Friday, November 26, 2010

The Morning After

Moving on after overeating.

I slept past my spin class this morning. Then onto the NY Times for a bit of reading, when I started to have distracting thoughts about how you are surviving after a food focused holiday. So here I am.
We spend a lot of time preparing for holiday meals—the cooking, the planning, the anticipating. But we give minimal attention to getting past the eating-driven event. So how’d you do? Did you get to enjoy your food? Did you even taste it? Were you preoccupied with what you were eating and what the consequence would be? Are you feeling you really overdid it?

The problem with Thanksgiving is there is too much delicious food to eat, and it’s hard to enjoy it all at one sitting. And because we view many of the foods as special treats, dishes that are cooked or baked just once a year, we tend to view it as “now or never”.

So here are a few thoughts for managing post Thanksgiving and other eating fests:

• Don’t get rid of the leftovers. Oh no, is it too late? The point is, you don’t want to be set up to see these food items as things you must eat all in one day, on the only day of the year they are served. And the only day they are allowed. Are they already gone? Then plan to make them again at a later date.

• I did say keep them. But take them out of view. If the pumpkin or apple pie sits on the counter it will call to you to eat it. I mean it. This is a truly normal experience, and no sign of weakness, I might add. Slice up the leftovers, wrap them well and slip them in a Ziploc in the freezer. And push them to the back. You don’t have to have them hidden or throw them out. At least this allows to you not eat them on impulse (really, they are not as good straight from the freezer). Then allow yourself to include them when you’re hungry. Yes, even apple pie can satisfy many a food group, perhaps with a glass of milk for breakfast. I hope it’s not too late!

• I don’t encourage calorie counting, but the number 3,500 is good to keep in mind. That’s how many extra calories, surplus, over-and-above-your-baseline-need for calories that you must eat to gain a single pound. Why tell you this? Because if you’re ruminating about how you overate yesterday it’s a helpful reality check. Maybe you really ate more than you needed by last night. I know I did. But in the scheme of things, it’s not going to make a dent in your weight.

That is unless you decide that you blew it. And you know how that cycle goes. You’ll then continue in one of two directions. Either 1) You’ll feel like you failed and then decide to “keep going”, to continue to overeat, without regard to the signals your body gives you, without attention to hunger and fullness or 2) You’ll feel like you failed and decide to “make up for it”, eating less than you need, in spite of what your body is telling you, denying your hunger.

Best solution? Take a breath and move on. It’s only a single meal or day. And try to do something to help you feel good today. A walk, perhaps? Bubble bath? Shopping?
As for me, I’m gonna take some pictures to post with this blog, finish reading the newspaper, then take my baby for a walk. My dog, that is. Then it’s time for some bread baking for dinner tonight!

I'd love to hear from you! Did you survive this holiday eating better than past years? Did you learn something you might use to prevent a slip next time? Enjoy the rest of the weekend.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Twinkies For Weight Control.

Finally A Diet You Can Easily Stick To!

Professor Haub’s got it right.  For ten weeks the Kansas State nutrition professor reduced his calories, resulting in a 27-pound weight loss, and an 8 ½ point decrease in percent body fat (from his overweight 33.4%).  And he achieved this consuming 2/3 of his calories from junk food. Yes, a diet made up almost exclusively of forbidden foods. Doritos, Twinkies and Hostess cakes, Oreos and sweetened cereals to name a few. Oh, and about 18 calories per day of baby style carrots, in addition to some nutrient packed supplements.

To me, the guy is brilliant. His actions and the results fly in the face of what the general food obsessed dieter believes to be true, demonstrating that it all comes down to calories.

What happens to the Twinkie-restricted?

Beth came to see me this week with a history of binge eating, with periods of bulimia for over 24 years. Her pattern was to follow the Overeaters Anonymous (OA) grey sheet—a rigid, restrictive intake of carbohydrate types and amounts. Sweets have absolutely no place on this plan. Even fruit was limited to one piece daily. Go figure.
Then after a daytime of successful adherence to the plan she would binge at night on guess what? The forbidden foods. She’d feel so terrible she would start the next day determined to restrict, to make up for the damage. And this would only perpetuate the cycle. Yet when I pointed out this pattern, suggesting she change her rules and liberalize her daytime intake of the very foods she binged on, she looked stunned—and frightened. In spite of the fact that her current strategy failed her, she clung to it like a lifeboat, with a faith that maybe this time it might save her. And she’s been stuck here for 24 years.

