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Hey…Weight a Second

20 J0000003UTC 2011

imagesLately I’ve been talking with a lot of people who want to lose weight. So many, in fact, I dreamed last night that my husband kept weighing me on a giant doctor’s scale and I kept coming up about 20 pounds heavier than I actually am. We’re obsessed with weight, numbers, and the ever-cursed scale– even though these measures don’t really tell us very much at all about health, well-being, or even body make-up (constitution). I not only try to distract my clients from weight, numbers, and the scale with magic tricks and smoke screens; I try (and try) to re-program them with other (incredibly complex) measures such as how one feels in her own skin, how much energy she has, how one looks to herself, and how one’s clothing fits and feels. These aren’t even always great measures, as my jeans are the tightest after a long ski day, when I’m at my most fit, happy, and energized. Any measure can break down.

I’m here today to (hopefully) throw the brakes on some awful misdeeds, misdirections, neigh, lies we as a culture have been fed for several decades. Somewhere between the food industry, cheap crops, even cheaper sweeteners, fast-growing animals, processed foods, stellar marketing schemes by food companies, prevalence of fast food chains, we Americans have been told things about “health” and “healthy eating” that simply aren’t true. The proof is in the proverbial pudding– and we are that pudding. If what was being told to us about how to be healthy, thin, and well over the past, say, 35ish years were true, then most of us would be healthy, thin, and well. As it stands, most of us are anything but. In fact, most of us are quite the opposite and have the bodies and medical bills to prove it. It’s a sad story, but our the lies, plus incalculable elements of our lifestyles have duped us into a tight corner. It seems like there’s no real, good way out. There is, but it’s surely not as easy to get out of this corner as it was to get into it. You can’t get out with Nutter Butters, Lipton Noodle packs, and two-all-beef-patties-special sauce-lettuce-cheese-pickles-onions-on-a-sesame-seed-bun. No way.

The way out takes the truth and the truth takes time. The truth is the real stuff. Real food, real information, real health, really long walks on the beach, real conversations about what went wrong in the first place, real decisions (hard ones) about what needs to change in a person’s life if he or she decides that health is more important than x, y, or z. That shit ain’t easy, as I like to say. It’s not a pill, a program, or a diet plan. But it does work.

faddietsdontwork

Here’s a few observations about weight and what it really takes to change it. Most people have a “natural weight,” a natural body type that their body will gravitate towards under optimal conditions (no stress, optimal sleep, the best food on the planet, perfect relationships, great health). I like to see that body type when I look at a person, imagine him or her there, and work from that place. Here are more solid principles to which I adhere *when trying to help a person.

Fad diets don’t work. I’m not kidding. You can hope for this and search for it endlessly, like looking for the end of a rainbow, and you can waste your entire life in the process. It’s your choice. OR, you could spend that time facing the truth that there is no magic bean to take that is going to melt away your fat and turn you into Angelina Jolie forever. Even when something does melt away fat, it won’t last. Yesterday I had someone tell me, “I don’t want to do anything that I can’t sustain for the rest of my life. I can’t drink shakes for the rest of my life.” What a %$#@! relief.

Eating real fat doesn’t make us fat. Now “real fat” does not include Dairy Queen Blizzards, “natural” potato chips twice a day, or frozen fish sticks from your grocer’s freezer. Those are really fattening, but they’re not real, whole foods. We get very confused when thinking about this. The real fats I’m talking about that don’t turn into blubber on your belly or chunks on your ass are fish (mmmm, Norwegian salmon…), eggs, almonds, walnuts, pecans, Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds/oil, pumpkin seeds, coconut/coconut oil (my favorite!), clean meats– even red– gasp (as organic and antibiotic/hormone free as you can afford!), olives/oil, hemp seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds, fish oil, and, of course, avocados. Guess what? Even full-fat (that’s 4%) dairy goes here. No more low-fat, no-fat nonsense. These foods, being closer to nature, are full of fat, but great for your health and your body.

Calories-in-calories-out is not the whole story. In fact, it’s only one small chapter, and not a very good one. “Diet and exercise, diet and exercise, diet and exercise!” This is the battle cry of the calories-in-calories-out camp and has been for decades. Doctors have spouted it off right before we leave their offices, still feeling slightly crappy and weird. It seems logical. It seems like it should work. For a few, stable, healthy people, it probably does. But for the masses, especially the overweight masses, not so much. If the blood sugar is out of balance (which is probably is); if inflammation is present (which is probably is); if the endocrine system is out-of-whack (which is almost certainly is); if there are emotional and psychological elements at play (which there are)– then the calories-in-calories-out prescription is simply not going to cut it. You can work your chubby little bootie off on that hamster machine at the gym till the cows come home and you can eat Yoplait Light and Special K to hack those calories in half. Hell, you can really forfeit all that is sacred and drink Diet Coke. But you’re not going to lose any weight worth writing home about.

