A couple of years ago I read Michael Pollan’s excellent book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” on the politics and culture of food in America. He addresses the question, “What should we have for dinner?” – more complicated than it sounds in a nation obsessed with food, health, and fad dieting, but with the highest obesity rate in the world. (Even better, the Southeast is the most obese region.) He asks, without a well-defined food tradition to fall back on (as in, say, Russia or Italy), and with more variety on grocery shelves than ever before, how do we decide what to eat?
One of Pollan’s later books answers the question simply, and, at first glance, glibly: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” By “eat food,” (the only non self-explanatory part) he means, “if your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize it as food, skip it,” his straightforward way of pointing to all the synthesized, processed, and manufactured foods taking up space on grocery shelves in America. By his definition, Doritos are not food. (How do they get that crazy orange color, anyway?)
That, as a starting philosophy, makes sense to me, a lot more sense than the “Fat is evil” and, later, “Carbs are evil” crazes of the past 15 years or so. But it doesn’t fully address the question of how much, and what proportions of each, I should eat on any given day.
Pollan points out that a lot of traditional regional cuisines take some of the guesswork out of nutrition. Here in the U.S., we have scientists doing studies to tell us that the nutrients in certain fruits will be absorbed better if accompanied by certain fats. Whereas in Italy, they drizzle olive oil over a tomato, just because they always have, and because it tastes good — same effect, less overthinking.
I started following Pollan’s work because of my interest in food culture and adventurous eating. Until now, my personal philosophy of eating has been, “Gimme some more!” I’ve certainly mastered the “Eat Food” part of the equation, have in fact fallen in love with traditional ethnic cuisines and the burgeoning native food culture that seems to be awakening Stateside. But the “Not too much. Mostly plants,” parts have thus far escaped me. It’s time to change that.
As I said before, I’m kind of embarrassed to admit that I’ve actually purchased a DVD workout program and am actively measuring cups of cottage cheese and fruit into bowls several times a day. This seems like exactly the kind of obsessive eating behavior that makes Americans ultimately unhealthier than, say, French people, who worry less, eat yummier, butterier food, and gain less weight.
But just as when you’re learning a new language, at first you have to conjugate, again and again, until using a verb properly becomes second nature. That’s what I figure Hal and I are doing with these blasted measuring cups – learning what a 300-calorie serving that’s 3:1 carbs to protein looks like, so we won’t have to overthink it in the future. At least that’s what I’m telling myself.
At the very least, it’s sort of an interesting exercise.
According to the rather complicated “Harris Benedict Equation” (which calculates how many calories I need per day based on height, weight, age, activity level, and whether I want to maintain or lose weight), I need around 1280 calories a day if I am inactive, and 2040 if I workout every day (which I am doing now). I should subtract a few if I want to lose a pound or two a week.
So let’s say I try for between 1500-2000 calories a day, leaning towards the 1500 mark. What would that look like? Yesterday, I should think I got pretty close:
Day 4 workout: The video in our packet was mislabeled, so we went for a 3.2 m run at the X-C course instead. Lots of mud puddles! Good practice for the “Warrior Dash” we’re doing in May.
Day 4 meals:
1. The “Insanity” 300-cal breakfast calls for 1 cup whole-grain cereal, 1 T flaxseeds, 2/3 cup skim milk, and 1/2 cup bananas. I don’t need quite this much, so I go a little shy on each ingredient. Let’s call that 250 c.
2. 1 c yogurt, 1/4 c cottage cheese, 1/2 kiwi, 1/2 banana – around 250?
3. Quinoa taco from Mas Tacos – a bit of cheating here. 2 corn tortillas, a mound of quinoa and dill yogurt sauce, red onions. Let’s call this 500.
4. 2 slices turkey and cheese with whole wheat crackers and 4 cherry tomatoes. – 300 or so
4.5 Cheating! A glass of red wine. 100 calories
5. Salad – 3 oz smoked salmon, 1/2 boiled egg, spinach & greens, sprinkling of walnuts, lemon juice dressing. – 350?
My best guess is 1750 calories for yesterday – not bad, assuming my guesses and calculations are right.
conclusions: This is a huge pain in the @$$. But I’m actually enjoying all the fruit, and the salmon salads are delicious (Lemon juice is perfect, actually. No need for commercial dressings, loaded with sugars.). I am feeling a steady surge of energy all day, no afternoon crashes, and I’m sleeping incredibly well. I find myself craving evil goodies slightly less than I did last week – Fat Mo’s and pizza and LaHacienda, for example – but this is still the first week…
Did I mention how sore I am? And hungry all the time? More to come…