I Am That Girl Now

Monday, February 19, 2007

Possibly this is the meaning of life

We seem incapable of having actual food prep habits. I've given up hope that anything will stick, long-term; constant flux seems to be the nature of things and I am beginning to believe that ours is a life of constant attempts. Then again, we do have some hard-and-fast rules: for instance, when one of us cooks, the other must wash up.

The thing this week is that, after weeks of letting me toddle off to do the grocery shopping by myself, my Hub came with me. This resulted in a spectacular blowing of two weeks' worth of grocery money all at the same time, because I wasn't watching the grocery cart all the time and he kept adding stuff. Two kinds of juice instead of just one for his post-workout drinks, for example. Two bags of chicken breasts. Two containers of cottage cheese. (The man loves protein, what can I say?) Three bags of frozen vegetables instead of our usual one.

On the up side, before we left for the grocery store, a few things happened. First, I went through and tidied/rearranged our cupboards, so for once we can actually find all the things that we have in there, and I had a pretty good idea what we had before going to the store. Second, we started batting around ideas for meals while we were still at home, so we'd a) be able to go through some of the stuff we already have, b) not overbuy in areas we're already covered (um, anything grain-related), and c) not have to do that pesky thinking thing when it's time to cook. I made a list of possible meals on the kitchen whiteboard (an invaluable tool; we write our grocery needs on there as they come up) and off we went.

All meals written up there are on a three-part construction: protein, whole grain or fiberous starch, and vegetables. So we've got salmon, wild rice, and asparagus; pork chops, sweet potatoes, and green beans; shrimp, wild rice, and edamame; chicken, sweet potatoes, and green beans; meatloaf (containing oatmeal) and spinach; chicken, spelt, and broccoli... yeah, it goes on like that. For some reason it keeps slipping my Hub's mind that the vegetables are necessary, so he'll make protein and grain/starch and then forget about the veggies-- or, if he's packing lunch, he'll forget to toss in a container of frozen veg. I'm trying to drill this one into his head, for both our sakes.

I rearranged the freezer so that the veggies are all in the door-- at least, all the OPEN veggie bags. Bags of frozen berries (my favorite dessert) go there, too.

My Hub made meatloaf, which is great. He used extra-lean ground beef, oatmeal, chopped onions, and I forget what all else, but this was his "good-for-you ingredients" version. Last week's lunch was lasagna (whole wheat noodles, fat-free cottage cheese, homemade tomato sauce, lean ground beef). We end up ordering pizza (whole wheat crust) about once a week, or (now that we've stocked up) my Hub eats one of his frozen pizzas and I get one of my South Beach frozen pizzas. Generally we eat oatmeal for breakfast. Altogether, this is pretty awesome; we seem to have found a nice balancing point where we're concentrating on making sure that the food we eat 90% of the time is healthy stuff, albeit being healthy stuff that we happen to like a whole lot. Consumption of white bread, potatoes, white rice, chips, crackers (now that the shit that was left over from the Superbowl party is gone; I have SO learned my lesson there) and sugary treats of all sorts has fallen to an all-time household low. It's not perfect, by any means, but it's stable, it doesn't involve a lot of thought, we're not stressed out by it, and we're happy-- that last being, I think, the most important thing that can be said for any diet.

My Hub went to McDonald's yesterday, where he purchased a Happy Meal-- complete with those apple dipper things and a little 8-oz. thing of low-fat milk. I have done this myself, often, since that's actually the size of a proper meal, and it's cheap as hell-- but I never expected to see my Hub do it. I'm so proud.

I may be losing weight again, now that the Superbowl leftovers are in the past and I'm back to the gym. It's the wrong time of the month to check to be sure, but I'm guessing by the end of the week I'll have an answer. Things seem to be shaped a bit differently, that's for sure. If my guess is correct, I'll be edging past 15 pounds lost to something like 16 or 17. Not bad.

Also... ::sigh:: I'm going to call the doctor about my stupid shoulder. It's been six weeks, I've been very, very gentle with it, and it still hurts. And this time through, I've made sure that the "flexible spending" medical savings account has enough cash in it in case they want to charge me my entire deductable for one damn shoulder. Feh.

