Monday, June 28, 2010

Can foods be friends? Definitely. Meet some of my crew...

When last we spoke, I wrote about snacking/grazing foods that get me into hot water.  For example, I’m still slightly horrified by the disturbing number of POINTS packed into a tin of Sabra hummus.  I think I always knew that it tasted too good to be true, but I didn’t realize how deadly it was.  I guess it’s good to know your enemies.

Yet, having all enemies and no friends seems like a sad and lonely way to go through life.  I have friends.  I really do!  And I like to imagine that that they like me just as much as I like them.  Even better, my friends are both fun and upstanding, responsible citizens.  They are a good influence on me, and they make me a better person.

Of course, I’m speaking metaphorically as I am referring to my food friends.  [Parenthetically, I feel the same way about the qualities of my human friends.]

The friends I would like to celebrate are my snack buddies.  So what does it take to become one of my snacking friends?  What lofty criteria must be reached to be able to call yourself my buddy?  How does a snacking food become fabulous in my world?  Here are some basic criteria:

  1. You should take a while to eat.  Food works best if it can meet a basic time criteria and create the sensation that I’ve had meaningful eating experience.  If you can be eaten in three bites, you are not a true snacking friend.  Tiresome acquaintance at best.  
  2. You should look larger than life.  That is, you should occupy a significant amount of spatial volume and create the illusion that you are a boatload of food.  Of course, you should be an optical illusion of sorts as you should also have a limited number of calories.  In Weight Watchers lingo, these are referred to as Filling Foods.  
  3. You should taste good.  I tried to be snacking friends with saw dust, but I never could endorse the taste.  I am ambidextrous when it comes to choosing savory or sweet, so my taste can spread a fairly wide spectrum.  It helps that I’m not a picky eater, as this allows me to be fairly promiscuous in this dimension of choosing my snacking friends.  

This apple seems super friendly!  

So without further adieu, here is my current snacking buddy lineup:

  • Apples:  love apples, particularly Fuji apples.  I also appreciate that one apple can be sliced into eights, which in turn can be allocated to two bites each.  That’s 16 bites of food.  And only 2 POINTS.  
  • Non-fat Greek yogurt:  he doesn’t taste awesome by himself, but he plays very nicely with other friends.  He also contains lots of protein with relatively few calories, so he stays with me long after he’s consumed (in other words, he has outstanding satiety – an excellent character trait).  I have been known to organize play dates with Greek Yogurt and an apple.  
  • Grapes:  I heard a friend call grapes nature’s candy, and I have to say that perfectly sums up this delicacy to me.  I love the taste, and they take a long time to eat as long as I spend time with each grape individually.  Which is good.  Grapes also go nicely with the otherwise slightly boring Greek yogurt.  
  • Pop corn:  I’d like to become someone better friends with this guy.  This is another snacking food that takes a lot of time to consume, yet has very little tag-along calories to go with the experience.  My only real issue with pop corn is that I don’t love the smell while they are realizing their metamorphosis from corn to puff.  
  • Salsa ‘n vegetables:  Don’t dis the crudités.  They may not be manly, but they are a more than suitable substitution for chips and crackers.  And they have, in most cases, no POINTS.  I love dipping, so through some salsa into the mix, and I’m a happy camper

These are good friends, but I have a sneaking feeling that I’m going to need a few more friends if I am to succeed in reforming my snacking/grazing quandary.  Who are you all hanging out with during snack time?



Sunday, June 20, 2010

Bad habit takedown technique: putting a choke hold on Trigger Foods

No, not me, but definitely one way to visualize laying waste to a bad habit

On my last post, I talked about how I wanted to wrestle my grazing habit the way "Stone Cold" Steve Austin would maraud an out-of-shape/pasty opponent.  I wanted to beat this heinous and obnoxious habit once and for all time.  I wanted to beat it with a folding metal chair.

My plan was roughly focused on committing to only using Filling Foods for snacks and to try to limit myself to two 3-4 POINTS values snacks per day.  How did it go?  Great.  I actually did it.  It was funny how limiting myself to foods like fruit, 0-fat yogurt, etc. could limit my mindless eating.  What I particularly liked about last week was that I felt in control, but in a very natural and common sense kind of way.

However, even wrestlers and super heroes have their kryptonite, and it is time for me to recognize mine.

All this got me thinking about the other side of Filling Foods:  trigger foods.  So what exactly is the definition of a Trigger Food?  From the website (the Science Center section) "Eating Triggers" -- :

  • Trigger Food:  A trigger food is a specific food that sets off a course of overeating where control is lost and excessive amounts are consumed. The most common trigger foods are sugar/fat combinations (e.g. ice cream, cookies) and fat/salt combination (e.g. nuts, potato chips). Food triggers are fairly uncommon and should not be confused with favorite foods (foods that are highly preferred), comfort foods (foods that are linked to a sense of home and contentment) or food cravings (desire for a food that has not been consumed in a long time). With a true food trigger it is the food, not an emotion or situation, that triggers the out-of-control eating. For example, open the bag of potato chips and it will be gone, regardless of mood, time of day or place.

