Tag Archives: diet

Eat Less

So here we are, 4 weeks into 2017 and I’m not entirely convinced that “Simplify” has been a very successful guiding principle so far! I increased my hours at work as of Jan 2nd and ran into problems with clashes between my two jobs in the first fortnight, meaning a bit of juggling and swapping things around and a couple of rather unpleasant stretches involving too much work and not enough sleep. But I survived.

I thought I’d try, partly inspired by The Happiness Project and partly by the Slow Home Experiment, a sort of sub-theme each month. For January I chose “sugar free”. After the calorie and sugar laden excess of Christmas, it seemed like an obvious choice. Until it didn’t. I have outlined some of my dieting views before and have previously identified that “Eat Less” is really the simplest, most effective underlying principle to lose weight. (It’s often accompanied by “Move More” which has merit but is not essential.) However, despite myself, I summoned (again) for Jan 1 great excitement and enthusiasm, all fired up about “No sugar.” I’ve also written about “No Sugar” approaches before, and although I am skeptical about the science behind them, I remain convinced that minimizing sugar is a good thing, for lots of reasons which have very little to do with Sarah Wilson.

But “No sugar” is not a simple as “Eat Less”. No sugar? Any sugar? Added sugar? Fruit sugar? What about dried fruit? What about a little bit of sugar? Well what about a little bit more (you’ve done well this week)? Well then why not a lot more, you may as well, now that you’ve had some today, but tomorrow you’re going back to no sugar…

And ok no sugar, so does that mean fat and protein are ok? They became my default indulgences… I can’t eat sugar but I feel like something, so I’ll eat half a jar of almonds….. not going to lose much weight or promote normal eating behaviours that way!!

Suddenly I found myself in that crazy diet mentality that I’ve been in so many times before. Eliminate something completely and it’s effective up to a point but when you slip up you write off the whole day/week etc and vastly overcompensate for what you’ve sacrificed up to that point. I spent my entire teenhood and twenties going round in circles like this, how can I be here again?

So. “Eat Less”. My diet mantra. Simplified.

(“Eat more vegetables” would be diet rule number two. We’ll leave “Move More” for another day.)

That Sugar Film

In spite of (or perhaps because of) my skepticism about “I Quit Sugar” and the whole anti-sugar movement, I was curious to watch That Sugar Film.

All in all, I found it to be a well put-together documentary presented by seemingly sensible and fairly intelligent (albeit lay) people.

Damon Gameau, a clean-eating (thanks to his girlfriend) hipster-cum-hippy decides to start consuming the sugar intake of the average Australian (apparently 40 tsp, or 160g per day). He undertakes to consume this sugar in the form of “non-junk” food- no fizzy drink, lollies, chocolate or ice-cream. In order to consume all this sugar he does eat a lot of food which I personally wouldn’t consider “healthy”, but your average Joe Blow probably would (low fat flavoured yoghurt, processed cereal, iced tea, muesli bars etc).

His “expert” panel, which he consults regularly, consists of David Gillespie, a lawyer who wrote “Sweet Poison” (hmmmm, conflict of interest maybe?), a nutritionist (fair enough), a pathologist (not entirely sure of his relevance except to recount Damon’s blood test results- he fizzles out toward the end anyway, as David Gillespie evidently earns himself a science, possibly even a medical degree over the course of the two month experiment) and an actual doctor whose exact role I was unsure of, I think they were too. Gary Taubes (author of “Why we get fat” and somewhat fanatical “investigative journalist”), is introduced early on and is consulted more and more frequently as the film goes on. Not an endocrinologist or a biochemist in sight.

Basically, the film does a good job of telling us sugar is bad for us and that it’s everywhere. Correction: it’s in just about every processed food you might buy. It’s added to a lot of foods many people don’t think of as unhealthy. It contributes to weight gain and diabetes and really has nothing good about it.

The film touches on the fructose debate with the argument about our livers converting it straight to fat. Happily, it doesn’t victimise poor old fruit or suggest we shouldn’t be eating that.

The film leaves the calorie issue until late. Damon claims to eat 2300 calories per day on his “normal” (low sugar diet). He then says he’s eating “pretty much” the same number on his high-sugar diet, although it’s pretty hard to count them, “obviously”. I’m not sure why it’s so hard to count calories when he’s counting grams of sugar without any problem. The nutritionist at the end, though, says he’s eating the same number. I’m slightly dubious about this, given his claims of being “unable” to count calories but anyway.