Now back to the Twinkie diet and weight management. From a weight stand point your body couldn’t care less where your calories come from—carbohydrate, protein, or fat, the three building blocks of all foods. Nor does the form of the food matter. High or low glycemic index, high fiber or processed, it all comes down to calories.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting you only eat Twinkies, so to speak, because for health, we also need a variety of nutrients. Those three building blocks I mentioned, as well as vitamins, minerals, and fiber. And then there’s the benefit of antioxidants and polyphenols, chemical substances which occur in foods and help prevent disease.

So what’s the benefit of Twinkies, then? We certainly don’t need them, nutritionally speaking. But allowing them as part of a balanced diet doesn’t have to interfere with energy balance and may even help. Because you won’t feel deprived and dissatisfied choosing only those foods you perceive as “good” for you. Being flexible with your food choices helps shift your thoughts and eating behaviors.
Instead of feeling it’s “now or never” when you have a sweet or chips, giving yourself permission allows you to have just as much as you really need at the moment. Because you know it’s going to be there later. And over time, you’ll start to trust that eating these foods does not cause weight gain, as Prof. Haub so skillfully demonstrated.

Yes, legalizing foods, truly giving yourself permission to eat even those items with little nutritional value ultimately helps weight regulation.
Think about it. How do you feel if you have something you think you shouldn’t be eating? Feel like you’ve ruined it? Does the “what the heck effect” take over, leading to continued eating and overeating? Eat foods that satisfy and you’ll stop searching around, trying to fill the void with everything else.

Clients sometimes present feeling frustrated with their inability to manage their weight. They state they “know what to eat”, may select healthy foods, and are left puzzled that their weight continues to climb. Just as the Twinkie diet doesn’t cause weight gain, a diet full of healthy foods doesn’t ensure a healthy weight. It’s still about how much you take in. Again, it all comes down to balancing your needs (for stabilizing, losing, or gaining, depending on you), and your intake.

Look for an upcoming post on practical strategies to legalize the forbidden foods—without overdoing it.

Comments welcome! 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Lemony Lentil Stew

Quick, cheap, easy to prepare, good for you, this lentil stew is a pleaser. Oh, and did I mention it tastes great too? I adapted it from Epicurious ( which is worth a virtual visit. Feel free to be creative and consider additional changes, including those suggested below.  

I chose not to cook this in the crock pot, because I was concerned about it turning to mush. And besides, it takes so little time (total time required is under a half hour). I cooked it Sunday night and refrigerated it. Then dinner was ready after a brief microwaving, after a long day of talking about food and eating!

Lemony Lentil Stew With Spinach and Potatoes
(serves 2-3 but can easily by doubled or tripled)

2 Tblsps. Olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
3 cups reduced sodium vegetable stock
1 cup dry lentils, uncooked, rinsed and picked over (brown give a heartier flavor, but any will work)
2 small or 1 very large red potato, skin on, cut into chunks
1 ½ lemon
7 oz baby spinach (or close to that amount)
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
¼ cup fresh mint
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp thyme
feta cheese, crumbled on top

Also consider adding:


Zaatar (a mideastern blend of spices available in the international aisle of supermarkets or in specialty stores)


Up to 5 cups of stock if you prefer a soup versus a stew


Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat.
Add garlic and stir for 30 seconds.
Add vegetable broth and lentils and brink to a boil.
Reduce heat, cover, and simmer 10 minutes.
Add potatoes and cook uncovered until potatoes and lentils are tender, stirring occasionally (about 15 or so minutes, longer for yellow lentils).

Meanwhile, grate ½ tsp. lemon peel and squeeze 3 Tbsps. lemon juice (more if desired). Add to stew, along with spices and spinach.
Cover and simmer until spinach wilts and is cooked through, about 2 minutes.
Add mint and stir.

Top with feta if desired. Then season with salt and pepper.

Serve with a hearty whole grain bread. A scoop of plain yogurt could work in place of the feta, if desired.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Honor Thy Hunger and Thy Fullness

3 ½ hours together driving back from New York gave us plenty of time to share music. I started by excitedly playing a recent find (Crayola by Kristen Andreassen a performer I recently saw live, and whose group I adore. I hear this song and a huge grin comes across my face. Pure happiness! I feel good listening to Kristen and her silly lyrics—they make me smile, and tap my feet, and lift my mood. So I like it. No, I love it!

