Blood Pressure Record

In 2012, when I was initially diagnosed with high blood pressure, I designed a little booklet to record my daily readings. Once my blood pressure was under control (through a combination of weight loss and medicine) the booklet worked it's way to the bottom of the stack of miscellaneous papers on my desk. Two weeks ago, during another visit to the doctor, my blood pressure was once again alarmingly high. The doctor's insistence that I return to daily monitoring sent me sorting through my paper pile in search of my old booklet. After flipping through it I had an idea for a redesign. 

My new Blood Pressure Record is a 2.75" x 4.25" booklet made from one sheet of 8.5" x 11" paper.  It's easy to print and assemble and is slim enough to fit in my wallet. Each booklet has space to record one week's worth of readings (morning & night). 

I'd like the booklet to bring greater awareness of heart health to the general population. To help this happen I've posted the file (and directions for assembly) on my website.  If you or someone you know monitors your blood pressure daily I hope you'll download a copy. If you like it  - please pass it on; this was designed to be shared. It can be a great conversation starter for heart health issues too!

Sugar Salt Fat: Food Addiction

As a rule, I stay away from the comment section on any opinion page or editorial. The insanity that ensues as strangers hurl their hateful opinions is too overwhelming. But today, as I sat at my desk eating my black beans during my lunch break, I somehow ended up just in the place I try to avoid. The opinion piece was posted on CNN and it was about the American Medical Association's decision to label obese people "diseased" and, as expected, it was the fury of hateful comments that caught my attention. Specifically, the arguments that "there is no such thing a food addiction; cut the crap" and "lack of self control is of course the root to obesity." I am astounded by both the hatefulness and lack of understanding.

A few posts back I mentioned my concern that people are unaware that many of the foods they eat are intentionally engineered to be addictive. The readers’ comments above surprise me because they’re evidence of people who are aware of the idea that food can be addictive but firmly believe it’s not true. In February, the New York Times Magazine published an exert of Michael Moss's book, Sugar Sat Fat: How the food giants hooked us. The book details specific addictive traits food manufacturers work to capture in their products. Traits that intentionally trick both your mind and stomach into thinking you’re not full and you really want MORE. There are records of experiments, focus groups and memos – none of that is up for debate; it’s just true. I’m left to hope that people denying the addictive qualities of modern America’s diet are simply uninformed on the matter.

Personally, having spent the last four years working hard to overcome my own food addictions (starting with Lean Cuisines in 2009), I empathize with anyone who is trying to change their lifestyle but finding it nearly impossible. To look at the issue as an addiction may change the approach used when trying to break the habit. Assuming, shareholders will  continue to win over what's best for the common good, I do not look to lawmakers to solve this issue. This is a personal responsibility that each person must address for themselves. Doing so requires a bit of self-eduction.

In the case of children, it is the responsibility of both parents to work towards prevention of food addictions. But where does prevention of food addiction start? The womb? Formula? Baby food? Teething snacks? Five years ago I'd have given a toddler a box of Goldfish crackers without a second thought. Today I'd be unlikely to hand them a Cheerio. In fact, when O&I have children I anticipate the family looking at me as "that crazy hippy Mom" after I explain I'd prefer them to not offer my child processed snacks and sweets. You want to give my kid a squished grape or some smushed avocado - go right ahead!

The reality of this is a struggle, I know. My best friend from college, an amazingly successful and very cool art director, has a toddler in daycare. She has told me of the frustrations around limiting the amount of sugar her son is offered everyday. The only friend I have who seems to have no trouble raising a child on natural foods is a work-at-home Mom who has the ability to supervise (almost) everything that goes into her son's mouth. 

I'm not suggesting I have the answers to Food Addiction and Prevention. But I am saying it is time for EVERYONE to take ten minutes and realistically consider how it effects both their lives and the lives of people they love.=

*The NY Times article (exerted from the book) is very long but also fascinating and definitely worth the time it takes to read it. Link to full article here. Credit to MICHAEL MOSSHighlights: 
In the process of product optimization, food engineers alter a litany of variables with the sole intent of finding the most perfect version (or versions) of a product. Ordinary consumers are paid to spend hours sitting in rooms where they touch, feel, sip, smell, swirl and taste whatever product is in question. Their opinions are dumped into a computer, and the data are sifted and sorted through a statistical method called conjoint analysis, which determines what features will be most attractive to consumers...

The public and the food companies have known for decades now — or at the very least since this meeting — that sugary, salty, fatty foods are not good for us in the quantities that we consume them. So why are the diabetes and obesity and hypertension numbers still spiraling out of control? It’s not just a matter of poor willpower on the part of the consumer and a give-the-people-what-they-want attitude on the part of the food manufacturers. What I found, over four years of research and reporting, was a conscious effort — taking place in labs and marketing meetings and grocery-store aisles — to get people hooked on foods that are convenient and inexpensive.

