Archive for July, 2010

Meatless Meals (I Wish) My Mother Made

Today’s tastiness comes from the cookbook Moosewood Restaurant New Classics.  The Moosewood cookbooks are full of tasty and interesting recipes, though not all are user-friendly in their preparation.

Moroccan Roasted Vegetables

The colorful roasted vegetables in this recipe are softer and saucier than tyipcal roasted vegetables, but the high heat and rapid cooking still infuse the vegetables with a roasted flavor and an intoxicating aroma.

Serve over a grain, such as couscous, topped with toasted almonds, raisins, chopped hard-cooked eggs, or grated feta cheese for a balanced, ready-to-eat meal.

Serves: 4


  • 1 medium onion, cut into 1/4-inch slices*
  • 1 medium zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch-thick semi-circles*
  • 1 small eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch-thick semi-circles*
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch-thick semi-circles*
  • 1 large red bell pepper, sliced into 1/4-inch strips*
  • 2 medium fresh tomatoes, chopped*
  • 1-1/2 cups cooked chickpeas (15.5-ounce can, drained)
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons tumeric
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 2 teaspoons salt

*If you like measuring, aim for 1-1/2 to 3 cups of each vegetable — about 11 to 12 cups total.


  1. Preheat the oven to 400º.
  2. In a large bowl, thoroughly mix together the onions, zucchini, eggplant, sweet potatoes, bell peppers, tomatoes, chick peas, garlic, oil, lemon juice, and seasonings.
  3. Spread the vegetables onto an unoiled 11×17-inch baking tray.  Bake for 20 minutes.  Remove from the oven and stir well; then bake for another 20 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.  Serve warm.

weight loss supplements

I was in a computer training recently that was really more geared to computer users that don’t know much about using computers (“Do you know what the right mouse button does?”).  While waiting for directions on how to do basic functions, the internet kept me entertained.

He had us on the page, and there was a slide show of diets that work, so I clicked and skimmed through it.

Some of the items featured were things that I would agree are Good – books on different ways of eating well.  I’d need to read them really to know if they were any good, but based on the short synopses, they look healthy.

There were also several supplements listed.  They were considered healthy because they didn’t increase metabolism and/or heart rate like some of the old-school weight-loss supplements did.

One of them blocked the absorption of a significant percentage of fat.  Another messed with hunger hormones.

I have a couple of issues with these.

First, I’m not a fan of changing my body’s hormones unless they’re really not working right and there’s no other way to regulate them.  I also don’t want to change what my body is able to gain from food that I eat.  We need fat.  Fat is not inherently bad.

But perhaps more importantly (especially to those who don’t put as much value on the above as I), we tend to compensate for changes that we make.

I was reading What The Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell, and somewhere in the midst of that fascinating book, he was talking about taxis.  I don’t recall the city.  Anti-lock brakes were installed on half of the taxis, and the assumption was that the taxis with the anti-lock brakes would be safer than those without.  But that turned out not to be true.  The cabbies with the anti-lock brakes drove more recklessly, essentially cancelling out the safety factor of the brakes.

I think weight loss supplements like these are likely to do the same thing.

Also, much of the time when we overeat, it’s not because we’re hungry — we’re just eating.  A pill that stops your stomach from telling your brain that it’s hungry isn’t going to stop this type of overeating.

What it boils down to is making new habits.  If you want to lose weight, make new habits, generally one at a time.  To get started, most folks don’t need to have a lot of nutritional information — they simply need to eat less.  You won’t find that on a weight-loss slide show.

can you avoid the drama?

Today was my first day back at work.  (I am a part-time self-employed personal trainer and a part-time elementary music teacher at an inner-city school.)  At my school, there is a ton of drama for a wide variety of reasons that do not involve children.  Add in students and their families, and it’s off-the-charts nuts.

For the past several years, I have been working full-time at this school, served on the School Improvement Team and the PTA equivalent.  I’ve worked on the schedule, state-mandated testing and other high-stakes tasks.  Plus, I’ve made work friends.

