Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Healer

WARNING: This blog entry is rated PG or PG-13, depending on your standards. There’s no food porn, I promise, but there is a wee bit of *ahem* s-e-x. Nothing that’ll make you want to light a cigarette, but a little blush-worthy, at least for me.
“Researching” my book last year led me to the basement and the box of journals I keep in a box waaaaay in the back of the third shelf, behind Christmas decorations and another box filled with every paper I wrote in college. (I was an English major with a writing minor. It’s a VERY big box.)

I’ve kept a journal since sixth grade and I still have the small hard-cover blue diary I began when I started “going with” my boyfriend Ricky. Since then, I’d amassed quite a collection of cloth-bound, spiral-bound and leather-bound journals.

I dug out the one I kept in 1989 when I was newly divorced, had just started college and was working full time. I weighed 170 pounds. When I was 300 pounds, I’d have given a body part to weigh 170, but in 1989, it made me self-conscious. Throughout the journal is the line, “I wish I was 30 pounds lighter…” After a blind date, I wrote, “He is gorgeous and nice and funny and I’m sure I’ll never see him again. He’s too everything for someone like me. I know what kind of men care about me (for longer than a night) and he’s not it.”

Poor me, right? *eyeroll* No need to feel sorry for boo-hooing me because a few pages later, the name “Jace”* starts popping up. (*Not his real name, but I’m using it because in Greek it means “healer,” which will become clear by the end of this blog.)

Here’s my story of Jace.

I was out with some colleagues for a drink before picking up my kids, making dinner and watching “The Cosby Show.”

You know how busy bars are during happy hour – you have to practically yell to talk to the person next to you. But within the hum and laughter, I heard a voice that was definitely not Minnesotan. I casually glanced over my shoulder. Sitting on a stool adjacent to me was a broad-shouldered, dark-haired man wearing a tailored suit. He set his drink on the bar and caught me staring. He grinned. My insides turned to Jell-O.

My friends finished their drinks and asked the bartender for their tab. From the corner of my eye, I saw the dark-haired man glancing at me as he talked with his friends.

‘Crap,’ I thought. ‘Do I stay or do I go?’

I did a quick mental assessment. I was a size 14 and wearing a forgettable skirt and blouse with the buttons undone one hole lower than at work. I’d also freed my hair from its barrette. Hardly stunning, but I was still in good standing with the Pretty Face Club, and thanks to a little liquid courage, I felt sufficiently attractive.

I turned around and smiled at him just as his friends went to get another drink. I leaned over and asked him, “Your accent. Is that Italian?”

He smiled a wide perfect-teeth smile and said, “No. I’m Greek.”

Oh my.

My friends said their goodbyes and whispered, “Call us tomorrow” as the man moved his stool next to mine.

“I’m Jace,” he said. “Who are you?”

I said, “Lynn,” but when he said it, he pronounced it “Lean.” Oh the irony.

Within 45 minutes I learned he held a Ph.D. in electrical engineering and worked for a consulting firm on the west coast. He lived in a corporate apartment when he was in Minneapolis, and his family lived in Greece. He was thinking of buying a Porsche, and was currently reading a German translation of “War and Peace.” I had to pinch myself because he was so dreamy, then I remembered my kids and dinner and “Cosby.” I said I had to leave and he wrote down his personal number on his business card.

“Call me,” he said, and I floated home.

The next day my inner fat girl wondered what a handsome, well-dressed, worldly man like Jace wanted with a frumpy overweight secretary with kids? The woman with the loosened blouse and free hair and subtle wine buzz disappeared in the night, but I knew I needed her help to convince the fat chick to call this guy back. It took a few good hair days and some tough love, but I called him.

“Lean, baby” he growled.

He asked me to dinner for the following Saturday and we agreed that I’d pick him up since I didn’t want my kids meeting Mommy’s new friend. When I got to his apartment, he greeted me at the door, all 6-foot 2-inches of him, with a smile so devilish that Satan himself would have turned around and run the other direction. That’s what my better judgment did, but the rest of me walked in and he locked the door behind me.

We exchanged nice-to-see-you-agains and sat down on the couch. CNN was on TV and “War and Peace” was on the coffee table. As we talked, I tried to avoid his gaze because his eyes were like pools of melted chocolate. If that’s all I had to worry about, we might have made it to dinner that night, but there was no avoiding his accent. It was like an aural massage.

I didn’t care whether mistake or good fortune lay ahead, but I finally decided to get brave and look him straight in the eyes. He placed his large soft hands on my face, smiled and whispered “Baby,” then wrapped his lips around my mouth like a lid on Tupperware. My body went totally limp and he moved me on to his lap like I was as light as tissue paper.

My fat girl was screaming, “There’s a light on! Don’t let him see your stretch marks! My God, what are you doing letting him touch your breasts while you’re in that upright position! You know you should be lying down!” But what I was feeling was enough to send that fat chick packing. For a few hours, I didn’t think about my too-large hips or my mother-of-two apron belly. I just let myself feel.

‘Where did he learn this?’ I kept thinking, because I was signing up all future boyfriends for that class.

I know confidence has to come from within, blah blah blah, but meeting Jace and going toe-to-toe with my fat chick, even for a little while, helped me see myself in a new light.

Jace was so good looking that women would buy him drinks when clearly they could see we were on a date. It was intimidating (because of course ALL those women were WAY better looking then me, right?), but Jace always focused on me when we were together. I began to see that this was more than a physical thing, though not exactly a “love” thing, either, in the traditional sense. I knew that from the start and never tried to change it. I just let things unfold, which was so unlike tight-gripped, control freak me.

Jace was as passionate about conversation and debate as he was about sex. I’d just started college, but he treated me like I had a Ph.D. He was fascinated by my life – my little old podunk life. He asked me questions about my reading lists, taught me about foreign policy from a Greek perspective, and encouraged my writing. That he believed in me opened the door for me to believe in myself. How do you thank someone for that?

We saw each other on and off for a few years until his project in Minneapolis was complete. He went back to the west coast and I moved to the east. I thought about him once in awhile over 17 years, and finally last year, I looked for him on the Internet – not because I was unhappy or needy. I was writing about that time in my life for the book and I was curious about where he was and if it was possible to let him know what an influence he’d been in my life.

He was easy to find. I sent him an email asking him if he remembered me. Not an hour later I got an email back. Yes, yes, he said, I remember you. He asked me where I lived. As luck would have it, he was going to be at a conference in Pittsburgh the following month and, fully sanctioned by my husband, we made plans to have dinner.

I won’t lie. I was scared to death to see him, like I was that insecure girl at the bar all over again. But when I saw his fabulous grin and he hugged me and said, “Hello, Lean,” I knew I’d made the right decision to contact him. Our friendship transcended the years and we talked for hours.

When I explained I was writing a book, he said he knew I could do it. When I thanked him for all he’d done for me physically and intellectually, he said he didn’t understand. How did I not know then that I was a good and worthy person? I just sighed. He hadn’t changed a bit.

But I had.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Moroccan Stew, Mushroom Sloppy Joes, and Roasted Cauliflower and Broccoli: This Is A Food/Recipe Post (open at your own risk)

I must be the most naïve blogger in the world. I had no idea it was a courtesy to put a “Food Porn” warning in the title if a blog entry mentioned food. I apologize to anyone who’s had food cravings or binges after reading one of my blogs.

