Making Peace with vegetables. Therapist Not Included.

Practical, yummy guidance to boost your veggie intake.

Chewy canned mushrooms. Mushy, salty asparagus. Bland, flavorless iceberg lettuce salad, topped with cellophane wrapped barely orange-colored tomatoes. Ok, these were crisp and crunchy, as least (the salad as well as the cellophane). These are the vegetables of my childhood. To this day, accidentally biting my cheek conjures up memories of the texture of those mushrooms. And imagine my surprise when I first saw asparagus growing, standing upright, unsupported and firm, with no resemblance to the canned version of my past!
I had blocked out all memory of those vegetable experiences like a traumatic upbringing, until I was reminded that others’ experiences of vegetables were similar. My aunt Nancy recalls that she was forced to sit at the table, sometimes for hours, until she finished every last pea on her plate. And my patient, Susan, recently related her memory of vegetables being boiled and bland and abominable.

So why would we make peace with this food group? It’s got to take more than the motivation to help our future health.  You know, to prevent cancer, or to help with wound healing or to help maintain healthy nerves or cell function. So abstract! So not-important-in-the-here-and-now to me, or you, I suspect. So knowledge of their health benefit won’t motivate us, but perhaps the evidence about weight management will? (see last post). Eating vegetables (and other high fiber foods) does help us manage our weight. And when you know what to do with them, they are so enjoyable and taste wonderful. Yes, I mean wonderful! Now that’s a reason to start to eat them.

But then there are all the obstacles. Perhaps you associate eating veggies like the three of us described above. And then there’s the need to have them available before they go bad. And the confidence to prepare them in a way that’s tasty. Unless the benefits outweight the negatives, veggies just won’t make it to your plate. So here are some suggestions.

Roast a bunch of root vegetables. 
I love this in the Fall and winter! Buy ready peeled and cut, or if time allows, do your own. Carrot, parsnip, turnip, butternut squash, sweet potato and beets work really well, but feel free to pick and choose. I make a big pan of these, and then they shrink up quite a bit, getting a bit crispy around the edges. Leftovers freeze really well and can be microwave reheated.

Here’s how I do it:      
Roasted Root Vegetables

Preheat oven to 400. Toss the veggies in a large pan, with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Keep them to a single layer or the texture will be mushy, and you know I don’t want that to happen! Add about ¼ cup of warm water containing about a tablespoon of sugar diluted. Add herbs if you like—thyme and rosemary work well. Cook for about 45 minutes or longer, mixing occasionally. Don’t cover unless you like soft and wet!

Take advantage of convenience
Precut and washed vegetables take no time at all to deal with. They are typically available at great prices from Wholesale clubs like BJs, Costco, etc. (sorry international readers—I don’t know of the equivalent stores out your way!) Here are some simple, healthy and tasty preps: 
• First sauté some garlic, onion or shallots, until translucent (they become like opaque glass).  Use a heavy skillet, or non-stick pan, with a drizzle of olive oil for additional flavor. Then add reduced sodium chicken stock. Freeze the leftover stock in ice cube trays or small zip lock bags to use for next time.
• Or, substitute balsamic vinegar for the chicken stock. This works really well with asparagus and green beans.
• Steam or sauté broccoli. Then add a few shakes of rice vinegar. A drop of sesame oil will also enhance the flavor.
Buy frozen
Plain frozen vegetables are so convenient. I get the large family size bags, snip the corner and throw them in the pan as mentioned above. This works well when I run out of the fresh stuff. They could also be microwaved.

Buy prewashed baby greens for a quick salad
But make it taste good! Add a drizzle of a flavorful oil (roasted walnut of extra virgin olive) and a mild vinegar, such as rice or balsamic. Fresh mint or basil is divine, but even dried herbs like oregano, garlic powder and tarragon taste great. Try a drizzle of real maple syrup or honey mixed in! Then add salt and pepper to taste, if desired.

Use canned pumpkin
A great addition to pancakes, and quick breads (an easy substitute for any part of the liquid/wet ingredients), and there are great recipes for pumpkin (or butternut squash) soups.

Add vegetables to soups and stews, even when they are not called for. I add lots of veggies to chili—carrots, peppers, onions, and to beef stew—green beans in addition to the carrots and potato called for.

Be inspired by farmers’ markets and local produce stands, where fresh vegetables look like art and are so inviting.
So make peace with your relationship with vegetables and leave your mushy, canned goods behind. It really is hard to ruin these preparations, so don’t let the lack of precise measurements in these suggestions scare you.
Have a good recipe or an easy veggie tip? I welcome your suggestions!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Sex and Carrots and Weight Management.