In other words, I have been one with the drama.

I have made a resolution not to be part of it this year, as much as possible.  Working there only part-time will help a lot.  But avoiding general venting sessions and “did you hear?” conversations will be a big part as well.  This will also mean that I will be less “in the know” about general happenings on campus … and that will take a little bit of adjusting to.  (OK, a lot of adjusting.)  But it’s worth it.

I anticipate that reducing exposure to work drama will substantially increase my general level of happiness and job satisfaction.  At what expense?  Office gossip.  That is a good deal.

Is there drama in your life?  Are there steps you can take to avoid some of it?  Do you think you’d be happier without it?

the down side of “clean your plate”

I don’t know many people who were not, as children, forced (or bribed) by a parent to eat when they didn’t want food, whether it was eating a meal when not hungry or finishing a meal when already sated.

With few exceptions, if you’re not hungry, don’t eat.  (An exception: I eat breakfast on race days despite not being hungry, knowing that the consequence of not eating is one I’d like to avoid.)

But suppose you’re sitting at a table eating a meal.  You’re eating slowly and mindfully enough to realize when you are sated.  There is still food left.  Can you leave it there?


“But there are people starving in ____.”  Yes, there are.  And there are a myriad of ways that you can help those people have enough food.  But overeating what is in front of you does not, in any way, help the people who are undernourished.  I have never heard the misfortune of the Third World be used as a reason to engage in any other behavior aside from donating money.  (There are more people worldwide who don’t have access to clean drinking water than are starving, but I’ve yet to hear that as a reason to drink more water or not waste the water we do have.)

“But I don’t want to waste it.”  Well … you might need to, depending on the circumstance, or you can box it up and stick it in the fridge and finish it later.  That said, almost everyone wastes food on a regular basis.  (A quick Google search showed consistency in saying that we throw away, on average, 20-25% of what we bring home from the grocery store.)  If you are among those who throw away food from your fridge, take care of not wasting that instead.

Also, along the lines of waste… An example: I was helping a friend clean up from a party, where there had been bowls of M&Ms on the tables.  When he commented that he wasn’t sure what to do with them (since the party was over) and I suggested he throw them away, he said he didn’t want to waste food.  “It only counts as wasting food if it’s really food to start with.”  M&Ms aren’t really food.  They sure are tasty, but they’re not food.  Toss ’em.

“I want to get my money’s worth.”  Gorging yourself does not get you better value for what you’ve purchased than eating sensibly.  If you are at home, put the rest in the fridge and eat it later.  (The eating it later part is an important step in not wasting money on food … and in not wasting food.)  If you are in a restaurant and were unable (or unwilling) or order a small amount of food, get the leftovers to go.  If you can’t get it to go, leave it there.  The money is already spent.  Eating more than your body wants is not an act of frugality.

It is easy to let guilt influence your eating decisions.  Resist the temptation!  Eat what you need in the quantity that you need.  Your body will thank you.

are you afraid of racing?

My first 5K (about 8 years ago), I was still overweight, I was slow, and I was definitely not feeling like a runner.  My gym was sponsoring a benefit 5K for someone’s child who has some awful health problem — I don’t remember what it was — and I decided it would be the right thing to do to join in.

I had three goals:

  1. I will jog the whole race — I will not walk
  2. I will not come in last
  3. I will not die

I accomplished all three 🙂

I finished somewhere between 35 and 40 minutes — again, I don’t remember exactly — and was super-proud of myself for doing it and for meeting my goals.

While I don’t do 5Ks-a-plenty, I have gotten out and done one or two each year since then.  I have completely changed my goals since then.

