Posts Tagged ‘Michael Pollan’

Your Monday Reading Assignment

Oh, to own stock in a fitness center in January.

Don’t feel bad about that brand-spankin’ new membership card.  You’re not alone.  There’s safety in numbers.

Still, you should chuckle at these 27 Rules of Conquering the Gym.  Best line:  “If a gym wanted to make you feel instantly better about yourself, it would be a bar.”  Rule number 27 will, however, give you the secret key to weight loss.   There’s also a funny picture of Jerry Lewis, back when he used to be funny.

Treasure it.  You won’t see me linking to the Wall St. Journal often.

You say the gym’s not for you, but your head is spinning about how to get started eating right?  And you still refuse to read Michael Pollan?  Well, here’s your late Christmas gift.  Don’t eat anything on this list of the ten worst supermarket foods (What, you thought you could get away with the Hungry-Man Select Classic Fried Chicken?).

And because I’m feeling magnanimous, here’s a bonus, less fun Wall St. Journal link.

Thanks for reading!


Some People Just Don’t Get It.

Like, for instance, this jackass.  He set out, a while back, to prove to the world that the only thing that matters in a weight-loss regimen is the math:  burn more calories than you take in.  So he cut his daily caloric intake to 1,800.  Most of which he obtained through, apparently, Twinkies, Doritos and Oreos.  And yes, he lost weight.

To his credit he’s apparently been able to keep it off.  But here’s why the point he “proved” is a slap in the face to people trying to manage their weight responsibly:  Some of us, Dr. Haub, can’t eat just one.  And let’s face it, if your total caloric intake is less than 2,000 calories, you ain’t gonna get many Twinkies. One (1) Twinkie is 150 calories – and they come packs of two, which means somebody with less-than-perfect will-power is going to consume 300 calories when they open a package of Twinkies.

I don’t know if you’ve ever eaten a pack of Twinkies, but I have to tell you, they aren’t particularly filling.  He says he ate one every three hours, plus other snacks.  Let’s say he started at 9 AM and ate one every three hours through 9 PM.  That’s 750 calories, and nearly nothing in his stomach.  Let’s say he added two handfuls of Doritos every day.  That’s another 280 calories.

Maybe he added a couple of Oreos and a bowl of Honeycomb cereal just to round-out the days snacking.  There’s 310 more calories.  Which leaves 460 calories for the protein shake and vegetables he says he consumed.

A reasonable person isn’t FULL after eating that amount of food.  It rings the calorie register too quickly, and there’s no bulk, no satisfaction to the “meal.”

Perhaps he’s one of those rare folks who can eat a couple of Oreos and just walk away.  Or perhaps I’m the strange one.  But here’s what happens when I eat an Oreo:  I eat another Oreo.  And then another and another.  And then I start looking around to be sure nobody sees the fat guy eating the next ten or fifteen Oreos.  And you know what?  I think there are more of me than there are of him.

As I referenced in this post, there’s actual research to back up my point that bad food is engineered to make you want more bad food.  So this guy is effectively telling people – many of whom are desperately trying to get healthy – that there’s no difference between an all-Twinkies-all-the-time approach and the Michael Pollan approach.  But there is.

Yes, he tries to back off from it by saying he doesn’t know what the right answer is.  Really?  Seriously?  You think the right answer has anything to do with Doritos?  That’s simply disingenuous, and worse, it’s harmful.  Because I’ll promise you there’s somebody reading the CNN article about him and thinking, “Alright!  I CAN eat junk food and lose weight.”  And a year from now that person is going to blame themselves, and not this jackass. And that’s inexcusable.

Two housekeeping items:  First, I’m stuck at 262.  That’s 25 pounds in 25 weeks.  Gotta pick up the pace or I’ll be OFF pace … and that won’t be good.

Second, see those little pictures of the Facebook, Twitter, Google and other icons?  Click those.  Share the blog if you enjoy it.  Thanks!

The Diet-Rites of Lunchtime

It’s Five Things Wednesday …

I’ve always enjoyed lunch.  It’s my favorite time of day to eat, lunch cuisine (sandwiches and the like) appeals to me more than that associated with other meals, it’s a break from the workday, etc.  There are lots of different kinds of lunches – the small business lunch, the catching up with friends lunch, the service club lunch, the solitary lunch in the car with the radio and/or a book and many others, not the least interesting of which is the compulsory lunch with co-workers.  Yesterday was one of those.

I don’t mean the kind of lunch where you and some co-workers go off-site to chat or to work on a project or do anything constructive, I mean the “we’re all leaving at 11:20 to get the big table so we can celebrate X. You’re coming, aren’t you?” lunch.

At compulsory lunch with co-workers, nobody wants to talk about, you know, work, because we’re off-site and we’re supposed to be having fun.  Let’s face it, you’ve already shared all the outside-work stuff you intend to share with the co-workers you intend to share it with.  So you make an hour of (hopefully) creative small talk about the weather, vacation plans and if one or more in the group are actively losing weight (and they always are) the topic of the day is … dieting!

