Friday, January 29, 2016

Sticky Situations

If you read this blog enough, you'll know that all of my ramblings are not particularly scientific. They're usually composed of one part History and another story-telling with some Science thrown in for good measure... a fine recipe in my estimation. But, for awhile, I've held this (non-scientific) theory that I'd like to throw against the wall and see if anything, quite literally, sticks.

My theory is that foods which are less healthy for you are more likely to stick to your plate, or whatever dishware you use (I'm often inclined to take-out boxes). This theory would be in opposition to foods that are "healthy" or as the Washington Post would label, "nourishing." I think I developed the theory in high school as I washed dishes at home, noting that the black bean sauce from my eighteen-hundredth meal of Chinese food took copious amounts of hot water to clear. Thinking about it, I noted that, water clears relatively easily from a glass, raw veggies come off a plate with ease but leave some cheese on a surface for an hour and that shit is gonna get sticky. So, like any good (semi)scientist, I've felt the need to experiment on this theory for quite some time... and what better time than a long, snowed-in weekend to do so. As Chris Tucker might say, "it's Friday... and I a'int got shit to do."

 Preservatives = #Shelflife

As any scientist would, I conducted a little research du background in order to adequately cast the elements of my experiment. In order to do so, I looked up a little information on them good ol' preservatives, a factor which I found common among many foods which did not want to part with the surfaces of my plates. A preservative, put simply, is, "a substance used to preserve foodstuffs, wood or other materials against decay." So, preservatives, while taking a variety of forms, can keep your veggies fresh and your wooden deck chair in good shape. And while both veggies and wooden chairs may have began as part of a tree, it seems preservatives may be a bit harsh in their ability to protect such a wide range of natural and man-made products. To use an example: while a Mossad agent could offer personal protection to either myself or a more visible, vulnerable world leader, it'd be overkill to employ one in my very boring, quiet life.. an ill mannered German Shepard would do just fine (at least it'd have a cuddly side). The same can be true of preservatives. Our jars of pasta sauce may not need as much protection against deterioration as our snow tires. But as I said, there are many types of preservatives.

While I wanted to focus in on one preservative for control, it was a bit difficult to do so. Ergo, I chose three separate preservatives which occur in many of the foods I consume: gellan gum, sulfites and sodium benzoate. While gellan gum is often vegetable based and used as a thickening agent in many non-dairy beverages (read: almond milk) sulfites can be naturally occurring or added to foods to preserve freshness. In some, sulfites (and there are a range of them) may cause allergic reactions which is why the mother of an old friend may have bought wine without sulfites when we were in high school. Sodium benzoate, however, is an additive used in many foods and, historically speaking, the topic of several controversies. Used in everything from sodas to salad dressings, the preservative was "under investigation" several years ago for its effects on hyperactivity in children. To some extent, it was found that when sodium benzoate combined with certain food colorings, it led to a marked increase in hyperactivity levels among the young. There had also been concerns that, when combined with Vitamin-C, the preservative could develop into a carcinogenic or cancer-inducing substance. Quite a lot for a little chemical. But I digress...

 In order to conduct the experiment, I figured I'd use three groups of ingredients. Each group would possess a store-bought ingredient (containing a preservative listed above) and a homemade version without said preservative. I would begin each variable at the same temperature. After letting the substances sit in a generally controlled environment for two minutes, I would dump the contents into another bowl (no ingredients were wasted in the course of this experiment) and see how much material was left in the original vessel. I wasn't going to measure how much of each ingredient remained in terms of cc's or ml's or what have you, I just figured I'd eyeball it, and I'd let you do the same.

My handy-dandy thermometer which is about as scientific as I am.

1. Almond Milk

I love almond milk, both the store bought and the homemade kind. But as I've been making an effort to eat in a truly natural sense, my body can feel just how much sugar the store-bought kind can actually possess. Almond milk, and dairy products, as a rule, tend to be on the healthier side when compared to most processed foods but they often do contain preservatives for freshness. According to The Vegetarian Resource Group Blog,  gellan gum (a thickening agent found in many non-dairy drinks) is considered to be vegan which bodes well for almond milk's target demographic. But, a preservative is a preservative (for the sake of this experiment). So, to begin, I poured half a cup of store-bought almond milk in a glass and half a cup of my homemade version in another (cover almonds with water, let sit, blend). I used glass vessels to hold both substances to further control the experiemnt (what can I say, I'm a control freak). When each substance had reached room temperature (70 degrees) I let it sit, and then tossed each "milk" into a bowl. The result:

Both the store-bought and homemade milks seemed to leave nearly an equal amount of residue on their respective glasses. I'm unsure if this is because each product is mostly water-based which would lend themselves to cohesive properties but I suppose we can conclude (on my already shaky premise) that based on the amount of liquid which stuck to the glass, store-bought and homemade almond milks can be either equally healthy... or unhealthy.

