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Posts Tagged ‘diet’

There is a lot that I could write about right now in regards to my life, weight loss and how my Buddhist practice is getting me through some very stressful times but I can’t bring myself to write about that in much detail right now. Instead, I can assure you that I’m exercising, eating healthy and maintaining a vibrant practice that is making some very tough times bearable. Instead, I thought I’d share a few quick thoughts about some of the things I’ve been using lately to help me keep my life on track and my health improving.

As I’ve been actively trying to eat healthy and exercise more in order to lose weight, I’m constantly on the lookout for great vegetarian recipes. For some time, I’ve been aware of a site called Yummly however, I’ve not used it as much as I should. That’s changed recently. Yummly is like a google for recipes and they bill themselves as having the ability to search every recipe in the world. They have a great section of vegetarian recipes available here. I’ve been able to find a lot of different recipes here that have inspired me to create some really tasty meals. The ability to search by ingredient or taste profiles or by category make finding things quick and easy. Regardless of what you like to eat, you’ll be able to find something here to inspire you to make something delicious.

Another new favorite is a blog called The First Mess. Laura, the author of the blog, not only creates amazing recipes but the photographs that accompany the recipes are works of art in their own right. Her commitment to creating fresh and healthy food comes through in each of her posts and the recipes there are all wonderful to read through and look at.

As I’ve said many times here, I’m a person who relies on their smart phone for almost everything. If there’s an app for it, I’ve probably seen it or tried it. One of my new favorite apps is called OurGroceries. It is designed for quick and easy sharing of list data between multiple users and works on the computer, Android, iPhone and Blackberry phones. It makes keeping track of groceries easy and as soon as an item is added to a list, that item shows up across any device that is authorized to see it. Another great feature is the Recipe section. It allows you to specify the ingredients needed for a recipe and quickly add them to a list if you need to get something at the store for something you plan on making soon. When coupled with the recipes I’m finding from Yummly and The First Mess, this app keeps me from missing important items that I’ll need and saves me from making multiple trips to the store.

Speaking of apps, I also recently downloaded an app called allthecooks. It’s for Android and iPhone and also available as a web site. It’s got a lot of nice social features and, while it’s not as nice of an interface as Yummly, it’s a great way to find recipes on the go when all I have is my phone. I’ve found a few really great vegetarian recipes there and a few meals I’ve found on this app have made it to my meal plan for the upcoming week.

I have also been getting a lot of use out of an app called Insight Timer. It’s a meditation timer and on-line community for people who practice meditation of any type. The features and functionality of the app blend seamlessly with the act of meditation and the timers are easy to set and start/stop/pause. You can save multiple timers, quickly switch between them, integrate with Twitter and Facebook and connect with others all over the world. Creating a meditation timer that works for whatever practice you have is quick and easy with this tool and I have found it to be a great way to track my meditation practice and see how I have been progressing.

The last app that I’ve been getting a lot of use out of is called PocketCasts. It’s an Android app for podcasts. Since Google killed the products I used to follow podcasts (google reader and google listen), I had to find something new and I’m glad I did. Finding and listening to podcasts with this app is extremely easy and navigating the user interface is dead simple. It’s intuitive and powerful. I am always up to date getting episodes of Buddhist Geeks, Zencast, as well as my other favorite audio programs like This American Life, The Moth Radio Hour, Science Friday, Snap Judgement and various tech news shows. If you have an Android device, I highly recommend this app for all of your podcasting needs.

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It Contains No Fruit

Edit: I wrote this a few weeks ago and I’m not sure why it didn’t publish. Oh well, better late than never.

I just saw a very sad, yet funny, news story about a new product about to hit store shelves here in the U.S. It’s called FruitWater and is a product of the Coca-Cola corporation. These are the same people who gave us Vitaminwater, a product that is closer to soda than water. I thought the story was funny because of the following piece of information.

Unlike the zero-calorie version of Vitaminwater, which is made with the natural sweetener stevia, Fruitwater will be sweetened with the artificial sweetener sucralose, best known as Splenda. It will not contain any fruit juice but the bottle notes that the drink is “enhanced with nutrients,” a reference to its B vitamins, magnesium and zinc.

Did you catch that? “It will not contain any fruit juice…“. That’s where my brain started to turn itself inside out. They are calling it Fruit Water but not bothering to put fruit in it. Why not call it ToiletWater but not put water from real toilets in it? After all, the logic should work both ways, right? Or, they could call it HeroinWater but not put actual drugs in it. I’m sure that would make it appealing to a certain demographic of young people with disposable incomes. Since being truthful about what you are selling is obviously not important, they should really do whatever they can to sell as many bottles as possible.

The Coca-Cola company creates many products that are among the main causes of obesity in America and across the globe, and now they’re trying to find a way to get people to keep buying their products. Even as those consumers learn the truth about the harmful effects drinking too much soda can really have on their bodies and their quality of life.

I know the answer already, but I have to ask, why is this legal? It’s certainly unethical and unmoral but it is not illegal here in America. The most we can hope for is that people spread the word and let others know that this is a bottle of artificially sweetened swill that contains little to no beneficial ingredients. If you see it in the store, just pass over it and find something that really is a good choice.

Avoid this!

Notice something about the bottle? It looks very much like a vitaminwater package, just a different shape to the container. I guess the psychologists that Coca-Cola employs to make sure that you want to buy their products really like this design. The heavy emphasis on the word “fruit” and a design meant to highlight an appealing color while attempting to look almost like a medical product are all carefully crafted components in what, I’m sure, will be a resounding success. I think I’m just going to stick to regular water. It doesn’t contain fruit either but at least I know what’s in it.

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I just finished reading a very interesting and infuriating article that I highly recommend you read. It is by Michael Moss and is an adaptation of his new book Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us. The article focuses on the way that food companies design and market foods to appeal to the consumer and to make sure they eat as much as possible as frequently as possible. It examines the way that the food companies intentionally manipulate their recipes to ensure that their customers can’t help but come back for more. In other words, how they design their products just like a drug. As someone for whom junk food has been a nearly constant companion for 35+ years, I can assure you that, yes, these foods are addictive and that breaking that addiction is incredibly hard. I’ll let the article speak for itself and encourage you to check it out. There are a few things that did strike me as interesting and I thought were worth commenting on from the perspective of a Buddhist and as someone who has suffered because of the way these foods are carefully crafted to encourage a consumer to eat more.

One of the food scientists that Mr. Moss interviewed is Howard Moskowitz. He was responsible for revolutionizing things like spaghetti sauce, Dr. Pepper and the MRE’s that are served to members of the Army. His approach is thoroughly grounded in research and experimentation. His models plot hundreds of data points in order to identify a range of configurations for these foods that people will enjoy and want more of. His work has influenced the entire processed food industry and it changed the way that the food companies formulate and package their products. When confronted with the negative impact that his research has had on the lives of millions of people, he had a very interesting defense.

“There’s no moral issue for me,” he said. “I did the best science I could. I was struggling to survive and didn’t have the luxury of being a moral creature. As a researcher, I was ahead of my time.”

When I read this line, I had to stop for a few moments and take a few deep breaths. I have to ask, when did being a moral creature become a luxury? I understand the pain of struggling to survive. I grew up in a home that, while not in poverty, was certainly not affluent. Free lunches and food stamps were a part of my life growing up and I have struggled as an adult to provide for my family. It is hard to do, but at no time did I ever consider maintaining my morals to be a luxury. Two parts of the Noble Eightfold Path are Right Action  and Right Livelihood. These two components encourage us to end suffering in ourselves and in others by acting in a way that will not harm others and by choosing a profession that does not bring harm to another being. Mr. Moskowitz did not approach his career or work with this kind of mindset and, in so doing, millions of people have suffered from obesity, cancer, hypertension, stroke and early death or been effected by a loved one who did. Here we see the way that the actions of one person have had long term negative ramifications for more people than one could hope to count. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more stark example of just how important living according to the principles of the Eightfold Path are in relieving or preventing of suffering.