1.  It is possible to race faster by walking portions of the race.  I’m not sure how true that is for a 5K — I’ve only read it in terms of races like half marathons and marathons — but I’m guessing that if you did it right, sprinkling in a bit of walking could help your time.  I have also come to accept (for now) that I am a flat trainer — that is, I train on flat ground.  So if I do a race that has hills, I’m going to walk them.  No use in spending all my energy just getting up the dumb hill when I could save it for moving faster on the next flat.  (Yes, I know that training for hills would help this…)

2.  I think 40 minutes is my slowest 5K time ever.  And I did not come in last.  I have seen people cross 5K starting lines with times well over one hour.  If you have trained at all or are in anything remotely beyond completely out of shape, you’re not likely to come in last.

3.  If a triathlon isn’t going to kill me, a little 5K isn’t going to kill me, and if my heart or a passing car decide it’s my time to go, well, my goal-setting isn’t going to help it much!

If you’re interested in running races but don’t know where to start, the Couch to 5K program is a good one.  Over the course of 9 weeks, it gradually takes you from walking to jogging, from a short time/distance to 5K.  It involves walking/running three days per week.

If you live in a metropolitan area, there are 5Ks waiting for you.  If you don’t, I’m not sure what the availability is.  I know that here in Phoenix, you could just about run a 5K every weekend year-round if you wanted to (fewer in the summer, but still not none).  I like for event-finding.

So what are you waiting for?  Get out there and do it!  And if you need a little external motivation, register for one, then train for it.

other people’s handiwork

Some really well-written, informational posts here today.  Click through!  (As always, all links will open in a new window.)

It’s Complicated from Miss Melanoma: The Official Site for the Fun Side of Cancer: My summary will not do this post justice, but I’ll summarize it anyway.  Go read it despite my writing about it.  After years of working on self-acceptance, she had somewhat of an epiphany about her body and its usefulness.

What Happens To Your Body Within an Hour Of Drinking A Coke from A fairly short and fairly easy to understand explanation of the biomechanics behind your body coping with soda.

Re-Consider the Rules of Thumb You Use in Everyday Life from The Happiness Project: The author identified a list of beliefs that were integral to her daily life, then realized how they created tension, and worked (is working) to change some of them so her life flows more easily.

Chocolate Lover?  Ban words like indulge and treat from Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: a nice explanation in the psychology of why considering foods “treats” hinders progress towards eating mindfully and healthfully.

Mindlessly Eating from Sustainable Life Blog: some tips on how to avoid mindless eating.

4 Running Setbacks and How to Handle Them from a short summary of which pains are OK to work through and which ones aren’t.

Meatless Meals (I Wish) My Mother Made

Instead of posting a recipe today, I am going to post some suggestions for healthy snacks.  This is by no means an exhaustive list.  Please feel free to add your favorites in the comments, or to ask questions.  Some of these are very pack-able, some not so much.  I like to have a bit of carbs, protein, and fat in each snack.

Fruit or veggies and dip

Carrots, celery, broccoli, bell pepper slices, snap peas, apple slices, pear slices, banana all work well with a variety of dips.  Instead of whipping out the ranch, opt for hummus, guacamole, or peanut butter (or another nut butter).  Just watch your portions on the dip, and you’ll be OK.  (Peanut butter and banana also makes a tasty sandwich 🙂 )

Dried fruit and nuts

My personal favorite combination is almonds and craisins (dried cranberries), and I was not a huge fan of cranberries when I discovered this.  This is a great, very packable snack, but you definitely want to weigh or measure your portions.  Nuts are very dense foods, and dried fruits have a lot of sugar, so eating this by the handful won’t lead to happy consequences.  Choosing craisins over dried pineapple, for example, will get you a lot more bang for you munch, because cranberries are better for you than pineapple.  Also remember that just because something is healthy doesn’t mean you can consume it without limits.

Frozen banana smoothie

Since mentioning this a while ago, I’ve learned that this is actually a recipe for dairy-free ice cream.  Who knew?  Take a frozen banana, any other frozen fruit of your choice (where the majority of the flavor is going to come from), a splash or so of water, and blend in a blender or Magic Bullet.  I like to mix in a tablespoon of ground flaxseed for omega-3s and some chopped nuts (walnuts and pecans have been my favorites).  Again, measuring the nuts is important.


