Thursday, July 20, 2017

That's it for Now

Hey all,

I think I'll close shop for the time being -- I haven't been inspired to write in quite some time as I feel that...

A) Blog writing in this manner hasn't fulfilled what I was originally setting out to do,


B) Ultimately, during the span I've not been writing, I pretty much found what I was looking for elsewhere.

That's not to say I won't write again -- in fact, I may expand to over new writing opportunities beyond just a free and under-promoted blog such as this one.  But I'd be inauthentic if I said I would continue writing on here when, realistically, I'll probably just forget all about it, as has been the case since March.  Better to just give it an honest closure, and call it "Mission Accomplished" (maybe on top of an aircraft carrier too?). 

Until I start my next major writing project, I will continue writing about my occasional food forays using social media instead, as I have started to get the hang of Facebook and Twitter.

Thanks again for reading, and I'll see you around! 

Original at:

Monday, March 13, 2017

An Accidental Food Renaissance - Part 5

It was all over! Gone!  Finito!  Game over, man!  Game over!

The experiment was not only a failure, but now I was likely to hasten my untimely death.  I was going to die, there was no doubt about it.  The least I could do was abandon my crazy ancient grain experiment, and come CRAWLING back to almighty wheat [and corn and rice], kiss it, beg for forgiveness for my impudence, and re-embrace my old eating habits and all the wonderful life-giving junk food that came with it. ^^;

So how did I know I was dying?

I had lost around 15 pounds... in three weeks...

Granted, the average person in my predicament at the time would normally jump for joy at this knowledge -- but I always kept in mind the old adage that weight loss has to be done GRADUALLY, little by little over time. Rapid weight loss, in the old way of thinking, was always seen as a sign of some serious internal problem, one requiring immediate hospitalization. And although I was loosely familiar with the concept of water weight and how most of the weight loss was probably attributed to that, I only expected this to account for about 5 to 8 pounds at most. This was nearly twice that, and so this... contrary to what it might seem... was terrifying!

So I was on the verge of completely pulling the plug on the whole experiment and reverting back to the way things were... and had I done so, it's likely that around this time I would either still be emotionally distraught or dead.

In this life-changing fork in the road, what caused me to take the path less traveled?

Three things in fact...

One... Although I was convinced I was dying, I didn't exactly feel awful.  Quite the contrary, I felt great! A little happier, a little more clear-headed, a little more energetic... and not so chronically hungry all the time.  Lunch time came and went, and I could hardly bat an eye. Sometimes I'd skip my millet or miso soup altogether and be fine enough until dinner,... and that used to be unheard of for me!

Two... It took me a while to realize that I wasn't chronically sick anymore either.  It used to be that immediately after a meal I'd run the 50 meter dash to the nearest restroom, and also that I would contract the so-called "stomach flu" seemingly every month.  It was still too soon on the latter, but at this point in the experiment I couldn't remember when was the last time I had such an explosive foray into the lo;, it had all but stabilized and I was already taking for granted that it had become a non-issue.

And third... the most important change of all that was both noticeable and personally hit close to home for me....

I could suddenly wake up in the mornings!!!  =O

Anyone who's known me all my life knows you used to have to need a forklift to get me out of bed!  I've had several alarm clocks, a sunrise simulator, and countless other wake-up gimmicks, and nothing worked. Maybe they did for a while, but after my body acclimated to the gimmick I would go right on sleeping! And this wasn't just a simple harmless little defect of mine... I've missed lessons, exams, paper deadlines, commuting trains, work hours, and overall self-respect as a result of this chronic "laziness" as it was often described by others. Worst of all, I was powerless to stop it [short of having an entourage of people to wake me and who would inevitably get annoyed with me], so eventually I gave up and accepted my curse as I continued sleeping away my life even as I saw no benefit in return. I could rake in a substantial 8-9 hour sleep, and yet I would still feel drained and tired! I could only imagine how things would get even worse for me as I noticed a steady deterioration of my condition as the years went on.

And then... it was gone.  I remembered that during the last few days of that 3-week period in my experiment, I could start waking up with my alarm clock... one time even before the alarm clock rang!  I remembered waking up a lot more energetic than before... I mean certainly not like when I drank coffee, but it was a more natural and satisfying sense of awakedness.  I felt like I could finally get the most out of my sleep, and that sudden realization gave me hope that I wasn't, in fact, "cursed" with laziness, but was simply the victim of a hitherto unknown condition that I would later know as "adrenal fatigue".

