Guilt-Free Eating

I started getting more diligent about logging my eating again via Weight Watchers, to work through a “fun holiday season,” with events with friends and family, a work function, and just general lack of inertia that comes with one’s bed (or comforter-draped couch) becoming too comfortable when it’s cold outside. I find myself doing a precarious tap dance of trying to be more accepting of myself and wanting to do better for myself, at the same time.

It’s been an interesting go-round so far. Apparently some Points values have changed on the plan. Other than surprises here and there, though, it’s been like getting back onto a bicycle, so long as I’m willing to have total honesty about myself and my eating.

Part of my blind spot has been just that–not having the courage (or respect, depending on how you look at it) to face the music on choices that I know are less than healthy. I want to just keep walking past the meal tracker like that snack, heavy dinner, or dessert never happened. But, the scale never lies. And neither do our pants!

So I’ve forced myself to log things that I haven’t before. This weekend, it was a sandwich made of chicken liver pate.

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I first had this delicacy at at Bistro San Tropez, a French restaurant that my husband and I visited during Philadelphia Restaurant week a number of years ago. The pate, the crusty bread, the cornichons (aka baby pickles) and the mustard… Delicious!

Sometime after that, I set out to make it myself, and I found it surprisingly cheap to make, and not too difficult, either. (Here’s the recipe I use.) But the catch: it requires nearly two sticks of butter. So I stopped making it when I embarked on my weight loss journey.

I thought about making it this year, thinking it would make a great addition to a Valentine’s feast for a couple of parents without a babysitter. I ended up not making it for the holiday, but I did make out soon after.

And it tasted just add good as I remembered! The silky, melt-in your mouth feel, the meaty taste… it was nice to eat it again.

And then it was done, and I was left with the task of coming clean to Weight Watchers about having eaten it. That part I didn’t like so much. But I did it, and I was surprised to discover that it wasn’t quite add bad nutritionally as I had feared. And I kept everything else light, eating it on a medium-sized spinach wrap with lettuce and some fruit. I had faced a fear about eating and survived… and had a delicious meal. How’s that for guilt-free eating?

Start a Love Affair With Food

Eating is serious business, no? As we gear up for Valentine’s Day, who e’ll likely have visions of sumptuous meals to share with loved ones…or maybe visions of something tasty and a single fork or spoon if we are trying to treat ourselves independent of the holiday.

There’s clearly a sensual component to eating. All of our senses can be employed: the sound of a sizzling fajita plate; the scent of your favorite food instantaneously entering your nostrils and unlocking memories as soon as you enter your family home for a holiday meal; the tantalizing sight and taste of your favorite food; the feel of the tender morsel of crab that you gently pull from the shell, or the weight of a juice-laden orange in your hands. Good food grabs ahold of your brain and takes up residence there, in your short-term and long-term memory.

And yet we sometimes try our hardest to run on the opposite direction from the aspects of dining that are more art than science. In Michael Pollan’s noteworthy book In Defense of Food, he shares that President Martin Van Buren lost his re-election bid, in part, because he had hired a French chef for the White House, a move that was seen as being too highbrow, too focused on food as something other than fuel.

I have written about relegating food to fuel status, but I’m learning that making the experience enjoyable and treating the food lovingly, rather than giving it a cursory once-over with your utensils, goes a long way, even for healthy food. As does sharing a meal with someone you love. If you’re partnered up for Valentine’s Day, when it comes to your first date, the combination of the restaurant, the food, and the conversation–the experience in its entirety–all made the event memorable.

Tomorrow, many of us will smile a little brighter when we think of Valentine’s Day. If you don’t already have a love affair with food–eating the best ingredients, opting for flavorful accents whenever possible, or otherwise paying attention to the quality of the food you eat–why not start on one of the most love-focused days of the year?

A Return, and a New Normal

I haven’t written regularly in a great, long while. During this time, I’ve been trying to recover from a self-imposed stressful period by enjoying family and personal time more, giving myself permission to live life, and by delving a little deeper into why I got in that stressful spot in the first place. And, of course, I’ve been monitoring myself on how everything related back to food.

What I found was a lot of fear, a lot of desire to please others, and generally too many people to try to please at that point. I knew change was needed, and tough decisions needed to be made, but I wasn’t willing to do it.

