Interesting article, food for thought

If you didn’t have enough good reasons already, this article makes yet another compelling case for avoiding processed foods. Definitely worth a read:

The Hidden Truths about Calories, Guest Blog on Scientific American


Q&A Time

I got a series of questions from reader Shayna, who’s writing a research report on obesity for a class she’s taking. I thought maybe some of you might be interested, so I’m posting her questions and my answers (with her permission) here. I told her I’d be keeping my answers brief, as I could write a novel on each of these topics, but these answers summarize the gist of my feelings on the topics.

1. Did you have any health problems caused by obesity? What were they?

Not particularly, however I did have achy joints (particularly my knees and hips) from carrying so much weight.

2. Did being obese affect how people treated you? Any examples?

Absolutely. Well…I perceived that I was treated poorly because of my size, I thought that people treated me as if I was less intelligent, and I DEFINITELY was treated poorly by men and males due to not living up to the “feminine ideal” of beauty. Of course, all of that is filtered through my own perception, as I perceived everything through an assumption that nobody liked me and everybody hated me or judged me because I was fat. So some of that may have been my own bias…

3. How did you become obese? Was it through the way you ate, the foods you ate, your lifestyle, etc.? All of the above? 

There was never a time in my life when I wasn’t overweight – I was born “chubby” at almost 10 pounds and was always teased about my size. It was because of the foods I ate – I ate to soothe myself, I ate because it was one of the very few pleasures I had available to me (I had a rough childhood), and I ate very badly because nobody taught me about nutrition.

4. Was there anything you wanted to do when you were obese, but couldn’t because of your size?

Yes. Ride on an airplane without embarrassment and discomfort. Fit in a movie theater seat. Shop at a regular clothing store. Date normal men, not losers who dated me because they couldn’t do any better. Walk down the street without drawing mockery and derision.

5. How did you lose the weight? What changes did you make?

Diet and exercise. I had to completely change my life, my relationship to food, and start making exercise a regular part of my routine. If you looked at my life before I changed it and after, you would find a completely different set of habits, built around knowing what I am eating and making time for exercise.

6. Why do you believe so many people are obese now?

Lack of education in nutrition, extremely toxic food environment (food industry pushes and pushes – food is ubiquitous, you can’t go anywhere without junk food being shoved in your face for purchase or free – everything is cheap and high in corn syrup but no nutritional value).

7. In your opinion, how can America cure, or at least slow, the obesity epidemic?

If I were in charge… I wouldn’t be in charge for long! Fast food should be outlawed. Convenience foods are killing this country. People need to go back to making their own food, from real ingredients, not a box. The food industry needs to be barred from advertising AT ALL (not just to children – to anyone!). We need to have a massive re-alignment of our relationship to food in this country. People need to understand that they’re NOT too busy to make food at home, and if it’s important to them (as the things you put in your body should be!) then they can make time. All of this needs to come with a lot of education on a large scale, to teach people how to put together healthy meals quickly and cheaply, but it can be done. Our ancestors, our grandparents – they all knew how to do this but we’ve all forgotten. We need to relearn.

Waiting for Better Days

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking this weekend. I weighed in on Saturday, after a perfect week of following my program – netting about 900 calories a day, and found I’d gained 2 pounds.

This is not normal. This is almost mathematically impossible. I’ve controlled for all variables and this should not be happening.

First of all, let me tell you what it’s NOT. It’s not that I’m “not eating enough calories so your body is hanging onto weight!” as some very helpful persons who overheard me at a party last night talking with some friends who understand my story advised me. (I absolutely love getting pop-diet bullshit packaged as helpful advice from the morbidly obese.) It was about all I could do to NOT whip out some reality and smash these people into the floor verbally, but I like the hosts so I abstained as best I could to not create a scene. I was giving both of these people the benefit of the doubt in that perhaps they are simply stupid and didn’t understand what the word “netting” means, in that it means that the amount I totaled after the amount I burned through exercise was taken out – meaning I actually consumed about 1200 calories a day and burned about ~300 through exercise, but whatever, I digress.  Or, that they honestly believe that the less you eat the fatter you get and that’s why, for example, people who get gastric bypass gain so much weight right after the surgery, and why the survivors of concentration camps are so darned FAT.


I was talking with a mental health professional on Friday afternoon about some anxiety problems I’ve been having due to my very stressful job, and he mentioned that stress has been shown to have very strong effects on weight, particularly in women, and he’s seen cases where women in very stressful work situations have lost 20 pounds, changing nothing in their diet, when removed from the work environment, and it’s due to cortisol, one of the stress hormones. And you know what? I don’t have a better working theory for what’s going on with my body. I picked up about 15 pounds on this job and haven’t been able to shake them no matter what I’ve done – starving myself, high-protein, low-cal, running excessively – nothing works. Cortisol is my new theory. My body is hoarding fat due to stress hormones, because I am constantly feeling a “fight-or-flight” rush of adrenaline on the job, every day here. It sucks.

Anyway, the long-term plan is for me to get out of my job, but my husband needs to graduate from his BA program and get a job himself first, so I just need to hang on for a few more months (hopefully). I can make it…I can make it. So I’m back to normal eating. If the drastic diet isn’t going to do anything for me, because of the high stress environment I’m unable to leave, then I’m not going to kill myself with hunger. I’ll eat sensibly, and wait for better days.

Will power. Last resort of a badly planned day.

Yesterday I was a force of nature.  An immovable object. A…nah, just kidding. I totally screwed up in my planning and prep and I had to fall back on will power to save my day.