Perhaps, reading the prior four parts, it seemed like I was only interested in losing weight, since that's primarily what all the mainstream health nuts focus on. There is no conception that obesity could simply be a symptom of an underlying condition, one that could manifest in other ways in the body, such as fatigue, brain fog, chronic hunger, gastrointestinal problems, skin problems, thyroid problems, adrenal fatigue, or insomnia. To them, these are all separate conditions needing separate unrelated treatments, usually medication or some other non-integrative voodoo. The only exception is perhaps in the notion of some chronic diseases... they will at least admit that "bad" foods can cause heart disease, diabetes and cancer (even if they make mincemeat of the "how" part), and I did set out on this experiment to address the cancer prevention aspect. So it never once occurred to me that any of my other ailments would disappear after a simple little lifestyle change -- this was completely and utterly unexpected, but nowhere near unpleasant!  No matter how frightening the rapid weight loss was, ultimately the prospect of finally sleeping and waking up properly after so many decades of torture was to me a risk worth taking (and only people who have suffered through this humiliation could understand).

So I was committed to giving this a chance and so I vowed to continue the alternative grain experiment and see where it went.  But I wasn't happy just going with the flow,... this was too dramatic a change, and I NEEDED answers!

I tried to find if corn or rice could cause any of this... but aside from concerns about allergies, GMO's and arsenic, there was not much to suggest any of these could have caused my ailments.

And then it... remained a mystery forever...

Who the heck knows...?

Oh well...


Oh wait...

What about the wheat...?


Original at

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Wow Cheval

I'm briefly interrupting my little origin story to bring you... Au Cheval!!!

Considered one of the best burger places in the city [if not THE best], it's not hard to believe I would join in the chorus of its praise. But unlike other "great" establishments that pride themselves on their over-abundance of grain dishes, Au Cheval earns their distinction by being truly unique in their wheatless offerings (also dairy-free too for those who need that)!  And yes, they do have dedicated menus for both, but be sure to ask for one first at the door -- and if they don't have any, you can also find them online:

Take their traditional single burger... which seems like a misnomer since it actually holds TWO beef patties.... and consider how it would be handled in other restaurants regardless of price or reputation...

At the bottom of the scale you have restaurants or food chains that simply can't remove the bun, and basically are reliant on you to toss it yourself.  These are your White Castles, your Burger Kings, your Billy Goat Taverns, etc. If you're only intolerant to wheat bran [such as yours truly], this is an option (if a bit unsavory) though it does send the wrong marketing symbol as it creates additional demand for something I clearly don't want.  Additionally, it's also disheartening to see a place that PRIDES itself on its AMAZING burgers, when in fact they're really only talking about their "AMAZING" buns. Sans the embellished piece of mashed and toasted grass babies, the actual burger and toppings are surprisingly small and turn what is an otherwise decadent dish into a veritable "health food" by way portion control. Or the portion is fine, but the meat and topics are not of any exceptional quality, and you feel just a tiny bit swindled.

Next you have restaurants that will gladly remove the bun for you, but won't offer any replacement for it -- these are your Longhorn Steakhouses, your Applebee's, and quite a good number of fancy establishments such as Emerald Loop. This saves a step and could potentially be safe for people who could suffer with even the slightest bit of wheat exposure, but it still feels a little unfair given you're essentially paying full price for half the product in terms of volume. You want something resembling a burger and you get in return a hockey puck with cheese and a side of fries.

After that you have restaurants that will offer gluten-free bun options. Culver's is one of the few chains that I know does this, but specialty burger places such as The Bad Apple will do it too.  Bless them for offering this option and I know this is much appreciated by countless people who can't or choose not to eat wheat, yet still have an attachment to the foods they grew up with, so it certainly has its place!  However, I don't do this very often as I've grown used to not eating any grain enclosure with my burger -- I enjoy tasting the beef and its toppings, and not the wheat, rice, corn or the like.  On top of that, I do feel I get bloated when eating a bun burger... it's not the fullness you get from proper satiety, but rather that off-putting bellyache feel that you get when whatever you're eating is probably physically expanding your stomach.  Worse, you often have to pay extra for the privilege of eating gluten-free junk food.  Um... hurray...?