...“Sensory-specific satiety.” In lay terms, it is the tendency for big, distinct flavors to overwhelm the brain, which responds by depressing your desire to have more. Sensory-specific satiety also became a guiding principle for the processed-food industry. The biggest hits — be they Coca-Cola or Doritos — owe their success to complex formulas that pique the taste buds enough to be alluring but don’t have a distinct, overriding single flavor that tells the brain to stop eating...

One of the company’s responses to criticism is that kids don’t eat the Lunchables every day — on top of which, when it came to trying to feed them more healthful foods, kids themselves were unreliable. When their parents packed fresh carrots, apples and water, they couldn’t be trusted to eat them. Once in school, they often trashed the healthful stuff in their brown bags to get right to the sweets.

This idea — that kids are in control — would become a key concept in the evolving marketing campaigns for the trays. In what would prove to be their greatest achievement of all, the Lunchables team would delve into adolescent psychology to discover that it wasn’t the food in the trays that excited the kids; it was the feeling of power it brought to their lives. As Bob Eckert, then the C.E.O. of Kraft, put it in 1999: “Lunchables aren’t about lunch. It’s about kids being able to put together what they want to eat, anytime, anywhere.”

Kraft’s early Lunchables campaign targeted mothers. They might be too distracted by work to make a lunch, but they loved their kids enough to offer them this prepackaged gift. But as the focus swung toward kids, Saturday-morning cartoons started carrying an ad that offered a different message: “All day, you gotta do what they say,” the ads said. “But lunchtime is all yours.”

Frito-Lay had a formidable research complex near Dallas, where nearly 500 chemists, psychologists and technicians conducted research that cost up to $30 million a year, and the science corps focused intense amounts of resources on questions of crunch, mouth feel and aroma for each of these items. Their tools included a $40,000 device that simulated a chewing mouth to test and perfect the chips, discovering things like the perfect break point: people like a chip that snaps with about four pounds of pressure per square inch.

To get a better feel for their work, I called on Steven Witherly, a food scientist who wrote a fascinating guide for industry insiders titled, “Why Humans Like Junk Food.” I brought him two shopping bags filled with a variety of chips to taste. He zeroed right in on the Cheetos. “This,” Witherly said, “is one of the most marvelously constructed foods on the planet, in terms of pure pleasure.” He ticked off a dozen attributes of the Cheetos that make the brain say more. But the one he focused on most was the puff’s uncanny ability to melt in the mouth. “It’s called vanishing caloric density,” Witherly said. “If something melts down quickly, your brain thinks that there’s no calories in it . . . you can just keep eating it forever.”

Carey’s quote reminded me of something I read in the early stages of my reporting, a 24-page report prepared for Frito-Lay in 1957 by a psychologist named Ernest Dichter. The company’s chips, he wrote, were not selling as well as they could for one simple reason: “While people like and enjoy potato chips, they feel guilty about liking them. . . . Unconsciously, people expect to be punished for ‘letting themselves go’ and enjoying them.” Dichter listed seven “fears and resistances” to the chips: “You can’t stop eating them; they’re fattening; they’re not good for you; they’re greasy and messy to eat; they’re too expensive; it’s hard to store the leftovers; and they’re bad for children.” He spent the rest of his memo laying out his prescriptions, which in time would become widely used not just by Frito-Lay but also by the entire industry. Dichter suggested that Frito-Lay avoid using the word “fried” in referring to its chips and adopt instead the more healthful-sounding term “toasted.” To counteract the “fear of letting oneself go,” he suggested repacking the chips into smaller bags. “The more-anxious consumers, the ones who have the deepest fears about their capacity to control their appetite, will tend to sense the function of the new pack and select it,” he said.

Dichter advised Frito-Lay to move its chips out of the realm of between-meals snacking and turn them into an ever-present item in the American diet. “The increased use of potato chips and other Lay’s products as a part of the regular fare served by restaurants and sandwich bars should be encouraged in a concentrated way,” Dichter said, citing a string of examples: “potato chips with soup, with fruit or vegetable juice appetizers; potato chips served as a vegetable on the main dish; potato chips with salad; potato chips with egg dishes for breakfast; potato chips with sandwich orders.”

“Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us,” published by Random House. Michael Moss won a Pulitzer Prize in 2010 for his reporting on the meat industry.

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

Locavores, Pescatarians and Paleo's - oh my!

