Sunday, October 30, 2011
Saturday, October 29, 2011
I've tried my hand at gluten-free pancakes several times, and they turned out more like coconut-almond croquettes. But I've finally figure out my folly! I was overdoing it on the home-ground almond meal and making the batter too thick. I slightly modified a recipe found on one of my new favorite blogs ( Eat The Cookie ) and made some amazing paleo-pumpkin waffles. Cooking them in the waffle iron instead of trying to flip brittle pancakes one-at-a-time in my cast iron skillet was unspeakably easier- I'll be doing this more often now.
Here's the recipe-
2 tbsp coconut flour
(I put shredded coconut in the blender until it was reduced to a powder)
4-6 tbsp almond meal
A generous dollop of cinnamon
A dash of cloves
A touch of nutmeg (and ginger if you want, or pumpkin pie spice)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp honey
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp vanilla ext
2 heaping tbsp canned pumpkin
Stir all of the dry ingredients together in a bowl, dump in the wet ones, and stir it all over again. Add a little more coconut or almond meal if you went overboard with the pumpkin to get to to the right consistency. Spray down your waffle iron and cook for about 4 minutes or until the waffles are a nice light brown. Take care removing them- I had no sticking problems, but they are softer than your average waffle and easier to mangle.
This recipe made three Belgian waffles for me, that could easily vary depending on the size of your iron.
So this week the Labcoats are trying to figure out if our eyeballs point toward nutrition labels as often as we assume they do. But how important is label reading if you're approaching food the paleo way? Not very. The healthiest way to grocery shop is to buy only foods that are ingredients, rather than boxed concoctions of unpronounceable additives and preservatives. But eating Paleo isn't just for minimalists- here 5 other ways that this approach to nutrition can better your life:
Say goodbye to that bloated feeling
We've all experienced that "I feel like I swallowed a truck" feeling that comes after revisiting the buffet line one too many times. Make your choices based on Paleo Principles and you'll reach a satiated "full" without feeling like the Goodyear blimp. One of the most pleasant surprises for me was how much of my past sufferings had been slyly baked into rolls, biscuits, and that diabolically gut-wrenching bread pudding.
Adios, compulsive calorie counting
It's unnecessary. By avoiding sugar and grains, just how many foods are left with the caloric density sufficient to make one obese? Other than fruit, potatoes are probably the starchiest whole food around. This guy ate nothing but spuds (around 20 per day) for two months and lost weight. Unprocessed whole foods, with the exception of grains are often packed with so much more than calories- healthy fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
That is, Look Good Naked. Need proof? Don't worry, it's fully clothed proof- check out the transformations of Dave, Graham, Lin. Now temper your dream with the fact that nothing but Photoshop will give your physique an instant airbrushing- it takes self-discipline and dedication. Finally, read this. . . now you better balanced and good to go.
Stop pooping like a Play Dough Fun-Factory
Well. . . . it might be a little green if you're a spinach lover, but you weren't born to pump sludge. What we're all looking for here is a good fit and a clean break on a regular basis. If you leave atrocious skid marks in the throne's recess at every sitting, gluten in grains could be causing your IBS. Join a lively discussion on Paleo poo here.
It's not as expensive as you think
Cost is one of the most common whines regarding the grass-fed meat and grain-less whole-foods approach to eating. I won't bore you with the usual schpeel over how it will save you medical costs in the long run. We're talking about practicality in the here and now- check out the RV caveman who lives happily on $11K a year. Gabi Moskowitz may be rough around the edges, but she shows you how it's done at BrokeAssGourmet.com. Rob Wolf also shares his take on how to shop.
Now you're practically excuse-less! If you haven't been following along, catch up on the Chronicles of Dietopia and stay tuned for some theorizing over why Paleo, and certain other culinary ideologies work in regard to weight loss and overall health, and so many others don't.
