Food and creed on a snowy day

IMG_1088I keep thinking I want to write something profound, theological almost, but I am not up to it. Instead I meditate. 45 minutes this morning, no problem. And I think about diet and plan carefully for a food-shopping excursion during a brief break in the frigid, snowy weather. It wasn’t really a break but Vic had to go out for a doctor’s appointment so I went along and went around the corner to the supermarket and bought at least 10 meals worth of vegan food. Beans and more beans, greens and more greens. Continue reading

Food stress

Yikes. This is what happens when I let up just the least bit on the diet discipline. I am up 3 pounds from my goal weight, which, by the way, lasted only that one week. The weight comes back right to my midriff, a ballooning muffin top that I can feel growing by the day.

I just dumped into the trash the cinnamon rolls and Pringles that my latest houseguest didn’t finish. I didn’t even compost them. They would poison the animals that check out the garbage. What possessed me to buy bread, chips, ice cream? The stress of not knowing what to feed people.

The food thing is really the biggest stress of having houseguests. This is true even when it’s our kids, whether it’s their food restrictions or ours, or the changing tastes of the little one. We develop our own eating and food prep patterns. As a good hostess I am attentive to the tastes of my guests and I don’t feel quite right just making them eat the way I do day by day.

I just read an article about Bill Clinton going vegan. He entertained the reporter, who was expecting tasteless food. Of course, some wonderful chef had laid out a feast of all kinds of wonderful salads and dips and beany things–things I know how to prepare, and also how much time it takes to do so. Sure, it is wonderful to go vegan, and you can make things taste really good as long as the people you are serving have a sense of food adventure and you have time and you don’t mind missing the mark sometimes with a dish.

But my guest for much of the past two weeks was a teenager from Congo who was accustomed to an entirely predictable diet of rice, fufu, manioc greens, meat, and fish (not so much the fish). Back home she’d also had a chance to develop a taste for soft bread and chips of all kinds, as well as sweets, especially vanilla ice cream. So after I had watched her picking at my healthy vegetables and mostly leaving them on the plate and taking her slender self away from the table to chat with her 2,000 facebook friends on my iPad, I started giving in to her tastes and let her pick her diet off the grocery shelves, rather than trying to cook up, juice, and salad-i-fy my bounty of CSA produce. In the process, I got off track myself because I don’t like to prepare two or three different dinners.

I can’t blame Deborah for those 3 pounds. My body is just trying really hard to get fat again. There is no such thing as a weight-maintenance diet for me. It is lose or gain and I’m gaining, fast. Gotta go back to losing.

But first we are getting together with my brothers and spouses this weekend in North Dakota. Most of us struggle with the weight thing but I don’t see us getting together to go on long walks. We will eat together (all healthy food of course) and sit around talking and laughing and arguing. I’ll probably pack on another pound because that’s just the way it is. A good time will be had by all.

I don’t eat any of that stuff

I should write something spiritual for Holy Week but food is on my mind.

I am in the 147s this week, two pounds to go. This morning, however, I felt like eating and eating so I ate two pieces of GF toast with honey and coconut butter along with my smoothie. It was not hunger. It was loneliness and relief and any other emotion you can name. Heightened feelings of any kind can make me want to eat. Not always, not as much as they did six months ago, but often enough to remind me of the need for continued vigilance.

It helps to have eliminated whole categories of food from my diet–we’ve gone gluten-free vegan for Lent and perhaps, with some minor modifications, forever. I am no longer tempted by real bread. Meat has no appeal whatsoever though maybe some fish. As soon as I think about taking myself out to lunch to celebrate getting through a difficult conversation I think about wading through a menu of glutinous, cheesy, meaty gunk and say no thanks.

It is funny to see a big gloppy sandwich in a TV commercial and be tempted for an instant and then imagine biting into it and thinking, no, I just want a tiny slice of that sandwich, three bites. Really. The thought of eating the whole thing or even half of it is overwhelming. But it is bread and meat and cheese so I don’t have to even think about it.

“I don’t eat any of that stuff” is my new mantra. I was repeating it and laughing when my daughter-in-law was describing the perfect mac and cheese she’d had at a restaurant. There is a great sense of freedom in having liberated myself from even having to consider foods that I know are bad for me, and, progressively, from even the hunger for them.

The rewards are considerable. I continue to lose weight steadily and my cholesterol and Vic’s blood sugar and blood pressure are back within healthy range.

