Saturday, July 2, 2011

The End? Not a chance!

I’ve long been a fan of irony. Years ago I wrote an article about a competition sponsored by a local television company. I opened by disclosing that TV-viewing across BC had dropped as almost 800 people worked on their screenplays in the evening instead of turning on the tube.

“Don’t you think that’s kind of ironic?” the editor asked when I handed in the story. “Since the contest is being run by a TV station?”

Well yeah. I love it!

When I began this experiment, I wanted to lose weight without deprivation, to eat and drink whatever I pleased. Then I wanted to keep the weight off without thinking about it, eating and drinking…that’s right, whatever I wanted.

I’m willing to exercise, heaven knows. With a history of full-blown osteoporosis by the time I reached 40, I’ve known for more than ten years that dumbbells and I will be going steady for the rest of my life if I want to avoid broken hips, bedrest, and boredom.

I’ve also experienced the ephemeral joys of an endorphin rush, triggered by strenuous exercise and hilltop views.

So me and exercise…we’re tight.

But back to deprivation. Not interested. Even now that I’ve lost 30 pounds and know exactly how good it feels to walk lightly up stairs, truffle comfortably to the park, and even keep Miss Jean in high(ish) gear all the way to the top of a hill.

Feeling great, healthy and strong haven’t sapped my desire for a day-polishing glass of red, a soul-satisfying dinner (as well as breakfast, lunch and snacks).

I still don’t want to give up anything. I want what I want. Period.

And the weirdest thing of all is that I get it. Since Week One, when I went cold turkey on potatoes and pasta, I haven’t missed them. I keep a loaf of bread in the freezer and I take out a slice or two, toast it, and smear on the peanut butter whenever I want.

What’s new is that usually I only want it once a week or so. Sometimes less. The same loaf has been in the freezer for two weeks now and it’s only half gone.

And seriously, I don’t feel deprived. I don’t have to talk myself out of having a sandwich.

So I’ve achieved my goal of eating and drinking whatever I want. The irony is that I no longer want the same things. I reach for a Bartlett pear to accompany my Emmenthal. I’d rather drizzle a heady, herb-infused olive oil over my salad instead of ranch. And trust me, nobody finds this more strange than I do.

I was explaining my feelings to Fodder the other night and he said he’d noticed the same thing. After a lifetime of loving peanut butter, he had climbed out of his dietary crackerbox and discovered how much he adores hummus.

We raised our wineglasses in a toast. To us.

Saturday, June 25, 2011


Every week or two, over a glass of wine, Fodder and I compare notes about how calorie-neutrality is working for us – or not. About four months after our last meeting with Vicki Waters, I was still walking the talk and loving it. I snacked on carrot-bleu cheese salad and almonds and or a spoonful of peanut butter on a Granny Smith apple. As Vicki had promised all those months ago, I loved plain yogurt – especially paired with a spicy compote. Puy lentils, halibut, scrambled eggs took turns on my plate and when a friend served a new vegetarian chili recipe, I couldn’t wait to cook up a batch.

Fodder, on the other hand, had slacked off. Oh sure, he headed for the gym more consistently and he’d learned that he could no longer harbour peanut butter if he didn’t want to be stalked by the pounds he’d already dumped. He loved steel-cut oats cooked with a dash of cinnamon and was favouring rye-crisp over white crackers by a big margin.

But he’s a sociable guy and his friends like to cook and eat and, well, you can guess where this is going.
He and a friend had had lunch out one day recently, and as he held the door for her on the way out of the restaurant, he felt his wardrobe start to disintegrate.

“I need some help,” he said and watched her face fall with dismay.

Was he having angina? Back spasm? A stroke? What?

“My suspenders have come unhitched,” he said.

Fodder had begun to wear suspenders when we got home from our French holiday. They were a more urbane safety precaution than string, which is what he relied on after he almost lost his Dockers at the security checkpoint in Charles de Gaulle airport, but now his friend was horrified that the same hideous social moment seemed to be happening again. Her choices were limited: make a dash for the car and leave him to it, or give him a hand.

So there she was, standing in the restaurant doorway, fishing up the back of his sweater to find the errant suspender brace, haul it down and hook him up again.

“I swear,” she said later, “he's just showing off by refusing to buy pants that fit!”

So the whole-grain crackers, the wine, the porridge are all part of Fodder’s new eating plan – and obviously, for him, they are perfectly calorie neutral.

Go, Dad!

I mean it. Go buy some smaller pants.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Our just dessert!

Kugel is an infinitely flexible baked pudding. It can be made savoury or sweet, entrée, side dish, or dessert.
I’ve adapted this version from How it all vegan!, making it gluten free and, by using real eggs, no longer vegan. The texture and taste are great either way. It’s dairy-free and can easily be nut-free as well.

Cook ½ cup buckwheat groats in 1 ½ cups water, until all the liquid has been absorbed.
In a medium casserole dish (I use a deep-dish glass pie pan) mix:
¼ cup oil
3 eggs (or egg substitute)
½ cup brown sugar (or white sugar or other sweetener)
½ tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon

Stir in:
cooked buckwheat
½ cup chopped walnuts
½ cup raisins
2-3 cups peeled and chopped apples

Bake at 350° for about 30 minutes.