I saw that food was offering a good hiding place from the perfect storm I was waiting to hit me with a deluge of misfortune. Food was a psychic umbrella for me, if you will. In other words, it tried to resume the old place that it had in my life. Or, it’s probably more appropriate to say that I was emotionally vulnerable and let it take that place. I came to realize that, rather than trying to stop myself from emotional eating, it was more important to try to figure out why I was having the emotions. I have been untangling those issues and have been earnestly making a shift in how I perceive the world, and the amount of control I have in it, and it has felt good to know that I can live differently.

At the same time I was going through that stress, and for some time before that, I realized that I was becoming pretty accepting of how I looked. In my last entry, I talked about not knowing whether I wanted to lose a lot more weight or not. I have come to realize that I am pretty satisfied with where I am weight-wise. I’d like to get more toned and be lighter for preventative health reasons, but I don’t feel a desire to lose a substantial amount of weight just for the sake of losing weight. I’ll consider myself in a maintenance phase of continued healthy eating, with splurges factored in.

What does this mean for my blog? Not much. I will still be writing about healthy food options, weight loss and emotional eating. But I will be doing it from a place of someone who is a little more loving of herself, and a bit more clear on her goals.

One new thing that I’ve done with the blog, however, is to start a gallery of healthy food finds. These are interesting foods I’ve seen in my shopping travels. Visit that gallery here. And check my Twitter account (@dcangah) and Instagram account (dcangah) for pictures as I find them!

Do You Have a Forbidden Foods List?

I bought nutrition guru Joy Bauer’s book “Your Inner Skinny” a couple years ago, because I think she gives sound advice on eating healthy. The healthy eating recommendations and inspirational stories of successful weight losers were definitely worth reading. However, I re-read one success story recently, and I had to stop and think. And disagree.

That story told of a woman who had lost 125 pounds and now participates in mini-triathlons. She went full-tilt on weight loss on her own when she was rejected for a weight loss reality show, starting in earnest a couple weeks before Christmas to the surprise of people that knew her. All of this is certainly commendable.

But then I read this:

“Now I have certain boundaries with food that I can’t cross over. For example, I cannot have Ben & Jerry’s ice cream ever again.” She also talked about being afraid to take vacation days because they are less structured than work days and could lead to her making poor eating choices.

I’m all for preparation and setting boundaries, but personally I don’t think it’s necessary or wise to develop a forbidden foods list or to avoid challenging situations. That doesn’t lead to growth.

To me, the food isn’t the problem; it’s my attitude toward it. And a forbidden foods list means I am not willing to confront and change my attitude. Vilifying certain foods and pretending they don’t exist is an easy solution, but not the best in the long run.

To be clear, I’m not saying to go in the completely opposite direction, to have bags of gooey cookies or crispy potato chips always within arms reach. If I eat them at a restaurant or in my home, I make sure to serve or purchase a small quantity.

If you asked me a few years ago, I would have said success at weight loss would include an iron-clad will and immunity to decadent foods. I think mental strength is important, but I also think it’s about gaining a sense of love and respect for one’s self that doesn’t waver no matter what you eat. And I think that sense of love and respect leads you to healthy food that effectively fuels your body and doesn’t burn out quickly. That love knows when a talk, a hug, a getaway, or some other self-care item is needed more than food. Avoiding unpleasantries doesn’t help you discover what is really going to bring you a sense of contentment and fulfillment in its purest form.

That’s my two cents, but how do you feel about forbidden foods? Do you have any, or are you more flexible with your eating?

About the New Tagline

If you look at the top of the home page of this blog, you’ll notice that I have changed the tagline, to no longer focus just on food… or, to make it more official for when I discuss topics related to confronting and attempting to resolve some of the emotional issues that stay with us for years and often are a huge part of why we justify poor eating choices. I have been writing on these topics a lot, but now I’ve started my intent for the things I’d like to focus on a bit more clearly.

When I first started writing this blog, I wanted to uncover and share good food options with people who were on a weight loss journey like me. I wanted to prove that eating to lose weight doesn’t have to mean eating “rabbit” food or eating microscopic portions that leave you wanting more.

But then as I got used to eating differently, it became more obvious when I was choosing to eat poorly, and why. That, and other events in my life led me to examine my habits, my hopes, fears, and coping mechanisms a bit more. And it got me to think that others may be having similar struggles, and that I should share some of the information I’ve gleaned.