– Therefore, you have to look at your whole health, not just losing weight. Bummer, right? No pill popping, no diet plan, no Jenny Craig or whatever else. You can’t just remove unsightly fat; you have to fix the entire mothership. I’m not kidding. It’s really not going to work if your entire system is utterly out of sorts (and it is). I’ve been told by reliable sources, sources who have struggled with their weight and their bodies their entire lives, sources who have “tried everything,” that none of it works. None of the plans, programs, or pills. So what’s the problem? The problem (I know) is that the truth takes time, focus, and time, and focus. And then there’s the next thing…

And, therefore, you must, you must, you must face your closet full of nasty little skeletons.  Without the emotional/psychological piece in place, you probably won’t get anywhere, sorry. I can’t get any step closer to understanding or healing my seizure disorder without facing the scary stuff that got me there in the first place. Why or how should it be any different with being overweight? Or with having heart disease? Or cancer? It’s not necessarily that emotions caused the issue, but it’s a hard fact that they are interwoven with it, and that facing what it has to offer sheds light on how a person got to where he or she is. Unwillingness to go to those dark places keeps you, well, stuck. So…noticing the events that happened around the time of bodily change, declining health, or greatest weight gain can be incredibly insightful in the entire process.

Healthy skepticism about the food industry and your grocery store can light a fire for healthy living. No more “what I don’t know won’t hurt me,” because it’s just not true. No more fingers in the ears. No more covering your eyes. Let’s bring it all out in the light. The more you know about your food, your body, and your health, the better off you are. Me not looking at my bank statements does nothing to make my finances better; it only makes me ignorant and irresponsible. You not looking at your food and health…well, you get the idea.

– Oh, and eat your greens. Lots of ’em, all kinds, all day, every day. I had to say it.

“How is this a prescription for weight loss?” you might be asking. How is it not? These are the long, hard steps that must be taken if you could ever hope to arrive at that natural, optimal body type I was talking about. If you don’t face the truth about the deeper, darker bits, then the bigger, fluffier, more obvious bits aren’t going anywhere. Who knows? You might even just find health and peace of mind along the way and get happy in your own skin. Who knows? You might never look at a scale or count a calorie ever again.

*Clinicians Note: All I can do is be a nutrition consultant and “try to help a person” achieve their goals, using the tools, information, and knowledge I possess. I can’t make anyone do anything or be someone they are not. In this, I like to be a support, a cheerleader (yes, you got it), and a structure for moving down a path toward health.

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The Deep, Dark Snack Drawer

20 J00000011UTC 2011

I’m really lucky. This past January I got a brand new sister and she’s pretty awesome. She’s a lot prettier, sweeter, and nicer-smelling than my brother whom she married, but I am thankful for them both. Recently my new sister started asking me what she could do to clean up her diet. She was feeling a little achy and gunky and was starting to plan for the future, run a few times a week, and feel slightly competitive with her new hubby. I’m not exactly sure what all the motives were, the fact is she asked me! How I love sharing all my cabinets-full-of-information with an interested party, especially if I like the party.

from 101 cookbooks– she probably was not ready for this.

Needless to say, I did not jump into flax seed crackers, seaweed salad, or kombucha right away. I had to strategize and plan my attack. 

The thing was, she didn’t need an attack. At all. This girl was ready for change, and it turns out that the most powerful, effective, dynamic catalyst for change is just wanting it for yourself. She was ten steps ahead just by choosing what she wanted and figuring out what it would take to get there. I was a mere accessory.

We e-mailed about sugar. And dairy. And cleaning products. And processed food. At the end of all the options of where to start, the bottom line was that she would need to decide what would work for her. She needed to pick something relatively easy and treat it like a little scientific experiment, then get used to it and assess the results before moving on to the next experiment. I knew it was overwhelming– lots info about ‘toxins’ that she would have to pace herself with to find results. But then she had some Skittles.

a rainbow of sugary crap (from wikipedia)

“…every time I eat something with lots of sugar (like yummy delicious Skittles) I get a huge disgusting mucus ball in my throat that lingers for a couple of hours. I assumed that this was a normal reaction to consuming sugary stuff, but I’m starting to think it’s not. I brought it up with *Larry* the other day and he looked at me like I was crazy. (0_o) <<< his face. Anyway, I’m on the lookout for any other changes! I know one thing is for sure, the fact that I’m not consuming all of those crappy calories on a day to day basis is going to be good for me and my waist line in the long run! :)”

The Skittles smacked her right in the face– yet she was looking and listening for it. She chose to pay attention to her food and body. She opened her eyes, pulled her fingers out of her ears, and gained awareness.

The next day she brought this newfound awareness to work. My new sister works for the school district in a job she loves. Great people, autonomy, open workspace, and a full snack drawer all to herself. That day she decided to clean out her snack drawer. Here’s what happened:

really?