The film strays into an “us vs them” vein at one point, which started to annoy me. Damon questioned a “physician scientist” (whatever that is) who was the first to really talk about calories. The scientist very sensibly pointed out that if you obtained too many of your calories from any one source, such as French fries or white bread, not just sugar, you’d probably feel dreadful as well. Damon then asked him (apropros of nothing) if he received any funding from Coca Cola and he said “yes, they fund my research”. I just found this deliberately and annoyingly provocative. If they wanted an “unbiased” view why did they ask a Coca Cola beneficiary for their opinion, only to then pretend to “expose” them (as if it was some kind of conspiracy). Moreover, maybe the film makers should look at their own “experts’” unmade disclosures, rather than asking/paying two non-scientists who’ve made a career out of writing “anti-sugar” books to give an un-biased opinion in a film about sugar. David Gillespie, the lawyer, even takes it upon himself at the end of the film to diagnose Damon with “well established fatty liver, well on your way to full-blown cirrhosis” on the basis of a slight rise in Damon’s liver function tests. I think that’s a big call in the absence of an ultrasound- oh, and a doctor!!!

So it sort of ends with a “sugar is poison” feel to it. Earlier in the film, Damon takes 4 apples and juices them, and points out that most people would eat maybe one or two apples but that it’s easy to drink 4 juiced apples. Which is true. But I’m not sure that really says anything about sugar, it’s the processing which removes all the good stuff and leaves behind sugary water which we can “slam down fast”. (Speaking of which, I’d love a Solo right now…..)

So what can we/I/anyone take away from all this? At the end of the day, I think the film’s basic message is probably a good one. Eat less sugar by eating less processed food and more simple, natural, unprocessed food. Whether this makes us healthier by virtue of the sugar reduction, the calorie reduction or the increase in good fats and fibre, hardly matters. It’ll make me re-think my Saturday afternoon ice-cream, at any rate!!!!!

I Quit I Quit Sugar (Before I even started)

Recently I became interested in the I Quit Sugar program, made famous (?) by Sarah Wilson. I’d looked at it before, partly motivated by a friend of mine who’d lost quite a bit of weight by following it. She actually reviewed the book on her blog. My parents also lost quite a bit of weight by “giving up” sugar, although they didn’t do Sarah Wilson’s program.

Sarah maintains that the real enemy in the Western diet is fructose. Apparently (she’s sketchy on the biochemical explanations) fructose “cannot be utilised by the liver” and is converted straight to fat. Hmmmm. She quotes (repeatedly) a paediatric endocrinologist who is credited with this metabolic pearl of wisdom.

I’m not an endocrinologist and I didn’t do brilliantly at university biochemisty. I cannot draw the Krebs cycle or whatever cycle it is that fructose features in. But even if fructose IS “converted directly to fat”, this theory of it making us fat, to me, still seems highly flawed.

This is my reasoning as to why this is rubbish:

Our bodies burn energy (calories) through a) intentional activity ie exercise and b) metabolic processes such as generating body heat and digesting our food, which add up to a figure known as our basal metabolic rate, or BMR. Our BMR is mainly determined by our gender, our age, our weight, our body composition, disease states and medications and is far more significant than voluntary activity when it comes to burning calories. In the short term, we have no voluntary control over our BMR (we can change it in the long term by altering our body mass or composition or by taking drugs, but we can’t decide to “ramp up our BMR” one day and slow it down the next.)

Our bodies obtain energy to fuel these processes through the food, or calories, we eat (and drink).

If we consume more calories than we expend, we store the surplus as excess body weight. If we consume less than we expend, we obtain the deficit by burning off body weight, and if the two are equal, we are in equilibrium and we stay the same.

Now, Sarah Wilson maintains that all the fructose we eat gets turned into fat because our bodies can’t “use” the calories in that fructose. Ok, let’s assume that she’s right. So, take a person who consumes the same number of calories as they expend. Assume none of it comes from fructose. Great. They burn what they eat, and stay the same weight. Now take someone who consumes, say, 30% of their calories in the form of fructose. Their livers can’t use those calories and covert it to fat. But then they are short that 30% of their caloric requirement. So what happens? Surely that person obtains the shortfall from their glycogen and then fat stores? So they may be “putting on” weight from the fructose calories, but they ought to be burning an equal amount of weight to obtain what they supposedly can’t get from the fructose. So it balances out.

