Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Well DUH!!!

Exercise can reduce a person's genetic predisposition to obesity: http://news.yahoo.com/s/hsn/20100831/hl_hsn/activelifestylemayhelpcounterobesitygenes

Did they really have to do a study on this???

Fighting Fire with Fire

Now this is brilliant. The baby carrot industry has hired a marketing firm to make the packing of baby carrots more appealing to the junk food generation. Read about it here: http://thedailywh.at/post/1037840962/marketing-campaign-of-the-day-ad-agency-crispin

I hope it works. Kids are so seduced by packaging and advertising. While I may have some problems with the mass-produced, baby carrot industry, it's a step in the right direction to getting our kids to eat right.

Monday, August 30, 2010

You May Look Older, but McDonalds is Ageless

Above is pictured a McDonalds Happy Meal that is 137 days old. If you need yet another reason why you shouldn't eat fast food (or feed it to your family), here it is. Fast Food does not rot. It is inorganic, unnatural, and created to have a long shelf life.

If this is what a burger and fries looks like after 137 days, imagine how old the food they serve in chain restaurants must be.

Back in the Saddle

Well, I'm back from vacation. As usual, this week will be focused on getting back into my "good" eating routines, and breaking the "bad" eating patterns I developed on vacation.

I spent the last week on Long Beach Island--a strip of land off the coast of New Jersey, in a house with my entire extended family.

What were those "bad" eating patterns?? Well, I was on vacation, so I indulged too often in restaurant meals, including breakfasts out, and dessert and sweets were involved as well, including lots of cake.

Long Beach Island is the home of the Holiday Snack Bar which makes, hands down, my all time favorite cakes. On Tuesday the family ordered in my all time favorite Holiday cake--yellow cake with marshmallow frosting to celebrate my nephew's birthday. I have to report I had two slices.

Then, on Thursday my sister and cousin brought back my cake sliced from the Holiday including chocolate cake with marshmallow frosting, and Lady Lord Baltimore cake.

All I can say is thank god the Holiday is on a small little barrier island 3 1/2 hours from my house, and only open for 2 1/2 months a year. Otherwise I'd be as big as a house.

The other bad eating habits I sunk into, just had to do with the sheer quantity of food in the house, including a bunch of "bad" foods I just don't keep in mine.

So, while I sunk into some "bad" habits last week, at least I can console myself in that they're easy to break. Eating out is expensive, the Holiday is now too far away, and I just don't buy or keep crap food in my house.

The good news is, of course, I did a ton of exercise last week. Long walks on the beach, bike riding and yoga. I also practiced Tai Chi every day along with my new physical therapy exercises for my shoulder.

It's nice to be back home.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Now this Pisses Me Off

I'm sorry, but telling me to just avoid runny eggs is not acceptable: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/08/23/egg-recall-fda-runny-egg-yolks_n_691511.html?ir=Living.

Dear FDA, I happen to like my eggs over easy, and mopping up runny yolks with my toast is for me the whole raison d'etre to be eating them in the first place. That our government is simply telling us to stop eating a traditional form of eggs because they do not want to confront the industrial food industry is just disgusting.

When paying fines simply becomes a cost of doing business, I think we have to rethink our strategy for keeping the food supply safe.

My personal strategy is to just avoid agribusiness food as much as I can. While there is of course no guarantee that eating food produced at small farms will not be free from disease, it's a lot less likely that a small farmer will raise his animals or produce crops in conditions that are more likely to produce the pathogens that will make us sick.

I also want to apologize for not writing for several days. I'm on vacation at the beach, and have been taking a bit of a break from the Internet for the last few days.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Cheap Food Can Make You Sick

I think the lesson to be learned from the latest food recall fiasco is that cheap food can make you sick. In the last few years we've had a series of food scares, and the egg recall is just the latest (see: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ygreen/20100819/sc_ygreen/massiveeggrecallhowtocheckyourcartonforrecalledeggs).

But, even before this debacle, I pretty much gave up on commercially produced eggs. When the Salmonella issue first reared it's head over a decade ago, I was completely shocked and mortified that instead of tightening food safety regulations, our government essentially put the onus on consumers. Instead of taking care of the problem, our FDA tells us to cook our eggs thoroughly or switch to pasteurized eggs.

Say what???? What if you happen to like nice runny yolks, or a Caesar salad made with a real raw egg, or fresh home-made mayonnaise?

So, rather than just give in to this government nonsense and corporate greed, I found local farmers who raised eggs from chickens who actually run around farm-yards, and are not stacked high in cages to molder in their own poop. My current favorite source of eggs is a girlfriend who went into the egg business. She raises the chickens in her yard and every Friday she drops off a dozen eggs to my house for $4.

Yes, naturally produced eggs cost more. Whereas a dozen commercially produced eggs cost just under $3 around here, I'm paying anywhere from $4 to $6 for a dozen of these local, humanely produced eggs.

But, by paying a few cents more per egg, if I make soft-boiled or poached eggs I don't have to worry about making myself, or my children sick.

Cheap food is mass produced food, and since our government is now more interested in corporate welfare than our welfare, cheap food can make you sick.

That is not to say you can't get Salmonella poisoning from a non-mass produced eggs. It's just that it's a hell of a lot less likely that a naturally raised egg will make you sick.

So, I'll take my chances with the eggs I buy from chickens that have actually run around a farm-yard eating grubs. Besides, they taste better as well.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


Years ago I saw the Chinese Wuxia film "Hero," and loved it. Anytime it's on TV, I watch it again and again.

While the film was criticized for its undeniable Maoist-leaning undertones, I thought it was visually stunning. The use of different colors to illustrate the differing versions of the stories being told was fascinating, and vastness of the scenery mirrored the vastness of the country.

But, what intrigued me most about this movie was the martial arts sequences. The swordplay was so unusual, and completely unlike Western sword-play. The sweeping of the swords was accompanied by graceful wrist motions, and fluid bending of the legs.

Two weeks ago, after nearly a year of studying, I completed learning the entire Yang-style long form in my Tai Chi class. Tai Chi is, of course, a Chinese martial art, and while it's generally associated with the solo forms done in parks by senior citizens across the country, it actually is much more involved.

Having completed my solo Yang form, my Tai Chi instructor informed me that I was now ready to move to the sword forms, and directed me to purchase a sword. My first Tai Chi practice sword arrived in the mail yesterday, and I'm headed off to class today to learn my first sword form.

I'm so excited.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

That Magic Moment

My in-laws offered to take my daughter for the week at their beautiful home right on the beach at the Jersey shore. Since my son is away at sleep away camp until Saturday, my husband and I naturally jumped at the chance to get some alone time.

So yesterday morning, I packed up the car and my daughter and drove the 4 hours from Connecticut to Long Beach Island, NJ. Since it was such a long trip, I stayed the night, and came home this morning.

Now, I have to tell you, I'm not much of a beach person. In fact, I absolutely loathe actually going in the ocean, and I really don't understand the point of sitting on the beach on a hot day in the hot sand.

I also don't like sitting in the sun, and have pretty much never gotten a tan in my life (which now that I'm almost 50 is turning out to be a real good thing. I still don't have crow's feet.)

Furthermore, I detest honkey-tonk. I don't like board-walks with rides, miniature golf, arcades, food stalls etc. I'm more of an undeveloped natural beauty kind of gal, and if any of you know anything about the Jersey shore, it's wall to wall, over-developed honky-tonk.

But, my in-laws have this spectacular beach house, and given that I'm Italian girl from NJ, my family insists on renting a big house every year together at the Jersey shore every year for extended family "bonding time."

So there you have a paradox. A girl who hates the beach, who none-the-less spends at least two weeks every year at the Jersey shore.

So, I always try to make the best of the time. I've learned to really love long, solo walks on the beach early in the morning. I watch the sun rise over the ocean, and enjoy the silence of the empty beaches. I also use the time to look for and collect sea glass, which I bring home and display in my master bath.

This morning I walked for over an hour on the beach. I headed out around 6:15 and just wandered down the beach, watching the sandpipers madly dash into the waves as they pulled out, then dash back up the beach as the waves lapped back up on the beach. It was low tide, and I found the most beautiful piece of blue sea glass, that will be displayed on the top of my hoard at home.