Then finally you come across my gold-standard for wheatless burger joints... restaurants that offer LETTUCE-WRAPPED BURGERS!  I have loved these even before I changed my diet... there's something literally cool and refreshing about biting into a nice juicy burger and its topics flanked on all sides by the exhilarating crunch of lettuce!  Well-wrapped, the lettuce holds the flavors while staying away from the flavor profile of the burger package, allowing you to better appreciate the essence of beef, cheese, egg, bacon, tomato, onion, etc. Moreover, you're improving the balance of acidic vs alkaline foods in this arrangement, since in your typical burger & fries combo the overall package leans a bit too heavily on the acidic side.  Red Robin is king when it comes to burger chains that proudly offer lettuce burgers, but props also go to Good Stuff Eatery and [Au Cheval's little spin-off] Small Cheval for their superb wrappings! Other places such as Epic Burger or Five Guys will only offer extra lettuce for your troubles... which is just a tad bit lazy, but at least they try.

Now you have a place like Au Cheval with a reputation for creativity and upholding French culinary traditions. They spit in the face of ill-founded concerns in using duck fat to make their fries, and all the power to them [because they are DELICIOUS]! They will serve liver dishes with pride and distinction.  They will shower their salads with something that strikes me as rather buttery. :)

But best of all... they won't just settle with the same old gluten-free offerings -- their goal is clearly to offer wheatless diners something special, and, dare I say, BETTER than your standard wheat bun burger!  For instead of having to peel off a dirty bun, or getting a cold hockey puck of a burger... Or pay extra for a nasty rice-based GF bun that disintegrates in mid-bite.... Or going the quick and easy route of just wrapping the darn thing in lettuce....

Instead of all that... they serve the burger on a GIANT CRISPY HASHBROWN!!!!!

And also cooked in duck fat... and also massive and crunchy, almost as big as the burger itself!  

I adore hash browns, but it never occurred to me to use them as a kind of bun... in hindsight it makes sense since they're stiff with a brilliant caramelized crunch. By itself this giant Au Cheval hash brown would taste absolutely amazing.... but in combination with everything I had on that burger, including egg and pork belly.....

The taste was legendary....

Clearly I had never eaten anything like it... and I probably would never eat it again outside of Au Cheval (or now my home now that I have the idea!).

Au Cheval succeeded in making me feel special as a customer in the process of valuing my needs, and it has truly brought a smile to my face and an undying desire to return for more!

So yes, I agree they ARE the best, and they've earned every bit of that reputation!

...Suddenly the lack of reservations and the atrocious waiting times make sense now.  :P

The Heavenly "Hash Brown" Burger

A refreshing Shallot Salad to pair with...

Friday, February 10, 2017

An Accidental Food Renaissance - Part 4

In later years I've noticed a very strong resistance from friends and acquaintances alike by the prospect of trying things like spelt. Yes, it's different. Yes, it sounds strange and foreign. Yes, it could be confused for a variant of "spelled". The fact that they might willingly try seemingly weirder-sounding things like quinoa and couscous, and yet scoff at the notion of trying out spelt, I feel can be chalked up to the wonders of marketing.

The irony, though, is that spelt IS wheat... specifically an older variant of wheat cross-bread with goat-grass. It's been around for a few millenia, and has been part of a rich, cultural heritage just like wheat-proper. It looks like wheat, walks like wheat, quacks like wheat. For those who swear by the Biblical significance of wheat, spelt was in there too (just look up the recipe for Ezekiel bread). However, it's far more nutrient dense, its gluten protein is fragile and more water-soluble, and I find it tastes better. Granted, most of this I didn't know [or appreciate] at the time; but what I did know made me rather excited to use it, and very forgiving of its shortcomings compared to wheat-proper. Because it's not as "stringy" as wheat, it was not easy to make the full range of baked products I was used to -- you can forget about flipping and spinning around a spelt pizza unless you want a messy kitchen. But it was possible to make Mexican conchas with spelt, since these were just big pudgy discs of bread topped with neat swirls of sugar... and I kid you not, these were the softest, tastiest conchas I have ever had in my life!

It's truly a missed opportunity to not give spelt a chance! And I still think so, even to to this day!

Understandably, spelt still contains gluten, and although it's not the same as that in modern wheat, it should still not be consumed by people who have Celiac Disease, a wheat allergy or a very severe gluten intolerance. But for those who enjoy their wheat, or are afraid of giving it up only to be accused of following a "gluten-free fad", I find spelt is a great compromise and deserves a resurgence.