Then my son shares his tune. It’s okay, I think. It could grow on me, but I’d have to hear it again. He’s shocked, I could tell. When I ask him what he likes about it, he starts by describing the amazing, complex musical composition, comparing it to classics I didn’t know he was familiar with. And he truly appreciated the sophisticated lyrics. He had listened carefully to the words, and deeply to their meaning, quite analytically.

Our differing approaches to listening to music really struck me. For him, it’s a cerebral activity. For me, a gut reaction, strictly emotional, arousing my senses, not engaging my brain.

It made me think about eating. We’ve gotten too intellectual, too cognitive, too academic about eating. We’ve been guided to count things and analyze—calories, points, fat grams, approaching eating like a math equation. Eating is reduced to a chore, as we straddle restraining our eating, restricting what we really want choosing instead what our brain (and our doctor, the health experts and our mothers) say are wise and healthy choices. Short term we follow the rules, later over-indulging and regretting it afterwards. We focus only on external guidance, based on shoulds, and rarely on internal cues such as hunger and fullness.

In my last post I shared my forty-eight hour food fest as a way to normalize eating, to show you it was possible. But I hadn’t guided you on the how. So sorry! I plan to make it up to you in this and upcoming posts, providing the steps to get there.

Denying hunger

Denying hunger seems to be normal, a goal even, and not just for eating disordered individuals. No, it seems that most people who present to my office describe a mode of denying hunger, attempting to not respond to it, to buffer it with everything from diet sodas, to coffee, to huge quantities of water. Part of this is learned—Weight Watchers has always told members to have a glass of water when they are hungry. Partly they see short-term success with this strategy (did you catch the short term part?) So let’s think about this brilliant guidance. It seems to me most people (and dogs) know when they are thirsty, as opposed to hungry. And that if you substitute water for food, it's gonna bite you in the end. You'll get excessively hungry, and irritable and end up less in control of your food intake.

It seems to me that your goal should be to listen to your hunger—to eat when your body says it’s hungry and to not eat when it has had enough. You can’t not eat when you've had enough, and also not eat when your body says it’s hungry! It just won’t work.

Honor your hunger

Ideally, you’d eat when your body tells you it’s hungry—but not too hungry. You know what happens if hunger goes too far. That is not our goal. Rather, strive to respond to your hunger when it is just moderate. However it does help, when you are just getting started and are not very tuned into your body and its signals, to avoid going long periods without eating. It’s variable, but generally by 3 ½-4 hours it’s starting to feel too long if you haven’t eaten.
This may require you to carry snacks with you, and to do a bit of planning so that you have food available for when you need it. Or to make a detour in your plans, as needed.

Honoring your hunger means eating whenever you need to, regardless of the hour, regardless if anyone else needs food. (Yes, even after 8 PM!) I was at a conference the past three days and found myself very hungry at times I was not accustomed to needing to eat. It certainly did make sense—I did a ton of walking throughout this enormous complex and used public transportation—a significant increase over my usual driving and sitting at work all day.

But we shouldn’t need to analyze it. It should be enough that my body said I was hungry, that I needed fuel, and I needed to trust that. And I did.

Yes, we need to trust our body and what it’s telling us. And we need to ask, when we feel like eating, if that is truly hunger, the need for fuel, or an appetite for food to satisfy some other needs. You know, when you need comfort, to manage stress, anxiety, or sadness. Or because you had a hard day and feel you deserve it, or simply because you can.  Or because it’s available and feels like now or never. Or because everyone else is indulging. If it’s for any or all the reasons listed other that hunger, than no amount of food will readily feel like enough, and so you’ll find yourself overeating until you’re in a very uncomfortable place.

But maybe you struggle on the other side of the spectrum. “I’m not hungry”, you may say, so why should I eat? If you are in a healthy place, when your body and its signals work for you to maintain energy balance, that may be appropriate to listen to. But when you’ve been restricting, appetite gets suppressed, and hunger drops off. Our body also slows down, using less fuel 24/7 as a result. This can be compounded by anxiety and depression, impacting your interest in food, and even causing physical limitations such as stomach upset and tightness and difficulty swallowing. So you get into a catch-22 situation and normal self-regulating of food for energy balance will fail you.