2. Mustard
I love mustard. I think I learned I loved it at the same time I learned I wasn't such a fan of ketchup. I was at Ted's Hot Dogs in Buffalo, New York (this restaurant is really the only reason why I would suggest a trip to the city) and ordered a regular dog with mustard and onions. At thirteen, that's really the only type of heaven you can ask for and I think I never stopped loving mustard since. It's a good thing too because, speaking of foods containing hidden ingredients, the ubiquitous Hunt's brand of ketchup oddly contains a fair amount of sugar... generally four grams per tablespoon according to the website, Hungry for Change. But many commercial mustards are not so bad, although many contain sulfites. So, to continue my experiment, I pitted Martial Picat's Dijon Mustard against Melissa Clark's homemade recipe for grainy mustard. Just as with my various forms of almond milk, I brought each form of mustard to room temperature. Using my handy-dandy measuring tools, I placed a scant tablespoon of store-bought mustard into a stainless steel spoon and a scant tablespoon of my homemade version in another. With a quick flick of the wrist, I dropped each form of mustard into a bowl with what I felt was a similar amount of oomph (to be scientific about it). The result: 
What remains of my store-bought mustard.

In this case, my theory seemed to hold true. The mustard containing preservatives seemed to stick to the spoon. Full disclosure, however, the homemade version of my mustard called for white wine vinegar which I later learned to contain sulfites, so the jury still may be out in this regard.
3. Tomato Sauce
I like tomatoes but, as far as tomato sauces go, a lot of them contain preservatives (not the brand of Emeril Lagasse though, in case you were wondering). So, to this extent, I made a homemade sauce using Mario Batali's recipe and a sauce containing sodium benzoate. After both sauces reached room temperature, I threw them into a bowl and voila: 
The sauce containing sodium benzoate (on the right) seemed to leave a bit more residue... although I'm wondering if I flicked it into the bowl with as much oomph as the other sauce.
So what does all this mean? It was an odd theory to start with but I think it holds up... that foods containing more preservatives, due to the findings of this experiment, are more likely to stick to their respective containers. Now we can all rest easy... until we see what these foods can do to our insides. 

Monday, January 25, 2016

Com-post With The Most

I once worked at a school inhabited by well-bred women. Women who knew about the Philadelphia Flower Show, about which fruits were in season and could foresee the Kentucky Derby coming from two weeks away. However, growing up in a family that could trace its heritage back to Ellis Island, I was not steeped in such nature-based traditions. Perhaps this is why, in Moral Arguments, I stated I wasn't the largest fan of nature. My grandparents, growing up in the tenements, were inclined to view animals as wild beasts and were certainly not taking the Main Line into Philadelphia for any occasion, especially a flower show. But, one thing they were keen on was health.

An O.G.: Oldie but goodie.

Perhaps this is why I moved to Virginia. They say we try to account for balance in our families. This may be why my father became a cardiologist when his parents suffered and/or are suffering from health-related ailments such as high blood pressure, and I attempt to garden and write a blog centered on eating naturally. The South has a diet of its own (might I suggest Lodge's Cast Iron Nation to whet your appetite) and its climate is just a bit more amenable to growing crops than that of New England (see: Civil War). So living in a warmer climate and among gardeners who benefit from it respectively, has exposed me to a tradition unfamiliar to my forebearers: the cultivation of a green thumb.

I really don't have a green thumb, I'm just trying to acquire one and not due to the pursuit of leisure like my more well-heeled neighbors. Being from a family of immigrants, I hate wasting food. So composting, while fitting squarely in the realm of gardening, also appeals to my more frugal side. But, ironically, planning for and producing such compost has aligned me more with the activities of the... Main Line, shall we say.

In The Art Of War, Sun Tzu places preparation at the forefront of warfare. Indeed, preparation is key to any pursuit, particularly gardening. The continuation of life, whether through growing crops or child-rearing, takes planning. As they say in The Legend of Bagger Vance, "the rhythm of the game is like the rhythm of life," and following the seasons: the patterns of the sun and its related consequences on our surroundings puts us in line with something greater than ourselves. But I promised this would be a "light" post.

"Right here is where this game is won. Right here on the green."

