Saturday, October 29, 2011

Week Two of the Food Vacation

Well, my calorie deficit calculations were obviously bang-on as I'm down 2.5 lbs this week.  Yay me.

This week was a bit harder.  Most of the week I was eating a stew made with pork shoulder, and it was far too mushy and fatty, but there was lots of it so I had to keep eating it.  I will not be using pork again, that's for sure.  I also found my energy levels were a lot lower this week and I only made it to the gym for one weights workout and the daily walks were shorter on some days - but that was more due to a busy week, work-wise, than anything else (and also, pouring rain).  Last night I couldn't face the stew so I had only a small bowl of rice for dinner, and this morning I mixed a little rice in with my hardboiled eggs (which I don't recommend as a taste sensation) and I felt much perkier today, so I think I need more carbs in my diet than I'd been getting.  Contrary to what I'd expected, replacing some protein and fat with bland carbs didn't make me any hungrier, so I'm going to try to have some extra carbs - like 1/2 cup cooked rice, or a small potato - with every meal.

I'm still drooling over pears, but not as much.  I have supplemented my soups-and-eggs diet with a few other bland things: raw hazelnuts, blueberries, blackberries, raw milk kefir, a vitamin D supplement, and raw kohlrabi & turnip sticks.  I eat these in the afternoon if I'm feeling peckish, I don't try to add them onto a meal as it's usually a bit of a struggle to finish a bowl - and sometimes I just don't. It's amazingly easy to leave a snack now... I've found plates of turnip sticks that I've forgotten about, and it took me three days to go through a tiny package of hazelnuts that I previously would have mowed through in one. My insides are working well, with zero gas and bloating, so I think I'm doing ok with the balance of fibre and whatnot.

This week's soup/stew thing, though, is WAY better, thanks to my lovely friend David who gave me some bear meat.  I hope he's not horrified at what I'm doing to it - but game meat works SO MUCH BETTER for this than domestic meat.  It keeps a good texture, it's nice and chewy, and while the flavour is - as it's supposed to be - mild, there's still enough of it that instead of being actively yucky to eat (as was the pork stew), it's mildly pleasant.  Not enough to make me want to eat more than I need, but enough that I'm not pushing the plate away before I'm actually done.  I've always wondered why the hell First Nations peoples bothered with stone-boiling (why not just cook stuff on a spit???) and now I know.  It's a good way to get a nice, filling dinner. (And yes, I do thank many deities for the existence of my crock pot on an almost daily basis.  Stone-boiling is a bit of a PITA.) My next project is to arrange a hunting trip for David and Stirling, because what's just as good as bear stew?  Goose stew.  Also, I've got a new load of beef arriving next week, and grass-fed beef is nearly as good as game.

So that's week 2 done.  I'm going to try to go all the way to the Solstice - that seems a good, meaningful place to end a semi-fast of this nature.  And when and if I manage it, I will never, ever be able to tell myself again that I lack willpower - although I must admit that adhering to the food vacation has not been stressful or difficult, not after the first few days.  And despite the occasional lapse in energy, I feel pretty damn good.  It's also nice to have too-snug clothing fit well once again.

Oh - and for what it's worth - cooking for the family isn't a major problem.  The smells do make me a bit hungry, but then I just eat my slop with the rest of the family instead of an hour later when I'd probably be hungry anyway.  Keeps me socially appropriate.

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Saturday, October 22, 2011

one week of food vacation

I seem to have settled on the term "food vacation" to describe what I'm doing. It works, for now. For those of you just tuning in who can't be bother to skip to this time last week in the blog, I'm taking a much-needed (mentally and physically) break from yumminess, and testing out Stephan Guyenet's theories of food reward and body fat regulation. I'm eating nothing but bland, boring, unseasoned food and in the interests of making it really a vacation, I'm just cooking up a basic meat-potato-veg stew once a week or so and eating nothing but that, hardboiled eggs for breakfast, a bit of raw milk kefir here and there and the occasional few blueberries or blackberries to ward off the scurvy. Unsurprisingly, my appetite has decreased enormously.

So a week has gone by, and what have I learned? Well, for starters, I'm a hell of a lot more productive - I've gotten a few projects done and the house is pretty tidy for the *start* of a weekend - my energy levels are good, I'm going a LOT longer between meals than I used to, kohlrabi is awesome, this is a very effective way to lose weight, and if I do a heavy weights workout and then an hour-long brisk walk/hike, and don't take in any extra veg or anything, I get a headache (which goes away happily with a few blueberries and an advil... the internet thinks it's a low blood sugar thing).