The point is, there are times the signals don’t work for us. So if you are not in a healthy state then yes, you need to start by following some rules or guidelines designed to get you and your body on track. But ultimately, your signals will work for you, if you choose to listen to them!

Honoring hunger means eating throughout the day, as needed, even if you plan to go out to dinner. It means getting hungry, and responding to that hunger with food, with fuel. It means eating at 9:30, or 10:20, or 11:50 PM, if that's when you get hungry.

Keep a journal if you can. You can start just with the times you ate and your hunger rating (1-7 works well). Eating when hunger isn’t there? Were there other triggers which led to the eating? Or did something interfere with your ability to sense your hunger?
This is just a start! There is so much to share about legalizing foods, eating mindfully and eating until comfortably full. For now, just start with focusing, and honoring your hunger.

And let me know how it goes.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Forty-eight food-filled hours. And yes, my jeans still fit.

I love eating. I value being fit and feeling good. And I reject rigid rules about how and what to eat. Strange combo, perhaps, but it works. And there’s truly nothing special about me. Yes, it is possible to manage your weight in a healthy range while enjoying food of all kinds. 

So let me give you a window into my 48-hour food fest this past weekend, in Madison, Wisconsin. It’s a lovely town, Madison, with the best of restaurants. But the draw was a last chance to catch the outdoor farmer’s market before snow falls in the Midwest, and to experience the Madison Food and Wine show. Oh, and did I mention that my son lives there too? Yes, that was the main draw to Madison!

The eating began with a delectable dinner at The Coopers Tavern, where I had, among other dishes, an amazing farro salad (see recipe adaptation below). What is farro salad, you ask? A mix of whole wheat grain tossed with greens in a truffle vinaigrette, roasted wild mushrooms, cauliflower, red peppers and croutons. I learned that truffle oil is now a must have ingredient, even if it means working extra hours to pay for it. And it reinforces that even foods that are quite good for you (whole grain, high fiber, etc.) can taste great.

Next morning after a boring hotel continental breakfast—you know, bran flakes, yogurt, fruit—we headed to the Capitol square to the weekly farmer’s market. Even the cauliflower and parsnips were beautiful to view, but the tasting included no vegetables at all. No, cheeses, including the local specialty, fried cheese curds, were the focus, along with honey and jams. I didn’t eat much, given how tiny the samples were, so by early afternoon I was ready for my next feeding. 

Off to another favorite spot, newly renamed Graze. What a great name for a restaurant! My last visit there enlightened me that their French pastries were second only to those I’d eaten in Paris. 

So my afternoon graze began with a flaky apple cinnamon filled croissant. I’ll let the photo speak for itself! Although it was just a single item, I can assure you it was quite calorie dense and satisfying, and certainly enough to hold me over until my next eating venue—the Madison Food and Wine Show.

If you’re into drinking lots in the afternoon (and are over 21) this might be the event for you. I did get to try a range of beverages, the best being a non-alcoholic chardonnay, and confirmed that Wisconsin is not known for its wines although from those in the know, the local beers are quite good. The cheeses were amazing, as were some local chocolates.

There was a short workout somewhere in the day, I might add. And by dinner I was well in control of my appetite, which was a good thing, because the restaurant we dined in was like none I had eaten in before. Yes, I can say definitively L’Etoile was my best eating experience to date. Also, I might add, perhaps the most expensive, although those two don’t necessarily go hand in hand. 

Highlights of the meal may seem strange—a radish salad, outstanding for its taste, texture and appearance (sorry, too embarrassed to pull out the camera again), the chèvre gnocchi with apples, buttermilk blue cheese, toasted hickory nuts, apple cider reduction and the Farm-raised daurade ( a fish special ordered from Greece), scallion-potato cakes, bok choy, pea vine salad and a truffle vinaigrette. You just can’t eat this food mindlessly. Ever bite was savored and thoroughly delighted in.

Pumpkin pancakes were a must the next morning at Marigolds, my favorite breakfast spot. The final food highlight was the beverage on State street, Café miel latte, created with 2 shots of expresso, skim milk, honey and cinnamon. Total yum!

I recently heard the expression food porn, referring to food writers’ description of food and eating in a decadently passionate way, to arouse desire. That wasn’t my 

intent here. Rather, I wanted you to see that while this weekend was a bit extreme, and no, I don’t eat this way every 48 hours, we can and should thoroughly enjoy our food whether it’s a simple home-cooked meal or a fancy meal out. And if you choose what you truly enjoy, you will feel so much more satisfied than if you only choose what you think you should eat.

