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January 2011

My lean preteen: A work in progress

Mom and kid

My son is 12, and so far he's winning the battle of the bulge.

But then again, the kid's been brainwashed since birth on healthy food and exercise. When he was a toddler, he would eat the smelliest, greenest baby food -- stuff that would make me gag from the smell. That was the chicken and broccoli baby food. Chicken and broccoli makes a fine meal but somehow when you puree it, eh, not so much.

He grew up loving tofu, broccoli, yogurt, cucumbers and exotic stuff like pickled ginger and calamari.

As I wheeled him through the grocery store, I pointed out the different fruits and veggies, told him the kids' yogurt had "paint" in it and made plain Cheerios sound like the coolest cereal in the store.

He's totally not a picky eater, save for the bitter broccoli rabe encounter where he pronounced that there was "something awful" in his pasta dish.

All that brainwashing? He completely bought into it.

He still eats healthfully, and if he wants ice cream or chips, he'll measure out a serving on the food scale.

Compared with some of his schoolmates, he's taller and leaner than a lot of them. But compared with the guys on his baseball team he's right in line, which seems to show that kids who have some sort of sports in their life have fewer weight issues.

There's no "bad food" or "good food" in our house (for the most part). There are only bad and good choices.

In "decriminalizing" food, I'm trying to not send him down the road that I've been traveling lo these many decades.


How to volumize your diet food

Volume knob Turn up the volume!

Ever feel like your frozen entree is a bit skimpy? Before you hit the fridge or the office vending machine, try these additions to your meal:

Veg it up: Every frozen meal could use more greenery. Add some frozen or fresh green beans, broccoli or spinach to your meal. The added fiber and water in the vegetables will help fill you up and make better use of that entree's sauce.

Frozen chopped spinach: Frozen chopped spinach gets its own category because it's so awesomely versatile. It can be added to just about everything, including pasta sauce, frozen entrees of all ethnicities, egg white omelets and soups. And if you want to make a quick "creamed spinach" side dish, just melt a Laughing Cow Light wedge into a serving of spinach with a dash of pepper and nutmeg.

Volumized chicken noodles Soup it up with broth: Many entrees can be turned into soup, especially chicken-noodley ones. Dump the cooked entree into a microwave-safe mug or bowl, add a cup of low-sodium broth and zap until hot. Pasta entrees with red sauce can be turned into soup with either broth or low-sodium tomato juice. (The soup, at right, was a chicken noodle entree bulked up with broth and frozen green beans.)

Add no-cal noodles: Ever hear of glucomannan? It's the starch found in those zero-calorie noodles, which can now be found in most grocery stores. They're definitely not pasta, but they can go a long way to bulk up an entree. I find that they work best in Asian dishes since their firmer texture blends well with Asian sauces. Many of the varieties I've tried have had a weird smell, but I found a new brand that's actually made in the United States and tastes "cleaner" than others. It's called NoOodle and it's launching right now around the U.S.  

Wrap it up: Grab a 60-calorie tortilla and turn your diet dish into a burrito.  Mexican entrees obviously are a good choice but try a stir-fry for an Asian wrap. My 60-calorie go-to tortilla is Tumaro's Multi-Grain Low in Carbs Gourmet Tortilla. They have 6 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber. And they're big enough to make a decent-sized wrap.

Produce of the Month: Broccoli (with comedy bonus!)

Had to share this clip from last night's episode of The Office. Kevin's New Year's resolution is to eat more vegetables. Michael, who wanted everyone to really make good on their promises, "helped" Kevin:

Too extreme?

fresh broccoli I happen to love broccoli -- not so much raw, though. When my mom put out a vegetable tray over the weekend, there were florets of raw broccoli and cauliflower in it. I tried to gnaw on the raw broccoli but wasn't loving it. So I microwaved it.

Make vegetables work for you -- cook 'em if you don't like them raw. Or try them raw instead of cooked -- sugar snap peas and snowpeas are great that way.

