Saturday, January 29, 2011

Of hope and hysteria

My first week on The Program opened my eyes to a new world of power. Mine.
Sure the guru had set up the eating plan, the core-strength exercises, and the cardio requirements. She’d organized the meeting room and the weekly schedule, distributed handouts, explained, reassured. But I’m the one who had persevered, resisted temptation (“It’s only for a week, it’s only for a week…”) and forced down breakfast every day for the first time in almost 50 years. I’m the one who never got hungry and if I got peckish as I prepped the next meal’s vegetables, I slugged back some water to hold me until the carrots were cooked.
We were scheduled to get weighed again during the second meeting and as I waited in line at the front of the middle-school classroom, I had a vague idea that losing two pounds a week would be reasonable. After all, I had been pretty active already, so that put most of the pressure for change on my diet, which admittedly had altered a great honkin’ deal. I mean, I’d eaten fruit. To counter that, I’d also eaten breakfast.
I told myself to trust that the guru knew what she was doing.
“Remember Elpis,” I chided myself silently.
So when I handed over my food journal for one day and stepped on the scale during the second meeting, I sort of expected a drop of a couple of pounds. Thirty-two ounces, almost one kilogram, 7,000 calories. Crikey!
That number – huge! enormous! – drove my expectation into retreat. Suddenly, wary hope was the best I could come up with.
The guru recorded the number on the scale and gently congratulated me. She showed me the data, and I was astounded.
I had lost five freaking pounds. That was one-third of my total goal for the eight weeks.
Maybe, I mused, I’d have to readjust my sights.
Stunned, I made my way back to my seat.
Maybe I could lose the whole thirty pounds in eight weeks! Hey, maybe I’d lose it in six weeks! Wow, that would be…
The pragmatic part of my brain kicked in.
Thirty pounds in six weeks – or even eight – was probably unrealistic and possibly even unhealthy, considering that I wasn’t morbidly obese to start with. I quickly shut down that hysterically optimistic voice.
As I dropped into my seat again, I glanced at Fodder to see whether he’d had good news. Or not.
“How’d you do?” I asked as quietly as possible, given the buzz of conversation bouncing off the linoleum and chalkboards.
His grey eyes were glowing – or was that glistening?
I waited fearfully, hopefully.
“I lost five pounds,” he said, sounding as stunned as I’d felt.
However, we barely had time to beam at each other before the guru began to pass out printed sheets headed “Week Two,” and she hit us with the news.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Divining Vitamin A

Heavenly carrot salad

2 decent-sized carrots, peeled and grated
1.5 tsp Provencal herb-infused olive oil (Fodder uses basil-infused oil and says it's wonderful, too)
about six chopped pecans or walnuts
about ¼ cup grated bleu cheese (Fodder swears by crumbled feta)

In a bowl, drizzle the oil over the grated carrot and toss to mix (this much can be done a day ahead). Add the nuts and bleu cheese and toss again. Serves two.

I have tried this with cooked grated beets instead of carrots and didn't like it as much – the beets are very sweet and I think they overwhelm the other flavours. However, I did take it to a potluck lunch and it disappeared, so if you love beets it might be worth trying.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Fodders and Dotters

Walking is one of Fodder’s and my favourite activities, which makes it ideal for this program we signed on with because in order to persevere with at least 30 minutes of cardio at least six days a week, you either have to enjoy the exercise – or have a much steelier discipline than I do.
During the first seven days of the program, when my diet changed from Lots o’ Starch ‘n Tea to Adequate Protein with Heaps of Fruit and Veg we were also suddenly drinking eight glasses of water a day. As well, more ounces were hidden in our daily five, seven or ten servings of fresh apples, carrots and celery.
On the plus side, all that water kept me feeling satisfied even on a mere three meals a day. The downside was that I now had to plan my walking routes to ensure that no matter where I was, I could reach a public toilet within minutes.
To help me cope with all the changes, I established a mantra.
“It’s only for a week,” I chanted to myself as I checked the clock, only to see I had to wait another hour for my next meal.
“It’s only for a week,” Fodder and I assured each other – just before we dashed off to our separate loos.
If we were out together, somewhere with a single washroom, well, there was instant conflict between between chivalry (“Ladies first”), filial respect (“No, no, you go ahead, Fodder”), and desperation. It wasn’t pretty.
All together now: “It’s only for a week.”

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Finally – food!

I’m a big fan of fruit in the abstract – it looks beautiful, it’s nutritious, it comes in an almost infinite variety – but in the particular, not so much.
There was an unfortunate episode with a squished banana when I was five or six that made even the smell anathema, and not long after that I heard someone describe the white lace that covers an orange’s flesh as a membrane, which my young mind misheard as brain and, well, there was no way I wanted to eat that….
Unfortunately, these things wormed (and there’s another term you don’t want to associate with fruit) deeply into my subconscious and I’ve never recovered. However, I signed on to do this program so by gum I’m going to do it.
No matter how determined I am, though, I simply cannot eat vegetables for breakfast every morning. I had to resort to fruit and now I am, in my own limited way, a fan.

