fitness · food

NY Times 7-Day Sugar Challenge review: skip the print, look at the pictures

It’s January. Everyone’s on the behavior change bandwagon. Or, if not already on it, they’re waiting for the right bandwagon to come by.

Comic of one person waiting at a bus stop, and loads of folks waiting at a bandwagon stop. Literal, but still amusing.
Comic of one person waiting at a bus stop, and loads of folks waiting at a bandwagon stop. Literal, but still amusing.

Cate wrote about the Yoga with Adriene 30-day yoga journey (a kinder, gentler challenge which I really like), and we get to see many of the good features of challenges there.

Out of curiosity more than any actual desire for radical change, I signed up for the New York Times’ 7-day sugar challenge. Here’s what they promised:

Every day for the next 7 days, we’ll share a simple new strategy for cutting added sugar from your daily diet [and] …readings about how sugar affects your body.

The Sugar Challenge will show you, step by step, how to cut all that added sugar in your diet as well as tricks for satisfying your sweet tooth. Each day you will take on a new challenge while repeating the challenges from the previous days. By the end of the week, you will have adopted several new healthful habits and discovered that life really is sweeter without all that extra sugar!

Great! I will have a whole new relationship with sugar (that of total abandonment, I assume) in just seven days. Wow.

Color me skeptical.

You never know what images will come up from Googling; I really like this one. It's a hippo, and the print reads Skeptical hippo is skeptical.
You never know what will come up on Google images. “Skeptical hippo is skeptical” is my new favorite sentence.

So as not to waste your valuable blog-reading time, I’ll put all seven days in a list:

  • Eat breakfast foods with no sugar (no grains, sweetened dairy, doughnuts, etc)
  • Start jettisoning packaged foods from your diet, as lots of them contain added sugar (even those that don’t seem sweet)
  • Eat fruit (but the higher-fiber and lower-sugar fruit– no bananas or grapes)
  • Drink only water (or plain selzer– whew…)
  • Eat spicy food (and you can maybe have some berries or orange slices after)
  • Roast root vegetables, and enjoy their sweetness
  • Savor a small piece of dark chocolate sometimes (but not every day)

Now, I do give the NY Times credit for finding scientific research behind all of these suggestions (which you can find in the articles). But honestly, this is pretty much advice of the buy-low/sell-high variety. Who doesn’t know that most sodas, juices and sports drinks contain a lot of sugar?

What they don’t do is what (almost) everyone doesn’t do– they don’t tell you HOW to bring yourself to the point where you can make what may be big changes and maintain them over time. Like almost everyone, they just say, “decide to do this, and before you know it, it’ll be a habit”.

(Brief aside: even though I’m skeptical hippo, I think Nia Shanks really gets that we need to dig deeper into the narratives we place ourselves in that keep us in habits we wish we could change. Check out what we’re writing about Nia’s 100-day reclaim here. Now back to the current blog post…)

Lest you, dear readers, think I’m just writing another rant about how media gets nutrition advice wrong, let me say this: I come here not to bury the 7-day sugar challenge, but to praise it. Well, its illustrations anyway. Check these out:

And these:

Yep, there are more:

And then there’s the chocolate:

Yep, this chocolate is made of paper, too.
Yep, this chocolate is made of paper, too.

The artist responsible for these marvelous yummy creations is Reina Takahashi, a paper artist and photographer. She does magnificent creative renderings of food, ordinary objects, scenes, all sorts of things. Her illustrations made me much more interested in beets and water pitchers and chili peppers than all the articles the NY Times could throw at me. Here’s what she said about some of her work:

This paper beet is my favorite of the series for the way that it photographed. The green leaves have crisp edges against their shadows and a good bit of texture, while the rest of the beet has a clean range of light/dark.

The little green hats on these red chili friends were my favorite part to make!

I bought a bar of dark chocolate in order to use its silver wrapper in this illustration (the contents went to good use, I promise).

