Part 101 here
Part 201 here
Part 301 here

Learn to Try New Things

One of the best things about going on a diet is that you get bored. Yup, boredom. Because when you are bored, you’ll try new things just for the novelty. Lets face it. We get into ruts. We eat the same 15 meals week in and week out because we are 1) pressed for time or imagination 2) don’t know how to cook anything else or 3) don’t want to try anything new. It’s an evolutionary advantage to eat the same things all the time. That red berry on that bush? It might be great. It might just kill us. Best to just stick with what we already know. We’re inherently creatures of habit.

I’ve mentioned before that I wasn’t much of a vegetable eater when I was young. I liked what I liked (which wasn’t much) and that was that. But when you are on a low glycemic index diet, there are only so many green salads you can eat before you want some more variety. And so you try some kale, white bean and turkey sausage soup, (after googling how to clean and cook kale) and figure out that kale is not bad. So you try it sauted with some red wine vinegar and garlic and like that too. Kale chips? Why not.

I really believe that a lot of diet success is a willingness to try new things. To eliminate “I never eat” or “I only eat” from your vocabulary. To retrain your palette. It is absolutely astounding how sweet a strawberry can taste if you haven’t eaten sugar in a few weeks. And what this leads to is a whole lifestyle change. Suddenly, the kid who would only eat corn and canned green beans loves borscht (beet soup) and sweet potatoes and cabbage sauted with a little fresh apple and some vinegar and roasted carrots and cauliflower. She’ll eat quinoa and brown rice and couscous. She likes tabbouleh. She could eat beans at almost every meal. Which opens up a whole new world of “whole food” eating, and makes grabbing a frozen pepperoni pizza for dinner a whole lot less likely. (This doesn’t mean that I like everything. I say no to raw celery, millet, buckwheat, and black-eyed peas, to name a few. But I have tried all of these things, several times, as an adult.)

Bare with me a bit. This story does relate. All the way through high school I did very well in all things related to English (high scores on the SAT), and not great in all things related to math (low scores on the SAT). So I concluded that my career should be on the English side of the spectrum (human resources, marketing, public relations…you get the idea) and should definitely NOT be on the math end of the spectrum (biology, chemistry, physics). The problem? While I was good at the English stuff, I didn’t really like it much. It seemed like just so much pushing paper. And what I loved loved loved was science. Always had. But it took me until I was 28 to figure this out, go back to school, STOP telling myself I sucked at math, get a tutor, and knuckle my way through calculus (in which I got an A) to get a biology degree. I could have saved myself 10 years and a second degree if I had just been telling myself slightly different stories in my head.

Food and diet are the same way. We tell ourselves that eating dog is disgusting, but we relish pork, and a pig has been shown to be just as smart as a dog. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting we start.) We don’t eat bugs (gross) but most of the world, outside of North America and Europe, does. We eat raw oysters, for heaven’s sake. That HAS to be learned culturally. I know a woman who pretty much hates all red vegetables (and will pick apart a meal to make sure there are no tomatoes or bell peppers hiding within). Got to tell you, she was a joy to eat with. What stories are you telling yourself, maybe have been telling yourself since you were a kid, that may not be true anymore. Or that you have the power to change by simply challenging yourself to trying new things. The only thing constant in life is change. It you learn to embrace it, it might just change you.

New Ideas about Nutrition

The USDA has been publishing nutrition guidelines since the late 1800’s. Why? To help us understand how to meet our nutritional needs with the food we eat. (Rickets, a disease caused by nutritional deficiency, is among the most frequent childhood diseases in developing countries.)

I was raised on the “Basic Four” food groups. I can still name them. Meat, Milk, Grains, Fruits and Vegetables. My dinner plates growing up always consisted of a meat, a starch, a vegetable, a salad, a glass of milk, and a piece of bread. Oh, and dessert of course. And when I started to learn to cook, this is what I did. Half the plate was meat, 1/4 was starch, 1/4 was vegetable. The problems with an animal centric diet (meat and diary are two of the 4 food groups) are many fold.

  • Having a meat centered diet (at least the kinds of meats we buy from commercial feed lots via the grocery store on little styrofoam trays) has pretty much been shown repeatedly to be bad for our heart, and may be contributing to cancer rates.
  • It’s really expensive. A pound of meat costs a lot more than a pound of beans.
  • It’s hard on the planet. You can feed a lot more people on the same piece of land if you grow plants instead of a cow.
  • Big piles of starch raise, then crash our blood sugar, making us hungry a few hours later.
  • This is a ton of food. It is difficult to keep the calories in check when you have a seven coarse meal. No serving sizes were suggested.