Today’s entry is all about food. Healthy food, albeit, but food nonetheless. Binging on this stuff will only give you a really bad case of gas.

I love Taste of Home, particularly its Healthy Cooking Magazine. I found this recipe in the regular Taste of Home magazine, but it could easily have been in Healthy Cooking. It’s vegetarian, low fat, hearty and packs a great lemon-cinnamon punch. It’s my new favorite soup. And I don’t say this lightly since I’m a huge soup fan. This is really good stuff for 3 Points for a 1½-cup serving. My only advice: don’t overcook the potatoes.

(FYI: I substitute 2 cups of carrots for the butternut squash when husband Larry’s eating this since he isn’t a fan of the cucurbita moschata (I heart Wikipedia).)

Moroccan Chickpea Stew


1 large onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 cinnamon stick (3 inches)
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
4 cups vegetable broth
2 cups cubed peeled butternut squash (or carrots)
1 can (15 ounces) chickpeas or garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
1 can (14-1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes, undrained
1 medium red potato, cut into 1-inch cubes (1 cup)
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes (2 cups)
1 medium lemon, thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 small zucchini, cubed
3 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro


In a Dutch oven, sauté onion in oil and butter until tender. Add the garlic, cumin, cinnamon stick and chili powder; sauté 2 minutes longer.

Stir in the broth, squash, chickpeas, tomatoes, potatoes, lemon and salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until potatoes and squash are almost tender.

Add zucchini; return to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 5-8 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Discard cinnamon stick and lemon slices. Stir in cilantro. Yield: 9 servings (about 2 quarts).

Cauliflower & Broccoli

Here’s what I’ve learned about roasting cauliflower the right way (as opposed to my normal hurry-up-and-roast-already): Cauliflower TAKES TIME. It took me a year to figure this out. But taking time to do it right is well worth it.

I hate cutting up cauliflower. It’s like wiping off spitballs or Styrofoam on your cutting board – impossible to clean. Those little white florets stick to everything. But last week, using my hands instead of a knife, I broke the cauliflower apart into little pieces over my ceramic roasting pan to catch all the little white bits. Worked great! I threw in some minced garlic cloves, sprinkled some pepper and a tiny bit of seasoned salt on top, sprayed it all with Pam, and put it in a 375-degree oven.

After 20 minutes I tossed the mixture and set the timer for another 20 minutes. I tossed it again and set the timer for 10 minutes. I checked on it occasionally, but it took the full 50 minutes to be Lynn Done. Time and a lower temperature produced THE best roasted cauliflower I’ve ever had. I used to eat it after roasting it for 30 minutes thinking hard and chewy (in other words, RAW) was how I was supposed to eat it. But I’m not that raw kind of gal. I like my food caramelized, soft, dark, really cooked. I order my toast nearly burned, I like the “burnt” potato chips, and when I ate meat, I preferred chicken or turkey thighs.

My new-found knowledge about cauliflower applies to broccoli, too (however, I sliced it rather than rip it apart with my hands). I sprinkle it with pepper and garlic powder, coat it with Pam, and roast it for 20 minutes, after which I toss it again, give it another 20 minutes, then watch it and test it until it is Lynn Done. I throw on some parmesan cheese and called it dinner. Well…PART of dinner. Tonight I added this:

Portobello Mushroom and Bell Pepper Sloppy Joes

1 T. olive oil (or you can eliminate the oil and sauté the veggies in a bit of vegetable broth)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
2 small bell peppers (I prefer sweet red peppers)
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 pound portobello mushrooms, thinly sliced
Salt and pepper to taste
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
2 T tomato paste
1-2 T Worcestershire sauce (2 T will give you a nice tangy flavor)
1 t dried oregano
½ t Tabasco

Heat the oil (or broth) in a large skillet coated with cooking spray. Add garlic, pepper and onions. Cook until slightly softened. Add the mushrooms (and a little more broth) and cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are softened and liquid is absorbed.

Add tomato sauce and paste, Worcestershire, oregano and Tabasco. Stir well. Cook until thickened.

Spoon mixture on to your favorite bread/bun/wrap/Arnold’s.

Makes 4 servings

I’ve missed sloppy joes. I haven’t had them since my ground-turkey-eating days. I knew I could substitute Boca or something like that, but I wasn’t real enthused about it (too much sodium). Then I saw this recipe in O Magazine last month. I tried it tonight and really liked it. My new motto: Give me veggies over fake meat any day.

So there you have it. My new favorite foods. None of them will bring about world peace, but they make me happy after a day of writing and fussing and running around. The veggies also make great breakfast side dishes. I love a good smoothie and some green tea and roasted broccoli before a workout. I used to eat 2 cups of Frosted Mini Wheats and drink a quart of orange juice and called myself healthy…

*shaking head*

Tomatoes are ripening everywhere so I bought some Romas and Big Boys at the farmer's market on the way home from P'burgh today. Tomato sauce and will be mine.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The CarbFest Comes To An End

I got back on the clean-eating wagon yesterday after a 3-day “No Formal Exercise and Carb Fest” in NYC and CT. While I didn’t go crazy by most standards, I was definitely off my food game.

As you know from my last blog, I carbed up a bit in NYC on Thursday and Friday, but had no regrets. Fighting a slight hangover and lack of sleep, I drove to CT early Saturday morning from NYC armed with little more than a bag of cheddar and sour cream Baked Lays and Hershey Kisses. I arrived at Diva AJ’s around 10 a.m., and after much hugging and photo taking, AJ, Sondra, Kick and I went to a beautiful park where we talked, got rained on, and ate hummus, rice crackers, plums and pears, and sipped on fruit beer.

At the grocery store on our way back to AJ’s, I vowed to eat no more breads/crackers/chips/fruit for the rest of the night and made a salad at the salad bar for dinner. (I believe my words were, “My kingdom for some spinach!”) Still, the damage was done. I looked four months pregnant from the bloat and knew I could do little else but wait it out.

Asparagus and wine...

Sunday morning, I ate a few edamame while I steamed three cups of broccoli, made a Swiss cheese omelet, and threw some PB2 together and spread it on an Arnold’s Sandwich Thin. I packed it all up (Yes, I ate everything on the road, including the broccoli. I had a fork…) and headed back to NYC to pick up my husband and daughter. On the way home, I ate some plain Greek yogurt and raspberries, one peach, and a Subway veggie sandwich toasted with no cheese and only a smidgeon of lite mayo and mustard. Once home, Larry ran to the store and picked up a bag of spinach and grape tomatoes and I had a salad for dinner. I went to bed feeling a little better, but man, a weekend of high carbs really do a number on my insides.

Today’s post over at MizFit (Big Dietary Changes One Small Step At A Time) is all about cleaning up your eating without a formal “diet plan.” I especially loved this part of her acronym:

“Intuitive eating. Start this one today. Slowly. Listen to what your body is saying. Pay attention to how you feel after eating certain foods. JOURNAL. For me this isn’t journaling *caloric intake* but feelings. Noting how, when I crave sweets, it’s mainly AFTER I’ve had a high processed carbohydrate meal.”