Most excitingly, though: I made mini-quiches last night! Yay! Haven't done that in a long time. (Mental note: next time, either grease the muffin tin properly or use those wretched paper cups. D'oh!) I threw chopped-up Canadian bacon, spinach, and goat cheese in there, poured in EggBeaters (with which I'd mixed a bit of Frank's Red Hot sauce, dried basil, salt, and pepper), baked at 325 degrees for 30 minutes, and voila! protein for my mid-morning snack! I've been trying to make do with protein-less options for the past week, and it's been murder. (Doesn't help that during PMS I am a raging ball of hunger.) Once my body gets adjusted to being fed every three hours, it WILL be fed every three hours, or else it will be ANGRY, and apparently several pieces of fruit will not suffice, it wants PROTEIN.

We continue to close in on my get-off-of-Zoloft date. I'm staying on it through March, but I'm guessing that anytime after Easter is fair game. Yay!

Oh, God, do I need a nap. I stayed up an extra hour getting those quiches made last night, and it's hitting me now. Oof.

Cut for length-- click to read more.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Wow, am I in a foul mood

I've got PMS, definitely. Getting to work this week has been work in and of itself, which has not made me particularly pleased with life. Podfitness, which I signed up for and then cancelled after I found out that it would not deal with my legally purchased iPod songs, has now charged me $19.95. Seriously, I cancelled after one day, and supposedly I was in the midst of that "try it now for free" period, and if I wasn't pleased with the service before then, I REALLY don't like it now. And the chick in the cube next to me has gospel music playing every minute of the day, she doesn't turn it down when she's on the phone (which means she raises her voice to talk over the noise, making things worse), and I am trying to get to a calm enough mental place where I can talk to her about this rather than screaming.

To top it all off, someone has stolen or thrown out my water bottle, and now I have to get a new one.

I am wound so tight right now, I don't know what to do with it. It's a damn good thing that I've got the physical part of the binge thing taken care of, because if I had the least physical excuse, the mental drive toward solving my problems with a bag of Doritos would be just insane right now. It's bad enough as it is.

So, did you hear about Peter Pan peanut butter and the salmonella thing? Long story short: don't eat that peanut butter. Added and unrelated exposition on my part: don't eat that peanut butter anyway, because it is full of sugar and wacky added crap. Sugary peanut butter triggers my binging; natural peanut butter does not. Ponder that one for a second.

Actually, what the hell, a good rant could get a lot of this unfocused rage out of my brain. Since I haven't ranted for a while on non-food food, I may as well do so now!

I hate diet food. By this I do not mean single-ingredient foods, where they are what they are, such as fruits, vegetables, meat, nuts, milk, eggs, olive oil, whole grains, or natural peanut butter (it has ONE INGREDIENT, it is PEANUTS, this is the best thing ever). These things are fine. With the probable exception of the peanut butter, my ancestors would recognize these things as food. The object of my ire is the packaged, highly-processed, shelf-stable crap with ingredients that came out of labs instead of farms, the stuff that's been intricately pieced together and then post-operatively pumped full of nutrients.

Every time nutrition science comes out with a new conclusion about what makes some foods-- and these are whole foods, I'll guarantee you-- good for us, the food industry retools the same old shit to fit these guidelines. I will tell you right now that no matter what they do to a breakfast bar to give it all the nutritious properties of a piece of broccoli, it is never going to give you the benefits of broccoli, because a) science is just not that smart, and b) food products invented in a lab don't have anywhere near the fiddling-around time as food products that evolved over a few million years, including a few thousand years of human fiddling. (Example: carrots. If you think they've always been that bright orange color, think again.) In a few thousand years, we might get this right. A few decades, though, is just not enough time.

Here's the other thing-- and I know I've talked about this stuff before, it's one of my ranty subjects. Humans are programmed on a genetic level to seek three things which, on a caveman's diet, would have been rare: sweet, salt, and fat. Even up to and through the Industrial Revolution, these things were still a pain to get-- sugar in particular, which was very labor-intensive, needed to be imported, and hence expensive. Meat (and hence lard) and butter were also labor-intensive. Getting salt from either ocean water or mines was also labor-intensive, and although it wasn't quite as expensive as other things, it was one of the few methods of preserving food available at the time, and so deeply necessary; it also was prone to government intervention and taxation.

Fast-forward to the twentieth (and now twenty-first) century, and suddenly we've made all these things cheap. Granted, we still think of meat as the most expensive piece of the menu, but it's not like ye olden days when poor folks could go weeks without eating meat; anyone can go to a fast food join and pony up a buck for a hamburger. (I come from Kansas; don't get me started on the meat industry. Making this stuff cheaper is at a huge cost, environmentally and socially and, yes, for our waistlines.) Fat is absolutely no problem; we can get it any old way. Salt and refined sugar are cheap; go to the store and price a container of Morton's and a 5-lb. bag of sugar if you don't believe me.

And somehow, that wasn't enough for the food industry. Things needed to be saltier, fattier, sweeter, and cheaper, because all these things make people's taste buds happy (except the "cheaper" part, which makes the wallet happy) and so they'll buy more of that product. Enter hydrogenated fats (replacing most animal fats in the 1960s): cheaper, and then also a longer shelf life = cheaper to produce. Enter high-fructose corn syrup (starting in about 1975); cheaper to get, and it's easier to mix and has a longer shelf life than sugar, so the product becomes cheaper to produce. And salt? As far as I know, they haven't lab-created SuperSalt yet, but they certainly use a ton of it, because it fixes problems like dryness and chemical aftertaste, and it makes other tastes stand out more-- including sweetness-- and the more something tastes like something, the better, says the industry.

Don't get me started on the lab-created flavors. I have been screwed up on what is actually orange-flavored my whole life because of this; compared to an orange-flavored candy, an orange seems flavorless. This is just screwed up, folks.

Leaving aside the definite health problems associated with trans fats and the questions raised about HFCS, the thing is, things made with this stuff are cheaper than they have any natural right to be, and sweeter/saltier/fattier than they have any natural right to be. This is not cool. I am not a scientist, I am not a nutritionist, but I do eat, and I do notice things, and I've noticed that in the time that humans have been eating this sort of thing ("food" may be going too far), we've been eating too much of it and getting really damn fat.

I'm not going to say that these things are addictive, because-- like I said-- the human body is genetically wired to seek this stuff out. I do think that having it be so cheap is a problem. I do think that having this stuff be ready-to-eat is a problem. I do think that we don't have a lot of natural resistance to this stuff. I think that we're raised in a society where everything has artificially flavory flavors, is too sweet and too fat and too salty, and that as a result it takes a while to adjust to any kind of diet that relies on natural foods, which have natural flavors.

And that's where the diet food thing comes in, and I hate this stuff with a passion, because it's a big lie. It's trying to keep you in that zone of artificially-high flavor and sweetness and fatty textures, trying to assure you that you can still eat this way and lose weight, and in doing so they keep you from getting used to real foods. It's a way to wean yourself off the full-strength shit, I guess, but don't for a minute believe that any of this stuff is actually good for you.

Sometimes, good-for-you stuff, real food, has more calories than a processed meal. This alone can make people forego real food. The thing is, real food does stuff for you beyond calories. It's more filling. It's got all sorts of complicated enzymes and vitamins and fiber and things that science probably won't figure out for another twenty or forty years. It makes your body work the way it ought to work. It fuels you right.

I can't even be holier-than-thou on this because we've been working our way through the leftovers from the Superbowl for two weeks, and the bread and crackers-- both purchased with an eye toward pleasing our guests, who are not accustomed to the things we try to buy ordinarily-- and, I will admit, the beer, didn't get pitched out the way that the chips and cookies did. We've been eating them, and I'm pretty sure that my hilariously weird week-long five-pound bloat was entirely due to white bread and crackers. And I gotta tell ya, once the idea of instant food is out there, and the memory of refined sugars and flours is fresh in my body's memory, it is damn near impossible for me to get my ass in gear and make real food. I start doing the teenage thing where I mope around the kitchen looking at all the full cupboards and the full refrigerator and the full freezer and whining, "There's nothing to eeeeeeat!" There's plenty to eat, of course, I'm just not seeing the things that I'm craving.

