Wednesday, October 13, 2010

FOOD....simple? (just stick with me on this one...)

This is a touchy subject. A sensitive subject. I mean...our relationship with food can be extremely tricky. A love-hate relationship. And why? Because so much of our time revolves around food.

I hate that. I once tried to avoid food altogether. That ended badly, for obvious reasons. I've been a vegetarian six times, the longest bout lasted almost 2 years. I was a vegan for about 3 months. I was a pescatarian (fish) for 6 years. But fad diets? I'll be honest...I've always loathed the idea of limits. I LIKE food. I like trying new foods and experimenting with recipes. So when the Atkins diet became the new "thing", I stood by and watched my boss turn her entire world upside down to accomodate this new way of "life". It was all about what she could or couldn't eat. It was about ordering
a steak from Outback Steakhouse three times a week and glaring at me from across the room as I enjoyed an apple. She was nasty and moody and conversation was all about food. I was going crazy. And it was EVERYWHERE! While in line at Costco, amidst stacks and stacks of pork rinds at the register, this conversation was taking place all around me... "Oh, you're doing Atkins? Me too! "( while chomping down on a giant stick of beef jerky). "How much have YOU lost?" It was a secret club, of sorts... and everyone was in. Except me. But I was just fine with that. Because I had a "secret" too. It was a little thing called BALANCE. Yep.

This is what I knew when I was five-years when I'm hungry, stop eating when I'm full, at least try new foods, and it's important to drink milk, eat lots of vegetables, and play hard because I want to grow up healthy and strong. Ironically, my family owned a restaurant in my early years..a PIZZA joint, no less! Funny---we didn't eat a lot of pizza. Most meals were made at home. Homemade, wholesome ingredients with whole foods. We rarely ate out, despite the restaurant, and my parents did not keep sugar cereal, soda, chips, sweets, or processed foods at our house. (THANK YOU, Mom and Dad!)

The simple concept of food that I knew at five is what I've carried with me through my adult years. I'll admit, I struggled, sometimes a LOT with food, mostly in my teen years and in college when I found it extremely difficult to balance the foods I knew I needed to eat to maintain and fuel my body as an athlete and the introduction to a lot of BAD food I hadn't experienced at home. Food that was hard to avoid a the student union, the dorms, the mall, the parties.

I was fortunate. And again, as in previous posts--I need to acknowledge how GRATEFUL I am. I watched a lot of my friends continue struggle with overeating, bulimia, and anorexia far into their twenties and thirties. I saw how miserable they were and they way their young bodies were falling apart. I knew, that in order to continue to be an athlete, my body could not perform the way it needed to if I didn't eat the way I had as a kid. And not only would it affect my athletic performance, but most of the balance in my life --work, studies, relationships, mood, sleep. Yeah, the kind of stuff I needed to SURVIVE!

The concept is so simple, it's almost ridiculous. Fully engaged in the concept, I don't even think about it. It's easy, it's second nature. I pick the foods that are best for keeping the balance in my body, eat them consistently, and the results speak for themselves.

But here's why it gets complicated: Because I'm the kind of person who likes to educate myself on nutrition, I pay attention. Well, let's face it, it's kind of hard to avoid. It's in our face. It's in the media. It's in our grocery stores. It takes up two sections at Barnes and Noble! We are overwhelmed with choices and it's daunting. Atkins Diet, Zone Diet, South Beach Diet, Hollywood Diet, Cabbage Soup Diet, Metabolism Diet ADHD Diet, 321 Baby Bulge Be Gone Diet, Biggest Loser Diet, Chocolate Diet, Jenny Craig
Nutrisystem, Oprah Diet, Hormone "Fad Diet" and you'll get a list of over 300! By the way, I want to make clear that I very much understand that food is an UGLY thing for some people. I get that a LOT of people didn't grow up with the concepts of food that I did. The struggle with food is REAL and I acknowledge and appreciate how difficult it is for so many of us. The structure of a diet, counting calories, etc....sometimes it's absolutely necessary, especially for those of us struggling with portion control in this BIGGER world we live in. We are confused. The FDA tells us one thing, the restaurant tells us another. This book says this, but our body says something else. Our trainer tells us we need to do this, but we're not so sure.... No wonder we're fed up! No wonder we're getting FATTER and SICKER! It's complicated and overwhelming. And meantime, another 30 fad diets will emerge by next week...

When I hear about the "latest and greatest", I basically do two things. Any diet that completely eliminates good, whole
foods like vegetables or protein, I don't even give a second look. But the others...I'll take a look. I'll read up and find out why it might have some relevance to good health. Sometimes there are very good arguments.

And this is why my simple, balanced, easy system is constantly challenged. My only advantage is the time I've spent educating myself and learning more and more about what's right and wrong for my body. And I really hope that more and more people take the time to do the same...make it a priority to understand how food effects their bodies. Here's what I know. My system works for me. I don't adhere to any one particular "diet",( though some might say that my diet can be described with the scientific term "low glycemic" or that I eat mostly "Paleo" (a word I will talk MUCH more about in future posts) ). The truth is, I believe in my HEALTH. The balance in my life is real. I eat when I'm hungry, I eat enough to fuel this balance and perform at my best. I eat the foods that will make me stronger, faster, more alert, more energetic and healthier. And yes, I eat a cookie occasionally. I drink a glass of wine sometimes. I like coffee. I enjoy a hearty italian dinner every once in a while. And I also understand that when I enjoy these things, I need to enjoy them in moderation. If one of those things were to trigger a binge, I'd need to eliminate them from my diet completely in order to avoid upsetting the balance.

Now...this is a topic I will revisit MANY times on this blog. Because it's important to me. Yes, I've eliminated many of the scientific "terms" used to describe some of what I'm talking about. (Glycemic index, metabolic rate, organic, etc) because again, it gets COMPLICATED! I like to make overly complex things simple. And I truly believe that so many of us are frustrated and disillusioned by what we read because it's so foreign to us and too difficult to wrap our busy brains around!

Meantime, I'd like to share a very simple, easy, nutritious, and DELICIOUS recipe I made yesterday: PUMPKIN TURKEY CHILI (can we say...FIBER!!!)
1 tbsp oil
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped yellow bell pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1 pound ground turkey
15 oz. diced tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped green chiles
2 cups organic pumpkin puree
1 1/2 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp ground pepper
1 tbsp cinnamon
1/2 cup kidney beans

Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat, saute onion, green bell peppers, yellow bell pepper, and garlic until tender. Stir in turkey and cook until evenly brown. Drain. Mix in tomatoes, green chili, pumpkin, kidney beans. Season with chili powder, cumin, pepper, cinnamon. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer 20 minutes.

Again, I must emphasize...I'm no expert. But here's what I'm saying: I truly believe that food can be SIMPLE. And in my food adventures (yes, I also believe food is extremely adventurous!) I'm hoping to continue to find out HOW...


  1. Ironically, obsessing about food is rarely healthy! I like Michael Pollan's guidelines:

    1. Eat food.
    2. Not too much.
    3. Mostly plants.

    He also asked NY Times readers to send him their rules on eating well, and collected them in a book called "Food Rules."

    Here's a taste:

  2. Nice post. And I think you hit it on the head when you said we all need to learn what works for each of us individually. I like dairy. I can eat yogurt, cottage cheese (and ice cream) and drink kefir and it agrees with me. Not everyone can say that. I'm lucky, I can eat just about everything without recourse. But I also move my body frequently and with intensity. I'm 41 years old and it's working for me.