I'm down more than 5 lbs and 1% body fat from this time last week. I don't know if this rate of weight loss will continue - because my salt intake has been cut a lot, I'm probably carrying less fluid in my body, and cutting out all the grains that had crept into my diet (they're so sneaky) made my tummy shrink instantly. That's probably a couple of pounds right there. This next week should provide a good idea of what the long-term weight loss rate will be. Mathematical calculations predict an average weight loss of around 2 lbs per week. (I figure I'm taking in around 800-900 calories a day and with an internet-calculated basal metabolic rate of 1380 cal per day, and an internet-calculated total daily caloric need of 2100 calories, I have a daily caloric deficit of 1200 cal. So every 3 days, I would lose one lb (3500 cal).)

Now, I've done diets before where I've restricted calories to this point, and I've done intermittent fasting, and on both regimes, I've been obsessed with food and often cranky (calorie restriction alone is much worse for all of those than IF). Functional, yes, but also prone to feeling chilly and disinclined to exert myself either mentally or physically. Housework suffered, I wasn't the best mommy in the world, and I found a lot of excuses to not do a workout on fasting days. This is much, much different. Not only am I not really hungry, even 5 hours after eating, I'm not cold in the least (in fact I get warm flushes after meals and I'm the only one not wearing my coat out dog-walking) and I don't feel even the slight hunger at bedtime that I used to. (As an aside, I've never eaten after dinner. I sleep much better on an empty stomach. So I'm used to feeling a bit hungry when I go to bed. Not feeling that is odd. Not bad - just odd.) My moods have been good, I've been pretty chill generally and the family has definitely not suffered. Cooking their food is just another household task, although I still get odd pangs when I'm preparing pears for Rowan. Just pears. Not cheese, carrots, apples, salami, peanut butter, salmon, chicken or sweet-and-sour pork - and in times past, I probably would have chosen to eat most of those before pears.

I've kept my workout schedule the same as prior to the food vacation. I do two weights workouts a week at the gym (and I lift fairly heavy for a woman my size), I walk the dog for about an hour every day, and I do 1-2 sprint workouts a week. Plus, as a stay-at-home parent and a part-time postpartum doula, my "work" day involves a lot of activity, carrying stuff, bouncing babies, cleaning, etc. so it's not like I'm relaxing at a desk all day, and my work day goes from 7 am til about 8 pm - at which point I get to veg out and read or play computer or watch tv or knit or something. This level of activity has not been at all difficult to maintain.

So what does this all mean? Well, it looks like the theory that in the absence of nice palatable food, the body will turn quite readily to fat stores and start munching them up, is holding up. At the moment, the majority of the energy I use is coming from my insides, and my body is using it without such quibbles as the increased hunger, low energy, crappy thermo-regulation or bitchiness normally associated with severe calorie restriction. So, yay so far!

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Monday, October 17, 2011

So about those fat numbers...

Okay, USDA nutrient database, I believe you now. A chunk of moose leg really doesn't have enough fat. Bummer I don't have the whole moose. All the fat is around the organs.

Last night I couldn't finish my soup even though I was still kind of hungry. This morning, I did a weights workout and it wasn't all that fantastic. Not bad, just not great. And it took a lot of convincing myself that I actually wanted to eat some soup for lunch, after a meager breakfast of 2 boiled eggs and a post-workout snack of a diluted 1/2 cup of kefir with a dollop of omega-3+D oil. So I tried adding in about a tbsp of lard (from pastured pigs, of course) to the soup. Wow. What a difference. First, it tasted better (because as we all know, pig fat makes everything better, even when it's just dumped on and heated in the microwave) and second, I was able to eat a lot more, and I actually feel satisfied now. I'm not trying to starve myself here, and I would like enough energy in the tank to enjoy my workouts. Adding that bit of extra fat to my meals will give me an extra couple hundred calories a day (still not going to put me close to what I burn) and will take my mind off my tummy, which was feeling weird with almost all protein and no fat. The extra potato last night didn't help much.

So, while the moose soup lasts, it's going to have pig fat added to each serving. It's still not gourmet fare, and I don't want to snack on it or anything, but I can at least sort of look forward to eating the rest of the batch.

Pretty sure I've got this more of less figured out, so I'll give the posting and navel-gazing about it a rest for a bit and update at the end of the week.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Reduced appetite? Check.

