Friday, November 25, 2011

Week Six - wrapping it up for now

I'm ending this phase of the "food vacation" experiment now.  I know I said I would take it through to the solstice, but that looks logistically difficult and frankly unpleasant.  The past week has been really hard, psychologically and physically, and due to social commitments December generally was going to be a bit impossible in terms of avoiding yum.  I've also started missing the creative outlet in the past week or so and I want to get back into the cooking, and I'd like to be able to look forward to another food vacation fairly soon, so I'm going to stop now while it's still interesting.

The hard week started when I made my daughter's birthday cake - no, I don't force paleo/traditional eating on her, although she eats about 85% that way regardless. (Kiddo loves her fish heads...)  Anyway, she wanted a white cake with chocolate icing, and frankly the thought of buying one never even crossed my mind.  I went straight for the Cook's Illustrated website (a subscription I highly recommend on the one hand because it's full of recipes of awesomeness, but on the other hand helps people cook in such a way that their food is as chock-full of food reward as possible...).  Doing the cake wasn't bad but the icing just about did me in, what with the melted Callebaut chocolate and butter and all.  And the fact it kept getting on my fingers.  Nevertheless, I made it through without a single lick or taste.  The next day, with hot dogs, ramen and cake on the beach, I watched everyone else enjoy their crap while I ate lukewarm tasteless stew.  That wasn't so fun - not that I really wanted the crap, but I felt left out of the celebrations somehow.  

I think following a low food reward diet would be a lot easier if everyone else in your tribe did it too, and birthdays and other celebrations didn't happen while you were doing it.

But, regardless, I had six successful weeks of absolutely no tasty foods, I feel culinarily refreshed and rejuvenated, I've lost a little over 15 lbs and my palate has certainly adjusted.  Tonight, after my last meal of tasteless stew, I had a treat - some frozen cherries. After a few I realized they were too sweet.  I ate some more anyway and now I feel vaguely ill.  I am, however, very much looking forward to breakfast tomorrow morning, which will consist of an omelette with caramelized onions, goat cheese, and bacon, and COFFEE.  Oh, coffee, how I missed you.  (The truly pathetic thing is, I only drink decaf...)

So the next phase of this will be trying to eat normally, and see what happens to my weight.  I will be following my usual diet of paleo plus dairy, and I will be working especially hard at avoiding industrial foods - anything from a package, sugar, and refined stuff, including cornstarch etc.  (Grains are totally out, of course.)  Some of my social obligations include eating restaurant food, and there I won't be able to completely avoid industrial stuff like vegetable oils and sauces, but I'll do my best.

I mentioned that this week has been hard physically, and that's because I've started seeing a noticeable decline in my strength.  A few weeks ago I could back squat over 100 lbs for at least 10 reps, and a few days ago, I couldn't.  I felt energetic enough, the strength just wasn't there.  Interestingly, though, the day before that, I did the Mackenzie Bight trail and the usual slog up beside the waterfall was much easier than it's ever been in the past.  (And yeah, the thought occurs that my skippy-fast burn up a steep hill the day before might have something to do with a less-than-stellar lifting workout - but if so, it's still a recovery-time problem.) I'll be trying to put some muscle back on over the next month, so I'll be consciously eating more protein. While I dropped 15 lbs, probably 3-4 of those consisted of muscle, and I want that bit back.

In January, I'll do another 4 weeks of food vacation, and see how that goes.  In reality, I should have probably only done 4 weeks this time - in terms of  permanent weight-loss viability, cycling through low-food-reward phases and figuring-out-what-normal-eating-should-be phases makes more sense.  But I needed a longer break from the food, I think, so I'm pretty happy with how it's turned out, and I've learned quite a lot. 

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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Week 5 - realizations

This week has been mostly good - I had lots of energy when needed, but I was able to spend a day being totally mellow and not doing much when my kiddo was home sick from school.  She needed some mummy-on-the-couch-reading time and I had no problem doing that, so that was good.

I've had two big realizations this week.  The first is that hunger really isn't an emergency.  Years ago, I remember reading some mostly-silly article about the habits and attitudes of thin people.  The only one that stuck in my head was that "hunger is not an emergency".  And it's undeniably true - when I'm out running errands and I get hungry, nothing bad is going to happen if I wait another hour or so until I get home to eat rather than popping into Starbucks for a snack.  (I say Starbucks because they actually have decent snacks - fruit and cheese plates, veggies sticks and hummous, that sort of thing.  I don't even mean doughnuts, there's just no justification for those.)  Even if it's a good snack, at the end of the day, I just don't need it.  The problem is, under "normal" conditions, it's really, really hard to make a good case for this to a large part of my brain.  "Oh, but there's a Starbucks right there," says my brain.  "It would only take a second. Then you could get MORE done, right? And you wouldn't need as much lunch." (It's lying about the last bit, by the way.)

Now, though, it's really, really easy to not do it. Even though technically, I could eat the raw veggies from Starbucks, I don't even slightly want to actually do that.  Hunger really isn't an emergency any more.  My brain is happy to let me putter on, hungry-ish, until I get my stuff done.  And then I eat.  And I don't eat any more than if I'm only a tiny bit hungry (or not hungry.  But I don't eat when I'm not hungry any more.)  Yesterday morning I got up, had tea, took the kid to school and the husband to work, went to the gym and did a sprint workout on the rowing erg, then on my way home realized that while it was nice and sunny NOW there were some ominous clouds on the horizon.  Remembering the previous day's sunny morning and craptastic rest of the day, I figured the dog and I might be better off going for our walk kind of immediately.  So rather than have breakfast, I went for an hour-long walk.  And then I had a shower, because I didn't want my hair still wet when I went to work and if I waited any longer, it would be.  Oh, and then I had to get laundry in as well.  In the end, I had breakfast at 11:30 and thus didn't even need lunch.  And I was FINE.  Moreover, frequently when stuff gets in the way of eating (which it does surprisingly often), the hunger disappears entirely by the time I get back around to having time to eat.  And bear in mind, this is me operating at a consistent caloric deficit.  It's not like I've already had "enough" to eat by conventional standards.  If hunger were truly a response to insufficient food intake to maintain weight, I'd be a lot hungrier, a lot more often.  But that's NOT what hunger is.  Hunger is a brain-based expectation of food reward.  And if you consistently send your brain signals that there ain't none of that happening, hunger becomes transient and unobtrusive. 

Realistically, this makes sense - much more sense that the frankly stupid assertion that "You have to eat every two hours for your metabolism/blood sugar/whatever" - really?  If humans really NEEDED to eat that often, would we ever have survived as a species?  If we were truly such delicate flowers we'd have been toasted by nature a long, long time ago.  If you honestly think you need to eat that frequently - like, you feel dizzy or faint if you don't - there is something very wrong with you.  You might want to fix it.  And, if you are carrying around a few extra pounds, your body's inability to use those pounds when you've got grumblies in your tumblies instead of steering you into the closest cafe or fast food joint should give you pause.  Because that's not how a human body ought to operate.

The other thing I learned this week is possibly less generally applicable.  And really, it's something I've learned a few times, I just keep hoping it's not really true.  Me and grains? We're not friends.  And we're not going to be.  The potage de semaine now is "variety meat" - meaning I was bored and did some freezer excavations to see what could go in that wasn't chuck roast or stew meat.  I found a heart that had actually been re-frozen due to poor planning on my part, a tongue (yum!) and the ubiquitous liver.  So it all went in, but heart is very dense and high in iron, and as my iron levels are fine, I figured heart for two meals a day might be a bit much.  What can reduce the amount of minerals you absorb from food?  Why, whole grains and their high phytic acid content, of course!  I hemmed and hawed about this for a while and eventually added a handful or two of hulled barley.  It fits the bland requirement nicely, and there's plenty of evidence to suggest that humans have been using grains like this - as a minor addition to food - for longer than we've had agriculture.  And hulled barley, while slightly processed, isn't what I'd call an industrial food (kind of. There's still the monocrop issue, but...)  So I went for it.  And now I am all kinds of bloated and I feel like I have a brick in my guts and bleah.  Fortunately, I only put the barley in a small amount of the stew, so I'm going to ditch that or season it up and feed it to the family, and haul the rest of it out of the freezer for me to eat, barley-free.  Pity - I really like barley, and I'm philosophically ok with using grains in that kind of context - but I guess it is not to be.

