Sunday, March 11, 2012

A new me?

I don’t talk about myself much … but I’ve been concentrating a lot lately on a lifestyle change, which has really curtailed my blogging. The former is good, the latter is bad. So of course it makes some sense to simply combine the two … blog about a lifestyle change.

Of course, when people talk about a lifestyle change, they rarely mean things like “I’ve decided to get rich and buy an island in the Caribbean” … no, what they generally mean is that they want to change what they eat and how much exercise they get. And that’s what I mean too …

A huge number of people are simply overwhelmed by the food industry. Over the last four decades or so, the fast food industry and “big food” – the really big players who actually have significant input into the Canada Food Guide (and you can bet into almost every other one that exists) – have created an environment that is seductively oriented towards quick gratification. Hungry? No sweat … pop some piece of crap into the microwave and in 1 minute you have a blob of death that tastes like Ambrosia (food of the gods.) Suck that down with a delicious Coke, which tastes like Nectar (drink of the gods) and suddenly you are happy and flying high on sugar and caffeine.

Which lasts about an hour and then you crash. And your body screams for the next fix … and many people succumb. Thus the cycle begins.

Ok … I wasn’t quite that bad, but I have carried extra weight all my life. I am wired to do that and it is an act of will to buck against the yoke. Which is where the lifestyle change comes in. You cannot just “DIET” … that’s temporary at best. You suffer, lose a few pounds, probably screw up your nutrition and starve your body … so your body goes into shutdown mode and when you finally give up you blast on the lost pounds and a half dozen of their friends before the frenzy ends …

So what to do? Well, one can start by reading. I looked all over the place for information on appropriate long-term eating habits. Habits that would control blood sugar (to head off the demon type II diabetes) … habits that would sustain the same weight (when I get to my goal) for a lifetime. And habits that are not difficult to live with (i.e. adequate food, good nutrition, and not cardboardy :-)

An approach like weight loss surgery can be very effective (but still requires a lifestyle change) … but the gold standard reroutes your small intestine, causing all sorts of limitations on your diet and possible complications over the long term. So not too enticing. But – their diet is quite interesting. At least once they get back on solid foods :-)

Basically, I’ve settled on a low calorie and low carbohydrate life style. Portion control and low carbs (not no carbs, that’s risky and far too much work … this has to be doable) fit the bill perfectly. Eating low glycemic index foods controls your blood sugar, as does the low calorie count. The secret to making this really work is food logging. Every day is a new day, and should be logged. Logging both food and activity can give you an analysis of your nutrition and your net calories in one swell foop.

So that’s what I’m doing. Trying to build new habits in a house with two young adult men who just love the fast food industry’s contributions to society … that they can stay at their target weight year after year without even thinking about what they eat just adds the fine point to my project. I do have to watch … middle age has made that more imperative than ever.

The exercise side of things is even simpler. I’ve read a ton of research lately and bought a book or two to evaluate the myths and legends of exercise. The basic facts are that more is better, but some is vastly better than none. Walking and weight lifting are the goal standards from what I can tell. Anyway, I’m not going to concentrate on that part in the blog.

So … on to the photography of some of my early efforts.

First off … a scale is a necessity. I try to get my portions measured to the gram. I’m not obsessive about it, but I try for accuracy. Here is the best tool I have found for that:

Fuji F550EXR  640iso  f/3.5  1/30  +1ev  (jpeg)

Yes, all the images in this article are jpegs. I picked up the camera at some point yesterday and shot this image in RAW+JPG, getting message that internal memory was full. Oops … forgot to put a chip in it when I came down to the kitchen. No matter, I though, let’s see what jpeg shooting is like. And it turned out fine.

That scale is the excellent Eatsmart Precision Pro Digital Kitchen Scale in black and chrome. Looks great, works great. The 11 pound capacity makes it easy to put big glass bowls on it and use the TARE function to reset to zero to measure the next ingredient. It is supposedly the US #1 seller. For 25 bucks, it’s a steal. In the US, I can only find the silver one, which also looks nice. There is also a clone in black and Chrome by Ozeri. No idea if it is the same, but it sure looks like it. Cheaper too.

Of course, my blender helps me create wonderful smoothies to take to the office. One great big smoothie split over two meals works perfectly and keeps the calorie count down. Of course, to make that work, you need to add protein. It is dangerous to eat low calories and to fail to get enough protein and exercise. These latter two are what protect you from losing too much muscle mass as your body starts munching away on itself for fuel.

So … protein powders. I used to love the flavor of the chocolate variety of inexpensive Soy protein that was sold at GNC. But that brand went away and all I can get now are Whey products. Which is fine … Whey seems preferred anyway for this purpose. But what about flavor? Well, I ordered some Unjury protein because it was recommended in some books. They advertise “medical quality protein,” which sounds like bullshit to me. The taste is ok, but it does not come up to their “voted best tasting” adverts, so I won’t be ordering from them any more. Takes too long to cross the border and I got an opened one which I tossed. An email to them about it went unanswered. Not impressed.