As for weight management? I, and you, don’t need to compulsively exercise to make up for our food intake. We need to listen to our body, to it’s signals and respond appropriately. Managing your weight is more about the how much you eat, and less about the what you eat. It’s about trusting when you are hungry, and recognizing when eating is driven by other factors—like boredom, stress, feeling like you blew it. And it’s about truly giving yourself permission to eat what you really want, and using all your senses to fully experience it.

Please share with us how you enjoyed a recent meal. 

And enjoy the recipe, provided by the new and sure to be a favorite Coopers Tavern!

Coopers Tavern Farro Salad

• Prepare vinaigrette
1/3 c white wine vinegar
2/3 c canola oil (or other mild oil)
2 tsp truffle mustard (available on line from KL Keller, $15/bottle) or be creative and use 2 tsps. dijon mustard and several drops of a good black truffle oil (pricy, but you really only use a few drops at a time).
Salt and pepper to taste
• Roast cauliflower and wild mushrooms in garlic olive oil (400 degrees, 40 mins should do it).
• Mix together salad: mixed baby greens, wild mushrooms (cremini, oyster and shiitake were used at the restaurant--divine!), roasted red peppers (the jarred kind, drained and rinsed will work)
• Cook farro (see this link for a good visual It will close to triple in volume, so don't make too much!
• Add about 1/2 cup cooked farro to the salad and toss with about 4 Tbsps. of the vinaigrette.
• Add croutons, if desired. (Personally, I'd rather skip them and eat more farro!)

I realize this is way more labor intensive than many might dare to attempt. But the flavor is truly phenomenal. And you could be flexible about the amount of vegetables and farro you use, as well as the dressing. Maybe it will simply inspire you to try some new ingredients or experience truffle oil or other intensely flavorful food products. Or more simply, take a trip to Madison and have Tim Larsen, the chef at Coopers Tavern make it for you!  
Either way, enjoy!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Pecan pumpkin pancakes (you can feel good about eating!)

Pancakes and weight management--An oxymoron? Think again.

Did you think you were done eating pancakes, placing them on your list of forbidden foods for managing your weight? Time to rethink that. Pancakes, especially these pancakes, really satisfy, with their lovely fluffy texture and aromatic spice mix. And you can feel good about eating them. They are low in saturated fat and even have some fiber. They're a great source of Beta carotene (vitamin A) so if you or your kids aren't crazy for vegetables they're the perfect solution. So go ahead and try them, and tell me what you think!

Perfect Pumpkin Pancakes (with or without the pecans)

Makes 22-24 pancakes 
Serves 5-7 people (depending on their appetites)

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup whole wheat flour
¼ cup ground flax seed (aka flax meal)
3 Tbsps. Brown sugar
2 tsps. Baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. allspice
1 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. powdered ginger
½ tsp salt
1 ½ cups low fat milk (soy is an option)
1 cup canned pumpkin
1 large egg
2 Tbsps. oil
2 Tbsps. vinegar
pecans, optional
Butter, oil, or oil-spray to lightly coat the griddle or pan.

Mix all dry ingredients together (everything through ‘salt’.)
In a separate, large bowl, mix remaining ingredients—the wet stuff.

Combine the two mixtures, mixing just until the dry ingredients no longer appear.
Heat griddle, medium heat, coating lightly with butter, oil, or spray-butter. Personally, I like to use a small amount of butter—about 2 tsps. for the whole griddle, just at the start.

Once hot (a drop of water sizzling will confirm and works better than using your fingers!) add just under ¼ cup of batter to the pan for each pancake. After a few minutes (usually once pancakes begin to bubble) flip to cook the other side. The bubbling isn’t so visible on these pancakes, so give them a few minutes to start puffing up, and then flip.

Heat a mini size pitcher (see photo) with maple syrup. Microwaving for 10-15 seconds works fine. It will enhance the flavor of the syrup, and cause it to thin out, making it easy to both use just a small amount, or spill it all over your plate, if you’re not careful. 

You can double the recipe and let the leftovers cool. Then place in a ziploc bag and freeze. Microwave reheat for midweek breakfasts or afternoon snacks.