Monday, October 24, 2011
2) Access to Beastiality 101 for high school students (New York)
3) More red ink and bad credit
But take a deep breath. . . here's a point well-stated to temper any partisan outraged sparked by sensationalism and conflicting ideologies:
Let us continue. . . .
4) An IV in the jugular of companies that should have gone under for lack of quality and good management- the American icons wouldn't have been forgotten, that's why we have museums.
5) Plenty of artificially inflated high paying jobs (if you have the connections)
6) A $400,000 per year salary for the president. . . What did you say, Ron Paul?
Here's a more precise visualization of the big picture if you're curious- despite what we perceive as waste, we have a lot of services to be thankful for!
More from the bright side. . . . this is one of the most upbeat articles I've seen in ages- coming from the UK, nonetheless!
Saturday, October 22, 2011
It's easy to read what we want to believe on the internet, but the facts are clear as mud with so many studies funded by corporations trying to prove a point. Skepticism is a useful tool to apply to anything we read online. That's why I wasn't sold at first glance when I first read up on the Paleo approach to eating in a Crossfit forum.
|Get the shirt here: Tshirtwatch.com|
It sounded interesting, so I dug a little deeper. After running across Mark's Daily Apple and the success stories there, it seemed definitely worth a test run. Check it out for yourself and you'll see that there are more benefits than just weight loss.
The basic theory is this: people were hunter-gatherers before they were baker-farmers, and our systems are better equipped to handle the former system. Grains are essentially evil, containing few nutrients and lots of little nasties like lectin, gluten, and phytates- anti-nutrients that inhibit the body's ability to absorb the good stuff from the otherwise healthy food consumed. Sugars and trans-fats are also off-limits. If you'd like to know why, just do a search on Mark's website- he likes to pick studies apart, and there's lots of research backing him up.
The essential Paleo regimen consists of meat, eggs, nuts, fruit, and vegetables. The greatest controversy amongst the Paleo bloggers seems to be over beans and dairy. Considering the bloating and gas that often results from eating legumes, it would make sense that there's something in there that the human system doesn't appreciate. As for dairy products, the industry is a marketing powerhouse, but there's a lot of lesser known truth to suggest that sticking to fermented dairy (think: yogurt, cottage cheese, buttermilk) and avoiding the rest is the healthiest approach.
Other resources that can help answer questions would include some interesting published research here, PaleoHacks.com, Robb Wolf's Revolutionary Solutions to Modern Life, and Whole9.
For some hindsight, check out previous articles in the Chronicles of Dietoptia at OneFaceInTheCrowd.com . In the next installment I'll share what it's like to eat paleo- the struggles and the rewards. In the meantime, use the resources listed to read up on the paleo way and tell me what you think.
Article first published as Going Paleo: Eat Like a Caveman on Technorati.
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Why a personal trainer is making himself obese… on purpose
Monday, October 17, 2011
For most hungry people, a thick slice of carrot cake is going to be more tempting than a broccoli crown. That's one reason healthy programs like this one are seeing mixed results. I'm completely supportive of the program. We all need access to healthy food before we can eat it. Education comes next- how to prepare it and why whole foods are healthier than Spaghetti-O's and Kool-Aid.
The kicker lies in the fact that even if we live next door to a Whole Foods Market, our bodies' cravings are for the most easy-access calories possible. This article by the Detroit Free Press highlights the fact that no matter how informed we are, we often buckle to our cravings rather than making the healthiest choice. It's not Tony the Tiger, Toucan Sam, or Ronald McDonald that cause childhood obesity. Since when did 7-year-olds dictate the grocery shopping?
Why, for most of us, is it so much easier to resist an apple than an éclair? Science has determined that food addiction is very similar to the addiction factor of illegal drugs and that's hard-wired into our brains. Our systems were designed to love easy-access calorie sources. That survival instinct made plenty of sense before supermarkets came along. The human condition in a modern world of sedentary desk jobs, televisions, and an abundance of cheap foods designed to appeal to our cravings make living healthily a formidable challenge.
