Saturday, March 13, 2010

0 My Definition of Healthy Food

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I wanted to address an issue that came up the other day that illustrates how different people think about healthy food, & what it says about them: When a friend and I started having a conversation about healthy food, I noticed that his primary focus & priorities regarding healthy food weren't the same as mine, & that's perfectly fine. He obviously knows what healthy food is & clearly thinks about sports nutrition as it applies to his training, but I found it interesting that he took such a different approach to his eating & how it fits into his exercise regimen.

During our conversation about healthy food/cooking, the first thing out of his mouth was this: "Healthy food should be low-calorie." My response to this was: "I don't count calories; it would drive me batty. I focus on portion-size & nutritional content, & then if I exercise regularly to match my input (for weight maintenance), everything seems to work out just fine. To me, healthy food is whole food that's high in nutrients, & low in fat & sugar." He's probably going to be slightly pissed off at me for mentioning this, but he already knows that he also eats a lot more processed food than I do, and as far as I know, still drinks soda, which I don't do and never really have. Please understand, I'm not saying this to be a judgmental goody-two-shoes, but rather to show how our thoughts & corresponding behaviors clearly illustrate a fundamental difference in our approaches to food & healthy eating, and what's most important to us as individuals.

[Right now, several of my male friends are probably wondering if I'm really referring to them (Haha!), but the person I'm actually referring to already knows who he is, because this conversation happened fairly recently & the minimal details I've just mentioned are clearly too specific to be overlooked or confused with any other recent conversation or person. :) As I didn't want to embarrass this person, you'll notice there's no name mentioned. Furthermore, our friendship is strong enough to withstand the honesty; otherwise, I never would've mentioned it in the first place. Plus, he's tough enough to handle it. I'm happy to say that we are mature enough to be OK with the other person having differences of opinion & behaviors, and can still be friends after discussions like these. We have enough of a bond to make that bare (& sometimes rather unsparing!) honesty work. Please note that there are no cruel intentions behind my words, nor are they intended to do harm, only to point out the facts of the situation. I try to be as tactful as possible, although I'm not sure I succeeded in the above case. ;) When it comes right down to it, truly good friends don't BS each other or pull any punches, & we clearly have an unspoken understanding -- i.e., a "no BS" policy -- in our friendship. :) ]

Clearly, when I create the recipes on this blog, I go under the assumption that people are exercising in conjunction with their food intake. :) Of course, I know that this might not necessarily be the case. However, the good news is that if a person exercises, they don't have to be so fanatical about monitoring every little mouthful. Or at least, that's not my personal approach, whether or not I'm exercising.  Likewise, I don't weigh myself every day -- it's usually every week or every two weeks -- and when I do weigh myself, I'm thinking about body fat percentage numbers, and not focusing solely on the number of pounds that the scale is reporting back to me.

I used to obsess about metrics, but found that this approach was neither helpful nor useful in my attempts to manage my weight. From 2007 to 2008, I was able to lose the remaining body fat I needed to lose just by following the above method. I am proof-positive that this approach works and is a healthy, and yes, much more relaxed approach to losing body fat.  If you won't take my word for it, there's photographic evidence: During my 2008-2009 training (for road-racing), I went from a size 8 down to a size 0. The racing photos add 10-15 lbs., but there wasn't an ounce of extra body fat to be found. Just ask my friends & family; they'll tell you it was true. Looking back on it, that was probably a bit too skinny for my body frame, but I was racing really intensively -- it felt like every other weekend sometimes -- and for the first time, even though I was also building muscle, I began having a rather unusual problem -- keeping my weight up, instead of down! That's honestly never been an issue before -- I don't exactly have a stick figure to begin with -- but then when I began marathon-training, I had to readjust my eating, and ended up gaining some of that weight back. :) Sports nutrition is a learning process like anything else, so sometimes it can take a bit of time to find the right balance and the approach that works for us athletes as individuals.

Anyhow, that's what works for me, & so, I'm sticking to it. Honestly, if I follow any other method, I tend to gain weight/body fat instead of lose it; that's primarily because the act monitoring the numbers too closely makes me anxious and obsessive, and it actually becomes counterproductive. I don't need to know what I weigh to the ounce; I'm just concerned with the overall picture.