Reina’s paper food art reminds me of the whimsy and fun that we can have with our food. Food is about color and texture and depth and light and little green hats and silver linings and more. Seeing my food in a different way– MADE OF PAPER!– made me think about possibilities for preparing it, serving it, displaying it and eating it differently. And that, my friends, is a good way for us to open pathways to new ways of being, seeing, doing, and maybe even eating.

These illustrations tickled me pink. I hope you like them too.

Oh, and about the sugar challenge: I say go straight to day 8: Make or draw or construct or paint or prepare some food (out of paper or just out of food), and enjoy its beautiful qualities.

So, readers, are you as transported by these illustrations as I am? Did you go to Reina’s blog? Are you impressed or unimpressed by the sugar challenge? Do you want to meet skeptical hippo? Let me know if you have inquiries about any or all of these issues.

eating · eating disorders · fitness · food · habits · Happy New Year! · holidays · new year's resolutions · overeating

Still Recovering From Holiday Overeating? Here’s what I’m doing next.

CW: Discusses disordered eating habits and negative self-talk.

Continuing with my normal life.

No, seriously. The moment the celebrations are over and I feel like, “hmm, maybe it’s time to eat fewer cookies, get a little more sleep and find that gym membership card again,” then I’ll just take one thing and do what is normal for me. I’m not going to ramp up, push hard, or go strong. It is not time to atone, make up for, or negate.

I’m just going to let myself fall back naturally into my old routines. It might take a few days, or a week, or whatever, but I’ll find them again. The key is to not spend my time wallowing in guilt or blaming myself in anger. The more emotion I put behind the transition, the harder it is.

I know because I’ve been there before, and not just at the holidays. You see, for nearly as far back as I can remember, I’ve dealt with compulsive overeating. I stole food and hid it in my room as a little girl. As a teen, I would spend my allowance on donuts and pastries that I would eat while walking home from school. I managed my emotions, my sense of loneliness and isolation, depression, traumatic experiences and their aftermaths with food.

I have spent the better part of the last decade extricating myself from these patterns, and while I can’t say I will never overeat unintentionally again, I can say it occurs less and less frequently.

One of the most powerful tools that helped me was to learn to remove emotions from my observations of these patterns and to switch my internal talk to neutral observations. “Why was I so stupid and ate all that cake again?!” has become “I have eaten more cake than I planned on eating.”

I don’t immediately go into damage control mode. I don’t promise to eat only a salad for dinner that night or swear off cake for the rest of the week. I don’t immediately go out for a run or plan a brutal lifting session. I try to just notice it and move on.

I think the noticing is important, although I haven’t read this anywhere else. My friends who are chronic dieters often seem to do a “I’m eating whatever I want, I don’t care” move and then use that as a way to “ignore” what they are overeating. From what I’ve observed on the outside, this seems to backfire as shame and guilt in the long run. It looks like the act of pretending one doesn’t care builds up increased levels of emotional connection to choices rather than diminishing them.

So, the first step isn’t to pretend I am neutral, but to acknowledge the feelings and the choices and consciously rewrite the observation into a neutral statement. “I care about how much I’m eating and I’m going to eat this cookie anyway” is a much more powerful sentiment than trying to convince myself that I don’t care when I actually do.

Then, when I’m ready to make a different choice–the party is over, I’m not out to brunch with friends, I’m back from vacation, and it’s just another meal–I do whatever I would normally do. The only exception is if I really, truly, just don’t feel like it. If my “usual” is dessert after lunch and dinner, but today I’d rather start with a piece of fruit at lunch, then I eat it. But I have to be honest with myself–it doesn’t work to try to convince myself that I should only want a piece of fruit. And this goes for the other direction as well–if my “usual” is a piece of fruit and I really want dessert, I have to be honest with myself about that, too. Again, the act of trying to convince myself creates too high of stakes and too much emotion. So, I have a serving of what I really want while practicing being neutral, and then I get back to my normal routine.