If you’re looking for healthy, tread carefully with yogurt.  Most commercially-available yogurts have all sorts of garbage added to them.  Your best bet is plain, or maybe vanilla, and add in your own stuff for flavor.  Add fruit and chopped nuts in whatever combinations and proportions suit you.

For the most part, your pre-packaged bars aren’t great.  Compare nutrition labels to candy bars, and you’ll see that many of them aren’t all that different.  I’m also generally not a fan of meal-replacement type bars unless you’re going to be on the go all day and don’t have other things to pack or won’t have a lot of time to eat.  I don’t think they’re bad, necessarily, but they have two issues: 1- they’re full of ingredients that I can’t pronounce; 2- too many people treat them like an appetizer or eat them in addition to full meals.  If you’re eating 150-300 calories several times a day, a protein bar will fit one of those “meal” times.  Otherwise, skip them.  (I was eating one a day as a snack, and I was partial to Zone chocolate mint; it was tasty and had decent texture.)

What I’ve done: I have taken almonds/craisins to work every day for the past couple of years.  You’d think I’d be sick of them by now.  I have a small food scale, and over the weekend, I’ll measure out five little containers full, so as the week progresses, I just need to grab one and toss it in my lunch bag.  I also pack fruit every day (usually a banana and an apple), and I keep a jar of peanut butter in my desk.  (I used to pack the peanut butter, but measuring it out into little containers was more of a pain than I was willing to deal with.)

Things to add?

eating vs. exercising to lose weight

Often, when people want to lose weight, they start to exercise.  If they were at a point prior to this where they weren’t gaining weight and if they don’t increase their consumption to match their new expenditure, this will help them to lose weight.

Sometimes, when people want to lose weight, they go on a crazy diet, often whine and moan to people around them that they’re on this diet and how awful it is, keep hidden stashes of whatever their treat is (as if the calories don’t count if no one sees you eat them).  Perhaps they’ll lose weight, but most of the time, these folks put the weight back on when they “go off their diet.”  Frequently, they gain it back and then some.

Part of the problem with “diets” is that they’re seen as temporary.  If you’re going to change your eating habits to lose weight, make changes that you can stick to.  Generally, cutting back on (or eliminating) a few key players and/or reducing portion sizes will do the trick.  (If you’re eating an appropriate number of calories and are still hungry, consider where the calories are coming from and see what you can do to redistribute them so that you’re not hungry.)

Part of the problem with exercising to lose weight is that what most people do in a gym (or otherwise comparable setting) does not burn off that many calories.  If you are able to burn 500 calories in an hour (which is working pretty hard) and you work for an hour and you don’t make up those calories in your eating and you do it 7 days a week, you will lose one pound per week.  For most people, that’s not a fair trade.  (And it doesn’t give your body any rest days.)

If you want to lose weight in a fairly short amount of time, your best bet (in my opinion) is to eat better.  Figure out roughly how many calories you’re eating in a day.  Some people don’t even need to go that far — just keeping a food journal and knowing it needs to get written down changes habits.  Whatever works for you.  But cut back on how much.  You can probably make a pretty big cut before you get near the unhealthy line.  (Too few calories puts the body into starvation mode and it hoards energy (calories), so you don’t want to do that.)

What did I do?  Well, at first I changed a couple of eating habits … then I started going to the gym, but most of my workouts were pretty light.  Plateaued for a while, but I didn’t have a weight loss goal at the time, so that was OK.  60-ish of my 70-75-pound loss was over the course of six years, off an on, but with no weight gain in that time.

When I lost my “last 10 pounds,” I fervently counted calories and exercised.  After two months of weighing and measuring everything, I had a solid grasp on portion sizes.  I still measure every now and then to make sure my visual measuring cup is still working (sometimes it’s not).  During that time, all of the extra work was inconvenient, but I wasn’t dying, waiting for the day when I could end all this garbage.  It worked well for me.

