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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Working on my relationship with food

One tiny part of a copious Greek meal. Crete, 2012.

May's here! Goodbye oysters, hello lobster!

As they say: when one door closes, another one opens!

In my family as in many, seasons were marked by food themes: lamb and asparagus (with a delicious lemony vinaigrette) in the spring, berry orgies in summer, etc.

We had a tradition of having an oyster party in October, when a bunch of birthdays happened, and a lobster party in June, when the remaining birthdays took place (somehow most of us are either Libras or Geminis!)

All the "expats" in the family would also contribute their local delicacies when they came to the Montreal area for a family gathering:

M, a French teacher in Saguenay, would bring us the genuine "squeek-squeek" cheese curds
J, a doctor on the Côte Nord, would bring shrimp
And G and J, the pediatric nurses in... Montreal, would bring doughnuts (ya ya, I know)

Mom would send me to get some fresh French bread, of the best type: crispy outside, soft inside, still warm from the oven.

Of course as in most houses we also dove head first in chocolate at Easter and in candy at Halloween. I did, anyways, being the sweet tooth of the family. Oftentimes it went so far as to give me what they call lie bumbs (or transient lingual papillitis, a painful inflammation of the taste buds). Still I couldn't stop myself.

I should probably not even mention our New Year's Eve dinners, but whoever hosted them gave it all they had: think authentic foie gras, escargots in garlic butter, fresh chervil soup, artichoke with vinaigrette, thin sliced smoked salmon with red onions and capers, some sort of carpaccio, duck confit, glazed root vegetables, platter of stinky cheeses with fruit and a mixed greens salad, dessert, and of course the assortment of carefully paired wines, Champagnes, old ports, Muscats or Sauternes. (We the French are as bad as the Italians and the Greeks!)

Never too early to learn to pick wines. Nova Scotia, 2008.

The meal lasted a couple hours. When you left the table, you had to roll yourself to the living room, so full you were.

It took me a while to be able to disentangle food-related pleasure from food-related discomfort. It took me a while to learn how to indulge without overdoing it.

An ex-smoker, but still-foodie of my family members once told me: "In a way, it's easier to quit smoking than to start eating well. Cigarettes you don't need; you can get rid of them altogether. But you will always have to eat, so it's a constant battle to make the right choices."

She was right. Meal after meal, bite after bite, each choice we make either makes us healthy or unhealthy (and eventually overweight).

Just like someone who has to relearn how to walk, in the past year I relearned how to eat. The delicacies of my youth are not to be completely eliminated, but like I've said before, the frequency and quantity had to be reassessed. Being brought up to consider food as one of the ultimate sources of pleasure, I did not want to let go of all the magic I associate with it, but I needed to make food an ally, not a saboteur.

We all know a balanced diet starts with fresh, unprocessed, in season, local foods, home-cooked of course. They should certainly be the base of what we eat.

Raspberry picking. Quebec, 2009.

However, time is scarce. Here are my clean eating tricks of the trade:
  1. To avoid "last minute laziness" (which inevitably leads to choosing the easy alternative of junk), I've gotten used to prep fruit and vegetables in advance, in large quantities. I put them in portion-sized containers, ready to grab and go (or to pour in a stir-fry, for example). You will eat more of it if it's ready and waiting for you.
  2. I also boil eggs/cook quinoa in advance.
  3. I've started buying already washed lettuce/spinach, since the "work" associated with it was what prevented me from eating salad. 
  4. I always make sure I have frozen berries in the house, either some we picked last season or some bought at the grocery store. 
  5. Cooking fish or chicken breast is simple (basically: throw it in the oven with some light seasoning). 
  6. Cottage cheese (with veggies) and Greek, plain, nonfat yogurt (with berries for flavor) are easy, healthy snacks.
  7. I don't have dessert. Ever. When I'm done my meal I get up and get busy, and I quickly forget about it. If it's still too hard to resist, I chew some gum instead.
  8. I've learned that it's okay to leave the table with a stomach that's not distended, but that it's not okay to go for too long without eating (whenever I fail to eat within 3 hours of the last meal I end up making the wrong choices and eating too much). To lose weight and maintain it around 130 pounds (with 16% body fat) I have 6 X 300 calorie meals a day. Whatever works for you!
  9. I make a double portion of no-fat, no-sugar smoothie everyday; you can throw pretty much any vegetable and fruit in the blender - just experiment! - plus some Greek yogurt, skim milk, and protein powder if you need it. (You might not unless you're trying to increase your lean muscle mass. The brand I use is Kaizen because it has a short ingredient list, very little carbs, and is sweetened with stevia instead of the usual crap).
  10. To make sure I get enough, non-caloric, caffeine free, sweetener free fluids, I always have a wide assortment of herbal teas in the house. I throw a wedge of lemon or lime or cucumber in my water bottle to make it interesting.
  11. For many months I measured all my portions. It was an eye-opener! I strongly advise getting some of those small glass measuring bowls that come with a lid and that you can eat out of. This way I've cut down my consumption of rice, pasta, potatoes, to be replaced with more veggies (of the colorful kind) instead.
  12. For many months I also journaled my food. There are some good, free websites for that.
  13. Wine (and alcohol in general) has become very occasional (maybe 1-2 glasses, once a month?)
  14. If I don't want to eat something, I don't buy it in the first place.
  15. I've learned to say "No, thank you".

I think I'm done. I'm going to enjoy the scenery now. Thank you! Santorini, 2012.

Now my biggest problem has always been SUGAR. I know I turn to sweets out of boredom, fatigue, stress. NOT hunger. Being aware of it, unfortunately, did nothing to help me solve the problem. Not buying sweets was not an option either as I have other family members who are able to indulge reasonably and who don't need to be completely deprived. As for me, sweets open a giant gateway; once I have a little bit I just feel compelled to have a lot more. I've tried and tried again, I'm unable to have just one small bowl of ice cream or just one cookie.

This alone has compromised all my other efforts: one sweet binge episode a day, even if everything else you do is healthy (exercise daily, have a good breakfast, eat lots of fruit, vegetables, protein and fiber, drink loads of water), will indeed prevent you from losing weight. Finally I did find a solution. I don't like to advertise products but in this case the only thing that works for me is to buy those protein/fiber bars that contain little carbs and even less sugar (they are sweetened with stevia and lo han guo). When the craving comes I grab one and eat it along with a tall glass of water (they do have 17g of fiber per portion, so you better wash them down!) Miracle: it calms me down right away! The brand is Quest. They come in multiple flavors. Just watch the ingredient list, as some do contain sucralose (which I try to avoid). I order them online; you can get free shipping if you get a few boxes.

Other alternatives I like:
  • For chips lovers: Bolder Canyon Hummus chips, made from chickpeas. So friggin' good! (make sure you have 1 portion, as detailed on the bag... not the whole bag!)
  • For bread lovers: anything from Silver Hills Sprouted Bakery. More protein, less junk, one slice is enough.

About eating healthy, you might also like:



And anything under the label Food on the right hand side of this blog page.

Bon appétit! :-)


  1. Hi Julie! Very excellent advice. I'm always hoping that my readers will take a list like this--and totally reformulate their eating to match what you're saying.

    Some comments on various points:
    1. I keep my house stocked with my successful foods, because my husband always has our house stocked with high cal foods. I have no chance if I'm not stocked.
    2. I used to boil eggs in advance, but recently started boiling them right before I ate them because I like their taste so much better when they are just cooked. With a very plain food like boiled egg whites, it matters that you get them to taste as good as possible.
    4. LOVE frozen blueberries. Such a treat.
    8. I do the opposite with eating frequency. I eat 2 rather large meals each day and like them very much, and it helps keep me in my calorie range by being satisfied.
    11. So true about portions. People are very messed up about this issue. Example: Some large U.S. bagels are 4 bread servings, not 1, as many people assume.
    Lastly: Definitely true that loving sweets and having little sweets binges can wreck a person's weight.

    :-) Marion

    1. Agree on all counts Marion! I say each of us should try and adopt the strategies that work for them. I wish we didn't have to work so hard at relearning to eat properly, but our society is doing it wrong as a whole (with the exception of your occasional "healthy pocket").

      My hope is that we can reach a critical number of people who adopt healthy habits and that it becomes contagious! :-)

  2. Inspiring... I wish I had the willpower you do - impressed with the no dessert rule! And the sore tongue - I call those canker sores - ouch.

    1. I don't know if it's willpower. All I know is it's tough... very tough in the beginning... I almost bit my lovely family members I was so cranky... but it gets easier with time.

  3. A very good list of suggestions that would work for anyone!

    Santorini!! My number one fantasy trip. Jealous..well yeah!!

    1. Make it happen, Dr. J! Hop on a plane and go! ;-)

      Of course if you need a tour guide I wouldn't charge too much. LOL

      I also highly recommend the island of Crete: many magical memories. I have wonderful friends there; I could put you in touch with them.

      See? You're already halfway there! :-)