This works with other habits and routines I’m trying to get back to, too. Stopped going to the gym? Letting myself stay up too late? Need to call my parents more often? I observe it. And then allow myself to do one thing that I used to do that helped me maintain that behavior in the past. I only commit to trying ONE thing. It may be as small as putting it on my calendar or packing my gym bag. I break the inertia, do that one thing and observe it without judgement. And then try again.

And before too long, it will be just another day.

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found practicing neutral observations, picking up heavy things, and putting them back down again in Portland, Oregon.

food · habits · nutrition · planning

Make-Ahead Breakfast Meal Prep–Oatmeal!

Catherine recently mentioned her desire to do more meal prep. I love to prep ahead my meals for the week. I have a Sunday routine in which I make enough breakfasts and lunches to last me through Friday. These little containers give me peace of mind–reassurance that I will be well-fed without a hassle all week. If dinner has to be on the fly, that’s somehow more manageable than breakfast or lunch. For me, the hardest part of making meal prep a routine was consistently coming up with the plan before I went to the grocery store on Saturday. If I forgot to think about the entire meal–forgot a serving of fruit, or didn’t think to check if I had enough eggs–then the meal prep would be off for a whole week. So, in the spirit of helping others prep, I thought I’d share some of my recipes and shortcuts.

Today, Oatmeal.

I eat oatmeal at least 6 days a week, sometimes twice a day. Here are some of my favorite ways to prepare it in advance. I make it a complete meal with coffee, a couple eggs, some plain Greek yogurt and fruit, if there isn’t some added to the oats already.

Easiest Apple Oats.
This is my go-to oatmeal. It is endlessly variable, depending on what sounds good to me and what fruit is seasonal at the time. Apples are the easiest, since they stay pleasant all week, whereas pears, bananas, peaches and such can eventually become brown and soggy. Canned or dried fruit are options as well, of course.

1. Set out as many reusable containers with tight lids* as meals you are preparing ahead (I make 6 at a time, eating one the morning I prep).
In each container, place the following:
½ cup old-fashioned oats
¾ cup water
a sprinkle of cinnamon
1 tbs coarsely chopped nuts
1 tbs raisins, dried cranberries, or cherries
½ a chopped tart apple

2. Store covered in the refrigerator. When you are ready to serve the oats, remove the lid and cook in the microwave 2 minutes, or until the oats have soaked up the liquid.

3. Serve with a little brown sugar, milk/nondairy milk, or Greek yogurt on top.

Slow-cooker Steel-cut oats
These are just as easy as the last recipe, you just cook them ahead. Using the slow-cooker allows you to avoid the regular stirring and management that cooking steel-cut oats on the stove-top requires. These cook in about 30 minutes on the stove, if you want them faster, but be aware that they can stick and burn if not regularly stirred.

1. In your slow-cooker, place the following:
1 ½ cups steel-cut oats
6 cups water
Tsp or so of cinnamon and/or anise seeds

2. Cook on low heat overnight, or at least 8 hours, until most of the liquid is absorbed and the oats are chewy.

3. If you want to add fruit, add it now after it has cooked. Otherwise, it breaks down over the long cooking time and becomes unpleasant.
Optional add-ins to stir in now:
6 Tbs raisins or other dried fruit, chopped if appropriate
6 Tbs chopped walnuts or other unsalted nuts
3 chopped apples

4. Divide into 6 containers, cover and refrigerate until needed.

5. Serve warm by reheating in the microwave when you’re ready to enjoy it. This will thicken up considerably when it cools, so I like to serve it with milk (or actually soymilk, since I’m lactose intolerant) and a bit of butter and brown sugar.

Muesli
I like this variation in the warmer months or when I need to pack breakfast somewhere where the extra liquid would be unwelcome. (Note that TSA might give you a side eye on this one, so I don’t recommend it for breakfast on a morning flight in the US.) Multiply the basic recipe by as many servings as you want in advance.

1. Using a wide rubber spatula, stir together in a large bowl:
½ cup old-fashioned or quick oats
¾ cup plain Greek yogurt
½ tsp vanilla (cheap fake vanilla is fine for this)
½ coarsely chopped apple
1 tbs chopped nuts
dash cinnamon
optional but recommended:
½ chopped orange or a whole tangerine
some grated citrus zest

2. Press the mixture into a container that seals well and store up to 5 days. Optional but delicious–drizzle with a little honey before enjoying!

Your turn: do you have a favorite way to prep oatmeal in advance? I’d love to hear about it! And do let me know if you give any of these a try and how it goes!

*Oh, as a side note, any reusable container with a good lid will do for these. We have switched over nearly entirely to a set of Pyrex storage bowls in the last year. The lids are pretty tight (sometimes there’s a little liquid loss in transit, if I’m packing it to work in the morning), and the bowls are nice to reuse since they don’t take on flavors like plastic can. I caution you to not heat the lids, if you have these, though. They do not hold up well in the heat.

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found eating oatmeal, picking up heavy things and putting them back down again in Portland, Oregon.

fitness · food

In praise of grocery store tourism

For part of every Christmas holiday I go visit my family in South Carolina. It’s a no-brainer: all of my family are there; it’s warmer there than where I live, and there’s a whole nother hour of daylight, which is pretty much priceless in late December.

Another thing I enjoy about my visit is the chance to browse and buy foods that I can’t get in Boston (or aren’t in season, or just aren’t the same). Tops on my list is pecan products. There are the pecans themselves, and also salted and spiced, or caramelized, or in other ways dandified. A number of local purveyors sell them, and I bring some back for gifts (and of course personal consumption). In the summer I buy raw peanuts for boiling in salted water. Boiled peanuts are a regional delicacy and acquired taste, but being from the region I love them.

Of course it’s fun to sample the tastes of our homes, especially when we’ve moved far away and don’t have regular access to them. But another real treat is checking out flavors and yummy comestibles from other places. And where better to see how the other folks live than by exploring local grocery stores in other locales? This article in New York Magazine recounts the pleasures and discoveries when we put local grocery stores on our must-see lists while traveling.

I had just landed in Bogotá and was thrilled for this vacation: I was visiting Paula… “What should we do?” I asked. “Let’s make a memory.” Paula lit up. She knew just the place. We walked a few blocks away and dipped into a grocery store. “Why are we stopping here?” I asked. She spread her arms, ta-da style. “This is where you want to be,” she said.

I thought it was a prank. But then I saw a pile of tomates de arbol — tree tomatoes — and my curiosity was piqued. I passed the dragonfruit and picked up a waxy green thing. “What’s this?” I asked. Now she thought I was the one pranking her. “That,” she said calmly, “is an avocado, mi amigo.” I turned it in my hand, studied its conspicuous lack of reptilian rind, and looked back at her. “No, seriously. What is it?” She laughed… Was being an adult in a foreign grocery store the grown-up version of being a kid in a candy store?…I learned more in that grocery store than I did the next day at the Museum of Gold.

One of my favorite things to do when I’m trying to get the feel of a new place when I’m traveling is to check out a local grocery store. This is especially true when I’m outside of the US. I’m always astounded at the variety of dairy products, for instance, when I’m in Europe. Generally I’m not there to buy food for cooking the way I do at home. It’s enough to peruse the breads– oh the breads! So many interesting variations– and the produce (and see how many fruits and vegetables I’ve never tried or can’t even identify).

Even the humble packaged and processed foods take on an air of mystery in far-away grocery stores. When I was living in Italy on a term abroad with students, my favorite breakfast foods were these two products:

It was staggering to me how many different packaged vaguely pastry-ish breakfast foods there were, and also how many different varieties and brands of toast-in-a-box were offered. I also got to see how Italian shoppers made shortcuts in their cooking– what sorts of pre-made sauces they bought, what kinds of pasta seemed to the be most popular, etc.

