The Day the Diet Died

New Year's at the Needle!

 2014 is dead! Long live 2015!

(Can you tell I just started reading a book on the Tudors, and Henry VIII has just been crowned king after the death of his father Henry VII?)

But really, the death of 2014 is great because it means you're legally off the hook for any New Year's Resolutions you made in 2014, in case you were still keeping any of them. According to a University of Scranton study quoted in this Vox article,

Seventy-seven percent of the resolvers studied made it through a full week, then 55 percent stuck with their goals for a month. By June, six months into the New Year, only 40 percent of those who had made a New Year's resolution were still sticking with the goal.

That's actually way better than I would have guessed. Let me do a report card on myself and see how I fared. In my previous January 2014 post I named three food resolutions:

1. Extend Sugar-Free January for a vague, unnamed length of time. I made it to March! Well into 55% territory.

2. Give up buying one item that comes in single-use, non-recyclable plastic and make/buy an alternative. Woo hoo! I stopped buying bagged salad greens or spinach and started rinsing and making my own salads, and I've actually kept up with this one the entire year, even trying new kale salads. I am the 40%!

3. Prepare one new vegetable per week until you run out of them, and then add new favorites to your rotation. Fail. I don't know if I even made it two weeks on this one. I am the 77%.

Maybe these results make me a typical American.

In any case, I've noticed the latest trend for 2015 is dissing the diet. As in, giving up dieting, in favor of what these authors say is not dieting.

This book, for instance, tells us to lose the fad diets and hopes of fast weight-loss permanently. Instead, lose weight very gradually by tweaking your food habits. Drop the soda a day. Replace the afternoon bag of Doritos with a couple pieces of fruit. Will you lose 20 lbs in two weeks? Not a chance, but those two changes alone (if those were habits of yours) could net you 20-30 lbs in a year, and it would be permanent (unless you took up the habits again). Author Markey counsels against diets that require total elimination of any foods because, as I completely agree, those diets are unsustainable. She also advises against fasting or seriously limiting calories, lest your body go into starvation mode and pack the pounds on enthusiastically whenever you do start eating again.

Sadly, though, she's still in favor of exercise for health (not necessarily weight loss) and bypassing the bread basket (one of my chief joys in restaurant life). But you can't have everything. Markey also disdains saturated animal fat from butter, red meat, whole dairy, and so on, which I think are now off the no-no list. Nevertheless, not a bad book to start with, if you've tried diet after diet and yo-yoed your way through life.

I didn't get too far through this one:

 I think they wanted to start a social media movement about cutting yourself a break because there were instructions to connect with other "wycwycers" on the usual sites. Does the world really need more superficial connections? A question only you can answer.

As for the advice given in the book, here's a sample: if you eat the triple chocolate cheesecake at the office party, skip dessert the next two days, and so forth. It may have gone deeper (and less obvious) than that, but I didn't hang around for it.

My point being, the health trend for 2015 appears to be diet but don't call it dieting. Got it.

With this in mind, it's time to set new resolutions for the year! Connect with me superficially online and join me for any of these? Or hit me up when the Market opens in May and see if I'm still among the 40% who keep on keeping on.

1. Keep Sugar-Free January and then shift to two desserts per week.

2. Walk 20-30 minutes 3x per week. Not for weight-loss purposes, but to keep ye old body fully operational longer. I turned 45 a few days ago!

3. Let's try this one again: Serve two vegetables at dinner or a fruit and a vegetable. I won't be picky about trying new things. I just want to get it on the table.

Wishing you all a happy and healthy 2015!

Are We Evolved Enough to Eat That?

Great job selecting for desirable traits, early farmers!

If you've read books that mention the history of agriculture, you've learned by now that wild maize bore little resemblance to the crunchy, sweet, essence-of-summer corn we now enjoy. Nah--the wild stuff had few kernels on tiny ears and required plenty of scavenging before you could make a meal of it, much less a bowl of tortilla chips and a gallon of high-fructose corn syrup.

Our hunter-gatherer forbears spent up to six hours a day to accumulate enough calories to feed their small bands, and they ate a diet made up largely of fruits, tubers, nuts, seeds, and wild game. As a result they got plenty of physical exercise, fiber, and enough of a chewing workout to make their jaws grow large enough to fit their teeth--all their teeth. They were also seasonal eaters by default and not too subject to widespread famine, since they could always move on elsewhere or put up with less choice offerings, like rabbits having to eat grass after they're already devoured your pea plants.

After millenia and millenia of such a diet, it only makes sense that natural selection favored bodies that processed such food best, and this story would all have had a happy ending, except that humans decided to start sticking around in one place and farming.

I've been reading again.

Really it was the "health and disease" part of this book that interested me, since I've been wondering about all the different diets and nutritional advice out there. It seemed best to listen to an evolutionary biologist to figure out what exactly are we designed to be eating?

The short answer is: not what we're currently eating. Lieberman classifies many of our modern illnesses as "mismatch diseases," meaning, our bodies now encounter foods and environmental circumstances which are different from what our bodies have come to expect after so many gabillion years, so we get sick. Examples of mismatches:

  • Obesity. Most of us in the developed world experience an energy surplus of food. Our bodies have been designed to sock away fat, so we have a continuous supply of energy to fuel our giant, energy-sucking brains. But we used to experience lean times as well as bonanzas, and now all we have are bonanzas.
  • Type 2 diabetes. Remember that bit about the hunter-gatherer diet? It included hardly any sugar (all pre-agriculture fruits were about the sweetness of a carrot) or simple starches. The carbs we ate had lots of fiber and therefore made our bodies work hard to get energy out of them. Which meant, no sugar spikes in the blood and no insulin spikes and no consequent insulin resistance.
  • Myopia! (Lieberman gave many, many disease examples, but I include this one because I always wondered how nearsighted people could've survived the caveman era.) Back in ye old hunter-gatherer days we were mostly outside and never spent hours with our eyes frozen in flexed position, staring at books and screens. It turns out that the teeny muscles holding up the lenses in our eyes get to relax when they look far away, but nowadays we hold the poor muscles clenched up, focusing close up, with sad, contact-lens-wearing results. Among the few hunter-gatherer populations remaining on earth, you don't find many needing lasik.
There's much much more to the book, but the lifestyle advice is familiar and straightforward. Prevent mismatch diseases by avoiding "stimuli that are too much, too little or too new." 
  • Too much = sugar, simple starches, overly processed foods.
  • Too little = fiber and physical activity (walking is just fine--that's what we're designed to do, along with a little running on our arched, springy feet, when necessary)
  • Too new = environmental pollutants, weird foods like transfats (our bodies are like, what the heck?), high-heeled shoes, sitting for hours
Our bodies are trying to catch up with the crazy brave new world--there's already some selection happening for people to produce more insulin--but all the changes happened so very fast, evolutionarily speaking, that we aren't going to turn those mismatches into matches anytime soon.

So grab extra of those fruits and vegetables and pastured meats at the Market this week, and park your car in the furthest spot in the lot. Oh, and read this book!

To Cleanse or Not to Cleanse?

I went for a walk with a friend recently, who reported having joined a group of women in doing a cleanse, courtesy of an Arbonne representative among them. Apparently, the product "helps cleanse and detoxify the system and support the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Assists with the gentle elimination of toxins." Sounds good, right? (Apart from the 7-day, $50 price tag.) You drink the drinks, you skip the sugar, grains, dairy, processed foods, alcohol, and caffeine, and replace them with produce and lean protein. The promise? A cleansed digestive system with a side helping of weight loss.

Pic from Amazon

While other women in the group reported increased energy and some pounds evaporating, my friend was comparatively underwhelmed by the results and overwhelmed by the price tag. She dropped out.

Cleanses are the latest Big Thing, dietwise, and I'll be the first to admit we put a lot of garbage in our bodies. Hence, in my own family, our tradition of Sugar-Free January, to compensate for All-Sugar-All-the-Time December. This year I even went light on reintroducing sugar in February, only eating dessert about once a week and not sweating the sugar-content otherwise. Over the last two months, I've dropped six pounds. Not huge, but my pants fit more comfortably, and it's actually a net-positive diet, financially speaking, since I'm buying less sugar and butter and not replacing it with anything but a cup of herbal tea or a Satsuma.

The Wall Street Journal  ran two articles recently. One on the juice cleanse fad and one on which toxins actually do stay in our body. Their findings?

  1. Skip the cleanses and just eat more fruits and vegetables and less junk.
  2. Eat the fruits and vegetables as whole as possible, because the fiber in them keeps things moving.
  3. The toxins that linger in our body aren't the food ingredients so much as the weird plastics and chemicals we ingest through packaging and pesticides and environment, and those toxins, sadly, take 15 to 20 years to clear out!
WSJ's cool, if blurry, graphic

So, yes, you can cut certain food groups or ingredients from your diet. It may help you pinpoint a lactose intolerance or gluten sensitivity, but it won't detoxify you. And, as everyone who has made drastic dietary changes knows, the more drastic the changes are, the less sustainable they are.

Instead of a purge or a fast, how about a food-positive lifestyle change?

  • Pass over the juice or smoothie and eat a piece of fruit or some veggies with dip whole
  • Promise yourself you won't skip dessert, but you'll become a dessert connoisseur--if it's not homemade or made by a baker you love from simple ingredients, you won't bother.
  • Replace one no-fiber food you have around the house with a fiber food. Mix brown rice into your white. Replace up to 1/3 of the white flour in a recipe with whole wheat. Mix whole-grain pasta into regular pasta. (I've done all these with no one in the family even noticing.)
  • Switch to naturally-leaner pastured meat from one of our Market farmers in at least one meal a week.
  • Try making your own yogurt. Simple and un-sugary and full of great probiotics.

Wishing you all a cleaner GI tract, #TightwadOrganic style.

The Market for Every Diet

That's what I'm talking about.

The weather forecast promises the arrival of summer, just in time for this week's Markets! And summer's arrival means it's time to break out the barbecues and bikinis. Well--at least the barbecue. But, if you were indeed thinking bikini this summer, have I got a Market for you.

Some parents and I were shivering poolside for morning swim team practice, swathed in blankets and nursing coffees, while we abused our children by making them actually get in the darned water. And the topic of diets came up. One woman was reading the latest book, a modification of the meat-and-non-starchy-vegetables "paleo" diet. She assured me it was an "easy" diet, one the whole family could try without too much effort. I took a quick look at its anti-sugar and anti-grains stance and handed the book back. All I know is, when I die, they will find me with pasta in one hand and bread in the other.

If you do hold with the "caveman"/paleo camp, you believe human beings' bodies function best on a hunter-gatherer, non-processed diet. We have a Market for that.

Two If By Sea

Your PALEO shopping list:

Fresh/frozen salmon
Pastured beef
Farm-fresh eggs
Salad Mix

Strict paleo dieters lay off the dairy products, but if you lean Atkins-ward or modified paleo, you know cheese, butter, yogurt, and milk are fair game! Add in:

Golden Glen's Cheese Curds and Flavored Butters

Blessed are the cheesemakers! May I personally recommend Golden Glen Creamery's Cheddar with Sun-Dried Tomato, Samish Bay's Ladysmith with Chives, and Tieton Farm & Creamery's Feta, made with goat and sheep's milk? If you can't have crackers with your cheese, make sure the cheese is good enough to eat on its own!

Then, clear on the other side of the spectrum, was the book I read that compared the human digestive system to that of our closest primate cousins. It concluded that, based on our teeth types, length of gut and so on, we were made to eat mostly, vegetarian. Vegetables, fruits, insects, other plants. Of the primates, our innards bear passing resemblance to a Capuchin monkey's. Therefore I give you the

Sugar Snap Peas
Snow Peas
(any bugs you happen to find on the ground--no charge!)

Less strict Capuchin-Monkey-dieters can add in anything remotely vegetarian. If it were me, I would throw in some of La Pasta's Whole Wheat pasta, which Dmitri explains is not as chewy as the not-terribly-yummy whole wheat pasta found in stores because his is fresh. He also offers Roasted Bell Pepper Pasta, and Lemon with Cracked Pepper. Mmmm... if you're doing carbs, make them worth it.

And finally, if you've decided to ditch the bikini and the diet, there's always a scoop of Scout Mint at Molly Moon's. This, if you can believe it, was a "kids scoop"! Note the size of the Thin Mint cookie slab my twelve-year-old scored.

The Non-Dieter's Diet

Something for everyone. Enjoy the sunshine and have a happy 4th!