Thursday, August 07, 2008

It's Not Easy Eating Green

People on average weigh more today then they did in decades past. Experts blame everything from larger portion sizes to more sedentary lifestyles; valid reasons for the waistline explosion. As any person who has ever tried to “do the right thing” with eating and exercise can to attest to, sometimes efforts just don’t work. Whether the weight just doesn’t come off or cravings and emotions sabotage any ability to drop poundage, our best efforts are often thwarted. Even after working with a dietician, I ended the day hungry, craving sweets and junk with such rabid intensity it was wise for friends and family to stay out of the way or they could lose an appendage. As part of my effort to live a healthier life, I began focusing more on what was going into my body and the result it had on my mood, feeling, and waistline. Aspartame is a known enemy and eliminating it from my body yielded incredible results. Could other man made substances be the cause of an appetite that far outweighs my caloric need?

“French Women Don’t Get Fat,” “You on a Diet,” “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,” and “In Defense of Food,” are just a few books that inspired me to stop dieting and just eat healthier. Each chapter of these books led to a greater understanding of human physiological, psychological, physical, emotional and cultural eating habits, and issues in our food supply chain. If I were to sum up each of these books with a theme they would be:
Creating a “diet” based upon the principles of a healthy, natural, organic lifestyle led to the “Lean, Mean, Green Eating Machine” eating plan (maybe I should trademark this). The Green Eating Machine does not consist of eating twigs and berries or moving to Colorado with the rest of the granola-heads (disclaimer: I love granola and the people who eat it). It is possible to get tasty, amazing, flavorful, and enjoyable meals that are rich in vitamins, nutrients, and antioxidants. The overall guidelines for the Lean, Mean, Green Eating Machine diet are:
  • Focus organic eating on “the dirty dozen:” Eating everything organic is almost impossible due to availability issues and cost. Several publications have listed 12 types of foods most affected by pesticides and poor farming practices so consumers can make smarter organic decisions. Essentially the list is meat, thin skinned fruits and vegetables, and coffee. Honestly, if you haven’t eaten an organic heirloom tomato or free-range organic chicken you haven’t lived.
  • Buy Locally: Food transported over thousands of miles is engineered to survive the trip. The genetic engineering and travel compromise the taste and quality of the food. Buying locally also supports farmers in your region, bringing more dollars to the people who actually do the farming rather than multi-national food companies. This also cuts down on the use of fossil fuels in food transportation, saving gas for our own cars.
  • Reading is Fundamental: Only consume ingredients that are pronounceable and made by nature, not a scientist. For the most part this means reading labels for unnatural and unpronounceable components. These fake foods and ingredients are stealing people of what their bodies need to thrive. Large corporations make money on feeding us crap they can manufacture and getting us to eat and buy more; our health and wellness is not a factor in their bottom line.
  • Eliminate High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS): We have to import sugar in the United States but can manufacture plenty HFCS with our corn supplies in the US, making it a cheap option for American food manufacturers. This chemical “food” is used as a sugar replacement for a large percentage of foods and beverages in the United States but is left out of foods in overseas markets. Perhaps that is how the French (and everyone else) stay so thin despite a diet rich in cheese, cream and animal fat. Many researchers claim that HFCS prohibits brain receptors from receiving the message that you are full, leading to overeating. There is a great debate whether HFCS leads to obesity with some studies reporting it does and others refuting it. All I know is rise of obesity rates happen to mirror the rise of HFCS use in our food supply. Coincidence? I think not.
  • Fresh is best: Pre-packaged and pre-prepared foods are loaded with ingredients and calories none of our bodies wants nor needs. Start off with real, fresh ingredients and food will taste better and be better for you. When shopping, stick to the farmer's market or the outer aisles of the grocery store to keep it real and fresh.
  • Keep it Real: The diet industry and food manufacturers are trying to get us to eat substitutes for the foods we really want, leading us to keep eating (and spending) more until we actually “break down” and eat what we want in the first place. Stop using substitutes that are unsatisfying and taste awful. A little real ice cream, butter, chocolate, beer, and cheese is more satisfying then tasteless cardboard.
  • Cut Down on Bottles: Environmentally friendly and a way to consume fewer calories in the alcohol format. We are either the best recyclers on our block or we produce the most beer and wine bottles for our blue bin, and my guess is we might produce a bottle or two more then our neighbors. Either way my goal was to have more AFD’s (Alcohol Free Days) than AD’s to cut down on the bottles and the empty calories. With fewer then 3 AD’s a week it takes a lot less to get the job done, also saving calories.
  • Use less gas: Walking, biking, and skating to get to the store are great ways to reduce carbon emissions and use of fossil fuels. Added bonus, burning more calories!
There are some downsides to eating green; if there weren’t, everyone would be doing it.
  • Expensive: The short term expense of switching to organic or locally grown and produced food is apparent with each item costing a little more then foods from industrial farms. I could go into length on how industrial farming causes long term damage, actually costs society more, etc. etc. None of those things would have convinced me to pay more for a tomato, but then I thought about it in different terms. We have no problem spending more money on electronics, games, health and beauty products, clothes, and other material consumer items. It is a shame that Whole Foods is on a mission to demonstrate their competive prices. Food actually goes into our body, affects our chemistry, influences our mood, impacts our overall heath, and contributes to our longevity. Is this not worth a little bit extra money? Long term you actually save money going more organic with fewer illnesses driving costs of doctors and medicines. It takes a little bit to notice, but green eating is so much more nutritious that you actually end up eating less quantity, therefore saving money.
  • Seasonal: Embracing the true meaning of eating green, and experiencing the intense flavors lacking in imported fruits and vegetables, means understanding the seasonality of produce and when certain foods are available. This is a difficult proposition for Americans who are used to getting and eating anything they want, whenever they want. There are certain things I love that I can never get locally, like pineapples, and I try my best to make sure those items are at least from the United States. Since King Crab has yet to be harvested from the Lake Superior it remains an exception to my new local rule; hey, someone has to support the Deadliest Catch guys! Asparagus is available year round, but is really only at its peak for a short period in early spring. Enjoy foods while they are in season; the flavors are more intense and worth the wait.
  • Time Consuming: It takes more time to cook healthy meals then popping a Lean Cuisine or Stouffer’s meal in the oven or microwave. People have gotten so busy in their lives that the “joy of cooking” and eating has shifted to the bottom of people’s priority list. Good food takes time, and meals should be enjoyed and savored at a table, not in a car or hovered over a sink. People who think they don’t have enough time to cook or enjoy a good meal at least once a day should consider reprioritizing their calendars. Some of my most cherished memories in life are family meals, a dying ritual for many families. Cut out some of the television time and make a healthy meal to share with family or friends instead.
  • Palate retraining: We have all heard people talk about certain foods or drinks as “acquired tastes.” Our bodies adapt to new flavors and textures and learn to like or dislike foods. Many fast foods and pre-packaged and processed meals contain man made compounds that actually make things taste better then they actually are, and trigger the craving mechanism in our brains. People who stop eating something like McDonald’s for a long period of time often report it tasting different or bad then they remember from the past; the palate and brain untrained the desire for fast food. Introducing healthier foods often takes a little bit to get used to. For me, the big challenge was natural peanut butter, which is not nearly as sugary sweet as brands most of us grew up on. After a few weeks (I eat a lot of peanut butter sandwiches!) my body started to appreciate the simplicity of peanut butter that contained nothing but peanuts. I ran out of real peanut butter and made a sandwich with the sugary stuff and had to throw the sandwich out. After a few months of eating the natural version the ingredient heavy manufactured stuff tasted awful. This same palate training is the basis of so many children’s cook books, like The Sneaky Chef, that call for hiding the healthy stuff into food. Not only do you slip extra nutrients into meals, but eventually this helps train the palate of the eater to be more accepting of vegetables.
  • Limitations: Start reading labels and you quickly learn how many things on our store shelves contain unpronounceable ingredients and high fructose corn syrup. The quest to eliminate man made chemicals from your diet is challenging and it takes some time at first to learn what foods are okay. Certain foods that you expect to be “healthy” are actually packed unnatural and sometimes harmful ingredients. Some discoveries are actually heartbreaking; Special K, Triscuits, bread crumbs. Forget about a microwave meal! One of the happiest moments in food shopping history was seeing the words “Now Made Without High Fructose Corn Syrup” on a package of Thomas’ English muffins.
It may not be easy eating green, but it sure makes a difference in body and mind. During the first 6 months of this green eating journey I have noticed so many changes. The most obvious; my weight, 21 pounds lost without really “dieting;” I pretty much ate what I wanted; so long as it wasn’t crap. My sugar cravings, a huge part of my struggles with calories, disappeared. My hair grew stronger and shinier. My skin cleared up; issues with cyst-like acne on my chin no longer a problem. If all this was not enough to convince myself and those around me how much better eating fresh and local was for my body, how I feel right now might. Family and career stress of the past six weeks sent me right back to some old habits; eating store processed foods, not reading labels, imbibing in adult beverages way too often. This brief jump off the healthy wagon and onto the chuck wagon served as a reminder that eating green made a noticeable difference in my health and well being. After six weeks of abandoning the Green Diet I am 8 pounds heavier, terribly lethargic, achy, taking longer to recover from a workout, experiencing acne breakouts, and constantly hungry. Writing about this “diet plan” is not meant to be preachy; it is an exercise to document what made me healthy and successful earlier this year so I can get back to business. Read the books I mentioned above, they are inspirational and eye opening. If you decided to try the green diet let me know how it goes. The diet industry is worth billions…