When on a grocery expedition in a location where you don’t know the language, it’s important to maintain perspective and a sense of humor. When I was in Prague on a sabbatical many years ago, I ventured to the local Tesco to buy a few things like butter and cheese and bread and some fruit. However, I didn’t know the word for “butter” (it’s maslo). I looked at many items that looked butter-like, but with a variety of names. One row of products looked like this:

Items like those I thought were butter, but were NOT butter.
Items I thought were butter, but were NOT butter.

These were marked “sadlo”. Well, I thought, sadlo, maslo, must be about the same thing, right? Wrong. Maslo is butter, and sadlo is lard. Pork lard. Czechs eat lard on bread with some onion or pickle on it as a regular thing. I bought it by mistake once, but never did again. Live and learn.

I love trolling the aisles from here to Hong Kong to look at candy and sweets. I’m not actually a big candy fan, but it’s fascinating what flavors and flavor combos pop up. Looking at what people are buying and eating every day offers me new options for food experiences.

Readers, do you ever check out local grocery stores when you’re on holiday or traveling far afield? Have you made any great (or horrendous) discoveries? I’d love to hear about them.

eating · fat · food · health

Trigger Warning: Pseudoscience

CW: Discusses diets, food, BMI and commonly held misconceptions. If you like to believe everything you think is 100% correct, are prone to all-or-nothing thinking, or want your beliefs reinforced on all things health and fitness, you may not want to read this post.

I think I’ve reached the point that I need a pseudoscience trigger warning. I am finding myself angry to the point of nearly yelling whenever someone mentions their “love languages” like it’s anything more than a convenient construct. The other day, I wanted to ram into the minivan ahead of me on the freeway with their anti-vaxxer bumper sticker. If I have to listen to one more Republican politician espouse a conspiracy theory as if it were the truth, I might remove my car radio and throw it out the window.

I am a science teacher, and trained to think like a scientist. I believe in facts and research and data. And we live in a world in which science is discussed with such ignorance that the presence of a single study is enough to sway/reinforce the incorrect beliefs of people. No one discusses the preponderance of the data. No one is asking for the big picture data over time. And this lack of scientific literacy is hurting people.

I live in a city that doesn’t fluoridate its water because a majority of the voting public considers it unsafe. These voters aren’t thinking about the consequences for the uninsured and underinsured children who don’t receive regular dental care and benefit measurably from fluoride treatments. Instead, there’s a mindset that “impurities” or “chemicals” are “toxins” and therefore things we should all want to avoid. This is pseudoscience.

The debate about organic produce focuses on these fears of “toxins” as well, instead on the very real dangers of overproduction, potential lack of sustainability or concerns for workers’ rights. And don’t get me started on the fear of GMOs. I am concerned about GMOs, but not for any personal health reasons–rather, I don’t like the idea that we are reinforcing monocultures, cloned products with no biodiversity designed to be sprayed with levels of chemicals potentially unsafe from the workers doing the work and the communities that live downwind. On the other hand, if we can design GMO versions of staple foods that reduces environmental degradation while providing sufficient nourishment for the food insecure nations of the world, who am I to say they can’t have it? There is NO evidence that these products are dangerous to human health once they reach the dinner table, and yet that is the only discussion we are hearing. We can’t have a meaningful debate about the real costs and benefits of these products when we aren’t even agreeing upon the basic facts.

Image description: Pints of beautiful blackberries, raspberries, blueberries and salmon berries.

Want to get pissed off at some pseudoscience? Watch pretty much any of the food “documentaries” created since Supersize Me became a blockbuster. There you can learn the half-truths behind the values of juicing, eliminating sugar, paleo diets, vegan diets, Twinkie diets, McDonalds diets, and so much more. Look for the warning signs of pseudoscience as you go–are they using anecdotal data and individuals while avoiding comparing larger sample sizes? Do they ignore the facts that run counter to their arguments? Do they set up false dichotomies requiring an all-or-nothing comparison–the worst of the standard diet against the best/purest of the proposed diet? If so, consider this your pseudoscience trigger warning.

