Friday, April 15, 2011

Functional healthy food: beauty is skin deep, inner beauty is everything. Seriously. Really.

When does healthy food get weird or creepy?

The other day, I had a meeting around lunch time with a colleague.  As luck would have it, I had a half hour window ahead of the meeting to have my regular lunch concoction.  My colleague later came into the meeting with her assortment of sushi.  As she sat down, she announced, "I'm so glad that you are already finished with your weird protein meal.  It kind of freaks me out."  You would have thought I had just eaten a plate of monkey brains.

It got me wondering whether my regular lunch is kind of weird or is best suited for weird people.  I will let you come to your own conclusion.  Here is what I normally get courtesy of the Pump Energy Food (a small NYC healthy food carry out/delivery chain) (their ingredient descriptions, not mine):

  • Baby spinach
  • Shredded turkey
  • "Grass fed" cheddar
  • Steamed sweet potatoes
  • Caramelized peppers and onions
  • Basalmic marinated mushrooms
  • Non-fat honey mustard dressing
The nutritional's on this are as follows (courtesy of their online nutrition calculator):  9g fat, 26 g carbs, 33 g protein and 5 g fiber.  Total PointsPlus value = 8.  

I get this plus a grilled eggplan and zucchini soup nutritional's of:  5g fat, 2 g protein, 12 g carbs, and 0 g fiber.  Total PointsPlus value = 3.  

That works out to 11 PointsPlus values for the entire meal.  Why this meal and what's the theory?  First and foremost, it's a boatload of food, bulk wise.  Secondly, it's got a nice slug of both protein and fiber, which is appealing for workout geeks like myself.  Thirdly, I happen to think it tastes great.  I'm a giant fan of sweet potatoes, and I love getting a minor cheese indulgence thrown in.  

This is my ideal of the perfect lunch meal.  Tastes good, lots of nutritional benefit, and it keeps me completely full.  I may grab an apple at 3 PM, but I'm otherwise good to go until dinner.  

Not gorgeous, but definitely yummy.
And big (hard to see in this photo)!
So why all the grief?  OK, I will admit that the aesthetics are not spectacular.  There are no pretty colors to make it pop out and say:  "Look at me!  I'm pretty!".  It has the unmistakable look of functional food, and it would certainly be home in a pre-capitalism USSR restaurant.  Do I care?  No.  It is hard for me to describe the degree to which I am not moved by food visuals.  When I eat with my eyes, I eat for the spatial dimensions, not the pretty colors.  Seeing a ton of food for only 8 PointsPlus values is beyond sexy in my simple proletariat mind.  

Why else?  I suspect part of it is that it comes from a place called the Pump Energy Food.  I LOVE this little chain, but I will admit that it's name is still closely linked to it's early days as a bodybuilder feeding stall.  I guess the theory is that if bodybuilders like it, it must be disturbing and steroid-like.  Anabolic turkey anyone?  In truth, the Pump has changed a lot over the years, it's kind of become a groovy little place that's reminiscent of Chipotle, only much safer calorically speaking.  Nonetheless, the name is probably not doing them any favors in escaping their heavy metal roots.  

This said, what is this ridiculousness that overtly healthy food should be stigmatized for not being fashionable?  What is it about walking into a health food store that makes so many people sad?  What is it about eating food from a place called the Pump Energy Food that makes people feel a little sheepish?  Why can't functional, healthy food be seen as the new culinary Prada?  

For me, I think some of it comes from the notion that eating this kind of food from places like the Pump still feels a little bit "not normal."  It's not where everyone else goes, and it sends out a signal that seems to say "I'm a self-depriving food freak.  I eat food that only other scary people like bodybuilders would eat."  It's also kind of like ordering the salad when everyone else is firing up a Rueben with fries.  The salad tastes great, it's better for you, and you feel better after eating it.  Yet, there is a natural instinct to feel a bit like a weirdo or a sad person when you don't join the carnage.  

Having gone on this whole diatribe, I suspect I know what my colleague would say if she read this post:  "You think about this stuff too much.  I wasn't making a grand statement.  I just think your lunch looks kind of gross."  

My response:  food beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  There is nothing foxier than a giant bowl of grub with very few PointsPlus values.  I may need to take a cold shower just thinking about my lunch.  

Am I alone in being sheepish about eating weird healthy-people food?  




