I haven't seen this yet. I am eagerly awaiting its arrival.
There was a post somewhere, I think Leigh's blog again, where somebody sent in their own bikini photos along with pictures of Jessica Biel and Evangeline Lilly from LOST and said, "I want to look like them. What do I do? How much more do I need to lose?" And the surprising answer was that she was already leaner and more muscular than either one of them. She just couldn't see it. So, dieting more and training harder isn't always the answer. Female celebrities are tiny, no doubt, but they tend to carry less muscle and more fat than your average gym rat. So trying to bodybuild or crossfit your way to that physique doesn't necessarily produce the desired results.
I've only recently, like in the last year, acknowledged that bigger and leaner isn't always better. I admire bodybuilders and fitness competitors and I know the dedication involved. It's a beautiful thing if it's what you want, but it's an exercise in futility if your "ideal" is actually smaller and softer. I'm grateful to people like Valerie Waters and Leigh Peele for explaining the size/leanness thing in a way that my frazzled and obsessive brain could finally grasp.
I think I fall somewhere in the middle. I can't stick to the light weights and stretchy bands that celebrities like. I want to be functionally strong and able to do pull-ups and whatnot, but I'm not big on weight machines and heavy deadlifts anymore. I've found a nice groove with the TRX, Pilates, kettlebell, body weight stuff. It's very challenging, but the challenge doesn't come from always going heavier and heavier on the weights. And on the nutrition front, I see that it's not all about chicken and broccoli and six meals per day. If you want a bodybuilding/fitness look maybe it's still about that, but if you want to be a regular person who has nice tank top arms and can wear a bikini to the pool, you don't have to be quite such a spazzy freak about it. It's ok to just be happy.
So, last night in the comments, RG said, "Renee, please just take your calipers out and tell us your body fat. It doesn't take more than 5 minutes. I'm betting it's up to 19%"
To which I wrote a fabulous response about how I'm happy with the way I look and the numbers just don't matter anymore, blah, blah, blah...
Faithful readers probably know exactly what happened next. I woke up this morning and went running for the calipers like a lab rat crossing an electric floor for a Froot Loop. :-D
For the five people who care, the average of three 3-site caliper tests was 18.2%, the Tanita scale (fully hydrated on "athlete" mode) says 20.5%, and the mOron hand held (fully hydrated, doesn't have an "athlete" mode) says 22.8%. Since my vague notion of a goal was 18-22%, I would say I'm right in there somewhere.
Interesting tidbit, I once had Leigh Peele and her amazing body fat analyzing eyeballs give me her best guess on my percentage of body fat in various photos that I had a caliper reading to go with. In every case, my self-inflicted caliper readings were about 1-3% lower than her expert guess, which was a relief because it means my readings are at least consistent and close, maybe a little optimistic but not like completely delusional.
So, RG, your 19% guess is probably right on. It's funny how my ideal floats. Lately it's sort of a girly-but-fit look, definitely smaller, lighter, and less ripped in terms of veins, striations and muscle size. Speaking of which, did you guys see the post/comments on Leigh's blog about Bulky Muscles and Female Training? Those survey results blew my mind. Jessica Biel and Hillary Swank are not what I would consider big scary muscle chicks! And I had to watch the video clip twice to figure out which group of women were the "amazons." They all looked the same to me.
I also went back and read a good rant by Josh Hillis about How Thin Is Too Thin. I seem to remember that the first time I read it two years ago, it made me madder than hell. Now, I can't recall exactly why I got so bent. These days, I tend to agree with his 18-23% range for everyday happiness. I also agree that most women can't see it. If they're 18%, they want to be 17%, and if they're 17%, they want to be 15%, and if they're 15%, they still don't like their thighs.
I eat pizza and ice cream every Tuesday. It's a little ritual I've enjoyed for years. Previously, it involved a massive dose of dairy fat. I would have a thin crust cheese and tomato pizza and chase it with a Blue Bunny Champ cone or a single-serving container of Ben & Jerry's. This week, I was a little apprehensive about whether plant food could cut it as a special treat. I should not have worried one bit. This Amy's Roasted Vegetable pizza was eye-rolling delicious! It's mushroom, sweet onion and roasted red pepper in kind of a smoky roasted tomato sauce.