I spent the afternoon from 2-5 over at the Sheraton in a conference room meeting. I’ve mentioned these meetings before? They are fully catered. Like, I’m not sure if the point is the meet and share ideas or to fatten us all up for the slaughter. Usually it’s easy to ignore when I’m on a focused diet program like now because – cookies and brownies? Yeah, no question those are off the plan!

Yesterday though…well, I got there at 2pm, after having a late lunch around 1pm, so I was a little behind on my food schedule. I wasn’t prepared to go straight through until 5pm and I didn’t expect that the meetings would go straight through so I didn’t have any food with me. But of course they did. And of course at 3pm the caterers brought in mounds of beautiful fruit (off my plan for now – I told you this program was hardcore, nothing but shakes for now) and they were extremely enticing. I love fruit. And then…oh, they brought in big, soft, doughy pretzels. And mustard. MUSTARD! The bastards. It’s like they were targeting me and my diet specifically for ruination.

Normally I’m a sweet-tooth kind of girl, but I’m a total sucker for a hot, soft pretzel.

I’m not a fan of willpower for dieting, but willpower is a last resort kind of tool, and yesterday was a last resort kind of situation – I’d failed to plan or prepare myself, I was hungry when I got there and becoming hungrier as I went the full three hours, and having to pay attention and be sharp the whole time.

Here’s how I talked myself through it: First things first, every time my mind started down the, “But there aren’t that many calories in a bunch of grapes…” path I’d shut it down. “It’s not the point. Get some water.” Then my mind would wander to the pretzels. “Oh my god how I love pretzels, I haven’t had one in ages, they are so good, as cheats go they’re not THAT bad…”

I dug deep. I thought about all the work I’ve been doing so far. The results I’ve had. I reminded myself that once I got to my goal, I could plan to go out and have a GOOD pretzel, not a hotel catering pretzel – in fact, if I wanted to, I could get a ticket to a hockey game, where they sell the BEST pretzels, and have one in the right setting! That would be WAY better than a chintzy hotel pretzel. I thought about that for a bit, about rewarding myself for vigilance with not just a better pretzel, but a whole experience – I’d even get GOOD tickets, splash out for lower bowl, maybe near the glass!

When the hunger sprung up I got another glass of water. I reminded myself that a few hours were minuscule in the grand scheme of life and next week, even later tonight I wouldn’t even remember that I was a little hungry in the afternoon one day this week. I would get through. I focused really hard on the meeting topic. I got through.

And this morning I walked to work, and I’ll walk home, that’s a full hour of walking. Where do I apply for my bonus points?


My diet is going gang-busters. I’m pretty much on auto-pilot in that area – staying on program is easy for me and cheating is not even a consideration once I’ve made up my mind and gotten in the zone.

However…I’ve been having a really hard time with exercise the last couple of weeks. Why doesn’t really matter, but it’s my blog and since I’m here in the confessional booth, here we go:

1. Vacation broke my streak. Pretty common – I had a good rhythm going before vacation but 3 weeks off threw everything out the window.

2. Heat wave. It’s been over 100*F here every day for almost 2 weeks now. I am an outdoor exerciser, but that’s hard to do when going outside is risking heat stroke.

3. Diet over-confidence. As much an adherent of fitness as I am, I know intellectually that losing weight and maintaining weight is 80% diet and 20% exercise, so while getting up and running would be cool…I know that the work I’m doing with my diet is WAY more important, and that part is going to work as long as I follow it.

Ok, ok, now that I’ve got all that out…yesterday I just couldn’t stand myself anymore, after spending all weekend hiding indoors from the heat, and I dusted off an old free-weights routine I had from my Personal Trainer pal Andrew. Felt pretty good to do it, and knowing that I’m losing weight on my diet right now it’s doubly important for me to work on muscle retention, so some strength training is all-around a good idea.

And I’m only a little crippled by soreness today! Or as Andrew says: “Pain is weakness leaving the body!”

This Week I’m: Focusing on Long-Term Improvements

I had to wait two weeks to check in on the scale due to some of my long-standing rules around weigh-ins cropping up last Saturday, but after two weeks on my strict program I’m down 7.5 pounds to 199.5 this morning. I’m super-pleased with this result. I expect it to slow down in the next few weeks to about 1-2 pounds per week. I’m 10 pounds from where I want to be, and I am very motivated that I can get there. I can see my waistline starting to reappear already.

I’m enjoying a break from food decision-making and all the doubt and angst that they sometimes cause me. I don’t have to worry if I’m doing it right because I know that I’m following my program so I can’t go wrong.

These last few weeks I’ve been taking steps to get my migraines under control, and work on the stress and anxiety that I’m experiencing around work, so I guess I could say that right now is a re-building, re-setting, and re-focusing time for me. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable, sometimes it’s hard (sometimes it feels like it’s one step forward and two steps back), but I am keeping focused on my goals of calmness, control, and harmony in my daily life. It feels pretty good to be taking positive steps in the right direction.

Tuesday Link: Do Calories Matter?

I think this article does a really good job of summing up my thoughts on the LowCarb/LowFat debate.

Low Carb or Low Fat: Do Calories Count?

From the article:

“Face it. The greatest challenge in dieting is to figure out how to eat less – and to eat healthfully on a regular basis – in the midst of today’s “eat more” food environment. And that’s a much more important research problem than whether low-carbohydrate or low-fat diets work better for weight loss.”