I'm convinced that if I someday get to the point where I can prepare healthy food when I'm in one of my exhausted, cranky, self-destructive moods, then there'll be no problem anymore. The deck is stacked, though. Totally, totally stacked.

...Okay, I feel a little better. (Bonus: my tea is here! I finally ordered my tea and it is here! SO HAPPY!) Time to go on with life.

Cut for length-- click to read more.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Bonus post: my new default dinner menu

I like to cook, except when I don't. There are some times when the creative aspect of it is the best part, and I go all crazy with an elaborate preparation... and then there's every other time, when I'm tired and really don't want to have to think, and go with one of my default menu items.

The new default menu: chicken, green beans, and sweet potatoes. Which sounds very bland and horrifying, I know, but WAIT, let me tell you how I make it!

In order of preparation:

The Sweet Potatoes: Totally my favorite thing right now. I put the oven on 400 degrees, peel the sweet spuds, chop 'em into little cubes, and then toss them (either by the Large Plastic Ziplock-style Baggie method or the bowl method) with a tablespoon of olive oil, salt, and-- this is key-- cinnamon*. I put a sheet of aluminum foil on a cookie sheet (because really, I hate dishes and we have no dishwasher) and spread the spud-cubes out on them, then bake for 20 minutes, stirring them around at about the half-point or whenever I remember to do it, whichever comes first. Since these take the longest of anything, they get started first.

* The more fragrant, the better. We tend to grind our own cinnamon by chucking a stick of the stuff into our never-really-used-as-a-coffee grinder and zapping it a few times, because it smells FANTASTIC and really cannot be beat, but determined scraping with a microplane grater gets the same result (albeit with a lot of very annoying work) and, okay, theoretically pre-ground cinnamon could be used but please remember that it doesn't have a great shelf life so the newer the package, the better.

The Chicken: I thaw two chicken breasts, usually by the chucking-in-a-bowl-of-water-in-the-sink-with-cold-water-running-for-convection's-sake method, which I get going before starting the sweet potatoes. Once they're thawed, I put a good heavy pan on the stove and get it heating-- no oil yet. Then I pound the chicken flat (use the pounding method of your choice; I tend to put it in a large baggie and then whack it with our cast-iron skillet), because flat cooks more evenly and it only took one time with not-quite-done chicken for me to get paranoid about it. I brush the chicken with olive oil and season both sides with a mixture of salt, garlic powder, dried dill, and ground black pepper. By this point in the process the pan should be space-shuttle-reentry hot, so I turn the heat down a bit and then put the chicken in to sear-- at least two minutes per side. This should get some nice brown crusties on there.

Then comes a wacky thing which may be my own invention (I'm not sure why, or when, I started doing this): once both sides of the chicken is seared, I get some water and chuck it into the pan. Not a huge amount, only like 1/4 to 1/2 of a cup. This is based on the sauce-making technique where you dissolve the bits of lovely carbonized food stuck to the pan into a liquid, only in this case I keep the chicken in the pan because a) it's not really that complex of a sauce, b) there's not a lot of it, and c) this not only makes the chicken look brown and tasty (it's like an instant dye process), but it gets some liquid back into it.

The Green Beans: While the chicken is searing, I toss frozen green beans in a bowl and add lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, and either minced garlic or garlic powder (it really depends on how lazy I'm feeling), then nuke 'em until hot-- which in our little microwave is usually about four minutes. Stir halfway through the nuking process.

I'm fond of this dinner because I know about how long it'll take (about thirty minutes), I don't have dishes competing for oven/microwave/cooktop space, and a minimum of dishes are dirtied. My favorite dish of the three is the sweet potatoes, I have to admit, because I'd been casting around for a way to get them on the table faster and with a minimum of effort, and this does the trick. With the roasty-broccoli thing happening a few times a week, too, we're getting at least two of the magical very-good-for-you foods incorporated on a regular basis. My next goal is to get a good, fast, non-stinky fish dish going; I have a few possibilities lined up. Really, anything that's fun to eat, tasty, easy to prepare, and good for us is a good thing to have. Also on the list of things to experiment with: fast spinach sides, a return run at bulgar wheat, and my eternal attempts to make friends with winter squash.