So, unless you're foraging... playing the real game before the game, gardening takes planning. And just as I referred to "posts before the posts" in Moral Arguments, planning, in the gardening-sense, often takes place in the season before the season (read: in Winter before Spring). Last year, when I began reading in preparation for my garden, I often came across the fact that farmers considered soil their greatest asset. Healthy soil often led to healthy crops and, just like our bodies, I'm assuming soil is at its healthiest when composed of les materiaux naturelles.

According to that blurb that comes up when you search for something generic online, composting is, "a simple way to add nutrient-rich humus which fuels plant growth and restores vitality to depleted soil." But how do we do it? That's easy as well. According to the EPA, composting, "requires three basic ingredients," mainly what they call browns, greens and water. Creating a compost pile requires an equal amount of browns ("dead leaves, branches and twigs," according to the EPA) to greens which is organic matter ranging from nail clippings to carrot tops (which definitely belong in the compost heap). The site goes on to provide the benefits of composting as well as tips to begin creating a compost pile in one's backyard. But the point remains: when we eat better, we are doing something better for the environment by returning parts of organic matter whence from where they came. And thus, once again, we are part of the circle of life.


And, if you need a compost bin to get started, I purchased mine at Williams Sonoma: to appeal to my frugal side. ;)

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Moral Arguments

In A Balanced Buddy, I talked about playing, "the game before the game", planning ahead for the day after and referencing one of my favorite television commercials (with a running time of five minutes, what can I say, I like expensive things). And, indeed, this is a final "theoretical" post before a lighter one before I personally sign-off for the month of February in order to let my more medically based parents take over for American Heart Month. So, to some extent, this is the post, before the post, before the posts.

I've grown a bit tired of writing "heavy" and abstract posts dealing with humans' relationship towards food, our relationships with the food-industry and our relationships with ourselves. Indeed, these are important topics but the month of January is dreary enough and I'm sure I've grown as harried of writing such pieces as you are of reading them. So I promise to move onto "greener pastures" soon (pun intended) but, before, I do, there's one more topic I'd like to look at.

At the end of Cuchillos y Cucharas, I promised to continue the post, subtly referencing the, "health-related, aesthetic and moral consequences" of malnourished eating. Today, I'd like to discuss the moral argument for what I see is a nutritious and balanced diet... because if we are to recognize corporations as people, we can at least recognize plants as living.

Five minutes, three seconds, around eight celebrities and one helluva commercial.

This summer, I heard of an odd phenomenon of people trying to get their nutrition from the sun. Indeed, the person who informed me of the practice seemed like the type who would try it out mostly because, as I'm assuming of others who've tried the "diet", she was the type to not stick with something for long. But the first thing that struck me as odd about "sun-eating" was the fact that we can consume the sun's energy quite easily... through plants.

It's well known (through Wikipedia) that, via photosynthesis, plants are able to, "convert the sun's energy in chemical energy," (yeah, I had to look it up. Like you're so fucking smart). Ironically, such energy is stored as sugar but when we eat plants, we are, indirectly, eating the energy from the sun. In Forks Over Knives, Drs. Caldwell Esselstyn and Colin T. Campbell both advocate for a diet more heavily based on plants than animal products citing, among other things, the large nutritional value of plants as well as the diseases that may arise when we look to animal products for the same benefits. They also state in the film that when we eat plants such fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes, our bodies signal to our brains that we're full at a faster rate than when we eat animal products or oils. An interesting phenomenon, I thought.

Within this past summer, I also attended a class at Flower Power on what was essentially "potion making" or, more aptly, the creation of tinctures, vinegars and infusions (what can I say, it was a trippy summer). I took the class mostly because, at the time, I was looking to get some nutrition through the infusion of plants in water (if you read this blog, you're likely aware of my oddly fluctuating appetite). Before the class began, the instructor noted how, when she struggled in adolescence (as we all do) she would often walk in the woods and feel a sense of calm amongst nature. Nature, however, is not really my jam... to some extent, I find it difficult to see why anyone would want to deal with dog hair, cat hair or going to a god-forsaken Petco for the sake of a living thing. But as I make an effort to eat a more plant-based diet (as I stated in Cuchillos y Cucharas, I'm a big fan of veggies - in blue cheese) I can feel a greater connection to the seasons, the flavors and the gifts that plants can give us.