As always, I found my early morning walk magical. A calming, somewhat unearthly experience, that somehow makes the whole shlep to the beach worth-while for me.

But it was last night that I had a truly magical moment. Dinner was over and cleaned up and my in-laws had settled in to their reading, while my daughter was busy watching TV.

I wandered on out to my in-laws' deck overlooking the ocean, and listened to the ocean's waves crash onto the shore below the house. The moon was out, and the most beautiful breeze swept off the ocean.

It then occurred to me to practice Tai Chi. So, I closed my eyes and did my entire Yang long form in the moon-light to the sound of the waves crashing.

It was an experience unlike any I've had before. It was so restful, despite it taking over 20 minutes for me to get through the entire form, that when I completed it, I actually ran through it again.

I now have a new beach activity to look forward to doing at the Jersey shore. Tai Chi in the moonlight to the sound of the ocean. Good thing my family rents a beachfront house every year!!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Some Good News on the GMO Front

I don't know how long this will stand, but a judge ruled that farmers can't plant any more genetically modified sugar beets: http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/43434/20100815/ban-of-monsanto-gmo-seed-affects-half-of-us-sugar-supply.htm.

Unfortunately, I don't have the time right now to go into all the reasons why you should avoid GMO food and products made with GMO foods, but if you have the time, I suggest you do some research.

The approval of the planting of GMO sugar beets several years ago, lead me to change my sugar buying habits. I now look for organic products that promise no GMO sourced sugar. It is indeed frightening, that something like half our sugar supply in this country now comes from genetically modified beets. And, the reason for the genetic modification is so that farmers can soak their sugar beet fields in Round-Up (a herbicide). The field gets doused in Round-Up and the weeds die, while the Frankenbeets live.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Dr., Dr., Give me the News . . . .

I'm off to the doctor this afternoon.

Last October, I somehow managed to injure my shoulder in a way that set me way back in my yoga practice. I had to back off any postures, sun salutations or asanas that put any pressure on my shoulder.

My shoulder also caused me problems when I pumped my arms during my power walk, when I lifted anything heavy, and even prolonged typing led to pain.

After months and months of babying my shoulder. taking lots of Ibuprofen, not doing a big chunk of my normal yoga practice, and using lots of ice and heat, I finally got to the point of no shoulder pain, and resumed my normal routine.

Then, a few weeks ago, my shoulder reared its angry head again.

Needless to say, I'm frustrated. I don't want my shoulder holding me back from doing a full back-bend anymore or any other activity I normally engage in.

I thought I could avoid the whole doctor run around by just letting my shoulder heal over time. But, now I'm realizing that I have to get some medical help if I ever want to get this thing healed and get on with my life.

So this afternoon, I'm seeing my GP. No doubt she'll send me to another specialist, who'll order X-rays then send me to another specialist, etc., etc., etc.

A friend also gave me numbers for her chiropractor and acupuncturist. I've never been to either of these types of alternative medical specialists, but at this point I'll try anything.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Physics of Weight Loss

An interesting read: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-katz-md/understanding-the-physics_b_658076.html..

This was particularly interesting:

While it is true for all of us that weight control is overwhelmingly, if not entirely, about calories in versus calories out, it is equally true that the number of calories required for weight loss, weight maintenance and weight gain vary drastically among us. And we even know why, for the most part.

There are, once we are done growing up, three ways we burn calories: physical activity, the generation of heat and just existing. There are technical terms for the second and third: thermogenesis, and resting energy expenditure (sometimes referred to as basal metabolic rate). What should be noteworthy right away is that you are not in charge of two out of the three!

You can choose how much exercise to do. But you don't get to choose how thermogenic you tend to be, and that can matter quite a lot. Like exercise, thermogenesis accounts for roughly 15 percent of total energy expenditure on average, but there is lots of variation on the theme of average. People who generate more heat from calories have fewer available with which to make fat. They tend to be people who can eat a bit more, and stay thin anyway.

But that's a drop in the bucket compared to resting energy expenditure. Roughly 65 percent of calories are burned to support the fundamental workings of cells and organs that keep us alive. The number of calories burned at rest, and the actual percentage of total calories burned this way, also vary substantially around the average. People with a high resting energy expenditure are, in our modern world of epidemic obesity, the fortunate few most people love to hate: the folks who cannot seem to get enough to eat, and can't put weight on when they try.