Health, diet and fitness culture is rife with this sort of pseudoscience. Every named diet ever formulated has some sort of “data” to argue that it is the best way to make you healthier, happier, and fitter. Every single one of them cherry-picks the data, jumps to conclusions outside the purview of the research, and uses logical fallacies like false dichotomies to “prove” their superiority. Their goal is to sell their books, products, and edible non-food meal replacement products, not to inform you. And every time a friend or family member of mine begins to starve themselves in a new way or to take outrageously expensive supplements, it pisses me off. I’m not angry at them, I’m angry at the liars shilling these products and false promises.

I’m angry at the diet and fitness industry for convincing so many people that it is exclusively their own fault for having a larger body and that the solutions are simple. I’m angry that people believe they need to go “on a diet” in order to live a healthier life in a body that more closely meets their needs. I’m angry at the lie that we should exercise to control our body size and the willful ignorance that avoids discussing the dozens of other actually good reasons for regular exercise, regardless of our body size. Commercials, paid spokespeople, and poorly written news reports that ignore this bigger picture really do deserve a pseudoscience trigger warning.

But of course, it is the nature of pseudoscience to not identify itself as such. It would lose some of its intended power if it had to remind you first that what they were about to say has limited evidence to support it.

But wouldn’t it be wonderful if these warnings existed? Imagine a world in which news broadcasters interviewing the latest fitness guru had to first announce, “Trigger warning, everything we’re about to say has limited or questionable data to support it.” What if dietary supplements came with a bold statement that said “we cannot prove that anything will happen when you take this pill, and maybe it will make things worse.” What if any time your friend/family member/colleague began to espouse how great it is to go Keto they found themselves first saying “there is absolutely no evidence that this is going to work for me long term, but I’m going to try it anyway.”

What if your doctor had to say, “Now, there’s mixed evidence that BMI has a causal relationship to other risk factors, it is only accurate as a measure of body fat percentage for about 60% of the population, and it’s commonly used to reinforce anti-fat stereotypes. Given all that, I’d like to discuss how much you weigh.”

Think of how much more empowered we would be if these warnings were expected and required. I am so sick and tired of hearing bullshit being espoused as fact. We live in an era in which genuine experts are distrusted and suspected of ulterior motives, in which confirmation bias is treated as an acceptable alternative to hard truths. People rely upon the news, doctors, experts and friends and family to help them sort through the data to make the best decisions for themselves and their health. We can’t make good decisions with bad data, and until we find another way to sort through the pseudoscience, I would appreciate a trigger warning.

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found yelling at her car radio during long commutes, picking up heavy things and putting them back down again in Portland, Oregon.

fitness · food

Fresh food vending machines: filling some gaps, not others

France is in trouble. At least that what’s the NY Times said on Sunday. It seems that local bakeries in some small villages are closing, causing grief and consternation among the residents. In the article, one resident was thrown into a state of existential despair, as the French do so very well:

“Without bread, there is no more life,” said Gérard Vigot, standing in his driveway across the street from the now shuttered bakery. “This is a dead village.”

Jean Paul Sartre, French existentialist philosopher, who apparently just read this article.
Jean Paul Sartre, French existentialist philosopher, who apparently also just read this article.

Fear not, mes amis. There is a way out of this, despite your feelings of nausea, and anxiety that there is no exit. Yes, life without a local bakery feels like being and nothingness. But thanks to technology and… well… capitalism (I know, I know), a metamorphosis is coming. In the form of:

The baguette vending machine.

A baguette vending machine in rural France.
A baguette vending machine in rural France.

I know, you are thinking:

Let’s all just take a breath and sit down, so you can hear me out.

The idea of selling a variety of foods in vending machines isn’t new. In Japan, you can buy loads of products (both edible and non) from vending machines. Among the edible products you can buy, there are toasted sandwiches, ramen bowls, and hamburgers (of a sort).