As we've been referencing past summers throughout the post, I can remember back to a summer in which my grandmother and I were discussing vegetarianism. Perhaps one of my brothers had just become a vegetarian or perhaps it was the fact that my father (her son) had been a vegetarian for years but I remember she began to speak a lil' ill of the diet. As, I'm sure, being a child of the depression and New York tenement housing left a pretty large question mark in the space which once housed the meat group in my family members' diets (Jonathan Safran Foer also talks about this in Eating Animals). I, dabbling in vegetarianism myself, tried to defend the eating habit as compassionate, even though, I really wasn't coming at it from a compassionate perspective. "But plants are living too," she said... at which point I remember feeling that sense I'm assuming is common to most hipsters, "ummmm, I haven't quite figured that out yet, but I know I'm (at least morally) right." But she was right. As I found out later, the Dali Lama is not even a vegetarian, nor was the Buddah. People, particularly in the historical sense or those who live in high altitudes (read: Tibet) generally rely on meat to survive. It's only a more recent phenomenon that we've seen a shift to cutting entire food groups from our diet be it carbs in Atkins or animal products through veganism (although, I'm not sure if these should be placed in the same categories for reasons I will discuss later). But whether we eat plants or plants and animals, the amount we eat still remains key to our diets, just as my grandmothers comment still remains fact, that plants are living things too.

Cue the corny music.

Within the animal kingdom, we are bent on survival. We are built and build others to ensure the continuation of our respective species. So, when I heard, through Forks Over Knives that our bodies signal we're full at a relatively fast rate when plants are consumed, I wondered (this is purely conjecture) if this was some form of survivalism for plants. 

Plants do house a lot of nutrients. As stated in Cuchillos y Cucharas, a single serving of kale holds a whole bunch of potassium among other things. So it would make sense that our bodies become satiated quicker when we eat foods dense in nutrients. As stated in Wait Time, the body knows what it needs. But plants, while living, are immovable in their own right. They cannot run for safety, and while some may emit a funky smell to ward off captors, they are pretty much at the mercy of the realm Animalia. So, I'm wondering if their concentration of nutrients essentially acts as a buffer against over-consumption, thus, giving at least part of the plant a chance to survive. While I'm sure the plants are "happy to give" after all, Shel Silverstein told us so in The Giving Tree, it is up to us, the homo sapiens, to ensure that we don't over consume something that has a life of its own. It's good to listen to our bodies and to the messages sent to them by plants.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Sharing is (literally) caring

I kinda hate Town and Country, particularly when its posts describing the release of an Hermes Apple Watch show up under Oxfam's release of its poverty index. But, sometimes, it releases something useful, like this.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Wait Time

When I was in college, I had this great professor. I don't remember his name. I don't remember what specific classes he taught. I just remember him. He was a hard-scrabble man with deep ridges in his face. He came from the back-woods of somewhere and spoke with enough directness to make up for any of the bullshit he lacked. So it always surprised me that he taught in the Education Department. His fierce mind seemed geared towards hard research over the social nuances that arise in the classroom. This is probably why I liked him. Although he possessed an intensity, he also carried a concern and gentleness towards others.

One of the things he spoke to us about was "wait time." We were all (although some of us more than others) eager to be teachers and I think he knew such eagerness would be subsequently reflected in the attitudes of our future students (in some more than others). So he spoke to us about wait time, that small instant when we pause after asking a question and look beyond students who consistently participate to see if those who don't always raise their hand might offer some contribution. 

The mind is a "quick-moving" organ. In an instant, it can decide whether to fight or take flight, sense if something's off or respond to stimuli. Although it may not have the same capacity as a computer, it can process whether or not it contains a piece of information at a faster rate. For example, I know I don't know why Julianne Hough is famous but I do know I hate her (but I know I don't know why). So, it sometimes only takes an instantaneous moment for students who don't regularly participate to go past their automatic response (of not raising their hand), think about the question and offer a rebuttal or what have you. Indeed, I was quite amazed at this process. As a teacher, when I got past fears that no one might participate or the class would go crazy at a lull, I was amazed to see which students offered feedback when given an extra moment: feedback that was impressive and creative. I mention this because the same can be said of our appetites.

There's an old Buddhist tale which talks of a ruler going to a Buddhist monk, complaining that his subjects were unruly in his kingdom. "Give them what they want," said the monk. "But they want to overthrow the government," replied the ruler. At this point, as I recall, the monk paused for a moment and replied, "give them what they really want." This is not to be interpreted as subtle argument for or against governments and, to some extent, the specifics of the ruler's complaints escape me but the point remains the same. There are things we want and things we really want and our bodies are no different.

