Directions… NOT Resolutions

I don’t do resolutions in honor of any new year, and I am not about to start. But on looking back at 2010, where you could consider “harried” the single best word to describe me, it occurred to me that I might wish to aim in a few directions away from what caused me to spend so much of 2010 in such an uncomfortable fashion. (I should note that in addition to all of the places I listed as having been for work in 2010, I was also–for “fun”–in Brighton and Horsham UK, in Paris, and in Baltimore, Minneapolis and in the Outer Banks of North Carolina within the US.) So clearly travelling too much is a problem, and I am working on that one. Aside from a trip to Spain next week with my sister (come on, it’s an early celebration of my upcoming 35th birthday and involves Gaudi, my favorite architect ever) I have nothing planned until April, and after that trip nothing planned until the summer. So one direction for 2011 is to stop travelling as much. No jollies to Australasia unless something in December maybe comes good but that’s a long shot. Fewer trips over to the continent. Fewer nights away from home. Or something like that. Now that I have a shower in my flat I can no longer use travel as the excuse to get a good shower. Ahhhh England.

Twice in 2010 I nearly fainted because I let my blood sugar drop to dangerous lows when I skipped breakfast to get to work and had to do something that required a “performance” and thus energy. I have never fainted, and I had never nearly fainted before. I’ve been playing dangerous games with food for years; I’m a carbohydrate addict (thus my obsessions with American junk-food crackers like Cheez-its) and my distaste for sweet things means I sometimes struggle with eating healthy things like sweet fruits. I also live alone and thus eat whatever I want, whenever I feel like it, which sounds fun but after awhile can build some rather undisciplined habits. I will not confess what my typical breakfast was for much of this year but UK people will understand when I say the brand name on the packet was “Walkers”. (Don’t judge me!) So 2011 is the year I will take control of what passes across my lips and start eating better.

I don’t diet. I could stand to lose some weight, but dieting is deprivation which leads to bingeing and eating disorders. What I am going to do is two-fold: to adjust the blood sugar problem by watching the intake of high glycemic-index foods, and to try and follow the “is it food” rule when shopping and only buy actual food.

For part one I am cutting only two things out of my diet, but people who know me will get that these are two of the things that I eat muchly, so this will be interesting. I will avoid white bread/flour and white potatoes. Wheat or other nutty bread is fine and often tastes better anyways. Corn chips are allowed, and they are great with hummus which has about the lowest glycemic index of any food around. Sweet potatoes are fine, and I recently made a perfectly passable celeriac puree that was actually better than mashed potatoes (!) And I can’t get good crackers here in the UK anyways. So that’s thing one.

Thing two is more interesting. If you have not read Michael Pollan’s “In defense of food,” I highly recommend that you do. I picked it up, ironically enough, in Singapore in the summer of 2009 and read it cover to cover in one sitting. Living in hotels grants one that sort of time and freedom. His argument was excellent, that much of what we eat is NOT actually food, but is chemically engineered and over-processed. (While the natural white potato cannot claim that, refined white flour certainly can!) I’ve spent the last year and a bit since reading the book growing increasingly influenced by it. At the beach this year, when I cooked I started giving everything I made a “food score” from 0-10 where 0 was something highly processed and with lots of artificial ingredients and a 10 was something with only real natural food in it. And it does not have to be just fresh veg to qualify: corn chips, which make it in my new guidelines as an acceptable snack food (especially with hummus!) contain, I kid you not, corn/maize, oil and salt. That’s true of the Tostitos I had at the beach when I discovered this, and the generic Tesco chips I bought this weekend. So coming in a package does not necessarily make something get a low “food” score, but having lots of ingredients that you can’t pronounce, does. Now I run into slight trouble here as a former strict vegetarian, in that I have a taste for soya-based processed artificial meat products. I’ve been eating less and less of them as (a) the availability in the UK is total crap (aside from if you visit lucky Kat on the base) and (b) I switched to being a pescetarian and eat fish now, which is real food. So I’m working on it.

Given the fact that I moved and now walk 2.3 miles to work, the combination of that, less travel (and thus less hotel room service and restaurant meals) and this set of new eating guidelines might be a positive step in terms of my weight, but that’s not why I’m doing it and it’s not how I’m judging myself. I spent some time quite by accident the other day reading some musings from Lesley Kinzel about focussing on weight loss versus on being healthy and I think she has a really good point. The story about the overweight girl who the ER docs didn’t believe had an eating disorder was particularly poignant.

But these are guidelines and guidelines only. In a crisis, I’ll eat a crisp. If I’m at a work dinner and a white bread roll is the only thing on offer, I’ll probably have a bite. I’m quite pragmatic that way. One of my group members at work keeps bringing up–in total disbelief–the fact that I ate some fois gras in early 2010 in a social situation in which rejecting it would have been very awkward. But what I am not going to do any more is consider that coffee and Walkers is an appropriate breakfast, or that packaged food of any sort is an acceptable substitute for actual food. And the food I eat is going to be tasty, and I’m going to be documenting it on my new food blog with my sister.

I’m also going to try to get myself better organized to go to the gym, or else quit my gym membership and rely on the walk. I haven’t decided which is better, just that the need for regular exercise–again, for my sanity, not necessarily for my weight–is too important to keep ignoring. My walks to work really allow me to clear my head and it’s about the only time I have to think without any distractions, these days.

Watch this space and let’s hope for a less harried NFAH in 2011. Because I don’t think I could survive another one like this one.

27 responses to “Directions… NOT Resolutions

  1. Less travel would definitely be a good start!

  2. As someone who has been walking a new dog for the last 6 months, don’t quit the gym. I have found that altho my legs and butt are toned, I shouldn’t have dropped the cardio I was doing. Not quite sure where the extra gym time will come from, but I have to get back on the eliptical.
    And yes, breakfast is essential. In my 20s I rarely ate breakfast but these days I can barely get to 10am (blood sugar shakiness) if I don’t have something.

  3. I think we all realize breakfast is the most important meal of the day…but who has time for it, dammit?


    Good ideas here…but definitely not resolutions…

  4. You should run…it helps you relax overall. I know it’s hard to find time, but if you will not be traveling as much well…there ya go 🙂

    • Sadly I have had arthritis since junior high school, and my feet and knees do not handle running very well at all. Even the elliptical trainers can throw my left knee out of place. I really wish that was not the case!

  5. I like the idea of a “food scale” and yay you for walking to work.

  6. I know the lifestyle of sleeping in hotels and eating what ever is available all too well. It’s amazing the crap I will eat while on the road that I would never dream of putting into my mouth while at home. I know that eating healthy while traveling can be done, but it sure is harder and takes more planning.

  7. What attracted my attention was “Stranger in a strange land.” I surely thought it would be about your life experiences in the UK. I was surprised with the “diet posting.” Congrads on making “Freshly Pressed.” The heading of this blog with its sub-title alone, I am sure attracts many hits. I would enjoy more postings on your life experiences in the UK. How is the average UK individual different than the so called average US citizen? What are attitudes about reaching high levels of personal wealth in the UK versus US? How is national health care working out for the UK citizen? What have been your personal experiences with health care in the UK?

    • Check the archives–a large part of the content is US vs UK stuff. But it’s also a blog about my life as a stranger in a strange land, and sometimes that just involves life. Now if I was in the US I doubt I’d be commuting nearly 5 miles a day on foot, I’d have access to different foods and perhaps would not have let my diet get so out of whack. The whole food situation is totally different here, and it is indeed something I’ve blogged about in the past. There are nearly four years of archives here to explore!

  8. Hi I’m also an expatriat in NL, and I’m still a student who will soon turn out to be a trainee. I wonder how can I fulfill my need of healthy breakfast. I usually have toast/nutty bread. Is it healthy?

  9. Heh, when I was 19, one winter I ate for “breakfast” a quart of eggnog and a cheese danish every mid-morning – and never gained a pound. I also had a job that was moderately manually intensive combined with a teenager’s higher metabolism.

    We try to eat healthy as we’re aware of all of the processed and fake stuff put into food products, but it’s often very difficult to shop. When you’re on a lean budget and the grocery stores available don’t have a great selection, you’re somewhat limited – combine that with picky kids.