Serve warm or cold. It’s great by itself and Fodder says it’s fantastic with vanilla yogurt. The Saint won’t talk with his mouth full.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Training Day

My bike was all tuned up. The derailleur once again derails, the brakes stop the wheels from turning instead of just screeching about it. Everything is clean and shiny – the bike, my mood, even the weather. It was a perfect day to ride into town to meet my sister and Elpis for tea.

I rummaged through my closet looking for suitable clothes. Ditching 30 pounds makes for a great feeling of accomplishment, but it wreaks havoc on the wardrobe and stuff that I thought I could wear forever because, hey, it’s just bike clothes, I discovered I could not. Even in this laid-back town, where GoreTex is considered semi-formal, there’s a limit to what’s appropriate. Quick-dry stretchy nylon cropped pants that are so baggy they get caught on the underside of the saddle…not a pretty sight. But more than that, what if they snagged and I couldn’t unhook them in time to get out of the seat at a red light? Tipping over at an intersection is beyond embarrassing.

Not that I’d know.


So I waded through the faded-to-grey pants, the green ones that look like jodhpurs for Peter Ustinov, until I found what I was looking for: recent thrift store scores. A sleek but not tight pair of stretchy black Prana cropped pants, a dressy white Columbia t-shirt with three-quarter sleeves, and a luscious green Avia soft-shell jacket whose brightness matched my mood. Nothing bulged or bit or bound. I applied two coats of mascara to celebrate.

I looked – and it feels icky even to think this, let alone put it in writing – damn fine.

The one wardrobe item that survives weight loss is footwear, so I laced up my bike shoes, tested the air and decided it was warm enough for the half-gloves, and snapped on my helmet.

The ride was…. You know when you’ve been sick for a long time, so tired that every movement feels like you’re making it under water and your joints are stiff or your muscles have too little strength for the pitiable tasks you’re asking them to make? And you know how you wake up one morning and nothing hurts and everything bends the way it’s supposed to and you move so easily you feel like you’re airborne?

That’s what the ride was like. After her recent tune-up, Miss Jean Brodie had the full range of 18 gears instead of the four she’d been stuck in for months. (Although to be appropriately grateful, they were the middle four.) I could get up some speed because I was certain that when I needed to stop, the brakes were up to the job.

It was freedom. It was breath.

By the time I’d gone a mile I was panting like a Labrador retriever, but still. It was fun.

I zoomed through town like a bright-green dragonfly, swooping past stalled car traffic, sailing around curves and corners with endorphins flowing ever higher until I reached the coffee shop.

My sister was the next to arrive.

“You look fantastic,” she said, and hugged me.

Elpis came in next. She hugged my sister first, me next, and then held me at arm’s length, scanning me from face to feet.

“Did you get new shoes?”

Was she kidding?

“No,” I said.

“Did you clean them?”


I pushed her questions to the back of my mind, focusing on ordering tea and enjoying the company of these two smart, funny women. Only afterward did I replay the moment and come to the conclusion that she probably wasn’t joking and I probably have not lost my sense of humour.

I know that everyone has baggage that weighs on them in different ways and changes their perspective on the world. Still, I was hurt and disappointed that my friend couldn’t pretend to be thrilled that I’d achieved my goal. She knows how hard it is to lose weight; shouldn’t she be proud of me for doing it?

As Fodder would say: “Yabbut.”

Yeah, of course, from my point of view a big hug and a “Well done, you” are in order. But human nature doesn’t always march that way. There’s a little gremlin inside many (or most. Or, hell, all) of us that can sour our happiness for others with envy or jealousy or feelings of our own inadequacy or…choose your poison.

I don’t know what made Elpis ignore the visible evidence of my good news. If I were a quicker thinker, I might have said, “The shoes are almost as old as our friendship. What’s up with you?”

But I didn’t do that. I fretted instead. Is it my fault? Is she a bitch?

The answer to both, of course, is No.

She has baggage; some of it I know about and some I don’t. She was packing it around that day, as we all do every day, and she couldn’t juggle all of that plus my need for recognition, validation, a cheering section.

So that means I have to learn to be my own cheering section, dammit. It’s so much easier when someone else does it for me.

Except when they don’t.

Darn those learning curves.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Saint's Halo

“You had a lovely figure when you were thirty,” the Saint said recently.
Sure, I thought. I tipped the scales at 115 pounds back then.
“But,” he said.
But?? I thought. In the last 20 years, haven’t you learned when to shut up?
“But,” he continued, “you’re even lovelier now.”

Isn’t it nice that my wedding ring once again fits on my finger?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Slippery Slope

I pulled my old green Old Navy jeans off their hanger and dragged them up over my calves, my thighs, my hips. I slipped the hook into the eye, then slid up the tab of the zipper.

They felt…different. I ran my finger around the inside of the waistband. There was room for a few more fingers in there.

That was indeed different.

I bought the jeans back in 2004 or so and they’d been a good fit even then. Not tight, but they hugged the curves like a new boyfriend.

Now, seven years later there was definitely some distance between my glutes and the back pockets. Not a divorce kind of estrangement, but more like the cooling-off when a relationship that verged on obsessive shifts to a more normal phase, when a couple goes from the infatuation of nightly sleepovers and daily phone calls to the slight relaxation that allows separate dinners with friends and even the occasional weekend off duty.

