Tuesday, August 25, 2009

I've got the 'last two kilos' blues

About six weeks ago, I headed off for a check-up with Ginny. I posted about it here, but just to recap ... my jeans were feeling tight and my 'fat-roll-ometer' was registering "warning! warning!" (if that fat roll came with a red light, it would have been flashing). The outcome of that visit was that I needed to take off 3.5kg of fat that had slowly crept up on me while gleefully enjoying free meals and ignoring the fact that my exercise was, well, lacking.

After that Ginny visit, I cleaned up my act; I got back into a regular exercise routine and, as per Ginny's recommendation, cut back my free meals to just one a week rather than an entire weekend of free-wheelin' free meals. And then I went to see her again a couple weeks ago.

My weigh-in and caliper measurements registered a mere 1kg of fat loss; we were expecting about 2.4kg of loss. Sigh. I had been sick and missed about a week of exercise thus slowing down my metabolism - our bodies are designed to hang on to fat during such emergencies. "Plus," Ginny explained, "you only have about 2kg left to lose, that is not much at all and your body is hanging on to that last bit." My body is trying to outsmart me!

So, right now I've got the 'last two kilos blues'. It's like, I am so close to going back to maintenance mode (which will mean a whole day of free meals) that I can almost taste the butter and cherry jam on my toast, mayo on my roast beef sandwich and the last of the lemon slice that I stowed away in the freezer. I have to admit, this morning I stole a bite of my son's crunchy rice toast on which I'd spread butter and Marmite. It just smelled sooooo good, so savoury and irresistible. I was feeling weak and defiant; I was feeling the 'last two kilos blues'. I am just going to have that bite, I thought. So I did.

But if I really want my jeans to be comfortable again and get that mid-section fat roll under control, I need to buckle down and stay on my programme. And, most importantly and somewhat ironically, if I just stay on the programme I *will* get that free day once again!

That was my pep talk to myself to banish these 'last two kilo blues'.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Addicted to the 'sugar rush'

On the weekend, I had the opportunity to read the September '09 issue of North & South magazine. The cover story is about 'pioneering New Zealand science reveals there's much more to getting fat than laziness and lack of willpower'.

The headline of the article refers to 'gene switches' within our DNA - how they are activated before birth causing the baby to develop in a certain way. According to their research, mothers can predestine their children to obesity by what the mother eats during pregnancy and even before conception. This article, written by Joanna Wane, is very interesting and covers a number of different aspects regarding weight gain and loss.

One particular part of the article which grabbed my attention was an interview with Dr Simon Thornley, an assistant research fellow at the University of Auckland. According to Thornley, 'heavily processed carbohydrates create a "sugar rush" that stimulates the same areas of the brain associated with drug dependency. And like any addicts who develop tolerance to their drug of choice, they need more of it to get the same fix - which might explain why overweight people need to constantly upsize their portions.'

To me, this also explains why having just a small portion of some sugary, sweet food is a trigger for me to want to eat much, much more as per my previous post on triggers.

The article went on to say that Thornley 'suspects mood swings and physical discomfort caused by cutting out high-GI foods and sugar are key factors in sabotaging long-term weight loss'.

That certainly has been the truth for me in the past ... I can recall many a late evening run to the petrol station or grocery store for an ice cream and chocolate fix (better throw in a few bags of chips too) after a 'good' day of dieting.

I think the only real way out of this vicious circle is to fuel the body correctly with the right amount of slow-release carbs, high quality protein and plenty of fruit and fibrous vegetables.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The trigger effect of sweet foods

This afternoon I made one of my favourite free-meal treats to enjoy on the weekend: lemon slice (I'll post the recipe here, it is too delicious not to try!) and I was oh-so-tempted to lick the spatula after pouring the batter into the cake tin. The fresh lemon zest mingled with the aroma of the sugary base already baking in the oven smelled delicious. But I resisted. I knew once the licking started, I wouldn't be able to stop. This has happened to me before - many times. I would have cleaned that mixing bowl the way my cats clean up canned tuna water in their dish - not a speck would be left.

If I were just counting calories maybe cleaning up the bowl wouldn't be too damaging to the ol' waistline. But a few slurps of that batter would not be the end. I'm not talking about cravings here, which I posted about recently. I am talking about triggers. Even one lick of that batter would be a trigger for me. I would want more sweet foods - lots more. It actually reminds me of one of my son's books titled, "If you give a moose a muffin". The first few lines go something like this, "If you give a moose a muffin, he'll want another. And another. And another. And when they are all gone, he'll ask you to make more."

I wonder, is the moose really hungry or are those sweet muffins (he did ask for blackberry jam to go with them, by the way) triggering his need for even more muffins. Maybe he was just hungry. For me, however, sugary-sweet foods act as triggers to eat more sweet foods. This is not psychological, it is physical.

Every Wednesday my son and I go to our 'coffee group'. It is a group of other mom's who have the same aged kids who live in the neighbourhood. We get to have a chatty catch-up over a coffee, and the kids get to play. There is also fabulous home-baking involved. For some reason we all enjoy baking! I rarely eat the treats on offer. If I don't want the rest of my day to turn into an eat-fest, I have to stick with my own snacks. My friends understand I watch what I eat, and they respect my choices. Most of the time they don't even bother offering me a piece of cake or a cookie off the serving tray - they know my answer! But I am not sure they really get the fact that it's not just their one lovely cookie, which I would like to try (!) ... it would be the entire cupboard cleaned out once I got home.