Critics of the CICO (calories in calories out) model will say “Oh but not all calories are equal, some foods require more energy to digest so they actually don’t give your body all the calories they contain.” Yes that’s probably true, but I am very doubtful it makes a significant difference, especially in a balanced diet. The same would also potentially be an argument for this whole fructose theory- if fructose is effortlessly converted to fat while other substrates use up a lot more energy in that conversion then perhaps Sarah’s onto something. But I doubt it.

Don’t get me wrong, I think sugar is way too prevalent in our diet and I am not for a minute suggesting a high sugar diet is good, or even “not bad” for us. But I don’t think there’s anything magical about fructose. I am extremely cynical about all those other “natural” sweeteners too- stevia, agave, rice bran syrup (like, HELLO!!! cane sugar grows naturally and abundantly in far north Queensland- I’m not sure why it’s considered “unnatural”)

But this is why I think we should minimise our sugar intake:

  • Sugar is high in calories
  • Sugar has no other nutritional value, ie it provides us with no good stuff apart from energy (sure if you were starving this wouldn’t matter so much but there are other more nutritious sources of energy for most of us)
  • You rarely eat sugar by itself. It’s usually combined with other calorie dense, nutritionally sketchy ingredients, like fat and white flour, to make tasty “treats” that are ok to eat from time to time, but most of us indulge in a bit too often, in quantities which are too large.

The final nail in the IQS coffin (for me) is Sarah banging on about other pseudo-scientific rubbish (actually there’s nothing pseudo about it, it’s just un-scientific). She advocates “activating” nuts and seeds, “sprouting” legumes, “fermenting” vegetables and drinking apple cider vinegar which allegedly helps “alkalinise” our bodies yet somehow also gives the hydrochloric acid in our stomachs a helping hand with digestion. (Never mind university biochemistry, it doesn’t sound to me like she did much high school chemistry either). All these processes are supposed to “help” our bodies digest and absorb the goodness from these foods. Seriously? How did the human race ever manage to evolve without the assistance of sprouts and kombucha?? It’s a miracle we’re alive at all, thank god for Sarah and other proponents of this twaddle.

In summary, all I’ve taken away from Sarah’s 2 books (borrowed from the library) is that:

  • I actually don’t eat much sugar when I think about it- no soft drink, no (well not many) lollies, no store-bought baked goods, no store-bought sauces (thanks zero waste!)
  • I should eat more fruit, not less, I don’t care which ones are high fructose
  • I should eat fewer cakes and pastries (which I do bake too many of), not because of the fructose but because I am a greedy guts who can’t seem to stop at just a tiny, calorie-controlled, nibble!!

I’m not sure I really needed her to figure any of that out!!

 

Happier at Home

I’ve become quite fond of Gretchen. Since reading The Happiness Project and attempting my own (and therein gaining a newfound respect for her diligence to such a project) I’ve been listening to her podcast Happier and I’ve read (and really enjoyed) Better Than Before.

I was wandering around my local library the other day (not quite deliberately enough to call it browsing) when I came across her book Happier At Home. I’ve never really had a great urge to read this one- for a while I thought it was the same as The Happiness Project but with a different cover or title, as some books seem to have for various international versions. But after seeing it there in front of me and reading the back to make sure it wasn’t the same as The Happiness Project, I thought “Let’s give it a whirl!” so I borrowed it. (I love libraries, they satisfy my penchant for zero waste, frugal, clutter-free living.)

Although I’d had my reservations about The Happiness Project, I enjoyed Happier At Home from page 1. Gretchen’s writing voice is different to her podcast voice. When I first tuned into her podcasts, I remember being quite surprised to hear the way she spoke. I’m not sure why…. Reading another of her books then reminded me of that slightly awkward, nerdy, slightly neurotic type A persona that I found difficult to fully warm to in The Happiness Project. But this time, instead of finding it disconcerting, I actually found it quite comforting to hear it again.

And so, I read about what is, essentially, her second happiness project, this one on a slightly smaller scale, set in and around her home. And, just as with The Happiness Project, I was inspired to take away from it some “Try this at home”s (find out what this is on her podcast- although it’s pretty self-explanatory!)