I added a belt and slid the tongue into the third hole, the last known location. It was fine.

Fine, but not ideal. Hesitantly, I tightened my belt another notch. It cranked the pants a little more firmly against my flesh but there was no billow to the belly.

When I undressed at the end of the day, there was no indentation or red mark to show that the belt had pressed too tightly against my skin.

Now, I had bought that belt a very long time ago, in the mid-90s. At the time I was a lot more slender than I am now – I hadn’t begun to work out with weights so I had much less muscle for one thing – and I’d even punched a couple of extra holes in the belt. I had no intention of having to use those holes but as it so often does, curiosity reared its head.

If I put the belt around my waist – at my bellybutton, where my 90s-era pants would have belted…what would happen?

I retrieved the belt from the Old Navy loops and slung it around my middle. I ran the leather through the buckle and did it up snugly over my T-shirt and thin fleece pullover. It was comfortable: snug but not tight. I looked down.

The tongue was in the second-to-last hole, the first one I had punched all those years ago.

Am I really as slender as I was at age 35? I honestly don’t think so. I think the leather has stretched a bit in the past 15 or more years.

More to the point, though, is the question “Am I slim enough?”

Part of me says, “Hell yes.”

And part of me says, “Well, maybe five more pounds…”

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Food journal exposé

The food and activity journal did its job. Just writing everything down – point form, nothing pretty – highlighted why I’d been eating more bready stuff and hence why I was worrying about gaining weight.
Far from being the first step on the slippery slope back to toast addiction, my calorie-dense snacks were a sign that I – get this! – wasn’t eating enough.

How do I know? My exercise regime was frequent, varied and darned vigorous, and my meals were loaded with nutrient-rich, calorie-poor choices. All good, so far.

Seeing the two lists side by side, black ink on white paper, showed me that my expectations were askew. A snack of one celery stalk with a tablespoon of peanut butter simply is not sufficient to fuel a brisk 20-minute walk to the gym, 20 hard-core minutes on the arc trainer, and a brisk 20-minute walk home.
My meals were more substantial than that lightweight snack, but clearly still not enough.

So I added an element to breakfast and lunch. Along with my steel-cut oat porridge and half-cup of compote, I stirred in half a cup of yogurt too.

My morning snack was a pear and two slices of Swiss cheese.

To my protein (two gluten-free turkey sausages) and one veg (a handful of broccoli) for lunch, I added another handful of red cabbage and sprinkled the vegetables with shaved Parmesan cheese.

I was stuffed – so full that I couldn’t manage another snack before I headed out mid-afternoon to walk 20 minutes to the pool and swim a kilometer – which felt great, even though I haven’t swum a lap for at least a year. I picked up 15 pounds of groceries, loaded them into my backpack, and walked home.
Then I was hungry, four and a half hours after lunch.

I made my snack a little heftier than usual. A dozen almonds, a small apple, and hot chocolate made with brown-rice protein powder in a cup of soy milk.

That was at 4:30, and I finally got to dinner at 7:30: an egg with half a turkey sausage and some chopped red and green peppers, half a cup of yogurt and half a cup of compote.


That felt like a lot of food, but all I had to do to make it work for me was space it out a little further. Instead of being hungry every hour and a half and noshing on crackers, I comfortably lasted three hours or more before another substantial installment.

I’d tipped the balance from Calorie Negative to Calorie Neutral, and seeing the evidence in black and white, as well as on Grandma’s old scale, was very sweet.

Saturday, June 4, 2011


After the third Program meeting way back in September, I pushed open the school door and held it for a woman who was coming out after me.

“How does it feel to be wearing baggy pants?” she had asked.

I tugged my stretchy Dockers up. I’d worn them that night because I wanted to compare apples with apples when we took our measurements and weighed in, but I was beginning to realize that wouldn’t work any more. At that point, I’d lost ten pounds – much of it from my belly – and the pants were sliding off me. I looked like a bag lady and the situation was, I hoped, only going to get worse.

Luckily I still had some smaller pants and blouses in the closet and hey, maybe I’d be able to once again wear the sweaters that had looked frankly obscene for several years now.

I worked through those clothes. The size twelves, the size tens. I had no dress pants left that would look anything other than silly in a business meeting.

As you all know by now, Fodder had resisted a shopping expedition, preferring to hold up his trousers with suspenders for a while longer, a few more pounds, before investing in a new wardrobe. Like him, I wasn’t inclined to buy a bunch of new clothes only to have to spring for more in a few weeks.

So back in the fall I did what I always do when I need to refurbish my wardrobe: I visited my favourite thrift store. It’s run by a local non-profit group so I’m supporting my community, and other people support them by donating fantastic clothes. Thanks to their generosity, my closet typically houses InStyle sweaters, Liz Claiborne blouses, and DKNY pants, purchased for a fraction of their original cost.
I never know quite what I’m going to come away with.

A couple of years ago, the Saint found some old bamboo cross-country ski poles. He sawed the bottoms off and added a pair of new rubber feet from a sporting-goods store and voila! I had a funky and functional pair of Nordic walking sticks. I tested them on local walks and took them on a four-day backpacking trip and I will never hike without them again.

So it was a no-brainer for me to hit the thrift stores again when I needed some clothes that would take me from appalling to appealing.

