Saturday, March 31, 2018

CO$T of Eating Right: BMI = 28.5

On special request, I’m writing about how much it costs me, weekly, to eat according to the Canada Food Guide. Realize that economy of scale works against single people trying to plan a healthy menu for the week. Secondly, I eat some very premium products because I can afford to do so. So, without further ado...

I'm analyzing two weeks worth of groceries to provide more accuracy because some items aren't purchased every week. Milk isn't on the receipts because I buy it at a nearby corner store to lighten the bag I carry home from the grocery store. The big jug of OJ I bought will last me 3 weeks but I'll leave it in there because there are a few whole grains that I by en mass every few months that aren't shown here. So, adding the receipts, plus the milk, and a few dollars per week for my whole grains leaves me with an average, per week, of $46.90. The craziest item on these receipts is the $7.94 that I spent on 6 Cara Cara Oranges. I’m normally better at avoiding such expensive fruit but I love those oranges.

I shop at a rather expensive grocery store because they sell sliced roast beef. I avoid transformed meats like cold cuts and not many places sell regular roast beef like this. I could save a few dollars cooking it myself but it’s hard to find a roast that will only be 250 grams after cooking. I have about an ounce of mackerel every morning for the omega 6 and omega 3 fats and eat one can of those beans (prim mel legumineuse) per week. In total, for two cans of beans, roast beef, and smoked mackerel, I paid $20.15. I'll just round that up to $12 per week for protein because I sometimes have a little extra protein at work..

The total for the veggies on the receipts is $16.94. I think I bought a smaller bag of carrots than usual, and that isn't much broccoli, so I would say I spend, on average, $9 per week on veggies.

I paid a ridiculous amount for fruit on the first receipt. I don’t mind paying $6.99 for that bag of Cortland apples – they will last me at least 2 weeks. The $7.94 that I paid for the Cara Cara Oranges, however is a bit over the top. I absolutely love them with freshly grated ginger, however, so I won’t apologize. The total for fruit in my last two grocery runs was $17.90 so I'll just round that to an average of $9 per week. That’s far less than most people spend on carbonated syrup in a week.

I only spent $4.89 on whole grains in those two weeks but I order my hot cereal and hulled barley from a health food store because no grocery stores near me carry those things. I order a lot every few months to offset the cost of the shipping. I would say I spend an average of $6 per week on my whole grains – unless I splurge on some wild rice.

I spend about $6.00 per week on 1% milk and soy beverage. I mix them together to add to my hot cereal and my coffee in the morning. For me they are about vitamin D and calcium. The soy beverage also has some omega 3 fat.

$12.00 proteins
$09.00 veggies
$09.00 fruits
$06.00 whole grains
$06.00 milk and soy beverage
$04.25 condiments
$46.25 total

I included the "condiments" in the final list because I buy some vinegar, mustard, oil, or other sort of sauce/condiment to mix with my veggies. My daily routine for veggies is to chop up nearly one liter of carrot, broccoli, snow peas, red onion, radishes, cucumber, tomato, and red pepper.

I mix in some beans and/or beef and/or roast pork and some kind of sugar-free sauce like the salsa or tomato bruschetta. I top it all off with crushed up crispy bread as croutons, or sometimes I eat it with stewed hulled barley.

My daily breakfast consists of hot cereal, beans, mackerel, fruit, milk, soy beverage, orange juice, coffee, and walnuts.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Food Addiction: BMI = 28.6

Have you ever ordered a pizza thinking, “I’ll have a couple slices for dinner and keep the rest for lunches this week,” only to end up eating the whole thing by the end of the evening? Have you ever planned to have a small square of brownie for dessert and wound up eating the entire slab? If these sorts of things happen to you more often than you would like to admit then don’t worry – you are not alone.

Over the past decade, scientists have discovered that food addiction is a reality. If you are a food addict, as I was, then don’t be shamed into thinking you lack willpower. I struggled, for years, trying to find the willpower to avoid snack foods, to keep my cheese consumption moderate, and to stop drinking so many sugary beverages. I didn’t understand why other people seemed to be able to regulate their eating, yet I just couldn’t muster any self-discipline.

I didn’t become a food addict overnight. I used to be quite athletic and had a healthy diet. At least the core of my diet was healthy, but I also ate a bit too much snack food. A few problems and a physical injury sent me into a downward spiral. I turned to food for comfort. I ate fewer and fewer healthy meals as my diet became overpopulated with comfort foods.

When my diet began to capsize, I sometimes found myself with overwhelming cravings for vegetables. I would find myself at a local salad bar loading up on broccoli, coleslaw, chic peas, and spinach. Those cravings slowly went away, however, as I became ever more reliant on comfort foods to feel better.