“The mac and cheese was an easy choice to get rid of because the list of ingredients on the back is longer than my arm (!!!)…But the soup?! Sad face! I used to be so proud of myself for having those little campbell’s creamy tomato “soup at hand” things. I would drink those like with a little sandwich and be so proud of myself. KRIS. The freaking THIRD ingredient on my beloved tomato soups was high fructose corn syrup. What the fuck? And so I turned to my chicken noodle soup thinking it’d be better and the list of ingredients was crazy long with a bunch of stuff I couldn’t pronounce. Do you know what the kicker for me was though? The sodium! It said that there was 35% of your daily value of sodium, but OMG then it said there were TWO servings in that little cup! HOLY HELL! That’s so crazy! So I gathered all of it up in my arms and dropped it off in the break room. Anyway, that was a mini breakthrough for me. I never thought something so seemingly benign like little cups of soup could be filled with that many chemicals? I don’t know what else to call those things on the ingredients list besides chemicals.”

Her real story is the best. She unfolded this narrative by herself and that’s what makes it so powerful. There small act of reading food labels suddenly became an enlightening experience.

The Snackwell’s Lie

Once upon a time I had a similar enlightenment. I prided myself on Lipton noodle packets, Yoplait yogurt, fat free sour cream, Quaker oatmeal packets, Snackwell’s, and Wheat Thins. Marketed as healthy and wholesome (good American foods!) these were my regular diet. Seriously, Snackwell’s cookies, known as a dieter’s choice, have high fructose corn syrup as a main ingredient. A famous Princeton University study links HFCS over sucrose (table sugar) to obesity. Wheat Thins, Triscuits, and Ritz Crackers all have HFCS and partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil (check the slang). Nice.

The only answer to, “Why?!” I can come up with is, you got it, m-o-n-e-y. It’s cheap to make and tasty to eat. What is American than that? Never mind that it makes us sick and fat. We’ll just deal with that later. Or not.

The moral of our stories is that you get to choose. Really, you do. You don’t have to keep drinking cases of techni-color soda and eating “food” less wholesome than horse manure. Really, you don’t. You can start the wake-up process whenever you like. It might not be pleasant, like when your foot wakes up in the movie theater. But if you never wake up, you’ll never really walk out into the sun and really live.

 

References: The Snackwell Efect, Wikipedia

Thanks to: my sister– yay!; all the shitty food I used to eat–boo.

 

 

Hotdish? Please Explain.

20 J00000010UTC 2011

I’m originally from Texas. We have three kinds of food there: Tex-Mex, BBQ, and seafood. All three, eaten in the correct proportions, with enough free refills on soda, for a long enough period of time, will get you one thing. Fat. That’s cool, though, because you’ll be so happy on your way there.

My husband is from not-Texas. He’s from a nether-region “up north” where (from my perspective) there are no definitive regional foods. He speaks of boiled meats with no flavor, really bad pizza joints, and, of course, Hotdish.

What is Hotdish, you ask? Well, that’s a fine question. The answer is, after many times of hearing the answer, I’m still not sure. I think you have to be from Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, or one of the Dakotas to fully understand– and appreciate– exactly what Hot Dish is. For you, reader, I will give it my best Texarado shot. After all, my father hails from South Dakota and my maternal great-grandparents from Michigan. Ya, shore, you becha.

*Hotdish Disclaimer. Please let it be known now that there is nothing, whatsoever, sexy about Hot Dish. It is a meal built on economy, warmth, and sheer mathematics. It is often found in church basements for potlucks, after-funeral parties, and on tables surrounded by many offspring. There is no way to make a meal centered around Hot Dish romantic or a prelude to anything, shall we say, animal, other than the consumption of Hotdish itself.

Now that’s out of the way, we can get down to business.

First, Hotdish is sort-of like a casserole, mostly because of shape, form, and consistency. Both are made and served (wow!) in the requisite 9×13 clear glass Pyrex dish every girl gets on her way out the door to college– or every couple receives from Aunt Marge and Uncle Dick upon marriage. Because of this, pretty much anyone can make Hotdish.

Next, Hotdish is meant to be a receptacle for odds, ends, leftovers, scraps, and all that stuff in your pantry, fridge, and freezer that is about to expire but you just don’t know what to do with. You could go donate it at the food shelter, but who the hell wants to go out in the snow? It is also a good place to hide undesirable canned veggies or frost-bitten meaty bits.

Third, Hotdish requires a) a binder— something gooey and pasty to keep it all stuck together. The most traditionally-used northern binder is Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup, what Garrison Keillor refers to as “the Lutheran Binder”. There’s a lot of cream-of-something soups. There’s also Velveeta “cheese.” I’ve used all these in the past. I don’t recommend any of them now that I’ve studied nutrition. Sorry Lutherans. And b) a crumby topping such as panko breadcrumbs, cornflakes, those weird little onion things, or even tater tots. I won’t use them, but I dare you to.

Fourth, because of the less-than-optimal contents, I believe you’re meant to (as my husband said) “bake the shit out of it” until it all tastes like really hot processed cheese. That way you can’t taste lima beans, old sausage, or creamy mushrooms. All that happens is you get really full and really warm and have a lot of Hotdish left over for tomorrow.

Finally, as you can see, you don’t need a recipe for Hotdish. There isn’t one. If you’re one of those recipe people, good luck making Hotdish this winter because you won’t be able to. You’ll just stand in your kitchen in front of an empty Pyrex dish, wringing your hands and opening and closing the fridge over and over. It’s no way to live, but it happens.

If you want to make Hotdish, need a recipe, and would like to avoid processed foods (including cream-of-anything soup), here’s an impromptu one that’s in the over right this very minute. I snuck the idea from some other place online, but changed all the names to protect the innocent.

Texarado Hotdish

1 large-ish spaghetti squash, halved, baked and spaghettied

1 roast chicken, boned and diced (I get a pre-made one at Whole Foods!)

1 28 ounce can diced tomatoes, drained

1 large onion, diced and sauteed till slightly brown

1 Anaheim or other pepper, diced OR 1 small can diced green chilis or jalapenos

3 cups fresh spinach, all chopped up

1 1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese (don’t get crappy stuff, okay?) OR cheese-like substance such as Daiya — divided in half

sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, and chili powder, to taste

Chop up all this stuff and stir it around in a great, big bowl. Use only 1/2 the cheese in this process. Dump it into your 9×13 casserole dish and spread it out. Top with remaining cheese or cheese-like substance. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

As you can see, I forewent both the “binder” and the “crumby topping,” mostly because they  bind and crumb up our insides. Get my drift? I also replaced either potatoes, pasta, egg noodles, or god-knows-what-else with a nice, clean-burning spaghetti squash. You’ll feel so tidy after you eat this meal that you might just make yourself a pumpkin pie. I did.

*Hotdish comments, corrections, recipes, and stories are welcome below!

* See also Wikipedia’s Hotdish entry or just sit and listen to Prairie Home Companion for a spell.

Autumn Opener: Warming Meal for Fall

20 J00000010UTC 2011

Fall is my favorite. Despite the fact that I’m a Spring baby, despite the fact that my favorite color is new-leaf-green, despite the fact that it is the harbinger of winter– fall is my favorite. I think it’s because I grew up in a land of no fall, where the humidity and heat of summer lingered on till Christmas and the leaves didn’t shed till February when the new blossoms pushed them off. Now that I get to enjoy fall, I really enjoy it.

Part of my autumn-love is about the food it brings. The warming spices of cinnamon, nutmeg, and chiles; the sweet fruits like apples and pears; the last of the kale and spinach; and, of course, squash. Squash everything till your eyes pop out and belly explodes.

from sunset.com

Here are the two recipes from our first fall meal, eaten two nights ago, with the heater purring and a movie going. The chowder is our family favorite, adapted from a free Williams Sonoma booklet I picked up at their pretty little store eons ago called “A well-planned Thanksgiving.” The dessert (kind of a rarity around here because, well, it’s hard to get motivated) I made up, but it’s inspired by Elana Amsterdam, a fascinating cook and baker whose innovative recipes you can find at elanaspantry.com.

 

Butternut Squash Chowder (adapted from Williams Sonoma)

 

4 bacon slices, cut into 1/4 inch pieces (I warn against using turkey bacon!)

1 yellow onion, diced

3 celery stalks, diced

1 bay leaf

1 tsp chopped fresh sage OR 1/2 tsp sage powder

4 tsp sea salt

2 tsp fresh cracked black pepper

2 large russet OR 4 medium Yukon gold OR 6-8 small red potatoes (only peel russets), cut into 1/2 inch cubes

1/4 c white wine (if you don’t have this, be sure to sub in 1/4-1/2 cup of some other liquid, even water)

4 c low sodium chicken broth (this is 1 box. I prefer Imagine or Pacific brand.)

1 c filtered water

4 c (32 oz) butternut squash puree (this is 1 large butternut squash baked at 400 for about an hour, then scooped out and pureed in food processor or blender)

1/2 c canned, full-fat coconut milk (use organic heavy cream or full fat yogurt if you like!)

In a large Dutch oven (or stock pot) over medium heat, cook the bacon, stirring frequently, until crispy, about 5-7 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. // Add onion, celery, bay leaf, sage, salt, and pepper to bacon grease. Cook, stirring occasionally, till veggies are soft, anywhere from 6-12 minutes. // Stir in potato cubes, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5-6 minutes. // Add the wine and simmer, stirring to scrape up the browned bits, for 1-2 minutes. // Add the broth and water and bring just to a boil. Reduce heat to low and gently simmer till the potatoes are done. Make sure the potatoes are done! // Add the butternut squash puree and bacon and stir. Simmer for 5 minutes. Add the coconut milk or cream and adjust salt and pepper. Remove bay leaf. // Garnish with a sage leaf. // *Note: If you are preparing this ahead of time, do everything except the coconut milk/cream. When you are ready to serve/eat, heat the soup back up, then add the milk/cream.

 

Autumn Crumble by krisliane

Still Life with Apples and Pear by Paul Gauguin

 

4 pears, any variety, peels on, cored and thinly sliced

2 apples, any variety, peels on, cored and thinly sliced

2 Tbsp coconut sugar

1 Tbsp cinnamon, or more to taste

Put these all in a bowl and stir to coat the fruit. Arrange in a 9×13 baking dish. I ‘grease’ my baking sheets and dishes with a small chunk of cold coconut oil.

1/4 c coconut oil

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Melt these together.

3/4 c almond meal

1/2 c walnuts or pecans, chopped

1/3 c finely shredded, unsweetened coconut

1 Tbsp coconut sugar

1 Tbsp cinnamon

Combine these together in a second bowl and squish with your (clean) hands until it begins to clump together in little pea-sized balls. If you have trouble with clumping, add a little more coconut oil. Crumble this mixture over the fruit. // Bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes, or till bubbly. // I serve with vanilla bean coconut-based ice cream on top. You do whatever you want– just enjoy!

 

I’d love to hear if you make either or both of these recipes, how you alter them to suit your needs, and whether or not it all works.

Chow!

 

 

Dealing with Paleo Monsters

20 J0000009UTC 2011

During my month of discovering Paleo and eating as much like a caveman as a twenty-first century woman can and still function in society, little did I know I was creating two Paleo monsters right under my own roof. As I exited my month of mostly meat and veg, my husband began saying things like, “I think I’ll keep doing this…forever,” and his five year old started saying things like, “I don’t eat rice anymore,” never requesting cereal or oatmeal at breakfast…only sausage. And pickles.

So, I’ve got two type O meat-monkeys on my hands while sometimes I’d just like a nice bowl of brown rice, avocado, and black beans. No big deal. Or is it?

What has begun to happen is that, regardless of each of our individual eating needs, we all end up crossing food boundaries we’re better off not crossing. When I go all Paleo all the time, I get bloated and gain weight and need to actually act like a cavewoman for it to play nicely with my metabolism and physique. When my hubby deviates from Paleo, he gains weight, gets snotty, and feels all crappy. So, not having rice in the house isn’t that great– and having corn in the house isn’t that great either.

I’ve found myself making meals that my meat monkeys love, even though the same meals make my stomach sink a bit. As I write, I’m cooking up some dee-licious meatballs to be served in a tomatoey sauce over spaghetti squash. It’s tasty. It’s Paleo-tastic. My people love this meal. For me, it leaves a lot to be desired.

We just finished eating. I feel meh, like I need a shower and an apple. My husband, and I quote, says, “I think I could eat this everyday,” then, “Wow, that’s like power dinner for me!” The kid just asks for more meatballs, not minding their inner pinkness a bit. Enough said. If you eat Paleo-style and you like meatballs, hopefully you’ll enjoy this recipe.

 

For the spaghetti squash:

Buy a nice looking spaghetti squash, easier to find going into the fall. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut squash in half from stem to butt. Lay it face down on a rimmed cookie sheet in an inch-or-so of water. Bake for 50 minutes, then flip face-up. Bake for ten more minutes. Allow to cool, then scrape out guts with a fork. It should come out in stringy strands, looking much like spaghetti but, you know, squash.

Spaghetti Squash

For the meatballs:

Combine in a large mixing bowl 1 lb grass fed ground beef, 2 eggs, 1/3 c almond meal, 2 Tbsp finely chopped onion, 2 cloves squashed garlic, 1/2 tsp sea salt, 5 leaves chopped basil. Moosh this around with your (clean) hands till it’s all combined. If it seems too wet and yucky, add some almond flour until it’s squishy and sticks together, but not wet and soggy. These are technical cooking terms. Roll into little balls and cook in heated coconut oil, turning occasionally to brown on all sides.

Paleo Balls

For the sauce:

Use any red sauce you like. I keep it simple by combining olive oil, garlic, two cans organic whole peeled tomatoes (cut up), sea salt, and balsamic vinegar or red wine. Heat through and top with fresh basil. You can also buy something in a jar if you want something simpler or blanch and peel your own garden-grown tomatoes, cook your sauce, then can the rest and store it with your peaches and jam in the basement, if your that kind of person I don’t tolerate very well. It’s up to you.

I’m sure this is exactly how Paleolithic people ate! Assemble all three and salt as needed. I advise serving this with a large green salad or chasing it with some chocolate and fruit but, if you’re like me, a small bowl of this will stuff you to capacity. If you’re not like me, eat up and enjoy your power meal!

 

 

What to Do? Supplements, Food, or Both?

20 J0000008UTC 2011

Let’s talk about the RDI or “Recommended (or Reference) Daily Intake,” amounts that are assigned to various vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. These amounts were first established by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration, a branch of the U.S. government) in 1968 when it was called the Recommended Dietary Allowance or RDA. For decades we’ve based our grocery store purchases on the RDIs on food labels in the United States and Canada, as well as a few other countries. Bu here’s the thing. The RDI provides amounts necessary to prevent blatant and chronic deficiency and the diseases that follow. Think of it as being just enough each day not to get scurvy or beriberi. It’s a useful government info keeping us all from knock knees, protruding ribs, and pirate teeth. RDI addresses severe life-threatening deficiency.

what a pirate needs from imss.org

What about something more optimal? Something way better than just good enough to prevent scurvy? If we were able to take in and use vitamins, minerals, macronutrients, micronutrients, and plant nutrients at more ideal levels each day, then we might stress less, sleep better, find a happy weight, crave less, get sick less, age slower, and care for our hearts and other organs better. This is called nourishment and it’s one of the main reasons we have food.

“Nourishment” by Jean Francois Millet, 1858

#1: High Nutrient Principles for Optimal Health

Know and/or Decrease Your Depleters, things that block the absorption and utilization of vitamins and minerals at the cellular level. Most of us use one or more everyday– antacids, refined sugar, soda, caffeine, NSAIDS (Advil, Aleve, Motrin), nicotine, statin drugs (to lower cholesterol), beta blockers (for high blood pressure), and birth control pills are a few. Check your medications on drugs.com to see what kind of depletions they create.

birth control pills

Increase Digestive Health. We are not what we eat; we are what we absorb and use. Most of us have a compromised digestive system because of stress, a poor food system (think a lifetime of hot dogs, bagels, and Oreos), and lack of good bacteria in everyday diet. Therefore, you can eat blueberries and seaweed all day– or take the best multivitamin– but if you’re gut is a mess, then you will not absorb and assimilate it. Assessing and increasing GI health is something I help people with almost every day. I have lots of great ideas…maybe even for you.

Increase Variety and Color. If you have a plate of brown, something is wrong. You can’t get the nutrients your body and mind require through brown food, no matter how tasty you say it is.The more colorful you can make your plate through the use of fruits and vegetables, the better off your nutrient reserves will be and the healthier you will be.

Increase Vegetables. Start at breakfast, using the ‘adding principle’ to begin to sneaking veggies into every meal and snack throughout the day. If you find that a meal is brown or devoid of veggies, figure out how to garnish or add until you grow a taste and a need for plant life on your plate. If you build it, they will come.

Eat Food; Don’t Eat Not-Food. Real, whole food possesses the greatest nutrient potential. Anything in a box, bag, or can is not quite food. Start in the produce section and treat it as your food pharmacy. If anything packaged has more than roughly three to five ingredients or your third-grader can’t pronounce something, put it back on the shelf and hope that no one else buys it.

#2: Try My Favorite Supplement-Foods!

Coconut Oil. My all-time favorite. I use this in raw, extra-virgin form, both internally and externally. It deserves its own post, but I’ll just say that it is filling when I’m bonking, burns nicely as energy because of its MCTs (medium chain triglycerides– or fats), is delicious, moisturizes the skin and hair, and is anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal– in case you’re having any trouble there. I eat a few teaspoons a day and smear it all over my face, arms, and hands.

Buckwheat Honey. A new addition! We found this raw, unfiltered molasses-like goodness at Mountain Fair in Carbondale, CO, from a little New Mexican company called Bee Chama Honey. This stuff is black gold. Studies show that buckwheat honey dissolved in water raises the serum antioxidant capacity of its recipient. This means that more free radicals in the body are able to be absorbed upon consumption. Check out the study here.

Bee Chama Buckwheat Honey

Green Tea. This gives steady, clean caffeine that doesn’t make my sloggy and doesn’t make me crash two hours later. It’s also one of the foods highest in antioxidants, specifically the plant nutrient class called polyphenols. These are cancer-disruptive compounds, especially helpful in the prevention of breast and prostate cancer and also helpful to the lungs, stomach, and intestines.

Hemp Seeds. Not exactly a meal by themselves, these little nuggets are nutty and a great addition to nearly anything from yogurt and cereal to soup and salad. Three tablespoons carry 11 grams of protein, 11 grams of healthy omega fats, 15% RDI of iron, 25% RDI of zinc, 50% RDI of phosphorus, and 50% RDI of magnesium. Even if you refuse to use RDI, I’d say that’s pretty high for 3 little tablespoons. See Nutiva.

Coconut Kefir Probiotic. Not the saucy yogurt-like kefir you might be thinking of, this is a clear, fizzy, fermented liquid super high in beneficial bacteria. One shot glass a day keeps the body in balance. I swish before swallowing to battle bad gum bacteria, too. Check out inner-eco for my favorite.

#3: If You Want or Need to Take Supplements…

Treat Them as Supplementary. “Supplement” means to complete something that is not yet whole. Vitamins and minerals in pill form are not an excuse to eat Little Debbie, Oscar Meyer, or other so-called food with people-names. Eat food that has food names, then use your pills on the side to fill in the gaps.

from pranaenergetics.com

Consider Digestion. If you fart a lot, we might have a problem Houston. Any chronic digestive disorder from flatulence to diarrhea to heartburn to belly aches to belching can mean that your entire digestive tract is calling out for specific attention. If any of these things is a daily or regular occurrence, don’t fool yourself. It’s not normal. Seriously. Constant gas is not normal. Not being able to poop for three days is not normal. Listen to your gut– and your butt. They might be trying to tell you something. If they are, then all the supplementation in the world, all the best vitamins and minerals, might not do you a bit of good. Take care of the digestion first, then the nutrition can follow.