In the seven months since I decided to stop using this blog as my soapbox on how to make healthy living choices both O and mine's siblings have both adopted new restrictive eating habits. One became paleo, the other pescatarian (and I don't think either reads this blog). Confused? So was my Mom (understandably). This is how I broke it down for  her: 

• Paleo - If cavemen didn’t eat it, you shouldn’t either. This means no refined sugar, dairy, legumes or grains (cavemen didn't farm). Instead your entire diet must revolve around foods that the caveman could find, kill/pick and eat himself. This means: meat, fish, poultry, fruits, and veggies. 
• Pescatarian - a diet that includes seafood and excludes all other animals. Think of it as stepping stone towards becoming a vegetarian.
• Locavore - someone who is committed to eating food that is grown or produced within their local community or region. 

Before I dive into why I don't recommend paleo and pescatarian eating habits I'd like to further explain my own: The term "locavore" touches only part of my food goals. Foremost: I focus on heart healthy foods and portion sizes. Second: I choose local foods over organic foods (farmer's market kale instead of organic kale from California). Third:  I choose long distance real/whole foods over local processed foods (example: banana from Guatemala instead of a pre-packaged snack food made near Atlanta). Fourth: No CAFO* meats! Fifth: Processed foods of any kind are only eaten as a splurge (example: Lay's Potato Chips or corn chips with queso) and all above rules may be broke when I am someone's guest (as a Southern Lady, I enjoy anything offered by my host). 

The paleos and pescatarians in my life arrived at their new food lifestyles in completely legitimate and respectables ways. I appreciate and applaud their goals and reasons; I just think they're a little misguided. Here's why:

  1. Paleo very specifically forbids the foods that O & I put so much emphasis on eating. Foods such as black beans, oatmeal, Greek yogurt and whole wheat rice. A healthy food lifestyle shouldn't ban it's participants from adopting more healthy eating habits.
  2. Paleo focuses on asking yourself the wrong question. Instead of "did Cavemen consider this food" a better question would be "did my great-grandmother consider this food**"? Your great-grandmother might stare in disbelief at Fruit Loops but she'll be happy to dig into some oatmeal with real maple syrup.
  3. At it's core the Paleo diet is not one that is realistically maintained for a lifetime. For the short term it's too reminiscent of the awful Atkins fad. And you remember Atkins don't you? People lost tons of weight eating red meat and cheese - only to put all the weight back on when they returned to their normal eating habits.

Our pescatarian sibling made this choice out of respect for the mistreatment of CAFO* animals. It's true, not eating meat is a sure fire way to make sure you're not responsible for the mistreatment of factory farm animals; but I feel more strongly aligned with the alternative "vote with your fork***" philosophy. Instead of giving up meat altogether spend a little more money on meat that was raised ethically. If it's too expensive then eat less of it. Supporting the "good" farmers helps reduce factory farming more then boycotting the "bad" farmers. 

This last point, supporting farmers who ethically raise chicken, pigs and cows is one that I want to work on myself. I have a reliable egg source and all our meat comes from a farmer's market that promises organic origins - but what do I really know about those animals' living conditions? Organic labeling may also hint about being "free range" but it doesn't always guarantee it. I talk a big talk but it's time for me to walk the walk. My goal for this spring: find a meat CSA or local farm to start buying from.

* Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations. Also known as Factory Farming
**credit to Michael Pollan's Food Rules
***"The wonderful thing about food is you get three votes a day. Every one of them has the potential to change the world. Now, it may seem a little daunting to think, 'Oh my God, I’ve got to vote right three times a day.' And, you don’t and you won’t. We all have our junk foods that we can’t resist, and that’s fine...But if you get it right once a day, you can produce a more sustainable agriculture, a cleaner environment, diminish climate change, and improve the lot of animals. That’s an amazing power that we have, and we all have it." - Michael Pollan:

250th post

This is And Topher Too's 250th post. It's taken almost a year (and about 20 posts a month) to reach this milestone. In that time we've earned a "blog of the month" award from Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution and grown our readership to an average of 75 hits a day. To all the people* who have helped along the way: thank you. We truly appreciate your support. 