So far in The Chronicals of Dietopia, we've covered my sordid history with food, the Abs and Warrior diets, Vegetarian, The Zone, Fruit Fasting, and Rice Fasting. I'm working toward my most recent revelation and current nutritional slant, but before I share that (and point out some really interesting correlations between dietary philosophies that seem diametrically opposed at first glance) let's look at what not to try.
The companies manufacturing processed foods make billions on cheap junk food that helps keep us fat; they make billions more on expensive chemical-based 'foods' that have little to no caloric or nutritional value.
Unlike the junk-food industry, calorie-free foods hardly sell themselves on taste. My buds have always detected the difference between a calorie-free candy bar and a plain old Snickers. A diet soft drink can't pass as high-fructose delight. It's pre-wrapped convenience and delicious looking pictures coupled with the promise of zero calories, or a suggestive brand-name like 'Slim-Fast' that sell cardboard candy bars. Rippling Photoshopped physiques of models on billboards, websites, and TV commercial help inspire false hope in those carefully crafted sawdust and aspartame composites.
Trust me: you will probably go broke before you go lean (for life, anyway) on a candy or pre-fabbed shake diet. Just look at the label on a can of Slim-Fast:
Compare that to a packet of Carnation Instant-Breakfast:
Slim-Fast doesn't look any more slenderizing to me. Fathead has a good take on Slim-Fast ingredients here, so I won't even go there.
A pre-measured meal-in-a-can might help with portion control if you can resist snacking when the high GI contents have your stomach growling within a couple of hours . . . but that's what these are for, right? All the hollow calories will do nothing to break a sugar addiction or bolster your system against diabetes.
Stay away from other junk foods cleverly disguised as healthy via pre-measured portions- like 100-calorie packs. That's just the same crap in smaller sack with a higher price. There's nothing magically healthy about ingesting empty calories 100 at a time.
Whether you are interested in losing weight, or just maintaining your health, I would suggest focusing on your relationship with food- real food. As creatures of habit, living in a world with so many distractions, eating often becomes robotic, habitual, and mindless.
I'm not discounting the social aspect of food- it's one of the few things left in this networking world that still brings people together. But food is fuel. We should re-think spending money on things to eat solely for indulgent calorie-free taste and texture. It's really a ripoff- like paying extra for gasoline that sends the gage needle to "F," then pours out the tail pipe as you drive away.
When time to eat, turn off the TV and sit at the dinner table. Think about what you're about to consume. Remember the bloated I-just-swallowed-a-horse feeling that comes after overdoing it- you know what I'm talking about. Ask yourself if you want to look like this guy. Now pace yourself and enjoy each bite. Remember to breathe, it's not going to run away if you don't down it in 3 minutes. Slower eating makes a difference.
We've covered what not to try, and proper form. Soon we'll get to the heart of the matter, going in-depth regarding the best things to fill that plate with! In the meantime, check out the shorts at One Face. How to loosen up after sitting all day, and more.
Article first published as The Root of Our Cravings and What Not to Eat on Technorati.
Saturday, October 15, 2011
This was part of a post on a really informative blog called Mobility WOD (Workout Of the Day) by Kelly Starrett, DPT. Check out some of the other uniquely limbering stretches and exercises on his site- he's got something new almost every day, and he's just plain fun to listen to.
I don't remember Perry's piety being touted like this during his years as governor. It's coming off as a political ploy, and that leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. As a fellow believer, I don't want to add fuel to his fire of persecution. But why wait until now to hold these highly publicized political prayer rallies? I think we all know.
But God allegedly told Herman Cain to run, as well! And He (God) very well could have told them both to do it so that Ron Paul would win the election.
I'm not sold on him yet, but if Cain has anything going for him it's humility, simplicity, and grit. He knows what he knows, and he admits it when he doesn't. I like to think that a president's success depends less upon his own self-confidence and intellect than upon his ability to assemble and listen to a cabinet of specialists more knowledgeable than himself.
