How Many Weight Loss Rules Are There?

How many food rules can I break?Since I began the food diary two months ago, it has been hard to resist talking – and writing – about it incessantly.  I don’t think I’ve ever had to think so much about eating, so it is often on my mind.

True confession:  Left to my own devices, I’m an under-eater.

One of my dearest friends suggested this to me years ago, but I had a hard time understanding how I could be gaining weight by not eating enough.  My Fitness Pal warns me about “starvation mode,” but we’ve all seen photos of people who are truly starving.  They are not chubby like me.  I really do not believe I gained an extra thirty pounds by eating too little.

I think I gained it the modern way:  eating too much junk and too many calorie-laden restaurant meals as my metabolism was slowing down.  Under-eating some days and way over-eating others has probably been my norm for the past decade.

The first month of tracking, I lost ten pounds, most of it in the first couple weeks.  I think a fair bit of that was water retention.  Does sugar cause water retention?  I think it does, because when I cut the added sugar, my joints no longer felt swollen and achy and I dropped several pounds in a week.

(In case it isn’t obvious, I have no scientific training or medical knowledge, and nobody should take dietary advice from me.  Except my husband and children, who should.)

Then, I stopped losing weight.  I was also struggling to consume 1200 calories, much less the 1470 recommended for me, and felt miserable.  I wasn’t bothered that the scale wasn’t budging.  I was bothered that my digestive track wasn’t budging.

This is the primary reason I stopped eating meat years ago.  Apparently forcing myself to eat both eggs and yogurt every. single. day. has the same effect.  I decided to listen to my body and stop forcing myself to eat “high quality” protein.

Healthy eating is stressful.  All the best advice out there might not actually be right for any given person.  Apparently, I can only process so much protein a day, and most of it needs to come from vegetables and grains.

Sorry if that was TMI.

So, for the past two weeks I’ve been eating less animal protein and more of everything else, and I’ve lost a couple more pounds.  I’m not trying to eat low carb or low fat.  I am trying to eat 1200-1400 calories a day.

I’ve stopped trying to eat the five small meals a day that experts recommend, because it’s too much work planning that many meals.  I eat my three regular meals and, if my calorie count was low for the day, a bedtime snack.

If I crave chocolate in the afternoon, I do eat a square of dark chocolate.  If I want orange juice, I drink it, ignoring the juice-haters.  I have no forbidden foods.  I don’t deprive myself, other than relegating sweets to special occasions.  (Although I am not craving sweets, it does still feel like deprivation when I see others enjoying them.)

The nighttime snack (often cereal and milk because I need to get my calcium) helps ward off the junk food envy.  My family likes to eat chips or candy at night, and the sound of munching makes me want to crunch something, even when I am not hungry.  So a snack before bed works for me, even though I keep hearing that I should not eat at night.

I feel like the foundations of better health will be built upon breaking the rules.

At least, it will be built upon breaking expert rules, but they change their minds so often that I’m probably better off ignoring most of what they say anyway.


Staring into the Sun while Avoiding Its Wrath

NASA released this video last week, depicting three years of the sun in three minutes.  There is a guide here to eclipses and major flares you’ll see.

Fascinating to watch, though I am by no means a sun worshiper.  I am a sun avoider.

My freckled skin has never tanned.  It burns to a crisp, then returns to a naturally pale state.

Every summer of my childhood resulted in at least a few painful sunburns.  I don’t think I discovered sunblock until I was in my teens, but by then I was already resolutely avoiding the sun.

Now living in the land of 300 Days of Sunshine per year, I spend most summer days indoors.  I try to fit all my outdoor activities into the hours before 10 am or after 6 pm.  When I do go out, I wear a wide brimmed hat and stalk the shade.

How do you feel about the sun?  Are you a sun bather or a shade seeker?

Five Secrets to a Cleaner House

Keeping a house clean and tidy is a lot of work, but it can be made easier by following a few simple “secrets.”  Because I like you, I’m willing to share mine with you.  If you follow them, your house will always be company ready.

Here are my Five Secrets to a Cleaner House:

5 Secrets to a Clean House:  #1 Do Not Have Pets1.  Do not allow pets in your home.  They shed.  They smell.  They destroy things.  Dogs bring in mud and dirt from outside, and cats climb all over everything.  Things will get scratched, spilled, bashed, chewed, dinged, and dirtied if you allow pets.  Do not be tempted to bring in small mammals or birds, either.  They might not track mud through the kitchen, but they stink.