What I found: Simon Chang jeans, an Ann Taylor sweater (sleeveless! Me!), a silk Eileen Fisher jacket, a merino wool Banana Republic V-neck…

Mind you, I didn’t find them all at once. But I stopped in for a few minutes every week or two, and I usually found something. And because the store is on one of my usual travel paths (and close to a wine shop as well as a good bike mechanic), it didn’t use up time that I needed for anything else.

And if I downsize out of the new jeans, I will happily donate them right back for someone else who’s trekking along the path with me. 

Thursday, June 2, 2011

No post today

I'm switching from Tuesday-and-Thursday posts to Wednesdays for the rest of June, and continuing with the Saturday posts until July 2.

See you on Saturday!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Singalong Tuesday 15

A while ago, I found myself hauling Grandma’s old scale out from beneath the bathroom sink fairly often – like once a week. And the news gets worse: one day, I took my glasses off and set them on the counter first – and it wasn’t so I could read the numbers.

What, I wondered, is going on?

My unwanted pounds were gone, off doing their part for global warming. My clothes fit. I’m in Calorie Neutral mode.

I have a glass of wine most nights and eat what I want, which is mostly lean protein and lots of vegetables and fruit with the occasional yummy gluten-free muffin or a couple of slices of toast. I even devoured a marvelous big piece of carrot cake last week.

“Are you still losing weight?” the Saint asked.

“Not according to the scale.”

“Well you just bought these pants, didn’t you?” He grabbed a handful of fabric hanging off my butt. “They’re too big already.”

Maybe they stretched, I thought.

Then a friend I see every two weeks or so asked, “Have you lost more weight?”

“Not according to the scale,” I said.

“You’re definitely thinner,” she said, indicating the space where my jowls and extra chin used to be.

Possibly my resistance workouts are responsible. I’ve changed my exercise routine and increased the weights so I’m building more muscle. That does three things.
1.   Muscle is heavier than fat so I can be getting leaner and the poundage can stay the same
2.   More muscle burns more energy
3.   Changing the exercises regularly (every couple of months or so) keeps the body from getting so good at one particular movement that it needs less energy to perform it. Challenging the muscles means they have to use more energy (that is, calories) to perform the new tasks. 

However, I was curious, so I started keeping a food-and-activity journal again, just to see what's up. Do I need to weigh myself or not? Do I have a clear view of my diet or am I seeing it through a very cloudy lens? Should I fret or can I relax?

Saturday, May 28, 2011


A little warily back in February, I weighed myself. I’d lost about 27 pounds by Dec 31 and was comfy in my size eight jeans, so I counted that as success. There was still a layer – softer, I must admit – around my waist and over my belly but at its thickest – just beneath my belly button – it’s only an inch between my fingers. On my flanks and upper arms it’s about half that. Not bad. Not bad at all.

But I was curious about my weight because I was enjoying a glass of wine most evenings, having a couple of pieces of toast or a muffin a couple of times a week, and on a mini-holiday to Point No Point, I had eaten cookies. Quite a lot of cookies.

Let me put that in perspective.

In the past, the Saint and I could work through a dozen cookies in a sitting. To be honest, we could work through two dozen, pretty evenly shared out between us although he eats faster so he might snag a few more than me just on the basis of speed.

On our little vacation, we got through a couple of dozen cookies – but we did it in three or four sessions, not one.

Does that matter? I mean, I still ate the cookies. They’re still empty calories. Does spacing them out over two days make them less likely to go straight into storage? I don’t know the answer to that, but it’s the kind of thing that bugged me as I debated whether to weigh or not.

Eventually I decided it would be better to know than to continue torturing myself with speculation, so I hauled the scale out from beneath the bathroom sink. I set it on the floor and let the needle settle. (Yes, it’s that old. I calibrated it against the guru’s brand-new battery-operated digital model after our last meeting, so I knew it was accurate.)

I stepped up to the plate, planting my feet firmly as if I had nothing to fear. If the poundage was up, I knew it could only be by a kilogram or two because my jeans still fit and my bras were still loose. It wouldn’t be a big deal to skip the wine for a couple of weeks and as long as I bypassed the cookie aisle at the grocery store I wouldn’t be tempted by them, either.

I looked down. The needle’s swing slowed, slowed, stopped.


Hadn’t gained an ounce.

How about that? How great is that? And you know what’s just as cool?

My first thought was not to head for the bakery. In fact, I didn’t celebrate with food at all.

That is cool. 

Thursday, May 26, 2011

food and beauty

GardenWise magazine often has lots of tempting ideas for foodie gardeners. Carolyn Herriot's column this month is on edibles that are also ornamental. Or ornamentals that are edible. Whichever way you want to look at it, who can resist those fluffy purple chive flowers and a billow of bright nasturtiums?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Singalong Tuesday 14

Hello there!

How are you? Feeling the joys of spring or…what?

I have a temporary office job that not only gives me an excuse to ride the trusty Miss Jean Brodie downtown every day, but also changes up what, when and how I consume.

I'm drinking more water because I keep a mugful on my desk.
I'm drinking less caffeine.
My break times are more scheduled so I'm less likely to slide too many snacks into the day.

These are all good things.

And as a bonus, I don't feel too guilty when I let myself have one of those Florentines every so often!