One of the keys to appreciating the above is recognize that each person has their own Trigger Foods.  What sends one person into a freakish eating frenzy might garner a mere meh from someone else.  I have spent some time thinking about my cat nip foods, and here are some of my key culprits:
  • Hummus:  deadly stuff for me even though it is a perfectly honorable food.  Set me up with a tub of this and a box of Reduced Fat Triscuits and watch the crumbs fly.  I can easily run through 12-15 Triscuits and a half a tub of Sabra.  Damage:  9.5 POINTS values for the hummus and 4.5 POINTS values for the Triscuits for a grand total of 14 POINTS values.  Ouch.  Half a day for about 5 minutes of mindless munching.  
  • Pretzels:  I started eating Pretzels instead of chips because they seemed the healthier option (i.e., not fried, etc.).  When I go this way, I often use honey mustard as a dipping agent.  Again, my logic here is that it is a healthier way to go.  Typical binge?  16 Rold Gold Twisted Wheat for 4 POINTS values and 4 tbs Honeycup Uniquely Sharp Mustard for another 4 POINTS values.  Total = 8 POINTS values.  Not as bad as the hummus, but still a 400 calorie snack.  
  • Reduced calorie ice cream treats:  This is a classic example of completely abusing a product designed to help you.  I almost NEVER have just one Weight Watchers ice cream treat, as I usually opt to go double fisted.  Cost for one Weight Watchers mint cone:  2 POINTS values.  Cost for two?  5 POINTS values.  Beware of rounding!!!  
  • Nuts.  It is disturbing how much I like nuts.  All nuts of all types.  Love them love them love them, which is unfortunate given their calorie density.  1/4 cup of almonds is about 5 POINTS values (30 nuts), which makes 1/2 a cup 10 POINTS values and a full cup 20 POINTS values.  Funny how food scales in a curiously linear fashion.  Similarly 14 cashews would be 4 POINTS values and 30 would be 9 POINTS values (!!!!).  The age old problem with nuts is proper portion control.  An open bag of nuts is not a good friend.  
What I find striking about my list is that none of them are massively unhealthy, and most people would say that they are good components to a healthy (or at least not fully unhinged) diet.  Yet in my unsteady hands they do great damage.  

So what should be my plan with my list of Trigger Foods?  For the most part, I should avoid them.  I realize that this may seem a little judgey and draconian.  In my case, I need to realize that I'm a bit of a compulsive eater.  When I get around these foods, I'm not quite myself.  In some cases, I might be able to limit the damage by trying techniques such as pre-portioning the foods:  Trader Joe's sells almonds in small plastic packs.  I can have an (i.e., one) ice cream treat, but I really should have it with my dinner, not idly on the couch watching TV.  However, for the most part, I need to say "no" to some of these foods, not because they are bad foods, but because my brain has a bad interaction with them.  

Just a brief public service announcement:  in no way shape or form am I suggesting that anyone else avoid these foods, and nor am I suggesting that they are bad foods.  It's a Dave thing, not an everyone thing.  

What are your Trigger Foods, and how do you deal with them?  



Sunday, June 13, 2010

My newest best laid plan: three steps to vanquishing the dreaded grazing disease

I went back and checked through some of my old postings over the past year, and it seems that I have now publicly confessed to certain eating sins multiple times.  Specifically, I have openly decried my own sad weakness toward semi-unrestrained grazing.  In fact, I wrote exactly such a post last weekend.

Then I flew to London, England (you know, the country that was supposed to beat the USA in this weekend's World Cup action).  How did I fare during this week of travel in my efforts to stave off mindless eating?  Well, I had a largish bowl of ice cream on the airplane to and from my destination.  Further, I found myself breathing in a small container of room service Pringles every single night.  For shame, me!  The irony of it all was that I was a pretty model citizen otherwise, making wise choices at each meal occasion.  Further, I exercised with a fairly high degree of intensity every day except one -- the day I arrived on the red eye.  It's just too easy to wreck the benefit of good choices with a sprinkling a really foolish ones.

Here's where I am coming out on this.  This grazing nonsense has to come to an end.  It's one of my last, major unhelpful habits, and enough is enough.  So rather than continuing to confess to my eating sins, I now choose to use my little blogging pulpit to announce my new resolution to kick this nasty little demon habit.  I am hopeful that I can vanquish it without a full exorcism, so I am going to start with a more utilitarian approach.

First off, I need to answer the age old question (for me, anyway):  what exactly is the difference between a snack and a grazing session?  According to

  • Snack:  a small portion of food or drink or a light meal, esp. one eaten between regular meals.
  • Grazing:  1) to feed on growing grass and pasturage, as do cattle, sheep, etc.  2) to eat small portions of food, as appetizers or the like, in place of a full-sized meal or to snack during the course of the day in place of regular meals.

OK, that's the issue.  A snack is eaten between regular meals while grazing is done in place of regular meals.  Unless you are me and you are also having regular meals.  Said differently, a snack can be thought of as a pre-planned mini-meal designed to fit into a caloric equation (i.e., part of my 32 POINTS).  In my case, grazing would be an endless parade of seemingly innocuous food consumed in addition to my 32 POINTS.  The implications of and distinction between these two words should not be underestimated.