So, I just have to be mindful of the triggering effect of sweet foods - it has saved me from many binge-eating sessions.

Recipe: lemon slice

This is one of my favourite free-meal treats ... a simple and delicious use of organic lemons and free-range eggs. I found this recipe in Taste magazine a few years ago.

1½ cups flour
¾ cup caster sugar
150g butter, cubed

4 eggs
1¾ cups caster sugar
zest 3 lemons
  • 2/3 cup lemon juice
    1/3 cup plain flour
  • Method

For the base, preheat oven to 180ºC. Pulse flour, sugar and butter in a food processor until mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Press into the base of a lined 20 x 35cm tin. Bake for 15 minutes until golden.

For the topping, whisk eggs, sugar and zest together until quite thick; the more the eggs are beaten the more meringue-like the topping. Stir in lemon juice and flour.

Pour topping over base and bake for 40 minutes, or until the centre is set when tested with a skewer. If it browns too quickly, cover with baking paper. Cool, slice and sprinkle with icing sugar to serve.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Taking the 'kaizen' approach to eating healthy

Wikipedia defines kaizen as: 'a Japanese philosophy that focuses on continuous improvement throughout all aspects of life'. Often this improvement is by making small but regular changes. When I look back over the past ten years, I can see I've taken the 'kaizen' approach to eating healthy (and having a healthy lifestyle overall).

This certainly wasn't intentional. In fact, I operated in exactly the opposite way! I remember a time when I saw an article on television about the health benefits of garlic. So, I started incorporating more garlic into our foods. But instead of making just a small adjustment with garlic, I put it in every meal I prepared, whether it called for it or not! My husband does not do well with garlic (it gives him headaches), and he finally had to voice his complaints when he found entire cloves floating in his vegetable soup one evening.

That is just one example of my 'more is better' attitude when it comes to dietary improvement. So, how does this qualify as a 'kaizen' approach? Well, even though I would throw myself into making radical changes to eating (or exercising), only some of it would really stick. The stuff that 'stuck' were things made me feel better and were sustainable. Garlic in every meal did not make my husband feel better and thus was not sustainable - for either of us. :-)

I'm not sure if it is delusion or optimism, but I always think I've found the magic bullet of health or weight-loss so I throw myself into whatever it is whole-heartedly. I can see so many of the 'small changes' I've incorporated into my diet and lifestyle over the years started out as massive undertakings (check out my post on doing triathlons!).

What I have finally realized is that the most sustainable way to eating healthy and living a healthy lifestyle is to make gradual changes - and build on them. Make the changes when you feel ready, when the time is right for you.

If I add up all these little changes I've made in the past ten years, I can see how my diet and lifestyle have become more healthy. Some of these changes were harder than others. In fact, most of them were not that easy for me. But they felt right to do, and I've managed to incorporate them into my everyday life. Now they are second-nature. Here are some of them:
  • Exercise regularly four to five times each week
  • Stop eating foods that list numbers as ingredients (I call them fake foods)
  • Eat foods such as cake, ice cream, cookies, pies, potato chips, french fries, burgers (I could go on for a while here!) only as treats - for me that means only at a free meal
  • Use skim milk in my tea or coffee instead of full fat milk
  • Eat organic fruit, vegetables, grains and dairy whenever possible
  • Eat only free-range eggs
  • Drink at least 8 tall glasses of water every day
  • Grow some of our own vegies (save money on those organics!)
  • Replace wheat-based carbohydrates with more variety such as brown rice, oats and kumara
  • Eat fish at least once a week
  • Eat red meat at dinner only three times a week
  • Make our own ice cream (my, there are some strange ingredients in supermarket ice creams!)
  • Eat nitrate-laden deli meats such as salami, ham or corned beef only rarely
  • Zero consumption of fizzy, soda pop drinks
  • Always read labels (recently I was stunned to find MSG - flavour enhancer 621 - listed in the ingredients of my favourite 'Italian herbs' cottage cheese)
And that's not the end! I know there will be more changes in the future. I get to junctures where I think: I can't do it this way anymore. And then I need to change it.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Recipe: Baked salmon with Mexican rub

This is one of my favourite ways to eat our locally-farmed fresh salmon. Baking the salmon at a high temperature seems to seal the meat and keep the moisture in. This Mexican rub is actually a taco seasoning recipe a friend gave to me - so it is handy mixture to have in the cupboard and use with minced beef or beans.

150g fresh salmon per person (steak or fillet cut are both fine)

Rub ingredients:
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper

Mix up all ingredients and store in airtight container. Adjust spices to your liking.

Preheat oven to 200 degrees Celcius (400F). Line a baking tray with baking paper. Place salmon pieces skin-side down on paper. Sprinkle about 1 teaspoon of seasoning mix onto each piece of salmon and rub it in gently. Place tray in hot oven on middle rack and bake approximately 10-15 minutes depending on thickness of fish. You can check for done-ness by inserting a knife into the middle of one piece, if the flesh comes away easily it is done.