Trackers Lament

I have a love-hate,  on-again, off-again relationship with tracking. Counting calories, following macronutrients, weekly weigh-ins, measuring thigh circumference, medieval body fat pinchers…these are a few of our favorite things. I’ve  calorie counted “successfully” a few times in my life and “unsuccessfully” hundreds more. I’ve filled page after page with my scrawled little number columns with circled grand totals; 1340, 1760, 1056. More recently, MyFitnessPal hangs on to my food and exercise history, just in case I need to revisit my carb count for the second Tuesday in March.

What I like about tracking is it serves as an educational tool and a bit of a wake up call. It’s a great way to see if you are eating a nutritionally imbalanced diet. It reminds you how many empty crap calories really are in junk food and look, you haven’t had a lick of vegetables all damn day. It helps you see that those vegetables CAN be eaten all damn day without racking up your totals, if you can tolerate the gas. You become more aware of serving sizes and portion control.

What I hate about it is it sucks for me. It feels tedious, unrealistic to maintain for the REST OF MY LIFE and above all, it becomes another measure on which to judge myself for not staying “on track”. I have seen some people remain objective as calculating scientists while tracking. I am not one of those people. I am more like the majority of the women, and some men, who come into my office telling me they were “bad” or “good”, confessing their “misbehavior” over the weekend. And despite their increased energy, improved nutritional intake and hammering a new notch in their belt, they hang their head in defeat because my stupid scale didn’t tell them what they wanted to hear. All their efforts down the drain because apparently the scale is the only true Great Measure of Success. Of greater concern are the folks who weigh themselves multiple times a day or burst into my office excitedly shaking their little fists in celebration, “I’m down to 900 calories a day!!”

Wrong answer.

The biggest problem I see with tracking is a lot of us cannot be objective scientists about our weight and our bodies. For social, cultural and personal reasons, we attach a certain level of judgement or shame to our data. As a result, we restrict ourselves rather than use it to learn healthy eating patterns. If binging is what you want, restriction is the best trigger for that. Punishing yourself by withholding forbidden foods will lead to rewarding yourself with that food later. When we tightly control what and how to eat, we skip over the important why. We eat “points” and not because our stomachs are growling or simply because food can be absolute, delicious joy.

No one method works for everyone. Some people actually find tracking fun. If you can do it without self-judgment, then you’ve found an appropriate tool. I encourage most of my clients to track even for a few days for educational purposes and mostly to point out they’re not getting enough vegetables. No one gets enough vegetables.

But if you are someone who can’t track without beating yourself up, you might want to take a different approach. Intuitive or mindful eating is learning to trust your body’s hunger signals and paying attention to the why you eat. It pulls you out of the language of “behaving and misbehaving”. You notice how food affects your body and leads you to realize, “Hmmm…that doesn’t work for me” vs. “I’m a bad, bad monkey.”

Despite my optimism about the premise of intuitive eating I have my doubts that people would honestly embrace it, including myself, due to its promotion of well-being over weight loss. Call me cynical, but are we even capable of eating mindfully without that nagging “But…but…will this help me lose weight?!” itching away in the back of  our brains? Can we focus on well-being over weight loss as a society? Right now, I would emphatically say “no”. We’re not even close.

What do you think? Has tracking worked for you, in the long run? Do you have to track forever and ever to stay the course? Would you trust intuitive eating?

Are you eating all your vegetables?



Eating like Elves

We have officially moved from the Harry Potter stage to full-on Lord of the Rings here at the Local Bites ranch. I have been reading Tolkien to my son for over a year now, methodically trudging through Middle Earth, tripping through impossibly detailed descriptions of family lineage, unpronounceable names for swords and dwarf drinking songs. If there is a bumper sticker for those who complete a marathon, there should certainly be one for those who succeed in reading The Hobbit and remaining trilogy out loud to a nine-year old. Perhaps a picture of me, fists raised, on top of Mount Doom.

So you can imagine our unbridled excitement for The Hobbit movie.  We loved every single one hundred and seventy minutes of it. As you can also imagine, I particularly liked the scene where the elves invite the dwarves to dine in Rivendell.

If you haven’t seen the movie, it is a witty scene. Hungry dwarves, expecting meat and potatoes after a long, hard journey, are served vegetarian fare. “What is this? It’s…it’s green!”  The looks on their faces were classic…the sad attempt to roast a Swiss chard leaf over the campfire. I’ve seen those looks before, like there’s something stinky on the upper lip.

It delivers a not-so-subtle message about food choices and the attitude that accompanies healthier fare. Elves are the healthiest race in Middle Earth. They are slender, graceful and strong. They have the longest life expectancy. They approach food in a dignified manner and create nourishment, like lembas, that fortifies the soul, not just the body. Their food elevates the spirit AND leaves one feeling satisfied long after the food is consumed.

Dwarves, on the other hand, are gluttonous. They are short, squat, irritable and impulsive. And they are so very stubborn about their meat and potatoes.

See the connection? A strong message that did not go unnoticed by my impressionable son. He returned this weekend from my mothers, normally a treat-laden couple of days, to proudly report that he declined a soda, pieces of candy and dessert at the restaurant. “I want to eat more like the elves”. He listens intently as we classify the food on his plate…this is dwarf food…this is elf food…

We should all take a few lessons from the elves.

Me? I’m a hobbit at heart. Produce from the green garden, bubbling stews with roots, fruit tarts, fresh-baked loaves and a good brown ale. And small, frequent meals. Elevenses, anyone?

If you had a sword, what would you name it?

A warning about Meatless Mondays

I don’t actively practice Meatless Monday. I refuse to let witty alliterations be the boss of my menu planning.  Besides, Mondays are more like Leftovers Monday.  And some leftover meat is best not left for Taco Tuesday.  

The concept of Meatless Monday has been around for a while to encourage people to start the week off right by making healthier meals. Now, I don’t necessarily agree that eating meat starts your week off all wrong, but I just can’t imagine eating meat with every single meal. I doubt I could even afford to. So although they may not fall on a Monday, meat-free meals make their way into our house more than once a week.

If you live in a carnivorous household and wish to sneak in more vegetarian meals, heed my warning.


Don’t tell them. Especially in response to “What’s for dinner?” or “Omigod I’m so hungry”  

Eliminate the words vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and quinoa from your response. Refrain from family meetings or soliloquies about the importance of limited, lean proteins, natural fiber and supporting local, sustainable farming practices.    

Because the minute you tell them something is missing, it increases in value. They weren’t even thinking about the sausage, but now that you mention it’s….not…… Suddenly, the sausage is Extremely Important.

Total mutiny. This meatless meal has left a subconscious void. They search to fill it. Soon after dinner, fingers probe into the cupboards and the cereal supply.  We’ve had no real sustenance….help us… help us kind Cheerios.

Meatless Monday Fail: Area man reacts to wife’s proclamation that the family “become more aware of their meat intake”.

Just cook it and serve it. Normalize all meals, treating them as equals.  And when your family likes it, you can enjoy a private moment of accomplishment. 

Is the discussion important? Absolutely.  But unless they’re paying for it, not everyone appreciates a lesson with their meal. They just want to eat. There are plenty of opportunities for conversations about food choices. When grocery shopping or teaching your kid to cook. When looking at a slimmer food bill. When your spouse becomes as virile and energetic as a hairy-chested centaur.

Practice meatless meals more often, steadily and silently on any day of the week. They will become commonplace without all the drama of fanfare and resistance. 

Do you recognize Meatless Mondays? Do you get resistance to healthy menu changes?  









Getting your kid to eat beets

Who actually liked beets when they were a wee one? Having only recently acquired a fondness for the deep, rich root, I can hardly force my nine-year old to eat ’em up with a smile.

Enter…the beloved smoothie. 

Down the hatch!

This nutritional bonanza has two raw beets, a handful of parsley, chocolate mint, banana, a bit of yogurt, honey, frozen blueberries and raspberries and a squeeze of lime juice. Everything but the banana, lime and yogurt was grown within  a 5 mile radius of our home. 

Lookit that color! Much better than my infamous brown smoothie.

What a vibrant way to start a Monday morning.  Beets in his belly.

It’s almost like…magic.

…it might even grant wishes

What’s your favorite smoothie combo?

Breakfast at 12:30 pm

It is my belief that some of the most important lessons we teach our children is how to grow and prepare food.

It is my experience that teaching these can absolutely sap the therapeutic joy out of gardening and cooking.

Some parents make excellent teachers. Patient, kind…slowly giving the child space to explore and make messes. I recall my sister’s face when my son and nephew came in from her budding June garden, proudly bearing armfuls of premature carrots. I could see the pain in her eyes, but heard “Thank you,” come out of her mouth. She calmly pointed out the carrots’ miniature status. Explained that although they will taste good now, imagine how good they will taste then they’re bigger?! The boys learned to leave future carrots in place without feeling badly for their current enthusiasm.   

But some parents cringe out loud at little feet stepping on tender seedlings. A unleveled teaspoon of ingredient going into the mix drives their shoulders into the ears. Hands hover and twitch over the child’s, ready to take over. Their teaching style is much less Montessori and much more Hell’s Kitchen.   

Guess which one I am?

Recently my kiddo has shown an increasing interest in cooking. An area where I admittedly possess a good deal of knowledge and practice with above-average results.  

So if I don’t get my teaching shit together, I’m going to lose a HUGE and incredible opportunity. To pass the culinary torch. To create a well-rounded human being who moves into a realm beyond the frozen pizza.

More and more we enter the kitchen together. The last thing I want to do is drive this kid out.

This morning was an arduous adventure in patience, fueled by hunger-induced irrationality. We started at 9:15. He took on two recipes.

Today’s lesson about “adjusting on the run” came from my mishap overcooking potatoes intended to become crunchy, oven-fried hash browns. Instead they became a mashed potato crust for an egg bake.

Today’s lesson also included a not-so-gentle reminder of my 3-hour kitchen limit before I start throwing knives.  We sat down to breakfast at 12:30. Just in time.

Well worth the wait.

I think back to teachers I had, not just in academic settings but in kitchens and gardens. They spat orders and swore blue streaks. They threw plates or fell into a brooding silence. They demanded rows weeded “so clean you can eat out off of them”.  Most of my exposure to growing and cooking came from irrational and imperfect teachers. But I was not driven out, in fact, I’m in deeper than ever.

If the message can reach in and grab a hold of you, it quiets the glaring flaws of the teacher.

My kid seems to know this. He knows when to take me seriously and when to ignore my outbursts. He remains consistently chirpy, unswayed by my impatience. “You’re not going to be Trent Herbst right away, Mom,” he comforts when I apologize, “You’re learning too.” Bless my padawan. Who, so far, is proving to be a damn good cook.  

…a cook who doesn’t overlook the importance of fresh fruit on the breakfast table

I owe it to my son to work on my kitchen patience. To learn how to teach. I owe it to my firm belief in passing food knowledge on to future generations. It gets better with every cooking adventure. I become less of a parent and more of a teacher.

But next time, I’m gettin’ some snacks into my belly. Because waiting for the actual meal to eat turns me into one crabby cake.

Get Your Blenders Runnin’….

I don’t eat enough fruit and vegetables. Oh, I can hear the tittering now… “Certainly someone who writes about health and wellness has her shit together in THAT department?” And I’ve had my share of teasing, “Oooh, don’t let Amy see you eat that…it’s processed”. Some assume I survive on sticks and berries.

Apparently they have never seen me around an open bag of original Cheetos. It’s like a lioness with her face buried into the side of a gazelle.

Truth is, I am NOT the epitome of well-being. I write about these topics to get my shit together. Doing research and putting it into simple words helps me stay on task. Considering my love for good food, my mad kitchen skillz and my fairly addictive personality, I will ALWAYS  need help staying on task. Lots of writers use weakness as their muse.

Which brings me back to fruits and vegetables…

I recently watched Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead. If you watch this official trailer, you’ll get the main gist. My unofficial review is at EcoSnobbery Sucks. Nothing shockingly new, but it has that heartfelt Biggest Loser feel I’m such a sucker for.

The film revolves around juice fasts. I‘m not sold on juice fasts. You remove all the fiber and it seems, waste a huge amount of solid food that cost you good money.

But it did alert me to just how many fruits and veges one needs to clean out and thrive. According to the CDC, I need 4 cups of them a day. Have you ever set 4 cups of those bad boys on the counter? It’s one damn big pile of food. My jaw already hurts. So it does make sense that green juice ensures you’re getting your proper dose without an arthritic jaw.

But here’s my dose of reality: Christmas is over. I’m not dropping anywhere from $300-$1000 on a quality juicer. I’m not going to waste $50-$100 on a crappy one.

But I do have a blender. Enter… The Smoothie.

I love fruit smoothies for breakfast. I’ve been known to throw a little kale or spirulina into mine because my son thinks drinking green smoothies is freakishly cool. Since watching this film, I’ve been drinking a lot more for lunch and adding more vegetables like spinach, carrots, beets, beet greens and cucumber.

They’re not as pretty as green juices:

Pretty, pretty juice. photo by tamara_smith/flickr creative commons

They’re a motley crew of brown, frothy beverages that get a wary reception from my family.

Orange, beet greens, flax seed, lime juice, honey & ginger. Photo by yours truly

Apparently the brown smoothie is freakishly UNcool.

So be it. I’ve noticed an increase in energy and positive changes in my mood and digestive tract. (I’ll spare you, let’s just say things are moving along nicely) I’m less tempted to grab cheese or carbs to snack on. With a smoothie and a handful of nuts, I’m golden.

Not a regimented diet plan. But a down and dirty way for me to get those micronutrients down the hatch and do a bit of early spring cleaning.

Unprocessed reality check

Ok, crimestoppers. How did that whole October Unprocessed thing go?

The day I posted that challenge, my mom visited me. Mrs. Claus never walks through a door empty-handed. Energized by blog power, I pilfered through her grocery bags, ranted about additives and returned an entire bag of processed. We had a frank discussion about the lure of sales and the meaningless words “all natural”.  We raised our fists in unity as she drove away the next day, pumped for a month of cupboard purging and label-reading.

I normally do a lot of cooking and eat fairly “unprocessed”, so this challenge wasn’t a huge lifestyle change for me. I posted it primarily to get other people, like my mother, on board.

But I did have a few eye-openers. I did well for about two weeks until I caved to the convenience of cereal a few mornings. And damn the siren’s call of dark chocolate-covered pomegranates, who lured me in during hormonal fluctuation.

Mom conducted a respectable cupboard purge. She called me a few times with vigor. Then the calls waned. Finally, “Went to Schwartz’s tonight. Not so unprocessed, Amy.” Neither was the casino trip.

In unicorn land, my mom and I eat completely unprocessed. OR, processed favorites would actually be really healthy. But in our world, all we can do is try.

That’s why I promote realistic wellness approaches. Rare are the birds whose lives allow them to eat unprocessed 100% of the time. Realists like me have kids, eat on the run, and use dark chocolate-covered pomegranates to quiet the incessantly whining hormonal monkey. Realists take on challenges like “October Unprocessed” to check out how much of their diet contains ingredients they can’t whip up in the kitchen and aim to reduce that. We know that, realistically, October isn’t the only month we should challenge ourselves to eat unprocessed.

Use challenges as a kick in the pants. Might not last, but it can stimulate change.

It’s November. Time for a new challenge. Nothing official or complex, I just need to make a conscious effort to eat more fruits and veges. I’ve been consuming a serious amount of cheese. The monkey has been very restless.

Time to check in with Mrs. Claus. Let her know a new salad spinner is on my Christmas list.