I also bought another high end brand – Precision – in unflavored form. Tastes disgusting, so it will have to go into meals where it can be masked. But not badly priced and cheap to ship when I order other stuff from either or …

Finally, since it was the Vanilla flavor that was ruined in Unjury’s shipment, I went to GNC and bought their vanilla flavor. Tastes just fine in my smoothies. I have a thermos that holds two beer cups worth of whatever shake / smoothie I choose to make. To make enough, I add two scoops of protein powder, a cup of 1% milk, some frozen berries, and some ice. The blender takes a while to whip it into a smooth mixture, but it is cold and the thermos makes it perfectly tasty at 11am and 2 to 3pm. 40 grams of protein, almost half my requirement.

I weaned myself off of diet sodas to get rid of caffeine and too much sweetener. Lots of studies suggest that constant ingestion of sweet foods and drinks (even without real sugar) causes the body to crave food all the time. It expects calories and does not get them, so it begs :-)

I also weaned myself off bread about a week ago. Wow, that sucks. I love toast and I love tuna sandwiches. So I needed a replacement and looked around fro recipes for low carb bread. Low, and behold, this superb recipe for flax focaccia-styled loaf fills the bill. High fat, but I am always under my allowance, so that’s not an issue for me.

I made it for the first time this morning and was very pleased. Satisfies like a bran muffin or scone or something like that. Tastes fine, too.

Fuji F550EXR  640ISO  f/3.5  1/30 

That’s topped with “no sugar added” raspberry jam from E.D. Smith. Had to order it from Superb combination. The loaf was warm, which tells me that I will warm it each time I eat it. Toasting it is supposed to work great. The egg gives me a serious protein boost, but also adds to the fat. Not my best choice but very tasty and low in calories. Note the notes on the paper plate. Very handy to allow me to enter exact values into my food log. Add milk to the show and the breakfast comes out a little high in calories at 383 (way above my norm to be honest) and has a less than stellar B+ nutrition rating on my site. (There are many and for privacy reasons I won’t disclose the one I use.) Next time I will substitute something else for the milk and maybe the egg. Yogurt for example.

But what about rice, potatoes and pasta? What do you use in their place?

Well, for rice and potatoes, there are many options. Some people like cauliflower mashed up as the substitute. For me, that’s not an option. I gag on that stuff. So, I choose instead to use cooked barley. This is another wonder grain with very low glycemic impact. And the best part is that it cooks well in my Zojiruchi rice cooker. One cup pot barley (a slightly more refined version of the preferred hulled barley) and 4 cups water worked for me. I left it in the cooker on warm setting for a while after it was done and got a slight crust on the bottom. Yum, I like that on rice as well.

Fuji f550exr  800iso  f/3.5  1/17  +1ev

My first foray into using this stuff (the missing quarter above) was in beef and barley soup. Left over eye of round roast from the day before in “NO SALT ADDED” beef broth from Campbells along with the barley. Bring to a boil and let simmer for a few minutes and wow … gotta add some salt at the table, though. Pretty bland otherwise. I added a pinch of sage and rosemary, but next time I’ll use basil and oregano.

Fuji f550exr  800iso  f/4.7  1/4

To die for. Seriously.

Regarding pasta, you can try Shirataki noodles. They are available in various forms, Miracle Noodles being one brand. They are made of the yam-like Konjac root and are almost pure fiber. You can get them in all pasts shapes. They are shipped in little plastic bags, which you empty into a strainer and rinse for two minutes. Then choose your portion size and add the sauce. Once you have blended it all together, the noodles will absorb the flavor.

Late breaking note: I found this excellent description from someone who grew up on Shirataki and the larger brick form, konnyaku. He says that you must blanch the noodles in boiling water for a few minutes to rid them of the odd smell of the water in which they are packed. I can tell you that they do smell like the fishy section of an Asian grocery. Very off-putting. I will try that next. He also mentions the tofu variant, which has a few calories but is supposed to have a nicer texture. We shall see.


Note that this stuff has zero calories … it is made up of fiber, so it adds bulk. Don’t overuse it because you need nutrition too.

That’s enough for one article … you get the idea. Lifestyle changes are all about building new habits and getting used to doing things a certain way. The right tools make it so much easier, so get yourself a scale and such.

Oops … almost forgot. I love stir-fried foods. Somewhere along the way I lost my wok. Perhaps during my separation, I really have no idea. And that plays really nicely into this change. I love broccoli in garlic sauce and onions and celery in curry sauce. I’m quite good at making these sauces, but I don’t have a wok for the veggies. So I sauté them in a flat pan. Well, that’s just not gonna cut it, so I have a new wok on its way. I really wanted a round-bottom wok, but after reading about problems with the ring and ceramic stove tops, I caved and bought a flat bottomed wok. Carbon steel, of course, since that is the one that creates the best flavor after it is well seasoned. Here’s the one I ordered.

So that’s that for now.