Friday, September 29, 2017

Shopping for Groceries: BMI = 31

Have you ever noticed that most grocery stores put their produce closest to the entrance? You walk in, see all that colour and all that healthy food and feel really good to be there; sort of like the first day of being on a diet.

I was going to crop the above photo down to only show the strawberries but then I noticed something sneaky. The apples are right behind the strawberries, and to the right of the strawberries there is a kit for making apple crisp. I’ve not even gotten past the produce section yet and already they are priming me to shop for added-sugars.

I did pick up some apples, because blueberries have started becoming expensive, but I chose to leave the apple crisp kit behind. Those apples are going to be great on my porridge in the morning when the temperature starts to drop again.

I picked up a red cabbage because I have some green cabbage left over at home and wanted to make some coleslaw. Yes, I’ll be doing a post about how I make great, sugar-free coleslaw.

I grabbed some brussels sprouts and green beans. I really should have picked up some yellow beans just to get more colour in my cart but maybe next time.

As soon as I got past the produce, the next section was baked goods and the sweets were front and center. Guess what? I’m almost done shopping.

I made my way to the deli section but almost every single item there is off my list. I don’t eat processed meats but I’m glad to say that my deli does offer some home-style roasted meats that are really convenient for me.

The roast beef is actually roast beef – not cold-cut, transformed beef. There is a little added sugar in the seasoning on the beef, but it is not injected with marinade or anything like that so I grab it for the convenience.

The roast pork is also actually roast pork. Real roasted pork loin, with some ‘BBQ seasoning’ on it but again, not injected with marinades and not treated with nitrates to keep it looking pink while actually being cooked (like most cold-cut ham).

Cheese is one food I miss having around home. Living in Québec, I could try a different distinct local cheese every week for the rest of my life. I reserve cheese for my once a week indulgence meal, though, so this is another section I need to skip.

Prepared frozen foods are also off my menu. Even the supposedly ‘healthy’ diet-meals contain way too much salt. Most don’t actually have too much sodium in one serving – but they have so little food in them that one serving wouldn’t be enough for me for lunch.

I keep a jug of orange juice and have a three-ounce glass every morning. Beware of the containers marked ‘cocktail’ when buying juice – usually they have a lot of added sugars.

I’m really wary of the yoghurt aisle. Most of these yoghurts have way too much added sugars to be considered a healthy snack. To my mind, most of these products are desserts, and I don’t eat dessert very often anymore.

If you search very meticulously you can find a few yoghurts that are very low or no fat as well as having no added sugars. You’ll probably have to zoom in to figure out which one I’m talking about.

Oh my! Look at all the ‘junk food’. I used to wrestle with myself trying to not buy any of this stuff, usually compromising and getting some salsa and rather plain corn chips. None of this stuff temps me anymore.

Canned goods are another thing off the menu for me. They’ve been off the menu for most of my life, however, because I’ve always had an aversion to over-salted food.

Peperoncinis, a treat I still enjoy. Ok, they are a bit salty but I don’t eat them as a meal. I love to have a couple of these with a meal, especially if I’m having coleslaw. These peppers are naturally a bit sweet and this brand name doesn’t add any sugar.

Every single mayonnaise at my grocery store had added sugars in it. Needless to say, not on my menu.

Most prepared mustards don’t have added sugars but beware because some do. The salad dressings here all contain added-sugars and so are not part of my diet.

The prepared cereals aisle looks like a candy display to me now. Yet another aisle with nothing for me.

The breakfast bars look like a cookie display with most being spiked with chocolate or drizzled in caramel.

The cookie section seems to be getting smaller. I presume that is because people are switching to granola bars, falsely believing them to be a healthy option.

I skip the bread aisle as well. I’m not totally off bread but most of it tastes sweet to me now. I sometimes make a sandwich at work (I’m a cook) but just don’t bother keeping bread in my home.

Notice anything unusual with the ‘organic section’? Rather than lining an aisle, as with all other sections, they broke the shelves up and turned them sideways so you can’t see all the way down. It’s like they want to keep the vegans out of sight.

Ah, Québec! Red wine IS on my menu and I can pick it up at the grocery store as it should be.

Oh! Halloween candies are already on sale and it’s not even October yet.

And just before I get to the register, show me some fried chicken, onion rings and fries. I’ve been walking around the store for a while and you know I’m a little hungry – but I’ll have none of your tempting, deep-fried food, Mr. Grocery Man.

I made it out alive! I mostly bought veggies and fruit. I have about 300 grams of roasted meat for the week. I also picked up a couple shakers of Mrs. Dash because I’m trying to cut my sodium intake down a little. Now it’s time to cook dinner.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Foods That I Miss: BMI = 31

My diet has been very healthy for about 2 months now. It took me seven months of changing habits to finally get into a healthy routine. During the first two months, I just focussed on defeating binge-eating, overeating, and snacking. I spent the next five months trying to find ways to get enough veggies and whole grains while also reducing my added-sugar intake to near zero. So now that I’m here, what foods do I miss? I think chicken General Tao on rice with a healthy dollop of sambal is near the top of my list.