After much consideration I've decided that the end of August will also mark the end of regular, daily posting for And Topher Too. There are many reasons, among them: 
  • Photographing my food before I eat it, and then writing relevant copy before I post it, has become a chore. Plus I am disappointed in myself for rarely highlighting why/how each meal specifically fits into our heart healthy, locavore diet.
  • It feels like I'm preaching to the choir. I started the blog hoping to inspire change in people's lifestyles and eating habits; but I'm pretty sure the majority of our readers already live healthy lifestyles. The friends and family who think I'm a "hippy" or "fanatic" because of the way I eat (and there are plenty of them) just never read the blog (thank you Google analytics).
  • The politics of building a larger blog audience turn me off. Leaving comments just so you can get comments feels insincere. Even if I had time to do it I still would not. Besides, my favorite bloggers are BURIED in generic, repetitive comments only hours after their posts. That extreme sounds equally unappealing. 
  • I HAVE a full time, 9 hour a day job and 60 minute (roundtrip) commute. When I come home I'd really love to just relax with my husband. The time I spend on the blog is always borrowed from the time I want to be spending with him.
  • But really the biggest thing is: I don't feel like I've gotten through to anyone. 
Over the last year I've accomplished more then I would have ever dared imagine. I've lost 20lbs, earned a great promotion at work, lowered my blood pressure, completely given up artificial sweetners, lost my taste for overly processed foods, learned more about cooking, and increased my physical indurance to 60 second planks/15 mile fast paced bike rides/20 push ups/50 weighted lunges, etc. But as I said before, the purpose of this blog was never to document my (unexpected) successes. Now, after a year of trying to convince others to take better care of themselves I've come to accept something: only you can decide to change your life.

And that's it. I hope every person who reads this will take a moment to sincerely consider the health of their heart and cardiovascular system. Oliver lost both of his parent's to heart disease. Losing them changed our lives. What will it take to change yours?

Thanks for reading and sincere wishes for a happy and healthy life.
- Cullen 

*A special thank you to: Mandy, Sabrina, Amber, Clair, Lucile and Kathleen

134lb by 34: UPDATE

It's been four months since my 34th birthday and the final day of my personal weight loss challenge. The goal had been to lose eleven pounds in ten weeks with the intention of lowering my high blood pressure. My final weigh in was two pounds shy of my goal but there was still a noticeable difference in my blood pressure. Since then I've continued to lose weight but at a slower pace. I've gone from a pound a week to a pound a month. This morning I weighed in 131.6lbs. My blood pressure is looking so good that I'm going to make an appointment with my doctor to discuss going off the blood pressure medicine. I'm not sure what she'll say but I promise to pass on the info. 

*Fancy Beer Friday is still on the way! We're having some trouble procuring the beer we want. Check back tomorrow! 

Heart disease and oral health

For all my talk about living a heart healthy lifestyle there is one component that I overlook every single day. Any guesses? The answer is a little embarrassing... FLOSSING! I brush at least twice a day and I waterpic several times a week but flossing is such a chore. (Especially for someone with a permanent retainer cemented to the back of my lower front teeth.) My excuses are the same everyday: in the morning I'm too rushed to get to work and in the evening I'm much too tired and just want to get to bed. 

My laziness wouldn't be a problem if I wasn't showing early signs of gum disease - but I am. It is most likely a symptom of taking over a decade's worth of oral contraceptives - but regardless of what is causing it it is something I need to get under control. 

The dental hygenist had a suggestion: don't wait until bedtime - instead make it a habit to floss immediately after lunch or dinner. I'm taking her advice to heart. I've been able to change my eating habits, lower my blood pressure, lose almost 20lbs and make exercise a routine part of my week - daily flossing is just the next step in living a truly heart healthy life. I can do it!

• Those with adult gum disease may have increased risk of stroke
• Bacteria from the mouth may cause clotting problems in the cardiovascular system that lead to an increased risk of a fatal heart attack. 
•People with type II diabetes are three times as likely to develop gum disease then are nondiabetics.

Healthy lunches take work

A combination of recent experiences have led me to the topic for today's post: healthy lunches take work. I'll start with this little gem that Oliver stumbled across this evening on Digg.

Oh yeah, that Lunchable comes with both a burger-like-substance (which I assume has a Twinkies-inspired shelf life) AND a generic cola! MMmmm! (Ok, but seriously, how did any of us survive all the crap food directed at kids in '80s and '90s? I for one was clinically cuckoo for Coco Puffs.) 

While the American population is trending towards healthier eating I still notice A LOT of bad choices being made at lunch time. And while this may make me the bad guy (not sure how many, if any, co-workers read this) I think this needs to be said:

• Lean Cuisines are not a healthy alternative. Foremost they have way too much salt. Additional offenses include: overly processed and preserved ingredients, never filling anyone up and substantially altering one's taste buds for the flavors of real foods. 
• Muffins are cake. Banana bread is also cake. Bagels, in my opinion, pretty much cake.... Do you see where I'm going with this? Let's not kid ourselves. None of the above foods should be counted as a daily healthy lunch; they are sugar laden, extremely refined carbohydrates. 
• Restaurant lunch portions are ridiculous! It's lunch not THANKSGIVING! If you're going out to eat for lunch remember that your portion size should be the size of your fist. 