In other phenomenal news:

1) THE COLD SNAP HAS BROKEN. Oh thank God. Today we walked to the train station like normal people, and walked across the Loop like we used to, and it was glorious. I can't even believe how little we walked over the past week and a half. It was crazy. I felt so cooped up and miserable, because even though we were going places it was always being in one place, then being in a car, then being in another place; there wasn't the transition time with the big sky above me. I love walking. Thank God it's back.

2) Trader Joe's has fennel bulbs for about $1.50. This is half the price of what they have at Jewel. As a result, we're getting fennel as a regular part of our foodage. Guys, I LOVE FENNEL.

3) My Hub has inhaled so much information on nutrition and exercise that he is now operating as the resident health guru among his friends, and several of them have started cleaning up their lifestyles because he talks so much about this stuff. I'm so proud of him. He's come so far after his shaky, nervous start when he was very tense about everything, and he looks amazing.

4) Frozen berries, particularly blueberries, are a good treat for sugar-free me. I accidentally made the best fruit salad ever: pomegranate seeds, oranges (I peeled the segments, because they were pretty tough; ah, winter), and mixed frozen berries tossed in and left to thaw and leak their juices all over. Ate the whole thing at our Superbowl party and had no regrets.

5) The elliptical machine is my friend. We must make a run to the gym directly after work today, because we are apparently due for a big sloppy snowstorm this evening. (Oh joy. Well, at least we're not in New York with the 11 feet of snow.) I throw on my Shuffle and rock out. It is all good, and oh lord can I feel the muscles it's working.

6) My Hub is determined to get us both new mp3 players for our anniversary. Not iPods, but something along that functionality. He's been all over the internet checking out reviews. Looks like I might get a new workout boost soon-- yay!

Cut for length-- click to read more.

The Stacked Deck Strikes Again, or, another WW rant

I am good at many things, but shutting up is not one of them. I'm trying. I'm aware that there's a real danger of coming off as a smug know-it-all, and/or like I think I'm a superior life-form and everybody else is weak or stupid or ignorant or whatever. I know this. So I'm trying to shut up where I can.

In some cases, I bite my tongue bloody and then come online to post anonymously about it. Not a great thing, but an improvement over my usual.

The thing about dieting and the whole healthy lifestyle phenonemon is that it's intensely personal. There's a huge amount of faith involved, and any time you've got something that is more faith than science, it comes packaged with a lot of insecurities. For many people-- myself definitely included-- getting started on a program like this is a desperation move, and it's not cool to suggest to someone that the lifeline they're clinging to-- the one bit of hope that they can dig themselves out of this hole-- may be flawed and could break at any time. It's a tricky subject, to say the least.

I've got a friend on Weight Watchers who has just dropped her Points level, is hungry all the time, and has hit a plateau. I'm not going to say anything along these lines to her, not yet, because-- as my Hub puts it-- you've gotta let someone spin their wheels for a while before saying, "Here is a shovel, here is a bucket of gravel; these things might help." In the meantime, I'm posting here.

For the record, Weight Watchers is not bad. As far as diets go, it's the best of its kind, a species with a more evolved brain and opposable thumbs that is much smarter and more supportive than the pea-brained dinosaurs lumbering around in the same vicinity. Weight Watchers makes an effort to get you used to sensible portion sizes, they've got a lot of great tools for tracking your intake, you get a ton of support, you're kept accountable; all of these are good things. They keep making evolutionary gains, too, with their Core program stressing good foods for the main stuff you eat, and apparently a new effort to customize the FlexPoints system to take into account age and activity levels instead of only height and weight. They do try to talk a lot about activity and exercise. Again, all good things.

The point at which Weight Watchers falls short (and to my eyes starts looking like the orangatan dancing around in The Jungle Book, singing "I Wanna Be Like You" with a background mantra of "this is a lifestyle, this is a lifestyle") is the thing that limits its evolution: it is centered around eating less and registering less mass on the scale. No matter what else they change, these two things remain key, and that's where the deck is stacked against us. What we want, what we envision when we think of ourselves as thin, is a healthy, sleek body that doesn't jiggle, and a metabolism that can handle more than 1200-1500 calories a day of healthy food. What we get out of a diet-and-scale program is a smaller body, but a high body-fat percentage for the size, a tendency to be cold all the time, and a metabolism that will toss us back into gaining mode if we dare eat more than 1000 calories a day. It's frustrating, to say the least.