Rachel’s faux compote

I call this a compote just to have a name for it besides stewed fruit, which doesn’t sound very appealing. Real compote is fruit cooked in syrup (that is, sugar) and as you might expect, sugar, syrup, and all other sweetnesses of that ilk are forbidden in this program. Besides, I’ve discovered they’re not necessary. Really.

1 pear, peeled, cored and chopped
1 apple, peeled, cored and chopped
1 cup of blueberries (frozen or fresh)

While I’m preparing the apple or pear (whichever is the crunchiest and will need the longest cooking time), I put an enameled cast-iron saucepan on the stove and turn the heat on low to warm it up. When the first piece of fruit is prepped I toss it into the pot, stir, and then prepare the other fruit. I toss that in, stir.
I turn the heat up a bit at that point but not too much, because the Saint gets annoyed if the fruit sticks to the bottom of the pot (it’s harder for him to clean). A slow, gentle cook is all it takes to soften the fruit and blend the juices a bit.

The fruit can vary – use whatever you enjoy that does not need added sugar. The pot also can be whatever you’ve got. I have a gas stove so I like the heaviness of cast iron, but if you use a lighter or thinner-bottomed saucepan, simply stir more often to keep the fruit from sticking.

A tiny bit of allspice is nice when I use a lot of blueberries. If the compote is more apple-y, cinnamon is delightful.

I eat about half of this compote with plain yogurt, cottage cheese, or alongside eggs. It would also be great served with some chunks of Brie or sharp cheddar. Perhaps pork sausages, if you like them. Or anything really. It’s delicious.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Week One

The day of my father’s seventy-fifth birthday, we settled on hard chairs in a middle-school classroom while the lively, lean program leader described the numbers game for every day of Week One: three meals; no snacks, potatoes, rice or grains. Nothing processed, no alcohol. No lattes.
This was drastic.
“You’re going to love plain yogurt,” she promised.
At that point, I couldn’t even look at my dad (aka Fodder).
Elpis’s description had prepared me, more or less, but could I really do it? No rice or potatoes?
I went gluten-free eight or nine years ago and without bread to fill in the gaps, I’d been hungry all the time. Obviously the same thing was going to happen again and I was not interested in being uncomfortable, listening to my stomach rumble, feeling starved and constantly thinking about food.
I wanted to lose weight without giving up anything: that was my aim.
Countering that goal was the cheque that had already cleared my bank account. I’m a long way from broke but I’m also not a spendthrift, which I like to think is the reason I’m a long way from broke, so blowing off those two hundred and fifty dollars was not an option.
As we left the meeting and returned to the car, I adjusted my tummy where my pants were digging in and finally ventured a glance at my dad.
“It’s only for a week,” I said. “I can do this for a week.”
He looked thoughtful, but “Right,” was all he said.
Starting the next morning, I stiffened my upper lip and learned to eat fruit. I cleaned celery, chopped broccoli and steamed kale. I peeled carrots, roasted beets and sliced peppers. And I drank water. Lordy did I drink water. Getting four cups in before lunch was a challenge but what made it easier was that if I started to feel like I wanted to eat something, I heard our fearless leader saying, “If you get hungry between meals, drink water.”
I was skeptical. Water, after all, is not very substantial and the stomach absorbs it fairly quickly. To my surprise, though, sipping a bit more H2O really did help control my urge to chow down more often, although it led directly to a bigger difficulty, another challenge to add to my daily list.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Tough Questions

About a dozen years ago, halfway through a family camping trip, we suddenly realized we had all had enough wieners and beans so we drove to the little bakery in town to stock up on homemade, to-die-for doughnuts.
My husband (who is known as the Saint, for reasons I will explain in another post) and I were pretty good at ignoring the usual post-bean noises from his 10-year-old and his buddy in the back seat, but then the boys floated a horrifying question.
“Why,” they wanted to know, “are calories bad?”
The Saint and I gaped at each other. What had the world come to, when two perfectly healthy – and, heaven knows, active – kids believed calories were evil?
We picked our jaws up off the floorboards, and then the Saint’s halo tarnished a little: he waved at me to make the first attempt.
“Calories aren’t bad,” I began firmly. “They’re just a measure of how much energy there is in food.”
Like British Thermal Units measure how much potential heat is contained in a cord of wood. Or miles per gallon indicates how far a car can travel on a jug of gasoline.
So we need calories – or more specifically, we need food that can give us energy as well as nutrients.
From an energetic point of view, doughnuts are good. Right?
Reality check: a pound of body fat contains 3500 calories, so the bulges on my belly and upper arms harbour 105,000 extraneous calories, energy I obviously didn’t need for pitching tents, writing stories, or scrambling for explanations.
A glazed yeast doughnut holds about 240 calories. That means I only had to consume 434 doughnuts to earn my extra poundage. It was way too easy.
So the trick, I guess, is to do what the experts say: “Get your calories from nutrient-rich foods so that every calorie counts toward health, well-being and answering questions from smart kids.”
Am I going to miss doughnuts? I think we can all guess the answer to that one.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Elpis springs eternal

As I was searching ever more desperately for a way to lose a few (okay, thirty) pounds, I asked my friend Elpis – so called because she’s my goddess of hope.