  1. You are not alone - I love Green Monsters. They are smoothies that have spinach in them, which makes them green. They also have anything else you would like - fruit, yogurt, protein powder, some kind of milk (I use almond milk), ground flaxseed, etc. They are SO good, and don't taste like spinach (which wouldn't bother me anyways, I happen to really like spinach). Regardless of how healthy they are, people are so grossed out by the color. If I plan to drink one around anyone other than family, I always use blackberries because it ends up being purple rather than green. It just feels awkward that I know others are whispering about me walking around with a cup full of something that looks to be the equivalent of baby poop. So, I know exactly how you feel. It really stinks that we have a tendency to feel bad about ourselves when we are overweight, and then again when we are thinner and eating healthy meals. Such is life I suppose.

  2. I think it just makes people feel self-conscious to be eating something they perceive as less healthy than what you're eating. Probably less a case of them judging your lunch and more that they're afraid you're judging theirs!

  3. Your lunch sounds awesome!

    Healthy food bloggers have just gotten used to having people tell us (and we do realize) that sometimes our food looks awful. There are some healthy foods you just can't photograph without terrible references being made (avocado/banana/cocoa powder pudding, for example). I had a whole fight with someone over this, and we're still not friends to this day (my point was that everyone's entitled to their opinion and hers was "No one is allowed to tell me my food looks like cr*p" even though it literally did - and it wasn't me who said it. It was an unknown blog commenter).

    It's just something healthy eaters get used to. Welcome to the club!

  4. That is one brave employee, to tell the CEO they don't like your lunch!

    Ohh, if only they knew their comment was about to go viral! Doh!

  5. I too love bulk healthy items for a meal. If I don't get a good serving of greens in I feel like I'm missing out.

    For my routine lunch I eat a bowl full baby spinach with 1/4c of low fat feta, one mandarin orange cut up and put on salad and a TB of balsamic vinaigrette. = 4pts

    I also have 1/2oz of gmo free garcia tortilla chips with 1/2oz of shredded cheddar then popped in the microwave for 1 minute. = 3pts

    Apple slices with cinnamon cooked in microwave = 0pts

    I crave vegetables (never thought I would type that in this lifetime!)

    I second what Marnee said. Your coworker perhaps is feeling self conscious about what she's eating and she's deflecting those uncomfortable feelings by putting the focus on you and your food.

    Keep doing what works for you!

  6. You are not alone - I have a salad at my desk every day, and my coworkers probably thing I'm boring and/or weird. I have a salad in the same Tupperware container everyday, but I change up what I put in the salad and what dressing I use. Like your meal, my salads are always huge and low in PointsPlus values. They fill me up until I can get home to cook dinner after work. One thing I've learned following Weight Watchers is not to care what other people are thinking or doing, because I love the way I look and feel when I'm eating healthy.

  7. I like the idea of a health food chain for men :) Can you talk them into coming to Maryland? Then maybe my husband and sons will think healthy eating is cool...

  8. Your lunch is exactly what you love and healthy to boot! What a winning combination. It always startles me when someone makes ignorant comments so freely. Just smile and say..."it's healthy and delicious, too. You should try it sometime!" And as far as visuals...tell her to take a good look at the results...YOU!

  9. Thanks to you I realized that I needed to find a "happy food place" around 3PM each day. For you it's an apple, for me, some Veggie Soup (which I still count as Zero PPV, not 1 PPV) ;)

    Great blog, keep up the good work !!

    ~Regina from NY

  10. I think it sounds great! I'm hungry. Next time I'm in the city I should check the place out. You're emails are very inspiring. I've lost 24# since Jan-55 more to go but I feel so much better! Glad to know even the big-wigs at WW are workin' the plan! Thanks

  11. Your lunch looks fine to me.

    The only thing you want to watch out for is that you do not box yourself in and feel that you HAVE to have your "strange" box lunch and CAN'T have the Ruben or pizza or an "unhealthy" lunch.

    You need the ability to be able to say, "Today... I WANT the ruben... and I'm going to have one!"

    I boxed myself in back in 1998... and "everyone" knew that I ate weird healthy food. Eventually, I couldn't figure out how to say, "Ya know... I'm having a slice of pizza today". I "couldn't" eat unhealthy food and save face. This backfired on me... and I ended up secretly bingeing on all the "bad" food I NEVER ate. Gained 40 lbs in 4 months.