Amen, Miz. It wasn’t until recently (as in the last year) that I actually paid attention to how my body responds to overdoses of carbs. I just thought everyone got bloaty at the end of the day. Umm…no. They don’t. Everyone’s bodies are different in how they respond to carbs, and mine just happens to be very sensitive.

Armed with this awareness, I (usually) limit my bread/pasta/stuff-like-that and fruit intake to no more than two of each every day. I’ll add a starchy veggie once in awhile (regular potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn on the cob), but not every day. Doing this has kept my weight steady for a year. I don’t see the same kind of 2- and 3-pound swings I used to see. Now, day to day, the scale goes up and down in much smaller increments. Most of all, I feel it in my gut. I’m not loosening the belt after 3 p.m. anymore.

This morning, the scale was up 1.6 from last Monday, but it’s all good. No scale freakouts, just getting back on my game. Starting with a typical breakfast and an exercise plan.

Necessity is the mother of invention, and this morning I invented what I think is my new favorite smoothie.

I didn’t buy anything last week that we couldn’t eat before we left or could take along with us because there’s nothing worse than coming home to rotting food. Because Larry’s only mission at the grocery store last night was to get a few veggies, the fridge is pretty bare except for some Greek yogurt and lite soy milk, a handful of frozen berries and a peach: a hearty little soldier that rolled around in the back of the Jeep all weekend. I tossed them all (along with a little stevia) in my smoothie container and turned on the hand mixer. It was a little runny, but the peach added such an awesome flavor I think I’ll ripen all peaches from now on in the back of the Jeep.

I’ll hit the store after my workout (please, elliptical, be kind) and buy stuff for tomato sauce. I have a lovely little butternut squash just waiting to be smothered in tomatoey goodness.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Eating Out In the Big Apple

Good morning from New York City! I wanted to post a quick hello before heading to Connecticut this morning to meet the Maintaining Divas.

New York is only a six-hour car ride from my home in western Pennsylvania – hop on I-80 and drive until it ends – but it’s worlds away in terms of food. I live in a town of 13,000 people, two McDonald’s, two Subway’s, a Taco Bell, a Long John Silver’s, an Arby’s, a Wendy’s, five pizza joints and a Starbucks (how that got there I’ll never know). Sit-down restaurants include Perkins, Applebee’s, a steakhouse, a Mexican restaurant, and a diner that doesn’t serve fruit or vegetables that don’t come from a can, but offers a “salad” made mostly with the white parts of iceberg lettuce and topped with french fries and served with a homemade bread stick the size of a loaf of Wonder Bread.

I’ve become an elitist food snob since I began losing weight almost five years ago. Put me in any restaurant before that and my options were unlimited. Now, I study menus like they’re textbooks and question wait staff like I’m a CSI agent. (“Can you tell me if the base of your vegetable soup is actual vegetable broth, or does your cook use chicken or beef broth?”)

It’s not easy eating out in Podunkville when you prefer your food low fat, your vegetables not swimming in salt and butter, and your salad dressing choices to include options other than Ranch, French and blue cheese. “Let’s go out for dinner” always sounds like a good idea, but it’s always followed with the question, “But where?” I can make whatever we’d eat in any of our local restaurants so much better at home.

That’s why eating out in NYC these last few days has been such a pleasure. While in Times Square, we ate in an Irish pub where the veggie of the day was mashed carrots and parsnips (I have to find a recipe for this somewhere, especially since my daughter liked it. LIKED it. That’s HUGE! We’re talking she ate PARSNIPS. I didn’t think she knew what a parsnip was. I was so proud. :**) …sniff…sniff…). And because of the ¾-mile hike to the subway, walking around Times Square, and in anticipation of the ¾-mile hike back to the hotel, I treated myself to a bit of spinach and artichoke dip made with gruyere cheese. I don’t regret a single bite.

Lunch yesterday was at a place that offered tofu as an option on its salads as well as chicken or salmon. Talk about all inclusive. I had steamed edamame and an entrée of sautéed greens and vegetables over brown rice served with a carrot-ginger dressing. I also ate a few slices of a whole grain baguette. It was a bit more starch than I usually eat in a meal, but again, no regrets.

While my daughter went back into Manhattan for the evening with a friend from school, Larry and I stayed in Queens and went to a small neighborhood restaurant recommended by the hotel staff. We walked there, of course, since parking spots are scarce, but it was worth every step in the rain. I had a warmed beet and apple salad with reduced balsamic, steamed cauliflower and green beans, and bread. Again. Crusty French with butter. It was fabulous.

It’s now time to shower and hit the road to Connecticut. Tomorrow, it’s back to Podunkville – a place I love to live, but hate going out for dinner. In the meantime, I have to see some divas about some wine…

(To read about the Divas, see A Gathering of Divas and The Maintaining Divas Meet At Last.)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

It's A Matter Of Trust

It’s been almost a year since a Great Horned Owl killed a skunk in our back yard. The owl was probably perched in our neighbor’s pine tree, saw dinner, but with its poor sense of smell, didn’t realize he was diving right into a skunk. One whiff after he killed it, he was outta there, leaving us with a carcass and sheets, blankets, shoes, clothes, towels – anything within 50 feet of the back windows – reeking of skunk. It took a month to air out the back half of the house and rid the smell from our linens and clothes.

Skunks are attracted to bird seed, I found out after searching “How to get rid of skunks without killing them.” We have three feeders in our back yard and so with great sadness, I stopped feeding the birds in mid July and will not put feed in again until mid September.

I’m so lonesome I could cry.

I miss the cardinals, sparrows, finches, cowbirds, catbirds and even the mourning doves and blue jays. Every day there was a feeding frenzy at the feeders, and I had a great view whether I was washing dishes or sitting on the deck.

I still fill the bird bath, and once in awhile a cardinal or robin will stop by and take a dip, but it’s not the same.

So I’ve taken to observing bees. They love the salvia and phlox in my garden, and now that the mums have bloomed and the sage and oregano have flowered, bees are everywhere.

Bees break all the rules. Man-made rules, that is. Within our current understanding of aerodynamics, bumble bees shouldn’t be able to fly. However, says Dr. Galapagos on the teacher-oriented website The Flying Turtle, “…not fully understanding how something works does not mean the explanation must then be magic (nor does it mean the only possible explanation is aliens from another planet). A violation of the normal laws of physics would be magic or a miracle.”

Many times I’ve wondered why the scale has gone up or gone down when I haven’t done anything out of the ordinary. I read bloggers and comments from people who ask the same question: “I ate the same thing, worked out the same way this week and I gained three pounds? How does that happen?” All I can say is, “I don’t know.” We can try to explain it, like scientists trying to explain the physics of bumble bees, when maybe all we need to do is trust that our bodies are simply working within some physical laws we don’t understand.

Statistics suggest I should be gaining back the 170 pounds I lost. Unfortunately it’s what most people do after getting to goal. But it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s like “my” birds. I have to trust that even though I haven’t filled the feeders for six weeks, they’ll be back in September. I trust that the salvia and phlox and other flowers will return to my garden next year and so, too, will the bees. I trust that if I keep doing what I’m doing with my body….it will stay the same. Relatively speaking.