Any spring changes in your life?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Fodder's water test

“It’s the simplest part of the whole program,” Fodder said, “and I have more trouble with the water than anything else.”

Three months after we finished the official part of the program, we were both more or less living the plan. The behaviour modification had, in fact, modified our behaviour.
Except for the water….

It’s not like it was hard to come by. We didn’t have to order a stock and keep it on hand. All we had to do was hoist a glass eight times a day. Eight. In a sixteen-hour day.

Why was that difficult?

One of my friends fills a two-litre jug in the morning and sips from it all day. I have a three-cup bottle that can stand on my desk, in my backpack or in the cage on my bike. Ah, but does it? Too often, it sits on the kitchen counter all alone.


Because I forget. It’s only water, after all.

In a long-distance walking clinic I took a couple of years ago, one of the guest speakers said it’s not enough to start drinking water the day of a big walk or  other event. The time to start is three days ahead, so your body is fully hydrated at the beginning and then all you have to do is keep up the flow.

I absorbed that advice.

For several days before I did long training rides, I tanked up and at age 48 I rode my first century – that’s 100 miles in a day.

I’m not going to give water all the credit – I put in the time in the saddle, I cranked the pedals. But the combination of practice, calories and water meant that not only did I cycle 160 kilometres in, I think, about eight hours…I felt fine afterward and even rode across town (and back) the next day.

I also tank up before a long flight. It helps me avoid some of the hangover-y jet lag effects, and it drives me out of my seat and up the aisle to the bathroom on the plane, which keeps my blood moving and avoids the whole issue of deep vein thrombosis.

So why will I drink a couple of litres a day sometimes and not others?

I suspect it’s nothing more than habit. I simply have not established a routine of filling the bottle, carting it with me and refilling it.

Obviously I need more discipline.


For me, something like this has to be mindless. Best if it’s a reflex, but for some reason we humans have become removed from our bodily signals – we eat when we’re not hungry but we don’t always recognize thirst as a need for water. Some people sip soda or a beer. I go for tea.

But meanwhile my tongue is trying to tell me something.

If only it could talk….

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Stages of Change

On a bike trip around BC years ago, I stopped for a latte in a little café/gift store and saw one of those small tiles with a motivational saying that has stuck with me ever since.

“Nobody can pedal the bike for you,” it said, and it was as true on Highway 20 as it has been on my journey to a healthy weight.

However, by understanding what we and our loved ones are facing, we can help ourselves and them.

Psychologists James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente identified several stages that people go through as they try to make a change in their behaviour. According to a tutorial created by the Canadian organization Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, this is how it goes:
1.   Pre-contemplation: not even thinking about making a change
2.   Contemplation: thinking about changing, but not ready to act
3.   Preparation: planning what to do
4.   Action: doing it
5.   Maintenance: keeping it up

Relapse, going back to a previous stage, can happen at any point as well, and is simply part of the change process.

We can do the work for ourselves, but we can’t do it for a friend who’s trying to quit smoking or a sister who wants to lose 50 pounds.

However, we can help and here are a few suggestions from CAMH:

While your friend’s in the Contemplation stage:
• help her review the pros and cons of continuing with the behaviour, and of changing it.
• encourage her to talk about making the change
• show your confidence in her

• ask for permission to suggest options
• encourage small, initial steps
• help to identify and remove barriers

• offer practical advice
• follow up regularly
• talk about her strengths and successes

• help identify what worked
• remind her of the positive changes she’s made
• help plan for situations that might lead to relapse

I didn’t buy that inspirational tile because, hey, I was pedaling a bike. I didn’t want to haul even a few extra ounces in my saddlebags (and there’s a metaphor for you).

The words and the meaning have stayed with me, though, and helped me take responsibility for my own changes.

However, even though I have to pedal my own bike, I appreciate it when my friends and family pump up my tires, hand me my helmet, and send up their wishes for a following wind.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Singalong Tuesday 13

It's a happy Tuesday here on the West Coast – still raining pretty often, but it's warmer!

I have a new temporary job downtown so I've been riding back and forth. Luckily, I have a bunch of low-wrinkle clothes I can roll up in my bag and I wear my bike shorts for the trip if the weather looks iffy.

I've also been prepping a couple of days' worth of snacks and lunches at a time and toting them along and that's gone well.

However…there's a coffee shop across the street and when I went for my lunchtime stroll the other day I had to try the florentine. At $3.50, I figure it cost me a cent a calorie, but it was worth it!

How are y'all doing?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Runner's high. Huh?

Have I mentioned that I’m a little addictive? A junkie waiting to happen, that’s me.

These days my addictions tend to the healthy end of the spectrum. I mean, I smoked for decades before I managed to kick the habit. I carb-loaded for even more decades before I finally put that pink elephant in the ground. Now, and I hesitate to even think this, let alone say it publicly – I’m getting off on exercise. I have routines: I ride my bike to the pub, I walk to the library, and I go to the gym regularly. Not as in “three times a year, like clockwork,” but actually several times a week.

I need to do resistance work (and so do many of you, if you but knew it) to strengthen my bones. Walking is good, but I’m not convinced it’s enough. Also, it doesn’t do anything for my arms and as I know too well, wrists are a prime spot for fractures due to osteoporosis.

