Intuitive Eating

Tired of having to follow some strict dietary regimen?  Tired of having to weigh your food, or buy weird special foods because your dietary plan says you must do so?  Tired of weighing yourself constantly and feeling disappointed because you’re not meeting your weight-loss goals?

10-principles-ofMeet “intuitive eating.”

It seems to be the latest “new” approach to eating.  As a recent article about the concept in The Atlantic puts it, the idea is to “encourage followers to work on their relationship with food without worrying about their weight, and to reject the notions of virtue and sin that have underpinned cultural ideas about eating since time immemorial.”  Intuitive eating teaches that weight loss isn’t the top priority, and the cycle of losing weight and gaining it back is harmful.  And here’s the key point:  “Eat what you want, with no rules about what to eat, how much of it, or when. Intuitive eating has 10 tenets, but the most well-known one is that no foods are off limits, and that there is no such thing as a “good” or “bad” food.”

So how is that supposed to work, exactly?  One underlying theory of intuitive eating is that there is a strong psychological component to eating.  The notion is that people are attracted to the forbidden fruit — or in this case, perhaps, the forbidden ice cream — so saying that something is off limits just makes it seem all that more irresistible.  People who switch to intuitive eating sometimes binge on their favorite guilty pleasure that had been strictly outlawed, but advocates of the approach say they ultimately strike a balance with food that is healthy and sustainable.  With all of the mystique and the calorie-counting and guilt stripped away, the intuitive eaters do what people traditionally used to do:  they eat when they’re hungry, and don’t eat when they aren’t.  And they spend a lot less on diet books, and scales, and special foods that strict diets require.

Does intuitive eating make sense?  I don’t know, honestly — but I do think that our notions of food seem to have gotten out of whack.  There are so many health issues associated with obesity that avoiding obesity obviously should be a lifelong goal, and if you are looking to lose a few pounds — or more than a few — a diet can help to kick start the cycle of loss that gets you to your desired range.  In my case, going low-carb for a few months a few years ago was an important step toward feeling healthier.  But you can’t stay on diets forever, and at some point cycling over to a more sustainable approach to food and eating has to happen.

Who’d have thought that, with all of the diets and food advice out there, human beings might get back to the simple concept of eating when you’re hungry?

Politicized Diets

Recently I ran across an interesting article dealing with governmental diet instructions.  It noted that much of the nutrition advice that Americans have received from their government over recent decades has turned out to be dead wrong — and in fact may have contributed to the obesity epidemic that you see whenever you go out in public.

The article focuses on the national dietary guidelines released in 1980 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the forerunner to the current Department of Health and Human Services.  The guidelines targeted fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol as villainous substances to be avoided and drummed into American heads that low-cholesterol, low-fat foods were better for your heart and your health generally.  As a result, the article posits, food manufacturers started churning out “low-fat” and low-calorie offerings that Americans bought, thinking they were eating healthy.

dfe6c7a7569e69d9568a402ff1a01e74But the government’s conclusions about our eating habits and their effect on health turned out to be erroneous. Research has determined that fat and cholesterol are not, in fact, harmful, and the “low-fat,” high in carbohydrates foods that Americans have been munching on may instead have helped to produce vast problems with obesity and diabetes — problems that did not exist in 1980, when the government report that triggered it all was released.  One British cardiologist contends:  “The change in dietary advice to promote low-fat foods is perhaps the biggest mistake in modern medical history.”  And other results have indicated that diets that go in the opposite direction from the government’s instruction, with dieters looking to eat meats and eggs and limit carbs instead, are effective in reducing weight.

How did the government turn out to be so wrong?  Some researchers believe that it was because, back in the ’60s, sugar industry lobbyists funded dubious research that linked fat and cholesterol to heart disease and downplayed the adverse health effects of sugar and carbohydrates.  With the nudging from the lobbyists, the government bought the sketchy results, issued its report, and started the country on the road to flabbiness.  In short, politics helped to put us on the wrong dietary road.

If you’ve lived long enough, you begin to reach a critical mass of alarming governmental declarations that have turned out to be wrong.  It’s one of the reasons why the credibility of our governmental institutions among the American public has dropped to an all-time low.  The conclusion that modern America’s obesity epidemic is a self-inflicted problem caused in part by really bad governmental advice isn’t going to help.