If you don't control your thermogenic tendencies, nor your resting energy expenditure -- who does? The idiosyncrasies of the genetic hand you were dealt, which are not necessarily idiosyncratic at all.

Take the case of the Pima Indians, for instance.

When the Pimas live a traditional lifestyle and eat traditional Pima foods -- mesquite and tepary beans, for example -- they have unremarkable health. When they live and eat like everyone else in America, they develop almost universal, severe obesity and diabetes. For a time, the Pimas had the highest rates of obesity and diabetes on the planet, and they are still, alas, contenders for those laurels.

The dire plight of the Pimas resulted in intensive study of them, and it led to both revelations, and the obvious. The Pimas have, uniformly, a very low resting energy expenditure. They are, in other words, highly fuel efficient -- even for a fuel efficient species -- and it makes perfect sense. The Pimas lived for generations in a harsh desert climate where food was unusually scarce, and physical activity demands unusually high. Pimas who were not highly fuel efficient simply didn't survive long enough to pass on their disadvantage to any future generation of Pimas. (People who don't live to make babies make very poor ancestors.)

Presumably, the variations in metabolic efficiency to which we are all subject can also be traced to variations in the experiences of our ancestors. But for most of us, the magnitude of genetic mixing that has gone on makes those pathways impossible to follow.

Sigh, if only I had better genes!!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Why We Need Calorie Counts on Menus

I've been eagerly awaiting the new law to go into effect that requires chain restaurants to post calorie counts on their menu items.

In fact, I'd like to see the law expanded. I would love it if movie theatres posted how many calories were in the pop-corn, nachos and other "goodies" they served.

I'd like to see this information for a couple of reasons. First, I really want to know how many calories are in something before I order it. Second, I'm hoping that once restaurants, etc. have to start posting calorie counts, they may actually put some authentic low calorie options on their menus for those of us trying to lose or maintain weight loss.

What gets me upset, in particular, is the "bait and switch" chain restaurants pull when it comes to "salads." The whole purpose of ordering "salad" is generally to watch one's weight. I mean, am I wrong here?????? Do people order them for any other reason????

So why then, do I have to read something like this article (http://health.yahoo.net/experts/eatthis/6-salads-worse-whopper) that basically tells me that you're often better off eating a Whopper, rather than a salad at a chain restaurant???

I'm sorry, but a "salad" should not contain 1,485 calories. Since I can only eat 1,600 calories a day to maintain my weight, I shouldn't have to worry about blowing most of my daily allotment on a salad.

And, I shouldn't have to guess at what the calorie count is going to be prior to ordering. It's already the law in New York City to post calorie counts, and I've really appreciated it when I've eaten in those restaurants. What's particularly interesting is that there are now always a few options that have acceptable calorie counts.

So the law obviously works.

Monday, August 9, 2010

I Did It!!

I feeling very proud of myself.
On Saturday, I hiked all the way to the summit of Mount Washington--the highest peak in the Northeast. It took 5 1/2 hours, and although we planned on taking the easiest trail up, we got lost and wound up taking the hardest trail up Tuckerman's ravine--one of the most difficult parts of the hike to begin with.

I hiked with my sister, and that's us at the summit. I have to admit that when we were 4 hours into the hike, we began to question how sane we were to attempt this, but once we accomplished our goal, the adrenalin rush set in. We now want to hike the mountain again.

Just so you can get an idea of what the hike involved, this is Tuckerman's Ravine. We climbed all away from the base of the mountain, to the ravine, scaled the ravine to it's upper ridge, then climbed another couple of miles to the summit.

This is an example of some of the terrain we hiked. My sister and I climbed straight this wall to the top of the falls.

Climbing Mount Washington is probably the most physically challenging thing I've done in over twenty years (unless you count childbirth). It was hell doing it, but exhilarating to accomplish it. Completing the climb made me realize that I want to do more adventures like this one.

We had a wonderful time off the mountain as well. We stayed in a lodge maintained by the Appalachian Mountain Club. The Joe Dodge Lodge in Pinkham Notch provided Spartan accommodations, but they were clean, cheap, and a hearty breakfast and Dinner were included.

