Friday, September 17, 2010

A Response to Jenn the Greenmom

This morning I read Jenn's post over at the Green Phone Booth about "The Junk Food Dilemma." I guess it touched a nerve, because I started writing a comment to her and then kept writing, and writing, and writing, and writing. In fact, when I finally went to post the comment, I found out that I'd exceeded the comment limit. I'd never realized there was a comment limit in all my time blogging. And I've written some seriously long comments.

But, ya know, that's what I have my own blog for. So, read her post, and then read my response. If you want.


Sometimes I have serious concerns about the enviro/foodie movement. The vibe often seems to be that you can eat whatever you want as long as it's not processed junk food and it's local, organic, etc.

Couple reality checks here:

1) The problems with animal products aren't just with the meat. Raising animals is an energy-intense process, and that goes for both dairy cows and cows for slaughter. Most enviros, even non-vegetarians argue that we need to cut down on meat consumption. We eat too much meat, no question, but I would argue that we probably also eat too much animal product period. I'm not a vegan, hell, I'm not even a vegetarian, but I think it's important for us to recognize this point.

2) Even organic whole wheat chocolate chip cookies are bad for you. Yes, you can eat some in moderation. But, honestly, moderation does not mean you can eat three cookies a day. Or even two cookies a day.

I changed my diet because I felt I had to. I got the results of a cholesterol test back and they were alarmingly high. So I began to add a ton of fiber to my diet (I already ate a good amount of fiber, but now I eat double the daily requirement.) I only eat non-fat dairy. I also eat about three or four servings of fruit a day and try to eat three servings of vegetables a day. I eat a lot of hummus and guacamole. I eat a lot of lentils and beans. I rarely eat red meat (aside from bison which is super high in omega-3). I eat a lot of fish, and a little poultry. I probably average three vegetarian days per week, and then two days with fish.

I cut out cheese entirely. And butter. Occasionally I will eat a bite of cheese at a restaurant but it's rare. (When we go out to pizza, I ask for an individual pizza with no cheese.) Likewise, I'm sure there are times at a restaurant where I accidentally end up with something with butter, but it's not something I use to cook with at home. I eat chocolate sparingly: sometimes in dark chocolate form, and sometimes in the form of low-fat frozen yogurt. But it's not a daily treat by any means.

I do miss cheese and butter and ice cream and all the rest. Sometimes I long for some mac and cheese. BUT, by eliminating things, I think it actually makes it easier than if you try to figure out "moderation." Moderation is hard, because it's so easy to slip back into old ways. There's a reason alcoholics are told that they can never drink again.

And most of the time, I'm happy. I love fruit. I love hummus and avocado. I have found a ton of super tasty, healthy veg dishes. And yes, I allow myself the occasional slip up. I also allow myself (though I know I should not) a couple vices: since my problem is cholesterol which has to do with fat, I let myself have soda and juice which you know, are really just sugar. I also let myself have sugary candies occasionally like sour patch kids. I know, I know, I shouldn't do that, but sometimes I'm just dying for something bad! And, for me, (not a diabetic) this is not THAT bad.

In the process of this new diet, I've lost about ten pounds. I feel super energetic (although that's probably also due to my exercise regime).

And frankly, now that my body is acclimated to healthy non-fatty stuff, a little fat goes a long long way. The other day, a friend offered me a mini banana-nut muffin he had baked. It was all warm from the oven and looked delicious, so I couldn't resist. I had half of a mini-muffin and felt really satiated.

I've also noticed that I've become very sensitive to butter and cheese and stuff. A little bit starts to feel like a LOT to me. So I enjoy it, but only in very limited quantities.

Anyway, that's my very long-winded response to your post. My advice to you: don't do a cleanse. Instead, do exactly what Chile suggested. Choose only healthy foods for a month. Eat no unhealthy foods. Then gradually add the unhealthy stuff back in. HOWEVER, whenever you sit at the dinner table, take stock of your plate. It should be one half veggies. The other half can be composed of carbs/protein/meat/dairy. But fully one half of it should be veggies. This is a tip a nutritionist gave me, and I think it's pretty brilliant. That means the occasional Alfredo pasta is fine, but make sure you are also eating a ton of broccoli, etc, that day as well.

Hope this helps!



Jenn the Greenmom said...

Chili's comment was brilliant. Yours is good too--and come to think of it, I have in the past DONE the thing where I've cut out all the bad stuff for a period of time and discovered later that I didn't want it any more, or craved it in very small quantities only. Because, admittedly, my current approach to moderation isn't as moderate as it could be...and I'll need to re-set if I'm going to help that, I seem sort of unable to just gradually taper away.

Thanks! I love that this is touching a nerve with so many people...

Chile said...

The alcoholism reference is a good one. With food, it's a slippery slope because, unlike alcohol, you need food to live. The challenge is in the choices of what food to eat.

I've slid waaay down that slippery slope lately by allowing myself to eat just a little unhealthy food to get me through the stress. This started with the fast move 6 months ago and has not ended. I've gained weight, lost fitness, and am having a helluva time trying to pull my fat butt back up onto the healthy wagon. *sigh*

Maybe just starting with the half veggies on the plate is something to try.

Vegetable Garden Cook said...

If you don't mind me asking, how are your cholesterol levels now? My husband has high cholesterol. He went entirely vegan for a few months and lowered his cholesterol a little bit, but not to the healthy level.

It would be interesting to start a discussion of experiences with diet changes and cholesterol levels. Perhaps I will do that today on my blog.

Also, you mention you are eating only non-fat dairy. Is that non-fat milk and non-fat yogurt? Sometimes those have powdered milk added, which oxidizes the cholesterol content and makes it even worse for you. They add the powdered milk to give it a thicker consistency.

Green Bean said...

First off, girl you make me laugh! Who knew there was a comment limit. :)

You guys are so right. As a lifelong vegetarian - but not a vegan - I totally agree that we eat too much butter, cheese, dairy. It is too much for the planet and for our bodies.

And, I'll say that when I'm doing a lot of cooking straight from the CSA, that's mostly veggies with a tad of rice, pasta or bread thrown in. Then, I just keep my weight down naturally. When my husband is out of town and I start going for what's "convenient" because I'm tired, then the scale hits me back.

Great topic.

ruchi said...

Jenn, yeah, I think sometimes the "re-set" is helpful. It's got the same idea behind it as a cleanse, only, IMO, more healthy.

Chile, yeah, you're right. Obviously we need food to live which is why we have to have a healthy relationship with food. But of course, as you know, we don't need cheese to live! (Cheese, btw has a TON of saturated fat. It is one of the least healthy things for you. I was amazed by how bad it is. Sad because it's SO DELICIOUS.)

Amy, I dropped 100 points in three months. My doctors were completely shocked. Obviously, YMMV, but a couple of tips for your husband: eat a lot of SOLUBLE fiber. There are two types of fiber, and most thinks that tout themselves as high-fiber are full of insoluble fiber. There are a lot of good things about insoluble fiber, but it's not going to lower cholesterol. Make sure you are getting at least 10 grams of soluble fiber a day. I eat a Kashi cereal called Kashi crisp that has 5 grams of soluble fiber in it per serving. That's more than anything else I've been able to find, including oatmeal. I also eat a lot of fruit which is fairly high in soluble fiber. A website which has been invaluable to me is Also, make sure that you are getting some "good fats" like the kind in nuts, avocado, etc. BUT, it's also important to keep in mind that not everyone's body is the same. We respond differently to different things, especially at different ages. I am fairly certain that in ten years, I will have to go on cholesterol medication.

GB, great point. One of the advantages of a CSA is it DOES force you to eat all those veggies. That's a good way to help modify diet.

Vegetable Garden Cook said...

My response to both of your posts:

Aydan said...
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Aydan said...
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Aydan said...

I think there are two issues at stake here. One is what is good for the planet, and one is what is good for your own body. One is, on some level, other people's business. One is not.

I don't mean to come off as rude; it's just that as a feminist, on a college campus, surrounded by women who are ten sizes smaller than me, I hear so much about "good foods" and "bad foods." Many of my peers really want to lose weight, and they tie their sense of self-goodness to their weight. It's painful to see my friends policing themselves, living on one meal a day, and it's painful to be policed myself. I'm troubled by making a blanket statement about "junk food"; organic, whole wheat chocolate chip cookies may be high in fat and/or sugar and/or calories, depending on how they are made, but that doesn't make them "bad" for you. That means, ideally, you consume them in moderation-- and they may also be high in fiber, calcium, and dark chocolate anti-oxidants.

Ruchi, you choose to eat non-fat dairy because of your cholesterol. I choose not to eat non-fat dairy because it's more processed than I like. Both are valid choices, and both come from our own situations, needs and preferences. I am not really concerned about my fat intake, but I am anemic, so my priority is to have at least one vegan meal a day (I'm vegetarian) so I can bulk up on plant iron and not have the absorption blocked by calcium. A third person might worry, instead of fat or iron, about sugar, and so on. Each person has their own foods they can tolerate well and foods they can't tolerate well; if I ate like you, there's a good chance I'd get sick, but that doesn't mean I think your diet is in any way "wrong."

Of course we need to be aware of the impact our dietary choices have on the planet, just as with our other choices; however, I'm optimistic that in a world where everything was real food, if we no longer talked about "bad food" and "junk food," there would be fewer people stepping on the scale every morning and thinking "bad self." Everything in moderation, even vegetables; what we need is to learn what moderation really is instead of demonizing certain foods.

That was kind of long-- I guess you hit a nerve, too!

ruchi said...

Aydan, I hear you, and I concede that obviously we all have different health issues. As I noted in my post, I allow myself soda and juice and sugary candy on occasion. It's all crap, but it doesn't really hurt me that much. I also know a lot of people believe that full fat dairy is healthier for you, and I can see points in favor of both.

I absolutely agree with you about moderation; HOWEVER, I think we as a society really don't know what moderation means anymore. Sure, we need to eat vegetables and chocolate in moderation, but, frankly, moderate amounts of vegetables mean a few servings of veggies a day. A moderate amount of chocolate is ... probably a lot less.

I get where you're coming from, and I don't believe in demonizing food, but from my perspective, we GLORIFY butter, cheese, eggs, chocolate, etc. I can't tell you how often I go to an eco-foodie website and it's about a hugely fatty dessert. Conversely, I don't see as many posts about lentils or salads. It's probably that those things are less sexy: who wants to take a picture of some sauteed spinach?

So, yes, I hear you, and I agree that we shouldn't be demonizing food, but that also wasn't my intent. My intent was to try to offer my experiences in a healthy diet that allowed me to lose weight and lower my cholesterol, and maintain those things. I was using my diet as an example of a way to eat real food as opposed to practicing a cleanse. I completely understand that all our bodies our different and that we have different health concerns. HOWEVER, I will say that I've done a good amount of research in the past few months, and a diet high in fiber, fruits, and vegetables, and low in processed carbs and sugar, is recommended for all kinds of things from cancer to diabetes prevention.

That said, I'm not anti-dessert or anti-chocolate or anti-cookie. I love all those things and still eat them on occasion. Moderation is the key, but real moderation is hard to figure out.

Lisa said...

To be honest I have to somewhat disagree (and agree lol). As Michael Pollan talks about we are to hung up on "nutritionism." Nutrition science is a new science and we don't know it all.

Have you noticed diets and what's good and what's bad is trendy?

Honestly I believe if you eat REAL food, as little processing as possible and eat in moderation, lots of different foods, AND stay active you will be healthy.

I have lost 30 lbs by exercising (nothing extreme just Wii Fit and yoga) and eating real food. I still bake almost every weekend and cook with butter and olive oil.

Each meal I make is served with veggies and fruit and I drink a lot of green smoothies. We also pretty much don't eat out. OH and we do eat limited amounts of local farm raised meat and local dairy.

This diet has not only helped me lose weight (finally got told by my doctor I'm at a healthy weight for me) but also got my blood pressure down to where I get told at the doctors office "wow your bp is great" and I had high insulin it's now normal. :) I honestly believe being active, real food, and exercise are the biggest parts of a healthy life style