The former Godfather's Pizza CEO is more American than he is Politician; that's why I like him. I think the USA is ready for a less narcissistic, simpler kind of leader- anything but another career politician. Cain's 9-9-9 plan is about as simple as you can get. Even if it would raise taxes for some people in states that already have their own sales tax, it's something that we citizens can understand. It's hard to find a loophole in something that basic- you know what you owe. The more you make and spend, the more you pay.
America is sick of complicated regulations that can't even be explained by the pundits who birthed them. Health care, insurance, taxes, and countless other financial regulations should be simplified to the point that we don't need attorneys to interpret them, and can't pay attorneys to seek out loopholes that give anyone an unfair advantage.
Now that Cain is ahead in the polls, we'll get to watch the media try to reduce him from Godfather to delivery boy in the minds of the masses. . . . if they can figure out how to do that in our day and age without being dealt the race card. Being a conservative African American for whom the American Dream became a reality gives Cain an advantage. Running against Obama, he would have the liberty to push certain buttons that no PC white candidate would dare touch.
If anything stands in Hermain Cain's way, it's the American voting mentality. Come election day, we seem to choke on fear and shortchange our ideals. Despite all our cheering for the underdog, we tend to follow the rest of the sheep off the proverbial cliff in voting for who we perceive to have the best chance of winning. It works like a run on a bank or a stock market sell-off. If everyone would base our vote on who we want in office, rather than who has raked in the most money, we might end up with a real winner in the White House.
Cain isn't being flooded with donations, and that's a positive in my book. I'm probably not the only citizen repulsed by a political system that amounts to legal bribery. Permitting corporations to donate money to campaigns and put politicians in their pockets before they are even elected is tragic. I hope more individuals will begin supporting candidates who get the least amount of money from corporations and would enter the Oval Office with the fewest unspoken obligations.
Article first published as Perry versus Cain 2012 on Technorati.
Friday, October 14, 2011
Ms. Obama seems all about health on camera, but Paula Deen ratted her out. She apparently got her gnosh on during the commercials. Makes you wonder what the White House chef is serving up these days.
I guess it's one step at a time. If the history of my own relationship with food proves anything, it's that fitness is a journey rather than a destination. Exploring my curiosities has made it a roller coaster of an adventure, from mending my unhealthy relationship with food in my teens, to the trials of The Abs and The Warrior diets.
I didn't give vegetarianism more than a passive pondering until Jenn and I were planning to celebrate our 1st anniversary by exploring Portland, OR on foot. She's never been a vegan purist, but lived largely on produce by default until I came along. I don't remember whose idea it was, but vegetarianism was an eating -ism I'd never tried, and that alone made me willing. The fact that my wife was eager to participate made it that much more enticing, since my evolving menu had been known to induce rolling eyes and exasperation on her part.
We decided ahead of time to go at least a month without meat after our trip, seeing it as a way to detox from all of the restaurant food eaten during our tasty tour of Portland. It could possibly speed up our financial recovery, too . . . I mean, spinach is cheaper than steak, right?
On one of our first nights in the trendy city, we went to a Living Room Theater and watched the documentary Food Inc. It points out a lot of ominous disease-breeding/animal-abusing/migrant worker oppressing/poison-spreading aspects of our nation's food system. The rhetoric was good motivation for someone already planning to shun meat for a time- so much, in fact, that I got started then and there.
Portland is a very liberal, organic, Petavegan-friendly kind of city. Almost all of the food joints we went to had meatless lasagna, veggie burgers, tofu tips, and other specially designed 'plates' to appease the herbivores- even Deschutes and Rock Bottom, a couple of the coolest little microbreweries on the planet.
I soon found myself ordering meat-free meals, and they were delicious! The early start was enjoyable, and I continued to handle our month of meatlessness well after returning home. Dagwood salads with lettuce, tomatoes, almonds, carrots, spinach, feta cheese, jalapeños, sprouts, and more helped see me through.