But I'm getting ahead of myself....

Spelt made up a good bulk of my substitute "bready" products at the start of my experiment -- I wasn't overly demanding, so I mainly stuck with "artisanal" rolls and Mexican sweet breads baked with this stuff. The breads were a bit odd, almost-antiquated looking, but the taste was just like a nuttier, denser, richer version of regular whole wheat breads, so honestly I didn't feel like I was sacrificing a whole lot. As long as I could make sandwiches with the stuff, I was game!

But spelt was really more of a supporting character -- it was millet and sorghum that stole the show for me!

If you're a fan of couscous, then millet is essentially a more substantial version of it... and again, a lot better tasting and more nutrient-dense. I could cook it much like I did rice, and it pretty much was eaten like it too. I didn't believe in butter at the time, but millet and "low-fat" margarine tasted divine to me (and luckily it wasn't too long after I used a proper butter to compliment this grain). Do you like pork fried rice? Try pork fried millet and get blown away by a new dimension of flavor! Best of all, it felt like I could get fuller faster on the stuff than I ever did with rice, so without even realizing it I was instinctively eating slightly less. I enjoyed bringing a little bowl of millet for lunch at work, and having a nice heap of warm millet at dinner! Even to this day I still hold a good amount of reverence for millet, being among one of the most benign grains out there [blood sugar spike be damned].

Sorghum was more or less a bigger version of millet in appearance. But in taste I can definitely see why it's called "guinea corn" in some parts of Africa as it does have a slightly "corny" taste, albeit jam packed inside a ball almost a quarter of the size of your standard maize kernel. It is mealy and hearty, and it was quite easy to feel full off a cup or two of the stuff. By all accounts it seemed pretty redundant with millet... they were both tiny ball-shaped grains that cooked the same way, could be eaten the same way, and satisfied my hunger better than modern grains. However sorghum came with two amazing food properties unique too it (and not counting its benefits as a better biofuel, lol)....

First, although sorghum as a grain was only a modestly popular food crop (sadly, it's mostly used as animal feed in the US these days), the sap from the sweet sorghum plant was used as a replacement for honey and maple syrup, especially in regions where both were unavailable or too expensive. I ordered some sorghum syrup and gave it a try -- and I have to say it tasted like a hearty sugar syrup. It did have some bitter after-tones though, which is probably why it fell out of favor, but it's still enjoyed in some parts of the southern US!

Second, and probably the coolest... THE KERNELS COULD BE POPPED LIKE POPCORN!!!!

I couldn't believe it when I first read that, but I gave it a try and... yeah! You had miniature popcorn! Granted because it was so much smaller than corn, the sorghum seeds were harder to keep from burning, so a different technique such as an air popper might yield better results. Still, it was adorable, nutritious and tasty... VERY tasty! Like popcorn, but with an added sweet nuttiness to it that felt like I had added a hint of almond butter to some shrunken popcorn. It's a fun snack and highly recommended just for the sake of it! Try a popcorn/popsorghum combo for the best of both worlds! [And don't forget the butter and/or coconut oil!]

There's a lot more that I did with these grains, and I also took the opportunity to learn about other under-appreciated grains. I was interested in buckwheat which, despite the name, was not wheat at all (or even a true grain); and while I never ordered a pack of it, I did try some buckwheat noodles at a Japanese restaurant I used to go to in those days.

I discovered amaranth which is one of the most nutritious psuedo-grains in the world, and a proud traditional staple of Mexico similar to chia seed (but FAR less expensive)! It's flavor was stark and earthy, but gratifying in its own way -- it could also pop like sorghum, but as it was tinier the results of puffed amaranth were not nearly as dramatic.

I even tried small bags of mung bean and teff as exotic experiments... both of them had a bit of a learning curve, so they were pretty much left as experiments.

But all in all, I very quickly felt fully-vested in this approach, and event went so far as to order 25lb bags of spelt, millet and sorghum as I was committed to incorporating these into my diet even after my one month experiment was over!

And so the experiment continued, the enjoyment and experimentation ensued, the huge bags arrived and I had quite a bit of fun transferring them all into newly-purchased 5-gallon buckets! I had even forgotten why I started the experiment, as I wasn't as preoccupied with the cancer avoidance aspect anymore. Instead, I slowly became fascinated by the history and the reclamation of old, long-forgotten traditions, and that was what drove me to continue in full-force....

Until three weeks after the start of my experiment... when I discovered something terrifying....


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Sunday, January 22, 2017

An Accidental Food Renaissance - Part 3

I don't remember when I stopped lifting weights, only that it was my last ditch effort to use exercise as a weight loss tool after most other efforts failed. Build muscle... burn more calories... look great in the process... it couldn't have been simpler!

Several hundred dollars in gear later, I was only marginally muscular, I was still terribly flabby all over, and I didn't lose an ounce; on the contrary, I was already bursting past XL sizes. Calories in, calories out had failed me, but I didn't see it quite that way -- again, it was purely internalized so I saw it as something wrong with "me" rather than with such a well propagated notion of energy expenditure. At the very least I stopped exercising as I felt it was time ill-spent -- and even if I had continued it, the motivation was not there to commit to it anymore.

The heart skips never truly went away; I felt some from time to time, but they became a bit more frequent in the onset of 2014. There was also a deluge of other skin, gastro-intestinal and sleeping issues, but I never did relate them together... they were all separate byproducts of getting older, I thought. I found it harder to sleep, just as harder to wake up. I could eat a huge breakfast in the morning, and be famished by 11am. I would eat a big meal and rush to the restroom in a panic immediately after. And those heart skips... the loss of breath... I was falling apart, and I couldn't figure out why, but they took front row seat in my mind beyond just the ever-expanding waistline. My new primary care doctor in Chicago was not helpful, nor was I comfortable admitting to many of these conditions. Those I did admit to, I had the usual retort of needing to be under medication, and eating a healthy diet full of low fat plant products, whole grains and plenty of exercise, as if I didn't try this already ad nauseum for the entirety of the past decade!

In many ways I felt I was on my own, but that became an asset of sorts because in time I started to experiment in the notion of self-healing. If I couldn't trust store bought bread, for instance, then perhaps, I thought, I would bake my own! And lo and behold, I started to learn how to make my own bread! I couldn't trust commercial care products so I learned to make those too! I always believed in the therapeutic power of teas, but I started taking natural remedies more seriously. This still didn't do much to stop the weight gain -- I was creeping towards 250lbs -- but it opened my mind to new possibilities.

At some point my early search for knowledge brought me to the topic of cancer, a disease that has impacted my family in more ways than I can dare to remember, and which continues to destroy so many lives in our society today. This lead me to a very unorthodox hypothesis that cancer was caused by Candida overgrowth... Candida being this otherwise benign yeast in our gut that turns problematic after the gut turns acidic. And in this hypothesis, sugar was primarily to blame for triggering this change, and ultimately for "feeding" the candida, and by extension the cancer. The evidence didn't seem as convincing though, but it was an admirable attempt I thought... we don't really talk much about what causes a cell to become cancerous... it just seems to afflict us randomly out of nowhere like some bad lottery.

Still, the notion fascinated me and I pushed to find more alternate literature on cancer and cancer treatment, preferrably with a bit more history behind it. This lead me to nitrilosides, cyanogenic compounds found in the bitter portions of various grasses, leaves, tubers, beans, seeds and fruits. Many of these foods have LONG fallen out of favor in the US, or have always been niche products, such as choke cherries, crabapples, currants, buckwheat, mung beans, fava beans, bitter almonds, bamboo sprouts, and millet. In the 1950's nitrilosides were studied as a potential treatment for cancer via a concentrated laboratory form called "laetrile". For reasons too steeped in controversy to describe, the research on this compound in relation to cancer was shelved and banned, and any talk on the subject is almost obsessively labeled as "quackery" due to the alleged danger of the substance.

Of course, I can imagine that anything in such a high dose is likely problematic -- we can see that in orange juice which is significantly more harmful to health than eating normal oranges -- so some precaution on laetrile is warranted. But to throw the baby out with the bath water and completely forbid any cancer research on nitrolosides strikes me as irresponsible, and also curiously hypcritical given how dangerous modern cancer drugs and chemotherapy can be. But that's besides the point as I wasn't interested in some lab-created miracle cure that I would allegedly take only after I'm dying.

My MAIN takeaway was that I was fascinated by the list of nitroloside-rich foods, not just by their rarity, but also by how familiar some of these were to me from a traditional standpoint. My family has eaten watercress, quinces and black/pinto beans for decades, and we never keeled over and died from cyanide poisoning. In Mexico we've been selling and buying dried apricot, cherry and squash seeds as snacks for decades -- centuries perhaps -- and we've never dropped like flies from cyanide poisoning. During my Sparkspeople days I recall trying out buckwheat, flax and millet on separate occasions to get my fix of these exotic grains, and, again, I don't quite remember dying.

