19 June 2014

Super Veggies!

My dearest friend who lives in Australia just sent me these plush toy vegetables. I love them! 
I wonder if kids with these kinds of toys eat better?

Update 20th June 2014: 
It turns out these particular toys were either poorly designed, or poorly manufactured... Shame...

29 May 2014

The risks going gluten free

French fried with bacon, cheese and sour cream - all gluten free... But is it "healthy" and will you lose weight eating it?
Going gluten free means following a very restrictive diet, where a big portion of grain-based foods are excluded. It is necessary for a small proportion of the population, but the vast majority of people start the diet without consulting a medical professional.

Following a gluten free diet is very popular these days. Many celebrities are doing it, saying it is "healthy" and helping them lose weight, so of course people will follow their lead. But if it is not approached in a balanced way, there can be health risks.

Nutrient deficiencies
Gluten free flour can be low in essential nutrients. Also gluten free products are not enriched or fortified like many wheat products are. An unbalanced gluten free diet can lead to deficiencies in:

  • B vitamins (including folate, niacin and B12)
  • Iron 
  • Calcium
  • Phosphorus
  • Zinc
This can lead to anaemia, fatigue, increased susceptibility to disease, and weak and brittle bones.

Avoiding grains and gluten products often means less fibre intake. Fibre absorbs water and bulks up poop to allow for easy passage. A lack of/or a reduction in fibre can lead to gas, bloating, and gut pain.

Weight gain
Some people may lose weight, probably not because of the reduction in gluten, but because their diet now restricts a lot of the sugar and fat containing foods like pizza, donuts and cake....unless you replace them with the gluten free version... Many gluten free products are high in sugar, fat and calories to make them taste good.

People who have a real issue with gluten are likely to gain weight. Because gluten damages the intestines, removing it from the diet allows the digestive system being able to heal itself. This means it can absorb more nutrients from the foods eaten. Also, with fewer gut symptoms, people find they are able to eat more comfortably and more often.

01 November 2013

Halloween experiment

I know Halloween is over for another year but I learned something interesting about kids and what they want when they are trick or treating.

We live in a neighbourhood that takes this particular holiday very very seriously. They decorate the trees with ghosts, the gardens with graves, and the houses with fake cobweb. They even have smoke machines and spooky sound effects. Because of this, hundreds of people come to see it and to get freebies from the houses that are willing to hand stuff out.

When we moved here, I wanted to join in, and thought that candy was the only thing kids wanted. I bought the big bags of cheap (and nasty) candy to give away. I know there are healthier options, but when you are dealing with so many kids, buying high quality stuff can get really expensive. Things like fruit, raisins, toothbrushes, or nuts etc would cost me a fortune. Also, I had heard the lack of candy can anger some kids and if I chose that option, I would be picking toilet paper out of my hedge and eggs off my roof.

This year I decided to take that risk. I bought a giant bag of spooky foam stickers and some temporary tattoos instead. I did hedge my bets a little and bought a couple of smallish bags of chocolate to give to the scarier looking teens.

To my surprise the stickers and tattoos were a hit! We spread a few of each out for the kids to choose from and nearly every kid seemed happy as they left. Even when the few bits of candy were added to the pile, they were less popular than the 'healthy' treats. One teenage boy in a horror mask chose a winnie the pooh sticker...

My house was clean this morning so it showed me that healthy can be the more popular choice!

16 October 2013

How I lost 30 pounds

All I see is cupcakes?!?!?!
It has been a couple of months since I have written anything. Life has been really busy and once I got out of the habit, it was a struggle to get started again. Inspiration hit today, so I would like to start back with a personal story.

I have been making lots of changes to improve my health and body image over the last few years, and I achieved a pretty cool milestone recently. I am 30 pounds lighter than I was at my heaviest point, and am back to a healthy weight for my height. This is a pretty big deal for me. It took a lot of honest reflection, a few lifestyle changes, and a long time.

My weight gain was slow and subtle. It took years to creep up and when I finally noticed, I felt like an idiot. I have a degree in nutrition and a masters in health management… How did I let this happen? Who is going to listen to an overweight nutritionist?