Specifically,

  • Go shelf by shelf (declutter- a constant mission of mine)
  • Kiss in the morning, kiss at night (Give proofs of love)
  • Give gold stars (Acknowledge others’ good deeds verbally not just mentally)
  • Go on adventures (Big and small, with both Mr L and the little Ls)
  • Give warm greetings and farewells (a kiss at least, hello and goodbye)
  • Dig Deep (My personal commandments need revisiting I think)
  • Suffer for fifteen minutes (Get a potentially tedious and large scale chore done little by little each day- mine, as Gretchen’s was, is collating some family photo albums.)
  • Follow a threshold ritual (Literally, cross the threshold of your house with gratitude)
  • Eat like a yogi (I added this one myself- more on this later, it’s a work in progress)

I wonder if I’d have been better off reading Happier At Home before The Happiness Project. Despite coming first, The Happiness Project is on a much bigger scale and was a bit full on for me. Mine kind of fizzled. This one’s much less rigid. It’s just going to aim to incorporate these habits into my day, rather than ticking off resolution charts or writing time lines.

We’ll see how we go!

 

 

Weighty issues part 1: Michelle, meet Gretchen

I specifically have not talked about weight or dieting (in detail anyway) on this blog- I wanted to keep it a weight-free zone. For most of my life I have had a preoccupation with my weight, diet, eating etc (I kept my first food log when I was 9 years old) and I didn’t want it to take over my blog.

However, Baby L is approaching the 4 month mark and I still have 8kg of baby weight to lose…

As part of my general ruminations about weight loss over the past few months I have vascillated wildly between two main strategies I might use to shift these stubbon kgs.

The first (and the diet I’ve been most successful with in the past, losing my baby weight after Miss L was born) essentially revolves around calorie counting. Specifically, the Michelle Bridges 12 week body transformation. It’s surprisingly simple: you eat fewer calories than you expend and voila, you lose weight. More specifically, 1200 calories a day for women- this allowed me to lose about 10kg in 12 weeks. It even permitted me a few slip-ups along the way. Michelle is big on exercise but emphasises that the calories you burn from exercise are far exceeded by the calories you save by sticking to the diet, however, I’m a big proponent of the other benefits of exercise (link to running post) even if calories burning is not number 1. You get a meal plan, which is essentially 7 new recipes a week, most of which were tasty and surprisingly quick to prepare. I found the diet quite easy to stick to for most of the 12 weeks. You keep a log of the food you eat (just for your own records) and you post your weight online once a week. She advocates weighing in on a Wednesday, which unofficially allows you to relax a bit on the weekend and be really strict on a Monday and Tuesday. You also get a treat meal once a week. She sends you weekly or twice weekly “motivational” emails and video links and you have access to the online 12WBT “community” where you can be encouraged and motivated (I must confess I was largely discouraged by the overwhelming stupidity of the general population and their failure to comprehend basic concepts but that’s another story.) This for the fairly reasonable price (I thought) of $200, which is less than $20 per week.

I finished that diet very pleased with the results, smaller than I’ve ever been (as an adult) and rather smug about how “easy” I’d found the whole thing. “I really have very little sympathy for people who say they can’t lose weight” I recall saying (despite the fact that I’d been struggling with it for 25 odd years). However, I felt a bit lost at the end of it, I kind of wondered “Well what do I do now?” Do I keep counting calories, do I start eating “normally” again? MB recommends you gradually increase your daily calorie allowance until you find your set point. She herself, apparently, doesn’t count calories or log her food but is (obviously) pretty in tune with how much she’s consuming and tends to stick to a fairly strict diet in the week and relaxes a “bit” on weekends. And so I started eating some of the things I’d given up- mainly cheese and cakes- started baking again, got a bit lazy…. And gradually 3kg crept back on. It wasn’t a huge deal, that was me back at the lower end of my comfortable adult weight range, so no big deal, right?

When I got pregnant with Baby L, I was determined not to gain 25kg again as I had done with the other two. But it became obvious I was stacking it on again so I tried to do MB to maintain my weight and limit my pregnancy gain. Hmmm…. Not so easy when nauseated and tired. So I ended up 25kg heavier again with Baby L.

