Looking back at two years of healthy living

In late summer 2011 I wrote a blog post explaining the life events that lead Oliver and I to start consciously living and eating the way we do. A few days ago I reread the post and was reminded (and surprised) of the things I had been struggling with. I still craved salty, crunchy, addictively snackable Goldfish and I was sad to have given up my beloved Honey Bunches of Oats. At the time it was hard to imagine a future in which I preferred oatmeal for breakfast and didn't miss cheddar flavored crackers.

Two years later, abiding by our family standards for heart healthy eating now comes effortlessly. Our meals are real food, high in fiber, low in sugar with an occasional major splurge (everything in moderation, even moderation). I don't think about fat or calories and I really enjoy a great trip to the gym. My blood pressure is healthy and according to a recent "dunk tank" hydrostatic test I'm 25% body fat - which is fine by me.

Oatmeal has completely replaced cereal for weekday breakfasts. Once a week Oliver cooks up a big pot which we reheat by the bowlful every morning. My favorites come and go: Last month I liked my oatmeal with a dollop of fresh ground YDFM peanut butter; this month I'm loving sweet coconut flakes sprinkled over yellow raisins and walnuts. And like the true Louisianan he is, Oliver continues to cook up Monday/Wash Day pots of beans for lunch. Black beans, red beans with andouille, pinto beans, chick peas; it changes week to week just like the oatmeal. 

Beans and oatmeal, couldn't be simpler: high in fiber and really really cheap. Even if you include the box of chicken stock, bags of raisins, etc. the cost of healthy, tasty breakfasts and lunches for two adults for an entire workweek comes in under $15. That's amazing. $15 is three boxes of sugar cereal. It's two sandwiches at a deli. It's a pizza!

Our exercise routines have changed the most. We no longer go to the gym together but we still go an average of 3 times a week. (Oliver prefers to work out during the day and I usually can't make it until late in the evening.) I'll spend 30 minutes on the elliptical (level 10/rolling hills) and then 15 to 20 minutes on weights (focusing on either legs or arms - I'm pretty bad about skipping core workouts). 

I also have a new perspective on the addictiveness of many packaged foods. It seems blatant and intentional and it worries me that most people aren't even aware that they're hooked. Breaking the addiction requires completely giving up those foods for long enough that you stop craving them. As you replace those fake foods with real foods your taste buds slowly to start reset themselves. With enough time you start to notice just how strange and unreal those fake foods taste. For me, it meant finally appreciating delicious fresh fruit and losing interest in corn syrupy candies and cakes. I never ever imagined that was possible for me - but hey, slow and steady wins the race, right?

Happy Summer my friends. XO

Healthy, real food, we've been eating

Labor Day: Mini sausages on ciabatta rolls with a fun assortment of toppings (pickled cauliflower, homemade kimchi, carmelized leeks, avocado, etc).
Tuesday: Roast chicken, mashed potatoes, okra and tomato salad (it was a rough day for me so Oliver cooked up some comfort food - super thoughtful of him, thanks Bou).
Wednesday: Chicken salad (and some experimentation with filters on my camera).

Breaking the habit: sweets

Sugar, sweets and artificial sweeteners have recently been the topic of conversation among both my friends and the media. One friend asked how I handled my craving for sweets while another friend expressed concern about her daily Diet Coke. A blog I follow just did a post about Stevia (a sugar substitute). Food Matters is promoting their new documentary by highlighting the fact that Americans eat 22 teaspoons of sugar every day and both the Huffington Post and MSNBC ran articles in February about the possibility that diet sodas increase the chance of stroke.

My response to all of the above is bound to unpopular: it's time to retrain your taste buds to only enjoy naturally occurring levels of sugar (think: strawberry at season's peak). Once your palate has changed artificial sweeteners and sugar/corn syrup based foods will not taste good, instead they will almost burn. Have that happen in your mouth a handful of times and you will no longer crave those foods. 

Don't believe me? What if I told you that in college, when my roommate and I ran out of tea bags, I would happily drink hot water and Sweet'N Low? In the ten years following college I drank at least one Diet Coke can everyday and couldn't recognize the taste of corn syrup. And until two years ago I was a major fan of sugary breakfast cereal. Today, I neither crave nor like any those foods.

It started in 2009 when I began the slow and steady work of phasing all artificial sweeteners out of my diet. I started with breakfast cereal (it was hard giving up my Honey Bunches of Oats) and worked my way through Quaker Oats granola bars, Vitamin Water, M&Ms and flavored yogurts (think Yoplait). Only one habit remained: my daily Splenda** packet served with my morning cup of coffee. In January I decided it was time to give it up too. 

The first six weeks of coffee without sweetener were bad. One of the best parts of my sleepy eyed, slow moving, morning ritual had suddenly become one of the worst parts. I tweeted about it to my close friends and I grumped about it to Oliver*** whenever he would listen. I declared I'd quit drinking coffee altogether. "Who needs it?!" But still, I brought my travel mug into the office with me everyday and day by day I drank a little more and a little more. Until now, now I think I ALMOST like coffee without sweetener (just don't ask me to give up the half and half). 

My heart healthy perspective on sweets is simple: abide by the same "real food" rules used for other foods. Eat foods made from ingredients you can picture growing in nature. If it came from a plant eat it - if it was made in a plant don't. Treat treats as treats. Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food. Abide by those rules for long enough and I think most sweet tooths will naturally sort themselves out. And you might even be surprised by what unexpected* real foods start to taste like real treats!

* Now that I dislike foods like flavored yogurts and chocolate chip granola bars I've been surprised to discover to how much I love juicy in-season watermelon, carrot juice with ginger, and strawberries with cream. 
**There is currently a television commercial that shows a woman sprinkling a packet of Splenda over a bowl of strawberries. I find this commercial ABSURD. If strawberries are not sweet enough then they are either terribly out of season or it's time to reevaluate your palate. 
*** Oliver, we met three years ago today. You inspire me. I love you more then ever. Thanks for everything you do. 

Holiday Frenzy

Hello friends! Like most of you we have a busy Saturday ahead of us. Last minute shopping, a stop at the post office, gift crafting and wrapping and a Christmas party to top it all off. (Oliver has gone to help the hosts shuck oysters.) No time for a new post by the Topher too crew but I hope you'll read this great post from 100 days of Real Food. In it she addresses the sad fact that our country has created many "food deserts" where finding real food can be a true challenge. If there isn't a farmers market within reasonable driving distance of your home this post will help guide you to your best choices at the neighborhood big box grocer. 

While you're on her blog also check out 10 Reasons to Stop Eating Processed Foods.

And to everyone with a hectic pre-holiday day planned: keep calm and carry on!