Using my knowledge and resources, I started to make changes:

I don't have any photos of me exercising, but I do own shoes
I have to buy running shoes now?

I was never very athletic growing up. I was one of those uncoordinated kids that could never catch a ball and was always last in sprints. Gyms always intimidated me, and my lack of coordination made aerobics classes dangerous for people within striking distance. Before I gained weight I kept active by walking everywhere (never owned a car), working in busy jobs in retail and the service industry, and dancing in clubs. This changed when I began studying for my degree in nutrition (ironically) and then working at a computer all day. I was sitting more and moving less. My activity level dropped even more when I moved to the USA, where we drive everywhere.

To choose to exercise, for exercise sake was a new thing for me. It was a lot of trial and error, but I have a devised a few strategies that make it more palatable:
  • I joined a very low-key gym with no voyeuristic windows for people to gawk at me sweating and panting. Also, the other members are mostly pensioners, which means nobody is showing off or wearing tiny outfits.
  • My husband's work reimburses the cost of the gym if I attend a certain number of visits a month. This gives me a target to reach and appeals to my love of deals and coupons.
  • I read a book while I use the elliptical or treadmill, to multitask and pass the time. It may not be perfect but it keeps me there longer than if I was just staring at Jerry Springer on the TV.
  • I also wear a pedometer all the time. It is linked to an app on my phone that sends me a green smiley face when I reach 10,000 steps a day. I have found that I will choose to walk more and take the stairs to get my step numbers up as high as I can.
  • I make exercise a priority by setting it as a task on my to-do list with the same importance as everything else.

Food! Don’t take away my food!!!!!

I started by writing down everything I ate and drank. In college we had to keep diet diaries for a couple of nutrition assignments. One of my experimental nutrition classes had us keep a record of the weight of everything we ate and drank for a few days, as well as collect urine over a 24-hour period. Taking that jug to school on the bus was a little weird…

I figured if I could take scales to a restaurant and weigh my steak at the table, and carry a jug of pee around, just writing food down should be a breeze. I used a food tracking website to do the calorie calculations for me, GO TECHNOLOGY!

It was really quite challenging. It was time consuming and sometimes hard to remember if I'd put it off for a day or two. The most difficult thing was being brutally honest and writing down everything I was mindlessly shovelling in my mouth. I did it though (never showing anyone ever...), and learned a lot. There was a lot of room for improvement. I made one little change at a time, and slowly improved my eating habits:

  • The act of writing everything down has had a positive effect on me. Sometimes its laziness because I don’t want to write it down, or shame at seeing it in black and white. Do I really want another cookie? I have already written down two… do I really need to order this lemonade? Or is it because I don’t want the waitress to think I'm being cheap...
  • I got rid of a lot of liquid calories. I cut out soft drinks and started diluting juice with water. My taste buds have changed as a result and now soft drinks taste cloyingly sweet.
  • I needed to increase the variety of fruits and vegetables I was eating. Doing the same steamed broccoli and carrots over and over was boring. I invested in a produce delivery. It exposed me to a wider range that I wouldn’t have ever picked on my own. Learning how to use them was actually a lot of fun. I am still amazed how much I enjoyed making and eating turnip, red cabbage and grapefruit coleslaw. My first daikon radish cake stir-fry was a hit. I even learned to love eating beets after avoiding them for years due to a traumatic childhood incident.
  • I became aware how skewed my portion sizes were, especially with rice and pasta. The book, Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink was a really good resource and had some excellent tips in it. I now read the portion size on the side of packages, have experimented with smaller plates and glasses, and try not to eat directly out of family sized bags of snacks, and instead put a portion in a bowl.

My arch nemesis… Sugar.

My most challenging issue to deal with was sweets. Indulge me and I will give you a bit of background.