And if you can't find fresh, go for frozen. Many times the nutritional value is higher than the fresh stuff that's been languishing in the produce department for days. Frozen chopped broccoli can be added to omelets, pasta sauce and even meatloaf.

But, yeah, those broccoli stems can be a hard sell. Most people enjoy the "fluffy parts." I wouldn't suggest munching them like Kevin did, but if you peel them, discard the woody part and slice them very thinly, they make a great addition to stir-fries.

My zen moment in healthy living

LittlecornerWhat a difference a table makes.

Call this my koan, my zen anecdote. I was tired of not having a nightstand. For some time, I'd actually had a cardboard box next to my bed. Even propped my alarm clock on that. Why? Maybe it was my lack of steady income. Maybe I just needed a swift kick on the pants to start ridding my life of these hot spots of chaos. It was depressing to look at, and the ugliness weighed on me. Whatever the reason -- and yes, a Christmas gift card to Target helped -- I finally got a cute, efficient wood table to go by my bedside.

I sat on the edge of the bed, admiring my little corner of sleek-lined table set against the mid-century Dade pine floors, the bordello pink wall, leafy green plant, and my dreamy white down comforter. It was truly meditative to sit there and enjoy this one little change for the better.

My change in mood was instantaneous. I felt so much more can-do, so much more willing to fight the incremental battles of healthy living -- the 40 minutes on the treadmill, the oatmeal breakfast over the Capt. Crunch. We tend to think of losing weight or keeping fit or eating healthier as one huge looming batteground. But it's not. It's a thousand little battles happening all day long. It's just about getting as many as of the little things right as we can, winning those incremental little struggles. 

My table was one little change in one corner of an old falling-down cottage that needs so much work in all its corners. That one little change was enough for today. It lifted my spirits, focused my mind. Maybe I can make another little change tomorrow. I expect to arise with my shoulders a little less slumped, and my feet more surely on the path they need to be. And, next to me, a cute little table that will be a motivating sight for sleepy eyes. 


Fighting to be hungry

Finally watched the documentary Surfwise, which DirecTV was showing on its 101 channel. The movie, from a couple years ago, is about a doctor who decided to chuck it all, buy a camper and raise his family of nine kids in it while driving all over North and South America to catch waves.

Ol' Doc Paskowitz was pretty odd but some of his quotes were spot-on:

"The primitive man had to fight every day not to be hungry, and the modern man has to fight every day to be hungry."

Is that brilliant or what? Granted, the guy had his flaws in the parenting department, but his mantra was "Eat clean, live clean, surf clean," which was decades ahead of the clean eating movement.

Fighting to be hungry.

Let that sink in as you follow diets that tell you to eat every two to three hours.

"What does feeling hungry feel like?" I asked my husband. He laughed -- not at me, but at the absurdity of the question.

"I guess when I'm really hungry, I get pains in my stomach," he replied.

Earlier, my son asked me for lunch. It was 3 p.m. and he was so engrossed in playing video games that he didn't realize he hadn't eaten lunch. But when he stopped, he realized he was hungry. (Don't worry, I'm not starving my kid -- he had a late breakfast.)

I'm never hungry. Sure, I think I am as I bolt out of my office chair and walk to the kitchen to visit the fridge. But am I actually exhibiting symptoms of real hunger? Most of the time, no. I made this little graphic the other day to document how I felt as I stood in the kitchen, forcing myself not to "eat for sport":

That's what was going on in my mind as I stood in the middle of the kitchen, twisting myself away from the refrigerator door. That's exactly what it felt like: big, pointy, all-cap, red words. It was 11 a.m., just a couple hours after breakfast and only an hour until lunch.

In working to undo decades (and decades and decades) of bad habits, I need to remind myself that permanent change isn't going to happen overnight or in a week.

But this week, I am going to fight every day to be hungry (or at least eat when I truly am hungry). My sensor is beyond shot, and I need to repair it.

I didn't lose any weight this week, even with a great new plan. I didn't gain weight, but this morning I gained something even better.

Here's the trailer for the film: