Tuesday, June 21, 2011

You Are What You Eat?

"Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es."
(Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.)

Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, “Physiologie du Gout,” 1826

I have less willpower than anyone I know.

Every healthy habit I possess came out of an unhealthy one. Or became a necessity because of a health calamity.

Eating reasonably well, protecting my skin, exercising… were all, in a manner of speaking, forced upon me. And I am grateful that they were. These habits have improved my quality of life.

Our bodies are vehicles for our souls. We’ve got to drive these cars until we trade them in for new ones on the other side. Mine’s been through a few wrecks. Like my little blue sports car, it’s covered with dings and dents and scrapes and scratches.

But I’ve been told that it’s a temple. So I look upon taking care of myself as Temple Maintenance. Being a good steward of what’s been entrusted to me.

It’s hard to think of our bodies as gifts, isn’t it? Too many of us view our bodies as Enemy Number One. We compare, compare, compare. And hate.

Some hate their surplus; some their deficit. You might hate your ample thighs, while I hate my skinny legs. You might hate your flat chest, while I might hate my… (nevermind. We’ll go into that later.)

I am working to change my thinking on this. After you’ve had some health issues, the double chin (or cottage cheese, or saddlebags or whatever) doesn’t seem like quite as big an issue.

I bring all this to the table to explain my philosophy on all areas of “Temple Maintenance.” I would describe it as Reasonable Care. I am not a purist. I will never be an exercise addict. Some nights I go to bed without washing my face. I still whip through Wendy’s drive-thru and grab a Junior Bacon Cheeseburger once in a while when I’m having a blood sugar thing. Eat ice cream out of the carton on occasion.

But I try to bless my body more than I curse it. I think my ratio is up to around 85% building up, 15% tearing down. 85% discipline, 15% indulgence. But I’m trying to get it up to 90%-10%. I think you’ve got to have the freedom to indulge every now and then, or it becomes a bondage.

During the past three years of blogging I’ve alluded to health problems, but avoided going into details. Several things have made me think that it’s time to share some of that story. But it’s so boring to talk about your health. Especially once you’re better. You just want to get on with your life.

For now, I’ll start by sharing a minor episode that led to my interest in Reasonably Healthy Eating.

I was a newly-wed, straight out of college, teaching at a private high school in Palm Beach. In college, of course, there had been no such thing as healthy eating or drinking. Those habits continued into my 20’s. We crammed junk food (mainly sweets) in the teacher’s lounge, and downed massive amounts of bitter coffee to fuel ourselves through the long, challenging days of dealing with sassy rich kids.

But then I started having “strange spells.” I would feel fine one minute, then start shaking like a leaf. I’d get violently dizzy. Feel completely drained and exhausted. Finally, I started blacking out at the blackboard.

I went to see the family doctor, who administered a lengthy glucose tolerance test. At the end of the test, the nurse told me I was a few points (mg/dL) away from going into a coma. (The oral test is no longer used because it triggered such violent symptoms in people with reactive hypoglycemia.)

The doctor, a traditional Emory-trained physician, told me I needed to eat a lot of steak. And start running. And drink orange juice quickly if I started to faint. He was concerned about my family history of diabetes, as hypoglycemia often switches gears.

One of my new friends in Palm Beach was into the health food movement, which began gaining momentum during the mid-70’s. Most citizens of our Fast Food Nation still thought it was all a bunch of baloney back then. My friend took me to funky new restaurants where we ate a lot of sprouts and stuff, trying to convince me that if I ate only organic vegetarian, whole grain, and nuts, I’d be cured.

I wanted to be well. I tried the doctor’s advice. I tried my friend’s advice. Neither was perfect.

So I combined the two, along with what I researched on my own.

And I have eaten that way ever since… (85% of the time.)

The basics:

I eat 5 times a day. Whenever I am the slightest bit hungry.
I eat tons of protein.
Lots of veggies, fruits, and greens
Only whole grains.
And I do eat dairy… yogurt and cheese, mainly.
Very little sugar.
I take a number of vitamins and nutritional supplements.

*I try not to eat a carb without a protein. For instance, if I eat a cracker, it’s always with cheese, peanut butter, or hummus.

If I skip that mid-afternoon snack, I still get shaky and mean.

I’ve eaten this way for more than 30 years. Sure wish I’d written a book about it in the 80’s and made as much money as the South Beach guy. I guess he thinks he made it up.

Oh well.

The point is, it turned out to be a ‘Backdoor Blessing’ that I got sick when I did and learned how to eat Reasonably Healthy for life. (Man, this sounds like an infomercial!) Only I’m not asking for your money.

I’m just sharing what has helped me. If it helps you, use it; if not, please forgive the waste of your time. I’m sure many of you eat far healthier than this.

Although it’s way too hot down South now for soup, I’ll still share that recipe non-recipe for friends enduring June Gloom in California. (High in the 60’s??)

Super Antioxidant Soup:

Large bag of frozen skinless chicken tenders
Large carton of reduced-fat chicken broth
½ sweet onion, chopped
½ cup raw lentils
2 large cans of diced tomatoes
bag of baby carrots
some sliced celery, if you like it

Frozen box or small bag of:
Sweet yellow corn
Baby lima beans or butter peas
Chopped spinach

Jane’s Crazy Mixed-Up Salt
Fresh ground pepper
Pinch garlic salt
Your imagination

Okay. Here’s the deal. I don’t exactly cook with recipes most of the time. I think that takes the creativity out of it. Of course, there are plenty of misses the free-lance way, but you always learn from your mistakes.

So, everything is just an estimate. Do what YOU like with it. Hate okra? Leave it out! Love parsnips? Throw them in! (Ugh.)

Start with a huge soup pot. If you’re going to make it, you might as well freeze some for a rainy day. Spray a little Pam in the bottom.

Dump the chicken in, and cover with broth. Add ½ sweet onion, chopped coarsely. Bring to a boil, then simmer until chicken is tender. (Often, I do this part the night before, then refrigerate, and finish making the soup the next day.

Skim yuck off the top if you want to. Break apart chicken with a fork. (It will continue to shred as it cooks more.)

Add bag of baby carrots, celery if you like, and lentils, which have been rinsed.
Cover, bring back to a boil, then simmer for around 20 minutes.

Add all other ingredients, more liquid (chicken broth, tomato juice, or water), and lots of seasoning. (We’re not afraid of salt in the South. A little won’t kill you unless you have serious hyper-tension.) Stir gently every so often and cook until all veggies are tender. It gets better with age, but you will need to continue adding more liquid. Look upon it as a soup concentrate.

This lasts for days, and then you can freeze the rest. It is virtually fat-free, protein-rich, fiber-rich, and filling. Serve it with a good chunk of whole-grain artisanal bread. (I get it "home-made" at Ralph’s in LA; Publix in GA.) If you need something more filling, do it with a yummy cheese melt. Dill havarti on whole grain, mmmmm.

They’ve proven that Grandma’s chicken soup is good for more than the soul, as chicken is a natural antibiotic. This version also cleans you out and fills you up with lots of other good vitamins and nutrients. It will bless your bones!

Our bodies, our minds, and our spirits are so interconnected, that when we bless one part, we bless the whole.

A votre santé!


Thanks to each of you who wrote and encouraged me to branch out more. I was so happy to meet some more readers! I wish I could write you all back individually.

There will be more like this in days ahead. I love the quote The Mom shared from Buechner: "All of life is sacramental."

If we could just see it so.




Laurel said...

I do the "no carb without a protein" thing, too. I'm inflicting it on my kids. Protein is a great blood sugar stabilizer and all of us get mean when our blood sugar tanks after an insulin spike.

The Pirate is already doing this on his own. He's made the correlation between eating a bunch of junk with nothing healthy to buffer his system and then feeling bad. He doesn't like to feel bad.

It's the only thing I'm neurotic about with regard to diet. But I hate the cold sweats, nausea, and shakes that come from all carbs, even complex ones.

Anonymous said...

I had the exact problem you had, and yep, started eating whenever I had a hint of hunger, way smaller portions that "normal" people and I do just fine. This soup sounds just perfect and thank you for it! Bon

Kim said...

Love the sound wisdom - I too learned from experience that I feel better eating 5 times daily - and always include protein in the snack.

The recipe looks delicious also...thanks for the reminder of how health and spirit go together. As a nurse, it does my heart good!


Anonymous said...

I love your "diet". Having been on several permutations of "dieting plans" over the years, your way of eating seems to combine several of the best aspects ... really just a healthy and sensible approach to eating/life!! And, it seems like it's what works best for me, too, when I stick to it. :) Thanks for the soup recipe - looks yummy. Jeri

Karen said...

Love the soup recipe! Sent a copy to my son in Charleston, SC. He'll add some hot something or the other just for spite.

Anonymous said...

Would you mind sharing some of the research? I REALLY need some books or any information that can help me get this under control! I have always had issues with my blood sugar, and I don't mean getting a little shaky!! I feel like it's controlling my life! I have been to the doctor and he did a glucose tolerance test and things looked ok. I feel like I need to go back and find out what's really going on. It may have seemed strange to you to post about your health issue, but I needed to hear it. Thanks!!! Lindsey

Kim said...

Hey Lindsey,

Could you send me your email address? I'll try to write you back soon.

Love, Kim

The Dean Family said...

Thanks Kim!! I just saw that you responded. I'm making the soup today and storing it up for lunch this week! My email is lindsdean@yahoo.com