So here I am. I’ve already been sneaking in a lot of these kinds of lessons I’ve learned, but in case it has seemed random, I wanted to be clear about my future intentions for the blog.

Thank you, as always, for visiting. I will try my best to bring good food to you, ad well as good food for thought.

Meet Your Eating Muscles

My son went to a football practice for the first time this week. We wanted to give him a chance to check out team sports and meet new children. He had a blast that night, running and crouching with a bunch of other kids.

But by the next morning, he shared that he didn’t want to go back, because he felt sore. (Did I mention this was an extra-lengthy session for some reason?) I tried to explain that he might feel sore because he was using muscles that he doesn’t normally use, that his body was “practicing” and getting used to moving in the ways he was moving at the practice. Even with this explanation, though, the end result is still no more football.

The experience of stepping out of one’s comfort zone for physical activity has a counterpart in what’s needed to change eating habits. You have to exercise your “eating muscles,” so to speak, by getting used to eating new foods and getting used to eating less food.

I often hear people complain about being hungry on diets, or not wanting to try to lose weight because they don’t think they can survive on less food. My arguments would be, one, that choosing the right healthy foods can be filling, and two, you’ll be surprised by how easily your mind and body adapt to eating less if you let them. It really is a matter of giving your body practice time with a new way of life.

And guess what? “Practice” means that sometimes you get it right, and sometimes you don’t. It means there’s ample opportunity to learn and change what doesn’t work. It means challenges aren’t failures, just part of the learning curve.

You haven’t stretched your healthy “eating muscles” before now. Be patient, be persistent, and reap the results.

Through the Fire

Getting here was dangerous, but delicious.

Yesterday was a pretty uneventful Sunday–exactly the way I like it–until my grill registered a temperature of almost 700 degrees. This meant something was wrong. Very wrong.

It was a typical weekend grilling session, except for the fact that I was trying out cedar wood planks for salmon for the first time. I had placed the cedar planks in a pan of water a few hours before, soaking on one side, then the other. I seasoned the fish and cut it into chunks that would not hang over the sides of the planks. I heated the grill to a cozy 300 degrees, and I had intended to let the fish cook on a slightly lower temperature for a little longer than usual, to pick up the cedar smoke and to finish up cooked but tender.

The way they were. (The too-shallow pan was the problem. Let this be a lesson to you…)

I closed the grill lid and went back inside to begin prepping other things I would eat for the week. I peeped outside periodically to see how the grill was doing. At first, there was smoke rising from the back. The temperature was still at 300 degrees, and it was just typical smoke. I checked back later, and the temperature climbed to 500 degrees, then about 650, 675, with flames shooting out the back of the grill and a growing wall of flames surrounding my lovely salmon fillets.

I panicked, but I knew something needed to be done. I turned off the grill and the propane tank. I went to get utensils to move the fish from the fiery center of the grill (fortunately, only one of three burners had been on.) I went to get a mixing bowl full of water to douse the flames, as my husband wisely advised. And in a few minutes, the raging conflagration that was quietly contained under the heavy grill lid was no more. (The fish? I’m happy to report that it was salvageable. Most of it was cooked perfectly, with the wood directly under the fish still intact. The thickest pieces were good with 25 seconds in the microwave later. The cedar taste was delicious.with the simple salt, pepper, garlic seasoning. The planks? Ashes to ashes, may their soggy remnants rest in peace. It looks like I should’ve immersed them in more water, weighing them down with something that would’ve kept them completely submerged for the full soaking time. I had used a shallow cookie sheet, for which I had to turn the wood over to soak both sides.)

I was a little shaken, but a lot ashamed. Ashamed of the fact that I caused a fire. Ashamed of the fact that my first plank grilling experience literally went up in flames. I felt embarrassed that I wasn’t able to pull off this simple cooking technique, and I was relieved that none of my neighbors were outdoors to see this mishap.

This event would’ve, in the past, gotten me down and stayed with me for the rest of the day and maybe later. And it would’ve been survived with the help of an array of comfort foods. But I felt my feelings and let them go. (I also have to thank my husband for acknowledging that my actions after being greeted by the wall of flames was the best anyone could’ve done in that situation.) And I stayed the course, in the pursuit of a responsible attitude and responsible healthy eating habits. I came out of the fire mentally unscathed, a big win for me.