    It is GOOD to eat healthy most of the time. But you want a Ruben... that is what WPA's are for!

  12. I like food that is visually appealing as well as healthy and nutritious. Can't understand why your co-worker thought your lunch looked "gross." It's a big salad and a bowl of soup with some dipping sauce/salad dressing. What's not to like?

  13. Your lunch sounds great and is made of normal foods. I think the colleague's comment was more about expressing an off-tone (from having a bad mood that day?).

  14. Mr K, You should be proud to eat your "healthy people food!" Embrace the awesomeness of that meal, despite what others may say. I think that sometimes when people make comments like that it's because they are deflecting the guilt they feel for eating something less wholesome. And for the record, I think a salad is visually appealing, or sexy, if you will. But the bonus is that it's satisfying on so many other levels you can't see - like you said, protein, fiber, nutrients, the volume of food - I really think it's a perfect meal when you accessorize it correctly. Like you said "The salad tastes great, it's better for you, and you feel better after eating it." You order & eat that salad proudly!

  15. He,he, I personally think sushi is gross!

  16. Dear Mr. Kirchhoff,
    I've recently joined WW to lose all of 13 lbs which have been harder to shake than a rat terrier!! So far, I've lost approx 6 lbs in 3 weeks so I'm very pleased with the process overall! Their new point system is perfect for me because I can still have my 2 glasses of white wine with dinner! Of course, this obviously cuts into my food allowance, but it's worth it.
    I so enjoy your posts!!! I've just started reading them this morning and I wish I could meet with you in person. Actually, I would love to work for you! I'm a highly experienced executive assistant (I flew to Washington DC with the President & CEO of Fedex to visit the White House), and I just happen to be available!! (You can't blame a girl for trying...) Plus I adore Paris and I'm insanely jealous of your opportunity to be there!
    Enjoy your day and thanks for being so entertaining!

  17. Dear Dave,

    That lunch sounds awesome. Man, do I miss eating in NYC!


  18. That lunch looks amazing! I would love to have take-out like that available where I live. I bet the employees are just jealous!

  19. Sound good and functional. Not what I'd call cute food (which is a passion of mine), but it's all about what works for you.

    I get the reverse really, when I show up with my cutsy (I know it's a made up word!) bento boxes I get the "Wow, you have too much time on your hands" kind of comment.

    Can't win can we?


  20. Marnee's right - it's my experience that guilt often drives those snide comments about healthy food.

  21. Is this all put together like a traditional salad, or are the SP on the bottom as a base?. Sounds good to me!!!

  22. This sounds yummy! I need to kick start my lunches again- I have gotten into a poor routine of not packing the night before and running out the door with nothing but a can of soup (like today). I'm definitely going to try and recreate this meal at home- hopefully within the same PPV!

  23. Looks very yummy to me. Wish I had to recipe to make it at home for my lunch that I have to take. I like Sushi, but it's not as filling as your wonderful lunch looks. Seems like that young lady might be full of herself. LOL

  24. I think your lunch sounds awesome. I'd much rather have that filling protein and veggie lunch than your colleague's little sushi roll, I'd be starving an hour later.

    My boss is a "grazer", he brings 4-5 mini meals that he eats throughout the day. At first I thought it was really odd, and mentally connected it to more of a "gym rat" way of eating. But when I joined WW I tried adopting that way of eating, and darnit, it really helps keep my blood sugar even throughout the day! Sometimes it just takes a bit of understanding. :)

  25. Your lunch is almost exactly like a concoction I "created" a few months ago and have been consistently using as a lunch/dinner go-to meal. I usually use black beans instead of meat for my protein, but otherwise almost the same. And it is absolutely delicious, and I WISH I could get it at a restaurant instead of having to make it, and I absolutely get weird looks in the lunch room when I'm eating it. My colleagues have grown accustomed to seeing me eating some veggie/grains/beans mess out of a plastic container and usually just ask what the combo of the week is. On the one hand, they think I'm weird. On the other hand, when I got a WW at work meeting going, no less than 4 of them joined. So today's lunch-scoffer might be tomorrow's convert to the healthy side :)

  26. My partner is always given grief by her meat-eating coworkers when she brings green curry tofu, or black bean burgers or anything else they consider "weird" to the lunch table. One morning she was eating oatmeal with cranberries, almonds and flax meal and a coworker asked if she was eating Brunswick Stew for breakfast. Hello?