This reminds me of the song by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes: “If You Don’t Know Me By Now.” For all the things my body and I have been through together, I should understand it, right? Just trust in it. I’m working on it. Always working on it.

Wouldn’t you know it? As I type this, I smell the faint odor of skunk. Not in my back yard, but somewhere nearby. I can only trust that skunk won’t find its way into our yard. I’ve done everything I can to safeguard the place. But as I know all too well, nothing’s 100 percent.

So I’ll just take some solace in Harold Melvin’s appearance on Soul Train. (Props to Simply Red and his version of this song. I love it, too.) Body, I dedicate this to you:

Side note: I got an email from Marsha from the Fit Woman blog over at the weight-loss retreat Green Mountain at Fox Run in Vermont who said their account was hacked into a few weeks ago which caused a loss in their rankings on major search engines. Just helping them get back in the groove by throwing out some searchable words. Gotta love technology, don’t ya?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Food and the Married Woman

I’m alone tonight. The husband is visiting his kids in upstate New York and so I have no one to cook for but me. And I’m boring, but in a good way.

After Larry and I said our goodbyes, I went to our local farmer’s market and bought A LOT of broccoli, A LOT of green beans, three red onions, one yellow zucchini, two dozen eggs, a huge bundle of beets, a quart of snap peas, an acorn squash, one yellow tomato (because it was pretty), a quart of Brussels sprouts, two purple peppers (they were pretty, too) and a pound of fingerling potatoes. Suffice to say my eyes were bigger than my stomach.

When I tried to find room in the fridge for it all I thought, “Now what?” I figured I’d make the green beans and potatoes tomorrow when the kids and grandkids came me up for dinner, but that still left me with a whole lot of veggies and just me to eat them.

I put some red onions and snap peas in my salad this afternoon, and steamed half the broccoli after a marathon writing session. I really wanted M&Ms, but I knew if I ate M&Ms I wouldn’t have room for the roasted beets and cooked beet greens I had in mind for dinner. I hate to waste money and since I hadn’t even bought the M&Ms, I stuck to my original plan. Now, with a few hours between me and the M&M craving, I realize I made the right food decision.

When Larry’s away, I indulge in my boring favorites: egg white sandwiches with Swiss cheese and ketchup, Boca burgers with pickles and tomatoes, tomato sauce with squash, and string cheese and lime Jell-O (which I know is not vegetarian, and I don’t care, and I don’t eat cheese and Jell-O in some kind of weird combo, either. I eat them separately.). I’m also perfectly content to eat yogurt and plums with a handful of almonds for dinner. How did this happen?

When Larry’s home, I willingly (and usually with enthusiasm) cook a variety of things. But cooking requires creativity which requires energy and some days, like today, I just don’t have it in me.

Back in the days of overweightness and obesity and if Larry was away, I’d have ordered a pizza and garlic cheese bread and then sat my ass in front of the TV and zoned out and ingested. I would have gone to bed stuffed and with heartburn, thinking that was normal. Today, microwave popcorn is an indulgence and I’ll go to bed knowing the scale will be the same tomorrow as it was yesterday and last month and last year. I much prefer that over indigestion.

I think I’ll have squash and some Brussels sprouts tomorrow – two things Larry doesn’t like. Acorn squash is a childhood memory. Mom would bake half a squash for each of us and fill it with butter and brown sugar. I still make acorn squash with butter and brown sugar because there’s simply no substitute. Splenda, stevia, I-Can’t-Believe-It’s-Not-Butter…I don’t think so.

I’m in “fast food” heaven here in my own house. My favorite foods don’t require much more than a toss here or a scramble there. If you’d have told me five years ago that I’d be so easily satisfied, I’d have laughed my 300-pound butt off.

When Larry’s away, I get food lazy, but in a good way. A mini vacation from cooking doesn’t have to entail large amounts of cheese, crust and sauce. Sometimes it’s as simple as an omelet or a roasted beet.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Big Thank You and My August 14 Happy Birthday

Wow, talk about ask and you shall receive! Thanks everyone for your comments and emails regarding my questions about pregnancy weight. You’ve been most helpful in my understanding of the “real story.” I can read professional journals all day, research endlessly, but in the end it’s your views and experiences that matter most.

When I say “thanks,” here’s what I mean. To my blogging friends, our Mutual Admiration Society sustains and nurtures me. Thank you for allowing me to invade your blogs with my comments and for gifting me with yours. I’ve so enjoyed getting to know you in this way.

To new commenters, I was most humbled by your comments and emails. I didn’t realize I had long-time readers like you who chose to come out from behind your screens and say hello and offer your thoughts. I’m so glad to know you’re out there.

I’ve decided to postpone my second subject questions only because I’m not ready to work on that part of the book yet. (You didn’t know you were writing a book with me, did you? I’ll need a separate book just for acknowledgements! LOL)

So in this blog, I’ve decided to wish myself a happy 46th birthday (which is tomorrow, August, 14, but I’ll be out of town before I can post this) rather than shove it under the rug, which is what I was planning to do. (Like I do most every year. More on that later.) I’m too busy to have a birthday right now. (I’m noticing a pattern as I read my birthday blogs from the past.)

46? Not that exciting. But it makes my husband and kids happy to buy me lunch and flowers and spiffy cool Sleep Headphones. I haven’t tried them yet because I don’t have them yet, but Grammar Girl loves them and so I’m sure I will, too.

It’s impossible to lay on my side and listen to my iPod with my ear buds (I’m not a back sleeper), but I really like to fall asleep to White Noise Meditation “music.” It’s soothing, like a blankie, and a natural sleep aid. The Middle, Low and High Theta Relaxation Sessions (which are basically sounds of thunder and rain with an accompanying flute or lute playing softly in the background) calmed me every night I was in Chicago before taping “Oprah,” the night before I was on the “Today Show” and all those times since when I’ve been too stressed to sleep and too tired not to sleep.

Anyway, back to my birthday. Larry and I are going to Pittsburgh and will have lunch at Panera with my friend Chris and daughter Cassie and of course g-babies Claire and Luca. I’ll have one of Panera’s bigass salads (dressing on the side, of course) and a hunk of whole grain baguette. Screw birthday cake (although I may indulge in some lime Jell-O this evening). Stick a candle in that bread and I’ll make a wish. I love their bread. Love it. Did I mention I love it? Because I do. Love it, that is.

I keep forgetting that I turned 6 years old when Woodstock was going on (happy 40th anniversary!!). 400,000 people attended, none of whom were my parents. I grew up in a non-Woodstock kind of family, although my brother – 10 years older than me to the day (Happy birthday, Marty, although I know you don’t read my blog, but just in case…) – had all the Beatles albums and my sister was a fan of the 5th Dimension, so I was introduced to the good stuff early on.

Of all the things I’ve written about my birthday over the years, I decided to republish my 2007 birthday ZenBagLady blog. I’m fond of it. So I leave you with birthday memories from 44, called
Happy Birthday To Me!

I’m 44 years old today, a number divisible by 1, 2, 4, 11, 22 and 44. Not prime, but a good number anyway.