Over time, I eventually became averse to vegetables. I know now that this is a strong indicator of food addiction. Another sign is the desire for ever more flavourful and calorie-dense foods. I’m pretty sure that my interest in food-porn was part of my addiction. I loved videos of melted cheese cascading over fries mixed with ground beef and onions. Does that sort of video sound familiar to you?

I used to think that ‘dieting’ was impossible. I knew my diet was awful but rather than looking at nutrition I just tried to eat less. This, of course, didn’t work so I accepted it as proof that I couldn’t lose weight. After a few weeks of skipping meals my desire for stronger flavours and greater calorie-density just grew. It was a vicious cycle. I thought that being skinny meant starving all day everyday. I thought that being skinny meant having super willpower to stand-up against what I found to be overwhelming cravings.

I even managed to convince myself that I didn’t want to be skinny. It seemed that the only real advantage would be that I would live a few years longer – but I would be living without the food I loved, unable to enjoy life.

I didn’t know I was addicted, let alone that the addiction could be broken. If you or someone you know is addicted, as I was, then let me warn you that breaking that addiction is not something to be approached haphazardly. I set out to develop my willpower without realizing that what I had designed was a functional dietary rehabilitation program for myself. I didn’t know that, once the addiction was broken, the cravings would go away.

The disappearing pizza appearing throughout this blog didn’t really disappear. I removed slice after slice, taking photos, for illustration. It’s the first time I’ve had a whole pizza in my home since going through rehab. I ate one slice – the second biggest one just to prove I didn’t have to eat the biggest slice – and I intend to take the rest of the pizza to work tomorrow for my coworkers. I’ll let you know if I manage to do that. I know I won’t eat the whole thing. Since eating that one slice I have a bit of a headache. I no longer have a tolerance for so much salt, fat, and nitrates. It tasted good, and I enjoyed it, but feel no craving for the rest of that pizza. A few glasses of wine might change that.

If you are thinking of trying a dietary rehabilitation, I recommend that you find some support and seek the counsel of your doctor. As I’ve been reading about food addiction I’ve found articles that mention medication that can help. I used to think that bariatric surgery was just a cop-out, but some of the articles cite scientific studies that say such surgery doesn’t just make the stomach smaller, it changes the endocrine balance in a way that aids in overcoming the addiction.

I was incredibly fortunate that my rehabilitation worked, especially considering that I didn’t even realize that I was breaking an addiction. There are a myriad of techniques that can be employed in breaking food addiction and I intend to write about as many of them as I can. In the end, you won’t recover from such an addiction by just trying to curb a few of your worst habits. An intense rehabilitation program will be required. The good news, though, is that your willpower is not at fault here – you are not a weak person. It will take some willpower to undertake an intensive rehab program, but you are likely much stronger than you think.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Defeating Unhealthy Cravings: BMI = 28.7

Just over a year ago my diet was completely out of control. Today I enjoyed three healthy meals and wasn’t even remotely tempted to eat junk food. When I began this journey, I thought that my unhealthy cravings would haunt me for life. I had no idea how to build up the self-discipline to resist the foods that controlled me.

I remember seeing that the time was 22h45 and realizing that the corner store across the street would be closing in 15 minutes. The thought of it would startle me as I realized I had to get moving fast if I wanted to grab some late-night snack-mix while at the same time grabbing onto the table and pleading with myself not to do it. Often enough I could hold fast until 23h00 and the urge for snack mix would subside once it was no longer available. More often than not, just an hour later, I would be making a chicken nugget sandwich with mayo and red onion. They weren’t good chicken nuggets either; they were the type made from low grade chicken bits that get tossed into a blender. I picked them up in ‘economy’ bags in the frozen section of the supermarket.

Chicken nugget sandwiches are quite delicious. So delicious, in fact, that an hour after my first I would be making a second. I remember rolling around, nauseous, unable to sleep because of the heart-burn, bemoaning the fact that such foods had so much control over me.

I now understand why I was so easily overpowered by such unhealthy cravings: I was malnourished. For all the calories that I was taking-in, my diet was nearly devoid of essential minerals, vitamins, and fats. There was plenty of fat in my diet but not the fats that the human body requires.

By all rights, my cravings should have been for veggies, walnuts, fish and flax seed. Sadly, though, I had no interest in the foods that I needed to get nourished. It seems that the myriad of super-calorie-dense ready-made snacks that surround us these days trick our instincts. I don’t understand how that is possible, but I bet there are scientific papers on that very topic. I’ve just googled “junk food tricks brain” and found out that I win that bet. The scientific term for the brain being tricked into eating junk food is “hedonic hunger”. Go ahead and click the link if you like scientific explanations.