But back to my junkie tendencies. The idea of taking a few days or a couple of weeks away from the gym, or at least serious exercise, makes me pause.

Would I not take a holiday because it would mean a break from the dumbbells and weight machines at the gym?

I’m not that crazy. But I do think about missing the workouts.

It’s not enough that my vacations rarely entail just sitting. When I’m lucky enough to get an autumn break in Hawaii, the Saint and I regularly schlep along the Koloa Heritage Trail near Po’ipu or walk to pick up groceries in Hale’iwa. A trip to France incorporates daily hours-long strolls along the Left Bank of the Seine or through the Tuileries Gardens and up the Champs Elysées, not to mention pounding the marble pavements in the Musée D’Orsay or the gravel paths at the Musée Rodin.

But the obsessive gremlin in my head tells me it’s not enough. Or it might not be enough.

I can blow off the gremlin for a while. Shove it into a closet in the back room somewhere. I can hear it, and its constant scratching at the door is kind of irritating, but I can mostly ignore it. I override the noise by telling myself that I’m exercising, that the point of the hard, sweaty gym stuff is so I can do the real-world stuff like walks on the beach and hikes in the woods.

But the gremlin knows better. Once it’s scraped a hole in the door, it whispers, “You like the endorphins.”

And it’s right. Not that I get that famed runner’s high; I spend less time in the zone and a lot more hitting the wall. 

But there must be something in what the beast says.

Whether my brain is releasing endorphins, those natural chemicals that bind to opiate receptors to create a nice buzz, or whether I get off on the pleasure of becoming stronger and fitter…well, I can’t say for sure. Maybe both. Doesn’t really matter anyway, because the end result is that I exercise more, I feel better, and I can do more. I have a bigger, better life.

And with one sweaty session on the arc machine, I can burn off a Mars bar.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Addiction tutorial – no, it's not a how-to

The Canadian organization Centre for Addiction and Mental Health has some pretty good tutorials. I checked out the Introduction to Addiction and, while it didn’t specifically include food, it did have some helpful tips.

For example:

“Addiction is a habit that is often hard to stop and that increasingly interferes with a person’s life…”

For some of us, eating too much or consuming unhealthy things (I’m not going to call my licorice allsorts “food” because that gives them too much credit) fits in there.

“People often think that psychological dependence is not as serious as physical dependence. This is not necessarily true. Cocaine, for example, does not cause physical dependence, but it is considered one of the easiest drugs to get hooked on and one of the hardest to give up.”

I don’t know about you, but I’d put potato chips and bridge mix right up there, as well. I’m not being facetious, either.

The tutorial also offers suggestions for helping someone who is recovering from an addiction – that is, a person who is changing her or his life.
• express confidence in her or him
• help with practical problems
• listen and don’t judge
• help plan for situations in which the person might relapse
• celebrate small successes

In my humble opinion, I believe we can do these things for ourselves, too. We can certainly try!

Some of my friends find affirmations and visualization really helpful in showing themselves they can achieve their goals.
All my efforts to turn down the volume on the mean little gremlin in my head are paying off. It’s not nearly as noisy as it used to be.
I’ve made my plans for when I binge out: I enjoy it, and then I get on with my life. Easier said than done sometimes, but better for my body and spirit than wallowing.  
I mercilessly squash the gremlin that hisses “Nice girls don’t brag” so I can celebrate my successes by telling my friends about them, and by feeling good about their heartfelt congratulations.

And Fodder, the Saint and I toast each other with glasses of cheap red, too.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Singalong Tuesday 12

It feels like we're out of the Winter Woods, doesn't it?

My produce stand now has veggies grown north of the 49th parallel and my bike ride to go get them is drier than it was a month ago. Farmers' markets are sprouting in town, too, so my friends who want to do their shopping closer to home can zip over on a Saturday and revel in the fresh breads, herbs and even rhubarb!

I'm in a bit of a quandary about rhubarb. I love it. My mom's (actually, Betty Crocker's) rhubarb custard pie recipe is wonderful – but even though I skip the pastry part, there's all that sugar.

Do I go for it or not?

Oh, of course I do. Rhubarb has a short season, and it gives me immense pleasure, and it's not like I'll be eating it every day. It's a treat.

And that's the whole point of Calorie Neutral, if I remember correctly.

Eat, exercise and enjoy!

Thanks for the reminder :)

Saturday, May 7, 2011

On addiction

There are those of us, and we know who we are, who are easily addicted. For some, the addiction is texting on our cell phones or obsessively checking email. It might be cocaine or heroin.

I’ll cop to the email fixation and salty snacks.

I quit smoking 21 years ago but I know I can never have another puff. Not that I want to, but my point is that if I lit up just once, I’d be right back at the corner store every day.

The drug that I struggled with most recently is the gluten monster. It’s permeated my favourite society: cookies, sourdough bread, pumpkin pie…. Gluten isn’t evil in itself – it does wonderful things for waffles – but many people have a hellish reaction that translates a turnover into a gut-wrenching experience.

That’s never been my problem, thank goodness. No, my relationship with gluten is less painful but more insidious.

Medical studies over the last few years have found that for a certain segment of the gluten-intolerant population, it’s our brains rather than our bowels that react.

Within a couple of days of biting a bun I feel lethargic, can’t find the right words, have trouble making decisions because the gluten has made its way into my head, where the protein molecules lock on to opiate receptors.