    One thing that upsets me is that my grocery stores often discontinue items we’d grown to use frequently because of cost or ingredient list. Case in point, non-enriched rice. We started buying non-enriched rice because frankly, if you eat a healthy enough diet, you really don’t need all of the extra added ingredients. Yet, non-enriched rice is more expensive than enriched rice… and as we live in a poorer area – and I’m not about to go shopping at three different grocery stores all over the place (at some point gasoline, distance and store choice means weighing options of cost efficiency). Recently the store stopped carrying non-enriched rice, thus if we want it, we HAVE to go to other stores to get it.

    That brings up cost. Frankly, eating healthier is actually more expensive no matter what many health foodies may say. Fresh fruit, especially apples are not cheap.

    We boil it down philosophically to doing the best that we can and trying to moderate what we eat – some processed foods are just plain tasty and nice treats. The good Lord noted to Peter that everything is good to eat, and a common sense, Biblical approach shows balance and moderation. Daniel ate a vegetarian diet while Peter and Paul ate like Greeks which had plenty of meat in it. To each their own in their own circumstances and needs or desires.

  10. With complete idiocy, I managed to comment on the wrong post – good luck with the eating overhaul, I’m doing much the same, but mainly because I’m horribly overweight. Cauliflower mashed with a bit of soft cheese makes a really satisfying mashed potato substitute too. And although you can’t get soya-based meat substitutes, can I put in a good word for Quorn, which is a mycoprotein-based meat substitute? I’m not even a vegetarian and enjoy it occasionally. Also, re: crackers – have you tried Tuc crackers and McVities Cheddars? I think they’re closer to what I’ve tried in the US.

  11. I gave up the odd stuff they call bread in the stores in the states. Compared to the stuff you can get from small bakeries, it has loads of odd preservatives that aren’t all that wonderful. If you are interested in low GI, I could suggest reading, but you probably have found that already. Wishing you the best for 2011!

  12. Oh how I miss Walkers, digestives, and tea for breakfast. It’s totally acceptable 😉 good luck!

  13. Good luck! Sounds like you have a good game plan. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed! 😀

  14. Less travel is the way to go. Bring on 2011!

  15. Well, I have lived in the US for nearly 42 years, but am moving back next month, so I will be interested to see just what I can eat in England. I need to lose weight and I hope the lifestyle change will facilitate weight loss. And of course eating better. I will continue to read your blogs and see how you fare dietwise this year and perhaps get some tips! In any event, the culture shock should keep me on my toes quite a bit, so it will all be interesting. I probably would have gone back anyway on retirement, but I lost my job in 2009 and am too old to get hired now. All in all, it should be interesting. Good luck with the eating changes. The walking should stimulate your metabolism.

  16. So now I’m dying to know what Walkers is?

    • Walkers are a brand of potato crisps (or chips I think they are called in the UK). Come in losts of flavours so if you want a balanced diet you could eat Cheese and Onion in the morning, Salt and Vinegar at lunch and Beef flavour in the evenings *lol*

  17. I love “In Defence of Food”. I hate diets but could stand to lose a few pounds as they say. I have just read another great book which I think would fit right in with your philosophy – “Women Food and God” by Geneen someone or other. It is all about the mindfulness of eating. Eating what your body is asking for, and listening to it. If you want to eat choc chip cookies, eat them, but mindfully, and stop when you establish you have had enough or it is not really what your body is asking for. Good luck!

  18. I too have made – not a New year’s resolution, but a more of a promise to change my diet this year. I am a carb-o-holic. I love bread and pasta. I could exist merely on rice. I loved checking out the “Is it food” rule- thanks for posting about it- gives me inspiration!

  19. I think “balance” is always the key word. No resolution should ever turn into an obsession. I have never before made new year’s resolutions , because I want to enjoy life and food is part of the enjoyment for me! However, this year I’ve decided to try and eat a little bit less and be more active. I think that I took this ‘resolution’ with the same approach as you are by suggesting ‘guidelines’. My priority is always my wellbeing: if one day I will not feel like going to the gym, I will not go. If one day I feel like eating some chocolate, I will if it makes me feel happier!

  20. I agree!

  21. Sounds like you made some good choices. To me they are drastic, cause the foods you cut out are the foods I enjoy! haha.. 🙂 Good luck with your new way of eating, and exercising! Woohoo 🙂

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