The leafy-greens and colorful salad aspect of vegetarian life was most healthy, but there was a darker side. I think any man my size would asphyxiate if he tried to get enough calories from leaves alone. The addictive and calorie-dense bread, cracker, cookie, rice, and cake side of things still qualifies as vegetarian. I could feel myself getting softer as muscles seemingly atrophied for lack of protein. I was more hungry more often, and the starchy foods ranking high on the glycemic index were being stashed at my waistline. I packing on pounds like Kobayashi, but felt myself growing weaker and softer. After over-training finally caught up with me and I had to stop running, my body felt even more inclined to store the starches.
'But what about beans?' you might scream- that seems to be many a vegetarian's answer to lack of protein. The truth is, beans have considerably more starch than they do protein. To get enough protein from legumes and tofu, you have to overdose on calories which, unless you have the metabolism of a hummingbird, usually results in weight gain. Not to mention the dutch oven effect. A married man's toe-steaming methane emissions under the covers are hardly appreciated.
Atkins was all the rage back then. There was a lo-carb version of everything in groceryland. Despite that fact, I never bought into the idea that going carnivorous to such a degree could possibly be sustainable or healthy in the long-term. I was more than ready for meat again, practically drooling at the thought of a ribeye, but wanted something more balanced than toxic ketosis. About to get back into weightlifting, I was on the hunt for a balanced, scientifically sound scheme that would optimize energy for exercise and protein for muscle development.
After another round of research I entered The Zone. It's a very interesting book, with sensible theory promoting a strictly measured, but wisely balanced diet. I also picked up Stuart McRobert's reference manual on bodybuilding. Together, my new set of references made for a few months of enjoyable progress. The carefully measured protein to carb ratios kept me in The Zone, while I meticulously recorded weight, reps, and sets in a raw circuit of fundamental compound exercises like the squat, deadlift, and bench press.
I felt pretty good overall, mentally and physically. As I got stronger, chronic aches like my rotator cuff and the periformis/sciatica that my running had incurred seemed to disappear. I could eat just about anything, which was liberating to a point, but portions were tightly controlled.
I put on around 15 pounds of muscle, but it never seemed to poke through the wrapping paper quite like Rambo's. I felt stronger but slower, my walk became a lumber. As a beefcake, I missed feeling light, lean, and quick on my feet. The constant label-reading and tedious fat, carb, and protein gram-counting became tedious, despite the pre-calculated recipes I'd developed that helped streamline snack time. I couldn't try anything new without another number-crunching session.
One evening I pushed the limits with a little too much weight on the squat, resulting in bad form, and my back gave me trouble for weeks. Just when I thought it was better, the slightest twist would bring all of the pain rushing back for days. I needed an extended break, and took it during the busyness of moving from the Little Rock area to upstate New York.
The physical transplant uprooted my routine completely. I was without a gym, my fully stocked fridge, and even my wife (for a couple of weeks.) Without the right combination of proximity and price, I couldn't find a gym worth joining. Over the next few months my hard-earned Arkansas muscle began to soften and sag.
For the first time since I was 13 years old I found myself over 200lbs and more interested in shedding excess weight than in general fitness. That's when I undertook a week long fruit-fast. It worked nicely in terms of slimming down, and provided plenty of vitamins and fiber, but seemed too sugary to do long-term without rotting your teeth out.
For my second phase of slenderization, I switched to a rice fast. Simple and effective, I was soon back down to my fighting weight, floating around 180lbs. I maintained that weight for some time as a mostly-whole-foods omnivore, intentionally conscious of portion sizes, but avoiding the hassle of calorie counting. It was probably a year later that I came across a revelation that would turn everything I thought I knew about healthy eating upside down and expose the 'con' in conventional wisdom.
Coming soon. . .
Article first published as Vegetarian, The Zone, Fruitopia, and the Rice Fast on Technorati.
