Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Eat This Not That

A few months ago Barack Obama was on the cover of Men’s Health magazine and I bought it. Partly because Barack Obama was in it, and partly so I could have an excuse to inhale the “guyness” of such a magazine. My husband read that issue, too, and found out about the Eat This Not That serious of books. Next thing I knew, we had the three Eat This Not That books in our home, and copies on the way to certain family members.

Since I cook most of my meals from scratch and rarely eat out at chain restaurants, the bulk of the content of these books is of limited use to me, but I can appreciate how helpful they are for many. Especially for men and children (their aversion to the written word is part of their charm), who prefer to learn from full color photographs.

The premise is so simple even my three year old understands it: on the left side of the page are the “Eat This” foods, while the “Not That” foods grace the right side of the page. In fact, my daughter was paging through the book and saying things like, “Oh no, Mommy. Our favorite salad dressing is BAD” and “Oh, Mommy, my favorite bar is good for me!” (Clif-Z chocolate bar?) I try to explain that even though there are things like candy on the “Eat This” side, it doesn’t mean you “should” eat candy.

Some of the suggestions may surprise you, like the recommendation to eat Breyer’s YoCruch Light Yogurt Cookies n Cream (containing Oreo cookies) instead of Horizon Organic Fat-Free Strawberry. But if you look at the ingredients and calories, lo and behold…the latter contains more calories and sugars than the former.

And some of the information is sobering, like the knowledge that the orange chicken from Panda Express is one of the worst things on the menu for you health wise (500 calories, contains trans fats). Dang, we’ll have to steer clear of that place for a while…the orange chicken is Ravenna’s favorite.

My favorite parts of these books for me are the magazine article style tidbits:

-- Eat This Not That contains suggestions on what food to eat to help you sleep (nonfat popcorn, sesame seeds, or oatmeal with bananas and walnuts, cherry juice) and how to decode restaurant menus. I admit I gloated when they came down on people who mix wasabi with soy sauce and drench their sushi in it.

-- Eat This Not That Supermarket Survival Guide has information on how to choose vegetables at the market, and how to determine if you are lactose intolerant.

Check ‘em out from the library and see what you think.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

In Praise of Off-key Singing

Off-key singing will always have a special place in my heart. I like it because it is instant harmony to my ears; when the singer goes off key, I hear the note as it is actually sung, and also the note as it should be sung (in my head). The two harmonize in my mind's ear and it is a beautiful thing. Usually.

I really wanted to link to some custom-made sound files demonstrating some of my favorite moments of off-key singing. Then I learned it is illegal for me to post even a second of someone else’s song. Sort of absurd, really: I can quote from someone’s book when I’m doing a book review. But I can’t provide a musical “quote” from a song to illustrate a point, even if it my point is “listen to how wonderful this is!”

Here are some glorious examples of off key singing:

The Appleseed Cast: the chorus of “Antihero” -- This is just classic. Warbling, crashing guitars plus warbling, crashing singing equals bliss.

Mineral: “Take the Picture Now” -- Chris Simpson really is one of my all time favorite singers. His candid singing and gift for finding the melody in the music are rarely matched by anyone else. This song is a great example of aching sincerity winning the day over dissonance.

Bright Eyes: “All of the Truth” – Conor Oberst was probably no more than 17 when he did this home-recorded song. I absolutely love not only the off-key moments of singing, but also the way the tape changes speed and slows down for a second at one point. The wobbly, amateurishness of the singing and recording supports the longing, forlorn nature of the lyrics. Perfect.

Felt: -- Just about any song on “Forever Breathes the Lonely Word” – You really can’t appreciate Felt unless you can get past Lawrence’s voice and the way it meanders around like a drunken river, sloshing stray notes onto the shore. Rock on.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Keeping a Food Journal: Not

When I first started this weight loss venture, I was advised by various sources to track the food I eat in some sort of food journal. Various online food journals exist. For example, there’s Calorie Count (focused on calories consumed and burned), My Food Diary, and Weight Watchers (which uses a points system to balance food and exercise). Calorie Count is free, while the other two cost money to use.

It didn’t take me long to realize that entering every single thing I’ve eaten into a database is a pain in the petookis. I think that’s where the utility of food journaling as a weight loss tool comes clear: it is such a hassle to enter in all these foods that you will think twice before eating anything, knowing you have to enter it all into a database and keep track of it.