Food could be trusted, synthetics less so, and that mantra became addictive. It was clear that many of these foods fell out of favor because of our country's obsession with sweet... sure, millet was easier to grow and so was quite popular in the 18th and 19th centuries, but it could never be as sweet as modern corn, wheat or rice. In the 19th century there were several thousand varieties of apples, but now most supermarkets rarely carry more than half a dozen varieties, usually the last remaining survivors of a long horticultural struggle for ultimate sweetness. No one would ever dare bite into a crab apple -- and for those that try, they might find it necessary to exorcise these bitter starchy, little fruits with the help of a pie and a heapful of sugar. As if recalling the earlier candida premise, I hypothesized that the loss of traditional, nutrient-rich food crops -- in favor of cheap, sweet commodity cash crops -- potentially had something to do with our epidemic of chronic diseases.

I still didn't relate this to weight loss however -- I had given up and resigned myself to eternal obesity, so for now this was purely an academic thought experiment centered solely on health. Perhaps it was this sense of freedom, of experimentation, that stopped me from just tossing this ideas aside like all the other failed attempts at betterment, which were almost always targeting weight loss. This was something fun, interesting, fulfilling and [more importantly] delicious that I could try IMMEDIATELY! If it worked, I could could potentially safeguard myself, and possibly loved ones, from a horrible fate in the deadly grasp of this disease. And if it failed... well, at least I enjoyed a much greater variety of foods with deep rich histories. There was nothing I could lose!

And so in March of 2014, I tried a very bold experiment to jumpstart my journey into the world of traditional foods. While continuing my suspension of exercise, and changing nothing else about my diet (as far as intake of low fat foods, drinking tea and plenty of water, attempting to eat a light lunch, etc), I vowed to make three fundamental food substitutions during the course of approximately one month. For said month, all wheat products would be replaced with spelt, all corn products would be replaced with sorghum, and all rice products would be replaced with millet. Once I was done with that experiment I would slowly reincorporate the big three food crops back into my diet, but this was my way of going all-in on this thought experiment. I didn't just want to try these long-forgotten grains, I wanted to immerse myself in them and truly reap the benefits of eating what our ancestors in this country ate.


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Tuesday, January 3, 2017

An Accidental Food Renaissance - Part 2

It would be silly to say that a single momentary bit of shame would drive such a significant change in my lifestyle. There were a lot of hints dropped over the course of the years... little seeds of doubt here and there. Sometimes simple reminders like a Wii Fit weigh-in or some clothes that were getting tight. Other times there would be more serious reminders such as a terrible heart palpitation in the middle of a diner breakfast, where I would feel my heart skip for several seconds, followed by a momentary shortness of breath and then the most frightening shudder and cold sweat imaginable despite being in the middle of summer. These and more should have jolted me into action immediately, but as always... it was the ever present "one day" that postponed any kind of diet.

But at least the desire grew and grew, so perhaps "Mailroom Day" was simply the feather that broke the camel's back.

At one very normal day at work, as we were packing up for an office relocation, I came to the mailroom to get some bubble wrap and boxes. There, a friend of mine was somewhat horsing around with the package scale, a huge industrial-sized one for the kind of heavy boxes they would work with. Just for fun he suggested i get on it.

My friend was a big guy, easily over six feet tall, of average build and very jovial. As I was fully convinced I was 180-some pounds, surely this would be a shoe-in. I got on the scale, ready to show off the results of abiding by mainstream health advice, being the paragon of low fat, low glycemic foods, and healthy whole grains!



My friend cackled and promptly weighed himself... 184lbs.

"How do you weigh more than me?!", he uttered amusingly as I feigned a grin. But at the time I recall that I was seething, embarrassed, aghast, and completely disappointed with myself. After all that, I was still not only heavy but actually HEAVIER than before? The heaviest I had been in my life, at least at the time. For whatever reason, that was the catalyst that jolted me into action.