LucyinStLou said...

I couldn't agree more! I try to adhere to many of the points you listed (well except for fewer AD, I allow myself wine 5 days a week). It really does make a difference. I hadn't eaten fast food in years. When my mom was in the hospital last week, I was forced to eat fast food one day and it made me feel awful. I'm also struggling to limit my consumption of corn syrup. Not an easy thing, particularly since I enjoy Coke more than any educated person should. That's my next goal. Give up unhealthy soda. which would cut my corn syrup consumption down to almost nothing.

Stormy said...

We here in Virginia are blessed with a nice growing season, which lets our CSA provide weekly deliveries for well over half the year. Plus the one we've chosen works with Mennonite farmers, who are low- or no-spray with their produce. They also provide chicken and eggs (and trout and beef) for an additional fee. We even took the next step and bought a side of beef. As did some others as you can read about here:

Steve and Stepher said...

You SHOULD trademark that if it hasn't already been. I'm serious.

Knowing what we should consume and then actually following through on eating properly can be so difficult. Especially for people who want the quick fix. Eating a healthier diet didn't make me feel better overnight; it took about one week to notice just how much better I was feeling.

I've been a vegetarian for over 15 years so meat isn't a problem for me. My weakness is sugar. I NEED to remove it from my diet again and am planning on doing so right after this PMSiness disappears as, quite honestly, the thought of not having chocolate within the next two hours is too much for me to bear. ;-)

Congrats on finding a way to make yourself feel better - some people never learn.

Explosive Bombchelle said...

Stormy, you inspired me to chat with my organic chicken purveyorsleeping cat organic farm and they have beef and lamb!

I better get a bigger freezer...

Stormy said...

You'll be happy with the beef and lamb. The taste of the meat is so much richer than mass-produced meat, not to mention all the other benefits you might expect!

Explosive Bombchelle said...

Just in case you want a little mecury with your high fructose corn syrup...