Monday, February 26, 2018

Overcoming Vegetable Aversion: BMI = 28.9

Just over a year ago, the idea of enjoying a pile of mixed veggies seemed preposterous. The few veggies that I did add to my meals were just for colour and were nothing more than garnish. I much preferred comfort food so veggies were rarely much more than a prop for the photo.

As a cook, I often encounter people who seem as averse to veggies as I used to be. I frequently receive orders that specify “no-veggies” on the ticket. When dishing up food in front of a customer I often encounter people who snap their hand up in a “stop” gesture when I start adding veggies to the plate.

Although I encounter more customers each year who are trying to make health-conscious choices when ordering food, most of them are just trying to avoid grains. I do occasionally have customers who ask for extra veggies, but I have even more customers who want to change the starch on their plate to fries because they are “avoiding grains.”

The Canada Food Guide recommends a diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables. It also recommends eating nearly as much grain, trying to ensure that at least half your servings of grain are whole grain. If you want to keep your calories low, then the best place to start is cutting out added-sugars.

Eating lots of veggies and whole grains while cutting out sugar and fried food seemed impossible to me. I had tried, for years, to get into the habit of eating fruits and veggies and gotten nowhere. The trouble was that I would buy a big bag of baby-cut carrots and try to convince myself that they were crunchy, so I should be able to enjoy them as much as snack-chips.

I now believe that the reason I that I failed over and over was because I was terribly malnourished. Carrots alone couldn’t reverse my malnutrition. They also couldn’t give me the mood-altering uptick of crunchy, deep-fried food. Eating one type of vegetable for days at a time didn’t make me feel any better and so there was no reward. Carrots just seemed like a waste of time.

I did the same thing with cherries, pineapples, and cucumbers. When I talk about all the veggies I now eat I sometimes encounter a response like, “Oh, yeah, I’ve been almost living off snow peas the past few days.” At least I’m not the only person who thought that a big bag of radishes, as the sole vegetable in my fridge, might help me overcome my aversion to veggies.

I now eat two servings of fruit and six servings of veggies everyday. I don’t just eat them, I like eating them. They don’t give me the mood-altering uptick of deep-fried, crunchy food, but I have more energy than ever and feel better, all day long, than I ever felt after a comfort meal when I was still obese. I’ve also virtually eliminated added-sugars from my diet. If I crave something sweet, then I grab a piece of fruit.

So how did I do it? I had to break my snacking habits, and that was a lot like quitting smoking. When trying to break a habit, simply realize that you haven’t failed until you’ve given up trying. As far as learning to like veggies, well, I started out by making sure I had small amount of mixed-veggies and a piece of fruit everyday, for several weeks.

I won’t lie to you, it wasn’t easy. Having some fruit with my hot cereal each day was easy enough. The cup of mixed-veggies with supper was nasty, though. To be honest, I still don’t care much for boiled frozen, mixed-veggies. Fortunately, after a few weeks, I began to crave some fresh veggies.

You need, each day, to get some dark green veggie like broccoli or spinach in your diet. You also need something orange like carrot, butternut squash, or apricot. This combo of green/orange helps you get folate and vitamin A. After that, mix and match veggies as you please. Start out with small portions but try to be consistent.

In retrospect, I think I should have just focussed on getting all my servings of veggie right from the beginning. As my daily intake of fruits and veggies increased, my cravings for calorie-dense foods dissipated. I now believe that my cravings for calorie-dense food were driven by malnutrition. As I said, snacking on carrots alone wasn’t going to make me feel better but one slice of pizza was an instant pick-up. Not hard to see why I lost interest in vegetables.

The moral of the story here is fake it ‘til you make it. Start adding in some green and orange veggies each day. Eat what other fruits and veggies you can and give yourself some time to get used to them. It’s been a year since I got used to eating my veggies everyday, and now I shudder at the thought of going without them.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Weight-Loss Plateau Defeated: BMI 29.0

About a month ago I wrote that my weight-loss had plateaued. I thought perhaps that cutting back on wine and starting a home work-out routine were the culprits, and they just might have been. I also did an audit of my diet to make sure I was still getting all my servings of fruit-veggie, and to see if I had started eating more meat.

My groceries seemed to be in order and I had everything organized to give me quick access to veggies. Was I getting all my servings everyday, though? I always have 2 servings of fruit with breakfast. I needed to make sure I was also getting 6 servings of veggies per day.

I’ve begun preparing all my veggies for the day shortly after breakfast. I fill a one litre cup to about 3/4ths full of chopped veggies. I make sure to have at least one serving of a dark green veggie like broccoli, and at least one serving of carrot or butternut squash.

Since I began doing this, my weight loss has restarted. I still eat 6 to 7 servings of whole grains – 2 with my breakfast, 2 from whole wheat bread, and 2 or 3 servings from Ryvita crisp-bread.

