Thursday, August 18, 2011

Learning to savor

Until I hit my 30's, I was one of those super-skinny people who could eat anything she wanted and never gain an ounce. At 5'7", I weighed about 115 lbs. on average. My low weight came with its drawbacks: I almost always felt too cold, except on the warmest of days; despite what the media tell us, most men aren't attracted to women with "boyish" figures; and I got sick frequently, with sickness taking a horrible toll on my body since I had no stores of fat or extra nutrients to protect me.

I knew even then that my thinness wouldn't last. Throughout my childhood, I witnessed my mom and aunts, almost all of whom had been very thin as young women, struggle with dieting and weight. I knew that one day, too, I would start to gain. I didn't want to end up in that same cycle, so in my 20's, I decided that I needed to eat better.

At that age, eating better meant giving up red meat and fried foods (unless I was being served such foods as someone's guest). Nevertheless, I still started gaining weight when I hit my 30's, and the first 20 to 30 additional pounds were very welcome. I finally had a womanly figure, I wasn't constantly freezing, and I definitely became less sickly.

Over time, I have continued to improve my eating habits. Since I started my green journey when my now 6-year-old was a baby, I eat more vegetarian and vegan meals, more whole and organic foods, and more fruits and vegetables.

But of course, I had given birth, with all its changes to a woman's body. And then I turned 40, with all its changes to a woman's metabolism. So I was still gaining weight.

At my last physical in April I weighed 160 lbs, which is right over the edge into "overweight" BMI. I've never officially dieted, but I know that I now have to do something to manage my weight.

I decided that I need to do two things: 1) manage the amounts of food I am eating. What I am eating (for the most part) is not a problem, it's how much; and 2) manage my sweet tooth.

With the former, I am using the "smaller plate" method of managing portion sizes, and writing down everything I eat. Writing it all down is a great tool, because it makes me very aware of what I'm putting into my mouth. No more mindless grazing, or going back for seconds without thinking about it.

The sweet tooth is the bigger challenge. I love sweets, especially chocolate. I have often had days in which I eat, say, oatmeal and OJ for breakfast, a salad for lunch, and salmon, broccoli and brown rice for dinner. And that same day, throughout the day, I would polish off an entire bag of chocolate chip cookies. Most of my weight gain is probably the result of my sweet tooth.

I couldn't imagine giving up sweets or chocolate altogether, so this is how I've decided to deal with it: I am learning to savor. For example, Safeway sells bags of "Dark Chocolate Covered Mint Cups," a transfat-free candy about the size of a mini Reese's cup. A serving is 3 pieces, but after lunch I am eating one. One piece contains about 63 calories, 3 grams of fat and 2 grams of saturated fat. I take a tiny bite and let it sit on my tongue until it melts, moving it around so I can fully taste it. Then I wait a while and do it again. I can make one piece last an hour, and I'm working on extending that time.

After dinner, I am doing the same with, for example, about 2 ounces of homemade tofu chocolate mousse (made from silken tofu, melted semi-sweet chocolate chips, a little mint or almond extract, and enough almond or rice milk to make it smooth, blended in a blender and chilled). I take a small spoonful and savor it.

In this way I'm getting the same joyful thrill I always get from eating chocolate, without all the calories I used to consume because I couldn't stop eating more and more.

I'm seeing a secondary benefit: perhaps because I am consuming less sugar, fruit is becoming more satisfying to my sweet tooth. I've always like fruit, but given a choice between fruit or cookies, I would almost always go for cookies. But now I'm starting to choose fruit, knowing it can give me a thrill, too.

So far, my "diet" plan is working. I'm down to 155, and my goal is 145.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Parenting advice that works!

I love reading parenting books. I feel like I need a lot of help, and many books out there have great advice. (In a later post, I'll share some of what I've been learning this summer).

But of course, there are so many parenting books out there, and some give differing or contradictory advice. How do you decide which advice to follow?

I have a good friend whose daughter was born a year after my daughter, and I wrote her a letter upon her daughter's birth titled something like, "The Ten Lessons I Learned from My First Year as a Parent." I don't remember all 10, but I do remember that I wrote something like the following about parenting advice: "Take it all in, weigh it, and decide whether it makes sense to you based on your experiences and what you know about your child. And if you're not sure, try it out and evaluate the results." In other words, parenting advice is just that--advice, not truth etched in stone. Advice can be weighed, examined, tried, evaluated, and even rejected.*

One piece of advice I have often read is about children who are picky eaters. The general consensus is that you shouldn't force children to eat anything, just encourage them to try new foods, and eventually they'll eat a variety. Other tips are offered: for example, having children help you grow, cook or prepare foods, and setting a good example by eating healthy foods yourself are recommended.

Still, there are some dissenters from this advice, those who say that kids learn to eat all kinds of foods only when not given a choice about whether or what to eat or not. And sometimes I struggled with whether or not that was true. Here is my tale...