The crust was awesome. I cooked the pizza directly on the oven rack, making the crust crisp on the outside and warm bread yummy on the inside. If I'd eaten this in a blindfolded taste test, I don't think I would have noticed the missing cheese. It was just good. I'm going to buy more of these because I'm positive my non-health nut husband will love them.
I chased my pizza with some dark chocolate Coconut Bliss. It was also rich and delicious and did not disappoint. I learned that you're supposed to take it out of the freezer 5-10 minutes before serving, which makes sense because, even though it has a high fat content, it seems to freeze a little harder than dairy ice cream. Once it gets a bit melty, wow! It's really extra creamy and good.
So, this completes my first week with no animal products except for a handful of milk chocolate M&Ms. I've been adding more plant foods to the What I Eat page. Check out the Scooby snack. That pic cracks me up. I swear I'm going to grow up one day. :-)
I've been getting lots of questions.
Are you hungry? No. I'm not restricting my food intake in any way, so if I feel hungry I eat. I've been eating three or four times per day and feeling great.
Are you getting fat? Not yet. LOL According to that wacky Tanita scale, my weight is completely stable but my body fat percentage is dropping.
Are you bloated and puffy? Again, not yet. :-D The Tanita hydration readings are running about 3% higher than they do when I'm eating meat. A typical bodybuilding protein and vegetables day is probably a little dehydrating - the "lean out" phenomenon. By eating all plants, I'm fully hydrated and carrying a full glycogen stockpile. I'm enjoying the complete lack of water fluctuations. No false celebration when the scale drops 3 pounds after a low-carb meat and veggies day, no false drama when it bounces back up after pizza brunch.
Are you getting enough protein? I'm getting enough protein to look and feel good and train hard. I may not be getting enough protein to create big ripped bodybuilding arms, but I don't want those anymore so it's all cool.
What happened to being a no-rules happy eater? I am having a BLAST with this. There are no rules, I'm not counting anything, I'm not on a diet, I'm not hungry, and the moment it's not fun anymore, I'll be sure to head for the nearest steak house.
I thought you said soy was evil? I still think that loading up on soy phytoestrogens is a bad idea. I wouldn't eat soy every day or at every meal, but I don't see an occasional (like once or twice a week) veggie burger or serving of tofu as a plateful of poison. I did find frozen veggie burgers with no soy. Amy's California Burgers and Sunshine Burgers. I haven't tried either one yet, but they're on my grocery list. The Engine 2 Diet has a couple of veggie burger recipes using black beans or lentils as the base. As soon as I persuade someone to cook those for me, I'll let you know what I think.
What if The China Study is an evil plot written by a bad man with a hidden agenda? I don't care. The food's good. :-) My primary concern is my own lunch/fun/fitness. I remember when I was a new vegetarian how passionate I was, and how hard I tried to convince everyone that my way was right. And I remember when I was a born-again carnivore, how I did the same damn thing taking the opposite side! Now, I don't care if you're vegan or paleo or flexitarian or locavore (new word I learned). You can be an intuitive eater, a competitive bodybuilder, a Weight Watcher, a binge eater, or an obsessive dieter. I love you all and I'm so happy to hang out with you here in cyberspace. Big hug.
Here's Ripley in her Four Paws car harness. Sara asked if she rides well. Shockingly, she does. She spazzes about everything else, but she's happy to put on her safety harness and go for a ride. There's enough slack that she can stand, sit, or put her head out the window, but if I hit the brakes it locks her to the seat.
After elderly Samantha took a tumble off of the seat, and after Ripley tried to drive a couple of times, I decided it was best to buckle them in. The car harness keeps them secure and out of trouble and it keeps me from getting hit with a canine cannonball in an accident. I like this harness because it's heavily padded and easy to fasten. The seatbelt just slides through the back of it and clicks normally into the seat.
Does anybody else buckle up their dogs?
I'm a vegan this week. I was going along, minding my own business, eating my cheese and ice cream and burgers, and then WHAMMO! Nothing but monkey food!
I suspect some sort of mind meld caused by the confluence of these three things:
1) I saw this mouthwatering video of a vegan pot luck dinner at a firehouse.