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Monday, November 14, 2011

week four - a little late due to an actual vacation

This post was delayed because I took the opportunity of a family-less weekend to head up to Quadra Island for a few days of enforced relaxation.  Enforced, because it was pouring with rain on Saturday.  I had planned to do a nice long hike, but instead I struggled out in all my rain gear for a short-ish walk with the dog, and then spent the rest of the day knitting.  Sunday was nice enough so we got a hike in, but not as long a one as I would have liked.  Oh well.  It was quiet and peaceful and that was nice.  And as I was in a self-catering cottage, food wasn't an issue.  I just hauled the other half of my bear stew out of the freezer and took that.

My lovely hosts, though, gave me an apple from their orchard, and as I'd neglected to bring any scurvy-avoidance stuff (ie, frozen blueberries) I did eat it.  But I was unable to eat more than a few slices at a time, because it was so intense.  Part of that was, I think, that it was a really good apple - but part of it also was that my palate has become so used to blandness that I didn't actually WANT the intense flavour.  I think when I finally end my food vacation, it's going to take a few days to come back to normal eating, and it might be wise to end it a day or two ahead of the solstice so I can actually enjoy the traditional solstice feast.

Anyway, folks have been curious about energy levels and sufficient salt intake, so I'll talk about that now.  My energy levels, I'm happy to say, are about as good as ever.  On my hike yesterday I powered up a hill (they call it a "mountain" on the gulf islands, but... no) that did actually have a bit of snow on top, and it took me only 40 minutes.  The information I had was that it was a 2-hour hike, so I feel like my "athletic performance" is still pretty good (but honestly - if you had to take 2 hours to do that, you probably shouldn't be hiking).  And I had three really good workouts last week.  All of them were in the morning, which is when I normally work out.  Previously I'd been trying to work out in the afternoon, usually just after I'd eaten lunch, and I think that was the problem - it's just a low-energy part of my day, naturally.  I've been waking up between 6:30 and 7 am without an alarm, after going to bed at 10:30 or so, and that, to me, says I've got plenty of energy.

Salt intake may have been a slight problem.  I figured I was getting enough, because of the mineral density of the bone broth that I cooked my meat in, but possibly not.  I was experiencing slight foggy-headedness, but it went away when I added a teeny amount of salt to my food before I ate it, so I think that tweak is probably necessary and I'll keep doing it.  It'll probably take me another few days to get accustomed to it - even that small amount of salt is vaguely unpleasant at the moment, but it'll make ending the food vacation easier.

And - because this is the question I get asked the most - no, this isn't difficult to stick to in the least.  Now that I know my reactions to a tiny bit of salt and the flavour of just an apple, it is not tempting in the least to have even a little nibble of something sweet or highly seasoned.  I know it won't be immediately enjoyable, and it may make my later bland food taste even less satisfying, so it's totally not worth it.  And while I know this may sound like a miserable state of affairs, it isn't.  I'm still very much enjoying the freedom from worrying about what I eat now, what I'm going to eat, when I'm going to get a chance to go grocery shopping, etc.  You know how you can look at people lying on the beach, and think "they must be bored out of their skulls"? Well, I'm like one of those people - totally content in my boredom, for the moment.  And, as a bonus, I'm losing weight steadily, and nearly all my clothes fit now. 

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Saturday, November 05, 2011

Week 3, a lesson learned and a minor rant

The food vacation is still going well, appetite still remarkably diminished, down another 2.5 lbs.  However, while my energy levels for everyday stuff like getting out of bed, chores, walking the dog, and so on are fine, at the gym, I am having a harder time improving my lifts.  This might be me pushing too hard - I could be just at the point where I can't up my squats by 5 lbs at a time.  And, too, the workout at the moment consists of 2 sets of 15 reps, which I find very difficult psychologically - I'd rather do 3 sets of 10.  So, I'm going to withhold judgement on that, but frankly it's not terribly surprising that on a steady diet of about 800 calories a day, I have a hard time lifting over 100 lbs 30 times.  The more important thing is that I keep trying to do it so I don't suffer any muscle atrophy, so when the food vacation ends, I'm in good shape to resume a more aggressive lifting program.

The main lesson I learned this week, though, was that I need to trust my body more. TMI ALERT!  TMI ALERT!!!

Ok, you've been warned - there's poop talk ahead.

