Book Reviews · cycling · food

Book review: Felicity Cloake’s “One more Croissant for the Road” – food and cycling in France

Being in lockdown has left me, like others including Sam, with time to do more of some things, including reading. I’ve always been an avid reader, but in pre-Corona times other “extracurricular” activities occupied more of my free time than they do now. Given the dire situation in the real world, I’ve also given in to the temptation of reading as a form of escapism, and what better way to go somewhere when you can’t go anywhere than a travelogue?

“One more Croissant for the Road” caught my eye one day early in the lockdown as I was looking for a light and joyful read. The premise is extremely enticing: Felicity Cloake, a British food writer, decides to explore the culinary joys of France over a summer. She picks out 21 classic French dishes and decides to visit each one at its place of origin… by bike. The result is a highly entertaining dash across the country and a lot of eating, some of it – but not all – delicious. From Boeuf Bourguignon to Tarte Tatin, Felicity Cloake makes it her mission to try all of it, often on several occasions. In between, her trusty green bike and bright yellow panniers battle many a hill and zoom along many a country road (and some dual carriageways, too). All of it is interspersed with a second quest, that for the perfect 10/10 croissant.

It’s definitely more food than sports-focused, but One more Croissant for the Road makes for great quarantine reading. In addition to her light and humourous writing, Felicity Cloake includes recipes for each dish, so you can expand your lockdown cooking adventures if that’s your jam (see what I did there?) and you can manage to source the ingredients.

If you want to know more, here’s the official blurb from the publisher.

covid19 · diets · food

Could Covid-19 be the end of Keto?

Over a month of isolation, and there’s still no flour at the grocery store. There’s been a shortage of pasta, beans and whole grains like barley, quinoa, and rice, too.

Shortages of staple, high-carbohydrate foods would suggest that most of us are actually not ready to give up on this very satiating macronutrient in times of crisis, and it has me wondering, could Covid-19 be the end of Keto?

Consider the overwhelming evidence brought forth on social media–photos abound of the beautiful pandemic baking occuring in households the world over. Suddenly, we are all attempting peasant loaves, coffeecakes, scones, and sticky buns. Sourdough starters are being fed and tended like emotional support colonies in our refrigerators. In this trying time when we need comfort, these gluten-laden delicacies are reassuringly there.

Perhaps a silver lining to the dark storm clouds of potential pestilence and social distancing will be a rational redefining of priorities towards common sense balance in our diets. Maybe the #firstworldproblems of odd dietary restrictions, their pseudoscientific rationales, and the tribalism that feeds upon it will be pushed back a few degrees, back to the edges and away from the mainstream. After all, instead of sorting people into silos defined upon which sources and what quantities of carbohydrate we consume, social identities are now being formed around how frequently we go grocery shopping and our choice of face covering.

One could hope that during this worldwide crisis, when scarcity has new and pressing meaning, we can contemplate the real challenges of hunger in our world. Those who live amongst us without enough are the hardest hit right now, as they ever are in challenging times. With our attention on the needs of the many, perhaps we are moving away from concern about the needs of the few–and their pursuit of beach bodies?

Maybe now, with our social circles condensed to those we most love, we are moving away from judging one’s diet from a moralistic point of view towards a more caring, compassionate and practical one? What is good food and bad food in such times? In a moment when one of the few joys we can share with others is pictures of our beautifully baked bounty, we can ask ourselves if what we are eating is nourishing us and providing for us in all the ways. Food is not only fuel. It is how we show we love one another. It is how we build and maintain community. It is comfort and nostalgia and an offering to the divine.

All of these needs are real and present today. And in this time of need, we are baking.

I choose to be hopeful about this preponderance of home-prepared patisserie. I choose to believe that in a time when we are reaching for any sign of control, instead of cutting ourselves off from this resource, we are embracing it. Instead of giving into food cult identity, we are coming together. I have optimism about the essential goodness of humanity, and we are eating bread again.

Photo description: a lump of bread dough on a peel in a ray of sunshine.