Fairy bread - Source: Wikimedia
My parents were really into healthy food. I grew up with home blended peanut butter, goats milk, carrot juice, and whole wheat bread. This sounds like a good environment to raise a well-adjusted eater, and it was a great start. But because what I was eating was so different to my school friends, junk food and sweets became mysterious and special. At home, my brother and I used to improvise. We would spoon 10 or 15 tablespoons of raw sugar into a half full bottle of milk and get our sugar fix that way. I would go crazy at my friend’s birthday parties and stuff my face with Fairy bread* and cake because it was the only time I could have this kind of food. When I went to my friends’ houses at the weekend, I would spend all of my pocket money on one cent lollies from the corner store, using some pretty advanced economic skills to make sure I got the most for my money. When I was older, I bought big bags of Clinkers, Fantales and Smarties on my way home from school and hid them in my room.

For me, eating sweets was connected with fun, freedom and comfort. Needless to say, even with this insight and all of my awareness that sugar is not very good for you, it has been a difficult bond to break. Stopping eating sugar cold turkey has never worked, but a suggestion I read in Mindless Eating has been incredibly successful. I have my favourite sweets at home but they are out in the garage, in our spare fridge. I know they are there, and I can have them at any time, but I have to go across the garden, unlock the garage, get one, and bring it back. If I want another, I have to repeat the process. I have found that I am eating a lot fewer sweets these days. It is surprising how laziness trumps sugar cravings…

Jeans that fit 3 years ago and today 
The pot of gold at the end of a long and bumpy rainbow.

For the last 3 years, my weight has been dropping very slowly from the highest point. Some weeks I have lost a couple of pounds, other weeks I have not lost any (occasionally gained a few but that’s okay because there has been an overall decline). I chose to do this very slowly so that I didn’t have to change things too drastically. This has had good and not so good aspects. The good has been that I have only had to make small and gradual changes to my lifestyle, which have been pretty easy to maintain. The not so good is that there is not the dramatic reveal or weigh-in like the TV shows, or even any perceivable changes when I look in the mirror. BUT, I have dropped 4 clothing sizes and when I measure myself with a tape measure the numbers are definitely lower. People who don’t see me every day are starting to make comments on how much smaller I look, which is really cool.

The end?

The latest thing I am working on is alcohol. I know I am still drinking a few too many calories but I love wine and cocktails. This is still a work in progress… If I come up with any brilliant ideas, I will add them in. This lifestyle change business never really stops. The environment around me, my body and my lifestyle will always change. I will always have to keep an eye on things and make tweaks.

Will this help you?

I hope so. Writing down this journey has been a really good learning experience for me. It has been an excellent opportunity to apply my knowledge and skills. It has also given me the gift of empathy for anyone else struggling with weight changes and body issues.

Although this is not a diet or eating plan that can be followed to the letter, it may give you some ideas of what you can do that fits into your own life. If you are stumped as to where to start, begin by writing down what you are eating and drinking as honestly as you can. If you think there are factors out there that you can’t put your finger on, try looking through the list in this post. There are over 100 different factors affecting our weight at any one point in time.

I wrote these points in a blog post back in January 2012 on how to choose the best diet. These may also be helpful.

Things to consider when choosing a diet or weight loss plan.
  1. Exercise is an essential component, but make sure it is within your ability.
  2. Weight loss should be slow. No more than 1 to 2 lbs (1kg) a week. Any faster and your body will retaliate. Cutting out around 300-500 calories per day is realistic.
  3. Weight can be an unreliable marker for health. Also consider fitness, energy, improved mood, clothing fit, body measurements, improved blood pressure and improved body chemistry (glucose, HDL/LDL etc).
  4. If you choose a commercial diet, it should encourage you to cook or prepare your own food, rather than just provide meals. This makes the healthy changes more sustainable after the initial weight loss.
  5. It should encourage you to look at portion size and not suggest too little or too much of anything.
  6. It should be balanced and have every component of energy (fat, protein and yes, even carbs) as well as all the vitamins and minerals.
  7. It should fit into your lifestyle; work, cooking ability, fitness, family needs, finances etc.
  8. You should be able to go out to dinner or a birthday party and integrate your diet, or be okay with suspending it. If you have to take your own food or go without, that's a bad sign.
  9. If you are miserable, cranky, sick, dizzy, tired or consumed by thoughts of food, then you need to find another diet, this one isn't good for you. You will just end up binging and then feeling bad.