I really need to stop referencing Salt, Sugar, Fat but, really, so much comes back to processed food. The presence of salt in food, of sugar in food and of fat in food (in high amounts) can essentially alter our systems. They create cravings when we may not otherwise have them and they don't really do a body good. In fact, they can go so far as to harm our bodies causing maladies such as hypertension, heart disease and herpes (just kidding on that last point, I just wanted to reference one more thing that began with an "h".) In my mind, salt, sugar and fat are kind of like the "hook-ups" of the food world, they're entertaining but, in the end, leave you a bit empty. While our brains are quick, the neurons they house also work with our bodies to make it wise. Indeed, the term "homo sapien" truly means "wise-man. And the internal organ that houses the second-most amount of neurons is the stomach. To me, this means both our head and "gut" are pretty astute, knowing what we need before we, the homo sapiens, do.

In Cuchillos y Cucharas, I talked about how I believe the body intuitively knows what it wants (what it really wants). To survive, we need the nutrients found in a million fruits and vegetables. Call it Darwinism: our bodies want to be healthy. But this is not always easy. There is a market flooded with steep canyons: foods that provide us with many calories but little fulfillment leading to issues with weight and disease. It's not an aesthetic issue it's a health-related one and while I didn't want to get political earlier, the issues caused by processed foods can have nation wide effects on how the government spends its money (think everything from school lunch programs to health insurance). So healthy eating (eating for nutrition) does not just take care of us, it takes care of society as a whole.

Who's the stomach? Who's the brain? Who the hell knows but, as in Dallas, there's always conflict.

This is where wait time comes in. As I mentioned in my last post, I love sweets, the consumption of which sends my brain into a tail spin of desire, resistance and an internal civil war. Essentially, it creates a Dallas episode in my stomach. And, oftentimes, when I crave them, I know I don't really want them. My mind just doesn't want to be bored or my body is going through a sugar withdrawal or to some extent, I think I may see eating as a form of hoarding. It's not for completely aesthetic reasons that I deny myself sweets when I crave them (although I do worry what I would look like if I ate as I always wanted), in fact, it's to the contrary. Just as I started in Cheers to Ms. Fisher, I'm getting older. Within this aging process has come (some) maturity. And while my body fights for those sweets, I know they're not what I really want. Just as the subjects of a kingdom may not really want anarchy or (as we also learned in our education classes) students ultimately want to be held accountable, my body knows it needs nutrients to survive and thrive. So I wait. I wait through the pain and discomfort and when I feel I can't wait anymore... my appetite awakens, and asks for what it really needs. 

Friday, January 15, 2016

Cuchillos y Cucharas

On occasion, I moonlight at a restaurant (as you can probably tell, I love being around food). As part of our serving duties, we are required to roll silverware consistently, meaning I'm constantly walking back into the kitchen, asking, "cuchillos y cucharas?": essentially inquiring if the knives and forks have been washed even though cuchillos means knives and cucharas means spoons (my Spanish is no bueno). But aside from my nightly references to cutlery, I recently came across a film which deals (in name) with this rare topic: Forks over Knives.

Trailer time.

Surprisingly, although I love being around food, I'm not a huge fan of the documentaries which cover the topic. Aside from the alpha-models of the group or those original pieces which spawned a cavalcade of copycats, a lot of documentaries leave some questions unanswered or just come across as whiny. Rather, I enjoy reading books on health through food. Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food and The Omnivore's Dilemma are both beautifully written and researched pieces and, of course, I always reference Salt, Sugar, Fat on my blog. But Forks Over Knives proved entertaining and brought up some good points.

The film centers around Drs. T. Colin Campbell and Caldwell Esselstyn, both of whom advocate towards a heavily plant based diet and associate the consumption of animals products (meat, dairy and eggs) with an increase in heart disease and a decrease in one's quality of life. One particular point addressed in the film is the way our bodies respond to certain types of food. Amazingly, when we eat plant based foods (fruits, veggies, seeds), our stomachs indicate we're full at a much faster rate than if we eat meat or oils (read: chocolates, etc.). This may seem counterintuitive as the latter two ingredients contain many more calories per portion. But I'm always amazed at how many nutrients are contained in vegetables. Indeed, a single serving of kale (1 cup) contains 329 mg of potassium, 133% of your daily recommended of vitamin A and 134% of your recommended vitamin C intake. Dr. Campbell even goes so far as to state in the video that while Americans have often relied on animal products as a source of protein, vegetables like potatoes (which rank low on the nutritional index) often provide enough nutrients to aid our bodies in this area (per serving, potatoes contain 4.3 grams of protein as well as a whopping 897 mg of potassium and 30% of your daily B-6 intake- an essential nutrient which aids our nervous systems among others). 

When I was young, I found myself in a mall, browsing through rows of purses. I found a beautiful white one- not for a small price and, while it was on sale, I felt bad about making a three-digit purchase while an unpaid intern. Beautiful as it was, I put it back while my "shopper-in-crime" snatched up a few handbags (she could afford to be an unpaid intern). Essentially, once I did get paid again, I searched high and low for that bag, buying up several that looked like it (as well as some that didn't). At the end of the day, had I bought the purse, I would have ironically saved myself hundreds in an attempt to recreate something similar to it. The same goes for the food we eat. According to Forks Over Knives, when we fill our bodies with food it doesn't need it often remains hungry until it gets what it does, leaving us to consume more animals, sweets or whatever until our brains tell us we've had our fill. This form of eating sans nutrients carries health-related, aesthetic and moral consequences as we choose (either with our bodies or our head) what we consume.

I've always liked veggies, probably because I've always liked blue cheese. As an old nanny used to say, "you like your salad to be swimming in it." So, in this regard, I'm lucky. But I also like sweets. Mississippi Mud Pies, doughnuts, or, really, milk chocolate malt balls, are essentially part of my daily diet. It's the yin yang combination we all have and my wallet thanks me every day for not being a large fan of alcohol. In short, I don't have sophisticated tastes. But as I watched Forks Over Knives, it made sense. In Deprivation Sensations, I mentioned how I sometimes I get concerned when my appetite seems fit for a mouse. Indeed, as my appetite has stabilized over the last few months, I've come to see that the consumption of veggies has played a role in this phenomenon. While there have been many factors which have played into a small appetite, I've often noticed that when I eat (raw) veggies, I eat relatively few in a single sitting. 

When I was young, I used to complain to my mom that I was thirsty, hoping she'd get me a Gatorade. On one occasion, she called my bluff, giving me an apple and telling me, "look, this is mostly water." Indeed, such is the case with most fruits and vegetables which I'm wondering may be the reason we feel so full so quickly after consuming them. In Deprivation Sensations I spoke about trusting your body. Just as butterflies know, inherently, the route to Mexico, I believe our bodies know what to feed us if we simply listen to it. 

To be continued...

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Deprivation Sensations

When I was in college, I had a friend who went with her family to a cabin one weekend. Upon her return, she complained that her and her parents had fought about her weight. I felt bad about this fact to begin with. While few of us were truly healthy in college, (see Cheers to Ms. Fisher) and I think her parents may have had "parental" intentions as mine often had, it's no fun to argue over vacation, particularly when you're confined to a cabin. In her defense, my friend claimed that, she was built a bit more like her tall, broad father and that her mother didn't eat. Indeed, her mother was quite the skinny-mini. So, while I felt bad for my friend at the beginning of the story, I felt particularly bad for her by the end.

In Cheers to Ms. Fisher, I wrote about giving my body what it needs. While I've learned my body doesn't need food merely when I think about it (which is all the time) there are days when my appetite is truly voracious and I simply keep "feeding the beast" without fear of a scale or how my clothes may fit the next day (my weight fluctuates pretty easily). But for every yin, there is a yang and just as I become pleased when my appetite allows for pleasant indulgences I become frustrated (and sometimes concerned) when it tells me I've had enough.

As most foods on the market are made by large corporations as opposed to small trees, they often contain more salt, sugar or fat than their natural counterparts. To this extent, when our bodies try and plead with us that its had enough we don't just stop eating we withdraw from eating. This can mean our dopamine levels may change and cause massive discomfort. To avoid this pain, I often ate small meals or skipped them entirely or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, just kept eating. At the end of the day, they say issues with eating stem from control. And just like we might wear makeup, hold our tongues or make large life decisions to "control" what others think of us, I often tried to gain dominion over the pain of putting away what was often sugar-laced foods. This often took the form of simply engaging in the grazer's form of a progressive dinner throughout the day. I ate small meals so I knew another bite was always in sight, avoiding the pain of having to stop. To some extent, I was a lot like Twilight's character, Edward, in the scene where he shows concern that he won't be able to stop consuming Bella's blood (an odd scenario, I know). For copyright reasons, I don't think I can attach the scene below but if you watch it here, I pretty much feel the way Edward does at 1:04. Sometimes, I found it easier to avoid eating, adhering to the smoker's motto that, "if I don't start, I don't have to stop." In no other situation was it apparent that I couldn't have my cake and eat it too. But the irony is, had I eaten healthy, balanced meals as opposed to feeding my sweet-tooth (as stated before, I rationalized continued eating because sweets didn't count as a meal), I probably wouldn't have had the pain of pulling away. My body probably would have been more satisfied with what it had.

