Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Programmed Overeating

A dear friend confessed that although she’s been watching her weight and cutting calories, a rash of unexpected stressful situations at her job has pushed her right into the arms of her refrigerator. She has thrown any caution she might have had to the wind, eating whatever she wanted for about the last two weeks.

My friend is not alone. We’ve all been there, haven’t we? Since childhood, food has been our comforter, our solace, our friend. In a sea of overwhelming obstacles: bad news, frustrating tasks, difficulties with co-workers, it is food that is our life preserver. The one thing we can depend on. At least that’s how most of us have been programmed. Good food makes it all better. Ergo, more food makes it more better!

But like an alcoholic with an eviction notice in one hand and a bottle of whiskey in the other, the bottle is only going to make things worse. As foodaholics, overeating will only give us more about which to be upset.

Part of what makes us feel overwhelmed sometimes is feeling powerless. We’re not in control of our situation, so we’ll do something we can control, (eat), even if we do too much of it. Ironically, in the end, the food ends up controlling us, and we’re powerless again. At least that's how it feels. In reality, don’t we actually control what we put into our mouths? That’s our hand on the end of our arm that has hold of that fork or Twinkie. We DO have power. Instead of allowing our emotions to control our actions, (because so much of this isn’t about the emptiness in our stomachs), let us acknowledge our hands have the power. Sort of like tying wood splints to our elbows; if we don’t put our hands to our mouths too often, we won’t overeat! Wouldn’t you rather feel good about yourself and what you are able to accomplish, than feeling guilty for what you’re not?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Birthdays and Other Celebrations

Last week was a busy one for me and my husband. First, we celebrated our wedding anniversary. Two days later it was my birthday. Yes, thank you very much. The day after that, we had friends over for dinner. There are a lot of ‘celebratory’ meals in that small space of time.

Special occasions usually call for special meals, and typically a special meal is heavier, bigger, and always ends with dessert. So what did I do about it? Nothing. The experts say part of our fascination, read problem, with food is that practically from birth, we are taught to associate food with happiness and celebration. Birthday cakes, holiday meals, all A’s on our report card, just about any reason to be happy includes a reason to have a cookie or a piece of cake. I’m no different from the next person but I refused to fret and wring my hands over every bite.
I made the dinner for our anniversary: a no-holds-barred dish of lamb chops with herbs and mushrooms in phyllo dough. It was great and although I didn’t eat every bite, I knew it wasn’t low calorie. Dessert was chocolate mousse made from a mix, however, so I ‘lightened’ things a bit since I made it with no-fat milk. A couple of days later, my birthday dinner was at a local French cafĂ© that I adore. I had a cup of tomato basil soup which I usually avoid since it’s made with cream and is pretty high calorie. I enjoyed every spoonful. And yes, since it was my birthday, I had dessert, a vanilla custard tart. And finally, the dinner with friends? That called for my homemade chili and cornbread with dessert, a key lime pie.

What’s my point? This was a special week. It was a time of celebration with a gathering of friends. It’s important not to go overboard, but it I also believe we are entitled to a little indulgence every now and again. Now that the week is over, and things are getting back to normal, I’m also back on track with my calorie counting. If I’ve put on a pound, or even two after all that, it will take a couple of weeks to get back to my "fightin’ weight" as they say, but I’m motivated. I haven’t ‘given up’ because of my indulging this past week. It’s important to never lose sight of your goal: maintaining a good weight. Just be aware that the times we throw calorie counting to the wind are special occasions and should not be the norm. As long as we keep them infrequent, high calorie days should be no real problem now and then with little consequences.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Holiday Portions

Portion control, that’s what so much of calorie counting is all about. During the next three months, the challenge for many of us will be to keep our portions under control, especially when it comes to those luscious cakes and pies that we or others will be baking and bringing to parties and family gatherings. That’s why I like cupcakes and cookies. When it comes to cutting slices of cake or pie, or even scooping out servings of cobblers and crisps, our eyes are sometimes bigger than our stomachs, as my parents used to say. Of course, it’s not that we can’t eat that much, it’s that we shouldn’t. While a typical layer cake is intended to be sliced into about 12 servings, sometimes we end up cutting larger slices and getting only about 8 or 10 out of it.

If you’ve decided to bake a cake for an upcoming Halloween party, why not make cupcakes instead? The same amount of batter for a 2 layer cake will make 24 cupcakes. Since cupcakes aren’t filled and iced like a layer cake, you save calories on frosting as well. They’re also a lot of fun to decorate, are easier for children to handle, and they can be frozen for later if you have any left and don’t want all of them sitting around. The Betty Crocker website, has Halloween ideas for cupcakes along with the nutrition information for their recipes.

Cookies are also great for keeping portions under control as long as you don’t eat more than a recommended serving amount, usually 1 or 2, and make them all about the same size. This is also wise for getting evenly baked cookies. So if you have a recipe that says you’re supposed to get 24 cookies out of it, try to make sure you do. As you portion out the dough to get that recommended amount, you may also see a much smaller cookie than you had expected. That’s OK. You’ll at least know what to expect from that recipe next time and you’ll know exactly how many calories you’re getting every time you take a bite! Hey, holidays are meant to be enjoyed and food is part of that. But you don't want to associate them with over-indulgence and end up dreading them each year.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The 400+ Calorie Cookie

My computer homepage is a conglomeration of news, health, recipes and humor. Every day the cooking and baking portion of the site, gives several recipe suggestions. Today’s was a link to a wonderful site I already have bookmarked called One reason I appreciate this site so much is because it’s not only recipes that have been submitted by home cooks like myself, but most of the time these recipes include the nutrition information for each recipe.

One of today’s featured recipes is for chocolate chip cookies. They are probably one of my favorite cookies, especially if they’re chewy, which this recipe assures they are. They sounded wonderful! But when I read down to the nutrition information I was startled. The recipe yields one dozen cookies and under 'calories' it said: “411.” Now, I couldn’t imagine that each cookie was 411 calories! But then neither could I imagine that 411 was the total for the whole dozen, either. So I got out my calculator and went to figuring for myself. Well, I was right. The 411 wasn’t correct. No, the actual number was 411.6! And since anything over .5 should be rounded UP we could say each chocolate chip cookie is 412 calories! Oh-my-gosh, for one cookie??

I would expect that of those face-sized cookies you find at bookstore coffee shops, but these? Not having actually mixed them up and divided the dough into the recommended dozen portions, I can only hope that these are huge cookies, too. But if I make them, I’ll have to portion them out to 24 cookies to make them reasonable. But even then, each one will be worth about 206 calories. And who can eat just one chocolate chip cookie when they come hot out of the oven? I have to ask myself, is it really worth it? I’m not so sure. As much as I love homemade cookies, and I DO love to bake, store bought cookies are more controlled calorie-wise, and to be honest, they’re not so good that I can’t close up the package and walk away after giving myself the suggested serving amount.

If you like to bake, do go to the trouble of figuring the calories. This recipe albeit delicious sounding, is made up of the same things any others could be: butter, eggs, flour, sugar, but the proportions of ingredients make all the difference. Don’t assume what you’re eating contains a reasonable or 'average' amount of calories. Figure it up for yourself so you know for sure. You’ll be glad you did.