2) I read two books: The Engine 2 Diet about vegan firefighters winning triathlons and dropping cholesterol levels 100+ points, and The China Study about turning off cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's and the other diseases of Western civilization by eating a plant-based diet.
3) Craig Ballantyne started eating a vegan diet and posting about it all the dang time in his blog.
It was like a perfect storm. I was captivated by images of banana tacos and compelled by the research studies. And by research studies, I'm not talking about something sponsored by a supplement company and involving eight rats or fifteen fat guys. The China Study was a monumental survey of disease and death rates for 880 million people. The project was so big, it involved 650,000 workers. The results were astounding. Read it if you want your mind blown. Don't read it if you like steak. And I mean do not read it if you like steak, because it will jack up your world, and you'll blame me somehow.
I haven't eaten cheese or ice cream in a week, which has to be some sort of record. I was a vegetarian for seven years, but I now realize that during that time my consumption of animal products probably went up - eggs, milk, cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese, ice cream, sour cream, cream cheese. I put cheese on flippin' everything, and I wasn't eating that many plants back then. My diet was totally cheese and pasta-based. No wonder I turned into a bloated balloon animal!
I don't know how to explain this turn of events. Good thing I'm used to everyone thinking I'm nuts. :-D I'm not a vegetarian. I'm not a vegan. I won't ever have a hissy if there's an egg in my corn bread or chicken stock in my vegetable soup. I may occasionally order a steak. However, in general, I think I'll avoid most animal products and eat mostly plants because that makes me happy. I'd been eating meat once or twice a week. Now maybe once a month? Once a year? Never? Tomorrow? I can't predict it so I'm just going to roll with it and see what happens.
And now we must address the most serious concern of going all-plants: what about the ice cream?! Never fear, I've found this stuff called Coconut Bliss that is non-dairy but nearly as rich, creamy and boggling as Ben & Jerry's. It's made with coconut milk so it's loaded with fat and it's extra tasty. I have Dark Chocolate and Naked Coconut on hand. I dropped a spoonful of Dark Chocolate on the kitchen floor last night and I picked it up and put it in my mouth before my OCD hypochondriac brain even processed what I was doing. It's that tasty.
So, you're probably wondering what I'm eating. Me too! Wouldn't you know I'd pull this nonsense right after updating my What I Eat page with all the meat photos? I'm still a happy carefree eater but if I keep up this plant kick I guess I'll gradually shuffle in new plant food photos and replace some of the meat photos.
Today I ate:
Banana Taco (It's a banana, peanut butter, and berries in a soft whole wheat tortilla - Craig Ballantyne's idea.)
Green smoothie made with spinach, pineapple and mango
Veggie Chik patty with spinach, tomato, onion and Dijon mustard on a whole wheat bun, pretzels, watermelon
Red pepper strips and baby carrots dipped in cucumber hummus (regular hummus tastes like dirt to me but cucumber hummus is right up there with Dean's French Onion Dip)
Bean burrito with a side of taco veggies, blue corn tortilla chips, a plum and a peanut butter cookie
Yesterday I ate:
Shredded wheat with blueberries and almond milk
Cashews and bing cherries
Veggie burger with lettuce, tomato, and onion; pretzels, grapes
Huge salad made with baby greens, carrots, tomato, and onion; rotini pasta, tomato sauce, Ezekiel garlic bread, Coconut Bliss
In the name of posting some text and moving the gross picture of the Luther burgers further down the page, here is a random question from my e-mails this week.
Q: I've tried so many different diets and I can't exercise due to ankle problems. I feel like I'm running out of options. Any advice on what I should do?
A: This is going to sound snarky, and I don't mean to sound snarky at all. I say this with nothing but humor and affection - what's wrong with the rest of your body? If you're talking one ankle (or two ankles) and the rest of your body is fine, you can still exercise. If weight-bearing cardio is out, you can bike or swim. If biking and swimming are out, you can lift weights. If you don't have weights, you can do bodyweight exercises. If mentally, you just can't stand the thought of setting foot in a gym, or sweating, or lifting things, you can do yoga or Pilates at home.