Since giving birth I’ve said “Right, this is it, time to start!” a couple of times but I’ve just found it so bloody hard. I can’t help feeling that signing up online, paying the money, all of that seems key in sticking to it, but I find it ridiculous that handing over $20 a week makes you stick to a diet when you could spend that $20 on something else… like a yoga class, an exercise class, a pedicure (well not every week obviously).

It was timely then that I read Gretchen Rubin’s “Better Than Before”, which is a book about habits- forming good ones mainly. Early in the book she encourages you to identify what sort of personality you are- the options are Obliger, Upholder, Rebel and Questioner. I didn’t even need to read the descriptions of the personality types to know that I am an Obliger. Obligers essentially are motivated to follow through with things if they are accountable to someone else. We don’t like to let other people down but are less motivated by keeping promises we make to ourselves (Upholders on the other hand, are motivated to keep their promises to both other people and themselves). This kind of explained a lot, paying money (and not just my money but mine and Mr L’s money) means if I didn’t get results on this diet I would be wasting our money. And, somehow, posting my weight online for all to see (even people I didn’t know) also motivated me. So how can I substitute that external accountability?

The other thing I had last time was a wedding to go to at the end of the 12 weeks- one of Mr L’s friends- I’m not sure why that made a difference except for the fact that I knew that a lot of the girls there would be fit and skinny as well as younger than me and I suppose I didn’t want to be the fat dumpy wife (not that any of them would have thought that, it’s just how I would have felt).

I’m also trying this time to note how beneficial being a few kgs lighter would be for things like my newly trialled yoga hobby, running, SUPing, etc, rather thn just doing it for the sake of looking good.

So I’ve planned my meals, tried to substitute paying Michelle Bridges with paying my unofficial yoga fund and printed out some skinny pics of myself for motivation. I’ve also written out a week by week countdown and declared my 15 year uni reunion as the official 12 week milestone to get in shape for. (Interestingly, Gretchen warns against using a “finishing line” when trying to achieve goals or start habits, as they generally lead people to stop their new habit, after which they often find the second time round even harder. As I have proven…)

And if it all falls apart this week, there’s an “official” round of 12WBT starting September 14th

March Happiness Project- Vitality

It’s autumn! I love a change of season and I especially love the first day of autumn. So my plan for March: Vitality.

Gretchen does this one first up. I guess she figured it’d stand her in good stead for the rest of the year. Which is partly why I chose to do it early as well (and also because, getting late in my pregnancy, I figured I might need it the most about now!)

I think I’ve pretty much lifted my resolutions directly from her. They are:

1. Go to sleep earlier– I really need to do this! Since giving birth to Master L, when everyone seemed to be full of the advice “Sleep when the baby sleeps!!” I’ve resisted having a nap when the kids have theirs, or going to bed as soon as they do. It helped that as tiny babies, both my kids were good sleepers so I seemed to have less of that new-baby sleep deprivation than other mums do, I think. Apart from the fact that, even at my most tired, 7pm is generally too early to go to bed (and I need to have dinner), I’ve always valued my child-free/child-asleep time so much, that to sleep it away myself seems like a waste. I welcome the opportunity to do my own thing, whether it’s getting dinner ready, tidying up, watching TV or surfing the net. However, now that I have 2 kids and am 30 weeks pregnant, I’ve come to realize that staying up being an adult is all well and good, but if you’re so tired the next day that you act like a child (and a tired one at that), it’s better for everyone that you sleep. For me, I need to not just go to sleep earlier, but go to sleep “cleaner”. Sleep hygiene is something I’ve never been great at, and now that we have mobiles and laptops and i pads to keep our minds buzzing right up (and even after) we turn off the light, I’m even worse. So I’m going to try the following to sleep longer and better:

  • Start the bedtime routine at 9.30- laptop off, last cup of tea, start getting kids’ milk ready, make sure kitchen either tidied to my liking or make conscious decision to leave it till the next morning (and be happy with that decision!)
  •  Upstairs at 10- no more checking phone for emails or FB updates
  • Read for up to half an hour before lights out at 10.30
  • Get a bedside clock ASAP so I can leave my phone charging downstairs and am not tempted to check it at 4am!