Japanese vending machines selling hot foods.
Japanese vending machines selling hot foods.

But you might be thinking: these foods, while ultra-convenient, may not be very fresh or tasty. Fair point. Enter the salad vending machine.

Currently, in North America, these products are only available in a few big cities in the US and Canada. However, there are companies (like Canteen Canada and Farmer’s Fridge in the US) that are looking to provide businesses with fresh food vending machines for their employees. I know that food never looks like the pictures, but this one is too delish-looking not to share.

A variety of fresh food items from a vending machine (in theory). Sandwiches, granola and yogurt, salads, cheese. veggies.
A variety of fresh food items from a vending machine. Sandwiches, granola and yogurt, salads, cheese. veggies.

For bread-only vending: just doing a brief internet search, I found machines in Germany and also in Japan and Singapore. There are some in San Francisco and Vancouver, too. Reports suggest that the quality of bread can be good, and companies are working on improving technology and delivery.

Okay– now we know there’s technology for delivering lots of fresh food from vending machines. The industry is in early stages with limited distribution, but it’s expanding, including in rural France. So, problem solved, right? No.

I think the people in that small French village in the NY Times story are grieving the loss of a particular way of life, of the social and communal opportunities that the bakery provides. They’ve lost a place for casual conversations with their neighbors, but also a part of their identity– as people who value hand-made food and live in ways that prioritize its role in their lives. It’s not just about the bread. Villagers won’t be gathering around the vending machine, talking about the weather or politics. They may get used to it, but it’s leaving them wanting.

What about salad and sandwich vending machines? Are they just a novelty, or is there a niche that they can fill in communities and cities? I think there is a place for them (provided the quality is about as good as it looks). In the US, lunch tends to be an on-the-go affair. I try to prepare nice food to bring to work with me, but don’t always manage. Having the option of something fresh and quick sounds great to me. I don’t need lots (or even any) personal interaction and chit-chat around getting my lunch.

Thoughtful placement of fresh food vending machines seems to me like a way to make some eating occasions easier. But, they need to be inserted to facilitate, not disrupt, our food rituals. Honestly, if there were a baguette vending machine at my university, I bet it would sell out every day. But it’s not replacing a local boulangerie. It’s adding to my university food environment.

As in everything, context matters. Readers, do you think fresh food vending machines would make your life easier? Where would you want to see them? Do you see any problems they would create? I’d love to hear from you.

Bread, by Filip Mishevski for unsplash.
Bread, by Filip Mishevski for unsplash.
body image · eating · femalestrength · fitness · food · sports nutrition

Dare *Not* To Compare

(CW: some mention of food regimens, food shame.)

Paul the trainer and I were gabbing in his kitchen post-workout, while I packed up my stuff and he warmed up his lunch. I was feeling invigorated by all the lifting, pulling, squatting and pressing and was looking forward to eating all the things at my fave café up the road.

I asked Paul what he was having.

“Chicken and rice; I have it every day!” was the reply.

I wondered aloud if he didn’t get bored of it; not a chance, he said. He told me he grills a batch of chicken each weekend and freezes it; he makes big piles of rice in his steamer and adds some to each chicken portion. Sometime he switches it up with meatballs, but that’s it.

kao-man-gai
A pile of white rice with sliced, skinless chicken on a blue plate. Paul didn’t mention any avocado, though.

For me, even the same (delicious and filling) thing each day would quickly get annoying; I suddenly wondered if I was doing it wrong. I asked Paul what else he ate.

He told me: protein shake or similar for breakfast; the lunch above; a small snack in the late afternoon; a small portion of stew in the evening.

My animal brain kicked in – in this case, not the brain that says “eat something now!”, but the brain, well trained by its old handlers, to fear food and loathe oneself for eating it.

God, I thought. I eat way too much!!

“Ha!” I said aloud, joshing to cover the rising panic. “That’s the opposite of me. All I eat is donuts.”