Frito-Lay spent $30 million a year to develop snacks that would appeal to changes in consumer tastes. According to the article, Frito-Lay learned that

Eating real meals had become a thing of the past. Baby boomers, especially, seemed to have greatly cut down on regular meals. They were skipping breakfast when they had early-morning meetings. They skipped lunch when they then needed to catch up on work because of those meetings. They skipped dinner when their kids stayed out late or grew up and moved out of the house. And when they skipped these meals, they replaced them with snacks.

In response, they developed snacks that would be more appealing as meal replacements. They worked with scientists, marketers and psychologists to design new snacks to appeal to consumers who were in a hurry. New flavors added to current product lines were designed to maximize “bliss” so that eating these new snacks would become a regular thing rather than an occasional thing. They created products that encouraged people to forget about regular meals and, as has been examined in other places (herehere and here) encouraged the decline in cooking and food preparation skills.

In this case, I believe that a lack of right mindfulness, right effort and right concentration on the part of our society as a whole allowed the food companies to replace cooking with convenience. We have lost the aptitude to take time for making simple things in exchange for constant movement and stimulation. Having foods that are easy to heat and serve or to open up and dig into make the effort of cooking superfluous.  Why make spaghetti sauce when you can open a jar and heat it up? I’m at the top of the “guilty” list for this kind of behavior and I have the physique to prove it. I went to culinary school and I find great enjoyment in cooking and preparing food but I still reach for the box or the jar or the can in order to save time. Here’s a basic recipe that I have used before to make tomato sauce. It’s very low in sugar because of the natural sweetness of the carrots and considerably lower in sodium than any pre-made sauce you can buy. The tomato paste is the closest thing to a prepared food item in the list and it is not really necessary and (at 1 teaspoon) is really just a flavoring agent and not a significant source of salt or fat. I prefer to use fresh parsley, basil and garlic but, if you are working on a time crunch, those ingredients can be found in “convenience” versions (pre-chopped, dried, etc.). This sauce takes 45 minutes to make, assuming that chopping the onion, carrot and celery takes you a long time. It’s possible to make this in large batches and set it aside in the freezer for future use. It’s also a fairly simple sauce and is the base sauce for a lot of other really delicious and nutritious options. The foods we eat don’t have to be from cans or boxes or bags, but we have to be willing to put forth the right effort to make sure we are not falling prey to the food giants any longer.

INGREDIENTS
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
1 small carrot or 1/2 large carrot, finely chopped
1 small stalk of celery, including the green tops, finely chopped
2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried basil or 2 Tbsp chopped fresh basil
1 28 oz. can whole tomatoes, including the juice, or 1 3/4 pound of fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 teaspoon tomato paste (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

METHOD
1 Heat olive oil in a large wide skillet on medium heat. Add the chopped onion, carrot, celery and parsley. Stir to coat. Reduce the heat to low, cover the skillet and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are softened and cooked through.

2 Remove cover and add the minced garlic. Increase the heat to medium high. Cook for garlic for 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes, including the juice and shred them with your fingers if you are using canned whole tomatoes. Add the tomato paste and the basil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a low simmer, reduce the heat to low and cook, uncovered until thickened, about 15 minutes. If you want you can push the sauce through a food mill, or blend it with an immersion blender, to give it a smooth consistency.

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This has always been my favorite vegetable. Seriously, when I see this veggie being served, I’m always sure to go up and get seconds and, if I’m lucky, thirds. If you want to be a vegetarian, all you need to do is eat this every single day. Check it out.

This is a vegetable?

Personally, I’ve always wondered why I don’t see it on the salad bar more often. Before you start posting angry comments in response to this story, I’m just going by the guidelines coming out of congress. The reasoning is that pizza has tomato paste in it. And what is tomato paste? It’s a veggie of course! We need to make sure our kids are getting a healthy serving of vegetables each day and, thank you GOP,  what better way to get those veggies into the kids than tomato paste?

This is a vegetable.

Another great vegetable is the potato. After all, it’s packed full of carbs and starch that the body converts to sugar and stores as fat. It’s also got those vitamin things that those nutrition people keep going on about. The great thing about potatoes is their versatility. They can be served in fries or tot form.  On special occasions they can be boiled, mashed and served with a generous covering of butter and gravy. What more could you want?