To lose that weight again post-chemo, I did it strictly through diet.  I exercised very little and ate very little.  When I’m not active, I can get away with eating very few calories (at 5’4″ and 123 pounds, I don’t need all that much to live on if I’m sedentary) and weight comes off much more easily than trying to balance eating enough (so I don’t pass out exercising) with eating little enough.

*whew* I feel a bit like I rambled and contradicted … was it useful?

A note: the less you have to lose, the harder it seems to be to come off.

Why aren’t I losing weight?

I have heard this question so many times.  Sometimes, the answer is obvious: you’re eating too much or exercising too little (but usually eating too much — I’ll post on that tomorrow).  Sometimes, it’s not so obvious.  I’m just going to tackle one common problem in today’s post.

Let’s say that over the course of the past year, you’ve gained 20 pounds, which is close to half a pound per week.  Since that’s only 1750 extra calories per week, it’s pretty easy to do if you’re not paying attention.  (To give you an idea, 1750 calories can be found in a 16-oz. flavored latte with skim milk together with one mini donut from Starbucks every day before work; one chocolate chip cookie sunday and a soda at Applebee’s; etc.)  And really, any consistent over-consumption will lead to weight gain, even if it’s not at this rate.

So you realize that your clothes don’t really fit any more and you want to do something about it (besides buy new clothes).  You are a little more careful about what you’re eating, cut down on the snacking a bit, and a couple of weeks later, you weigh yourself and ……

Nothing.  You haven’t lost a pound!  Why not???

Well, the piece that is being overlooked is that you haven’t gained a pound.  In the rough sketch given above, in that month, you would have otherwise gained close to two pounds.  So while the scale might not be going down, it’s stopped going up, and that is a good thing!

What it also means, of course, is that you’ll need to make more changes if you want to see the numbers drop.  More on that tomorrow.

what is “increased risk”?

We hear in the news all the time about activities or substances (usually desirable) that increase the risk of something else (usually undesirable).

What we rarely (never?) hear about is what that actually means.

Basically, unless we know the starting odds and what the increase (or decrease) is, “increased risk” does not give most people enough information to know if they want to act on it.

For example — and I’m making up a ridiculous example so no one accidentally thinks that these are real stats — let’s say that in the general population, there is a 1% chance that your left foot will turn blue, probably in late adolescence.  (See, I’ve already made it less concrete by including the “probably.”)  Now, as the general population, unless we’ve done some research, we don’t know the exact incidence of blue foot: we know it’s kind of rare but we know people who it happened to.

A study comes out in the news: eating chocolate-covered celery increases your risk of blue foot by 10%.  Wow!  10%!  But really, this just means that now you have a 1.1% chance of getting blue foot.  Is it worth giving up chocolate-covered celery for that tiny amount?

New headline: “Drinking green carbonated beverages doubles your chances of blue foot!”  Doubles! Which really means that now you have a 2% chance of getting blue foot, half of which is uncontrollable.

The reverse is also true: “Getting 15 hours of sleep per night reduces your risk of blue foot by 25%”  So now we’re down to a 0.75% chance in exchange for sleeping through most of your life.

Do you see what I’m saying?  Yes, it is nice to know what things are bad for you and which are good.  In reality, most of these triggers (positive or negative) act for or against more than one ailment and generally disintegrate or improve overall health anyway.  (BPA is linked to more than just breast cancer, and carrots have more benefits than beta carotene.)  But there is quite a bit of leeway in the stats to make them sound more urgent than they perhaps really are.  Without knowing more numbers (or in some cases, any numbers), it is difficult or impossible to make data-driven decisions.

Of course, if you want to avoid blue foot at all costs, then ditching both the chocolate-covered celery and green carbonated beverages would not be a bad plan.  As long as you understand that that still leaves you with the original 1% chance.

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