Test for Deficiency; Look for It Too. Blood and urine tests from a trained M.D. or N.D. can tell you an awful lot about what’s going on inside your body, at a blood chemistry level and at a cellular level. This is a very scientific process that serves as an amazing tool, especially in a society where we have the technology and availability to do it. Blood does not tell the whole story, though. We must also look at health history, listen to symptoms and complaints, and check out our own constitution– how we look, feel, and act on a daily basis. Sometimes that can tell us just as much as a lab can.

Focus on Food Based Brands. Not all supplements are created equally and, honestly, a lot of it is a money-making, health-facade racket. If you’re going to supplement, do it right, focusing on quality, not quantity. Don’t spend $10 to get something crappy but saves you $15 when you can spend $25 on something proven to be excellent. If this is the dilemma, don’t spend $15; save up and spend $25. My recommendation across the board, regardless of what kind of supplement you need to take, is MegaFood. It’s made from actual food, not chemicals or food powder. The body recognizes it and knows where to put it. It’s easy to digest and though pricier than Kirkland by a long shot, well worth it.

Talk to Someone Who Knows More Than You Do. You can learn a lot on the internet, but it’s always a crap shoot, no fooling. There is also a discrepancy between what the government says is healthy, what traditional Western medicine says is healthy, and what a newer wave of functional doctors, nutritionists, chiropractors, and other practitioners says is healthy. It’s your job to gather the information, be a thinking individual, and decide for yourself. Remember, it’s your body, your life, and your health.

Remember, We’re All Different. We all have different issues, bodies, guts, and therefore different needs. The newest rage, what your sister or best friend takes, or what some celeb is talking about might not be right for you. In fact, it almost certainly isn’t.

The very diverse Muppets

Check in with yourself. Check out your supplement cabinet. Check up on your vegetable status and see whether or not everything in your crisper is turning to brown slime. Do a little inventory. See where you stand and what you might need. Then take a breath and proceed.

Till then, chow.

Natalie Goldberg’s “Waking Up to Happiness”

20 J0000008UTC 2011

This is an essay worth reading, especially if you are too busy to read an essay. I got to talking about feeling un-well with a co-worker of mine, a woman who is seasoned in health care and insightful beyond what I could ever hope to be. She mentioned that there might be some happiness in being sick– not because it gains attention, but because when sick we must be still. When sick we cannot rush, accomplish, conquer, or be awesome– as we always strive and hope to do/be when we are well. It is the plague of being American. Here. Natalie Goldberg (an accomplished writer) writes it best:

Natalie Goldberg

Last summer I was sick in bed. I could write “flu” and be done with it, but that would be a generalization. My eyes were blood red and caked shut in the morning—the doctor said it was conjunctivitis. “Isn’t that what little kids get?” I asked. A lump was developing in the bottom of my mouth. I coughed up green phlegm. My ears were ringing and I heard things as though I were under water.

Why do I feel the need to state all this? While sick, I read The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki. The book was long, slow, magnificent, and included everything—many details about the main characters’ colds, allergies, bug bites, and intestinal problems. But as I read I didn’t cringe or back away. We are in human bodies and sickness is natural, a part of this physical life.

I took extra delight in the book’s last line. The third sister was finally going to be married—one of the strong narrative drives throughout the book—and the result: “Yukiko’s diarrhea persisted through the twenty-sixth, and was a problem on the train to Tokyo.” And so the book ends. We are left with the ginger hesitation of a woman in her thirties—late for marriage in mid-twentieth-century Japan—riding to her destiny, her body engaged and nervously pumping. Now don’t be a prude. You have to love it. The honesty alone. No one else tells us these things. Thank the writer for being honest.

While I was sick, lying in bed reading, I’d occasionally look up through my bedroom window and watch the pale green on the distant willows and near lilacs. And sometimes I’d pause to sneeze, cough, blow my nose, take a sip of tea. Friends would call to commiserate. Yes, I was awfully sick—it did seem a long time to be in bed—then I’d return to the dream of the book in hand.

The truth is I was happy. Happier than I’d been in a long, long time. Yet I knew that as soon as my energy returned I’d plunge back into mad activity, full of passion. I was lucky because I loved most of what I did in life, but as I lay in bed I realized passion was different than happiness. You don’t do happiness. You receive it. It’s like a water table under the earth. It’s available to everyone but we can only tap it, have it run up through us, when we’re still. A well that darts around can never draw water.