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She is baking while missing picking up heavy things and putting them down again in Portland, Oregon.

eating · Fear · food · overeating

Food Scarcity as a Trigger, with a pot of lentils as an aside

CW: discusses food and eating behaviors, with references to dieting, food restriction and overeating

Do you find perceptions of scarcity triggering? I do. Food scarcity in particular, even the belief that it might become scarce at some point, can lead me to make self-soothing decisions like buying extra “just in case.”

I’m not truly hoarding food, but I’ve definitely got an especially well-stocked pantry at the moment. And chest freezer. And refrigerator.

And I’m settling into old habits like baking bread in batches, so there’s always some fresh sitting on the counter. Last night, when I made rice, I made a double batch. Now, I can freeze half of it just in case. And maybe now my lizard brain knows I will have rice, even though I already knew that, since I have several pounds of dry rice sitting in my pantry. But apparently, that primitive part of my mind needs the reassurance of cooked rice in my freezer right now.

I recognize that this is not a rational response. It is not in response to actual scarcity, but its perception. It’s true that when I go grocery shopping, I don’t have access to quite everything I want. However, suitable replacements are often available. My grocery store has instilled 2-can per purchase limits on precooked beans, and there are no dry beans to be found other than lentils, so I bought a couple pounds of those. My pre-pandemic meal preparations had me consuming 2-4 cans of beans a week. This week, I’m eating lentils. I have enough. But I can feel some uneasiness that I’m using them, like a part of me wants to just keep them on the shelf so I’ll know they’re there. I bought a whole, frozen turkey when there wasn’t any chicken available on one grocery trip. But I don’t want to cook the turkey. I want to keep it in my freezer, so I know I’ll always have a turkey.

This feeling of scarcity has led to some unplanned eating, too. It’s not so very different than the imposed scarcity that chronic dieters put themselves under. When we feel restricted, we tend to lash out and overeat eventually. Sometimes not so eventually. I am NOT restricting what I eat, except to recognize that when I eat something, then it is no longer available to eat! And so I suspect that is sometimes leading to me doing the counter-productive thing of eating ALL THE FOODS. I suppose I’m storing it in my body in preparation for the hard times.

These behaviors have long been a part of me–the uplanned eating and the food storage. Friends and family members have teased me for as long as I’ve been an independent adult for my tendency to can and preserve mass quantities in the summer and fall. I can freeze, dehydrate, can, bake, ferment and pickle with the best of them. For as long as I’ve had the resources to do it, I’ve kept 20-30 pounds of flour in my pantry. I keep bulk nuts in the freezer, and dried apple slices, candied orange rinds, and every kind of jam and jelly you’d ever want on my shelves. Every year, I put up apple and pear sauces and butters, whole seckel pears, pie apples, berries in wine pie filling (amazing!) and whatever else floats my boat. I have the habit of putting something on the grocery list the minute I open up the last back-up, so there’s always an extra bag of sugar or canister of oats. All of this was true right up to before our world was put on hold.

And yet, I still do not feel secure. I can see it in how I’m doing math every time I reach for something in the pantry. If I open this jar of berries, that leaves me only 2 more jars, how long can I stretch those out? Can I make them last until berry season again? Will I even get to go berry picking this year? If I make coq au vin for dinner tonight, that will be the last of the chicken breast in the freezer; will they have more this week, or should I plan on cooking something else so I can keep some chicken in the freezer?

I do not like feeling triggered in this way. I like to feel like I’m in control, and when I’m triggered, my more primal self is in the driver’s seat. And, of course, the fact that there are so many important things out of my control is in its own way triggering. I know, intellectually, that it’s going to be ok, but I wish there was a way to reassure my lizard brain of that fact. For now, I’m going to head down to the pantry and gaze upon my stockpile of homemade applesauce and try to contemplate abundance.

In case you’re eating lentils this week, too, here’s a recipe. It is loosely based upon one for Lentil and Barley Stew from the New York Times Natural Foods Cookbook (Jean Hewitt, 1971), which was a staple of mine when I was a vegetarian. Today’s version has ground turkey in it, which you could completely omit and still have a lovely dish of lentils.