On days when I have not planned ahead and packed a lunch I am faced with the everyman dilemma: where should I go for lunch? My first choice is Alon's for a salad - but the over $7 price tag often steers me into Moe's for a questionably healthy, $3 black bean taco (no cheese, no sour cream, yes to gauc, salsa and fresh veggies). It only takes an hour for me to regret that decision - and that's always because of the after effects of too much hidden sodium (those tacos leave me PARCHED). The next day I am sure to bring something from home. 

Having a healthy, homemade lunch every work day takes planning and work. It's not something either Oliver or myself LIKE to do. But doing it makes a big difference in our overall health, budget and waistline. Most days we eat beans. On days when the beans have run out we eat left overs from dinner. Today was one of those days and my lunch consisted of a grilled chicken leg and rice mixed with leftover vegetables. It was jumble of three different dinners - but it still tasted good and I never questioned how good it was for me. 

Guest Blogger: Amanda in Philadelphia - Sugar Junkie

It's been three months since our guest blogger, Amanda's, last post; that post remains the third most popular on And Topher Too (so go back and read it)! She recently committed to improving her overall health and today I'm very happy to be sharing a few of the challenges and successes she's faced along the way. Thanks Mandy! - Cullen

Sugar Junkie by Amanda D
September 2011 was when I made a conscious decision to be healthy. Not to diet, and not to lose weight, but to change my habits. Though I walk or bike every day as a means of transportation, I wanted to make sure my body was strong so I joined a gym. And while I ate relatively well, with lots of real foods and fresh vegetables, I regularly indulged in full fat local yogurt, humanely raised local beef, and many, many home baked goods.

Cutting back on red meat was easier than I expected. I choose chicken sandwiches or vegetarian options when I eat out, but don’t deny myself a cheeseburger when all my friends want to go to Five Guys. After a few months I found my body craving beef less and less, particularly when I upped my intake of kale, spinach, and other leafy greens. Habit #1 broken!

My next challenge was sugar. I spent the first month of this new lifestyle staring at my flour and sugar canisters in the kitchen and thinking of a million tasty ideas - Millet muffins! Banana chocolate chip bread! Chocolate orange cookies! It wasn’t these individual items, which I made with cage free eggs from the farmer’s market and half the sugar in the recipe, that were my downfall. It was my addiction to sugar, to having treats in the house all the time, that was the habit I needed to break. And much like the beef, I found after a few months that I no longer craved sugar. An orange or some berries in the evening were all I really needed. Habit #2 broken!

Until about a month ago - when I noticed a big bowl of discounted Valentine’s Day candy on my friend’s kitchen table. I mindlessly began snacking on them. Little did I know that with those little hearts I would awake my sugar addiction. I found myself buying candy bars, baking small batches of cookies and muffins, and eating cupcakes for lunch. I have simultaneously been dealing with a torn rotator cuff, working with a trainer and a therapist to strengthen and heal my muscles. My body has ached horribly and I have been very down on myself. It wasn’t until yesterday that I put it all together.

I came across this tidbit on the internet: “We are most often addicted to the foods we are allergic to.” A quote from Dr. Mark Hyman that rang loud and true in my ears. I’ve been living with this injury a long while, but over the last month I feel the aches and pains everywhere. And I really believe that with every bowl of ice cream cake I have been eating, I have been making it harder on my body to get healthy and heal itself. I have no scientific proof, I have no doctor’s opinion behind me, I just know that I felt better, slept better, and had more energy a month ago, before my sugar binge began.

So today is the first day of breaking my old habit. Again. And I won’t see this as defeat, but a lesson in what healthy really looks like for me. Wish me luck!

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. 

What's for lunch? Split pea soup!

Today we polished off the last of our week's supply of homemade split pea soup. It was a nice change from beans but now I'm looking forward to a week of chopped mixed greens.

We're also pretty much out of food so it looks like dinner tonight will be omelets with goat cheese, shallots and pickled tomatoes and peppers. Tomorrow night is a trip to YDFM.

Those of you who have been reading And Topher Too for several months already know we are not a weight loss blog (rather, we are a healthy living lifestyle blog) but weight loss has recently become a topic as I make a bigger effort to lower my blood pressure. The resolution started back in November when I was diagnosed with high blood pressure during a physical exam. My doctor's first response was to prescribe a blood pressure pill. When I returned a month later the medicine had not made a noticeable enough difference so my doctor changed my birth control pill to a low estrogen option. Even that did not bring my diastolic reading (bottom number) to the needed "below 80" number; I was stuck around 85. That is when I decided to lose weight. 11lbs in two months would put me at 134lbs by my 34th birthday.  Well, I'm 34 days in and I've got great news and news I'd hoped would be better.