I wasn’t going to celebrate this year. Too much going on. Like last year with my daughter’s wedding, my birthday this year is buttressed between two larger events – my husband’s surprise party a few weeks ago and the Minnesota family reunion in a few weeks. I’ve been in planning mode for months, no time to think about my birthday. I thought I’d want to let it slide, let it be just another day. But that little kid in me woke up this morning and said, “It’s your birthday! Yay!” Same feeling I had when I was 5 and 8 and 12 and 20 and last year. I can’t suppress that birthday-happy inner child.

So bring on my birthday.

I’m starting off with a cup of my husband’s coffee. No one makes coffee like he does. Not Michelle’s, not Starbucks, and certainly not me. Then later, my youngest daughter will be here to take me out to lunch, and she’ll bring with her my family present: a new papasan chair (click here to see what it looks like) and ottoman, perfect for the Zen room.

It’s always seemed funny to me that I was born on a date I consider so serene. I love prime numbers – harsh, lonely prime numbers. But my birth-date is hardly harsh. Here’s how I figure it: The word “August” is a lovely word, starts with a vowel. I like words that begin with a vowel. The number 14 – it’s even, looks pretty, and is divisible by my fourth favorite number, 7. The year I was born, 1963, is not a prime number, but it is divisible by my third favorite number, 13. (For the record, my favorite number is 23, followed by 19.)

It’s also always seemed funny to me that I was born in the summer, my least favorite season, two weeks before the March on Washington and a few months before Kennedy was assassinated. I’ve never felt like a Leo. I always thought I’d make a better Libra. Being a summer baby, I was almost the youngest in my class and I never got to bring treats to share in class like the other kids with school-year birthdays. In fact, my birthday meant school would start in a few weeks. No wonder my mother loved celebrating my birthday.

Kidding aside, Mom always made each of us kids’ birthdays special. We got to pick what we wanted for dinner and dessert and she’d make it, no questions asked. I always wanted tater tot hotdish and chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. Tonight, I won’t be eating tater tot hotdish, although that does sound very good (potatoes, cream of something soup – how can you beat a combo like that?). I’ll probably just have some fish, but I know there’s a bottle of champagne in the back of the fridge leftover from my husband’s big birthday blowout. I think I’ll dig that out.

So happy birthday to me! Let the inner kid run amok!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Calling All People With Opinions: I Need Your Insights

Most people when they go on vacation bring home something that reminds them of where they visited – a refrigerator magnet, shot glass or a “My parents went to Chincoteague Island and all I got was this lousy t-shirt” shirt.

My daughter, a history major studying for her master’s degree and a die-hard Jane Austen fan, is driving home from Minnesota as I write this. What did she buy on her summer vacation? “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.” I can only imagine what she’ll buy in New York City next week. Maybe “Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters”?

This is apropos of nothing and has nothing to do with today’s blog necessarily. But she told me about it as I was engrossed in research for my book (which is part of this blog entry) and it made me laugh.

Today’s blog is actually not a blog but an inquiry. I’m researching information on two subjects, one of which I will address today and the other in a blog later this week.

For the first subject, I’m curious about your insights – either personal experience or a global, intellectual perspective – on weight gain during pregnancy and subsequently weight loss post-partum.

Today, women are being told how much to gain based on their pre-pregnancy weight and BMI. Underweight women should gain 28-40; normal weight, 25-35; overweight, 15-25; and obese, at least 15.

When I was pregnant with my kids back in early ‘80s, I was overweight (between 165 and 180 both times) and told I should gain 30 pounds. I gained that 30 along with an additional 10 and more of its friends.

In the months and years that followed, I struggled with that “baby weight.” Even if I’d gotten to my pre-baby weight, I would still have been overweight. Fifteen years after having my kids, I still complained of my “baby weight.” And I wasn’t alone. Over the years I’ve heard many friends and relatives complain how difficult it is to take off the baby weight, and most never do.

When my mom got pregnant each time (there are five of us), she was either underweight or normal weight and gained no more than 20 pounds. A few weeks after delivery, you couldn’t tell she had a baby. I see photos of other mothers from the 1940s through the 1960s holding their weeks-old babies and they, too, don’t look like they just had a baby.

I know the medical establishment in the early and mid-20th century didn’t encourage women to gain much weight during pregnancy for many reasons. Also, the average weight of a woman at that time was 20 pounds less than today. Food wasn’t as complicated or as readily available then, either.

So my questions are:

What is it that makes it harder to lose weight after having a baby now as opposed to 30+ years ago or is this just an illusion?

Is the fact that more women enter pregnancy overweight or obese now than before play a roll?

What is your experience with pregnancy weight? Did you get back to your pre-pregnancy weight within six months of having the baby?

Feel free to email me at or leave a comment here with your thoughts. I appreciate your help. I need more than just my own experience to understand the subject better. Thank you!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

It Was A "I Can't Think About Food" Day

Claire would have been going home today, but her visit was postponed a day, so she’ll go home tomorrow. The original plan was for her to come to Podunkville Friday and stay until today. But she didn’t arrive until yesterday because her mother licked the brownie batter bowl Thursday.

Yup. Cassie prayed all night Thursday for the porcelain god to deliver her from Salmonella.

According to, “Salmonella may be found on the outside of the egg shell before the egg is washed or it may be found inside the egg if the hen was infected. It is estimated that one egg in 20,000 eggs may contain Salmonella which is a 0.005% contamination rate.”

Considering in her life Cassie’s probably licked the bowls of darn near a thousand brownie and cake mixes, the odds were getting less and less in her favor.

Poor baby. She was one sick little mother for a day.

But Cass was back enough to her old self yesterday to bring the kids to Mawmeee (or Meemaw, depending on how you hear it) and Pop Pop’s (Claire’s names for us right now. She’ll have others, but for now I can live with Meemaw). She, Luca and Claire stayed last night, but she left Claire here for her second solo overnight, and it’s been a chaotic fun fest.

I have a new respect for my daughter (and all moms of young ones, especially those who work, and blog. How do you do it??). Being the mother of a 22-month-old and 2-month-old…I’ve been there, raised that, but that was a LONGass time ago. Cassie and her sister are 24 and 26 now, and time has faded my memory of the days of raising two children in diapers. Granted I was 21 at the time, but there’s no way I would do it full-time again. No. Way.

However, a weekend with one certain Claire? Bring it on.

Before Cassie left, Claire and I went for an early morning walk. She insisted on bringing her Little Mermaid umbrella because she saw clouds. She pointed to the sky and said, “Oh no! Reeeeen!” (Interpreted: Holy crap it’s gonna rain, Grammy. Open my umbrella!). Along the way, we picked a flower, which she twirled and sang to or about…it’s hard to know.

I thought we’d go out for 10 minutes and then head home, but right around minute 10, I heard someone yell, “Lyyyyynnnn!!!” Claire and I had passed no cars, the streets were empty, yet there, halfway through my walk, was BFF Shari who – get this – doesn’t even LIVE in Podunkville anymore! She was visiting her in-laws and was on her way to breakfast with her family. She jumped out of the car and told her husband she’d walk the rest of the way. We had a condensed talk of how life is right now and said good bye on the corner of 6th and Main. Walking home, I told Claire all about Shari, as she twirled her flower and sang, “Ee-I-ee-I-Eeeeee” (her version of Old McDonald).

