Thursday, December 29, 2011
Here I am. Again.
The good news is that I am not the person I was four years ago when I first stumbled onto Spark. Back then, I had no desire to exercise or eat well. Wine and sugar were my medications of choice. I knew I needed to lose weight but I also knew it would take work, work I didn’t find much value in doing. Or rather, it was more valuable to me to be overweight, tired, grumpy and on the verge of diabetes than it was to give up the things that got me there.
And that’s where the “again” comes in. I have lost almost 30lbs. Yay me! Exercise is now something I enjoy and has become a habit. Yay me! But I have about 20lbs. more to go. I have spent the better part of the last three years gaining and losing the same few lbs. over and over again. In spite of knowing what to do to lose this weight, I haven’t been willing to do the work.
This past summer I “got serious” and back on track by focusing on eliminating sugar and eating more fresh fruits and vegetables. It was frustrating at times, but the weight started coming off again. I felt good. But the holidays came and I got off track – again.
Ugh. Again. Again. Again.
So, here I am - again - with - a new resolve. Again.
This time, my inspiration is Michael Pollan. I've read most of his books over the last two years and am currently very leisurely reading his "In Defense of Food." I love his writing style - clean, thought-provoking and with data to back up most of his points. I have seen him interviewed (in Food Inc. and on TV) and I always enjoy his unassuming style. He seems to walk the talk without the smug attitude. I admire that.
As I read "In Defense of Food" it is clear to me that I am addicted to certain foods. I have spent so many years eating refined carbs, sugar and processed foods (with a salad!), that my body chemistry is fully tethered to this fake food system. I see the colorful candies, the enticing packages and my body reacts to it as if it's necessary to my survival. My brain knows the truth but my body acts otherwise.
I discovered three important clues while reading Pollan's book. First, did you know that today's meat and produce are less nutritious than they were 40 years ago? The "healthy" fresh berries I ate this morning have 30% less nutrition than the ones my grandmother ate 40 years ago. According to Pollan this loss has much to do with industrialized mega-farming and our drive toward cheaper and cheaper food. Whatever the cause, it means that I have to eat more berries today than my grandmother did 40 years ago to get the same nutrient levels. The same goes for beef, poultry and pretty much all produce.
I knew refined/processed foods were bad for me. But to find out that "whole" foods aren't so whole after all?! Ugh.
Clue number two has to do with bread. Most whole wheat breads have a list of ingredients a mile long. For years I have gone out of my way to select "100% whole wheat" thinking it was good for me. Little did I know there are so many other ingredients (in the name of food travel and shelf-life) that render my whole wheat bread little more than bread-like food. Bromated flours, calcium propionate, guar gum along with unpronounceable ingredients introduce my body to known carcinogens and chemicals that it doesn't need. Again, I knew to stay away from refined and processed foods but I somehow thought that "100% whole wheat" meant the bread was bread. It's not. It's more like the essence of bread.
Clue number three has to do with the realization that food is part of a system. I always knew that but did not quite understand why it was important until now. Through the years, food makers have added vitamins and nutrients to various foods to make them healthier and more marketable. Added Vitamin D! Added Calcium! Added Vitamin C! Added Fiber! Low fat! But the "process" of adding these things has made most foods nothing more than chemicals, mostly seed-based chemicals at that.
Our bodies were meant to eat leafy foods (omega 3s) but our drive to make food cheap and easy has tied us to seed-based foods (omega 6s) - corn, soy (technically a legume) and wheat. These three are in everything and refined to the point of non-nutrition. And Pollan says that many scientists think this seed-based reliance on omega 6s is the reason for the inflammation that ultimately leads to heart disease, diabetes, cancer and more. So the leafy foods (which have the healthy omega 3s) have taken a back seat. The cows don't even eat anything leafy. Our food system is broken because we no longer value food or the system that makes it real food. Heck, even the fish are starting to be farmed with grain! (And fish get their omega 3s from eating leafy algea, so these new grain-fed fish won't have any omega 3s.) Meanwhile the real food gets less nutritious with every year because of the way it's farmed.
So these three clues have given me new resolve to worry less about my weight and more about the quality of the food that goes in my body. Today I went to the grocery store and was amazed at how many ingredients were in my cottage cheese. I thought it was milk and salt. I guess I never really knew what cottage cheese was. I just knew it was "healthy", especially if it was low fat. The ingredient list was a mile long and filled with things I could not pronounce. I had to look at several brands of half-and-half before finding one that said "milk and cream." I did find bread with four ingredients (Woo! Hoo!) and crackers with two (Woo! Hoo!). I did not buy the processed snack items that I usually do. I also did not buy meat or poultry because it has now hit home that they aren't good for me, at least not the stuff from the grocery store. Not only are they given antibiotics and then processed to the point of marginal nutritional value, they are fundamentally A.L.T.E.R.E.D. for my enjoyment and someone else's profit. I simply cannot stomach that.
Which brings up one sticking point for me.
I am now to the point of poo-pooing processed foods. I understand more and more how the "process" is more like an elimination of all that is healthy. I am still addicted to the system and the food-like substances it produces but I understand why I should work a little harder to focus on quality. I can choose to work harder.
I have that luxury.
People in third world countries and some people in our own country don't have that luxury. So I am torn. The system has been able to churn out 17,000 new food products each year. Some of those go to people who would starve to death. So the system might be evil for me and my body but a god-send to someone who has no access to food. Food-like substances might actually save a few lives. So that is something for me to think about.
What do you think?