It’s easy to see why. The chicken is battered and deep fried – I’ll even eat squid if you bread it and deep fry it. The sauce is sweet and spicy – added sugars make for addicting recipes. Load it up on some plain rice with a lot of sambal and you’ve got calorie-dense oral stimulation of the highest order. Even now that I’m used to eating healthy, my standard meal format just doesn’t get me growling at anyone who dares to look at my plate.

I can still have a serving of General Tao though – just not every night. I have one indulgence meal per week where I can eat pretty much anything I want as long as I don’t binge on it. I really think about that meal, though, and try to make it count. The main reason I haven’t had chicken General Tao since I’ve been eating better is that I want it to be the best General Tao I can find and I don’t want to waste a weekly indulgence meal only to find a soggy, overly-sweet yet otherwise bland disappointment. When I indulge, I want to be assured satisfaction. To that end, one item that I’ve had a few times this year is Boursin cheese.

Once I made an omelette stuffed with some Boursin cheese, once I had it on a thick slice of toast, and the last time I had it on some Triscuits. When I have an indulgence meal now, I get a lot more pleasure out of it than I used to get when I covered my table with several types of cheese, lobster mousse, creton, salami, stuffed peppers, and homemade croutons.

I love all the foods in the photo above, and it used to take that kind of volume and variety to pick me up and make me feel good about life. Eating healthy, on the other hand, has really improved my overall feeling of well-being, my energy and alertness, and my outlook on life. When I look at the above photo now, the thing I miss most are the friends that were sitting around that table. It was good to have people with whom to share that experience. We had some great meals together before the place where we worked shut down and we all drifted apart.

I think I’ll start asking around about who serves great General Tao in town. It’s time I had that meal again. I also need to pick up a small chunk of Charlevoix 1608 cheese. It makes an incredible grilled-cheese sandwich, especially when made with rye bread.

Anyway, there really aren’t many foods that I miss because I can still have them. I don’t miss being able to eat those foods daily because when I used to do that life just sucked a little more each year. I enjoy the healthy foods I eat now, I enjoy my weekly indulgence meals even more than my old daily indulgence meals, and I’m totally stoked to be watching my weight and blood-pressure dropping.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Slimming without Exercising: BMI = 32

Is it possible to lose weight through diet alone? I’m here to tell you that it is. I’ve reduced my weight by over 25% without going to the gym. I should caveat that fact by pointing out that I have a physically demanding job. I work in a restaurant kitchen and spend my entire shift on my feet, shuffling side to side on the line as I scramble to get plates made and pushed out the pass.

I’m not suggesting that exercise isn’t beneficial – not at all. When I started this weight-loss journey, I was in a back brace and had a cast on my left wrist. I was in no condition to take up jogging. Even today, missing 40% of one of my vertebrae, I fear that most forms of exercise could put my future mobility at risk. I could go to a pool but I have a real aversion to getting into someone else’s bathwater.

This is a very short blog entry and rather lacking in photos because it’s sort of hard to provide photo-documentation of something I don’t do. I am thinking about joining a gym this winter, though, so I’ll keep you all posted.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Dietary Tricks and Traps: BMI = 32

Did you know that there is a secret ingredient that can drastically alter your metabolism? It’s not classified as a drug but I’m beginning to think that it should be. That ingredient is sugar and it doesn’t work in your favour if you are trying to shed some fat. I call it a ‘secret’ ingredient because it has secretly snuck into just about every prepared/processed food we eat these days.

I’m sorry I don’t have ‘tricks’ to help you loose weight. For those you’ll have to watch daytime television and keep an eye out for quacks flogging ‘miracle foods’. I can, however, help you avoid being tricked by clever marketing that tries to tap into your desire to make healthier choices. Remember, just because a package is labeled ‘fat free’, that doesn’t mean you can dive-in and eat all you want.

It’s just a food-industry standard these days to slap some healthy keywords or slogans onto every label and it is a practice that does influence customer choices. If Hellman’s stopped adding sugar to their mayonnaise they could slap a ‘no added-sugars’ label on it and likely see an uptick in sales. In the restaurant industry, every menu must have a salad in the principle meals section. The salad that sells best, however, is the classic Caesar salad.

Depending on the portion size and amount of dressing, a Caesar salad might have more fat than an order of fries. A nice garden salad, with a wide variety of vegetables, will offer a bit more ‘good’ nutrition than the Caesar but the dressing still has a lot of fat, likely a lot of sugar, and the bulk of the meal is just lettuce, which won’t keep you full until your next meal. If you have your snacking habits under control then having a garden salad for lunch might help with weight-loss but it isn’t likely a good long-term solution to eating right.

‘Granola’ was a big buzzword in healthy eating for years. It’s very calorie-dense, however, and is usually sweetened. Sprinkling a little over some plain yogurt makes a nice accent but it really shouldn’t be a core food. The same goes for granola bars, breakfast bars, and protein bars. I’m sorry, but granola bars are just rectangular oatmeal cookies – even the ones that aren’t chock-full of chocolate chunks or drizzled with caramel. Protein bars are typically just protein fortified cookies.