Lentil Stew with Turkey

one. In a large, heavy duty stock pot, sauté in a couple tablespoons oil and/or butter:
1 diced onion
4 large carrots, diced
4 stalks celery, sliced
1 tbs dried rosemary
4 cloves minced garlic
1 bay leaf

two. When the onion is soft, add 3 lbs. ground 93% lean turkey. Break it up with a wooden spoon so that it isn’t in big chunks.

three. Once the turkey is fully cooked and no longer pink, add
1 lb. green or brown lentils (not the red or yellow kinds that cook down into mush)
5 cups water, stock, broth, or a combination thereof
2 15 oz. cans diced tomatoes, with their juices

four. Bring stew to a simmer. Lower heat, cover, and cook at a low simmer until lentils are fully cooked, about 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

This will be 9 2-cup servings for me, so I plan on portioning it out and setting some aside for my freezer so it’s available when I need a quick lunch, or you know, so I have it just in case.

Image description: A large pot of lentils, ground turkey, and vegetables. Maybe not very pretty, but it tastes delicious!

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found making fermented cabbage and using her bodyweight in lieu of picking up heavy things and putting them down again in Portland, Oregon.

food · gender policing

Harley Quinn’s Fantabulously Emancipating Egg Sandwich (Guest Post)

By Quill Kukla

Love for “Birds of Prey: The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn” seems to be dividing up roughly along gender lines, with women/non-men generally adoring the critically panned movie, despite its blatantly terrible editing and pacing, and the fact that it feels like it ran out of budget two thirds of the way through and was turned over to someone’s high twenty-year-old art history major niece to finish in exchange for a bag of Molly. 

What does this have to do with fitness, and the themes of this blog? Let me start by saying that by the end of the movie, I NEEDED an egg sandwich. Not just an egg sandwich, but a greasy one, with runny yolks and gooey cheese, and I would need bacon on it too if I hadn’t truly forsworn eating my pig friends. This is because a major narrative focus of the movie is Harley Quinn craving, ordering, watching being cooked, losing, and finally eating (but never paying for, of course) the world’s most appealing and beloved egg sandwich.

A couple of points are obvious. First, with Joker having ditched her, Harley is very pointedly single in this movie, and it is the sandwich, not a man, who plays a narrative role akin to a lover – the desire, seduction, meeting, loss, and re-meeting with the happy romantic ending. After decades of PhD-educated Harley reduced to a boy-crazy Joker appendage, seeing her turn her love to a sandwich is gratifying; women don’t need men! We need really good sandwiches! (Yes, nerds, I know Harley is bi and there have been women in her life too, but her primary role in the DC universe is as Joker’s sub.) Second, it is nice to see a woman who is supposed to be sexy and interesting enjoying greasy f*cking food for once. That sandwich is full of fat and salt and it looks delicious and she is there for it. 

But third and less obviously I think, the sandwich plays an unusual role in the film that bucks a major and toxic cultural trend. In my recent article, “Shame, Seduction, and Character in Food Messaging,” I argued that people – and very much especially women – are caught between two contradictory and unsustainable sets of cultural norms around eating. 

One set of norms treats eating anything other than austere, ‘healthy’ food in small quantities that don’t risk making you fat as shameful – as a transgression for which we should always feel guilty. We talk about being ‘bad’ and ‘letting’ ourselves have dessert, or of treating ourselves off limits food as a ‘reward’ for having exercised or starved ourselves for a week. Remember when Huma Abedine’s emails were subpoenaed and we found out Hillary Clinton wrote to her about being “bad” and splitting (splitting!) a crème brûlée? In this framework, all food that is not eaten for health and skinniness reasons is framed as ‘junk’ food that is inherently worthless.

The other set of norms sexualizes or, I argued, pornifies the consumption of food that is not ‘healthy.’ In this framework, hot women and ‘real’ men indulge in meat and pie, as a form of seduction and as metonymic for sex, while people who are austere about what they eat, like vegans or people who avoid gluten, are portrayed as less fun, desexualized, boring, and repressed. 