Saturday, October 8, 2011
About six years ago my first taste of a mainstream diet plan began at a point in health where I wasn't necessarily looking to lose weight, but would consider anything that might healthily help me look a little more like Michaelangelo's statue of David. After some research (aka Googling for on-line reviews) I settled for the Abs Diet.
Yes, it makes the stereotypical, grandiose promises of X pounds in Y days, but the book is a healthy read. It's principals are not as shallow as the glossy title and advertising suggest, even if the macho lingo seems directed toward a pack of jocks in heat. The text provides a sensible, well-rounded diet and exercise plan that one could easily live by indefinitely. But you have to buy into conventional (food pyramid) wisdom.
When it comes to the USDA's food pyramid, the main reference point for most food-related CW, a "balanced" diet is more politically correct than it is healthy. The United States Department of Agriculture is lobbied by all of the livestock and plant farmers under its umbrella and still gets to tell us what we should eat. Smells like a conflict of interest if there ever was one.
An overwhelming majority of conventional nutritional guidelines are based on studies funded by the very industries that produce the foods. "Got Milk?" for instance. . . or this interesting story about how pomegranates became a superfood.
In our consumer-driven society all a producer has to do is dig until they find a scientist who can find a positive aspect to their product. Then they can relentlessly promote and advertise that slice of optimism until it becomes CW, or maybe even a pop culture craze (like Acai berries now in everything from pills to tea.) Clever marketing can build a castle of fortune on a grain of truth.
There was a time when even cigarettes were healthy. Interestingly enough, the government is suing Pom Wonderful for misleading the common man. Sorghum bran may be more scientifically justifiable as rich in antioxidants, but it isn't sugary, wouldn't sell in a sensuously lumpy bottle, and just doesn't sound as chic.
Since commercial-based CW is hardly reliable, and I've been full of questions ever since I picked up my first Curious George book, I eventually became interested in less conventional approaches to nutrition. I don't remember how I first got wind of it, but I decided to test The Warrior Diet.
The book was actually one of the most dubious I've read, with very little in the way of scientific or common-sensical merit. The fact that the author (Ori Hofmekler) had previously worked for distasteful publications and had a sinister monkey look on his face in all of the book's exercise illustrations didn't help his credibility with me. He wasn't my kind of role model in any dimension.
His theory goes something like this- cave men and Spartans must have never eaten breakfast since Captain Crunch and Eggos weren't around back then. They would travel long distances by foot on a daily basis, looking to spear their dinners. By the evening they'd kill a deer or a turkey, then cook it over an open fire and totally pig out before slipping into restful sleep. . . . so that must be how we are meant to eat.
Basically, fast all day then make up for it during a 4-hour no-holds-barred feeding window every evening. There were a few guidelines for stuffing your face: lead off with leafy greens to make a bed for all the meat you can manage, and only then top off your stomach with sweets (if you must.)
These are the guidelines quoted from the Warrior Diet website:
The thought of giving my willpower a daily 20-hour workout while looking forward to indulging carelessly for 4 hours, all to look like a character from The 300 sounded appealing, so I gave it a try.1. Eat One Main Meal at Night
There is evidence that humans are nocturnal eaters, inherently programmed for undereating and toiling during the day, followed by overeating and relaxing at night.2. Go Low on the Food Chain
Researchers believe that the human genome is programmed for a late Paleolithic world. As hunter/gatherers we're better adapted to pre-agricultural food– i.e. chemical-free fruit, vegetables, roots, sprouted legumes, nuts, seeds, fertile eggs, marine food (wild catch), and dairy from grass fed animals.3. Exercise While Undereating
It has been established that we are inherently carrying survival mechanisms that benefit us when triggered by physical or nutritional stress such as exercise or undereating. Combining exercise with undereating will amplify the beneficial mechanisms of both – increasing our ability to utilize energy, improve strength and resist fatigue.