  27. You're not alone, but there is still such a stigma around foods that are better for you. People feel sorry for you because you "can't" eat the huge burger and pile of fries. I keep trying to tell them I CAN eat whatever I want, but I'm trying to make better choices. It makes my struggle even harder sometimes.

  28. I love a funny CEO! The lunch sounds wonderful and frankly anything with a bright orange sweet potato in it looks divine to me!

  29. I do agree that visual aesthetic is as important to me as taste... And, I think that WW needs to take a note from the chi-chi restaurants. Any high priced restaurant serves moderate (or even tiny) portions of visually pleasing food on large plates. I say EMBRACE the WHITE SPACE. The idea that we have to eat so much VOLUME (and fill our plates) is part of our problem, I think.

    That said, to give your lunch a bit more eye-pleasing pop, all you'd have to do is substitute a red bell pepper for the green. Now it is tasty, bulky, and pretty. :) And, I'm a big fan of modeling and being vocal about healthy and fast foods.

    Love WW and your article - in case that hasn't come across...

  30. Man! That salad has everything in it that I love! I'm going to see if I can replicate it for one of my lunches. Today I'm having a bulky health meal myself--one of the Quick Meals, "Chick Pea Cabbage Toss." I can't wait for lunch to come!

  31. Well, you have a Points Plus calculator? Because those of us that have joined the new program, can't seem to get one. I joined 3/18/11. Our center doesn't have a "waiting list" for those that have already joined, and are waiting for a their "free calculator". Meaning if someone walks in and joins, and the center happens to have the calculators, new members can get one, while the old/existing members can't. I'm in Indpls, IN. Feel free to call or email:, 317-306-9071. thanks, Jeana

  32. Like others, I feel that Marnee says it well. This is less about your choices, and more about what your colleague perceives and feels. Please tell me what is NOT visually pleasing about green spinach, bright sweet potatoes and the added cheese, vegetables, and turkey?
    Personally, I would love to have easy access to that meal.

  33. My husband and I are in entering into our 7th week and I am going to 'try' to prepare this. Looks yummy to me!

  34. Looks delicious to me-- and reminiscent of my own lunches. Colleagues are always walking by my office door while I'm stuffing my face with a ginormous salad. What can I say, I like to eat a lot of food?

    My only concern is that looks like a giant plastic clamp box-- recyclable? If you order from the same place every day, would they consider using a reusable container that would cut your trash footprint? (Friday is Earth Day, don'tcha know)Our local healthy restaurant swaps out customers' stainless tiffins.

  35. I don't live near Pump, but have their cookbook and LOVE, LOVE LOVE their food! No matter that to others it doesn't look yummy - it is yummy.

  36. It takes courage to be different and lead the way for healthier eating!! Your lunch has been well considered with responsible choices. People are afraid to be different. Somewhere we made a turn in this country, and we let others figure out what to eat at the fastfood restaurants! Look where that is getting us! David there are a lot of us out there being proactive for a healthier life! You are NOT alone!!!

  37. @ Marielle...I'm just guessing, but I'm thinking his current assistant may have a problem with that! ;o)

  38. Jonathan Fried, NYC.May 11, 2011 at 10:45 AM


    As with many of your posts - virtually all, actually - I feel like I'm reading transcripts of my own stream of consciousness. Could not agree more that the appeal of any given meal is completely in the bulk, taste, and sane Points values. Those aspects "look" attractive. However I am very used to my colleagues staring at my plates with those anxious, disquieted stares - their faces remind me of myself when I see a parent speak too roughly to a child on the subway. Should I call social services? The police? They feel like some kind of action needs to be taken to save me from myself.

    By the way, this does not happen in Europe. I don't know if it's cultural restraint or just disinterest in what the American is eating - maybe they feel the same way but hide it better. In any case, no one in Paris or London has ever commented on the lack of primary color in my lunch, or even appeared to notice.

    Love your blog. And LOVE WW. Points Plus is the long-awaited solution to what ails us. WW may be a commercial business but I believe it is doing a great social service.

  39. I work long hours in a midtown office- the guys all love PUMP. But I prefer Just Salad. Sometimes Energy Kitchen.