With this little etymological trip complete, I am now prepared to detail my new plan to tackle grazing.

  1. Getting a grip via the old POINTS Tracker.  I have been working at Weight Watchers and doing the Weight Watchers program for over 10 years now.  I am the first to admit that I have a hard time tracking my POINTS every single day.  However, I am now thinking about a tip I heard at a Weight Watchers meeting:  track the time of day that is giving you the most difficulty.  So therefore, I am going to start tracking all of my POINTS between meals.  If I do this for two or three weeks, it should go a long way in helping me stop the immediate damage.  
  2. Plan on snacking.  Ironic isn't it?  However, I know that I am going to need/want smallish meals between meals.  If I plan them in, that should help me avoid the feeling of deprivation which would then lead to backsliding.  The only condition I am setting for myself is that I pre-plan them and use a pre-determined number of POINTS.  Therefore, I am going to plan on one snack in the afternoon and one after dinner with target POINTS of two to three for each snack.  
  3. Restrict snack foods to Filling Foods.  The idea here is that if I am going to have a mini-meal, that means I should be using it with foods that are going to 1) serve a nutritional benefit and 2) actually make me feel full/satisfied.  Practically, this means banning processed foods from my snacking repertoire.  Foods now on the out list include pretzels, hummus, chips, and sadly ice cream treats (no matter how few the POINTS).  
Does this mean I am banishing dessert forever?  No.  It just means that I am not going to use it as a snack.  It means that I am going to eat dessert with meals, not on the couch.  

That's my story/plan and I'm sticking with it.  I will report back on my progress next week.  Wish me luck.  



Saturday, June 5, 2010

Habit inventory: summer 2010 mix tape

I just finished the week after Memorial Day, which primarily consisted of three days down in Washington, D.C.  While there, I spent considerable time catching up with my family (I'm from the DC area), socializing, going to work lunches, etc.  Overall, I had a great time, and I definitely do not regret any of the excess calories that were finding their way into my system during sanctioned social events.  That said, I found myself undertaking a number of grievous actions against myself including:

  • Wednesday night:  roomservice desert at 11 PM (apple pie a la mode).  Let me just say that there is never a good or justifiable reason for me to do this at this time of night.  Yes, the desert was tasty, but that experience lasted about 12 seconds.  Feeling guilty as I shamefully parked the tray outside my hotel door lasted a good bit longer.  
  • Thursday lunch:  went to the restaurant where I worked for a summer in college (the Tombs in Georgetown).  Had a cobb salad, and was HORRIFIED to discover that it came with fried chicken.  Which I ate with a big, fat smile on my face.  Not an awesome choice, but it's good to have a fried fix now and again.  
  • Thursday night:  minor mini-bar abuse (Pringles and a Cliff bar).  Again, not necessary or really all that enjoyable. 
  • Friday:  repeated acceptance of nuts being offered by the conductor on the Amtrak train back to NY

My meals were actually very restrained and healthy across the board.  Further, I worked out hard throughout the week (other than Friday morning -- my day started too early to allow for the gym).  So this morning I asked myself how I felt about my performance during the week.  My answer to me:  "not bad, but you are kind of flirting with some old demons."

Therefore, I feel like it's time for me to update my personal healthy habit inventory (I did this roughly six months ago).  So here we go.  First the good stuff:

  • Working out:  I feel really good about this part of the equation.  I'm pushing myself harder and harder, particularly on cardio workouts.  I am totally feeling the benefit, as I feel my endurance continue to increase.  I'm pretty sure that exercise has been saving my bacon (pardon the pun) vy covering for my slipping on some other habits (see below).  
  • Breakfast:  As has been the case for some time now, I rule breakfast.  Just like Jerry McGuire ruled the living room speech, I own breakfast.    
  • Lunch:  Good boy David!  Staying pretty good here, even on weekends.  
  • Dinner:  Again, not bad even when I'm eating out.  
Said differently, in public situations (the gym, the kitchen when I'm with family, workplace, restaurants), I come across as pretty saintly.  However, in private situations, I have some nasty little habits that I just haven't kicked:
  • Sneaking:  ugh.  Just did this with a vengeance last night.  Waited for my DSW to head up for the night, and I pillaged the refrigerator like a Hun with a bad attitude.  
  • Grazing:  this one is making me just flat out crazy.  Boredom eating is my Waterloo.  I'm still doing it (witness the ransacking of the mini bar), and I just can't seem to get a grip on this.  
  • Accepting gifts from transportation professionals:  nuts on airplanes.  Nuff said.  
  • Clean plate club:  at least I'm ordering healthy plates, but I'm still polishing them to unnatural levels of cleanness.  

Of the four nasty habits above, the sneaking, clean plate club and grazing ones are my real issues.  The odd bowl of almonds won't kill me.  I feel like I can get a little focus on clean plate club and find a way to make myself leave just a little bit of food, mostly at dinner time.  However, I have to admit that I just don't have a grazing/sneaking plan.  And I need one.  So I am going to make a plan.

Any and all advice on sneaking and grazing is, as always, welcome.  How are all of you dealing with this?