I handled the fasting part handily, but ingesting enough calories within 4 hours to make up for it proved a challenge. You know that cranial haze that you get after a big thanksgiving dinner? I was dealing with it nightly. That kind of mental fog is the last thing a small-time poet with a full-time job needs during his off-hours. Working out after a 20 hour fast wasn't working for me either. My calves started cramping at night. . . . like they were trying to eat themselves.
Without the intermittent insulin surges that come with the bad advice to eat 5-6 mini-meals a day and "stoke the metabolic fire" (per the CW in the Abs Diet) I had exceptional mental clarity during the day, but felt physically sluggish. Without a whole lot of excess weight to lose, I shed a few pounds and then plateaued.
I don't think Ori totally missed the mark. Going "low on the food chain" is good advice. There's solid research that I'll get to later suggesting that exercise on an empty stomach can be very effective, and that fasting is a healthy practice. It's just that what we eat is much more important than his book suggests, and trying to stuff an entire day's calories into 4 hours is mind numbing. It gets old fast. . . . unless you enjoy feeling like a zombie that just swallowed a cinder block. Vampires and werewolves are more in-vogue anyway.
Needless to say, I didn't last long as a Warrior, but moved on to a plan grounded in more solid research- coming soon. . .
Monday, October 3, 2011
Saturday, October 1, 2011
Food is vital to life, an art in itself, and a four letter word. My personal relationship with food, through many ups and downs, has evolved from abusive to experimental over the past 30 years. Read on if you dare, but consult your physician before trying anything blah blah yadda blah. . . .
I was a true string bean until second grade. To choke down my home-grown vegetables was to earn a bowl of fruit and Jell-O soup. I only thought about eating what was set before me, and refused some of that . . unless it flew toward my mouth making airplane noises- playing Godzilla was irresistible. It wasn't until after starting elementary school that I developed a less than healthy routine.
I would walk home from school every afternoon (nothing impressive, probably half a mile) and have an innocent little snack. There wasn't much else to do in a town of 112 when most of its citizens are old enough to be your grandparents. When the cookies and peanut butter were gone, I was bored again. Time for another snack. Somewhere between second and sixth grades I became unable to think straight without the chilly white fog from the refrigerator wafting across my cheeks.
I could get creative in the kitchen. A pile of lunch meat on a plate with a thick slab of cheese in the middle would snap and crackle in the microwave as if applauding my gastrointestinal ingenuity. Arby's had nothing on my cheese-melts. Chips, more cookies, and I knew where the chocolate was hidden.
Mama would come home and fix dinner after resting her feet before hitting the kitchen. The whole family usually sat down together for home-cooked meal around 8:00 or so. I would be anything but hungry after my indulgent snacking session, but I had to finish that meatloaf to justify ice cream.
Then one day I looked down and realized that I needed a bra worse than my little sister. A chubby chest and chaffing hams scared the cherub into action. I was 12 years old and spilling over my huskies at 220+ lbs. Something had to give.
Nothing displaces bad habits like good ones, but developing them can be an epic hurdle. My turnaround began in the summer after seventh grade when I started riding my mountain bike out and back on a hilly 12-mile route every day. After getting back to the house I would enjoy 4 graham crackers with peanut butter between the pairs, a tall glass of iced coffee, and an orange- nothing more until dinner time. Within two years I was down to 185lbs, not to mention considerably taller than I was at the height of my girth.
The lesson I'd learned in self-discipline was more valuable than going from a 40" to a 32" waist. I managed to stay in reasonably good shape for the duration of my high school years, continuing my cycling in the summers. . . . then came college.
I have a theory regarding the legendary "freshman fifteen"- I believe it's more prevalent at colleges with cafeterias and all-you-can-eat meal plans. The University of Texas at Tyler had only accepted juniors through graduates up until 1998. I was part of the second freshman class starting there in 1999, and there was nothing for a freshman to do. . . or eat. No cafeteria, no dorms- just books and classrooms. There was a small "Campus Cafe." Recommending their biscuits and gravy was our only established hazing ritual.
