Thursday, July 3, 2008

I'm SO Sick of Fad Diets...

...and of the barrage of media reports saying "avoid [insert food or beverage here] like the plague!!"

Let's make one thing perfectly clear:
For most people, what's more important than going to the extremes of fad diets and going cold turkey on your favourite snack foods is balance.

That's right, you CAN have a handful of potato chips!

Just not handful, after handful, after handful, after handful.

Now, don't get me wrong, I do think we should do our best to avoid trans fats and other things that are clearly very bad for you, and I'm certainly not saying "indulge in all those "bad foods," we're all gonna die someday anyway!" But I certainly don't think that a handful of chips (or whatever your snack of choice is) every now and again is gonna kill you, so long as it's just that, and so long as it's just a little blip on the screen of your otherwise healthy lifestyle.

I'm as guilty as anyone of overindulging (see the previous blog), particularly when I let my life get a little out of control and disorganized (when that happens I tend to eat junk out of a combination of laziness and a desire for the comfort I seem to think I get from it). But hey, I'm working on it! Just the other day I went out and bought a nice big bag of Sugar Snap peas to replace the crunch of chips. I still had a few chips from my husband's bowl (yeah...I'm trying to lead by example, but I think it's gonna take a while before it makes an impression on him), and I still have a scoop of ice cream now and again when I need a treat...but the point is that I make lots of little decisions to eat well, then I reward myself occasionally.

Now about those fad diets...many of them are in fact detrimental, and most of the people I've known who have done them have gained the weight back and more. Why? Apart from the dangers of cutting too much out of your diet, mainly I think it's because most of them are just too hard to stick to in the long run. Yale University's David Katz, MD and author of The Flavor Point Diet put it very well in an article I found on Webmd.com (here) when he said, "forget about 'dieting' and instead, think about strategies to satisfy your hunger for fewer calories. Eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein can help manage your appetite."

Actually, as my Sister-in-Law and I were recently saying, it's hard to find room for anything else if you're eating enough fruits, veggies and good grains! Even so, I'm not really into tracking how much of what I eat. Instead, I break it down into individual decisions. Do I grab another handful of potato chips, or do I grab a handful of sugar snap peas instead? Do I fill up on soda, or do I grab a glass of 2% milk or water instead? Do I have cookies or an apple?

I guess I've always found the keeping track thing too ascetic. If I have to mark a calendar or write down every time I messed up and had too many two-bite brownies, I find it overwhelming and I lose the joy of eating well. Each healthy thing I eat starts to feel like I'm doing penance for my eating sins.

What do I say to those of you who really don't like fruits and veggies? Well, I guess you're SOL! Just kidding. But I do think you need to give those things another chance. You may need to sortof re-set your tastebuds, in fact. Particularly if you crave salt a lot, and need to put a lot of it on your food, or if you eat a diet high in fried foods. Unfortunately (well, fortunately for her) I lent my copy of French Women Don't Get Fat (and it's true: I've been to France! Really the only fat people you see are on the tour busses!) to my Mother-in-Law*, so I don't have an excerpt right now to punctuate this point...but trust me, if you give it time, you CAN find the joy in a succulent peach or a crispy, fresh green bean. That being said, if you haven't read that book, you really should!

This entry has gotten long, and I haven't even touched on exercise yet (and how it doesn't have to be hard), but maybe I'll get there next time!

Here's to finding the joy in eating well. Cheers!

*not because she needs it, mind you, but because the aforementioned SIL and I were explaining where we get many of our eating philosophies from and it piqued her interest

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

So far...

I'm sorry I haven't been around much in the last couple of weeks! Life's been a little crazy. I won't bore you with the details, but the stressful week-long so-called vacation to Arizona (during which both my son and I got sick) probably threw the largest wrench in my plans to become a committed blogger. Anyway, I'm back, and hopefully for good (though I make no guarantees).

I have to say, until recently this pregnancy made it remarkably easy for me to eat healthily. Up until I got sick, I was really only craving fruits and vegetables. I quickly (with little conscious effort) made the switch from a diet heavy in protein and empty carbs to one with lots of vitamins, fibre, good carbs, and just the right amount of protein.

Blowing chunks of peaches, spinnach, whole grain bread and apples for a week changed all that. Amazing (or rather not) how a person will simply stop craving the things she recently regurgitated.

I have to admit, I'm back into the potato chips, Starbucks chilled mochas and frozen pizzas. Don't get me wrong, I'm not one of those health nuts that will ever--barring some serious disease that requires it of me--banish those from her diet entirely (why am I writing this blog again?), but I've gone from indulging in small amounts occasinally to nearly surviving on that stuff. The bananas on my fruit stand went brown. I'm pretty sure my husband finished all but one of the apples. I didn't even bother buying the peaches this time (bad memories).

Thank goodness for prenatal vitamins.

But I do want to do better. And I'm trying. Last night I made the difficult decision to back away from the snack shelf in the pantry and take that last apple from the fruit stand. Granted, this effort was aided by the fact that my favourite chips were all gone and I was left with the less appealing flavours (the ones my husband somehow loves).

Maybe that's the key...just don't keep that stuff stocked! Ignore those chips whose tempting sea salt and vinegar labels call to you from the snack aisle!

Also, I think I need some new recipes. A large part of the frozen pizza obsession comes from the fact that I just don't feel like making any of the same old standbys. Unfortunately, now that it's summer, I'm less inclined to find new crock-pot recipes that I can throw together after baby #1 is in bed...so I suspect this is going to take a bit more effort and planning than it used to.

Wish me luck. I'm going grocery shopping tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Why Choose Breastfeeding? (Pt. 1)

I hear it all the time, "why bother breastfeeding? Formulas these days are just as good anyway."
And I hate to say it (okay, maybe I don't) but that is simply not true. Not only is formula feeding less good than breastfeeding (I hate to say "breastfeeding has benefits," because that statement is actually misleading in that it implies breastmilk substitutes are the normal way to feed an infant while breastfeeding is above and beyond...that is just not reality, and not what nature intended), it actually carries risks.
You can see INFACT Canada's factsheet on this here.

The fact of the matter is, we don't even understand all the things that breastmilk is made up of, so how can we manufacture a substitute that is even close to the real thing? No formula can mimic the antibodies the baby receives from his or her mother ONLY through breast milk. No formula adapts to your baby's changing needs each and every day. No formula can help prevent SIDS, asthma, severe allergies, diabetes, ear infections or obesity. Breastmilk is capable of all those things. When it really comes down to it, those ridiculously expensive formulas on all the grocery store shelves are little more than glorified cow's milk or soy milk in comparaison to breast milk. (And would you ever think of giving your newborn just cow's milk or soy milk? I wouldn't think so...so why is formula feeding such a "natural" choice in Western society?)

"But my doctor told me it was just as good! He knows what he's talking about, right?"
How I wish that were true. Dr. Jack Newman, in his book, "Dr. Jack Newman's Guide to Breastfeeding," describes his first and only lesson on infant feeding at medical school thus:

"I had the same medical education as the other students who attended medical
school with me, and that training included nothing about breastfeeding. I
remember quite well the only lecture we had on infant feeding. It lasted an
hour. Breastfeeding was not even mentioned."
Jack Newman & Teresa Pitman, Dr. Jack Newman's Guide to Breastfeeding, HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.,Toronto, ON, Canada


While the situation HAS improved somewhat since then, there is still a very large number of doctors out there who, at best, know very little about breastfeeding, or at worst, discourage it altogether (for reasons unfathomable). One of the most interesting stories I heard was that of two women in my La Leche League group. Unbeknownst to them, they were both seeing the same family physician. One of them had a baby who was in a high weight-height percentile, the other in a low percentile. Both were healthy, but I suppose the doctor felt that they should not be in these extreme percentiles (why? I'm not sure...someone has to be there after all!). He also felt the best way to remedy BOTH their so-called problems (which were not really problems at all) was to switch them to formula. Both of the women involved quickly switched doctors (they were both committed to breastfeeding and thankfully, quite well educated on the risks of formula feeding), and both their new doctors agreed that the babies were doing very well on breastmilk alone.

Stories like that should never have to be told. The medical community should be MUCH more aware than that first doctor, for the health of both child and mother!

Oh...and did I mention breastmilk is completely free and may save you thousands of dollars in long-term medical expenses? More on that next time.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Pregnant, nursing, and trying to have a healthy family!

I'll be honest, I'm not sure I'm the right person to be writing a blog about family health. I'm not a doctor or a nurse, and my commitment to my own health in the past has been sporradic at best. But I have a nine month-old son, and baby #2 on the way. If anything should increase my commitment it's that, right?

When I was single and baby-less, it was easy to make those lifestyle changes necessary to drop those five to ten pounds necessary to make it into that hot dress I promised myself I'd wear to a formal event. I'd simply take stairs instead of the elevator, walk to the grocery store snow or sunshine, and skip my daily latté (or order it Skinny if I felt I needed it badly).

With a baby around, things change, and those little lifestyle changes suddenly seem more difficult to make. You have to really commit yourself to your health, because you can't just take the stairs when you have a stroller (at least not by yourself), when it's cold it takes twice the effort to get out the door without a vehicle (ever try to put a screaming baby in a snowsuit? Not easy, let me tell you), if you can do it at all, and suddenly going without that latté seems a dear sacrifice indeed after the baby hardly let you have more than three hours of uninterrupted sleep. It is my hope that writing this blog will both strengthen my resolve in that area, as well as provide other moms and moms-to-be with helpful information and support in their own journeys.

Of course, as a mom, it would be ridiculous to look after my own health while paying scant attention to my baby's, so I felt it was natural to make this blog not only about my own health, but about raising a healthy family as well. Right now, my son, James, is having about three meals with solid food a day (two of which are only about three tablespoons, the last one of the day being about five tablespoons), and I feel our journey into the realm of solid foods and weaning has only just begun. I committed early on to breastfeed my son--the healthiest choice for both him and me--so I will be talking about that quite a lot. But I am also learning about a balanced, healthy solid-food diet for him, so I invite you to learn with me.

Here's to motherhood, to children, and to healthy families!