I was a little concerned that Claire would (as Cassie calls it) “shemp out” when her mom and Luca drove away after saying our goodbyes, but I was so happy when Claire simply waved and said, “Bye-bye, Mommy” and headed for my Jeep. She remembered we were going to the grocery store.

I don’t give 22-month-olds enough credit for what they are capable of understanding. Obviously another thing time took away. Cassie had explained to Claire that Mommy was going home but that Claire was staying at Grammy’s. Claire apparently didn’t have a problem with that, so I’d worried for nothing. We went to WalMart, bought toilet paper and a Thomas the Tank Engine DVD (she loves “choo-choos”), came home and ate lunch (she loves Lentil Spaghetti, too!), then we went to the playground.

We had the place to ourselves. We slid down the slides together and Claire played on the monkey bars. She wanted to swing and so I secured her in the “baby” seat. She fussed and fussed, saying “No, no…” I thought she’d changed her mind and didn’t want to swing, but when I unlatched her safety latch, she fussed even more. She grabbed my hand and thrust it toward the swing next to hers – a “big kid” swing. Claire wanted me to swing alongside her! Yay! I understood! So I gave her a push, sat in the big kid swing and we “Weeee!!!”’d for the next 10 minutes.

I bribed her with water to get her off the playground and into the car. Not drinking water, but the sprinkler ball. It’s finally summer here in western PA and Claire was all about getting in her bathing suit and getting wet.

As we were driving home from the playground, I realized I was hungry. I was so busy watching Claire I’d forgotten to eat. When we got home, I heated up some leftovers and ate so quickly I didn’t taste a thing – so unlike my usual days. Eating today was a necessity, not the mindful thing it usually is. It was almost (dare I say) a pain in the butt to think about. I was busy with othe things, too busy to care what or even if I ate. By the time I stared in the cupboards looking for an afternoon snack (I was hungry again) after Claire went down for a nap, nothing looked appealing. So I grabbed a few melbas and some hummus and called it an afternoon.

I didn’t work out today – it was my official day off – but I feel like I’ve run a half-marathon. I’d say a “full” marathon, but I only watched one of the two g-babies. After pushing a stroller for 40 minutes at a brisk pace, then again this evening as my husband walked the dogs, then playing in the playground and chasing after and changing Claire several times, I’m tired. Maybe not half-marathon tired, but it’s still a legitimate “Wow this has been a long time” kind of tired.

Claire’s sleeping and I need a shower. We’ll take another walk tomorrow and then she’ll help me with my strength training routine before we head down toward da’burgh. Food today was secondary. Tricary, actually. Entertaining Claire and keeping her fed and hydrated were my main foci today. This rarely happens. The forgetting to eat, that is. Food is central to my life. I plan it every single morning, everything that will go in my mouth that day. Today and most likely tomorrow…I don’t care. I’ve got veggies and yogurt and eggs in the fridge. I’ll survive. That is as long as I cook the eggs first and don’t dive head first into a batter of brownies.
A random photo of baby Luca who yesterday found himself sitting next to the coffee maker and amongst the dirty dishes as I cooked dinner.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Chillaxin' With Some Old Recipes

I know I slammed ya’ll with a bunch-o-information the last few blog postings as I dissected my thoughts about David Kessler’s book, “The End Of Overeating.” So I thought I’d put the blog in neutral for a moment and just chill. So from here on down, no worries. Just good food.

Let’s start with Pubsgal’s request for my Vegetables Paprikash recipe. This has replaced tater tot hotdish as my #1 comfort food.

Vegetables Paprikash
(From the book “1001 Low-Fat Vegetarian Recipes” by Sue Spitler)
4 servings (2 Points without noodles, wrap, or pita)

2 C thinly sliced cabbage
1 C each: sliced onion or leeks, zucchini, carrots, bell peppers, and celery
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 ½ C sliced mushrooms
1 medium tomato, chopped
1 T olive oil
3 T flour
1-2 T paprika (I use 2-3 T)
¾ C vegetable broth
½ C fat-free sour cream
Salt and pepper to taste

Sauté vegetables in oil in large skillet until tender, 5-8 minutes. Stir in the flour and paprika; cook, stirring 1-2 minutes. Stir in broth and heat to boiling; boil, stirring, until sauce thickens, about 1 minute. Stir in sour cream; season to taste. Serve over egg noodles or roll in a wrap or stuff in a pita.

Personally, I heat up the leftovers for breakfast. It makes a great pre-workout meal.

I stopped at my favorite farmer’s market on my way home from Pittsburgh today to pick up fresh tomatoes because Larry requested Chicken Chili for the weekend. Well, he didn’t exactly request it outright. The conversation went more like this:

Larry: “Gosh,” (insert heavy sigh). “I can’t remember the last time I had chicken chili.”

Me: “Would you like me to make you some?”

Larry: “Oh…you don’t have to. I was just remembering…”

Me: “Seriously. Do you want me to make you a batch?”

Larry: “But you don’t eat chicken.”

Me: “But I cook meat for you all the time.” (Really, I do. I make him meat meals 3-4 times a week. So I was confused why my not eating chicken was a roadblock for making him his favorite chili.)

Larry: “I know, but…”

Me: “Larry…honey…hear me when I say….I. WILL. MAKE. YOU. CHICKEN. CHILI. IT’S. NOT. A. PROBLEM.”

Larry (giggling like he’d just won $5 from a scratch-off lottery ticket): “Oh, would you?”


It’s the little things in life…

Lynn’s Chicken Chili
6-8 servings

(NOTE: You can make a vegetarian version by omitting the chicken and adding 2-3 cups total of roasted diced carrots, zucchini, mushrooms and sweet red pepper. Cut up the veggies into bite-sized pieces, put them on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray, sprinkle with garlic powder and black pepper (and a little cumin if you want a little extra smoky flavor), and roast in a 400-degree oven for 30 minutes or until brown, flipping once after 15 minutes.)

1 pound chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized cubes
1-2 T olive oil
¼ to ½ tsp tarragon
Garlic powder
Black pepper
1 C chopped onion
4 cloves garlic, minced
1½ to 2 T chili powder (use more or less depending on how spicy you like it)
1 t sugar (may need to add a bit more later in the cooking process)
1 t salt
1 t cumin
1 t dried oregano leaves
1 t cocoa
½ t red pepper sauce
28 ounces canned diced tomatoes, undrained (or 5 -6 medium sized fresh tomatoes, skin removed, seeded and diced)
2-4 C vegetable or chicken broth (depends on if you like your chili more like a stew or more like a soup)
2 cans (15 ½ ounces) red kidney beans or black beans or a combination of the two

In a Dutch oven, spray the bottom with cooking spray, add the oil and chicken, then sprinkle the tarragon (or spice of your choice), garlic powder and black pepper over the chicken. Cook on medium high until chicken is brown and slightly caramelized. Remove the chicken and do not clean the pan.

Cook onions and garlic in the same pan. Add remaining ingredients and the chicken, and bring to boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook for at least an hour. I usually cook it for three hours.