There's always a way to increase your activity just a little bit. It doesn't have to be major. It can be a part of your day- a few leg lifts while you're talking on the phone, some resistance band exercises while watching television, a stretch before bed. Moving even a teeny tiny bit makes you feel better about yourself, which leads to a more positive outlook, better food decisions, and eventual results. It's not a matter of, "I need to burn 500 calories or else I won't bother." You can always do something to improve your situation.
Diets don't work at all, so I don't recommend those. If you go "on" something, you're guaranteed to go "off" or it at some point. Your daily habits should be enjoyable and support your goals. Don't deny yourself anything. Include your some of your favorite foods and routines so you can look forward to your meals. Keep it flexible and fun. It's mainly a matter of learning balance and portion control. It's not a horrible proposition where you're going to starve and never eat carbs and never go to restaurants. I really liked the book Naturally Thin by Bethenny Frankel as a guide to knocking off the dieting and incorporating your favorite foods. Here are a couple of blog entries where I reviewed it: Naturally Thin and Naturally Thin for the Non-Elf.
Basically, what I'm saying is baby steps. You don't have to go on a diet, or take up a grueling exercise program. You just have to move in the direction of your dreams. If you dream of being lean, healthy, and happy, do things that make you feel that way. All of the struggle, uncertainty and pain comes from doing things that are at odds with what your heart wants. If you want to be fit, healthy, and balanced, pigging out on junk food (or not eating at all) is at odds with your vision and will make you feel horrible. If your ankles hurt, deciding to become a runner will create massive mental and physical conflict and make you feel horrible. Avoid things that make you feel horrible and do things that bring you joy.
Health and fitness is a state of mind more than anything else. Change your mind and you change your body. I have this quote stuck on my desk. "You speak your world into existence. What did you say to yourself today?"
I finished reading The End of Overeating: Taking Control of The Insatiable American Appetite by David Kessler (see part one below). We have set ourselves up to become ginormous! The layered and loaded food, the new social norms, and the constant cues from advertising condition people to eat and eat and eat.
That slop you're looking at over to the left is called a Luther Burger. It's a bacon cheeseburger served on a grilled glazed donut! It is the very definition of a "layered and loaded" meal. It's an example of the sugar on salt on fat on salt on sugar on fat combo that causes people's brains to short circuit. It doesn't have to be that blatant though. The same thing happens with a restaurant salad. Ever noticed how a restaurant salad is so much more "craveable" than anything you throw together in your own kitchen? That's because in a restaurant, the lettuce is merely a carrier for the salt, sugar and fat. It sounds virtuous to order a salad, but by the time you add the crispy chicken tenders, the cheese, the croutons, the dressing, the bacon crumbles, the bread basket, and the creamy butter, you're just as fattened up and blissed out as the person eating a Luther Burger. If you eat that 1500 calorie salad in good company, on a fun day, and make all kinds of positive associations with the experience, you'll want it again... and again, and again, and again. Chili's, Applebee's, TGI Friday's and The Cheesecake Factory are counting on it.
Not only has this layered and loaded "big food" become standard in the U.S., it's now socially acceptable to eat anytime and anyplace. For example, it's perfectly normal to have a giant spread of food in business meetings. Europeans think our bagel basket behavior is completely bizarro. Why on earth do people need to EAT in a business meeting? Here, food is expected and nobody questions it. The French paradox doesn't look so paradoxical when you realize that they are accustomed to eating meals, you know, where you sit down at a table with other people at a set time. Sure the food is rich and delicious, but if it's not mealtime, you don't eat. Americans eat all day - in cars, on planes, in classrooms, in offices, at our desks, and walking down the street. We eat alone. We eat at odd times. We eat an hour after we just ate. We eat when we're not hungry. We eat when we're cued - popcorn at the movies, ice cream after dinner, muffins in meetings. It's a trip! No wonder the obesity rate is skyrocketing!
Weight doesn't necessarily tell you who is prone to conditioned hypereating and who is not. Thin people can be just as addicted and obsessive. They can experience the same "brain fireworks" response to the sight and smell of certain foods, but they manage to compensate by ramping up activity or lowering overall calorie intake, even if they still exhibit some weird behaviors, or lose control periodically.