Of course this is not true; I eat many things including donuts – once a week, my ritual Saturday breakfast treat. And clearly Paul knew this, because he is a kind and supportive and body-positive trainer.

He said: “Really? No!! I mean, not all the time.”

CWlv5QXVEAEnVoq
Newman from Seinfeld: built for memes. “OH THE HUMANITY!” (NB: humanity needs many and varied foodstuffs to survive, including donuts.)

Let me translate. The above statement, said by Paul in that moment, meant: “No you do not only eat donuts! You enjoy your treats. You eat well and healthily for your body a lot of the time and your strength shows it.”

But in my head, filtered through my trained-animal-food-fearing brain, I heard:

“You indulgent slob!!”

1969-12-31+07.00.00+78+(1).jpg
OH YA BABY! 20 epic, multi-coloured glazed donuts on a wire cooling rack. My amazing local, Donut Monster, is worth the trip to Hamilton if you’re in the Toronto area!

What makes us compare our food and exercise choices to others? The same thing, I wager, that makes us compare every inch of our bodies to others’ bodies so much of the time. It’s a lived experience of being taught to compare, with the ultimate goal of shaming yourself into adhering to the promoted cultural ideal, as closely as possible. (Which of course is impossible. It. Is. Designed. To. Be. Impossible. Read that again, slowly!)

I grew up learning to compare. Maybe you did, too. My mom (bless her) would draw my attention to those around us who looked out-of-order: too big, outfit not age-appropriate, plate too full. She would quietly whisper shaming things; I knew they were directed at herself. But I’d hear them directed at me. I knew what not to do: look/eat/choose like that. I knew to compare and be wise.

Comparison is painful; we are our own worst critics, so we always come up wanting. It is also anti-communal; comparing means drawing hierarchical lines between me and you, rather than seeing what we have in common and celebrating that. Comparison has, thus, a very conservative political tendency: it discourages bonds between citizens, and therefore discourages change, revolution.

Comparison is also often limited in its nuance. It can tell us in broad strokes where the same/other stuff lies, but it usually stops there, shamed or prideful.

If you dig deeper, you tend to get more similarities than differences.

Take my experience with Paul’s lunch as a case point. After I got to my car, I reminded myself that my food, exercise and health choices lead every day to a body I want to be in and a life I want to be living. I took some deep breaths. Then I thought more carefully.

Paul trains several times a week, but he does not have the endurance regimen I do; he’s not racking up the kilometres on the bike that I do. Those kilometres contribute to my much-increased need for calories; those calories are pleasurable and they also help make me strong.

Paul’s wellness goals include maintaining his trim physique; my wellness goals are not as centred on such things anymore. I like wearing my selectively-chosen and carefully-purchased outfits; I’m cautious with my clothes budget and only buy a few items a year. It’s important to me to fit my beloved outfits well. Beyond that, I don’t care about the numbers on the scale. (And, like Cate, if I have to buy a new size next time, that’s fine; if the look is swish I’m in!)

Paul is also a man, slightly younger than me. As a woman approaching peri-menopause, I’m aware that things are changing around my middle in particular, and THAT IS LIFE, PEEPS. If I become a peri-menopausal and then a menopausal and then an older woman who can also climb the stairs up the mountain brow and cycle to Guelph and Milton to visit Sam and Susan and still dead-lift a Great Dane, who cares?

My whole life I’ve feared weight gain. Why? Somebody once told somebody who mattered a great deal to my mom, and she told it to me; all the magazines reminded me every week at the Safeway; and don’t even get me started on the bullies.

Things all these things have in common: FAKE NEWS.

Forget blanket, superficial comparisons. Try not comparing at all. What’s working in your life, your exercise, your food choices? Hooray!! What needs some work? Make a list, then maybe a plan, if you want.

But above all else, remember: the more we compare, the less of a community we are.

Do you tend to compare, positively or negatively? Does it work for you or cause you stress? Let us know!