Of course, both these stories are sexist and oppressive, and they leave us, I argued, with no good way to eat. Our choices are to be transgressive and eating ‘junk,’ and hence be blamed for our weak character and insufficient self-discipline, or to strictly regulate what we eat and stick to ‘healthy’ foods, while being treated as unsexy and not sufficiently bold or pleasure-seeking. Or perhaps, finally we can get away with eating some ‘junk’ food if the performance of doing so is sexualized and porny and as long as we are skinny.

Re-enter the egg sandwich. On reflection, what I loved most about the scenes featuring it is that this sandwich broke all these rules. Harley Quinn, as the movie subtitle tells us, has been Fantabulously Emancipated. She is emancipated from her man, and very clearly emancipated from social norms more generally, as she is not at all ‘well-behaved’ in the movie. But she is also emancipated from the tyranny of our messed up diet culture, healthist culture, porn culture, and impossible eating norms.

As she tells us in voice-over, the egg sandwich is the first thing she wants after she frees herself by blowing up the chemical plant where she and Joker had their first big date. And who can blame her; it looks f*cking delicious. Her eating of it is not sexualized at all. When she finally gets to it, she chows down unceremoniously. What she is enjoying is the food, not any kind of metaphor for sexual indulgence. We see her chewing, her mouth moving, the sandwich dripping messily. How often do we see scenes of women just tucking in in movies and other mass media, aside from fat women who are being shamed or mocked? Harley does not take herself to be doing anything bad, and the sandwich is not framed as an indulgence for which she should feel guilty. It is framed as a glorious act of freedom and pleasure. It doesn’t matter whether it is ‘healthy.’ It matters that it is yummy, and that she is eating for herself, because she wants to. It matters that it is framed as a masterpiece of egg sandwich making, and not as ‘junk’ or as low quality food. It matters, I think, that she gets some guy to cook it for her too, so it is not a reward for her gendered domestic labors. 

The day after I saw the movie, I recognized how much I crave seeing healthy scenes of women just eating good things and liking them, and how very rare they are. To quote Janelle Monae, watching Harley enjoy her sandwich, you could tell she was a “free-ass motherf*cker”, and I did indeed feel fantabulously emancipated by it all. 

And now I need to try again to find a sandwich as delicious as hers was. Runny yolk, extra grease, extra cheese, just a splash of green onions. Wish me luck.

Quill Kukla is Professor of Philosophy and Senior Research Scholar in the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University, and also a Humboldt Scholar at Leibniz University Hannover. Their forthcoming book is entitled City Living: How Urban Dwellers and Urban Spaces Make One Another. They are also a competitive amateur boxer and powerlifter

eating · food · nutrition

Make-Ahead Lunch Meal Prep: Boxed Lunch

Continuing with the discussion of make-ahead meal preparations, today I thought I’d tackle lunch. Christine nudged me this way during my previous post on oatmeal, and I admit, I started with oatmeal because it was easier to describe and to write about! The trouble with lunch is all the pieces you need to have ready in advance in order to make the prep painless. Over the years, I’ve developed routines to make this pretty easy for me, but it took a while, and many Sundays spent too long in the kitchen, to develop the routine. However, I kept plugging away until it became habitual, and now I spend less than an hour prepping lunches for the week (sometimes a lot less), which works out to under 10 minutes per meal.

So, I am going to write this post with two parts, “Saturday” is going to be the prep that needs to happen before you want to make your meals for the week. This doesn’t have to be Saturday, of course, but at least a day before you need those ingredients. Judicious use of your freezer space can allow you to do this part weeks in advance, and as you develop a meal-prep routine, I strongly suggest you do it that way. “Sunday” is your meal-prep day. I always make enough to eat one of them that day, so then lunch planning is done.

A final note before I get to the recipes–you are going to have to experiment with how much variety you need in the week and from week to week. I do not require much variety to be satisfied with my breakfast and lunches. When I was single, I also ate the same dinner for four or five nights in a row. However, I know many people would be very disappointed in their meals to have so much sameness day to day. You will have to adjust these plans to meet your meal-variety needs, but be aware that the more variety you decide to require, the more time the preparations will take. Easy switches like a different serving of fruit or vegetable may be enough to give you a hit of variation without throwing off the whole week of preparations.