As we should eat as our body needs, the balanced aspect of eating arrives (I'm learning) when we listen to our bodies to stop (as hard as that may be). This point relates back to why I felt so bad for my friend. To some extent it's more of a challenge to listen to our bodies and eat simply when we're hungry (and stop when we're full) rather than override our internal mechanisms and not eat much at all (which I'm certainly not advocating). There is no glory in remaining off the proverbial horse whether one falls to the side of under or overeating. The real glory lies in maintains that razor's edge of balance which is much more challenging than going on autopilot towards not eating or eating a lot (to use extremes). It takes engagement. This is not about weight as much as it is about being healthy. While I formerly abstained in eating healthy foods in lieu of small, unhealthy snacks, I'm now learning to imbue my eating with confidence, knowing that I'll listen to myself when I'm hungry and listen to myself when I'm not. It may not make me look like a supermodel but, ironically, I may gain something better... control (and an ass). Indeed, this blog used to be called Eat Your Ego, as a reference to using and approaching food for health as opposed to it's more unhealthy associations with appearance. Anyway, here's the Red Hot Chili Peppers to demonstrate the pain/pleasure dynamic... Enjoy!

Friday, January 8, 2016

Remixing Your Posture

I'm not really a big fan of remixes, musically speaking. Save for R. Kelley's "Remix to Ignition" I usually like songs as they are and find it odd when they are all of a sudden taken up to an unbearable tempo. But "remixing", or changing, one's posture can be a necessity as most of us (myself included) suffer from posture that is imperfect. Indeed, something as natural as breathing can be revisited in order to identify areas of improvement.

Remixing my previous post of Posturing.

In yoga, they say the most important thing to do is breathe. Through absurd stretches which blur your vision and hundred-degree heat, we are instructed to, "keep breathing," (as opposed to run from the room screaming). Indeed, the way we breathe can effect they way in which we interpret our environment. So to aid us in this endeavor, we often discuss and conduct breathing exercises in order to ensure we perform such a pivotal task correctly.

"To breathe is to be human." ~Proverb

When I was young, I noticed that when I breathed in, my stomach moved in with the oxygen and out with the CO2. It was a little counter-intuitive (although they say the diaphragm can contract with your breath). So, whether in gymnastics or enduring meditation alongside my father, I was always a little self-conscious that I wasn't breathing in the way the teacher or practitioner instructed. As I got older and began to lose A LOT of hair both in and out of the shower, a quick Google search indicated that a poor circulation of breath could be the culprit. Indeed, as I aged more, I heard whispers of possible connections between short, quick breaths and anxiety: a notion that made sense and was simultaneously intriguing. So it was during a massage last week when I was told by the masseuse to, "breathe. No, breathe. No, Elissa, bbbrreeeeaatthhe," that I decided something needed to be done. Equipped with teachings from yoga regarding deep and correct breathing, I set about changing my ways. 

I work at a school during the day which means I spend a lot of time on my feet; a practice which is done out of both necessity and intention. To be completely honest, I've become a bit of a germophobe regarding chairs within a school (particularly one's students have sat on). Plus, I'm too lazy to continuously dry clean my clothes. But standing provides a great chance to work on my posture and, as of recently, my breathing. So, they other day in class, based on yoga instruction, I took a few deep breaths, ensuing the air traveled in through my nose, circulated through my abdomen and back out whence it came. I continued this method for several repetitions, breathing in through the nose, down through the diaphragm, expanding my abdomen and letting the air travel back out. After several repetitions, I noticed my chest and shoulders began to hurt, not in a "call the medic" sort of way but in the sore way your muscles feel after an intense work out. Indeed, as I'm learning, deep breathing is quite the work out in itself.

To some extent, I compare deep breathing the the inflation of a balloon. As air is added, the balloon begins to grow; the latex stretching to accommodate its new contents. Such is the case, it seems, with our breath and bodies. As air moved in and (finally!) began to expand my stomach, it seemed as though my muscles began to expand or even "inflate" to accommodate the new flow of air. I noticed my shoulders also naturally moved from their slouched position to one that was more erect and posturally correct. This process did not come without a small amount of pain. Just as the skin of a balloon expands to accommodate more air, as anyone knows, the stretching of the muscles does not come without discomfort. But just as a balloon with no air can be crinkled and folded many times over, it seems an inflated balloon cannot be forced into such positions. An inflated balloon remains smooth with a gentle and graceful curve. To this extent, I feel as though my posture improved with deep breathing; the air entering my body inflating me towards a good stance. Just like the army of last month's inflatable Santas stood tall when filled with air, so did I. 