The Airline Diet

In my lifetime, there have been many diet fads.  Scarsdale.  Atkins.  The Caveman Diet.

But what about the Airline Diet?  That’s the diet in which you would do nothing except eat and drink what you get for free on an airplane trip.  Diet Coke or water for refreshment.  Peanuts and maybe some crackers for sustenance.  All served by a hurried attendant rolling a cart down a narrow aisle, and consumed on a plastic tray that hasn’t been thoroughly cleaned as you sit bumping elbows with complete strangers.

Sure, your sodium content probably would go through the roof, but you’d soon lose any interest in food — which seems to be the goal of many diets, anyway.  When you see people eating on an airplane, it’s a purely mechanical exercise.  You munch on the food because it’s been given to you and it’s something to do while you’re up in the air.  No one is really paying much attention, much less savoring the experience.  Of course, with a steady diet of Diet Coke, peanuts, and Cheese Nips, who would?

Cereal Dreams

Last night I had one of those vivid dreams where every element and action seems to be etched in exceptional clarity.  It was so realistic that I woke up feeling guilty and shaken about my dreamland activities.

In1422355043742-1776787770 the dream, I was eating a gigantic, heaping bowl of Froot Loops.  I was relishing each sweet, crunchy mouthful of the multicolored morsels, but was wracked with regret at the same time.  I recognized with horror that, on a low-carb diet, a colossal serving of Froot Loops and milk was absolutely verboten.  And yet, confronted with a bowlful of diet-destroying deliciousness, my dream self could not resist temptation and dug in anyway.

So, I’ve  reached the point where my anxiety dreams no longer are about the young me being chased by monsters, or the teenage me being exposed to terrible humiliation, or the young adult me forgetting about a crucial law school test until the very day of the exam.  Now my subconscious has exposed a new vein of concerns that, having lost some weight, I’ll promptly backslide and end up right back where I started.

It’s kind of pathetic that Froot Loops would be my forbidden fruit, but I think my subconscious got this one right.  Ever since my grandparents took UJ and me to Battle Creek, Michigan for a tour of the Kellogg’s factory that ended with a Froot Loops sundae, I’ve been a fan of Toucan Sam.  We haven’t had a box of any breakfast cereal — much less Froot Loops or, even worse, Frosted Flakes — in our house since I started a low-carb regimen in August precisely because I don’t think I can trust myself around it.

I have to say, though — that big bowl of Froot Loops sure looked good.

Shrink To Greatness

Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal had an interesting article about a novel technique that Ohio State coaches used to prepare their defense for the game against Oregon.

The coaches recognized that Oregon was a fast finesse team that specializes in up-tempo offense that sprints to the line of scrimmage and runs plays faster than anybody else.  So, how to go about mentally and physically preparing your defense for that challenge?  The Ohio State coaches decided to approach the game by asking their defensive linemen to go on diets — reasoning that, by shedding a few pounds, the big boys on the defense would feel lighter and faster, and therefore better prepared mentally for the game.  The rest is history, as the Ohio State defense held the fast-paced, high-powered Oregon offense far below its normal point output.

So, should we all go on The Ohio State Football Team diet?  Will the Silver Bullet Regimen replace the Beverly Hills Diet as the weight-loss approach of choice?  Probably not, because it likely wouldn’t work for most of us.  As the Buckeye players learned, when you’re a 6′ 5″ 300-pound athlete who is running sprints and practicing every day, you can lose five pounds in 10 days just by cutting out honey buns and candy bars.

What We Don’t Know

The Friendly Doc Next Door, who knows I’ve been following a low-carb regimen, sent along an email that he received from the American Medical Association this week.  It was a news summary called AMA Morning Rounds, and the lead story was about a new study that showed that low-carb diets are better than low-fat diets for reducing the risk of heart disease.

It’s 20140905-062424-23064638.jpggreat to have a thoughtful doctor in the neighborhood — especially one who keeps his yard in tip-top shape — to keep us abreast of the latest health news.  And the study mentioned in the AMA email, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health, is significant.  It concludes that people who follow a low-carb diet lose more weight and have fewer cardiovascular risks than people who follow the low-fat diets doctors have been recommending for decades.