2. Exercise- I’m limited by what I can do at the moment (yes, I know, excuses, but really, I have horrible varicose veins that start in my groin and ache when I try and do too much on my feet) but I’d really like to swim or walk (well, stroll/waddle) 3 times a week. The dog will be happy about that too (not me swimming, but the strolling part). I’m conscious of being VERY unfit in this pregnancy, which I’m sure I’ll regret in labour, if not before

3. Act energetic– ok so being the size of a baby whale is not really conducive to this but the theme of this month is “Vitality”, after all! I came across a man called Richard Wiseman last night, a psychologist and author of 59 seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot (I have asked the library to reserve me a copy). One of his basic theories about behavioural change is that if you pretend to be what you want to be, you will be. So pretend to be more energetic, and you will be! Same goes for happy, powerful, calm blah blah… (Maybe I could save myself this whole Happiness project series here!)

4. Toss, restore, organise– This is generally something I find fairly easy although we have still not got on top of things 100% since moving house. This weekend’s task is to get 2 more of our remaining rooms sorted out. I’ve also become a bit slack with tidying the kids’ toys in the evening- “Do an evening tidy up” is actually one of Gretchen’s daily resolutions for her vitality month. It needs to be reintroduced in our house! I’ve also been intrigued lately by a blog called Zero Waste Home– but more on that later.

5. Tackle that nagging task– oh my perpetual to do list!!! Gretchen’s rule- if you can do it in less than a minute, do it now (actually she got that from someone else, I’m not sure who though). To whittle my To-Do list away I’m going to try:

  • Once a week, cross an item off without doing it (ie just get rid of one non-essential task)
  • Schedule 2 items per week
  • Anything less than a minute- do it now!

6. Eat better– I debated about including this as it probably falls more in the domain of “Health and Fitness”, which I have planned for July. However I can’t help but feeling that my terrible diet (too much food and of the wrong type) probably also plays a part in my lack of vitality, not just through excessive pregnancy pounds gained, but in the general malaise and sluggishness that comes from feeling constantly full and never hungry. So although I think the motivation to really lose my baby weight won’t kick in until after the baby’s born, I’m going to try making some small changes now so that a) I feel better and b) I don’t have as much weight to lose come May. Starting with 3 meals & 2 snacks a day, instead of the constant grazing and mindless eating I’ve been allowing myself to do.

 That seems like a lot of resolutions for one chart. Let’s see how I go….

 Commandments

  1. Let it go
  2. Act the way I want to feel
  3. Do it now
  4. Enjoy the process

I Wanna Be a Supermodel

“Not just a song by Jill Sobule” was going to be my subtitle, until I realised her song was “I’m gonna be a Supermodel”… although that may still be appropriate.

In the olden days it was called “setting a good example”, but in 21st century parenting lingo, it’s known as “modelling”. Whatever you want to call it, it’s been something I’ve been giving considerable thought to lately. Partly because I’ve been modelling some particularly bad behaviour & coping mechanisms, partly because (as a result of said badness) I have be consulting widely with various parenting/self-help manuals, [the best of which was a book called The Smallest Things by Angela Mollard– it was very un-self-helpy and easy to read] and finally, because I had Dr Phil on today (while doing some really boring work-stuff) and they had yet another “family in crisis” where the parents’ behaviour both towards each other and towards their kids was pretty diabolical and their eldest child was starting to “disrespect” her mother. I thought: “Only starting to???” but also, “Well how do you expect her to act any differently when she’s been seeing that kind of interaction all her life?” Which is exactly what Dr Phil said. Genius, evidently.

I know I’ve banged on a lot about this on my blog (well, as much as “a lot” can be with my rather scanty posts) but again and again, I’m struck by the reflection of myself in my kids, especially Master L. And I’m usually really quite ashamed. He shouts at his sister (not all the time, but sometimes), he loses his temper very quickly, often with the simplest of things, and the other night when I stopped briefly to snack on a piece of bread on the way up to their bath and bed, they of course wanted a piece of bread too and I realised how they want to copy everything you do. Some of this (like the temper outbursts) is typical toddler behaviour. But all you have to do is hear your words come out of their mouths (good and bad words, I might add) and you realise what little sponges they are.