Tomorrow, Cassie, Claire and Luca travel to Podunkville and will stay overnight. I love it when my kids visit because I get to be a mom in my own home. I fuss over them, make them their favorite foods, make sure they have the most comfortable pillows, fresh towels, and new toothbrushes (Carlene forgets hers most of the time so I always buy a few extra). I love the chaos and chatter because the house gets filled up with love that lingers for days.

I asked Cass what she wanted for dinner. She requested Lentil Spaghetti. I just happen to have a quart of sauce in the freezer. Yay! Less cooking and more time to spend with the grandbabies!

I put this recipe on a blog in May, so many of you have already seen it. Sorry for the early repeat. I usually serve this, for me, over shredded and cooked butternut squash. However, tomorrow I’m going to do something different. I’m going to

……drum roll……

serve it over broccoli slaw ala Hungry Girl.

OK, so it’s not news that changes the world. But if it adds variety to my (and possibly your) palate, that’s all that matters, right?

Here it is again, the Hearty Lentil Spaghetti recipe from Cooking Light magazine via my friend Sharon:

Hearty Lentil Spaghetti
Makes 5 cups: 2 Points for 1/2-cup serving

1 medium onion, chopped
2-4 garlic cloves, minced
1 T olive oil
1½ C dried lentils, rinsed
4 C vegetable broth
½ t pepper
¼ t cayenne pepper
1 can (14½ oz) Italian diced tomatoes (or diced tomatoes in oregano and basil)
1 can (6 oz) tomato paste
1 t white vinegar
3 t Italian seasonings (or 1½ t each basil and oregano)

In large saucepan coated with non-stick spray, cook onion and garlic in oil until tender. Stir in broth, pepper and cayenne and bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 20-30 minutes or until lentils are tender.

Stir in tomatoes, paste, vinegar, and herbs. Return to boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 40-45 minutes.

I serve this with whole wheat spaghetti for Larry. For me, I shred 6 ounces of butternut squash, put it in a fry pan coated with Pam, add some minced onions and garlic powder, and cook it like hash browns. Then I throw it over the lentil mix and add 2 T of parmesan cheese for a total of 3½ Points for the serving. Of course if you use pasta, there are additional Points.


Since this is the season for fresh tomatoes, I’ll leave you with my absolutely favorite tomato sauce recipe. It’s great on pasta/squash/base-of-your-choice as well as pizza.

Roasted Tomato and Garlic Pasta Sauce

2 pounds Roma or plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
6 peeled garlic cloves
1 T fresh rosemary leaves (or 1 tsp dried)
1 T fresh thyme leaves (or 1 tsp dried)
1 T balsamic vinegar
1 small can tomato paste (or a cup of crushed tomatoes)
½ tsp salt
1 tsp dried basil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place the tomatoes, onion, garlic, rosemary and thyme on a baking sheet sprayed with non-stick spray. Spray veggies lightly with non-stick spray. Roast for 20 minutes. Flip the vegetables and roast for another 20-25 minutes or until they start to brown. Scrape everything into a food processor fitted with the chopping blade and process until pureed.

Pour contents into a large saucepan. Add vinegar, tomato paste, salt and basil. Simmer for at least 30 minutes. I sometimes go an hour for richer flavor.

This sauce keeps well for a three to four days. In fact, I think it tastes even better the next day when I turn Arnold’s Sandwich Thins into garlic toast and dip them in the sauce.

But that’s just me.

I’ll be around with another blog later this weekend. In the meantime, bon appétit! (BTW, do you plan to go see the new movie “Julia and Julia”? Talk about a blogger making it big time!)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Dissecting the Book “The End of Overeating” – Part 2

I started my “review” of David Kessler’s book “The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite” in my last blog entry (Part 1). I got interested in this book both through the review Barbara gave it on Refuse to Regain (“Don’t Get Me Started”) and the interview with Kessler in the July/August edition of Nutrition Action Newsletter.

In Part 1, I wrote how I was glad to finally have an explanation (Point #1 – Dopamine) for why certain foods make me “happy” and why I used to eat them way past satiation. I’m talking WAY off the full-o-meter. I also disagreed with Kessler’s assertion (Point #2 – Distraction) that we should merely ignore wanting these foods. I believe it’s important to look at the reasons why we want them so much before launching into complete diversion.

So just what are “these foods”? Or more importantly, what’s IN these foods that make them so irresistible? On to Point #3 – Sorry Meatloaf, two out of three IS bad

Nutrition Action Newsletter interviewer Bonnie Liebman: “Is everyone equally vulnerable to these foods?” (The ones containing what the food industry calls the “three points of the compass”: fat, sugar and salt.)

Kessler: “No. You can ask people if they have these three characteristics: 1) Do you lose control in the face of highly palatable foods? Is it very hard to resist them? 2) Do you feel a lack of satiation – a lack of feeling full – when you’re eating? 3) Do you have a preoccupation? Do you think about foods in between meals? Or as you’re eating something, are you thinking about what you’ll be eating next?

“When you ask these questions, some people have no idea what you’re talking about. But about 50 percent of obese, 30 percent of overweight, and 20 percent of healthy-weight individuals score very high on those three characteristics.”

I used to do 1 and 2 and not 3. (However, now I do 3 and not 1 and 2, which I’ll explain in Point #4).

It gives me a facial tic admitting that I would “lose control” in the face of highly palatable foods. I picture “losing control” as swallowing gallons of ice cream, consuming dozens of cookies, eating a bucket of fried chicken and then passing out on the couch. But in order for me to understand my past eating habits, I have to change how I think about the phrase “lose control.” It doesn’t always mean binging. It also includes what I used to do.

*deep breath*

I, Lynn Haraldson-Bering, admit that I used to LOSE CONTROL when faced with mashed potatoes, homemade stuffing, Mom’s chocolate cake, et. al. Lose control as in eating two (large) servings instead of one and/or picking at the leftovers over after-dinner conversation or while putting away leftovers (a rare occurrence). Losing control meant I wasn’t conscious of the consequences of eating so much fat-laden food. I was caught up in a happy food orgy replete of stress or emotional roots. Eating that food in that moment made me happy. It was a dopamine orgasm.

But the truth is, after eating too much, I felt awful. I needed an antacid almost every night, my heart raced, my face would flush, I dreaded getting off the couch, and yet I did it week after week, year after year, stopping only for a few “diets” here and there. The joy of the food (or what I thought was “joy”) took precedence over my own physical well being.

Point #4 – Relearning to eat

Kessler said that every time we are cued and consume stimulus foods, we strengthen our neural circuits, so the next time we’re cued, the more likely we are to overeat again. “Strengthening those circuits is what we define as learning, even though it’s not the kind of conscious learning we think about.”

Liebman: “Does that explain why it’s tough to keep weight off?”

Kessler: “Yes. Why don’t diets work? Sure, I can deprive someone by cutting their calories for 30, 60 or 90 days. And they’ll lose weight. But, first of all, deprivation increases the reward value of food unless you substitute something you want more (my emphasis). And after you lose the weight, the old circuitry is still there.

“Unless you’ve replaced it with new circuitry – new learning – if you’re put back in your old environment, you continue to get bombarded by the old cues, so of course you’ll gain the weight back.”