My stubborn mama: My mom grew up with Depression-era parents who were of the mindset that you never waste food and you eat what's put before you or else. My mom, however, was both a very picky eater and very stubborn, and she fought them tooth and nail in this arena. If she was told she couldn't get up until she cleaned her plate, she sat at the table all day. If she was told that she could leave the table but would have to eat the same plate at the next mealtime, she'd go hungry. When faced with a kid that stubborn, parents either have to give in or become abusive (force-feed the kid, beat them, or starve them). Since my grandparents weren't abusive, eventually they'd give in.

But my mother never forgot those battles, and never really overcame her aversion to many foods, either. To this day, she hates oatmeal and most vegetables, except for sweet potatoes, green beans and iceberg lettuce.** And she decided that she wasn't going to battle with her own kids at the table.

She'd serve vegetables, even though she didn't like them, because she knew they were good for kids. But she'd make deals with us: we had to eat as many bites as we were old. Or, if a nutritional equivalent was in the fridge (a salad, or a leftover vegetable we liked), we could exchange it for what was on our plate. Because of this system, there weren't any dinner table battles in our home. But there might not have been anyway, since my siblings and I weren't very picky eaters. (I only disliked peas and lima beans).

My picky daughter: I had hoped for the same with my daughter, but alas, it wasn't to be. While she happily accepted baby food veggies at first, at about 18 months she started spitting them out. By age 3, the only vegetable she would eat was French fries with ketchup. And that bit of advice about how after 15-20 tries of a new food a kid will eat something? Not my kid. I tried hard not to compare her to my niece, who at age 3 was happily ordering bowls of broccoli for lunch.

At this point, I began to doubt the "don't force them, give it time" advice. Only the realization of how forcing a kid to eat backfired with my mom held me in check.

You know what? It eventually paid off. It took a lot more than 15-20 tries, but by age 4, she was gradually accepting vegetables again. First carrots, then celery, then salads, and so on.

Success! On Sunday afternoon, my 6-year-old daughter asked to make her own lunch, and I said yes. Usually when she makes something for herself, it's a sandwich or a bowl of cereal. This Sunday, however, was different: she made a salad. And not just a basic lettuce salad, either. Her salad (in a big bowl, btw!) contained romaine lettuce, broccoli, cucumbers, celery, green beans and carrots. She added ranch dressing and ate the whole thing! Patience and a good example paid off.


* One piece of advice I rejected when my daughter was an infant: read to your baby 20 minutes a day. Whose infant can sit through a 20-minute story??! Not mine. She'd either fall asleep after a minute or two, or grab the book and chew it! By age 2, however, she loved to have stories read to her.

** My mom, of course, waited until we were adults to tell us this.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

A bunch of cheap (and sometimes green) tips

Thrift store finds, repurposed for fruits and veggies:

~ Crocheted cloth squares, probably created as trivets or potholders, for scrubbing veggies, in place of plastic veggies scrubbers. I had tried a natural coconut coir veggie brush, but disliked it because it shed bristles and often bruised or damaged my produce. These squares are soft enough to prevent damage to produce, but have enough texture to scrub fruit and veggies well.
~ Cloth diapers for patting fruits and veggies dry after washing. They’re very absorbent, and it saves paper towels.

Cough medicine: In the moldy Northwest, I have been plagued by long-term coughs. This recipe is a great cough reliever: mix 1/2 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar and 1/2 tablespoon of honey in 8 ounces of warm water, and drink.

Car dehydrator: I found this wonderful tip at The blog. I had long wanted to try Condo Blue’s recipe for making orange essential oil, but couldn’t prevent my orange peels from molding while I was drying them out. Now I just place the peels in my car dashboard window on sunny days, and by the end of the day, I have hard, dry orange peels. And the car smells great while they’re drying! (Of course, in Washington State, I can only do this in the summer).

Reduce fat and sugar with water: Sometimes the most natural products in the store (not counting meat or produce), with the least additives, contain the most fat and sugar. Natural mayonnaise, for example, or real maple syrup. I have found that adding water to these is a good way to reduce the fat or sugar content, without the additives of the "lite" version. (I even read a suggestion on another blog recently: buy a half gallon of whole milk, pour it into a gallon jug, and add water. Presto, a gallon of reduced fat milk at reduced cost! It's one way to better afford organic milk).

Btw, you’ll often notice that in “lite” versions of products, water is the first or second ingredient anyway. All the additives are added in order to give it the same thickness or taste as the original product, or to prevent separation. So if you’re going to add water, it’s important to only do so with the quantity you’re going to use, right before you use it. It will be thinner, but if you eat it right away, it generally doesn’t separate or affect taste. Experiment to find out the ratio you like best: 4:1 (where 1 is water), 3:1, 2:1 or 1:1. Whichever you choose, you'll be stretching your budget by making the food item last longer, and you'll be reducing fat and/or sugar.

Homemade chocolate sauce: Add 1/2 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips, 1/4 cup milk of your choice (regular, soy, almond, rice, etc.), and 1 tablespoon of a mild oil (I use canola) to a small glass bowl. Stir gently to coat the chips. Microwave on high for one minute. Remove from microwave and (optional) add 1/2 teaspoon of flavoring (I usually add peppermint extract). Stir until smooth. Serve immediately over fruit, ice cream, cake or other dessert of your choice. Yum!