The great news is: holy cow it worked!!! I've lost 5lbs pounds in five weeks and my diastolic reading has dropped 20 points. It's now averaging 66! I hadn't even dreamed 5lbs could change my blood pressure so dramatically. Hooray!

The news I'd hoped would be better: I'm holding steady at 140lbs. I just can't crack into the 130s. I've even added a 4th day of exercise by signing up for 8 weeks of kickboxing. I'd been warned the last 5lbs would be the hardest... so I'm not giving up just yet. My fingers are crossed that more exercise, less booze and another 4 weeks of determination gets me where I want to be. If it doesn't - then fine - I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. 

Weight Loss Check-In
Day 34, start of week six: 140.2lbs (4.8lbs lost)

February is American Heart Month

"More women die of heart disease then all forms of cancer combined". Knowing the reality of your heart health is so important to living a long and healthy life. Use this awareness month as your reason to stop into a local pharmacy and check your blood pressure. The reading should be lower then 120/80. Then make an effort everyday to eat more fiber-rich real foods and less processed food-like "foods". While you're at, find a way to exercise just a little more. If you're reading this and know that you're already doing everything you can everyday to live your heart healthiest life then please use this month as a chance to encourage those you love the most to live their heart healthiest life.  You can even send them to this little blog for encouragement and ideas.

For even more ideas about how to keep a heart healthy pledge for the entire month check out this article on the American Heart Association's web page: Making Heart Health a Habit

Physical health: an update

In early November I went to a general practitioner for my first physical exam in ten years.  I was relieved to discover my cholesterol levels are fine (LDL:106, Good: 51, Bad: 98, Total: 177) but I was surprised to discover my blood pressure is stubbornly high (130/90). The doctor immediately put me on Lisinoril, a blood pressure medicine, with the hopes of lowering my diastolic reading. 

A month later I returned for a check up. We were both disappointed to discover that the medicine had not yet made a difference. At that point my doctor changed my birth control pill to a lower estrogen option (it was the first time I'd altered it in 15 years). Since then my diastolic reading has lowered between 5 and 8 points (depending on the reading). Honestly, I've been thrilled. I thought I had something to be excited about. But that ended this morning when I went in for my yearly gyno exam. This doctor was not pleased with my diastolic reading of 83. And to my disappointment she didn't even seem to acknowledge the progress I felt I'd made. Rather she reminded me that if I planned to conceive sometime this year that I needed to lower my blood pressure unless I wanted a high risk pregnancy. 


I go to the gym and work out HARD, three times a week. I've given up all processed and fake foods. I consciously eat a high fiber diet... and here I was being scolded by a doctor at 7:45 in the morning. 

So, what to do now?

Sigh, weight loss. It's taken me almost two decades to appreciate and accept my body the way it is. I accept that I'm 10 to 15 pounds overweight and I don't let it get me down. I'm naturally curvy. My Mom would call me voluptuous, "an hourglass", but in reality I'm a pear. I've accepted that I will never have the lean, sinewy body of a runner and I'm okay with being the heaviest girl in the design studio [at work]. I've been okay with it because I know I am healthy, I truly enjoy good food and drink and I have more to offer then my looks. I'm a talented professional and contributing member of society - I don't need to be an overt sexpot to have value. 

But now... Now I have a reason to finally lose the last 10 or 15 pounds. I want to live until 2075 when I'll be 97 years old. It's too soon to be worrying about a stroke or high-risk pregnancy. So here goes: my goal is to weigh 134lbs by my 34th birthday. That's 11lbs in 10 weeks.  I'll be sure to keep everyone updated along the way... And thanks in advance for your support. 

To learn more about blood pressure please visit the American Heart Association's website. They have an easy to understand page explaining everything. If you haven't had yours checked recently then I recommend taking a few minutes to do so the next time you're at a pharmacy (it's that fun cuff that expands up on your arm). Even though high blood pressure usually has no symptoms - it can have deadly consequences. 

Fiber - what it is, what it does and where to get it

I was recently reminded how confused many people are about what it means to be heart healthy. Over the next few months I want to include blog posts about specific ways to build a heart healthy life. I will also attempt to better explain why prepackaged and processed foods should be avoided - regardless of their health claims.  These will be in addition to my learning-to-cook-adventure and the usual (read: awesome) Oliver meals and garden updates. I thought I'd start where Oliver and I started two years ago: with Fiber. 