Plain popcorn can really satisfy the craving to snack but make sure it is air popped. A lot of movie theatres pop their corn in coconut oil – and it smells incredible. The problem is that it’s very high in unhealthy calories even without that buttery topping.

I’m seeing a lot of ‘veggie chips’ these days. Remember that regular old potato chips are ‘veggie chips’ too. Yes, yellow beetroot has more micro-nutrients than potato and makes a great chip – but still results in a calorie dense snack food loaded in fat. I make a lot of decorative veggie chips at work and the way the servers dive into them just confirms, for me, that they are just as addictive as potato chips.

Yogurt is a very popular ‘healthy’ snack but you really need to read the nutritional information before diving-in. Most yogurts in the dairy aisle of my grocery store are loaded with sugar. There are plenty of ‘low-fat’ and ‘fat-free’ varieties but the nutritional numbers on them put them in a dessert category for me. I did find a nice yogurt that was both fat-free and had no added sugars. It’s artificially sweetened and tastes a bit too sweet for me, but then I eat almost zero added sugars these days.

Sushi seems sinless, and some of it is indeed very healthy. The sauces, however, can really escalate the calories and fat. Watch out for ‘tempura’ sushi rolls that have battered, deep-fried veggies inside. As always, portions are a factor, so don’t binge-eat sushi thinking you are doing your health a favour.

I’m sorry if I seem to be finding flaws in just about every snack you eat. Eliminating snacking was hard but I love being able to eat very hearty meals and I can because I’m not snacking in between meals. My ‘miracle foods’ are all the veggies I eat these days – well-seasoned and steamed.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Building Good Habits: BMI = 32

The good news is that building good habits is far easier than breaking bad habits. The bad news is that, in most instances, one must break a bad habit or two before developing a good habit. Before I could make a habit of eating a healthy breakfast I had to get out of the habit of sleeping late.

I already had to get up early because of my cast, back-brace, and frequent early-morning medical appointments. Further, I didn’t sleep well because of my obesity. Still, though, I had to try. I had eliminated a lot of sugar from my diet and the granola bars that I used to reduce the time of my morning routine were starting to taste more like cookies than breakfast. I knew that I needed to eat hot-cereal, fruit, some dairy, and a bit of lean protein.

It took a little effort to limit my late-night movie hours so I could get up earlier but not nearly as much effort as it had taken to stop snacking, binge-eating, and overeating. After about a week the habit started to develop and I experienced an uptick in energy and even further reduced urges to snack. Every ready-to-eat cereal I’ve encountered has some added sugar and none of them fill me up like hot-cereal in the morning. These days when I pass the cereal aisle in the grocery store, most of what I see looks like candy.

Lunch was a little more difficult. I work in a restaurant so there are always stray fries or meat trimmings to snack on. To that end, making a habit of preparing a healthy meal helped me avoid falling back into the habit of snacking. I’m not going to say I never nip a stray fry at work, but focussing on the thought that I’ll be eating a full, balanced meal really helps to curb those urges. There are plenty of healthy choices on hand in our kitchen.

Getting enough veggies in me was a real challenge. That’s where my digital steamer came in very handy. For the first time in years I actually come home from a full shift of cooking and still have the desire to cook myself a healthy meal. I usually have at least five different veggies in my dinner.

I believe the most valuable step I took in building better eating habits was eliminating added-sugars. The energy uptick, and increased alertness I experienced made healthy-eating my new addiction. My home is cleaner than it has been in years, I’m writing more than ever, and getting up on time to cook a balanced breakfast is easier than ever. I used to pick up an alcoholised beverage after work, usually fruit flavoured, but for the past couple of months this has been my beverage of choice after work.

I didn’t bother much with groceries when my diet was unhealthy. I didn’t want to keep toaster-oven pizzas or anything like that on hand because I knew I would binge on them. I didn’t want to buy a bunch of healthy stuff because I knew I would just end up throwing it out when it went bad. Now I buy piles of veggies, plenty of fruit, and a little roasted meat and almost never end up throwing out spoiled food. My latest grocery haul looks like a buffet to me now.

I now put my groceries away at home the way I organize my fridge at work. I unpackage everything and organize it all into containers that I can grab quickly when cooking. Breakfast fruits stack together, afternoon snack veggies get grouped for my days off, and dinner veggies and meat get stacked on another shelf to speed meal preparation.

Breaking my old eating habits was a struggle. Picking up good eating habits took a little discipline but mostly just a lot of planning ahead – like choosing to get that countertop steam cooker, or organizing my groceries like I do at work. Other good habits have just started to form on their own though; I’m writing more, reading more, taking photos, and I’ve even begun practicing violin again.

My BMI used to be 43. When I started writing this blog it was 33. At the time of this writing it is 32 but I’m well on my way to 31. I don’t know if I’ll actually cut my BMI in half but I do know that all the effort has been worth it. I’m not on a diet, I’ve just changed my dietary habits and hope I can feel this good for many more years to come.