But I was still tied to the old paradigm, and I never once thought to question the efficacy of conventional dietary advice. As was often the case, I assumed that I had not been serious enough with my diet... after all, I was all about laissez-faire, counting on tacit knowledge and common sense to keep my weight in check. No calorie counting or food obsessions for me, everything in moderation. But clearly, I thought, my intuition was flawed, and I needed a bit more structure. Perhaps the calorie counters were right? Surely I was on the right track, I thought, so I just needed to try even HARDER than before!

And so after some quick research to find anything other than Weight Watchers, I found a promising alternative: I gave it a try, not expecting much, but... I fell almost instantly in love! It was like a game! I had my little scoreboard and goals... achieve x number of calories a day, ensure you don't surpass this level of fat or sodium! Eat these alternatives, look them up in this fancy database, of which it seemed it had THOUSANDS of fully-detailed entries! It talked about alien concepts such as potassium, and these suddenly started seeping into my lexicon... clearly there were things out there that we are woefully deficient in due to our modern diets, and for all its worth this would prove a valuable lesson to me later.

All in all, the over-analyst in me was in love with this crazy semi-starvation diet... it was like conventional dieting, but with a proper game plan, fictitious perks, and rewards. The first few days were amazing... I hacked and slashed my meals to death, cutting them down to their base macro/micronutrients. I wasn't eating whole wheat bread, I was eating 69 calories, 12g of carbohydrates, and, more importantly, 0g of fat and cholesterol. Mushrooms weren't mushrooms but simply a convenient source of calorie-cheap potassium, and I gorged on them. It was perhaps annoying to some friends and family, but the enthusiasm combined with its quaint conventionality made it okay, even admirable considering I also exercised more often than not, making the most of the largely-unused Wii Fit.

And for a while it did produce results, stunning results even! I got down to a pretty impressive 170lbs, albeit after a SUBSTANTIAL amount of calorie deprivation and adamant note-taking. If I would have gone a bit further, perhaps I'd be like John Nash in the Hollywood rendition of "A Beautiful Mind", decorating my walls with food journals and calorie estimations. I didn't mind that my waistline itself was hardly different, so who the heck knows where all the weight fell off from; but by GAWD the scale wouldn't lie! I was healthy! I had done it!! I finally could strut my triumph to the world!!

Well by now it's pretty clear that the opinions of others weighed a bit too heavily for me, and in fact that ended up being the downfall of this semi-starvation experiment. After a while I didn't get the kind of external validation I was looking for. I was at the end of a long-running relationship for me, and for reasons not known to me at the time, I was much more easily depressed about it. It became harder to deprive myself... and in fact, even when trying the same calorie-obsessing as before, I could no longer lose the massive number of pounds as I could earlier, my body refused to cooperate. Exercise became so much harder, I lost strength and motivation. There were no rewards, no more fun... it was just pain and agony, and I reveled in it.

It took me 1.5 years to lose the weight I did, but probably 1.5 months or less to gain it all back, with interest. Before I left for Chicago I straddled 198lbs or so,... and no matter how often I tried to restart the SparkPeople program, it fell on its face before it even began. My body couldn't do it, saw no point to it. I had achieved victory and let it slip through my fingers, and now I was back to being hideous and pathetic in my eyes, perhaps worse now that I felt more sluggish, depressed, over-sensitive and ill.

It never occurred to me that the semi-starvation diet scarred me metabolically... it was always the same excuse as with any conventional diet.

It was my fault.

I screwed up, gave up, and now I deserved whatever was coming my way. Now food was not just my enemy, it was potentially even the Grim Reaper for me. I watched helplessly as I broke past 200lbs, and, worse, had health issues gang up on me like a pack of ravenous beasts.

I could no longer afford to care about my weight, now i had to worry about just staying alive....


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Sunday, December 18, 2016

An Accidental Food Renaissance - Part 1

So it’s the holiday season, and I have been exposed to some fantastic food – including a new place called the Two Twenty Two which had the first ever “gluten-free open-faced calzone”… which to be fair is really just fancy-talk for “pizza”. I was too excited to take a picture, so I’ll do it next time I go there [and there will definitely be a next time, woo!].

Instead, I want to take advantage of the free time to do a little reminiscing, and think about all that I have to be thankful for during these past three years on my health journey… or as I like to think of it, my food renaissance. :)

But while I feel the most effective change has happened within the last three years, the story itself begins much farther back.

Well not too far back else I start speculating about my childhood… though I can say I’ve always had a passion for food. At least up until I started being conscious about health, and becoming self-conscious of the fact that I was mostly overweight – what was once a sense of pride for me suddenly became a liability.