This is the thing that infuriates me, every time, about Weight Watchers. It's so earnest, and so sensible compared to other diet-and-scale programs, and it's such a supportive baby-step program, and dammit, I want so much for it to work. If you could take all the sensible, supportive, easy-to-digest parts of Weight Watchers and center it around exercise (muscle-building exercise in particular, not just cardio) supplemented by a sensible diet (with more stress on lean protein and good carbs and good fat, not just low-fat/high-fiber), in order to lower body-fat percentage, that would be so, so much better.

I realize that people don't want to exercise. I know. I do. And I know that Weight Watchers does try to encourage people to exercise. I also know that Weight Watchers is brilliant at getting people to incorporate new things into their lives, and that people will work the hardest on the things that Weight Watchers stresses the most. Currently, this means that people work the hardest on tracking their food and praying to the great god Weigh-In that they'll show a loss for the week-- two things that, while useful, can't give you long-term success alone. All I'm saying is to make it a tripod approach: build muscle, eat a sensible diet (like their Core system), and concentrate on body-fat-percentage as a measure of success, rather than pounds lost-- a weekly weigh-in would, of course, still be a nice way to keep accountability, but celebrate and give awards for BF% lowered, not pounds lost.

I know. Pipe dream. They're not going to change, and all I can really hope for is that people use WW as an introductory class and move on to more advanced stuff. Lots of people do that. It's the people that don't that I'm frustrated for, the ones who get stuck as a result of this stacked deck and think that it's all their fault and that they're just going to be fat forever. ARGH.

Cut for length-- click to read more.

Friday, February 09, 2007

This is what happens when I can't exercise

In the interests of healing my stupid shoulder, a one-week break was taken from any and all gym activity, along with anti-inflammatory meds (er, Advil) and regular icing of my shoulder. Ice, rest, and Advil are my heavy hitters where inflammation are concerned, and since it was determined that my shoulder injury was likely inflamed bursae and not a muscle pull or tear, I have been smacking down the inflammation ever since.

A week ago, it was still painful if I accidentally forgot and slung my purse over my right shoulder instead of my left. This week, it's only mildly annoying. MUCH BETTER. And as such, I'm back to the gym.

Still no weights, still no yoga. I can do cardio without jolting my shoulder painfully, though, so that's what I'm sticking with. Elliptical machine, mostly. I bring my mostly-working iPod (it may be time for a new Shuffle, because this thing has the hiccups) and rock out. It's soothing. And, considering that a lack of exercise PLUS limited amounts of walking (have you seen the weather report for Chicago? it's been too cold to go outside without wearing your own HOUSE for over a week, man) PLUS having a Superbowl party which resulted in having too much carby food around the house means... hellooo, extra two pounds on my ass. Ah, well. I'll fix it.

I've been analyzing my evening habits, and mostly they fall into the please-God-make-my-brain-numb activities. TV is dangerous, because it matches up with mindless eating, and with this much crap in the house it's just no good. Surfing the 'net, playing a video game, or reading are all alternatives, but for the most part I've figured out that I'm fine doing something as long as I don't have to think. So, in order to improve my at-home productivity, I will have to a) figure out how to make more things fall into that brainless category, and/or b) figure out why I seem to require brainlessness behavior in order to relax.

My dad, I know, relaxes by doing things. Building things, in particular. After his day job, he goes and builds houses and room additions for people, and this is his way of kicking back. I know that I used to write for relaxation, but I seem to lose the knack of relaxing with it on a regular basis, so... clearly, I need to relax.

Again, I think that part of being able to do and relax at the same time is to have had enough sleep, because when I haven't had enough sleep, NOTHING is relaxing.

So. Get enough sleep. Learn to relax. Look longingly at the yoga classes.

Cut for length-- click to read more.