When we decided to make a conscious effort to eat healthy I did some research on high fiber foods. On it's most basic level dietary fiber is defined as the edible, yet digestion resistant, portions of plant cell walls. Dietary fiber is then subdivided into soluble and non-soluble. After two years of thinking about their distinctions I've decided that as long as the fiber is coming from a piece of whole (non-processed*) food then I don't bother making a big effort to consume one type over the other. But if you're someone with specific reasons for eating fiber (easing constipation versus lowering cholesterol) then understanding the distinction between the two types is helpful.
  • Soluble fiber is "soluble" in water.  When mixed with water it forms a gel-like substance and swells.  Soluble fiber has many benefits, including moderating blood glucose levels and lowering cholesterol.  
  • Insoluble fiber does not absorb or dissolve in water.  It passes through our digestive system in close to its original form.  Insoluble fiber offers many benefits to intestinal health, including a reduction in the risk and occurrence of colorectal cancer, hemorrhoids, and constipation. (From
Women should get about 25 grams a day and men at least 35 to 40, but the average person gets just 15 grams a day**. There is goods news; a lot of really delicious, real foods are also very high in fiber. People just need to decide to eat them instead of whatever "fake foods" they are chosing to eat instead. The following is a list*** of the best high fiber foods. I'm sure anyone can find at least 5 foods on it they like enough to eat everyday. Some of my favorites include avocado, kale, spinach, sweet potato, almonds, collards, lentils and black beans.

*Non-processed foods includes breakfast cereals. It annoys me that blatantly sugar based cereals are allowed to call themselves good sources of fiber. 
**Carolyn Brown, R.D., a nutritionist at Foodtrainers, in New York City.

Happy New Year Jack LaLanne

In 2011 the world lost Jack LaLanne, the "Godfather" of health and fitness. He was 96 years old. In last week's NY Times Magazine his wife explained that "Jack wanted to show people ... just because you’re getting old, you just don’t quit exercising." Though today's young people may only know him for his juicer he is credited with starting the nation's first health club and designing many common exercise machines (leg extension machines and cable-pulley weights to name a few). Jack also promoted the controversial idea that women, the elderly and the disabled should exercise to retain health.

The following Jack quotes are from his website. I thought it was a sweet end of the year tribute to his life as well as great motivation for 2012 resolutions: Jack LaLanne fervently believed every human being can attain maximum body health and fitness if they will practice moderation, eat the most natural foods, and exercise on a regular basis. Over the years on national television, radio talk shows and in feature stories written about Jack, certain ideas stated by Jack have become little gems known as “LaLanneisms”. 
  • Anything in life is possible and you can make it happen.
  • Your waistline is your lifeline.
  • Exercise is King, nutrition is Queen, put them together and you’ve got a kingdom.
  • Don’t exceed the feed limit.
  • The food you eat today is walking and talking tomorrow.
  • Ten seconds on the lips and a lifetime on the hips.
  • Better to wear out than rust out
  • People don’t die of old age, they die of inactivity.
  • First we inspire them, then we perspire them.
  • You eat everyday, you sleep everyday, and your body was made to exercise everyday.
  • Work at living and you don’t have to die tomorrow.
  • I can’t die, it would ruin my image.
  • If man makes it, don’t eat it.
  • Your health account is like your bank account: The more you put in, the more you can take out.
  • If one apple is good, you wouldn’t eat 100.
  • It’s not what you do some of the time that counts, it’s what you do all of the time that counts.
  • Eat right and you can’t go wrong.

After our work out this morning Oliver and I made some juice. Carrots, oranges, celery, an apple and some fresh ginger. It was delicious. Oliver added back in a spoonful of pulp.  "Jack, this one's for you. Thanks for everything." - Cullen

Saturday's super workout

I'm not a natural athlete. I need daily encouragement and motivation to keep up the exercise habits I believe are integral to heart health. This post feels a little more personal then most but if sharing can help even one person then it is worth it.

We woke up this morning with big ambition for a long workout at the gym. First things first. A light breakfast of toast with homemade blackberry jelly (made by a family member in Michigan). At the gym we went our separate ways. I started with 30 minutes on the elliptical machine ("rolling hills" setting, level 8). Since the gym wasn't very crowded I also had control of the TV remote! (I watched Ghostbusters on Comedy Central). After cardio I went for the weights. Three sets of squats on the smith machine (70lbs of weights on the bar), my standard routine of free weights for arms and shoulders, two sets of 12 dips with 30lbs of assistance and finally leg raises on the machine. I was completely wiped out until noon!

As always, I had two dependable sources of motivation: my pulse monitor watch and the Girl Talk mash-up on my iPod. If you're someone who is struggling to develop a regular work out habit AND you have a pop culture addiction - then I encourage you to cave in to the pop culture and harness it as your exercise fuel. Oliver and I do not have cable TV at home. Therefore if I want to catch up on the Real Housewives of anywhere my only choice is on the elliptical at the gym. It may sound lame to some people - but I admit there are nights it will keep me running hard ten minutes longer then I set the machine. It doesn't matter what keeps you going with cardio - all that matters is that you do it enough to strengthen your heart. 