Of course, I adjust my intake based on my level of activity, but for me, following a strict meal plan just doesn't jive with my personality. It's not that I don't stick to a "plan" per se, it's just that my eating "plan" is not as strictly regimented because I know that realistically, there's no way I'm going to stick to it, because I'm not the type of person who can eat chicken every Tuesday, etc. Now, this is not to say that I don't have favorite meals that go into rotation every once in a while, but rather that I can make whatever I want, so why limit myself to making the same stuff over and over again. :) Please understand that this isn't said to brag or tout my skills; I'm just saying that maintaining variety in my cooking repertoire and a looser approach to meal planning works better for me. Maybe I'll have some idea of what I'm making for the week -- a number of choices floating around in my head that I'm considering -- but I like to remain flexible, should the factors vary.

Likewise, we tend to go by the European model of grocery shopping -- buying on a daily or semi-weekly basis, and picking what's fresh and in season. That's what my maman did when I lived abroad, and I saw from her example how effective and smart that approach really was. She walked to her local market almost every single day (which is of course good exercise to boot!) to buy fresh ingredients for that night's supper. And, yes, when given the opportunity to buy local, I like to support our local farms, particularly the organic ones.

To be fair, the only "children" we have are cats, and my schedule right now allows me the freedom to spend my days writing and cooking, so I realize that this approach might not be feasible for everyone. However, what I am suggesting is that people reconsider their definitions of what healthy food is. Eating less processed food does two things: It's healthier, for one, because it's been shown that ingesting lots of chemicals has harmful short-term and long-term effects on our bodies, and it's also sending a message to those big food conglomerates that we want healthier food.

As many of you know from watching the slew of green programs on TV, or reading books and watching documentaries on the subject (like Food, Inc., which IMHO, is one of the most important films of the last decade), our food is a LOT less healthier than it was even 50 years ago. Think about that for a second. In the last 50 years, the food industry did more to undo food standards/regulations and quality control than in the last few centuries of food production. And that is anything but a good thing for the health and safety of the average citizen. The number of chemical additives in our food as well as the number of shortcuts that the food industry has implemented in the name of so-called "convenience" has gone up by an alarming rate.

Honestly, this is the only thing Twinkies are good for -- Hello there world, meet Twinkiehenge. :)

And when it gets right down to it, fresh fruits and vegetables are really less expensive than a lot of junk food out there, both in terms of the short-term and long-term health costs. OK, some might argue otherwise on a cent-by-cent ratio, but they are clearly not looking at the big picture. Even if you look at the cost of a single package of Twinkies as compared to an apple, there's really a minimal difference in cost: Sure a two pack of Twinkie might cost $1.29 (or 60¢ per twinkie) while a Granny Smith apple costs 80¢, but consider that Twinkies have a shelf-life of like, 50 years. No joke. Why do you think a Twinkie still says soft for time immemorial?! It's all those unhealthy chemicals that keep it that way. Frankly, I'll happily pay the extra 20 cents, which isn't even that much of a differential, to prolong the quality of my health & life. :)

The good news is that we have freedom of choice: We can choose what we eat. And we still have the power to vote with our dollars and send the message that we will not stand for crappy food anymore, and instead will choose to endorse products which truly serve our own best interests in the name of health & our children's health. Mass manufacturers CAN do better. They just need a kick where it hurts to get them going.

Time and time again, we see that since lots of companies are motivated by pure profit motive, that we can show them that the only way they're going to make a profit is to shape up or ship out. Maybe then they'll finally listen. OK, to be fair, a lot of them already are finally starting to listen, & several more companies have been founded with these principles in mind. But as far as I'm concerned, there are a lot more that still need a kick in the pants.

We vote with our wallets every day, whether or not we are consciously aware of this fact. While what we buy does not define who we are, it certainly says a lot of about our values. So the next time you put your groceries on the conveyer belt, I urge you to think about which system of values you are supporting by your food choices. Consumers are really the ones who have the rudders of this ship, so let's all do what's best for our health & start steering it in the right direction.

And that's the evolution of capitalism at its finest. :)

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