Five Secrets to a Clean House:  #2 Do Not Have Children2.  Do not allow children in your home.  They are 100% worse than pets.  Not only do they leave a trail of dirt and destruction in their wake, they don’t even have the decency to look ashamed when you point it out to them.  Children come with a lot of stuff.  It will be all over your house.

Five Secrets for a Clean House:  #3 Do Not Let Men Use Your Bathroom3.  Do not ever allow any man to use your bathroom.  I read once that in France people do not use the toilet at other people’s homes.  It’s considered rude.  I would not be surprised to hear that French women simply don’t allow men to use the indoor facilities at all.  It would explain a lot.

5 Secrets to a Clean House:  #4 Do Not Cook4.  Do not cook at home.  Bring home take out if you must, but if you want your stove and countertops to stay clean, no home cooked meals.  Do not own a microwave.  They are clutter and disperse odors into the air.  If you have leftovers, eat them cold.  Try not to have them, though, because cleaning the refrigerator is a chore.  Actually, buy as little food as possible, and you won’t have to worry about stinky trash cans, either.

5 Secrets to a Clean House:  #5 Only Sleep at Home.5.  Only sleep at home.  If you work all day and eat out, you should only have a couple hours at home when you are awake.  If you insist on staying home to “relax” on weekends, do not engage in messy hobbies.  Watch a bit of tv, read my blog, and resist the urge to start a project that you know you will not finish.

If, like me, you’ve ignored all these tips, accept that you are not the tidiest woman on earth, and your home would still be slightly disheveled, but not nearly as happy, if you eliminated the cause of every mess.

If you love to clean, you are welcome to come over for a “visit.”  I’ve been avoiding scrubbing the horizontal blinds for way too long.

Stepping out of my comfort zone for World Book Night

Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone for World Book NightYesterday was World Book Night.  For me, it was World Book Morning.  I gave twenty copies of David Sedaris’s Me Talk Pretty One Day to morning commuters at the nearby Park and Ride.

As excited as I was to be a Book Giver, I knew when I applied that it would be out of my comfort zone.

My comfort zone is pretty small.  It’s basically my house and my family and friends.  Talking to strangers is definitely outside of it.

To counteract this, for the past few months, I would imagine myself at the bus stop, talking to strangers.  In my imagination, April 23rd was a beautiful spring day.  I rode my bike there, because parking is limited, and spoke confidently to people waiting in line for their bus.

In reality, it was snowing.  The roads were icy.  My husband offered to drive me and, let’s be honest, be there for moral support.  So I bundled up in winter coat and snow boots, packed my twenty books into my Don’t Blink bookbag, and off we went.

In the ten minutes it took to get there, I went from slightly nervous to full on nauseous.  Heart pounding, I got out of the car while my husband went to find a parking spot.

This is anxiety.  I know in my head that the worst thing that can happen is people will say no or avoid eye contact, but my body is preparing to flee from man eating tigers.

I remind myself to breathe, because sometimes I forget.

Everyone at the bus stop is coiled in a ring circling the edge of the pavilion, huddled into their winter coats, scarves up, eyes down, silent.

This is not the spring day I’d imagined, with commuters enjoying their last bit of fresh air before spending the day in office buildings.  These people are just plain cold, wishing they were on the heated bus already.

I approach the line, looking for eyes that might be willing to make contact.  Then I begin talking, hoping that three people might hear me, might be willing to look up as I speak.

My voice does not sound confident.  I sound like a nervous fourth grader, my pitch unnaturally high, but if I think about this too much, my heart will pound even faster, so I remind myself that these people don’t know my natural speaking voice.  They won’t hear my nervousness.

“Hi.  I’m giving away free copies of David Sedaris’s Me Talk Pretty One Day for World Book Night.  Would you like one?”

Blank stares from two people.  A third says, “You’re doing what?”

I work my way around the pavilion like this, answering questions about the book or World Book Night.  Talking about the book is not hard.  Books are in my comfort zone, and Sedaris is funny.

I can easily recommend this book to reluctant readers.  It’s not a novel, I say, it’s a series of humorous essays about his moving to France and trying to learn the language and culture and feeling out of place.  It’s easy to pick up and put down.  It’s funny.

A few people tell me they’ve read it; we exchange smiles and words about how funny Sedaris is.  Those who hear us change their mind and decide to read it after all.

Those are the best moments.  The ones where you see their interest sparked.

It’s all over in fifteen minutes.  Every book has found a home, hopefully a reader.

I return to the car, holding my husband’s hand, back in my comfort zone.  Glad I stepped out.

Educate girls; change the world.

Yesterday we, along with a small group of girls from my daughter’s Sunday School class, went to see Girl Rising.

The film is rated PG-13, but I would have felt comfortable with my children seeing it as young as ten.  However, there were families that did not let their middle school daughters come with us, thinking the content would be too upsetting.

Frankly, the content is supposed to be upsetting.  Nobody should be delighted by the obstacles in a girl’s quest for education.  Nobody should find poverty amusing.

I was surprised at how softly the most sinister issues were handled.  Although the facts concerning child marriage, rape, and slavery were honestly stated, they were not graphically depicted.   I think a much younger or naive child might even miss the references within some of the stories.

The girls, writing about their lives with assistance from writers of their individual lands, emphasized the transformative power of education or their own strength.  These young people did not want to be (or be treated as) victims.  They want opportunities to learn and grow.

I’m not sure what the girls in our little group took away from the film.  Most of them seemed moved by it, but they didn’t relate to the girls in the movie.  These aren’t things they think about, living in middle class America.

A couple of the adults with us commented that they hoped, if nothing else, the girls would appreciate what they have.  I doubt that.  Those types of feelings don’t last long, and my goal in suggesting the film was not to induce guilt in a bunch of teens.

I hope they don’t forget what they heard.  I hope they heard stories of resiliency, stories of people reaching out to help others, stories that said, “You, girl, are important to society.  You have a brain and a voice.  Use them.”

If that thought guides them to become a leader, an activist for those without a voice, fantastic.  If it encourages them to be a better student or citizen or friend, that’s great, too.

Girl Rising is only showing in theaters for a week.  If it’s playing near you, try to see it with a girl you love.

Would you like to see Earth from Outer Space?

A question for Earth Day:  would you leave the planet Earth if you could?

I’m not talking about sci-fi versions of space travel, like Doctor Who or Star Trek, where rules of physics don’t apply, but getting in a rocket and floating about inside the International Space Station.  Would you do that if offered the chance?

I love seeing images of the earth from space, but the reality of living in space is not appealing to me.  I don’t think I’d want to stay long, maybe a long weekend and then home to planet earth for me.

If you’ve ever been curious about life in space, a couple years ago I read Mary Roach’s Packing for Mars, which is all about the human side of NASA’s research on living in space – eating, sleeping, personal hygiene, etc.   Both informative and humorous.

Do we have enough tears for this?

Do we need to be able to identify with the victims of violence in order to sympathize with them?

There is so much violence in the world.  Every day.  Are the deaths of children in New England more tragic than the deaths of children in Africa?

Those who do not weep, do not see. ~Victor Hugo  Do we have enough tears for this?Do you know how many people died in in the violence surrounding the elections in Venezuela on Monday?  What about the ones who died in Iraq’s election violence?  Is election violence too alien a concept?  We can’t imagine it happening here.

Is the same true for genocide?  We can’t imagine our government turning on Christians or Muslims as Myanmar has done.

(Unless one can imagine it, and is therefore a paranoid extremist.)

We can’t imagine being a Syrian refugee or a woman in the Congo.  Those people are too different from us; they live so far away.  Things like that don’t happen here.

What about Chicago, where over 500 people were murdered last year?  No, we tell ourselves that those are gang members, not nice people like us.

We do everything we can to distance ourselves from the victims of crimes, even the ones that happen close to home.  That couldn’t happen to us because we don’t walk those streets, dress like that, drink too much…..we’re careful, safe, make good decisions.

We’ve insulated ourselves so successfully that we barely register the distress of millions.  Until, one day, we learn that someone like us has been hurt.  Now we are glued to the news.  This can’t happen to me.  To my kids.  Here.  To people like us.

But it does.  Sometimes, it does.

Could we take part of that outrage and share it with the world?  Do we have enough tears to cry for Asian children and African women?  Can we cry for the persecuted when they don’t share our religion?

If we can’t, what does that say about us?  About me?

If we can, would we ever be able to stop crying?

What’s that word for big and beautiful?

One day my baby stood in front of a mirror, frowned, and said, “I am a fat little boy.”

“You’re not fat!  You’re chubby!”  I responded, instantly projecting my own body image issues on my adorable three year old.

Through narrowed eyes, he looked at me, daring me to disagree, “That just means I’m the cute kind of fat.”

I scooped him up, gave him a dozen kisses on that sweet spot of his neck that always made him laugh and said, “Emphasis on the cute.”

I told him that he was the perfect size, exactly the size God made him to be, and he was healthy and handsome and, most important, loved.  He outgrew the chubbiness, but not the cuteness.

Nearly twenty years later, chubby is still our family word for “the cute kind of fat.”

I wish society had a word for that concept, too, the idea that a person, or a feature, could be larger than average and attractive at the same time.  Neither skinny nor its opposite fat convey beauty, but thin does.  We have no companion for thin, no word that denotes a larger vision of health and beauty.

Over the past couple days, I’ve seen this Dove campaign about beauty posted dozens of times.  If you haven’t seen it, take a look.

The emphasis here isn’t on weight, but listen to the words the women use to describe themselves.  “My mom told me I had a big jaw.”  “A fat, rounder face.”  “A pretty big forehead.”

Unless we’re talking about breasts, big is always a negative.  We don’t want big chins, noses, foreheads, arms, or feet.  Okay, big eyes – we want big eyes, like a Disney princess.  Big eyes, big breasts, everything else small, that’s our ideal.  That sounds like pornographic anime doesn’t it?

Ew.  I wish I hadn’t thought of that.


Words matter.  Casual remarks can sting for years, and they don’t have to be directed at us.  A childhood spent hearing negative remarks about fat people doesn’t generally result in someone who feels beautiful if she puts on a few extra pounds.

The words used to describe us become the way we define ourselves.

I didn’t grow up with words like chubby, or assurances that I was the perfect size.  I was called sturdy.  Amazonian.  Big.

Big.  Mostly, I was big.  Was I?

I was tall.  Very tall compared to my mother’s family, men and boys included.  I was also taller than my older brother for most of our childhood, which delighted neither of us.

I wanted to be small.  Petite girls were cute in a way I knew I never could be.  I was big; big and cute don’t go together.

Big is the ugly stepsister cutting off her own toes to cram her foot into a tiny glass slipper.  Petite dances all night with the prince and lives happily ever after.

I’m an adult now.  I want to think I’m past all that.  I carefully choose words for my daughter, knowing they’ll replay in her head for years to come.

When she tells me she hates being short, I point out how much easier it is for her to find clothes and shoes that fit, how much closer she is to the average woman’s height, how perfectly proportioned, how beautiful and healthy she is, exactly the size God created her to be.

I tell her that every woman I know wishes she were different in some way, even the most beautiful women in the world.  I tell her I always wished I wasn’t so tall (I’m careful to say tall, not big).

My husband walks by and grins, “But then I wouldn’t have noticed you.”

My prince.

Words.  They matter.  Choose them wisely.

Pumpkin Walnut Oat Bran Muffins

Pumpkin Walnut Oat Bran MuffinsI thought it would be hard to give up candies and sweets, but it wasn’t as bad as I’d feared.  It has been difficult to give up home baked goods.  Not breads, but cookies and pies and muffins and cakes and sugary temptations.

This morning, I decided I could not be a sugar martyr any longer and made a batch of reasonably healthy muffins.  If you were here, I’d give you one to try, but since you’re not, the best I can do is share my recipe.  I adapted it from the recipe on the box of Quaker Oat Bran, which you can find in the hot cereal section of the grocer’s.

Pumpkin Walnut Oat Bran Muffins

Preheat oven to 475F.

2 cups Oat Bran
1/4 cup brown sugar
2tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
dash of cloves

Mix all those in a bowl.

1 scant cup milk
1/4 cup molasses or honey or blue agave (I always use molasses.)
2 eggs
1/2 cup canned pumpkin

Mix all those together in another bowl, or like me, in a measuring cup. Then pour them into the dry ingredients. It will look grainy and not at all like cake batter, which it is not.

Finally, add 1 cup broken or chopped walnuts.  (I’m lazy, so I just break them with my hands.)

Pour it into a dozen muffin cups. I use silicon cups and fill them almost to the rim, because these do not rise much.

Lower oven temperature to 425F and bake for 15-17 minutes.

These both freeze well and travel well.

According to the calculator at My Fitness Pal, each muffin contains 167 calories, 8 carbs, 6 protein, 3 fiber, and 8 sugar.  I’m not guaranteeing that, and if you use a different calculator that is more accurate – or miraculously decreases the sugar count – please share it and I’ll update the nutrition information.