"Girl Talk" has become my go-to for work out music. I doubt my Mom would like it but a cousin who is ten years older does. The mash-up mix keeps a fast tempo and changes songs frequently enough to accommodate even those with the shortest attention span. It's a free download (for real) so you really have nothing to lose. Click here for the music (despite the name - it's not a virus, promise). 

The  pulse montior watch validates my exertion which in turn motivates me to keep going. As soon as my work out  starts to feel too hard I put my finger on the watch and it tells me I really truly am working out at my maximum capacity. That satisfaction encourages me to give it another set or another five minutes. In the end, it also estimates how many calories I've burned. Today I burned 962 in 59 minutes (which actually MEANS nothing to me but sounds good enough to do it again). 

I admit that without my iPod, Girl Talk, pulse monitor watch and dependable work out partner a regular exercise routine would be much harder. That is why I encourage everyone to do whatever it takes to build a lifestyle that makes you the healthiest you can be. It's not easy - but you can do it. 

Jamie Oliver: Topher's other Oliver love

Oliver, Topher and I are so ridiculously excited to be named one of two "blogs of the month" by Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution! Thank you so much to Jamie and his team for recognizing our little family's devotion to heart healthy living. We've been big fans of the Food Revolution since the very beginning (even handing out the book as Christmas gifts last year) so the shout out from Jamie is truly flattering and motivating. 

A warm welcome our new readers! To get to know us better I recommend the following posts:
A heart healthy lifestyle: How it happened to us After Oliver lost his father to a heart attack we knew we had to take our heart health seriously
Fall Planting: Round Two a peek into our vegetable garden 
Urban Chickens & CAFOS We love one and avoid the other
Everything in Moderation  Including moderation (it's beer fest season!)
Excercise Ya just gotta do it
Brew Day Oliver is a PhD student and homebrewer
Works in Progress Cullen is an illustrator
And Topher too!  Topher is our Maine Coon cat. He loves vegetables. Seriously. 

Thank you so much for visiting our  blog. We hope you'll bookmark it and come back soon. Cheers!
Cullen, Oliver & Topher too

Heart Healthy - the rest of it

I dedicate a lot of blog space to the food side of heart health. The truth is, as a family we put as much emphasis on exercise as we do food. But talking about exercise habits seems even more pretentious then talking about being a foodie. People may joke about their pant size but they don't talk about their physical fitness (unless they're a certain male from the New Jersey coast). That is why I find it very hard to press the importance of cardiovascular exercise on anyone. Starting now I'm going to make an effort to change all of that - at least on this blog.

The foundation of our exercise regime is three weekly visits to the gym. Oliver also commutes to Georgia Tech on his bike. When we travel to Baton Rouge to visit family then we go to the gym there (our membership is nationwide).  No excuses, we go to the gym.

This weekend Oliver challenged me with a bigger workout then usual. He suggested we ride bikes from our house to Stone Mountain (16 miles away), then hike up the steepest (mostly unknown) mountain path, walk down the easy path and bike home again. Three years ago I would have said no because I would have known I wasn't strong enough. Today I said yes because I wanted to find out if I was as strong as I think I have become.

The ride is along a 19 mile state bike PATH that starts at Piedmont Road in downtown Atlanta and goes to Stone Mountain (a giant bubble of granite east of the city). Oliver started at our house, two miles from the actual start. I skipped the first ten miles by driving my bike to YDFM and jumping in there. We met up, shared a lunch of left over homemade pizza and then got on our way.

It was great. The bike ride was almost easy. The steep backside of the mountain was a piece of cake compared to the first time I tried it two years ago. I know I have the countless hours on the elliptical to thank for the bike ride and the weight lifting to thank for the hiking. Three years ago either activity would have left me breathless. This time I had the strength of heart and body to not only keep going but to also truly enjoy it.

Let's get a physical, physical!

This morning I will have my first physical exam in at least ten years. I've made a list of questions:
1. What is my blood pressure?
2. Am I at a healthy weight?
3. How are my cholesterol levels? Specifically: HDL, LDL & Triglycerides.
4. Could you check out my moles and make sure they're not cancerous.
5. Do I need to worry that I'm on Prevacid for the 2nd time this year?
6. How long is too long to be on the pill?

If the answers I receive aren't TOO personal then I'll share them for everyone's benefit. Until then, wish me luck! 

(Hello from Topher too!)