Diets, labels, and a local life.

This picture of our youngest urban-gardening group member was too cute not to put at the top of the post (this was taken at the wok-out, below). And remember when we were this good at listening to our real cravings, for food and for putting our hands in water and mud and everything else that looked interesting?

Some great conversations with my yoga teacher, a nutritionist, and other good friends and advisors lately — along with traveling, walking, and experiencing a bad blood-sugar crash in foreign places — have set me one stage deeper on a path of reinvention from the inside out:  in addition to biking a lot during this fall’s sabbatical (at least 60 miles a week) and taking yoga twice a week, I’m cutting caffeine and sugar out or way down and watching carbohydrates more carefully than I ever have.  My teacher has recommended this book. Weight loss is a goal, sure, but even more than that I’m going for an overall sense of leveling-out, stability, leanness and enoughness, consistent through the day, rather than overstuffedness or bloatedness.  I’ve phased out artificiality in hair a while back.  Next up for the chop is an idea of “beauty” based on deprivation, starving, or thinness rather than leanness – based on unhealth and worry about how others see you rather than on how you feel, what your body tells you it really needs when you learn, at last, how to listen.

The nutritionist tells me that for basic health and brain function you need about 130 grams of carbs a day, but those should be spread out evenly throughout the day (about 45g per meal), mixed with protein, and chosen carefully.  How carefully? Well, let’s just say I haven’t had bread since July (which, for me, is huge – and I haven’t really missed it.)  And — as self-evident as it seems — I am actually reading labels carefully, for more than just the calorie count on the first line, and being amazed at what I have found. Even if I do feel a little like Sergeant Renault in “Casablanca,” declaring disengenuously that I am “shocked — shocked!”  How many of us have been doing this, though – struggling along with exercise, wondering why we don’t lose weight although we’re “eating right,” only to find we have just not been considering a few basic facts?

As the nutritionist confirmed, I am eating all the right things, all organic and healthy and cooked-and/or-grown-by-me – just in the wrong proportions. Let’s start with one of my favorite breakfasts, blueberry granola from the bulk bin at our lovely co-op, with a dollop of plain or lowfat vanilla yogurt on top.  I have been eating this for a year or so now and never read the label on the bin till this week.  How many carbs per serving does that granola have? 35.  What’s the serving size? 3/4 cup.  So if you are doing what I was doing – eating about a cupful of this granola, with yogurt on top, you are eating basically a 70-carb breakfast.  In one meal.  And — if you include no proteins with that — you are setting yourself up for the midmorning or midafternoon crash you may, like me, have begun to accept as somewhat inevitable.

My beloved morning glass of orange juice — “Simply Orange,” aka “Liquid Crack” — I loved it so! — is gone as well, and for the same reasons – it’s a massive dose of fruit sugars that only makes the fall steeper, when it comes.  I never thought I would say this, but I’m getting off coffee, too, to see how it goes, and replacing it with one cup of tea.  Already I’ve been noticing an overall evenness of mood and energy, no more “bonking” episodes on the bike, no more frantic midafternoon rummages for something to stop the headaches.  I eat three regularly timed, balanced, and properly sized meals of protein, vegetables, and carbs a day, I don’t let four or five hours go by without eating anymore, I have a little fruit or cheese for a snack, I drink a lot of water, and I feel great. My clothes feel looser.  My sleep is rich and long.  And deep dreams have come back again.

Or let’s take another favorite treat (particularly in the summertime) — gin and tonics. “If it’s clear and fizzy, it must be OK,” encourages one’s superstitious brain. But reading the label on a bottle of tonic water — for the first time in my life; who ever thinks to read THAT label? — reveals that tonic water has 24 carbs per 8 oz serving (which is a small g&t, not a big one.).  Tonic water!!! Beloved additive to splash of gin and lime, sipped in one’s wooden yard chairs on a summer evening!! Has as many carbs as a hunk of bread!!! I was honestly floored by this one.  The Internet (of course) reveals that since tonic water has quinine, which I knew, sweeteners are added to mask its bitterness, which I didn’t know, since I’d never been able to taste them.  Hence, carbs, since those sweeteners are almost always that old culprit, high-fructose corn syrup.  Hmph. (But will I cut out gin and tonics? Um, no. As some old blues song might say: down, but not out.)

There are other bad habits, too, I’m still struggling to break – eating more slowly, and paying attention to what I am eating rather than reading during dinner, being two closely connected ones. But having wrestled with “diets” before, I’m discovering that this one really is based on common sense, and on joy.  And it goes right in line with the life I want to live: grow it, cook it, make it, eat it, shy away from it if it comes in plastic petroleum packages, and know what is actually in the fuel you feed your one precious body.  Don’t use sugar or caffeine to jack yourself up into a state of artificial “energy” that is not sustainable and — so many times! — is based on doing or worrying about the plans and priorities of other people, which fall apart when you look at what they really lead to and are really about.  Don’t play that bullshit “Tired and Busy is Noble and Self-Important” game.  Pay attention to how you actually feel.  Let yourself be tired.  Let yourself be upset and go for a walk after dinner instead of medicating with food.  Let yourself.  Just let yourself be.

How simple can it be? This simple.  Last Sunday night our urban-gardening group gathered for a “wok-out,” bringing a multi-variety bounty of squash, kale, onions, carrots, peppers, collard greens, broccoli, cabbage, okra, and herbs from our own gardens to toss into a manhole-cover-sized wok sizzling over a charcoal grill.  Tofu went in first, to sear and cook in our chosen mix of seasonings, which I love for my own stir-frys (judicious dashes of soy sauce, rice vinegar, and sesame oil) , then vegetables on top, stirred and cooked with more of the same.  With a little brown rice underneath, and salads made of other fresh vegetables and quinoa pasta on offer, this made a delicious, full-flavored, satisfying dinner that fed about fifteen people, all gathered comfortably around the table to share what we made and talk about what we’re growing next.  Outside the window, the garden from which many of those vegetables had come breathed quietly in a soft rain.  The pleasure of making and sharing our own food was deep, and nearly inexpressible, and quiet.  Just people in community, feeding the earth in our own little plots of ground, and being fed by what it gives back.

Sounds like a diet everyone can live with.

The wok – multiple different kinds of many different vegetables.
A view of our hosts Sara and Steve’s lovely front-yard garden.
Steve and I season, flip, and turn – the bottle is rice vinegar. Steve says he bought the wok (of which all of us were envious – what a GREAT entertaining idea! set it over a charcoal grill, outside, and go to it!) at the equipment sale of a church camp where he worked.