One of these just doesn’t belong.

I could have saved the Carrot Grower’s industry 25 million dollars. Yup, that’s how much they spent trying to sell you “baby” carrots. I say “baby” because they aren’t. First informed of this by Marion Nestle (on her blog, I learned what most of you might already know. They are full-grown adult carrots, peeled and cut into “baby” size pieces. And as my searching uncovered, they are a variety that tends to be both lower in Beta-carotene (which becomes vitamin A) and in flavor. And using sex to try to sell them (
I’m quite sure will be a giant waste of money.

I need to confess that this post is not based on scientific research or studies of eaters’ happiness when eating vegetables. The only research I’ll reference is the recent study by the CDC, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, showing that vegetable consumption is down. Nationally, only 26% of adults consumed vegetables 3 or more times per day. And no state met the Healthy People 2010 Target for vegetable intake, having 50% of the population eating 3 or more servings per day (with at least one-third being dark green or orange vegetables).
And the prevalence of eating vegetables three or more times per day did not change significantly, over all age groups, in the last decade, in spite of all we know about the value of eating them.

And get this minor detail—“Participants were not given a definition of serving size” and were asked how often they ate a serving of vegetables. Hold on. Does this make any sense to you? The study was really based on how often, not how much people ate them. So if I were being surveyed about my vegetable intake here’s what they would find: No vegetables at breakfast. (Surprised? They hardly go with my pancakes or oatmeal). And I only occasionally have some small amount of vegetables on my sandwiches at lunch. So my number of servings? Only one per day. But you should see just how much vegetables I eat in that one serving! There’s always an enormous and quite tasty salad at dinner, as well as one or two cooked vegetables, in generous amounts. I’ll need to photograph to show you just how much I love my veggies, but trust me, this labeling of me as a low veggie consumer seems most ridiculous. So I’m not so sure there is really any value to this giant CDC undertaking to survey American’s food consumption.

Still, my twenty five years of speaking with clients of all ages, income and educational level have led me to a number of beliefs about why vegetable intake is lower than it should be. And what could be done about it.
Night vision, wound healing, gum health, even cancer prevention, all known benefits of eating vegetables, are hardly enough to motivate most of us to eat more veggies. Unless the cost of that change is small and there are additional benefits as well, Americans will not increase their veggies. But, the answer to getting people to eat more vegetables is to focus an ad campaign on this little fact:

Eating vegetables helps manage weight.

Really. How many wouldn’t push their intake of vegetables knowing that little secret? It seems that people go to all lengths for the sake of weight control—costly and useless supplements, diet pills, and restrictive eating that leaves us cranky and irritable. Imagine you could add something to your diet that not only helps you manage your weight, while feeling good, but prevents you from getting too hungry and feeling bad?! And, is quite good for you!

Here are just a few snippets from the articles referenced on the CDC site (

Adding vegetables to meals enhanced the feelings of being full; ratings of fullness were linked with foods higher in fiber and water content and total weight of the meal; dietary fiber (contained in vegetables), regardless of the source, has also been linked to weight regulation. And, low-energy-dense foods promoted feelings of being full, reduced hunger, and decreased energy intake. And in long and short term studies foods described as being “low-energy –density”, a term that most certainly applies to vegetables, promoted weight loss.

I’m not suggesting using them for weight loss if you are at a normal and healthy weight! And I don’t recommend a diet of only vegetables. I just wanted to clarify that small point. But, to include them to assist with feeling full and satisfied, as well as for their many other nutritional benefits, in addition to all the other foods you eat—that I recommend.

And now that we really see a benefit we could start to break down the barriers to eating veggies. Making change, including dietary change, seems to be about the cost benefit; if the cost of changing what you do seems too high you won’t do it. And the costs of eating vegetables aren’t simply measured in dollars. No, the costs include the time it takes to shop for them, the hassle of making them, learning how to prepare them, and sitting down to eat them. And, perhaps, the energy to convince the others at the table to try them.

Check out my next post on practical strategies to lower these costs so you can enjoy all the benefits, including helping you manage your weight in a healthy range! Coming soon, I promise!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

How To Cook A Healthy Meal Before Eating Everything In Sight.