On the first day of my diet, I was faced with the task of entering half of a Gordito’s burrito into the Calorie Count database. I had to guesstimate the amount of beans, tortilla, rice, onions, lettuce, cheese, sauce (what's IN that sauce?) that was in the burrito. What a nightmare! Next time, I thought, I’ll just have an apple instead.

Another problem with food journaling: How many minutes would it take the average person to enter all this information into their computer? Wouldn’t that time be better spent working out or at least moving around?

If you’ve had the good fortune to lose weight while keeping a food diary, I celebrate your success. I think I’ll use my computer time for downloading music and creating iTunes playlists instead.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Am I Making Progress?

On February 22, I planned to lose 7 pounds by May 17. If I don't lose those pounds, I'm supposed to return my new iPod to the store where I bought it. How have I done so far?

One third of the way there, I have lost about 1/3 of the weight. Yay! On target. And I haven't even quit sweets or alcohol entirely; I’ve just generally been eating less. The first week of this diet was the hardest, because I was hungry, but once I got past that first week, my body had adjusted to eating less and I wasn’t really that hungry.

I haven't walked 5x a week like I had hoped. I really want to walk more, but my daughter has been sick on and off and has missed some days of preschool. Some days, the rainy weather has deterred me, though I have walked in the rain a few times. My favorite routes are at Carkeek Park and Green Lake.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Like Mother, Like Daughter: Dig Those Music Videos

In the early 80's I used to watch MTV for 16 hours straight when I'd visit my grandmother, since she had cable TV and we didn't. My nearly four year-old daughter appears to have inherited my appreciation for music videos. Recently she latched onto this new one from Steven Wilson:

I am actually a bit surprised that my little Teletubbies girl who fears "Shrek" enjoys such a post-apocalyptic video. In places the video reminds me of the Korean version of horror film "The Ring" as channeled by Joel-Peter Witkin. It shows people with bird-heads and gas masks, showers of sparks, things on fire. Nevertheless, my daughter has been watching it three times a day.

The music video fare I was watching in my youth was a bit tamer. Like this classic from the era of the girly-men: "Oblivious" by Aztec Camera. The YouTube version has gone missing, and the one I've linked to has a brief ad at the beginning of it, unfortunately. But it's worth looking at if you like to see cute boys wearing eyeliner.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Bread is the Devil

Many years ago, I was eating lunch on the floor with a group of people who were mostly from Middle Eastern and Asian countries. A bit of sauce spilled on the carpet, and without thinking, I grabbed a small chunk of bread and used that to sop up the sauce. Someone immediately chastised me, saying, "That's food! Don't treat food like a cleanup rag!"

I gave it some thought and realized that I can't remember when I last considered bread as food. It ceased to be food for me so long ago. What is it then? Why, bread is pure evil, that's what. It is an addictive, horribly fattening substance. It is a vehicle for butter, another addictive, horribly fattening substance. It is the basis for pizza, another addictive, horribly fattening substance.

I must not be alone in my notions about bread; many of the popular diets of today (such as Atkins and South Beach) eschew bread as something to be avoided, at least in the early weeks of the diet. And when bread is reintroduced back into the dieter's diet, they say it should only be the whole grain variety, not the pasty white bread that is rumored to coat the insides of your intestines with a sticky crud.

This Q&A by Dr. Andrew Weil refers to a study where they found that dieting people eating refined grains like white bread lost less belly fat compared to those eating only whole grains.

Even whole wheat is problematic because it tends to be addictive. This sets up a craving cycle, which is unhelpful when you're dieting. For this reason, Phase 1 (the first two weeks) of the South Beach Diet has you avoiding bread entirely.

In addition, bread (even whole grain) is somewhat high in calories, especially when it contains a sweetener like sugar or honey. I checked the Nutrition Facts on a certain local baker's bread which we often buy and found even the whole wheat version contains 125 calories per slice. And this is the "good" bread...whole grain, hippie-dippy bread with no unpronounceable ingredients!

For now, I think I will be avoiding even home made bread, because I cannot restrain myself from eating half the loaf in one day. Evil yummy bread, get thee gone!

I leave you with this quote from Dr. Andrew Weil
"...there is universal agreement that high fructose corn syrup, white flour, white sugar and hydrogenated fats have no place in any diet. And there is near-universal agreement that a diet should be rich in vegetables and fruits and quality sources of protein, especially fish." Source.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Forty and Proud of It

If you are under 35 and reading this blog, you may be thinking "What kind of rock has this woman been living under? Who gets excited about things like RSS and Internet Radio? Those things are so...2004."