Well, it really doesn't take long to kill one's appetite with bland food. Two days of my "bare essentials" soup, some hardboiled eggs, a little raw-milk kefir and tea, and I barely want to eat anything. I feel kind of hungry, but not like I want to eat. It's very weird. I also have a bit of a headache, probably because I haven't eaten enough today, and at this rate, it's going to take me a week or so to go through all the current batch of soup.

However, my mood is good, and I didn't crave Stirling & Rowan's delicious-looking dinner - although it was really hard not to take a bite of the pear I cut up for them for lunch. It just smelled so, so sweet and was perfectly ripe. Oh well, there will always be pears. If I'm craving anything, it's crunchy veg and fruit.

So today I've eaten: 3 hardboiled eggs, 2 bowls of soup (although I didn't finish the bowl I had for dinner) one of which had a small added potato and a chunk of steamed cauliflower, the other of which had an added few sorrel leaves, and 1/3 cup roasted chestnuts, which I made for Rowan and of course she didn't like them so I decided they were sufficiently bland and enough of a pain to shell that I was in no danger of making more and over-snacking. They were nice though. And while I was hungry just before dinner and held out so I could eat with the family, I haven't been really hungry all day. Oh, and I had lots of tea, all of it with milk, but we're out of milk now so there'll be no more of that until Tuesday, when more milk will magically arrive. Based on what was in the milk bottle this morning and subtracting what I put in other people's coffee and tea, I think I had about half a cup of milk, total.

My energy levels are fine. I went for a 5 km jog with dog today (which includes a good deal of walking because dog objects to just running, and I also didn't feel like running all the way) and spent the afternoon outside, supervising kids and chatting with neighbours. Come to think of it, maybe my headache is actually from the bright was a gorgeous day!

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Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Bare Essentials Soup

For my yum-fast (I really need to think of a better term) I'm using a very basic soup to fill nearly all my nutritional needs. There's no technique involved here, no browning, no deglazing - it's just throwing stuff in the crockpot, with water. Here's what went in:

3 lbs 2 oz moose leg (later removed 6 oz bone, so 2 lb 12 oz moose meat, including marrow)
1 lb potatoes (mostly yellow-fleshed)
8 oz sunchokes
8 oz beef liver
8 oz chopped kale
1/2 cup chopped dried kelp

Before eating, I'm also going to throw in some fresh greens so I don't get scurvy or anything.

I am also eating eggs for breakfast (2 this morning), hard boiled, and I am drinking water and roiboos tea, which may occasionally have a splash of whole raw milk in it.

I played around with the USDA nutrient database (which does, surprisingly, have data for moose meat) and after some guesstimating and wiggling based on the fact that my moose had a bone with lots of marrow and the lack of any significant fat in the USDA numbers suggests that theirs didn't... I came up with a macronutrient ratio for my soup of 30% carbs, 15% fat, and 55% protein. The total amount of calories in the batch is somewhere between 2000 and 2200, depending on whether you believe me or the USDA about fat levels in moose.

Regardless, that's.... a little lean. And it explains why the bowl I had for lunch, while entirely edible and, as planned, fairly bland, filling and inoffensive, didn't satisfy me for very long. I had another bowl at about 4 o'clock in the afternoon (and I ate lunch at 1:30 - my two eggs for breakfast at 9 lasting nicely until then.)

Also, the volume suggests it's at least 3 days' worth of food for me (my 5-quart slow-cooker is basically full). That's not even 800 cal/day, which is a bit less than I was planning to eat - but before you call the medics, remember that I'm really not very big and my basal metabolic rate isn't a whole lot more than that. And, too, I have a fair bit of body fat to run on, and once my body adapts to doing that, it should be able to squeeze a couple hundred calories a day out of there without too much difficulty.

So, I'll see how I fare on this batch. I think I'll sacrifice a (leg of) lamb for the next one, for the extra fat - or a cross-rib roast and cook it in a bone broth. I'll probably add more starchy tubers too, as the carbs could be raised a bit.

Right now I feel a bit low-energy, but that's just as easily attributable to the complete absence of caffeine in my body today and the pile of housework tasks in front of me. After the soup I had for lunch, I DID feel a really strong desire for something sweet - the fruit bowl was beckoning for sure - but it passed quickly with a cup of plain tea.


Friday, October 14, 2011

Mimicking the Ebb and Flow of Nature

The more I read and think about the paleo food movement, the more it seems less of a strictly dietary thing and more about living consciously, in a biologically appropriate manner. After all, there's more to health than food. There's exercise, sleep, stress management, light exposure, posture, relationships (both human and non-human), outside time, quiet time, pleasure and recreation - all these things have an effect on how we feel and how our brains and bodies work.

I can't shut the lights off in our house when the sun goes down, much as I might like to sometimes. After all, I live with two other people and while I have influence over matters pertaining to their health, I'm not a dictator - nor do I think that forcing someone to do things that are healthy WILL actually result in better health. (More so with adults than children, who look to adults for guidance anyway.) I can't carve out an extra few hours of every day for leisure, but I can take pleasure in some of my daily work (paid or otherwise) - I can appreciate it when I have time to do my more-favouritest chores like cooking and ironing, or when I'm not restricted to a 5-minute shower and can take time to use my orange-aniseed scented tub scrub after my shower. I try not to stress little things, I try not to want too much (although there's this pair of boot I think I really neeeeeed...) and I have a dog to whom I am very grateful because she takes me for long walks every day and we live in a beautiful area with lots of trees and ocean and beach and meadows... so unlike a lot of people, I feel like I'm pretty good with the non-diet stuff - at least as good as I can be without going all hippy and living in a shack in the woods with no electricity.

But this is a food blog, so you had to know it was coming back to diet. I think that even though I eat pretty healthily, I still have issues with the diet.

I think one of my big problems with food is there's no "down time". There's seasonality, because of how I shop, but it's all a variation on feast, with no famine. Even eating well, there's always an abundance of food - quantity, quality and variation. And I'm becoming more and more convinced that's not, overall, a good thing. For kids - perhaps. Always having enough is probably ideal for growing bodies. But for full-grown humans? I dunno.

The problem is that actual starvation and deprivation tend to trigger relapses once the immediate need for restriction is gone, and I definitely found this when I eased up on the full-bore paleo (which I did for about a month last spring). My sensible self thinks it's not a great idea to be constantly restrictive. Even though I think the food climate of modern Canada is unsustainable and unhealthy, I also think it's not healthy for individuals to set themselves too far apart from the rest of society in terms of their food choices except in cases of acute allergy or hypersensitivity - neither of which I suffer from. It's hard, and I think most people have problems with this - the way you feel you OUGHT to eat is hampered by a desire to fit in with the way everyone DOES eat.

But there's nothing wrong with just taking a step back from things for a while. I've been thinking recently of traditions like Lent and Ramadan - an observed period of partial fasting, of meeting needs but not desires. And I've been thinking about how that fits in with Stephan Guyenet's food reward theories of body fat regulation (where appetite and food intake is regulated by the food reward factors in the diet), and how our Stone Age ancestors must have had a period every year where it was time to live on stored food or scrawnier game, when there were no juicy berries, no mushrooms, no eggs - just dried meat, stored nuts and tubers. And I'm thinking, I could probably do with a bit of that. I've put on a few pounds of those I worked so hard to lose a year ago, I've had an overwhelming few months of paralyzing indecision at farm stands (OMG TOO MUCH GOOD STUFF!!!) and I feel like a break from FOOD would be a good idea. Thank the gods berry season is over. (Sometimes I wish I was a bear - come October, bloated on salmon and berries, I could stumble into a cave and sleep it off for a few months.)

So I'm going to do an experiment in - well, I don't really know what to call it. Yum-avoidance? I'm going to take two months (basically, Thanksgiving to Christmas) and eat only completely nutritious and totally bland food. Because I also want a bit of a break from thinking about food (I don't think it would shock anyone if I said I was a wee bit obsessive about it) I'm going to just make big batches of boring soup and reheat a bowl at a time when I'm hungry. It'll be nutritionally balanced soup - just a hunk of meat with bones, simmered for a day or so in the crock pot, with potatoes/turnip/sunchoke/other tuber or root veg, some blenderized liver, and chopped kale or other mild green veg. For breakfast I can eat a couple plain hardboiled eggs if I want, or not. (I'm not usually hungry before 10 or 11 anyway.) That should provide me with all the nutrition I need, but I'm not putting ANY seasoning in whatsoever (nope, not even salt - but I'll run the numbers through the USDA database and just make sure I'm getting enough sodium - might toss some kelp in too.)