That’s right, I get stoned on bread.

So couple that with the short-term endorphin rush that most of us get when easy-access carbs like bread, pasta, rice and potatoes trigger a release of insulin which kick-starts a short-term rise in feel-good endorphins  in the brain…. Well, you can see how easy it is for me to get hooked on whole wheat.

Fodder is also an addictive type. He butted out his last cigarette almost twenty years ago, but he held onto the peanut butter habit. Until recently.

When he went cold turkey on Kraft Crunchy at the beginning of our weight-loss program, he turned a corner but kept his eye on the goal: ditch the weight without dumping favourites – and peanut butter was definitely a favourite.

He’s a determined guy, though, and left the lid firmly screwed on the jar which stayed in the fridge next to the unlamented jam.

When Vicki announced, at the beginning of Week Six, that we could add nut butters back into the regime, Fodder’s eyes once again glowed. Or was that glistened?

So four months after we started the program, when our new lifestyle was basically entrenched, I was surprised when he said, “I’m not eating peanut butter any more.”

My head whipped around.

“I haven’t had it in the house for months.”

“But–“ I felt like the Earth was tilting the wrong way on its axis. “Who are you and what have you done with my Fodder?” I demanded.

He simply shrugged. 

“If it’s around, I’ll eat it,” he explained.

Vicki had warned us of this when she’d announced we could have a slice of sprouted bread three times a week.

If you can’t stick to that limit, she warned, don’t even have it in the house.

Unlike my relationship with cookies, I don’t think Fodder gets high on peanut butter, but I know that without its tempting presence he has managed to keep tightening his belt.

He had to make a choice: feed the yammering addict-voice in his head, or starve it until it had no choice but to retreat into a deep cave and shut up.

Fodder misses the nuts but they’re not worth the trade-off: now that he’s packing fewer pounds and putting less strain on his heart, he can run up the stairs to the rowing machine at the gym. 

And that gives him more of a thrill than he ever got from peanut butter.

Thursday, May 5, 2011


One of my friends recently said that, after she began reading Calorie Neutral, she decided to add some fruit to her days.

What a great decision! I thought.

She told me that within a week of cooking up some compote, someone asked her what she was doing because she looked different.

How cool is that? I thought.

And then my friend had a houseguest for a few days. And then she went away for a weekend. And there's the full-time job and volunteer work and, alas, laundry and dusting….

How do we make time to make compote? Or peel carrots for snacks, or any of the other tasks that take more minutes than slapping some cheese between a couple of slices of bread, or pulling a muffin from the bag?

I referred once to Sunday Set-up as explained by Kathy Kaehler, a lifestyle celebrity in the US.

I'm revisiting it again, because I still find the principle a huge help.

I don't do a whole week's worth of veg in one go.

Instead, a few times a week, while I'm waiting for my teakettle to boil, I wash and chop a head of broccoli; peel and grate maybe three carrots; rinse, tear and spin a couple of salads' worth of greens.

The next time I put the kettle on, I'll peel and chop a few carrots, wash and slice a pepper or two.

I throw it all in bowls in the fridge and it is SO MUCH EASIER to resist peanut butter toast when all I have to do is grab a handful of broccoli and toss it in a pot to steam while I toss the grated carrots with a handful of walnuts and a drizzle of some basil-infused olive oil.

The food is ready to eat just as fast as toast – and it gives me time to rummage up some protein, too.

The beauty of it is, I'm not taking time away from anything else.

Okay, maybe the dusting…

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Singalong Tuesday 11

I'm curious: How are you doing? Have you found your food-fun balance point or have you teetered too far to one side or the other?

Confession time – I've been enjoying treats. Quite a lot of them. I bought the Saint chocolate-covered almonds for Easter and he returned the favour with bridge mix. And there have been cookies…

I've also been having a great time on my bicycle – riding around my hometown both for meetings and for pleasure, and I went to Washington State to gawk at tulip fields a couple of weeks ago. I've also been walking when the weather's nice – which around here means it's not pouring rain.
I walk to my library, to the gym, the grocery store, and when I have a reason to go, I march downtown and back – about an hour each way.

This morning I was thinking how lucky I am that I can afford the time to do that. And then I realized that I have to afford the time.

If I don't, my bones and muscles will get weaker, as will my heart and lungs. I definitely can't afford that. For me, it's a trade I'm glad to make – more walking, less TV. More riding, less housework.

Having said that, I have stuff to do, like everyone else. So I often have a destination – walk to the bank, ride to the farm market…that sort of thing. I've got a few loops: the library, gym and grocery store are close together so I can cover them in one afternoon; the bank and wine store are on the route to or from the egg stand.

Anybody have other strategies for managing the time/life crunch?

Saturday, April 30, 2011

String theory redux

On the four-month anniversary of my first Program meeting, I opened my dresser drawer and pulled out the extra-large workout shorts I’d bought a couple of years before. They would fit, of course. They’re elastic. Stretchy from non-binding waistband to knee-kissing hem.

Yeah, but will my iPod weigh them down? the innocent angel voice in my head wondered.

In your dreams, sweetheart. The Lucifer voice was scathing.

I was getting ready to truffle to the gym for a resistance workout. My favourite bra, my no-longer-skin-tight technical t-shirt, the shorts, the double-layer socks to protect my blister-prone feet.