It is very much like giving up cigarettes (I speak from experience; I smoked for two years when I was old enough to know better). You may wish for a cigarette or a cheeseburger now and then but you just don’t want to go down that road. The hunger goes away if you don’t indulge it.

The difference with food may be that you can usually have a few bites of a bad food, if you really want it, because depriving yourself might make you want it even more. This is what most experts say and this is the Weight Watchers philosophy: Don’t deprive yourself.

I don’t totally buy that. Here is where narrowing down what I eat helps. If I feel like indulging myself I can usually find a substitute within the categories of food I allow myself–because self indulgence is really what it’s all about. Treats. Want a cheeseburger? How about, instead, a salad loaded with goodies like avocado and nuts and dried cranberries? Want a slice of Chicago-style pizza? How about, instead, two slices of Amy’s GF-DF Spinach Pizza with a glass of red wine?

Pulling this switch on myself reminds me of how I often handled my young children: how about playing with this set of measuring cups instead of that glass vase? The hungry little kid in me wants something but it doesn’t have to be a cheeseburger. This morning’s treat was the extra toast. It was enough. I stopped wanting to eat and eat.

So. No ham and scalloped potatoes for Easter. I don’t even want them. I may break the vegan fast and serve salmon with the usual grilled asparagus and maybe a pilaf and strawberries with whipped coconut cream and have two glasses of wine. That sounds like a feast to me.

Lenten fast food

“Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

The phrase struck home when we were marked with ashes on Ash Wednesday. Vic had just received some bad numbers from his physical exam. His blood pressure and blood sugar were both elevated despite regular exercise, a healthy diet by most standards, and very little excess weight. And we’re 68. So we were thinking about mortality.

He was in the mood to try something drastic rather than go on more medication, so on Ash Wednesday he was already in the middle of a juice fast, glugging down the life-force from pounds and pounds of vegetables and a few fruits every day. Meanwhile, I’d become aware of my own sensitivity to wheat and dairy and we’d already cut back on that, though I usually kept some regular bread around for Vic. So some signs were pointing us toward vegan gluten-free.

The beginning of Lent presented an invitation to conduct a physical and spiritual experiment. Could we bring Vic’s numbers down by subtracting some foods rather than adding medication? Could this practice enhance our spirits as well as our bodies? Oh, and throw in consideration for the earth and the community, too, as well as each other.

Lent seems a time to experiment with being really, really good. It is not so much about giving up as bringing awareness and attention, preparing, making an offering. We are bringing awareness to the food we eat, consecrating it as the sacred gift that it is. We are bringing attention and respect to the sacred gift of our bodies. And we are preparing for the final stage of our life, which will end in our death.

How’s it going?

After less than a week of juicing and then vegan gluten-free, Vic’s blood sugar had dropped 22 points to near normal. No other dramatic physical changes to report–my weight loss continues at the same tortoise pace as before. But the physical experiment seems to be working.

The spiritual challenge is more interesting. Can I, the cook, produce abundance with a much more limited range of ingredients? What about hosting–that is, sharing such abstemious abundance with others?

I don’t like following recipes but I’ve had to look up a few to get started. I won’t even share them with you because I altered them hopelessly even the first time I tried and I can’t remember exactly how. My meals are like snowflakes–no two alike.  Taste until it’s good. But here is a site that got me putting together some interesting soups and stews. I tend toward one-dish things.

After 10 days neither of us is missing meat or anything else that we have “given up.” (Did I say we almost never eat soy, either? Because of the estrogens.) We are developing a new respect and gratitude for beans, grains, and veggies upon veggies. I have made a Lenten altar with my St. George icon, saint of the aggressive approach I guess. I offer some food there every day. A bowl of amaranth. The squash for the soup I made yesterday at a friend’s house.  A new hummus I figured out myself.


George with weight-loss tortoises and quinoa

The other part of the Lenten offering is sharing with others. The friend, Sarah, had said last Sunday she was too busy to shop for and cook healthy meals so I offered to cook for her. Yesterday I took the ingredients for a roasted squash soup, vegan cornbread, and salad, and we cooked them up in her kitchen. It took a while. Lenten “fast” food isn’t fast.

And it wasn’t for everybody. Her husband praised the soup but he’d prepared a meat dish for himself because he couldn’t imagine a dinner without meat. I was outside my comfort zone trying unfamiliar recipes in someone else’s kitchen. I’m not sure they were up to my usual standards.

But this is less about standards than about trying, about offering and sharing and enjoying. We had a great evening. The gluten-free vegan no-soy Lenten fast is becoming the Lenten feast.