Thursday, September 29, 2011

Eating out while on the road

About a year after starting my new way of eating, I started eating out again.  That sounds really restrictive, but in reality, I honestly hadn't felt much like eating out until then.  The food we were cooking at home was delicious - deliciously simple.

Then, in August, we spent some time in hotels and with family on trips to Toronto and Ottawa, as well as a few days camping in a provincial park.  I had to make some choices about what to eat and learned a couple of things in the process.

The first thing I learned is that when staying with relatives, it can be hard to turn down homemade breakfast pancakes, especially when said relatives take pride in their "healthy" approach to food, and load up generously on whole grains as recommended by Canada's Food Guide.  I made a couple of executive decisions based more on tact than I would have normally preferred, and which admittedly compromised my diet a little.  But since we were only there for two days, no great harm was done.  For breakfast, I ate just one pancake with some fresh raspberries rather than a stack slathered in butter and maple syrup.  At a barbecue where hamburgers were served with corn on the cob, brown rice salad and green salad, followed by apple pie and ice cream (5 carb portions when you include the bun), I limited myself to the burger without the bun, a large portion of green salad with a small helping of rice salad on the side.  I was able to gracefully pass on the desert because this was plenty. 

We also ate at a couple of restaurants which were resounding successes.  At a Vietnamese restaurant, I ordered a delicious barbecued chicken dish, which, according to the menu, came with salad, bean sprouts and rice noodles.  The owner was more than happy to substitute more salad for the rice noodles.  Similarly, at a Thai takeout, I ordered a magnificent stir-fry.  When I asked if they would hold the rice that came with the dish, the server asked if I would like bean sprouts instead.  The way she asked me, I realized I wasn't the first customer who had made this request.

The third unmitigated success was at a sushi restaurant, where I ordered sashimi. It came served on a thick bed of julienned daikon radish.  The salad and miso soup that came with the meal were great low carb choices, and the absence of rice on the fish, while making the meal a little more expensive than it would have been had it been sushi, certainly enhanced my sense of culinary enjoyment. Sushi rice, after all, doesn't do much more than fill you up.

I expected our camping trip to present some problems, but in fact, it wasn't hard at all.  We brought fresh tomatoes and peppers which we cooked into a basic pasta sauce and served on a bed of quinoa (I don't eat much quinoa, which counts as a carb, albeit a healthy one.  But I do enjoy it on occasion).  A package of frozen ground beef stayed sufficiently cold in the cooler to be turned into tacos (without the tortilla) one day, and burgers the next.  We brought plenty of farm eggs with us, and used them to make delicious menamen on the campfire.  Bacon and eggs were wonderful for breakfasts, as was a bowl of leftover quinoa served with crudely chopped nuts with a little almond milk.

I learned that eating out and camping are perfectly possible while eating low carb.  Sometimes you have to decide whether refusing a particular dish will offend, and other times carefully choosing your restaurant strategically and asking for substitutions make it possible to make menu choices that don't stand out excessively from those of your carbohydrate-loving dinner companions.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A tub of lard a day to keep your weight at bay?

I've been wanting to post this for a couple of weeks, but wasn't sure just how to approach what I want to write without coming across as patronizing or insensitive to the Health At Every Size movement, otherwise known as HAES.  If you've never heard of it before, it's an approach to food emphasizing intuitive eating, rather than dieting, and the followers believe in Fat Acceptance.  In short, judge me based on who I am, not my weight.

This is an offshoot of feminist thinking that rejects the obligation so many women feel to control their weight and eating habits in order to be more attractive to men.  Many HAES followers know a thing or two about dieting, and are as uninterested as I am in deprivation and a lifetime of tiny portions and boring salads in order to look like a barbie doll.

HAES most definitely is not into deprivation. 

They point out, and on this one I don't disagree, that while many medical problems are associated with obesity, having a high BMI doesn't necessarily mean you are unhealthy or will live a shorter life.  I had noticed this anomaly myself:  although it's a medical fact that obesity is a factor in many diseases, it's hard to find statistics that look at it the other way around.  For example, I would love to know:
  • what percentage of people with a BMI over 30 suffers from coronary heart disease?
  • what percentage of people with a BMI over 30 suffers from arthritis? 
  • how do these rates compare with the general population?
In the absence of information like this, if proponents of Health At Every Size feel comfortable with their weight and are totally healthy, what right do the rest of us have, medical professionals in particular, to tell them they need to reduce their weight?

Many proponents of Health At Every Size recognize specific emotional factors at play in their obesity, and believe it's more important to focus on the emotional issues, rather than diet in isolation.  In some cases, for example, there might be a history of abuse which is at the root of the person's weight.

It's a complex issue, and I'm sure I'll get myself into trouble if I interpret too much. If you're interested in reading more, there's an excellent blog at The Rotund.  You can also check out The Fat Nutritionist.  These ladies are eloquent, their arguments are well-thought out, and the comments to their posts are both intelligent and thought provoking.

In the meanwhile, let me get to the point of my post.

Reading one of the more popular posts in The Rotund, I came across a comment which caught my eye:
ALL FOOD provides some form of nutrition to your body. So, you know what? If the option is no food or that tub of lard in the morning? I am going to support your choice to eat a tub of lard.
Did you get that?
 ****  tub of lard  ****
As I read that, it occurred to me that perhaps there's more going on in HAES than most people realize.

You see, I'm not into dieting or going hungry either, and yet I managed to lose about 25 pounds in less than a year, after slowly putting on weight from puberty onwards.   I did it for myself, for a couple of reasons:  I knew my BMI was slowly creeping up, I was starting to feel ominously creaky around the time I turned 40, and I was beginning to feel what I thought might be the beginnings of arthritis in some of my joints.  In short, I would have preferred to weigh less, even though I wasn't interested in starving myself to get there.

The trick to my own weight loss was so staggeringly simple that my mind still boggles, even after a year.  I cut out sugar and starch, and stopped worrying about the fat.  I didn't go out of my way to eat fat, but I did consciously stop eating low fat and skim products.

I have now read enough to know that if I had eaten a tub of lard every morning, it is unlikely to have affected my weight loss.

Could it be that many of these intelligent ladies (most of them are female) have been taken in by the low fat, high carb indoctrination that has blanketed the nutrition world from the seventies onwards?

Even more so, given the feminist slant of this movement, and the strong links between feminism and vegetarianism, could the feminist movement be steering women towards a diet that's too heavy on the grains and starches?

Might it be sacrilege to propose eliminating sugar and starch in certain radical feminist-vegetarian circles? 

I wonder if at least a couple of HAESers wouldn't be interested in knowing they could lose weight without deprivation or going hungry.  Because while I know that being overweight doesn't necessarily mean you're going to be unhealthier, it can affect your mobility as you get older, and that can affect your quality of life.

Having been there myself, and having unexpectedly reversed my own weight trend at a point in my life when I was resigned to following in my mother's overweight footsteps (and her mother's before her), I know which body state I prefer. 

This is especially so because I'm pretty sure I've figured out how to beat the middle-age spread that plagues so many people after they hit their forties.  Carrying a bit of extra weight in my twenties and thirties really wasn't a big deal, because I felt perfectly healthy.  The creakiness only started a little later.

What it mostly involved was a paradigm shift in my own mind, and from then on, it really wasn't difficult to do.  I feel as healthy as ever before in my life, but I don't feel I have compromised my own feminist principles.