There is no easy solution to the problem. I was relieved that Kessler didn't push a restrictive diet as the way to handle it. He says that the only plan that will work is one built around your lifestyle and your personal likes and dislikes, that you can't sustain a change in behavior if it leaves you feeling hungry, unhappy, angry or resentful. He says that early on, you need to avoid being cued. If you always lose control in certain places or circumstances, you steer clear of those for awhile. Then you make your own rules. You control your portions using foods that satisfy you and that you can eat in moderation. Maybe an engineered fully-loaded fast food burger is a trigger for you, but one you make yourself on your George Foreman grill is fine. That way deprivation doesn't enter the picture, but neither does mindless loss of control.
He also talks about counterconditioning and perceptual shifts, taking what's seen as positive and desired and turning it into a negative. He uses the tobacco industry as an example. For years, smoking was socially acceptable, sexy and cool. People did it everywhere without thinking. Now it's seen as something repulsive and dangerous, and the industry is being forced to act more responsibly. He says the same kind of shift needs to occur with "big food." Right now, you have fast food commercials showing skinny, healthy people eating at bright, happy restaurants. They're not showing you the obesity, diabetes, cancer and coronary artery disease.
The End of Overeating gave me some great insight into how we're being manipulated, and also a lot more compassion for people who struggle. You can be an intelligent, confident, loving person with extensive nutrition knowledge and a sky-high self-esteem and still lose all control in the face of your trigger foods. Now I understand why.
I realize that I shouldn't write a book review until I finish the book, but I'm so excited about this one I can't wait! I'm on page 154 of The End of Overeating, Taking Control of The Insatiable American Appetite. OMG! Maybe Oprah doesn't have a self-love problem, maybe her brain has been rewired by the food industry!! Maybe she is a powerless against salt, sugar and fat because consuming them together actually alters neural pathways, triggering a powerful reward mechanism that reinforces consuming more and more and more.
I first heard of this book when somebody mentioned the awesome Washington Post article Crave Man (a must-read) in the comments section. David Kessler is a former FDA commissioner who took an interest in the soaring obesity rate and people's seeming inability to stop eating - even when they don't want to eat, even when their health is at risk, even when it makes them feel awful. Why is that? Is it really just a willpower thing or has their brain chemistry been altered by Monster Thickburgers and Double-Stuff Oreos?
I hate all of the animal studies mentioned in this book, but they're fascinating. Rats don't want their rat chow if eating it has made them sick on previous occasions, and they definitely don't want their rat chow if they have to cross an electric floor to get to it, or if they have to push a lever too many times in order for it to appear. Rats will run mazes, push levers, ride unicycles and fight cats to get to a Cheeto. There have been tests to determine how hard they're willing to work for various rewards. They won't do much for a regular healthy rat meal, but to obtain a salt/fat or sugar/fat combo, they will work their little rat feet off. They'll push a lever almost as many times for junk food as they will for cocaine.
David Kessler interviews food industry insiders about how they are deliberately manipulating our brains to want more food. They're working to create foods where there is no "point of diminishing return." The seventh, tenth or fifteenth bite is as good if not better than the first bite. There is no cue to stop. Even if some small part of your conscious mind doesn't want to finish the bag, your happy neurons are lighting up like a fireworks display and you're not stopping. You're the rat on the electric floor.
I have learned so many cool food industry terms from this book! Bliss point, eatertainment, premium treating, dynamic novelty, craveability and conditioned hypereating. That last one is the scariest of all. Conditioned hypereating. It's no accident that people are supersizing themselves. It's like the tobacco industry manipulating nicotine addiction. It's fascinating and freaky. I'll keep reading and let you know what he suggests we do about this.
On an unrelated note (or somewhat related note) lots of people asked for more details about the Lean Eating coaching program - what it is, what it costs, how it works. Here is a page with all of the details. Ok, back to my fat rat book! Stand by for a follow-up post. I have lots of questions and thoughts about this one. Remember I said that I quit eating Nacho Cheese Doritos because they have like five kinds of MSG in them? I switched to Tostitos because they only have three ingredients (corn, oil, salt). That lasted one week! At some point I decided I had to have the Doritos, that I didn't care if they killed me. There was just something about the flavor and the texture and the crunch... and now I realize that I am an electric rat!