Whoo-hoo!  I win!  Of course, not really.  What this new study really tells us is that there is an awful lot we don’t know — but we don’t really want to acknowledge that fact.  For decades doctors were confidently telling patients that the low-fat diet was the way to go, and the patients accepted that.  Now a new study says something different.  What’s a dutiful patient supposed to do?

I like the low-carb approach because it’s easy to remember when mealtime comes and I like meat and cheeses, anyway.  I feel like it’s working for me.  But I also can see that people who don’t really like eating meat will groan if low-carb now becomes the new low-fat and is prescribed for everyone who wants to lose weight.

My guess is that there are many ways to lose weight, provided you reduce your intake and make sure you get exercise.  What this latest study really tells us is that confident conclusions about health — like the decades of focus on low-fat diets — are often wrong.  That is useful information to remember.

My Low-Carb Lunch (II)

IMG_2898Today I was up in Cleveland, and when lunchtime rolled around there was nary a food truck in sight.  So, regrettably, there was no apparent way to continue the celebration of Food Truck Summer today.  Fortunately, the Fast Talker consulted some kind of map app on her smartphone and rattled off a list of options.  The only one I was able to hear clearly in the rapid-fire torrent of words was Urban Farmer, which sounded intriguing — so that’s where we went.

Urban Farmer is a steakhouse, at bottom, but it looks like it’s a strong proponent of local sourcing, organic options, and a lot more.  It’s been open for three months, in a part of Cleveland that is being rejuvenated by the opening of the Convention Center on St. Clair Avenue.  It’s got a quirky interior, with mismatched chairs and unusual lighting fixtures and an outdoor eating area — which you don’t often see in a steakhouse.  It looks like a place that would be fun to frequent for an after-work drink.

It also offered just what the doctor ordered for my low-carb diet:  a lunch special today that consisted of a 6 ounce New York cut steak (which looked like a lot more than 6 ounces) and creamed spinach.  I scraped the bread crumbs off the top of the creamed spinach in a nod to low-carb sensibilities, then alternated forkfuls of the succulent, almost buttery steak with the creamed spinach.  Normally I wouldn’t eat creamed spinach under any circumstances — it’s one reason why, as a kid, I preferred Bugs Bunny to Popeye — but I was desperately hungry, and the combination of the rich steak with the creamed spinach was satisfying and made me feel good about my adherence to my new eating regimen.  The Fast Talker, who is normally not a big eater, got a good-sized, rich-looking pork sandwich and ate every bit of it, which tells you something.

I hope Urban Farmer hangs around.

My Low-Carb Lunch

IMG_2888I’m trying to stick to an eating regimen where I avoid bread, noodles, and starches like potatoes.  I can do it for dinner, because Kish has been good about preparing low-carb options for the evening meal.  The real challenge is lunch — where sandwiches rule the day and french fries are the side dish for an overwhelming number of options. 

Today Dr. Science, the Purple Raider and I went out to lunch, and trying to figure out a venue that would work took some time.  We settled on Skillet, a really good local sourcing eatery on the edge of German Village.  There I ordered their farmstead cheese omelet with two kinds of cheese, covered in Green Edge Garden sunflower sprouts.  I added a little hot sauce — homemade by Skillet, of course — and the result was quite good.  The omelet was light but cheesy, and the sprouts added a nice crunch.  I ate it all, and left satisfied and happy that I stuck to my limitations. 

That doesn’t mean I didn’t look longingly at the Purple Raider’s toasted cheese sandwich and tomato bisque (which included bread, of course) and Dr. Science’s smoked pork and apple hash (with fingerling potatoes mixed in), both of which looked extremely tasty.  Just because I’m restricting my intact doesn’t mean I’ve lost my taste buds.

No Enemy But Bread

Bread, thou art mine enemy!

I came to this galling realization by the confluence of two events.  The first was seeing a photo of LeBron James after following a low-carb diet for the summer.  He’d lost weight and looked great.  The second was putting on a bathing suit for the first time this summer and passing a mirror.

So I thought, say, maybe I should check out this low-carb thing!  I’m not saying that following a low-carb diet would make me look like LeBron James — we’re both from Akron, sure, but he’s a lot taller than I am — but the vast expanse of pulpy flesh I saw in the mirror certainly indicates I need to lose a few stone, pronto. 

On a low-carb diet, you’re supposed to eat meat, eggs, and cheese.  Check!  You’re supposed to eat fruit and nuts.  Check!  You’re supposed to eat vegetables.  Ugh, really?  You’re not supposed to eat bread and crackers.  Wait, what?  Yep, I read it right — any wheat, barley, rye or gluten grain, whether in bread, pasta, or cracker form, is to be strictly avoided.

This sucks!  I love bread and just about any form of baked goods.  I crave crusty artisanal breads, steaming dinner rolls, flaky biscuits, stone-ground crackers, and crumbly muffins.  Heck, I even like a plain piece of toast with a glass of milk.  And having to avoid bread really limits the lunch-time options.  If you eliminate sandwiches you’ve effectively cut out about about 90 percent of the available noon-hour venues.  Following a low-carb approach in the white-collar world will be a challenge.

Ironic, isn’t it?  Archaeologists and researchers believe that bread and beer are two of the crucial building blocks of the human march to civilization.  Now we’ve got to avoid those two dietary items that helped to pull us out of the hunter-gatherer phase unless we want to look like bloated beluga whales.  I’m going to try, but I’m really going to miss crunching through the crust.

Elimination Diets And The Value Of Beans

The latest diet trend, apparently, is the “elimination diet.” I say “apparently” because it’s impossible for an average person to stay on top of dietary fads. Is “juicing” still hot, or have we moved on to the “Dukan diet” or some other variation?

An “elimination diet” is one in which the dieter stops consuming entire categories of foods — say, eggs and dairy products — for a few weeks, to see whether the dietary change causes some positive change in their body condition. If you’ve got a chronic sour stomach or embarrassing gastrointestinal tendencies, maybe ceasing your gluten or nut consumption might help. And, as is always the case with this kind of diet topic, there are enthusiastic proponents of the elimination diet concept who swear that it has dramatically changed their lives for the better.

It’s hard for me to believe that any person who is paying attention isn’t aware of the eventual bodily impact of certain foods. I know that if I eat carryout Chinese food it will suck every ounce of moisture from my body and cause me to wake up the next morning with a mouthful of salt. I know that if I eat chili with beans for lunch my co-workers will want me to stay out of elevators for the rest of the day. I don’t think I need to eliminate entire categories of food to figure out the cause-and-effect chain.

Speaking of beans, they highlight one other problem with the “elimination diet.” A recent study has concluded that eating beans, peas, and other legumes lowers “bad cholesterol,” which is a cardiovascular health marker. In view of the fact that we are regularly bombarded with studies that provide us with often conflicting information about the health effects of eating certain foods — and always at precise portion sizes — how are you supposed to know if your elimination diet has cut out the magical food that might help you avoid a crippling heart attack or diabetes?

I’ve lived long enough to have seen the “food pyramid” revised once or twice, been exposed to countless studies about foods, and seen diet fads go from Scarsdale to Beverly Hills and back again. I’m convinced that if you want to stay trim, the formula is simple — consume in moderation, avoid too many sweets, and get plenty of exercise. For most of us, however, it’s not the plan that’s the problem, it’s the execution.

Brides Beyond The Pale

I’ve seen the show Bridezillas once or twice, and I always thought it was one of those “reality” TV shows that seems pretty darned fake.  Could anyone be as obsessive and crazed about their wedding as the brides-to-be in the show?

Now I’ve seen a story that makes me ask whether lunatic brides are more common than I thought.  The story is about the “K-E diet” — a diet for women who are worried about fitting into their bridal gowns and want to lose weight fast.  The diet requires women to run a feeding tube through their noses to their stomachs and then feeds them a constant slow drip of protein and fat mixed with water, which results in the burn-off of body fat through a process called ketosis.  The dieter doesn’t eat any food for the duration of the diet but doesn’t feel any hunger because she is being “fed” constantly.  Dieters can lose up to 20 pounds in 10 days.  (Of course, once the tube is removed and the bride goes back to eating solid food, you’d expect the weight to be put right back on — and perhaps a bit more besides.)

What’s the downside of the diet?  Well, you carry a bag of glop around in your purse.  You have bad breath and, often, diarrhea because you’re not consuming any solid food.  And, of course, you walk around in public for days with a feeding tube sticking out of your nose.  Other than that, not much.

Haven’t we reached a dangerous point in the destructive self-image category if women are so obsessed with their weddings that they are willing to be fed through a tube for days in order to squeeze into the bridal gown of their dreams?