It seems that sugar and fat drive hedonic hunger. I believe that lack of proper nutrition, over a lengthy period, also drove my hedonic hunger. My recovery was a vicious process because I needed to radically cut down on refined sugar and added fats while at the same time forcing myself to eat lots of veggies and small amounts of foods that were naturally high in essential fats. In other words, I had to fight against my cravings long enough to break the power that fat and sugar had over me and for the veggies and healthy fats to heal the damage done by years of malnutrition.

It was gruelling, and if I had to maintain that struggle for the rest of my life then I know I would not have made it this far. Fortunately, the first 4 weeks were the hardest, and by seven weeks in I had completely broken the hold that junk food had over me. Since then, I’ve taken a lot of time to investigate other people’s success stories and I’ve found that many people undertook a similar approach and also struggled from 4 to 8 weeks.

That wasn’t the end of my resolve, however. Once I had broken the hold that snacks had over me, I decided to continue refining my diet to get it as close as possible to the Canada Food Guide. I needed to start adding more veggies, opting for whole grains for my starches, and I needed to make a study of the more detailed recommendations of the Canada Food Guide.

It was about this time last year when I started increasing the variety of veggies that I ate. A few months later I began focussing on converting most of my starches to whole grains. A few months after that I began swapping out the occasional meat portion for lentils or beans. Over just the past few weeks I’ve begun having an ounce of canned mackerel with my breakfast for the essential fats it provides.

I guess I’ve become a bit of a health nut. I’m ok with that, though. I used to think that health nuts could never allow themselves to just enjoy some good food, or life, for that matter. That fact of it is that 7 weeks of diet rehab has changed my life and I never want to go back to what it was. If you are struggling with hedonic hunger then I just want you to know that it can be defeated and it need not be a life long struggle.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Holy Mackerel! BMI = 28.8

I recently found out that I haven’t been eating enough fat. It began with cravings for junk food – something I’ve not craved in a year. I wondered if my diet was leaving me short in some way. A quick audit of what I was eating confirmed that I was getting all my veggies, whole grains, milk, and meat. I recently started replacing meat, on occasion, with beans or lentils. In doing so, I forgot about my two servings of fish per week in place of meat.

The Canada Food Guide recommends including a small amount of unsaturated fat in your diet. In particular, Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats are considered ‘essential’ to good health. Canned mackerel happens to be a great source of these essential fats, is low in mercury, and is one of our most sustainable fisheries.

I found it hard to believe that my diet had actually gotten too low in fat. As I considered how I had been eating, however, I realized that I had almost no added fat in my diet and had been swapping out several of my servings of meat with beans or lentils. I still plan to go for legumes occasionally, but I’ll also be helping myself to small portions of canned mackerel from time to time. I’ll let you know if the junk food cravings subside.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Reset Your Palate: BMI = 28.9

Resetting my palate has been a crucial key in my ongoing descent from class III obesity (BMI of 43) towards a BMI of under 25. It has changed the way I view food and made it much easier for me to make healthy choices. Foods that previously seemed dull now seem tempting and I’m now averse to foods that are overly sweet or salty. I’m afraid to say, however, that it is not something you can do overnight.

For almost 7 weeks, I struggled to quit snacking while I forced myself to eat terribly bland meals. I boiled plain starches like potatoes or pasta, usually with some mixed veggies, and only topped them with reduced-sodium tomato sauce. When I just couldn’t bring myself to eat that I would allow myself a few dashes of a sugar-free hot sauce. I garnished my plate with a couple ounces of cold roast pork, chicken, or beef.

When you are used to indulging your taste-buds without restraint, switching over to old-fashioned hospital food isn’t easy. I might have gone a little overboard with blandness, but my previous half-measured attempts at improving my diet had gotten me nowhere. Eliminating sugar and going low-sodium had a big impact, though, and it wasn’t long before I was craving a bigger variety of veggies and some whole grains.

Now, when I see veggies I see flavour. Where I see whole grains, I see a meal that will keep me satisfied for hours. Since giving up processed meat I no longer feel thirsty all day and, when I am thirsty, I find that water is what I crave to quench my thirst.

Another side-effect of my old-fashioned hospital food was that I got back into the habit of putting my food on a plate and sitting down to eat. When my diet was at it’s worst I typically ate standing up because I was in such a hurry to gulp down comfort foods. I often ate while walking because I was starving and couldn’t make my way home from the store without breaking open a bag of snack chips or at least having a sip of soda.

I now eat at meal time, take the time to plate my food and set the table, and I take my time eating and enjoy my food a lot more. Resetting your palate isn’t easy but 6 or 7 weeks of struggling through bland food has allowed me to truly enjoy eating healthy for the past year while my BMI continues to descend slowly.