With a reduced food intake, there's a corresponding reduction in output.  Throughout the second week I was only spending quality time in the bathroom every couple of days, which I expected, but this week I went three or four days with no action.  Now, I didn't feel constipated or bad in any way, but I was alarmed by this so I availed myself of the large bag of homemade prunes in the freezer. (And yes, they are tasty and technically a violation of the rules of the food vacation, but on the upside, they are very filling and I completely forgot to eat dinner afterwards.)  I ate quite a lot of them - about 2 cups' worth.  And then I realized a few things.  First, I hadn't gone previously because I didn't really need to, and there wasn't a whole lot in there.  Second, prunes are incredibly effective and move stuff out that probably isn't quite ready.  Blerg.  They also dehydrate you in a big way - I went through about double my usual water intake and still felt thirsty.  So, I won't be doing that anymore.  Things will move when they're good and ready.  I'm eating plenty of fat and fibre and getting my probiotics so there's no reason to think that there's anything amiss down there.

Now on to the rant.  This story was posted by a Facebook friend this week.  The only problem I have with it is that the headline is extremely misleading.  "Fatty Foods Addictive Like Cocaine" - but the text of the article (and the research behind it) make it clear that it's not just any fatty food that's the problem - in fact, the fat itself is only harmful when combined with refined starches, intensified flavours, sugars (often several kinds) and other industrial additives.  The headline should read "Industrial Foods Addictive" - because none of the foods they list as part of various studies are things that the average person can make on their own - and no home kitchen could possibly duplicate the taste or texture of any of them.  The article hints that food processing companies are employing the same tactics that tobacco companies once did - the assertion that their product is produced in response to customer demand, that it's not intrinsically habit-forming and causes no problems when used in moderation - while knowing damn well that their product IS addictive and, in susceptible individuals, impossible to use in moderation. That's what makes it so nice and profitable.

So many people pull out the "Moderation is the key!" blah in response to others - I would argue the majority of humans - who have varying degrees of susceptibility to enhanced food reward and thus problems moderating food intake.  But that's exactly like saying "smoke in moderation" - sure, some people can.  I know of several people who are casual smokers, who can easily have a cigarette once in a while as a social thing, but who don't smoke otherwise and who never become addicted, or do so only for brief periods and quit easily.  But these people are in the minority, and statistics show that most people who start smoking keep going, and usually increase intake over time.  Industrial foods - foods that are designed to elicit a maximum of reward response in the brain - work exactly the same way.  One reason that obesity is on the rise is because the science of food engineering is progressing and getting better.  Companies are able to make food tastier, more satisfying, and better textured all the the time.  This leads to increased consumption, increased demand, and perfect feedback to tell companies what works for the masses and what doesn't.  And as the article points out, while companies may offer more "healthy" alternatives, it's still the Tostitos and Pepsi bringing in the big bucks to keep the shareholders happy.

As it becomes clearer that industrial foods manufacturers are employing exactly the same brain-hijacking tactics to increase profits that tobacco companies did, my fervent hope is that these companies are dealt with in exactly the same way - taxed to high heaven, with warning labels slapped on all their products ("Warning: this product is habit-forming and use may lead to obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and all kinds of yuck.").  The best thing would be to adopt very broad definitions of "industrial food product" - basically, if it's in a package and has more than one ingredient, it's an industrial food and should be labeled as such.  Yeah, that totally includes bread, crackers, soup - lots of stuff that people count as staples.  IT DOESN'T MATTER.  If it comes in a package, it's part of the problem.  What better way to encourage people to make their own bread and soup?  Also good would be government-sponsored quitting programs for industrial-food addicts using some variation of a sugar-free, traditional-foods kind of diet and cooking classes.  Further awesomeness could include suing the bastards to recoup health care costs. 

Anyway, it was a good article if you ignore the headline.  Fat - or any other macronutrient, for that matter - is not even remotely a problem in its natural state.  Carbs?  All good when they come from veggies, tubers, properly prepared nuts and whole grains if you swing that way.  Protein? Fine.  A KFC Double-Down that's high in all macronutrients? Now that's a heart attack waiting to happen.  Let's stop looking at fat, protein and carbs and start looking at how it's made and what it does to your brain.  Because you could take some good soaked whole buckwheat crepes, a nice fatty chicken thigh, some artisanal cheese, and a couple slices of traditionally cured bacon and make a dish that has the exact same macronutrient composition as a Double-Down and it would not do anything close to the same things in your brain and your body.  In fact, you likely wouldn't even be able to eat a whole serving.  This seems like common sense to me, but you can bet your probably over-large ass that companies like Kraft, Nabisco, Nestle and other purveyors of crap will spend billions over the next few years convincing governments otherwise.

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