My sister and I befriended a young couple that are hiking the entire Appalachian trail from end to end for their honeymoon. They said it will take them over six months to accomplish the task, and involves hiking ten or more miles a day. They started in Maine in June, and were just over a month and a half into their adventure.

The biggest problem they said in accomplishing their goal, was eating enough food!!! The wife, who was 28, dropped 3 sizes so far on her trek. I can attest to the fact that they both ate huge quantities of food, but they were burning so many calories hiking every day, that both were losing weight fast.

So, if you really want to drop weight fast and eat everything you want, here's the solution--hike the Appalachian Trail from end to end.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Climb Every Mountain

I'm heading to New Hampshire tomorrow to climb Mount Washington on Saturday.

Believe it or not, it's a girls' week-end, get-a-way. My big sister and I are leaving our men and children behind to get away from it all and indulge in a physical challenge.

For those of you who aren't familiar with Mount Washington, it's the highest peak in the North-East, with the summit topping out at over 6,288 feet.

Climbing to the summit of Mount Washington is something I've actually wanted to do for over 20 years, but was never able to get to.

I did climb part-way up the mountain back in the 1980's to ski Tuckerman's Ravine.

Skiing Tuckerman's Ravine is sort of a rite of passage if you're a ski jock living in the Northeast (which I was back in the day). It's definitely an adventure and that you would only do when you're a crazy kid with no responsibilities.

Skiing Tuckerman's Ravine involved hiking part-way up the mountain with both my ski boots and skis strapped to my back, then, once I reached the edge of the ravine, changing into my ski boots and finishing the climb up a sheer wall of snow (it took a couple of hours to do that). At that point, I strapped on my skis and skied down the same incredibly steep trail I just climbed up.

In the course of this adventure, I had to be on the look-out for avalanches and if I fell and got hurt, there was basically no way to get help.

If you want to learn more about skiing Tuckerman's Ravine, you can read about it here: http://www.outdoors.org/recreation/tuckerman/tuckerman-safety.cfm

Skiing Tuckeman's Ravine is definitely something I'm glad I'm did when I was 20, because there is no way in hell I'd ever do it now that I'm a sane adult with responsibilities.

Just imagine spending hours climbing in snow and ice and being exhausted, then having to navigate your way down an ungroomed trail with a 55 degree pitch. I could barely walk for days afterwards, and suffered the one of the worst sunburns of my life on my face even though it was April when I embarked on this endeavor.

I won't be doing anything nearly as extreme this time, and my sister and I are planning on taking the "easiest" trail to the top---which, unbelievably, IS the Tuckerman's Ravine trail. This time, however, I won't be climbing up the ravine itself in my ski boots with my skis strapped to my back. I'll just following a nice, well-marked trail to the summit in my hiking boots. I'll probably still be incredibly sore and tired by the end of the day, but that's the point of a physical challenge.

But the easiest trail to the summit is still going to be quite a work-out and it will probably take most of the day to reach the top of the mountain. Once there we're planning on taking the easy way down as well.

And, after that, who knows? Maybe I can find another mountain to climb. I hear Kilimanjaro is quite the trip.

Snacks--Keeping it Real

Bitchcakes has a really good piece on snacking which you can read here: http://msbitchcakes.blogspot.com/2010/08/weekly-meeting-topic-snacks.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+blogspot%2FSkbT+%28*Bitch+Cakes*%29

I think the most valuable piece of advice Bitchcakes gives is to stay away from pseudo-food snacks.

That's advice I've given as well. If you're going to snack make sure it's REAL food and not processed fake foods. In fact, I generally think it's a good idea to stay away from fake food all the time, not just for snacks.

And, don't be fooled by so-called "healthy" processed snacks.

Yes, going for an organic, all natural processed snack is probably better for you then binging on something from Kraft or Nabisco, but the reality is that those processed organic treats are nothing more then a better class of fake foods. Stick to the real stuff.

That's my rule for myself. I have to admit to being a bit of an all day ruminator. I basically snack all day. Meals for me are really nothing more then slightly larger snacks.

Knowing that I like to snack all day, I keep a lot of "healthy" snacks around to make sure I don't fall off the weight management wagon.