When I started eating like this, the weight just seemed to melt off. As my weight decreased, however, so to did the speed at which I was losing. I expect the next 4 points of BMI (bringing me back to a 'healthy' BMI, not overweight) will take as long as the last 14 points. I'm ok with that, and can handle the odd plateau. One way or the other, I'm sticking with the plan.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Meat in Moderation: BMI = 29.1

Meat is very dense in essential nutrients, so you don’t need a lot to round out your diet. The Canada Food Guide recommends small daily portions of non-processed meat, frequently substituted by beans, lentils, or tofu, and, occasionally substituted by fish. The primary benefit of meat and fish is that they are a very dense source of whole proteins.

I buy ready-cooked, sliced roast beef. It’s a bit expensive but I only eat it 2 ounces at a time so it’s much more convenient for me to buy it this way. Beef is a good source of vitamin B12, zinc, selenium, iron, and niacin. Stay away from processed beef like pastrami or Montreal smoked meat and try to stick to very lean cuts of roasted or grilled beef.

As with beef, I buy my pork ready-cooked and sliced. This makes it very convenient to grab a half ounce portion at breakfast (I eat a little lean protein with every meal). Pork supplies roughly the same micronutrients as beef, in different proportions, but also delivers plenty of thiamin. Stay away from bacon and ham, though.

In researching this blog, I found out that the albacore tuna I stocked up on is, sadly, rather high in mercury. I recommend checking out the Health Canada advisory on mercury in fish. Once you’ve selected fish that doesn’t have problematic levels of mercury for you, make sure to have at least 2 servings per week in place of meat.

Beans, lentils and tofu can be a good substitute for meat and the Canada Food Guide recommends substituting them in place of meat often. I don’t care for tofu, but I might just embrace a Quebecois tradition and start having a small side of baked beans with my breakfast. (They really do that here).

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Milk in Moderation: BMI = 29.2

Diary is a double-edged food group. It has some very beneficial nutrients but can also be a source of saturated fat and cholesterol. The latter two aren’t as big of a problem for the very physically active, but should be carefully monitored by people who are sedentary.

The Canada food guide recommends low-fat or no-fat dairy options. They also recommend far fewer servings of milk than produce or grains. Consult the Canada food guide for the number of servings appropriate for you.

If you do a google search for “Canada Food Guide dairy” right now, you’ll find that recent changes in the guide regarding dairy have generated a lot of concern by diary producers. Reading some of the articles, I’ve begun to question whether “diary” should even be a food group. For the time being, however, I’ll continue with 2 servings a day of 1% milk.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

(Whole) Grains: BMI = 29.3

If you don’t have celiac or some other condition that makes eating certain grains harmful, then don’t cut back on grain products. Grains, particularly whole grains, are an important part of a healthy diet. The Canada Food Guide recommends several servings of grains per day and advises that at least half of those servings should be whole grain.

Whole grains provide a lot of fiber, which regulates digestion, so you feel full longer. What are the other benefits of whole grains? Well, they aid in digestion, can lower cholesterol, can lower blood pressure, reduce belly fat, help to regulate blood sugar, provide a variety of micro-nutrients, may reduce inflammation, might reduce risk of cancer, and may even protect your teeth and gums. Whole grains might just be a real miracle food.

I start each day with 2 servings of whole grains. Forget those breakfast bars and muffins – they are nothing more than cookies and cake. If you want to start your day feeling energized and control your appetite throughout the day, then start with whole grains. Skipping breakfast only leads to reaching for unhealthy snacks and often late-night binging because you’ve spent the day starving yourself. By starting with a solid breakfast, my snack cravings are greatly reduced, and by the end of the day I’m not hungry at all. That all leads to me sleeping better and waking up feeling well rested and ready to cook another great breakfast.

There are more choices for whole grain breads than ever before. I try to find breads that have very little or no added sugar. Check the grams of sugar per slice and try to choose a bread with the least sugar on the nutritional label. I’ll post more about sugar later, but, essentially, I view it as the opposite of whole grain and more befitting The Inverted Diet than a healthy diet.

Ryvita crispbread is a great source for low-salt, no-added-sugar, whole grains. Slice a little ripe avocado and/or tomato on them for a delicious and nutritious snack. Sometimes I break them up to make croutons for a salad. On a side-note, I’ve never met another person who eats these things, so I have no idea why my grocery store still stocks them.

Barley and wild rice take a long time to cook but I start them in a pot and then leave them in my countertop steamer while I watch Netflix. It takes a little longer for dinner to be ready, but the results are worth the wait. For barley, I go for hulled barley rather than pot or pearl barley. Hulled barley is whole grain barley, pot barley has some of the bran removed, and pearl barley has all the bran removed. If you can’t find hulled barley at your grocery store, then don’t be afraid to check out a health food store. You might encounter some vegans, but they won’t bight unless they mistake you for a carrot.

A hearty barley stew can fill you up, provide great nutrition, and taste fantastic. I posted a simple recipe here, but a bay leaf and some fresh thyme can knock a barley stew out of the park. Eat your whole grains!