Saturday
Prep your protein. My go-to is boneless skinless chicken breasts and/or thighs cooked in the slow-cooker on low heat for many hours. You can also do these in a low oven 20-30 minutes on a baking pan. I usually fill my slow-cooker to the top and leave it on medium for the day. This gives me enough chicken to last a month or so. Whatever I don’t need this week will be chopped up, placed on a cookie sheet and frozen individually. Then, once it’s frozen, I put it in plastic zipper bags to be pulled out as needed for the next month. You could sub in cooked ground or roasted turkey easily enough. I do not eat red meat, but I’d guess you could do something similar with beef. If you want fish or seafoods, I would recommend you keep them frozen until a day before you want to eat them to avoid spoilage.

Photo description: A cookie sheet with diced, cooked chicken breasts. They have been frozen and are ready to use or store in the freezer.

Prep your grains/beans. Whenever I cook rice, barley, dried beans, lentils, quinoa, etc. for dinner, I make extra. Then I freeze the leftovers in convenient amounts (3 cups, if I’m going to add them to lunches.) Thaw just before you do your prep for the week. I often use canned beans to save time. Just drain and rinse in a colander before using. You can also find cooked grains and beans in the freezer section of the grocery store, and they work well, too.

Consider prepping vegetables. I “cheat” and buy frozen veggies these days, but when I had fewer financial resources and more time, I would buy fresh vegetables, chop and steam them to have ready for lunches all week.

Sunday
Basic “boxed” lunch
This is my go-to lunch. To make it interesting week in and week out, I change which variation of flavorings I use. This is the starting place.

  1. Put out 6 reusable 4 cup containers with good lids.
  2. In each container begin with:
    1 ½ cups chopped, cooked vegetables (I like broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, summer squash, and/or green beans, it’s ok if they’re still frozen)
    4 oz chopped chicken, turkey, or protein of your choice (also fine if frozen)
    ½ cup beans and/or brown rice, quinoa, or other cooked grain (more if you’re vegetarian)

Teriyaki boxed lunch variation
Add the following to each container of the the basic boxed lunch:
Use black beans or small, mild-flavored beans like azuki or black-eyed peas
⅓ 8oz can of sliced water chestnuts, drained (about ¼ cup)
2 Tbs prepared teriyaki sauce (I use Kikkoman Takumi collection original)
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
2-3 tbs cashews
Suggested fruit pairing: tangerines, oranges and/or pineapple

Tex-Mex boxed lunch variation
Use pinto and/or black beans and rice.
Either use a prepared salsa or make a spicy tomato sauce by stirring together:
2-3 cups tomato sauce
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp chili powder
hot pepper flakes to taste

Put ¼ to ½ cup sauce/salsa over the veggies.
Sprinkle with 1 tbs. pumpkin seeds.
Add 1 oz grated monterey jack or pepper jack cheese on top.
Suggested fruit pairing: diced melon and/or papaya (with a squeeze of lime!)

Italian boxed lunch variation
Use garbanzo or white beans.
Either use a prepared marinara sauce or make one by stirring together:
2-3 cups tomato sauce
2 tsp dried basil and oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
1 minced garlic clove

Put ¼ to ½ cup sauce over the veggies.
Sprinkle with 1 oz grated mozzarella cheese and 1-2 tbs. parmesan.
Suggested fruit pairing: grapes or an orange

For each of these, when you’re ready to eat, simply remove the lid and heat them up until hot, 3-4 minutes in the microwave. This is what I’m eating these days, although I’ve gone through periods when I was eating soups, stews or big salads instead. I’d be happy to share some of those recipes and ideas in future posts if folks are interested, so let me know and keep an eye out for them!

Photo description: What you can see in my refrigerator right now–containers of “teriyaki boxed lunch,” scrambled eggs, tangerines, and portions of greek yogurt with chopped apples.

Do you have a go-to lunch that you like to make ahead for the week? Please comment below, and do let me know if you try any of these and what you think!

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

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.