The only form of student housing on campus was University Pines- a students-only apartment complex located on campus, but not managed by the college. I moved in with three guys I'd never met. Two of them became really great friends, the other was a Dorito bandito. Munching on stolen chips in his room, skipping classes to practice on his bass guitar- he only lasted one semester.
We had good times at The Pines, but it didn't start out healthy. My two friends and I would go to Wal-Mart together and shop for groceries, tossing what we wanted into the basket and then splitting the bill three ways. That granted all of us the right to eat as we pleased from the spoils. Our main staples for the first year were corny-dogs and Ramen noodles. I was snarfing down two corny-dogs for lunch and three for dinner daily. Burnout was inevitable.
By my junior year I had been working for University Pines as a Community Assistant in return for free rent and chump change. I'd been compelled by my employer to leave my original roommates and move into a 2-bedroom apartment with another, more reserved, CA. He ended up becoming one of my closest friends, but we didn't split the grocery bill, and he never cleaned the bathtub. . . . but I'm not bitter.
As a result of my new living arrangement, my foodstuffs became slightly more sophisticated. I began cooking up Hamburger Helper and Zatarain's dirty rice mix fairly often, and making my own dagwood-style sandwiches on bread as exotic as pumpernickel, 7-grain, or Health Nut. (thank you, Mama, for weaning me from Wonderbread)
Graduation rolled around, and all of a sudden I was dumped into the real-world. A single guy in his early 20's, far from the bustling social scene of the college campus, has a lot of quiet time on his hands to think about life, love, and his next meal. I began to wonder why I continued to buy boxes full of pasta and chemically enriched powders- surely I could save money and avoid eating things I couldn't pronounce just by purchasing the ingredients separately!
Soon I was cooking up one-dish-wonders from scratch, usually starting with a base of brown rice, black olives, mushrooms, a can or two of Rotel, and any combination of chicken, beef, ground turkey, jalapeño peppers, and beans. One kitchen session could produce dinner for a week when I alternated between monster salads and my southern goulash.
With few obligations aside from work and church, I began to focus on fitness in my free time- partly to pad my loneliness and partly with the misguided notion that my envisioned ripples would help put an end to it. As one who functions best with a set of rules to follow, I began researching.
I'd often scoffed at fad diets, having friends known to try three different programs (Weight-Watchers, Slim-Fast, Atkins) within the same 6-month period with little to show for their effort. I diagnosed it as Chronic Dietitus, and still believe it to be an American epidemic. I could rant on about how there's a diet for every taste out there. At a garage sale I once found a book called The Peanut Butter Diet. I almost bought it for laughs, but refrained out of fear I would actually try it.
God made me a very curious creature. There are so many schools of thought out there on the most ethical, and healthiest ways to eat. After watching documentaries like King Corn, Food Inc., Supersize Me, FatHead (recommended), The Botany of Desire, Julie &; Julia, and Forks Over Knives; reading books like The Omnivore's Dilemma and The Zone; and some really interesting blogs that I'll get to later, I have put a number of ideas to the test.
I think one reason I enjoy trying different nutritional disciplines is because clearly defined guidelines regarding when or what I consume are a challenging exercise in self-discipline and inspire me to become more creative with my limited options. I've come up with my own challenges- like abstaining from French fries or carbonated soft drinks for a year, and subjected myself to various comprehensive approaches to food.
Going from vegetarian to bacon buff at the drop of a hat was a lot easier before I had a wonderful wife cooking for me. I never ask her to be a mouse for my trials, but my own rotating restrictions frustrate the cook none-the-less.
The good news (for both of us) is that after researching and approaching nutrition from so many different angles, I'm beginning to get a firm understanding of the common denominators that the most healthy and effective exercise and nutrition programs share- sometimes even when the camps seem diametrically opposed. In my next post I'll share my take on different schools of thought, what I've tried, and what I've gleaned from first-hand experiences ranging from mainstream to quite exotic!