I clipped my iPod Nano to the waistband of my shorts and snugged up my trail runners. It was just after four, a good half-hour before sunset even in the depth of a Pacific Northwest winter, and still full daylight outside. That was my first mistake.

No, my second.

The first error was thinking like 165-pound Rachel. Or even 150-pound Rachel. 

I started with my usual slower-than-slow jog to get my knees and lungs acquainted with the concept of motion and before I’d gone a block, my shorts were sliding down my hips like Britt Janyk on hard-packed snow. My breasts were wandering around inside my bra like Indiana Jones in the cave.

I had to drop to a walk while I unhooked the iPod and clutched both it and my waistband in one hand while with the other I stuffed my shirts inside my shorts, trying to halt the fall while avoiding the eyes of the people behind the wheels of passing pickups.

When I released my grip on my clothes and tentatively began to trot again, part of my brain monitored the position of my shorts while my whole frontal lobe dedicated itself to figuring out how I was going to do dumbbell presses on the ball without sliding sideways out of my now-cavernous bra. 

Remember Kim Basinger’s speech when she won the Oscar? “Dreams do come true,” she said.

And I say, “Be careful what you wish for,” because I had yet another decision to make.

Would I suck it up and spring for new shorts? Or just ask Fodder for the loan of his string?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Cupcakes for Earth

I know I’ve said that I’m not interested in counting anything, but I broke my own rule lately. I wasn’t calculating calories (heavens no!) but out of curiosity I totted up how many kilometers I walked or cycled for meetings or errands in the month leading up to Earth Day.

Then I did a little Googlesearch, hauled out my solar-powered calculator and waited for a sunny day.

Counting only trips that had a specific destination, I discovered that me, my muscles, and Miss Jean Brodie (my bike, also in her prime) kept 40 kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions out of the atmosphere. In a month.

If I keep it up all year, that could add up (if I’ve done the math right) to almost half a metric tonne of greenhouse gases that me and my car didn’t send skyward.

I mean, I’m not saving the world but I’m also not making things worse, and that feels good.
And the fact that all that activity – which I enjoy, by the way – keeps a cupcake or three off my tail? 

Well, I call that travel bonus points.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Singalong Tuesday 10

Hello! Happy Spring to all of us!

It feels so good to have more hours of daylight, and more sunshine (which is sadly lacking through most Wet Coast winters), and the flowers – oh, the colours and scents of spring!

I went on a bike ride around some Skagit Valley tulip fields in Washington State the weekend before last – the vivid hues, fresh air, and blizzard of migrating snow geese were a tonic for my spirit.

What have you done that gave you a boost lately?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Of trufflers

A week or two after we got home from France, the Saint and I set out for our local recreation centre where I have a gym membership and he swims laps once in a while. We turned from our little lane onto the street, which is quite a main artery in our part of town, and I confessed that I was still thinking about those Adidas-clad Parisians and their Sunday trot.

“I could totally do that,” I decided.

I was remarkably confident for someone who has always hated running. It burns my lungs, not to mention my quads, and I was always the slowest of the slow, even in my slimmer teenage years when a nice half-mile run was the warm-up of choice for every PE teacher.

In spite of that unhappy running-baggage, I broke out of my walk with the Saint that day, and it felt good. I generated slightly more forward momentum than a stroll without the awkward lumbering jolt that is my usual gait when I try to go faster than a walk. It was only a shuffly version of a trot, really, and so much easier than trying to emulate, say, Denise McHale.

The Saint was still walking and he was keeping up with me just fine. He had, however, started to laugh.

“It’s oddly entertaining,” he said, eyeing me. “And yet embarrassing.”

Shuffle-trotting beside him, I grinned.

I’m still surprised that I was amused rather than daunted. I honestly didn’t care that the SUV drivers zooming past might think I’m a dork.

The Saint couldn’t stop laughing so he resorted to begging. “Please,” he pleaded. “Stop.”

I did and we walked the rest of the way together.

But the next time I started for the gym, I was by myself. Feeling adventurous, I broke out of a walk and into the Parisian shuffle, and kept it up the whole way. All of…well, I assume it took me less than the 20 minutes it takes to walk the distance. I hope.

But the time isn’t really the point. Nor is the fact that I’m quite certain I looked goofy. The fact is, I was doing something I had never been able to do before – I was moving faster than a walk, on my own two feet, and it felt great. No searing lungs, no burning thighs.

I was stoked.

At the gym, I did my usual workout: 20 minutes on the arc trainer, which looks like a 21st-century version of some Hieronymus Bosch poorhouse machine, then lifted and pressed various weights while perched on a ball or poised on one foot, then trotted ever so slowly home again.

When the Saint came in from work, I  poured him a glass of wine and as I handed it over, told him, “I did the French trot to the gym!”

He raised the Cab-Merlot in a toast to my determination and nerve. “Good for you!”

“And,” I clinked my glass against his, “I figured out what it’s called.”

He sipped, waiting.

“It’s not really a trot,” I explained.

He agreed.

“It’s actually quite shuffly.”


“And it is French.”


“It’s truffling.”

And he toasted me again for being brilliant. Probably, if the truth were known, he was also silently praying that I never make him witness it again.