Elpis has attempted a bunch of different weight-loss tactics over the last decade and while some of them worked for a while, eventually she’d stop running or start to eat normally and the weight snuck right back on.

But some friends of Elpis had lost dozens of pounds by signing up with a local lean-lifestyle guru. Elpis herself had lost fifteen pounds even though, she admitted, she cheated a little. She also spent a fair amount of time fantasizing a detailed menu for her celebration meal. Lean protein would be embellished with gravy, and an assortment of colourful vegetables would cozy up beneath a velvety sauce – Hollandaise, perhaps – and there would be potatoes with cheese and sour cream and, dear God, bacon bits. After that, there would be cake made with actual flour and sugar.

Apparently this is not standard weight-loss fare.

Cookies? Nope.

Beer? Uh-uh.

Cadbury Dairy Milk bars? Not if I wanted to see past my bellybutton any time soon.

At the gym, I tugged my workout shirt (must have shrunk in the wash) away from the top of my shorts (definitely shrank in the wash) as I weighed myself. The scale balanced at a number I’d be thrilled to have as an IQ but was shocked to associate with anything below my neck. Still, Elpis springs eternal so I looked up my Body Mass Index on the chart, hoping to see that I was still in the healthy section.

I was not.

In fact I was Officially Overweight and if I didn’t do something about it, I was on my way to Obese.

I reminded myself that Elpis had lost fifteen pounds.

Even as I wedged myself into my size twelve jeans, left my shirt untucked and layered on a vest to hide the scrolls hanging over the waistband, and planned a trip to the mall for a pair of fourteens, I knew that shopping was not the kind of action I needed.

So I took a different step. I picked up the phone.

“Wanna join a weight-loss program with me?” I asked. “It’s eight weeks long. Elpis says you have to exercise every day and eat normal healthy food–“ I crossed my fingers because I was pretty sure the guru wasn’t on board for a daily menu of peanut butter at breakfast and lunch, with beef for dinner “–and she lost fifteen pounds.”

“I’m in. When does it start?”

“That’s the down side,” I told my dad. “The first meeting is on your birthday.”

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Calorie Neutral: 'Fessing Up

Let me get the confession out of the way.

Well, the first one at least. I suspect there will be a whole lot more during the next six months here at Calorie Neutral, but I have to start somewhere.

The truth is that before I could even get to Calorie Neutral, I had some work to do.

I had to take two steps back before I could step forward; I had to backpedal to a weight that I could, literally, live with.
I had to go Calorie Negative.

As the old bumper sticker says, it was the worst fifteen minutes of my life.

Clearly, I’m not one of those people who tries one diet plan after another. As soon as I think about not eating salt ‘n’ vinegar chips, they’re all I want. I’ll focus on resisting until I consume the whole bag.

Also, to be honest, I didn’t have that much to lose – or gain – for a long time. However as my hormones established a new pecking order during my forties, my abdomen bellied out while my upper arms blew up like ballpark franks and then, sadly, began to sag.

I began to walk more often and further, to climb the Eiffel Tower instead of just the Leaning Tower of Pisa on the gym’s stair machine, to attempt hammer curls with twelve-pound dumbbells instead of only ten, and if I did all that as well as skipping my post-workout stop at the grocery store for chocolate-covered almonds, I could slow the spread.

Still, I dreaded the change of seasons when delved into the back of the closet for last summer’s sleeveless tops that now exposed arms like lumpy homemade sausages, and last fall’s blouse that gapped over my burgeoning breasts, and the fantastic merino wool sweater I’d scored at the thrift store in the winter but which now made me look like the sheep from which it had come. The old expression “cheek by jowl” took on new meaning as my jawline disappeared and I developed a wattle.

To my horror, I was becoming Mrs. Doubtfire.

The final blow, though, came when I emerged from the shower and glimpsed myself in the mirror. I peered at my reflection and it seemed that my pubic hair was receding in the wake of my disappearing hormones, but when I looked down to double check, I couldn’t see past my belly.

That was the final straw: I was determined to see my body hair once more before it disappeared entirely. All I had to do was figure out how to get rid of the excess tummy without resorting to a (shudder) diet.

Fleetingly I wondered: Would my credit card limit cover liposuction?