Good luck and I can’t wait to hear your story.

* I grew up in Australia, be prepared to google some terms if you didn’t.

29 July 2013

Homemade vs. Processed - Mayonnaise

Homemade mayonnaise - Source: Wikimedia

Which would you prefer to put on your sandwich?
Homemade ingredients
5 ingredients
Processed ingredients
20 ingredients
Egg yolk
Lemon juice
Olive oil

Soybean oil
Modified corn starch
Corn dextrins
Dried egg yolk
Lactic acid
Potassium sorbate
Phosphoric acid
Dried onion
Dried garlic
Calcium disodium EDTA
Sodium aluminium silicate
Foodfacts.com, 2013. Find out what's really in your food. [Online] Available at: http://www.foodfacts.com/ [Accessed 22 July 2013].
Salazar, S. & Dickhaut, S., 2004. Basic Cooking. Munich: Barnes and Noble.

22 July 2013

Traditional vs. Processed - cheddar cheese

Processed cheese slices - Source: Wikimedia
Which would you prefer to eat?

Traditional ingredients
Processed ingredients
27  ingredients
Sea salt
Skim milk
Milk protein concentrate
Sodium phosphate
Dried corn syrup
Sodium hydroxide
Lactic acid
Sodium citrate
Milk fat
Sorbic acid (preservative)
Artificial colours
Cellulose gum
Artificial flavours
Sodium tripolyphosphate
Citric acid
Sodium phosphate
Disodium inosinate
Vitamin A
Apo-carotenal color
Annatto color
Cheese culture
Cultures for Health, 2013. How to make cheddar cheese. [Online] Available at: http://www.culturesforhealth.com/how-to-make-cheddar-cheese-recipe [Accessed 3 July 2013].
foodfacts.com, 2013. Kraft Single 2% sharp cheddar cheese. [Online] Available at: http://www.foodfacts.com/NutritionFacts/Cheddar/Kraft-Single-2-Sharp-Cheddar-Cheese-107-oz/45680 [Accessed 3 July 2013].

15 July 2013

Traditional vs. Processed – Juice

Source: Wikimedia

Which would you prefer to drink?

Homemade ingredients
Processed ingredients
17  ingredients
High fructose corn syrup
2 percent or less of the following ingredients:
Concentrated juices – orange, tangerine,  apple, lime, grapefruit
Citric acid
Malic acid
Calcium hydrate
Ascorbic acid (vitamin C)
Thiamin hydrochloride (vitamin B1)
Natural flavors
Food starch – modified
Canola oil
Cellulose gum
Sodium erythorbate (to protect colour)
Potassium sorbate
Sodium benzoate (to protect flavour)
Yellow No. 5
Yellow No. 6
fooducate.com, 2013. Sunny D Sunny Delight with Calcium, Smooth California Style. [Online] Available at: http://www.fooducate.com/app#page=product&id=4E7B1FA2-E10C-11DF-A102-FEFD45A4D471 [Accessed 6 June 2013].

Weird Food - pizza flavoured ice cream

Source: Foodbeast
I wonder if it tastes like tomato, pepperoni or cheese? Either way, I don't think I will be ordering it any time soon.

09 July 2013

Traditional vs. Processed - Coffee creamer

Source: Wikimedia

Which would you prefer to put in your coffee?

Traditional ingredients
Processed ingredients

Corn syrup solids
Vegetable oil (partially hydrogenated coconut or palm oil)
Hydrogenated soybean oil
Sodium caseinate (derived from milk)
Dipotassium phosphate
Mono and Diglycerides
Sodium aluminosilicate
Artificial flavour
Annatto colour
foodfacts.com, 2013. Coffee-mate the original coffee creamer. [Online] Available at: http://www.foodfacts.com/NutritionFacts/Original/Coffee-Mate-The-Original-Coffee-Creamer-6-oz/71713 [Accessed 3 July 2013].
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