I’ve been conscious of my propensity to lose my temper more easily than I should for a while and am desperately trying to be more patient. I found a nice little poem the other day and stuck it on the fridge which has helped a bit:

Give me patience when little hands

Tug at me with ceaseless small demands

Give me gentle words and smiling eyes

And keep my lips from hasty, sharp replies

Let not fatigue, confusion or noise

Obscure my vision of life’s fleeting joys

So when in years to come my house is still

Beautiful memories its rooms may fill

Unknown

But the bread incident made me think- what other behaviours am I “modeling” for my children that I’d really like to be modeling better?

1. Eating habits– It doesn’t help that I’m now 15 weeks pregnant with number 3 (yay!) so despite the fact that my eating should really be squeaky clean in the interests of number 3’s health, I figure I did ok the last 2 pregnancies eating with (almost) reckless abandon, lost my baby weight each time and produced healthy babies. (Albeit sizeable ones- whether their size was because of my more than 20kg weight gain I’m not sure. Probably not.) Since they started eating solids we’ve been aware of how they want to eat the same things you do, they always want what’s on your plate regardless of what’s on theirs. On the whole, we do eat fairly healthily and I like to think that having the occasional cake or muffin teaches them that these things are part of our way of life and we need to learn to enjoy them in moderation. But I am terrible when it comes to standing up snacking & grazing, eating slowly, not eating the kids’ leftovers and eating while driving/walking around etc. It’s really bad, unconscious eating, which goes against everything I’ve learned when it comes to enjoying food but not over-doing it. I don’t want my kids to start copying this.

On the plus side (let’s acknowledge the positives too!) the kids always eat breakfast and dinner (and 99% of the time, lunch) sitting at the table, I don’t let them walk around and eat, and I don’t have my phone/laptop/book/magazine at the table and I’m trying to ban toys and other distractions for them too (we don’t have the TV on at meal times). I try to be fairly relaxed about what they eat and how much (I never make them finish their food but when Master L’s vegetables remain on his plate untouched it’s very hard to not say “Just eat 3 pieces of carrot and then you can have your yoghurt/fruit etc”.)

Anyway it’s a work in progress but I’m really becoming conscious of the example I’m setting these days.

2. Getting things done– I’ve mentioned before that I tend to procrastinate and be of the “Oh I’ll finish it later, I really need/deserve a sit-down/rest/mindless TV viewing session” mentality (the definition of procrastination). This is exactly how my parents are and exactly how I don’t want to be and how I don’t want my kids to end up. And to be honest, when I’ve worked till 2am the night before or been up with Master L 5 times during the night, I feel quite entitled to do what I want while Miss L’s asleep! But I can’t expect the kids to understand this. Besides which, I’ve often found that it’s when you feel most tired and lethargic that the best remedy is to keep busy or you feel even worse.  The fact that it’s hard to get anything other than a limited set of tasks actually done with the kids around is hardly a motivator to start sometimes, but sitting around trying to do nothing with them is probably even more frustrating.

3. Exercise– I’ve pulled the pregnancy card lately but they do see me take the dog out for a walk (not often enough). When I look around at friends of mine who are active, by and large they have active parents (this goes not just for physical exercise but also for activities in general, as per my previous point). They also tend to have active kids. I remember when my Dad went through a jogging phase when I was about 8 years old. It lasted about 2 weeks and I think he went for 3 runs in that time. I was so excited to go with him- waking up early and going out running seemed like a huge adventure. Then, when I got a bit older and could really have benefitted from a bit more exercise myself, but wasn’t old enough to go out running alone, having one of my parents to go with would have been perfect. I remember always being envious of my cousins, who used to go on family bike rides with their parents. I have seen my Mum on a bike once, my Dad, never. We got to go for family walks, or we’d ride our bikes while Mum and Dad walked, allowing us to clock up a grand total of about 5km for a bike ride. Hardly a work-out. So not just for myself, but the sake of my kids, I think it’s important to make time to exercise, even though they are so often the excuse why I don’t.

So I’m wondering if the extrinsic motivator of my kids will prove to be more powerful than my own intrinsic motivation. I don’t think my hair will ever shine like the sea or that everyone will want to look just like me, but I’m hoping one day, even if not a supermodel, I might just make a super model.