What’s that you say?  It’s odd to talk about how much you’re not eating while you’re eating?  You are correct.  But compulsory lunch with co-workers is odd.  No way around it.

In honor of yesterday’s compulsory lunch with co-workers, here are five ways people I know are obsessing about weight-loss:

1.  Eat food, not too much, mostly vegetables.  You knew this was on the list, didn’t you?  You can hardly get through any of my posts without me preaching the gospel according to Pollan.  For the record, it fell on deaf ears yesterday.  Eat things that are clearly good for you?  Be careful of Frankenfood?  Not magic-bullet-y enough.

2.  Coconut Water.  No, not coconut milk, like you might use in a nice curry, coconut water.  Maybe you’ve heard of it.  Maybe you drink it regularly.  I’d never heard of it until yesterday.  Apparently it’s really good for you.  For now I’m stickin’ with regular ol’ water.  Maybe with some bubbles and some lemon in it.

3.  Massive Calorie Restriction.  I’m sure I could get by on 600 calories a day.  But I wouldn’t be much fun.  And I’m pretty sure when they let me (somebody would have to stay after me about this – I damn sure wouldn’t do it to myself) get back normal nutritive sustenance I’d be headed for the cake aisle at the Publix.  Regardless, three times this week I’ve had conversations with people doing this to themselves.  Apparently it’s hip and cool.  And really, I suppose if you’re going to starve yourself, you may as well brag about it.  **I note that one other person who is serious about weight loss was in this group and is restricting himself fairly severely, but was by no means “bragging about it.”  He felt as uncomfortable about it being the center of attention as I did, if not more so.

4.  Atkins/South Beach. Anybody who tells you not to eat vegetables is not doing you any favors.  Plus, this is old news.  No fun to talk about it.

5.  Lean Cuisine.  The anti-Pollan.  Dieting always comes back to fake food.   I’ve eaten a lot of these over the years.  I don’t anymore.  The list of ingredients on this (randomly picked) Lean Cuisine meal is 13 lines long.  But you don’t have to think about it.  Just pop it in the microwave et voila, a self-contained meal unit with specified levels of calories, fat, fiber and protein.  One step away from a science-fiction meal-in-a-pill.  It’s the ultimate magic diet bullet.  Without snark, I will say that I understand.  Sometimes you need something simple, fast and not super-greasy.  I’ve just sworn it off.  Maybe it will work for you.

Maybe It’s the Sleep Deprivation …

I’m almost as happy about having been correct yesterday as I am about being down three pounds in a week.  This morning I weighed-in at 265, which is 22 pounds in 17 weeks.  Being firmly back on the plan and emotionally in-control of what I eat makes all the difference.

But I don’t discount the extra coffee I’m drinking either.  Fighting sleep-deprivation with a three-week -old in the house is a real concern.  Maybe I’ll start a new fad diet:  “Shed pounds NOW with the NEW No-Sleep Plan!

(I’m kidding.  Unless somebody wants to pay me to write a No-Sleep Diet book, in which case, I’m open to the discussion.)

I would have been happy to get back to 267 this week, but I’m thrilled the correction in my thinking (leading to the correction on my plate) worked as well as it did.  The plateau is in my rear-view, and … for now … I’m rollin’ downhill.

Related to my own struggle with weight, and worth sharing with you, are the ongoing discussions my lovely wife and I have about our sprightly daughters and their current and future relationship to food.  Raising daughters to be happy and healthy in their own skins is tough business.  I don’t want to get too far off on this tangent, because it is it’s own topic, but it’s daunting to think about the horrible, unhealthy messages they’re going to face about food, weight and body-image in general.

Part of the problem is that, as a society, we no longer share a definition of what it means to eat healthy.  My lovely wife and our daughters’ pediatrician agree on a definition, and it’s essentially what I espouse here on this blog – the Michael Pollan “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants” ideal – but away from home?  It seems like everybody ha a different idea of what the phrase “healthy eating” is supposed to mean.

For some people, it means “eat whatever you want, but be very concerned about how much of it you eat.”  For others it conveys the dreaded, “fat free” concept.  For most school lunch planners it apparently means “PIZZA!”

Candy is a reward nearly everywhere for kids.  Everywhere but our house, that is.  Which is going to confuse the hell out of my daughters as they spend more time away from home.  If the reward for achievement at school (or pre-school) is sweets, and we don’t do that at home, do they perceive (subtly) that they’re not being rewarded at home?

Some of you will shake your head and think, “he worries too much.”  Some of you will think, “well, he just needs to be clear with the people his kids are around about what he means.”  Would that either of those things were that easy.  I do worry about it a lot.  Because, if you haven’t noticed, we’re in kind of an obesity epidemic.  Somebody’s got to worry about it, and it ain’t gonna be the schools.

