What’s on your plate Part II: to snack or not to snack?

In France, snacking is taken quite seriously.  On an average working day, people get up and eat breakfast at the same time as the rest of the world – say 7-ish.  They have lunch at roughly the same time as the rest of the world – say between noon and 1:00.  And that’s where normal ends, particularly for school-age children, at least for an American kid like me.  Because the school day doesn’t end until 6:00 for high schoolers, and 5:00 for middle school.  Except on Wednesdays, when it finishes at noon.  So dinner gets pushed back a bit, and kids of all ages have what is known as a goûter at 4:00.  This isn’t so much a snack as it is a very small meal, usually involving exceptionally sweet things (another breakfast, then) like cookies and/or hot chocolate and/or pastries.  Dinner isn’t served until 8-ish, and it tends to be very light by Anglo/American standards, so this is reasonably understandable.

I have to say, though, that one of the things I’m almost certain about is that eating late played a big part in my weight gain.  That’s partly because it’s just not good for us to eat late, but it’s also because, as someone raised in the U.S., I am pretty attached to a substantial evening meal.  I feel a bit swindled if after a long day’s work, all I get is a small bowl of vegetable soup or a salad and a slice of bread (for the French, there’s almost always charcuterie or cheese involved…maybe that makes up for the lack of carbs…).

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Weight loss hygeine part I: Fat talking

In management jargon, as I’m sure lots of you know, there are outputs (i.e., you make money, or don’t; you get the contract signed, or don’t) and then there are hygeine issues.  Hygeine issues are essentially things that don’t directly affect your outputs, but it’s a really good idea to pay attention to them nevertheless.  An example of a hygeine issue is salary.  I’m pretty sure everybody alive wants a job they enjoy that pays well.  It turns out that pay, however, becomes a “hygeine issue” when job satisfaction is in place.  That is, if you enjoy your job, you prefer to be well-paid, but if you aren’t, it’s not necessarily a deal-breaker for you.  Just because something’s a hygeine issue doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect your bottom line:  start paying good people bunk wages and see how fast they fly out the door.

And so we have the evil that is fat talking.  I’m gonna get a little confessional on your asses.  I went through my fair share of bullying as a too-tall, overweight and extremely awkward kid in a Catholic school.  Even that three-letter word makes me cringe a little.  Absolutely sucked to be a teenager in the 90s when people started spelling it with a ph and using it as a synonym for awesome.  Still, I can’t think of a better term for the terrible habit about which I speak than fat-talking, because it renders all the nasty, ugly associations I have when I hear the word “fat”.  Incidentally, the ugliness of which I speak is the hurtful bullying children (and even sometimes adults, albeit in covert ways) are capable of unloading on one one another.

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What’s on your plate Part I: Breakfast.

This is actually my second draft of this post.*  Listen:  I never do that.  I seriously don’t do drafts.  But after writing a lot of words, it occurred to me that I’ve got to find the best way to break this down…if we’re talking about food, what better way to do that than by meal?

So breakfast.  As a person who (I know I’ve said it but I’m gonna keep saying it for the newcomers’ sakes) has struggled all her life with her weight, I can tell you, this is one hell of an important meal, and not just for the reasons we’ve been taught, though those are equally important and merit discussion, so I’ll get to that next.  But for people like me, who have a tendency to make bad food decisions, breakfast becomes the moment we decide how we’re going to start the day, and some days can truly be a battle against food.  I eat emotionally – most often because of stress, but I know lots of people who eat to address depression, too.  I am in no position to go into the whys and wherefores of it all, but it is very much a reality for some of us, and I’ve found that what I do at breakfast time can sort of set the standard for my interactions with food for the rest of the day.

Returning to that age-old nugget of wisdom, I do truly believe for all the other reasons that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  Even if you eat dinner late and wake up early, your body will have been fasting for at least 8, and sometimes up to 12 or 13 hours.  That’s a long time to go without food, not to mention water.  This might explain why some people feel slightly sick in the morning and so struggle to have an appetite.  But studies have shown that people who eat within the first hour of waking make up 78% of successful dieters, probably because they’re a lot less likely to overeat later in the day.

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You gotta love some body.

The penny really dropped for me in a roundabout way.  I’d decided to try giving up cigarettes, and it would take me three rounds (gum, patches, and finally Champix, as well as an extraordinary nurse and very supportive partner all along the way) before I really and truly got there.  But when I did, I was immediately struck by how much less my chest hurt and how many more stairs I could take than I could whilst I was still lighting up (duh).

But there were other pains: back pain, which came and went and was debilitating; pain in my ankle and knee from a lack of physio after my 3 surgeries following my broken leg; and then just the normal aches and pains that go along with carrying 60 lbs too many around with me everywhere, every day, all the time.  This giving up smoking thing was very much connected to my well being in three ways:  vanity (I was sick of yellow teeth, being stinky, and worrying about those horrible lip wrinkles), fear of death (kept picturing myself on my deathbed with lungs that would never clear out again, having to look my loved ones in the eye), and the anger that came with constantly feeling a lack of control over my situation (nothing took precedence over making sure I’d had a cigarette when I needed one).  Giving up cigarettes is something that occupies every free moment of thinking time when one is going through the hardest bits, and consequently, I spent lots of time contemplating the function of the body I was healing.

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Get the body you want in only 2 1/2 years!

When Jamie Oliver famously (and somewhat successfully) tried to convince Britain via his preferred medium – the television documentary – that they needed to improve the quality and nutrition of school lunches, the reaction from some bordered on hostile.  People called him out for trying to tell them how to live their lives, how-very-dare-he and all that.  The media showed images of mothers passing fried chicken and chips through school fences so their little preciouses wouldn’t have to eat what someone else found good for them (though to be fair, the media probably jumped on those photo ops, and it was probably far less widespread than they’d have had us believe).

Food is a damned sensitive subject.  It is for me.  I’m betting it is for you.  It defines us culturally, socio-economically, and ethically.  It forms the foundation of almost every ritual we share amongst friends and family (particularly if we add drink into this equation).  We cannot live without it, and yet it kills far too many of us every year.  Corporations have corrupted it beyond recognition, and activists the world over have dedicated their lives to rescuing it (and consequently us) and bringing it back to the nourishing, life-giving thing it was meant to be.  Food.

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In the in-between…just a little bit longer.

I recently watched an interview with Elaine Stritch that the New York Times released (re-released?) after she passed away a couple of weeks ago.  There’s this moment where she says, quite intensely, like she really, really means it:  Live expectantly.

Ms. Stritch didn’t want to know what was coming her way.  She wanted it all to be a big surprise, one day to the next.  I guess that’s the life of an actor.  Living expectantly sounds romantic.  But life doesn’t just happen to us.  Most of us, I have found, are doing the best we can, which means we’re working really hard toward something or other.  So while we might be ready for all the wonderful or terrible things that may come to pass, and while we might live our lives anticipating the unknown with a sense of joy, if that unknown is going to go anywhere near the direction we’re hoping, we’ve got to put in some good old fashioned graft.  We’ve got to plan, follow through, figure out what works and what doesn’t and quite often start all over again.  And that’s not even the worst of it.

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