Checkout at the checkout

I had this idea for a blog post aaaaages ago in Sydney when I found myself (yet again) checking out the contents of other people’s trolleys at the supermarket checkout. Admittedly, this was usually an exercise in smugness on my part but I am often astounded by the amount of rubbish people put in their shopping trolleys…

Where we lived in Sydney, while not an extremely affluent area, people were generally comfortably well-off. The other shoppers at the supermarket (as far as I’m aware) were not typically trying to feed a family of 6 on social security benefits. And so I didn’t feel too bad surreptitiously glancing into their trolleys at the chips, the muesli bars, the fruit roll-ups, the sliced white bread, flavoured milk, cordial and soft drink, the processed, packaged, pre-made, frozen food and thinking “Where’s the REAL” food? I was always proud to say that, by and large, my trolley contained none of that sort of thing. Don’t get me wrong, I am the first to admit there’s more room in mine and Mr L’s diets for fruit and veg (although we’d generally get these from the fruit market, hence their absence from our supermarket our trolley) but typically my trolley contains basic staple ingredients. Eggs, flour, sugar and butter (to make our own cakes and biscuits), rolled oats, nuts and seeds (to make my own muesli. Generally there isn’t a chip in sight (ok, so I’m not really a chip eater to be fair) or a muesli bar and yes, there will occasionally be a packet of Tim Tams but it’s not an every week occurrence. And so I’d hand over my money, put my groceries in my reusable shopping bag, polish my halo and toddle off home.

Where we live in Auckland is a lovely suburb as well, with a lot of money but it borders on a suburb (and we usually go to a supermarket) with a much lower socio-economic status and a high Pacific Islander population. Last week in the supermarket I found myself checking out the contents of the trolley of the lady behind me and I was astounded. Not one piece of fruit or veg but 3 large packets of corn chips, 2 packets of chocolate biscuits, the ubiquitous sliced white bread, 4 large bottles of soft-drink, a family pack of fun-sized Snickers and a giant “value” pack of “pork-flavoured” sausages…. I’m not sure exactly what had been flavoured to taste like pork, but the implication was that there wasn’t much pig in there. I looked at this large Polynesian woman and her solid, although probably not technically overweight daughter and thought “is that what you guys eat every day?” (Ok so it might not be, maybe it was for a birthday party or a big BBQ or perhaps they were actually on their way to the fruit shop… hmmmm).

But instead of feeling smug this time, I actually felt quite sad. I just thought “Look at yourselves! Think of how bad this stuff is for you! And it’s solo expensive!” This mother and daughter might have had loads of money for all I know, I’m not trying to stereotype, but in Sydney as well as Auckland, it wouldn’t be unfair or untrue to say that lower-income families are more prone to obesity. And I’ve never understood how people justify buying stuff like that on a budget- this trolley contained Oreos and Doritos, not just home brand chocolate biscuits- you can’t tell me that that stretches your dollar further than a bag of apples and a loaf of wholemeal bread. I’m in the fortunate position of never really having to count dollars and cents, but I just don’t buy the whole “healthy eating costs a lot” argument.

Is it an educational thing? I suspect a lot of it is certainly habit, which is probably more powerful than education. Maybe if parents are working long hours to make ends meet then convenient, packaged food is the easiest option, I understand that the last thing you want to do when you get home after a long day is cook, but that’s not just a problem for people with not much money, it’s a problem for us all, unless you can afford a personal chef/housekeeper (which most people can’t).

The cost of obesity and its related problems to society is HUGE. Ultimately people have a responsibility to themselves, I know that, but denial is a powerful thing and even fairly well educated people’s abysmal understanding of health and nutrition frequently astounds me. I just wonder if some government cash might be better spent on community programs like community dinners or cooking classes, school education and cooking programs, even vouchers or healthy food donations directly to families. I’ve always had a problem with the fact that people on government hand-outs (or, more accurately, tax-payer hand-outs) can pretty much spend their money on what they want, and gel-manicures and plasma-screen TVs seem to take an inappropriately high priority for some people. Giving people vouchers to spend at the supermarket or fruit market or, better still, food parcels would, I suppose, pose some logistical challenges but would surely save some money from the health care budget in the long run?

Perhaps I’m being naïve, but the obesity “epidemic” doesn’t seem to be improving and I just wonder about the cost we’re paying for it, financially and socially. Like cigarettes, junk food just seems to be too accessible to those who need it the least.

[Incidentally, after I wrote this post, there was a story on TV about pregnant Maori women being given vouchers as a reward for not smoking…. Obviously things like this can be set up…]