The last thing I want is to come home at 6:30 PM, hungry and tired, and have to decide what to cook. And then to have to cook it. And to have to wait for it. All the while snacking, impatiently, awaiting the real food to be ready. By which time I couldn't care less for the meal I’ve started to prepare.

Welcome crock pot cooking! Now the problem is solved. And perfect for the brisk Fall and winter temperatures. Do I sound like an infomercial? Let me remind you that no ads accompany this post!

Here’s how it works.
First, buy or acquire a crock pot 
(although it seems that many people have them stored away, forgetting they even exist, and, how convenient they can make life.) You don’t need anything fancy—high, low and warm settings have done the trick for me for years. And they tend to be rather inexpensive.

Add ingredients to the pot. You could cut up and toss in your ingredients the night before (then refrigerate) or in the morning, before heading out. And foods can be added while still frozen, right from the freezer! Trust me, I do it all the time. If you are adapting a stew or soup recipe, there’s no need to sauté or brown the food first (except if you are using ground beef or other meats which you might want to drain the fat from first. Foods generally can cook for 7-8 hours, depending on the temperature setting.

You can include all components of a healthy, balanced meal all in one pot: protein (chicken on the bone, skin removed, beef or pork, or dried beans or lentils for those of you looking for some vegetarian options), vegetables (fresh or frozen) a bit of oil (minimal is needed) and some grain or starchy vegetable (potatoes, winter starch, or rice, for instance). Root vegetables do quite well, including parsnip and butternut squash and add a good deal of richness to the flavor.

Add liquid. The liquid could be a combination of ready-made stock for convenience (vegetable or chicken generally work well) and water. But you could be creative and add things like apple cider, tomato juice, wine or beer (but obviously not together!). Okay, the last two don’t fit into a food group, but can enhance the flavor and be included as part of the liquid.

Add spices according to your taste.  Onion and garlic are always reliable, but dare to try ingredients like Chinese 5 Spice or cumin, two of my favorites and quite aromatic! Truly, the sky is the limit. Adjust for flavor once cooking is complete.

Return home many hours later to the aroma of delicious, read to eat, home-cooked food. It will certainly make it easier to avoid that out of control picking after work, school or errand-running all day.

Now I realize that many of you aren’t so comfortable with just winging it, without quantities, as in a recipe. So consider using any stew or soup recipe or searching the web or cookbooks for crock pot recipes. But don’t let it seem too overwhelming! From my experience, it’s rather difficult to ruin a crock pot meal. There are really only two potential issues you may encounter. There may be too much liquid, since liquid doesn’t evaporate from the crock pot the way it would cooked stove top. If you don't like soupiness use less liquid than your stovetop recipe calls for. Second--many grains, if added at the start of the cooking, will become too mushy in the final product. So if possible, add rice toward the end of the cooking (or cook it separately) or better yet, use a whole grain like brown or wild rice which tends to stand up much better.

The dish shown above contained carrots, parsnip, sweet peppers, scallion and frozen chicken breast on the bone. For liquid I used apple cider and water, and added Chinese 5 Spice and a few shakes of salt. I have also added dried fruit, including prunes, dried cherries and raisins in the past, which is quite nice. With the amount of liquid, it was more of a soup than a stew, but tasted wonderful nonetheless. 
Today's crock pot meal I decided to measure as I prepared it, so that I could hopefully inspire you to try it at home. 

So here goes!

Lori's Made Up Crockpot Recipe (Serves 4)


2 Tbsps. vegetable or olive oil
3 split chicken breasts, on the bone, skin removed (~2.5 lbs.)
1 large, peeled butternut squash , cut into chunks (buying it pre-peeled and seeded saves a bit of time)
4 cloves garlic
1 large onion
4 carrots, peeled, thickly sliced
2 large parsnips, peeled, thickly sliced
3 celery stalks, sliced
1 1/2 cups reduced sodium chicken stock
bunch of fresh parsley, chopped

Add the oil, then chicken, tossing all other ingredients on top. Feel free to be creative, according to your taste, adding additional vegetables or herbs or spices you enjoy.
Cover and cook on low setting, 6 or more hours (mine cooked for 9 1/2 hours--I put in a long day today)-- and was delicious! Serve over noodles, rice or couscous, if you like.

Crock pot meals freeze really well and can be reheated in just a few minutes. Besides the convenience, they help to ensure you (and your family) are getting a variety of vegetables and grains, with minimal added fats. And only one pot to clean! Enjoy!

Do you have a crock pot recipe to share? Please post it in comments!