Because I like to eat all day, most of my snacks have to be able to be taken in small amounts.

Grapes are probably one of my favorites. Whenever I need a break from work, and am feeling a bit peckish, a few grapes perk me up instantly.

Cherries, when they're in season, are also fabulous, and having to spit out the pits really slows down the eating.

Like Bitchcakes I also keep pre-peeled baby carrots and almonds on hand for snacks, although I tend to be careful with over-snacking on almonds since they are calorically dense.

Dried apricots are fantastic when you're really craving something sweet, but you also have to watch how much of these you eat.

I also love to make my own trail mixes. I buy raisins and other dried fruits, and raw sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, almonds and other nuts and mix my own. Trail mixes tend to also be calorically dense, so I'm careful with these as well, but I've found trail mixes to be a great substitute when I really crave something crunchy and sweet like a cookie.

So I say, if you're like me, don't deny your inner snack lover. Just make sure your snacks are real.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Forty Hours Down, 160 to Go

Last week I started my yoga teacher training. At the end of this course (which will take six months), I can apply to the Yoga Alliance (http://www.yogaalliance.org/index.html) to be a yoga instructor certified at the 200 hour level.

That means, that I have to complete at least 200 hours of coursework in Sanskrit, Asana, pranayama, meditation, Philosophy and Anatomy from now until the beginning of next year.

Last week was our week-long intensive--eight days of at least 5 hours a day of training. On top of that, we were required to practice yoga every day, adding another 30to 90 minutes to my yogic day. Over the coming months I have to devote at least one full weekend to coursework, and engage in many hours of observation, practice and student teaching.

It is indeed a wonderful experience to immerse one-self so deeply in an area one feels passionately about, and I feel fortunate that I was able to do so. I've taken week-end long workshops in the past, but this was the first time I essentially devoted an entire week to nothing but studying yoga.

After six years of studying yoga, I've barely scratched the surface of what one can learn. After devoting a solid 40 hours of studying last week to yoga, I realized that I can spend an entire lifetime doing nothing but studying yoga, and still have more to learn. But that's OK. I don't need to learn everything.

Much of the week was devoted to studying Asanas--the physical aspect of yoga. We went over in detail what each Asana (posture) was supposed to look like, what muscles and organs each Asana worked on, and how to teach them. We primarily focused on the Asanas which make up the sun saluations, but we went through the entire Ashtanga closing sequence Asanas as well.

Another large piece of our time was spent studying anatomy, particularly the brain and the endocrine system.

A Sanskrit expert then instructed us on some of the basics of this ancient, sacred language. Did you know that Sanskrit actually has 46 letters? It has many vocalizations not found in English, and many of the vocalizations we have in English (such as our T), are not used in Sanskrit. We spent hours just learning how to vocalize many of these new letters, including where to place our tongues in order to do so.

Pranayama, or breathing, has always played a minor role in my practice, as has meditation, because I just never had the time to delve into either all that deeply (or any real desire to do so either). This week I learned and practiced more about both of these yogic disciplines, and now intend to practice both faithfully.

I have to say, that after a long day of practicing yoga, and then learning to teach it, when our instructor announced it was time to practice meditation towards the end of each day, I was extremely happy. I particularly liked the guided meditations lying down.

This was also a week in which I learned a few things about myself. First, sitting on the floor for long periods of time is extremely difficult for me. I still don't have the core strength, and flexibility in my hamstrings to sit on the floor in any position for longer than a couple of hours. I found myself having to sit back against the wall in order to get through the day.

Second, I don't hate meditation. I've pretty much avoided meditation in the past because I found it hard to sit still and clear my mind. After spending several hours both learning how to meditate, and meditation, I've found that it actually doesn't suck.

Third, it may actually be possible for me to learn the names of all the asanas in Sanskrit. Up until last week, I recall the names approximately 99% of the asanas. Over the course of the week, I finally could identify an addition 10-15% of Sanskrit names.

Fourth, teaching yoga is a lot harder then it first appears, and it will take me years, even after a 200 hour course of study, to really do it justice.

Bare with Me

I'm sorry for the silence, but my eight days yoga teacher intensive training just soaked up all my time. I'm now playing catch up. I promise a long post on my training soon.