So then we transitioned to the Food Pyramid recommendations, which for the first time attempted to include serving size guidelines. The bottom of the pyramid was grains (no mention of whole vs processed) at 6-11 servings per day. That is a boat load of carbs. Wonder how much that had to do with the massive amounts of wheat, soy and corn grown in this country, and the never ending quest to morph it into new consumable products?

Now we’re up to the MyPlate recommendations, which is all about getting more fruit and vegetable servings per day. If you notice, we’ve actually just gone back to the old 4 food groups, but we’ve now included serving proportions and split fruits and vegetables. Bet the grain growers are pissed. The nice part about this is you don’t really need to know what a serving is. Just fill 1/2 of your plate with a fruit or vegetable and you’ll be doing pretty well. Note that processed sugars and oils are nowhere to be found.

Nutrition Action Healthletter did an interesting piece on sugar consumption in the U.S. (Sugar Overload: Curbing America’s Sweet Tooth. Jan/Feb 2010). Turns out, if you meet all of your nutritional needs with the food you eat (not just carbs, proteins and fats, but vitamins, minerals, fiber etc.) you only have a few calories left over for things like refined sugar and extra fats. For an average woman, the amount of discretionary sugar works out to about 6 teaspoons per day (that’s 1/8 of a cup), for a man, it’s 9 teaspoons.

We’re genetically programmed to love sweetness. Babies will make a face if you put something in their mouth that is sour or bitter, but sweetness? They are all smiles and reach for more. From an evolutionary perspective, this makes sense. Sugar is a quick energy source, and sweet things are rarely poisonous (not so with bitter or sour). Those who ate the most sweet things had the energy to run away from predators and survived long enough to reproduce. But now everything from BBQ sauce to salad dressing has added sugar.  A 16 oz coca cola has about 13 tsp of sugar in it. Wonder why 2/3 of American’s are overweight?

Your Eyes SHOULD NOT Be Bigger Than Your Stomach

So, you’ve challenged yourself to eat new things, drastically increased your consumption of fruits and vegetables, and learned how to make a dozen whole wheat bran muffins with only 1/4 cup of sugar (um…that would be me). But you are still gaining weight. Why?

Remember, calories in > calories out = weight gain. Yup, it doesn’t matter how nutritious or healthy those calories are. They are still calories. So now we have to learn portion control. I was watching one of those “celebrity weight loss” shows the other night (guilty pleasure) and one “C list” musician was saying it clicked for him when he was in Japan. He was a big guy with a big appetite so he went into a fast food joint and ordered a large. They gave him what in this country would have been a small. And he looked around him at all the diners in the restaurant, and no one was fat.

Ah, portion control. Small plates help. (I was once in an old cabin with melamine plates, cups etc. from the 50’s. It was like looking in a doll house cupboard. It’s fair to say we don’t drink 6 oz of coffee or orange juice anymore.) Consciously deciding in a restaurant how much of the plate you are going to eat BEFORE you start eating helps. I often physically split the entrée in half, knowing that I am going to take 1/2 home before I even start. My husband and I also often split a meal. And he outweighs me by 50 lbs. So the portions should not be 50/50. He can eat more than I can without gaining weight.

Try to eat something (a hand full of nuts, a piece of cheese, a piece of fruit, some carrots and humus) every 3-4 hours. This is critical for me. If I wait until I am seriously hungry before I start eating, I have no will power and will literally eat until I am uncomfortable because my brain has gone into starvation mode. It’s not pretty.

When I serve myself at home, I put less on my plate than I think I want, and then listen to my body. It takes 20 minutes to really feel the full effects of a meal. Give yourself that time before you decide if you really need another portion. Maybe you do. Most likely you don’t.

You also need to harden yourself against the onslaught of media telling us that more is always better, so you had better supersize that. That Carl’s Jr Western Bacon Six Dollar Burger with large fry is about 1,500 calories (not including a drink), which is about my total calorie allotment for the day if I want to maintain my current weight. What am I going to eat during the other 23 1/2 hours? (And learn to ignore your Mom’s voice in your head. You do NOT need to clean your plate. Sorry Mom…or in my case, Gram.)

Next up, graduate work: Specific nutrition buzz words and misleading package claims.

Miles Away Farm Blog © 2012, where we’re miles away from getting to eat everything we want whenever we want it, but generally almost never feel deprived.