I've got tots

A tot expert

Let’s not forget salt! Oh, dear Lord, what would we do without a generous amount of that beautiful rock to add flavor and zing to our meals? Cutting salt content in the foods our children eat robs then of developing a false impression of what food is supposed to taste like. That’s just un-American. If we cut the amount of sodium in foods via federal regulation, we rob parents, schools and communities of the ability to voluntarily choose to reduce kid’s future chances of stroke, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, edema, enlarged hearts and stomach cancer.

It’s simply too much to ask for some sort of centralized standard that ensures some form of regularity and unity across the entire country when it comes to food content and quality. With obesity related health care costs sitting at a healthy $147 billion this year it makes no sense at all that children be taught early that a vegetable is a plant that comes out of the ground and is usually pleasing to the eye and to the tongue. Why would we want kids exposed to food that helps their bodies?

When will we stop thinking of the children and start to think about the processed food manufactures?! After all, they’re the ones who are really suffering. If we start to feed our children whole vegetables and fruits and prepare them for a lifetime of making healthy choices, what will happen to their profit margins? I shudder to think of the corporate executives who may not be able to afford bigger yachts if this were to become the way of the future.

When will we learn that it’s not the job of the government to dictate what our children eat? That job belongs to huge corporations that make processed foods and snacks. Why else do they have those massive marketing budgets?

For future reference, this is what vegetables look like.

I am proud to say that I kept the promise I made to someone when I told them I was going to be writing about this. I did not refer to the Senators and Representatives responsible for this proposal as fucktartds. Nor did I compare them to prostitutes who eagerly perform for their corporate johns who toss money at them for “favors”.  I also didn’t question their sanity, their humanity, their parentage or their ability to sleep at night. As I promised, I did not call them a bunch of brain-damaged idiots for whom the burden of thinking counts as strenuous exercise. Remember, my dear readers, it’s important to keep promises.

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Look at the way she smiles at you when you look at those boxes. There’s no doubt about it, Little Debbie is a bitch.

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I felt that I owed you an explanation for what I’m about to do to you so that you know what’s coming. It’s only fair that you have an opportunity to plan and prepare yourselves. Red, Yellow, I’m going to cut your heads off. That’s right, I’m going to pretend that you’re the nobility and I’m a peasant durring the French Revolution. That’s not all I’m going to do to you though. After I’ve cut off your heads, I’m going to scoop out your insides and leave you a hollow corpse on my cutting board. Onion and Garlic, you’re not going to like hearing this but I’m going to go all Freddy Kruger on you and slice you up into little pieces. Before I do that, I’m going to cut off your skin and peel you like a grape. I’m sure you’ve never seen Silence of the Lambs but if you did, you’d understand.

Once you guys have all been cut up, sliced thin and left looking like some sort of Veggie Tales halloween special (I know that’ll never happen) I’m going to saute Ms. Onion and Mr. Garlic in some olive oil. Don’t be scared, it’ll just bring out your flavors and make you taste better. Once you’re thoroughly cooked, I’m going to mix you with some lentils and then stuff your remains inside of Red and Yellow. Then, all of you will go into the oven and I’m going to bake you until Red and Yellow have released their flavors and developed a beautiful browned color on the outside.

Then, and only then, will I end it all and eat you. I’m sure you’ll be delicious and I’m really looking forward to it even though you may not. You’ve been warned so you have plenty of time to evolve legs and run away before I get back from work but I have a feeling you’re just going to lay there and wait for me like the good little veggies you are. You delicious, yummy nutritious veggies.

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What a year! It’s been one full of change for me. The most obvious one is that I started the year at about 320, saw my weight go up to 330 and now I’m down to 269 with more weight loss on the way. Sure, I went into 2010 making a half hearted attempt at resolving to lose weight, just like everybody else, and by February I’d forgotten about it. And now, at the end of the year, I actually did it. Honestly, it still seems like I’ve pulled off the impossible. I’ve literally lost 18% of my body. Poof. Just gone.

My BMI was at 42.4 and now it’s down to 34.5. That’s an 8 point drop in my BMI in about six months. That’s an amazing change and the fact that I’ve been able to keep my weight moving down all this time has me very encouraged. I had a bit of a setback in December as I struggled once again with my depression but I have been able to work through it and not let it stop me. I think that’s the biggest victory I had in the past year.

There were so many other changes in 2010 too. I started the year really struggling as I was dealing with a serious inner conflict as I finally came to terms with the fact that the faith I had grown up with was no longer mine. Seriously, if I had to chose between losing my weight or losing my faith, I’d pick losing weight any day: it’s significantly easier to do.

2010 also saw me go through some of the worst of my depression. I’ve written about the worst of it in previous posts so I’m not going to dig it back up here. Even though the memories of this illness are not pleasant, they are cherished because they allow me to see how wonderful everything really is.

I started a new job in 2010 and it has been a great one. Moving back into an IT role as a programmer was one of the better things I could do for myself. I enjoyed being where I was as an analyst but I am much better suited for the mental challenges that come with creating software solutions.

I discovered Savor in 2010. This was probably the biggest surprise of the year for me. It opened up a whole new world for me and gave me the inspiration to be able to make the changes in my life that I needed to make. Without this book, I would not have learned about mindfulness and I would not have come to a realization that Buddhism and meditative practices offer real, concrete answers to the struggles and pain of everyday life.

I had never meditated before 2010. Now, I meditate between 30 minutes to an hour each day. I find that meditation brings me clarity and helps me to see things as they really are. Living mindfully and meditating make it very hard to lie to myself about why I do what I do. I notice the difference on days when I don’t meditate: they just feel harder to get through than days when I do.

I started to write on a regular basis. I have always enjoyed writing and expressing myself through words but I had a hard time keeping things going. However, this time I have been able to maintain my writing and create a post every day or every other day (on average). The reasons for this are that it helps me to keep a record of where I’ve been, it helps me sort out my own thoughts about what I’m going through and it gives me a way to inspire and encourage others. I have made connections through this blog that have become very valuable to me. A small community has built up here and I’m blessed to have it as a part of my life.

I didn’t just write in this blog. I’ve got another writing project that I’ve been working on and getting over the depression and building up good writing habits has encouraged me in working on that project as well. I don’t know if anything will ever come of it but it’s a fun project to work on even it it’s only for myself.

The coolest thing I’ve learned this year though is the real secret to losing weight and keeping it off. People pay a lot of money to have someone tell them the “secret”. I’m about to give it away for free. The fact is that losing weight is not a matter of dieting or of exercising or of doing this or that or another thing. Weight loss, real permanent weight loss comes from changing ones lifestyle. Just going on a diet will not work for long term change. Exercise is critical to becoming healthy but if you aren’t able to do it for whatever reason (and I have not exercised nearly as much as I “should”) you will not be able to maintain the lost weight. No, changing the way that I live has been the key factor in becoming healthy and happy and lighter (both physically and emotionally). Changing my lifestyle has had serious implications on what I eat but the changes in lifestyle brought about the changes in my diet and this made it much easier to do. Since I wasn’t clinging to my old way of life and trying to eat differently, it didn’t feel like I was depriving myself of starving myself or going without. In the past six months, I’ve lost 60 pounds but I don’t think I’ve ever once felt like I’ve starved myself.

The lifestyle that we’ve adopted in the U.S. has been the key factor of our obesity epidemic. We won’t find a way to end the problem of obesity until we come to terms with the way we live. That’s why it’s going to be one of the hardest things we, as a country, have ever done. Harder than the Great Depression, the Great Recession, World Wars or Reaganomics (that last one was a joke OK?). We can’t go on living the way we do. We either change, or we die. It’s as simple as that. In 2010 I chose to live.

Now that it’s January, I’m sure there will be a lot of people making a resolution to lose weight. A lot of people may have already broken that resolution (or at least think they have) since it’s 8:30 P.M. on January 1. I hope that people who find out about this site as they look for resources to assist them changing their life for the better will be able to find something here that will help them. It’s not easy to do but it can be done. I’m 61 pounds into it. I’m excited to see where I’ll be in another 365 days as I look back on what I have gone through in 2011.

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