I’m not looking for answers on this topic.  But I know many of you share the concern.  And if you don’t share it, and you have kids (or grandkids), I want to shake you up.


Five Resources That Help(ed) Me Understand Food Better

It’s Five-Things-Wednesday …

Regular readers know I’m a veteran of the diet wars.  Along the way I’ve picked up some nuggets of wisdom from which I’m now able to piece together reasonable nutritional advice (for myself).  Here are five sources I recommend … but remember, nothing you read (except this blog) is necessarily entirely correct, honorable and true.  Not all good advice applies to all people.  Use these resources, but read them all with a critical eye and an experimental mind.

1.)  Yeah, I know, broken record on my part.  Go read his stuff.

2.)  The South Beach Diet.  In case I wasn’t clear enough above, I’ll say it a different way:  Do not start the South Beach Diet.  Do, however, read the book and learn about things like the glycemic index and how different foods affect the way your body works.  It’s a quick read and it can lead you to other resources you may find helpful.  I should add that when I was “on” the South Beach Diet about seven years ago, I was amazed at the rapid results, dismayed by the (high) cost eating that way and always hungry.  And when I went “off” said diet I gained what I’d lost (and more) almost as quickly as I lost it.  I suppose if you are able to employ a personal chef and shopper and are not encumbered with a job or a desire for bread, it might work long-term.

3.)  The End of Overeating.  You may have missed my recent post on this.  Go here and read all about it.

4.)  Dead Weight.  This infographic from the fine people at works as a nice motivator for me.  It reminds me that, no, a second helping of pecan pie isn’t worth the cardiac arrest it might eventually induce.  I don’t always remember, but I’m doing a better job.  Let me disclaim here, however, as I’ve done in other posts, that the BMI is just a tool, and that like all other tools it should be used in context.  Used as a blunt instrument and applied to everything health-related, it’s as helpful as a ball-peen hammer in a nanotech lab.

5.)  Common Sense.  No, not the Tom Paine pamphlet (although it wouldn’t hurt you to go read that as soon as you finish reading this post).  There is no end of good and bad information available to me on the internets, from well-meaning friends, from Big Ag, from Big Pharma, etc., about what is healthy and what is not.  It’s my responsibility to consider as much of that information as I can, critically, and within context.  What’s in the food I’m putting in my belly?  How does that food make me feel?  How does my body use it?  Does my body reject it or is it of value to me?  I inherited some genes that make food stick to my ribs (tenaciously), but my body is my responsibility.   I’m obliged to use my portion of good sense to keep it in working order.


“Eat Food”

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” – Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan writes a lot of really smart things.  Like the line above and this:  “Don’t eat anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.”  Yes, I know you didn’t actually know your great-great grandmother, and you can’t consult with her while you’re standing in the aisle at the Publix.  You’re going to have to noodle some of this out on your own.

Both the Pollan quotations are from this (long) NYT piece published in 2007, which is a nice summation of his theories on food.  He’s written several books as well, including In Defense of Food, which I found particularly interesting.   His basic contention is that the epidemic of unhealthy bigness in America (which we’ve been kind enough to begin successfully exporting) is largely (pun intended) due to the strange relationship we developed with food over the course of the 20th century.  What we consume at mealtime (and the rest of the day) is, for the most part, so processed and twisted as to be unrecognizable as, you know, food.

Agribusiness, for a variety of really complicated reasons (political, industrial, financial, environmental, psychological, etc. in nature) doesn’t provide much our great-great grandparents would have understood how to prepare or consume.

I’m no scientist, but I feel comfortable writing that what our great-great grandparents did consume was the result of millennia of evolutionary adaptation.  What we consume is the result of strange and generally untested (on a long-term basis) experimentation.  I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t make me feel particularly comfortable.

I realize that weight loss, at it’s simplest level, is still all about the math:  Burn more calories than you take in.  But Pollan (and others) are onto something here.  Real food – the kind that grows out of the ground (or eats stuff that does) and gets processed (minimally) by you or somebody you know just before it gets to your kitchen – does good things for human bodies.  Stuff that has to find it’s way through multiple factories, over oceans and across continents and then waits in storage for weeks or months before it comes to your kitchen … might … be doing something to human bodies nobody really intended.  It might be that our bodies are just downright confused by all the strange things we’ve put into them.  Which is not an excuse, just something to think about.

It bears mentioning that local food (because it may be neighbor-to-neighbor) is often not subject to the same health requirements as what we get from agribusiness.  That could be a problem, and I don’t want to minimize the reality of food-borne illness.  Then again, agribusiness isn’t immune to that either.  Local food is also A LOT more expensive than the super-processed stuff, for a variety of reasons.  In our country food that’s bad for you tends to be cheap, and food that’s cheap tends to be bad for you.  Which is one of several reasons American poor people tend to be more obese than American rich people.

Please do go read Pollan and come to your own conclusions.

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