We misinterpret success, desire, enterprise, and the things we love as the state of happiness. Usually, we don’t even consider happiness because we’re too busy dashing after life, defending, building, developing, even fighting, asserting, arguing. We’re in the scramble—lively, engaged. So where does happiness come in? It’s a give and take, a meeting of inside and outside. Even enlightenment is a meeting, a relationship of the inside and outside. The Buddha was enlightened—his whole nervous system switched gears—when he glanced up and saw the morning star. We don’t wake up in a vacuum. We can’t be at home with ourselves in a cubicle. To be at home with ourselves is to be at home in the world, in the interaction with others—and trees and slices of cheese and the broad, sad evolving of politics.

When I was sick, I was settled down. I didn’t have a lot of energy for engagement, the daily tending to a hundred details. I am not saying the ideal state is a sick body, but when I began to aggravate about something I knew I was getting better. When the bite of concern and worry snapped in, I was reentering the pale of human life. At that moment, where was my happiness? I lost my connection to home plate, to the core of reception, patience, the bottom of my belly, to the ground of well-being.

The next day I dragged myself out of bed and crossed my legs, sitting up straight for half an hour to anchor my wandering mind in the breath. To keep coming back to the present moment. To regain the contentment I’d so quickly lost.

As I sat, I was lost for a long time in a memory of Auschwitz, where I’d meditated for five days the previous summer, then I was lost in the thought of turning over the compost out back in my yard, then in considering maybe buying some granola. Thoughts have no hierarchy. The mind jumps from the serious to the mundane in a second. Then snap. I came back to myself. If I want happiness I have to understand it and then dedicate myself to it moment by moment. I can’t stay in bed sick all the time to attain it. I have to commit myself to it when I’m also well.

The thing I love about the Zen koans, those terse, enigmatic teachings from the Chinese ancestors, is that they include sickness in their presentations to realize original nature.

Great Master Ma was not well. The director of the monastery stopped in his room and inquired, “How is your health? How are you feeling?” The Great Master replied, “Sun Face Buddha, Moon Face Buddha.”

We could speculate on meaning here but the important thing right now is that sickness is included in the realm of realizing peace, understanding, and happiness. Nothing left out. How can we stay connected to contentment in the dentist’s chair? How can we be with peace as we listen to the news? Sometimes happiness is being in the center of our grief.

When my friend’s husband died in his thirties and she was bereft, her therapist said, “Enjoy your grief. You’ll miss it when it’s gone.” Can you imagine that? To be in the heart of your life whatever your heart holds.

I am not saying there is a prescription for happiness. Just that the trained mind examines situations; it does not simply fall apart. If you are sick in bed, it’s an opportunity. If you continually have a hard time with a friend, look deeper than the bickering and misunderstandings. Maybe the relationship died years ago and you neglected to notice it, hanging on to old ideas of love. Maybe it will take root again—maybe not.

In college, the single class that caught my interest was an ethics class in the philosophy department. We studied Descartes, Bergson, James, Kant, Socrates, the full gamut of white dead Western men. The essence of each reading was the question of happiness. What is it? How to attain it?

When I studied with my Japanese Zen teacher he said, “Whatever you do, let it be accompanied by dharma joy.” He lifted his dark eyebrows in an expression of inclusion. Yes, you, too, Natalie, are capable of this. At the time I was thirty-one years old. No one can hand over happiness on a silver plate—or on a doily. Especially when we don’t know what it is. Our job is to pay attention and examine it. Can we have happiness and peace at the same time as joy, fun, pleasure, anger, and aggression? How do we learn to abide in ourselves?

I ended up staying sick in bed for five weeks. That’s a long time. My ears, the Eustachian tubes, became congested. The middle of my head filled up. Finally, on a Wednesday, I had some energy and went out. Eagerly I plunged into life again. How foolish I was. I must have done thirty different tasks, including going out that night with friends. I enjoyed it all, but just as I was falling asleep, I asked myself the question, “Were you happy?” Quickly the answer came: only the half hour I was planting tomatoes and strawberries in the backyard.

The next morning I woke with the black stranger loneliness sitting beside me. Certainly I’ve been lonely before but this time it manifested heavily beside me. I’d lost paradise, my time in bed.

In the next days at different intervals I asked myself, “Are you happy?” Head deep in my active life, I didn’t know how to find happiness again. I couldn’t make it happen. Then just seven days out of bed, standing in line at the bank, like a cocker spaniel or possum, I felt happiness, for absolutely no reason, ringing my bell. After I made my deposit, I sat in the car wondering what had happened. I was almost “bursting with happiness” as they say in romance novels but I was not particularly in love, only swimming in my own being.

Then this morning, as I dressed to go out, I again asked myself, “Are you happy?” I was darkly blue from allergies and constant May winds and a drought that made my skin almost crackle, so I growled no but I wasn’t convincing. Some defense had been smashed. Even in misery there could be happiness. And then it bubbled up, clear and full, for no reason. But there was a reason. I was paying attention.

Happiness is shy. It wants to know you want it. You can’t be greedy. You can’t be numb—or ignorant. The bashful girl of happiness needs your kind attention. Then she’ll come forward. And you won’t have to be sick to find her.

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