Additionally, such concentration on the breath (which is required when learning to "breathe again") is a fundamental tenant of Zen Buddhism. Since, as living humans, we are constantly breathing, continuous focus on our breath helps us remain in the moment which can subsequently free our mind of distractions and events which are not actually present. Indeed, as I focused on my breath and filled my body with air, I did feel a sense of euphoria. I literally felt like I was walking on air as I was being filled with the substance as well as from being mentally present and lacking distractions. And while my breathing "workout" was difficult the first day, I noticed the second day was immeasurably easier (a fact I'm hoping will continue until the process of deep breathing becomes natural). And so, I invite you to try deep breathing. As they say in Yo Gabba Gabba, "try it, you'll like it." To some extent, however, just as deep breathing can make you feel "light as air" it can also make you light headed so the weekend is a perfect time to attempt this process and relax!

If deep breathing doesn't get you light headed, this video likely will!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Cheers to Ms. Fisher

It's ironic to "cheer" Carrie Fisher in the title above as I believe she used to have a massive alcohol problem but I'm sure she wouldn't mind being toasted for her "second act" as an unintentional feminist. While my blog has been offline, a few things have happened. I have regained my appetite which means I have inevitably regained some of the weight I had lost when my appetite equaled a net total of nothing. You may not know this about  Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (or myself, for that matter) but the above disorder can create issues with eating. And just as I assume the feminism of Ms. Fisher's is somewhat unintentional so is one's weight loss when suffering from the condition. In periods of great stress (student teaching, the loss of a loved one, making under 30K) I have seen severe dips in my appetite over the years. I know it's always temporary and that I shouldn't really buy clothes in an extra-small as I will inevitably gain the weight back but while the loss of an appetite is painful, the (unintended) side effect is not always too bad. You become massively skinny (to use an appropriate oxymoron). Yet, when you come off the stress-bender, as you inevitably do, it's tough to reintegrate yourself back into a normal diet. It's not quite like a solider being reintegrated into society after experiencing unfathomable atrocities but after eating, literally, anything you want during the rare occasions you are hungry, it's difficult to reestablish a diet that won't make you 600 pounds of nacho goodness. So, oftentimes, as I regain my appetite, I begin a strict diet. But this time around, something has changed. Perhaps it's the fact that I'm getting older but during the past few months, I'm not so concerned with trying to keep my weight down as my appetite rises. Instead, I'm making a concerted effort to stay true to my body's needs.

College: low stress and higher weight.

I've always gotten by on my looks (which is to say less about my looks and more about my terrible personality). I've always tried to keep my weight-down, in what can be a subconscious arms-race among women but this does not mean I've always been healthy. Aside from the times I was fed solely by may parents, say 'till about thirteen, I've consistently tried to stay trim, not so much for health reasons but for aesthetic ones. At first, I tried to eat healthy, which as a teenager, meant no Applejacks. As I got older, I cut meat out of my diet, like my father, but for not the same, spiritual reasons he held. I then ended up reintegrating meat into my diet but essentially stopped eating meals and relied on a lot of ice cream to fuel me through the day. Through the trends above, I really was never thin. In fact, I carried quite a bit of weight, because for every ounce of nourishing food I cut from my diet, I welcomed in an exciting sugar fix. I assume my rationale was something like, "I skipped a meal, so I'm dieting." But, if you've ever read Salt, Sugar, Fat (and if you haven't, you should) you know just how hard putting down the sugar-laced food can be. And it was all done to look the part of messages that we constantly see regarding women's bodies.

Twenties: higher stress, lower weight.

I'm getting to the age where I can physically tell a lot of models, athletes and celebrities are younger than me. I remember these realizations first beginning to occur when I graduated from college and was stunned to learn that the 320 pound linebacker on the New York Giants was two years younger than me. And so, being bombarded with images of ultra-thin beauties doesn't bother me too much. I'm in a different age range as these people and while I may look too sometimes keep my weight down, I know I'll never keep my age at the same level. However, no matter your age as a woman, there is a general mindfulness about one's weight (at least in the Western World). We see the images, we know the expectations. But as Ghandi once said, "you must be the change you wish to see in the world." This is why I was so taken with Ms. Fisher's comment that, "youth and beauty are not accomplishments," as she defended the natural aging process to twitter trolls (link here). Ironically, my New Year's resolution this year is not about losing weight but (in a nod to Ms. Fisher's comment) it is about being healthy and not focusing on my weight. It leans towards focusing on what my body needs. It should be an interesting year. I hope you come along for the ride with me.

Thirties: they boy is the same but the weight has changed (and will continue to do so).