Monday, October 25, 2010

Goodbye, cashews. I will love you always...

Those of you who have spent any time around me during meal times know that I am a very, very finicky eater.  "What do you mean you can't eat olive oil, Neely?  That's ridiculous!"  I know it's ridiculous.  Olive oil is delicious.  It brings out the Italian in any meal and what's ridiculous is that it makes me itch immediately upon ingestion.  "What do you mean you can't eat rice, Neely?  I've never heard of such a thing!"  You wouldn't eat rice either if it made you feel wasted drunk, hot and itchy. 

Over the last 5 years, I've weeded out the foods that cause me symptoms.  Most people know that certain foods give them headaches, heartburn, or bad gas, but they just choose to deal with it and eat the food anyway.  I, however, am a taurus.  And we do not like to be uncomfortable.  Whether I'm wearing 3 coats to insulate from a frosty 70 degree day or avoiding a climbing area because of a 15 minute hike, I like to be comfortable.  This tauracity, as I will call it, extends to food as well.  I will avoid any discomfort-causing culprit until the day that I die so as to maintain my bubble of relative ease. 

My body is a real joker, though.  See, I think that my life's greatest challenges are 1) becoming less identified with my ego, and 2) not binging on sugar.  The way that I know this is that whenever I let one of those things get out of hand, my body smacks me down with some heinous symptom.  Here are some examples by category:

1.  Ego

I started rock climbing well and started thinking too much about how awesome I was and how not awesome the frat boy next to me at the gym was and immediately got a finger injury that rendered me less awesome at climbing than the frat boy.  

My Competition
2. Binging on Sugar 

After a 6 month surge of diligent, conscious eating on my part, during which I enjoyed being the strongest and healthiest I've maybe ever been, I started binging on dates and cashews.  I don't know if you've ever delighted in putting two cashews and one bite of date in your mouth at the same time, but you should try it.  It tastes like crack.  Day after day the amounts I consumed of each increased.  I started to gain weight.  Then came the skin problems.  And finally I started to have (dun dun dunnnn) joint problems, which once again rendered me way less awesome at climbing than the aforementioned frat boy.  Some days it was my right elbow, some days it was the other elbow, then my fingers started to hurt - every one of them.  I went to sleep with pain.  I woke up with pain.  I wondered if I'd somehow broken all of my fingers in my sleep.  I certainly couldn't climb, so I got lazy, out of shape and slightly depressed (although it turns out that watching too much TV on the weekends instead of frantically driving and climbing is really enjoyable). 

Finally, two weeks ago I pulled the plug and did what I knew I needed to do.  I was not going to let my fingers and elbows get in the way of a climbing vacation across the country in the Red River Gorge in Kentucky, so I stopped eating my beloved cashews.  I actually cried over this loss.  Why take out the cashews and not the dates?  I needed to take one out at a time so I could figure out if it was one or both or neither that was the cause.  And I needed something to binge on.  Don't judge me.

It took a few days, but knock on wood, the pain abated and I'm slowly gaining on the frat boy.  I will leave it at that because I think if I say too much about how well I'm doing, I'll jinx it.

The moral of the story is this:  When you have discomfort, you may want to think twice about taking something for it or slathering some weird cream on it to make it go away.  If your body doesn't like a certain constituent in a certain food, it will do whatever it takes to get your attention - hives, tingling lips, stomach pains, gas, acne, eczema, headaches, dizziness and fatigue, joint pain, or whatever.  You name it.  Your immune system can conjure awful things to do to you, so listen to your body when it talks to you.

I've talked about food sensitivities before, but I'll say this again.  There are ways of testing for immune responses to foods.  You can blood test, fecal test and do it the old fashioned way with trial and error.  Let me know if you want help.  Unfortunately, I'm an expert.

Until next time.


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Eating Well on the Road

What I'll be seeing in a day and a half...
I talk with people all the time about how much they want to change their diet to make it healthier.  "I'm so ready," they say.  "I really want to feel better and lose this weight - I feel awful!  Oh, wait.  I'm going on vacation, so I need to put this off until I get back.".... 

At that point I either deduce from their obvious lack of commitment that they are not really up to the task of eating better OR that like most Americans, they don't know that there's an alternative to gaining 10 pounds and feeling like crap on every trip they take.

I don't know when or why as an entire culture we just accepted the idea that where there is travel, gluttony and guilt must follow.  Just because you're not at home doesn't mean you just throw all self control and reason aside - we are better than that.  It takes some preparation and know-how, but it is possible to eat healthily on the road.  In fact, I'm preparing for a 10 day rock climbing trip to the Red River Gorge in Kentucky right now, which is why this is on my mind.  I don't eat factory farmed meat or non-organic produce, so basically all of the food that we will find on our drive through Kansas, Missouri and Kentucky is off-limits.  I don't eat grains, dairy, refined sugar, or potatoes, among other things, so you would imagine that eating anywhere besides in my home, which is carefully situated 2 blocks from Whole Foods, would be next to impossible.  And yet I eat well while I travel.  The moral of the story is that if I can do it with such a limited diet, you can do it, too.  Here's how.

1.  Prepare.  

Part of the reason people overeat or eat things they know they "shouldn't" while they're on a trip is because you're sight-seeing, going to the airport, driving, gambling, whatever - and you forget to eat.  So you get to the point when you're STARVING, and forget all of your reservations about McDonald's and just go for it.  Or you happen to walk by an ice cream shop and make a triple scoop hot fudge sundae your dinner.  Well, your first dinner.  Instead of this, you could have just brought some snacks with you and stored them in a small backpack or your girlfriend's purse.  Bring Lara or Odwalla bars, fruit, nuts, snack sized almond butter packets, beef jerky or hard boiled eggs on the days when you know you'll be busy all day with friends or family.  You don't ever want to let your blood sugar get so low that you're willing to eat anything - it causes everything from migraines to family fights.

2. Prepare more.

We leave on our road trip tonight.  We're going to drive for 19 hours total, making a stop in Salina, KS to camp for the night.  Last night we baked 2 pounds of chicken breasts and some sweet potatoes, cooked up some tapioca crepes, chopped up some salad greens and put them in a bag, bought a bunch of easy to eat fruit and avocados, hard boiled a dozen eggs, made some cauliflower mashers (like mashed potatoes, but with cauliflower instead), put some coconut milk in a jar for easy access (to pour over some fruit or sweet potato for a snack), and made some delicious honey-glazed cashews.  We are now set for the drive - we won't stop once for food, which means we will not eat anything that compromises our health goals or ethics.  This might look different for someone who eats differently than we do, but it's the same concept.  You get a cooler and a container for bulk/canned/boxed foods, fill them with easy-to-access, glass containers or bags filled with prepared foods or easy to assemble ingredients, and you have yourself a portable kitchen.  Don't forget the silverware and a couple of bowls.  We also have a refillable jug of water in the car.  Depending on the size of your cooler and food bin, you could prepare enough food for a week, as long as you have a reliable source of ice.

If you're flying, it changes the situation.  I always bring my own meal for the plane - you are allowed to bring food on the plane, as long as it's not liquid.  Bring some leftovers in a Pyrex container, a homemade sandwich, some hearty pasta, a burger with salad, etc.  And don't forget a snack or two - we're always in airports and planes for longer than we ever think we will be.  In your checked luggage you can bring whatever you want.  What I always end up bringing is stuff like coconut oil, almond butter, organic fruit, gluten free bread (when I ate grains), dates, and other things that my host or host's grocery store might not have.  I have gone so far as to bring nitrate free sandwich meat in my luggage.  It's cold in the luggage compartment of the plane!  

3. Ask for what you need.           

So, you're at your destination and you've been properly chastised by your family or friends for bringing the contents of your refrigerator and pantry with you across the country.  It's OK - at least you will be well fed.  Now you're all going to a restaurant not of your choice and you know that most of what you will be eating at said restaurant will be of the factory farmed, non-organic, high trans-fat, high calorie, high sugar, low nutrient persuasion.  You have 2 options.  Well, I guess 3 if you count the first one.

The first option is to go to the restaurant and have a feeding frenzy - throw hazard to the wind (is that how the saying goes?).  You order too much food, then order some more and then feel like crap - usually this involves constipation/diarrhea, headache, lethargy, the feeling that you actually need a drink, etc.     

The second option is to ask for what you need.  Suggest other restaurants in town that might fit your more refined palette.  This falls under the "prepare" category, as you'll have researched these restaurants beforehand for just this occasion.  You're looking for fresh ingredients, humanely raised animal products, and smaller portion sizes than, say, Denny's.  If you are avoiding gluten, call some restaurants and ask if they have a gluten free menu (many do now) or look at their menu online.  Go to an Asian or Latin/Mexican restaurant where you're guaranteed rice as your main starch option.  Sushi restaurants are a good bet for high quality, simple ingredients (although one of the sushi places around here sells an "Orgasm Roll," which I've heard has about 2,000 calories in it...).

The third option is to go to the restaurant your host suggests and just be prepared to order a factory farmed chicken salad with an oil and vinegar dressing, or something along those lines.  Or baked chicken, veggies and rice.  Or a baked sweet potato, salad and steak.  Most restaurants have these simple ingredients - by asking for them, you just might elicit some questioning looks and comments from the waitstaff and your friends.  It's OK.  At least you'll be well fed.

My boyfriend eating in style on the road.
Literally, he was on the road while he was eating.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Thoughts on the Health Food Section

It dawned on me a while back when I was in the grocery store.  I wanted some nuts and I didn't want them covered in salt and weird flavorings and preservatives - just some plain, raw, organic nuts, please.  I asked an employee where I could find them and he directed me to the health food section.  The area that he pointed me toward was small - it was one half of an aisle among many - and it was essentially hidden in the middle of the store.  I thought to myself, 'this is the health food section and they don't even have my plain, raw, organic nuts here?'  Wait a second.  If this is the health food section....  THEN WHAT IS EVERYTHING ELSE IN THE STORE?!  

There are not only health food sections in conventional grocery stores - there are entire health food stores, whose very existence infers that the ratio of unhealthy to healthy foods in the conventional grocery stores necessitates a whole different breed of store!  What is ironic is that by adopting the term "health food section", these stores are admitting to the fact that the rest of the store is the crap food section and actually marketing that fact to you on their own property. 

There are reasons they call it the health food section: 

1. There are fewer artificial chemicals, colorings, and preservatives in that aisle.
2. There's less corn in that aisle (corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, maltodextrin, dextrose, etc.).  Check out this video about the abundance of corn that is hidden in our diet.

3. There's probably not any toxic, hydrogenated fat in the health food aisle.
4. There are whole-grain breads and flours and sweet treats with not-so-refined sugars in them, and there are organic choices so that you're not forced to eat genetically modified (GMO) foods.
5. There's definitely not going to be fake sugar over there.

Essentially, the products in this section are not going to be primarily made up of corn, sugar, corn sugar, overly processed dairy, fake colorings, preservatives, and depleted grains like many of the products in all of the other aisles.

This post is a request from me to you to check out your local grocery store's health food section.  Or better yet, to buy your food from a health food store, instead.  It's an urgent but gentle plea to look closely at the ingredients in your food to see how many of them you recognize.  If you don't recognize them, get the book, A Consumer's Dictionary of Food Additives, to find out what the ingredients are and what they're doing to your body.  

Until next time.