Sooner or later, though, I became a firm believer in the orthodoxy of mainstream diets, and began not only shunning fast food and junk food whenever possible, but also engaging in pseudo-vegetarianism, limiting fat, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables [mostly fruit], consuming soy everything, and, of course, cramming down on all of that HEALTHYWHOLEGRAIN. For my sandwiches I would shun the dreaded white bread, replace it with stone-ground healthy whole wheat bread – I could almost taste the windmill stone pulverizing those wheat grains into the dark, roughage-packed manna – and then just sit back and relax as I imagined the pounds rolling off. Maybe I’d throw in a bowl of Total cereal [with soy or rice milk, of course], and maybe a spat of Country Crock margarine … I adored popping open a fresh tub of it, breathing in all the yummy chemical deodorants. Oh and let’s not forget the fruit… add in some apples and bananas, maybe both. Meat was too be shunned, at best maybe low-fat, low-salt Butterball sliced turkey,… and heaven forbid I eat more than one egg a week, or I imagined I’d choke on all that cholesterol! Cheese was perhaps my only “cheat” food, although once I discovered over-priced soy cheese and rice cheese I felt I could eat as much as I could afford and gain no health repercussions whatsoever [in hindsight, I’m thankful I couldn’t afford to gorge myself on those things].

At the time, “calories in calories out” did not exist for me, at least not as a silly catchphrase. Even so, it seemed like “common sense” that great food choices alone was not going to be enough -- I had to also exercise till I dropped!! And so I would jog, treadmill, cycle, do weights, push-ups, sit-ups, jumping jacks, stretching, and so forth. Dance Dance Revolution was a godsend at the time, and through manic spasms that the PS2 somehow equated to "dancing" I was able to lose about 5 pounds in a month. Once I got bored with that, Wii Fit came around and took it to the next level of self-deprecating interactivity!

And seemingly doing everything right, I was rather shameless in my efforts to spread the gospel. This WAS the best way to eat healthy, and I wanted to make sure everyone was aware of that. I was proudly smug when news story after news story continued to validate the wonders of HEALTHYWHOLEGRAINS or the horrors of ARTERYCLOGGINGSATURATEDFAT! I was buddy-buddy with any doctor who wagged his or her finger at those straying from the orthodoxy, courting fat, cholesterol and other death wishes. When Super Size Me came out, I showed it to EVERYONE I knew in the hopes they’d finally “get it”. When the news people HOWLED over the unholy Atkins diet, I was unified in the collective derision against all the who risked their very lives and their arteries over some weird fad diet.

And the irony of it all, despite my fanaticism, I was still overweight and gradually getting bigger over time. And each time it happened, I would seek to determine a culprit based on my pool of dogmatic knowledge. Fat makes you fat, so maybe I was eating too much “low-fat” peanut butter? Ergo, I should try non-fat peanut butter, or even no peanut butter at all… maybe soy butter was the answer! Meat was bad [OF COURSE!], so no more fat-free turkey… and in fact no more normal Mexican food! Tortillas with beans and veggies it is! I didn’t believe in the emerging low-carb “craze,” but I was a believe in portion sizes, and it occurred to me that I was always eager to finish my entire plate. So small plates it is! And when making sandwiches, the “lean” flatbreads and wraps would replace the big, calorific bread slices. I was often hungry, so I looked up every magical way to not feel hungry and put the pain out of my mind [after all, no pain no gain] – I still remember a period of time when I would always drink several servings of yerba matte a day for that reason. And of course the excessive exercise would continue, combined with other oddball shortcuts the likes of which you would see in a 6-minute ab commercial.

Food was becoming complicated, and gone was the simple pleasure of just eating what was good and what I enjoyed. Now food was my enemy, and I would beat it into submission until it started acting as it should, and not embarrass me in front of my friends and family. And it seemed to work… the thrill of doing what wright, but MORE OF IT, simply heightened my sense of infallibility. Now it was going to work, and NOW I was finally going to lose weight. And that was more important now as I began to have some strange health problems appear too – including random fainting, shortness of breath, high blood pressure, and a less than stellar cholesterol profile. I didn’t really make the connection, but instead figured that once I got thinner, somehow magic would happen and the other conditions would go away too. So I carried on wasting time, energy and money on this conventional lifestyle.

Then, in 2010, came what I now call...

Mailroom Day...

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