If Dr. Guyenet's food reward theories hold true, this bland diet should cause my appetite to decrease as my body gets the signal that the food environment's not all that great right now and it's a good time to use up the internal stores. (The more the evolutionary psychologist in me mulls this theory, the more it makes sense. When food variety and palatability are low, it probably coincides with an extended period of stored-food use. It makes sense, in a small-group situation, if those with a bit of excess fat are able to reduce their food intake without becoming grumpypants so that those who don't have any excess can eat enough. Chubbies who kept eating their normal amount and burned through the nuts at the back of the cave were probably at higher risk of encountering violence from other, less subcutaneously-endowed folk when the nuts ran out. As a parent, I can totally see me whacking some strapping burly guy who was scarfing the nuts and dried auroch that my growing kid needed more. Non-conscious appetite regulation during food scarcity would have been an excellent survival trait, I think.)

In fact, Guyenet goes over several experiments that have shown exactly this - with a very bland diet, appetite decreases as a function of obesity. Very obese people tend to eat next to nothing, whereas already-thin people eat a normal amount. When you remove the reward component of a diet, humans (and other animals) take in only what they need - and when they have a substantial amount of body fat, they need very little on a daily basis to keep going, and the rest of the energy can come from fat stores. You don't have to restrict food, just yum - your brain will do the rest. In theory.

BUT that's all under experimental conditions. My "experiment" is a little more real-world. I don't have just myself to feed - I have two other people who are not going to be happy with meat-and-veg soup for the next few months and they will still get damned fine food, prepared by me. The big question is, as far as appetite and body fat regulation goes, is the food environment defined ONLY by what I eat, or is it defined by the food I see and smell, as well? My will power is pretty good, I think avoiding munching on the husband and kid's food won't be a problem, but I don't know if my appetite will actually reduce all that much. I will keep track of how much I actually eat by calculating the total number of calories in each batch of soup I make, and how long it takes me to go through it. I am NOT going to TRY to eat less.

I'm also going to keep track of how this makes me feel. Never having been religious, I've never had a reason to observe a period of fasting or intentional deprivation (and let's face it, even when I was losing weight eating starch-and-sugar-free, I'm still a pretty good cook and it's not like it was real deprivation, even though the "food reward" factors were lessened.) I freely admit to using food as comfort, motivation, treats, and entertainment. How will my psychological health be affected by removing those? (Or will I just attempt to get as much pleasure out of sitting down with a good book and a bowl of unseasoned meat-and-veg as I did with a good book and fabulous salami, brie, crunchy carrots and a bowl of babaganoush to dip them in?)

So, it all starts tomorrow. I have a chunk of moose I found in the bottom of my freezer (labeled "boiling meat leg" - thanks Chuck!) because I figure it's appropriate to kick off a stone-age-style seasonal yum-avoidance with some wild game (I won't be able to keep that up unless certain friends - hello, David? Are you reading this? - give me some wild geese or something). I've got potatoes and sunchokes, gobs of kale, lots of liver (thanks to my beef lady, who now just gives it to me because I'm the only one of her customers who wants it), and eggs for breakfast. I may have a half cup of raw milk kefir, plain, every couple of days to keep the intestinal flora happy, too. I'm all set, and I'll keep everyone posted.

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Sunday, October 09, 2011

Best Thanksgiving Side Dish Ever

I title this post thusly, but obviously these things are highly subjective and I know (although most of me doesn't want to believe it) that there is a large contigent out there who still champion that most vile of culinary abominations, the marshmallow-topped yams. If that's you, you should probably stop reading now.

Anyway. What I'm talking about is a simple dish that combines sweet, sour, salty and meaty into one delicious and nutritious package. It takes some planning, but ultimately only about 15 minutes to put together.

Sauerkraut, Bacon & Apples

1 large or 2 small cabbages
some salt
a large jar or crock

2 large apples
1 lb bacon

(it's cheap to make, too)

1) Make sauerkraut. (You'll want to start at least 8-9 days in advance. I never claimed it was an instant-gratification recipe.) For directions on this, go talk to Sandor Katz. Or, if you really can't plan more than a few hours in advance, go to the store and get a jar of Bubbie's.
2) Dice bacon and apples.
3) Throw bacon in a very large frying pan on medium heat. When the fat has started to render out, toss in the apples.
4) Cook bacon and apples together until the apples are nice and tender and the bacon is done to your liking.
5) Turn the heat down and throw in all your sauerkraut. Stir it around until it's evenly combined with the apples and bacon and warm, but not cooked - you want it still crunchy and full of probiotic goodness.
6) Serve and enjoy!

An excellent counterpoint to turkey, yams, stuffing, etc. Also, I can't recommend enough this delightful non-stuffing. WAY better than any bread-based goo. Even more way better when you get an awesome deal on chanterelles and you use those instead of the criminis. Also you can add sausage meat, which is more yum. But the basic recipe is still pretty damn good.