I still don’t quite understand how all the pieces of the puzzle came together five years ago – both from an emotional and “love of food” standpoint – but they did. Simply (well, hardly simple to do, but the concept is simple) becoming aware of what all that food was doing to my body woke me up and I asked myself, “Is it worth it?” I had to change my environment – the one in my head that said after every diet, “Hey, now you can eat whatever you want again!” I’ve learned that no, I can’t, and so I won’t.

For me, eating simply (as Michael Pollan suggests, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”) is more important than the taste and “feelings” of mashed potatoes or pizza or chocolate cake, at least in the extreme. I can eat chocolate cake if I want to, but it’s a conscious decision backed with the strong desire to not “lose control.”

The bottom line – my “maintenance secret,” my key to control, my beacon in stress – is that I really do love feeling thin more than feeling full. And during those stressful writing times when I want so badly to stuff my face with whatever, I breath deep and tell myself it will pass – it always does – and pop another Tic Tac.

It’s taking Kessler’s negative food characteristic #3 – Do you have a preoccupation? Do you think about foods in between meals? Or as you’re eating something, are you thinking about what you’ll be eating next? – and turning it into a positive. My “preoccupation” with food is now thoughtful planning. Sometimes I think I think about food too much, but at least I’m thinking about it and not mindlessly shoving it in my pie hole like I used to.

Was all this relearning easy? At first it wasn’t, and there are still some days that, well…it’s tough. But mostly I’ve “substituted” the feeling of food for the feeling of thin and healthy, making thin and healthy more important than food. I still love a good cheesy mashed potato, a decadent chocolate dessert, and coffee or oatmeal with real cream, but I also love a big ass salad, egg white omelets with fresh basil and chives, vegetable paprikash made with fat-free sour cream, and my homemade refried beans. These foods help make me “happier” and healthier than I’ve ever been, and nothing the food industry and their “three points of the compass” serves up can replace that.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Dissecting the Book “The End of Overeating” – Part 1

The July/August edition of Nutrition Action Newsletter features an interview with David Kessler, MD, author of the book “The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite.”

I knew of this book through my friend and blogging partner, Dr. Barbara Berkeley, who recently reviewed the book on our blog Refuse to Regain in an entry titled “Don’t Get Me Started.” Barbara focused on the book’s lack of outrage at the food industry as it pertains to its contribution to (and probable creation of) hyperovereating, an offense with which I concur.

However, I personally found Kessler’s explanation of why we overeat very helpful in understanding my own relationship to food, particularly as a person who is three years into weight maintenance. Hindsight may be 20/20, but turning around and looking back at my past behavior is the only way I can gauge how my “relearned” behavior is working.

I’ll break down my insightful insights into four points and will publish them in two blogs as to not bore you to tears with one long diatribe. So without further ado, let’s get this puppy started.

Point #1 – Dopamine

Nutrition Action Newsletter interviewer Bonnie Liebman: “How is dopamine – a neurotransmitter that conveys messages from one nerve cell to another – part of overeating?”

Kessler: “Dopamine focuses your attention. As human beings, we are wired to focus on the most important stimuli in our environment. If a bear walked into your office right now, your dopamine would spike. If your child is sick today, that’s what you’re thinking about. That’s what captures your attention…Of all the cues in this room right now, of all the things I could be thinking about, those little chocolate chip cookies over there are capturing my attention. Why? Because of my past experience, chocolate chip cookies will activate my brain.”

Liebman: “Before you take the first bite?”

Kessler: “Yes. I’m not tasting them. It’s not genuine hunger, but the anticipation that makes us eat long after our calorie needs are satisfied.”

Liebman: “And the sight of the cookies is the cue?”

Kessler: “Yes, but I could also be cued by the location, the time of day, or just getting in my car because it anticipates the consumption.”

Aha! Kessler just answered years of questioning, “Why do I want to eat that when I’m not hungry?” There are as many answers to that question as people asking the question, but for me, that one thing – dopamine – explains so much.

For instance, I don’t eat when I’m stressed. (Exception: when I’m under a writing deadline. Then my oral fixation takes over and I “need” to keep my mouth busy. I used to stuff it with M&Ms and sunflower seeds. Now I just chew gum or suck on a Tic Tac…more on that in the next blog.) I don’t eat when I’m sad. I’m not prone to binging. So why do I want to eat certain things when I’m hungry or when I’m already calorically satisfied? I get it now! It’s the memory of having been stimulated by that food, not the food itself, that’s making my mouth water or the desire to eat so strong.

I was talking to my daughter about this the other day. Her boyfriend brought her a Pizza Pub pizza the night before and she was heating up leftovers. I told her if I eat a piece of Pizza Pub cheese pizza (the best pizza in the world and it’s made right here in Podunkville), I will want another piece and another. Back in the day, I would eat half a pie and take the other half to work with me. A half a pie, folks! But it “felt” so good to eat it. The memory of sitting there with my husband, watching Jeopardy and eating pizza is extremely pleasurable. I wasn’t eating out of depression or stress or even real hunger. It was just pure enjoyment.

Not that there is ANYTHING WRONG with eating for pleasure. Food should be pleasurable. It’s what keeps us alive. If it tasted wretched, we’d not eat. Ergo, we’d die. But eating beyond feeling full just because the food “feels” good is the problem, and now that I understand that, it makes saying “No” or “Just a small piece, please” empowering and not personal. I used to think wanting to eat a certain food was some kind of character flaw.

Point #2 – Distraction

Kessler said, “A food industry executive told me that the industry creates dishes to hit what he called the three points of the compass. Sugar, fat and salt are what make food compelling and indulgent. The most palatable foods have two or three of them. They lead to a roller coaster in the mouth – the total orosensory experience. We get captured.”

Liebman: “What’s the roller coaster?”

Kessler: “It’s the cycle of cue-activation-arousal-release. We get cued – by sights, sounds, smells, time of day, location. The brain circuits get activated. There’s arousal. And then you either DISTRACT (my emphasis) yourself with something that’s more important or you consume it and there’s a release.”

I take issue with Kessler’s assertion that we must distract ourselves in order to not eat a certain food. I’ve spent a lot of time the last few years learning to not “distract” myself from things that are unpleasant or are seeming barriers to my well being. I choose to observe them with as much emotional detachment as I can. I’ve found immense personal understanding by asking, “Why is this urge/feeling/emotion so strong? What’s going on here?” By understanding the root cause of a particular pain or uncomfortable emotion, I can better deal with the entire situation at hand and not just the symptom.

Now that I know there is a chemical (dopamine) and emotional (the anticipation of “feeling good” when confronted with certain foods) going on, I’m better equipped to answer the question, “What’s going on here?” and therefore deal with whatever food issue I’m faced with. I may find I want to distract myself by going for a walk or painting my nails, but only after I’ve faced the food issue and asked the question.

That’s all for this entry. I’ll publish the last two points (and by then there may be more…lucky you!) in my next blog entry. I’m sure you’ll be waiting with anxious anticipation. Just don’t be eating something fat/salt/sugar-laden while you read it or you’ll want to eat that food every time you read my blog in the future! Can’t say I didn’t warn you :)