Well, you may be right, but I don't care. I have always been the sort of person who happily plays the role of the bright-eyed bushy-tailed dweeb. I ask the questions other people are embarrassed to ask for fear of people finding out they don't already know the answer. I translate the new technologies for those who aren't as tech-saavy as today's Generations Y and Z. I also enjoy anticipating the criticism people may have before they actually voice it, and responding to criticism before it comes to light.

So there!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Effect of Weaning

If the truth can be told (and I'm telling it), I am still nursing my daughter, who will be four years old in May. I'm planning to wean her completely over the next couple of months (she only nurses a few minutes a day now anyhow) and have been trying to determine what effect (if any) weaning will have on my weight loss plans.

I have heard rumors that your body hangs on to a little bit of fat (especially midriff fat) while you are still nursing, but that it will go away once you wean completely. I have also heard that it is common for some women to gain weight once they wean completely. This makes sense, too, because the child is no longer sucking calories out of you, but you may still be eating as if she is. I guess my own situation will come clear once I actually do it.

I've been nervous about calling it quits on nursing entirely for several reasons. One is that breast milk -- even in small quantities -- provides valuable antibodies to a child. Children's immune systems don't reach adult level of functioning until the child is around six years old. (Refer to the article "The Natural Age of Weaning" for reference) So I've been afraid that if I cut her off too soon, she's sure to get some horrible stomach flu or something right after and I'll wish I hadn't weaned.

Another reason (and a more selfish one) is that I'm worried about the hormone havoc that awaits me post-weaning. I realize I'm only delaying the inevitable, but there never seems to be a convenient time to have a hormone-induced nervous breakdown. If you think I'm making this up, read this.

So in a month (or two, or three) I'll let you know how it went, if there's anything interesting to report.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Dreaded Muffin Top

One of the reasons I never wear low-rise pants is the dreaded muffin top.

I never had a muffin top until after I had a baby. Within four months I was back to my pre-pregnancy weight, but I still had this roll of extra skin and flab around my mid-section. Will it ever go away? The extra skin part is especially scary. I mean, I have an idea of how to lose fat, but I have never heard of a skin-loss program. Have you?

First lets approach the fat question. What's the best way to get rid of that flab around your mid-section so you resemble the slender person you are, rather than the Michelin man?

My research tells me that walking quickly -- with two minute "cardio bursts" -- is the way to go. What is a "cardio burst"? That's the point when you find yourself unable to speak during exercising. It's that fast walk/slow jog (or whatever it takes you to become breathless) section of your exercise routine.

I found a couple of articles that tout this type of exercise as the way to lose your flabby middle: One from MSN and one from Prevention.

So the best thing for getting rid of -- or at least reducing -- a muffin top is a combination of walking, cardio bursts and exercises that strengthen and tone the "core" muscles in your abdomen.

As for the extra skin leftover from pregnancy, alas, there doesn't seem to be anything one can do about it, short of surgery.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Joy of Being Alerted

Have you ever been blindsided by the news that a favorite band or performer released a new album, rushed to the store and found it already sold out?

Have you ever heard too late that a favorite band or performer is going to be playing live in your city and missed your chance of getting tickets before the venue sold out?

Thanks to the Internet, you can be alerted to the latest news about the music you love, and virtually anything you are interested in.

For example, login to Ticketmaster and customize your "PerformerAlerts" to list performers you are interested in, and Ticketmaster will email you when they are going to be playing in your area.

Fun with RSS 

Be one of the first to know when a favorite band is releasing a new album: use Google Reader or a similar aggregator to subscribe to RSS feeds published by a favorite band web site, or music magazine.

I found these and subscribe to them...

NME news: http://feeds2.feedburner.com/nmecom/rss/newsxml

Rolling Stone: http://www.rollingstone.com/rss

Pitchfork Media: http://feeds.pitchforkmedia.com/pitchfork/today

...but would love to hear about any favorites you might have. If it wasn't for these feeds, I would never have  learned that Spinal Tap will soon be touring North America or who is playing live on which TV show this week.

Other feeds you can subscribe to include a performer's Flickr photostream (even Barack Obama has one), or You Tube channel, for example, here's the one for Sigur Rós.

Just look for the RSS Feed icon: