When Food Doesn't Comfort and Retail Isn't Therapeutic

You might still be recovering from the Game That Must Not Be Mentioned.

For us it was compounded by a death of a close person, and, yeah, Sugar-Free January was over, so here's how it played out:

1. We were sitting on the couch, trying not to think about things.

2. We wanted to watch something that would cheer us up.

3. Netflix was streaming William and Kate, a Lifetime made-for-TV movie, which you knew had to be awesome.

If this isn't on your Watchlist, it needs to be

4. Watching the movie (which was every bit as awesomely awesome as you could imagine) reminded us that we had a tin of Walker's Shortbread in the pantry--a commemorative tin with Will, Kate, and Baby Prince George on it.

Thank heavens no one took a picture of ME right after childbirth, and put it on a commemorative tin!

5. After a brief consult, we decided what better time to bust into a tin of shortbread than when we were depressed and watching a movie that insulted our intelligence? We made quick work of it:

I guess they couldn't shape them like Will, Kate, or Baby Prince George

Did we feel better? Marginally. But it was worth it in the end because the conclusion of the Lifetime movie must be seen to be believed--I'm talking big belly laughs that were unintentional on the movie producers' part but greatly appreciated all the same.

Then the pall descended again. The Game That Must Not Be Mentioned was not a hideous nightmare, and our friend was still gone.

You see, we turn to things like food and entertainment or even shopping so (to paraphrase Jim Gaffigan in Food: A Love Story) we don't have to "feel those feelings." A fine plan of counterattack, when resorted to only occasionally, to retain the element of surprise. (Kind of like what might have been going through the coaches' minds when they called for a pass instead of--oh--never mind.)

But when food or entertainment or shopping becomes our everyday go-to coping mechanism, that's when the problems start. Two examples from my reading this week:

Memoirist and blogger Andie Mitchell turned to food because she had an alcoholic, unemployed father, an absent mother who had to hold down three jobs, and a family dynamic that would take the mickey out of anyone. On the plus side, although Mitchell binged constantly and gained weight steadily, she attended the kindest high school on earth and still had popular friends, a hot prom date, and she got voted Prom Queen. Huh? Where was that high school when the rest of us needed a little understanding?

It Was Me All Along chronicles her journey through obesity, weight loss (surprise! it was exercise and portion control), neuroticism about eating, and then health. The food blogger in her comes out with elaborate food descriptions that certainly won't help anyone who struggles with obesity or eating disorders, and it turns quite humdrum once she loses the weight and gets over her fear of eating again, but it's worth a read.

Also worth a read was Stuffocation by James Wallman, who urges us to put down the credit card, quit filling our houses with junk, and get out and live a little. After taking the little mini-quizzes inside I realized this was not a book I needed to read (I'd way rather eat something than buy something), but I know shopping is many people's drug of choice, so I include it here.

Instead of buying a new car and drowning under the payments, instead of filling your closet with things you wear once a decade, instead of having the latest this or that, Wallman recommends quality time and experiences.

One great point Wallman makes, for why experiences trump possessions is that we tend to remember experiences positively, whether the experience itself was positive or negative. I can vouch for this--we took our kids on the "Santa Train" when they were little, an end-to-end horrible experience, thanks to rain and tantrums and missing shoes and fogged-up windows and Santa giving out toothbrushes, for Pete's sake, but now we milk it for laughs. Lots of laughs. The "Satan Train" has become a favorite memory because of its sheer awfulness. What possession can do that for you?

So if you're turning too much to food or bad TV movies or maxing out your credit card in the aftermath of The Game, may I recommend you replace these options? Call a friend and get together. Take the dog on a scenic walk. Make someone something. Curl up with a good book. Plan a getaway.

Heck--if none of those work, go ahead and watch William and Kate. It sure won't send you on a Lifetime movie binge.

Have a better week!

Bring on the Butter, Meat, and Cheese!

Is it just me, or does every new study and food book offer conflicting advice? I'm not happy to hear that we should limit fat and eat lots of whole grains and vegetables; but nor am I thrilled to hear saturated animal fats are back on the menu and carbs are the new bad guys. Can't I love both? Can't we all get along???

This week I took on Nina Teicholtz's The Big Fat Surprise.

Like Gary Taubes' WHY WE GET FAT, Teicholtz takes on some 50 years of dietary advice from the government, academy, food-, and health-powers-that-be. You know the drill: reduce saturated fat in the diet. The higher your heart attack risk, the more drastically you should reduce it. That means cutting out red meat, eggs, milk, cheese--and voila! You'll lower your LDL and live long enough to die of cancer instead.

Teicholtz traces the ascendancy of this advice and the effects of personal biases, statistical hand-waving, and academic infighting on the conclusions drawn or suppressed. She looks in depth at the original studies done and cited, rather than taking the abstract's or another person's word for it, with surprising results. As it happens, rates of heart disease have not declined, despite a 17% increase in American consumption of fruits and vegetables, a 29% increase in grains, and a reduction of fats to 33% of calories. In place of animal fats we now consume 8% of calories by way of vegetables oils (mainly soy and canola), and, in the meantime, obesity, diabetes, and cancer rates have boomed. What went wrong?

A few things:
- We found "lowering cholesterol" was not the cure-all we hoped for. Lowfat diets (and statin drugs) can lower LDL, but it turns out general LDL levels do not correlate closely with heart disease. Having high, small-particle LDL levels does seem to correlate, but the best way to sway the balance to big, floaty LDL particles is to eat animal fats.

- The "Mediterranean Diet" was somewhat an arbitrary invention, but a diet favoring olive oil does seem to improve health factors better than a lowfat diet, although not as well as a diet rich in animal fats.

- At first animal fats were replaced in processed/fast foods with trans fats, but when these started to be frowned upon, everyone switched back to liquid vegetable oils, which oxidize and put out toxic aldehydes when they are heated.

- Calcium and vitamins A, D, K, and E are fat-soluble, meaning they cannot be fully absorbed if not accompanied by fat. That goes for the calcium in nonfat milk and all the spiffy vegetables sprinkled in fat-free dressing.

- Women and children were recommended to follow lowfat diets by extension, but it turns out women with low cholesterol had higher mortality rates that women with high cholesterol, and women on lowfat diets see a greater drop in their good HDL levels than men. Kids need saturated fat for ideal growth.

- When not replacing trans fats with liquid oils, food processors have to rely on fat replacers, which are additional carbohydrate substances.

- Liquid vegetable oils are pro-inflammatory and tied to increased rates of cancer.

...There's more to say, but I'll stop here. Suffice to say, I found the arguments convincing, if depressing, given my deep love for bread and pasta. My kids have been drinking whole milk for years now, and I am determined to wean us at least two days a week from breakfast cereals, but I just don't know how the world can support everyone on a diet high in animal fats. Not to mention, meat is expensive, especially since we do grass-fed. I suppose I'll have to settle for increasing our ratio of animal fats and reducing our refined carbs and liquid vegetable oil.

 At least I can fry in butter and bacon fat without a twinge of guilt now, but I guess this means my homemade pot stickers fried in vegetable oil literally are to die for!