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That’s So Cheesy

Once upon a time, I could eat just about anything I wanted. Pizza, spaghetti, bagels, Good Humor ice cream bars, lemon meringue pie… And I didn’t gain weight. I didn’t feel sick. And I was happy.

The first food limits were self-imposed when I stopped eating meat at the age of 13. While my decision came about due to my love of animals, I had also noticed that I felt awful every time I ate meat. Who knows if this was physical or psychological, but either way, that was the first food-related restriction. It seemed to bother other people way more than it bothered me. Everyone worried about what I could eat. And where I’d get my protein. And that I’d end up with anemia. This was back in the Stone Age when there weren’t the myriad alternative meat options there are today. Every time there was a family get-together, there was the wringing of the hands as to what they could feed me. I always tried to remind everyone that their entire meal did not consist of dead animals. That there were plenty of other options on the table. But the panic ensued for many years.

Thankfully, after college I moved to Los Angeles, where veggie burgers were found in abundance, and fresh fruit and vegetables were available year-round. And there were other kindred spirits who made me feel that I wasn’t so alone in the world of carnivores.

Pasta was always a great option as well. My favorite was Fettuccine Alfredo, the ultimate comfort food. Carbs slathered by creamy, cheesy goodness melted into one coma-inducing blob of deliciousness. And I still didn’t gain an ounce.

And just around the time I was congratulating myself for still being within ten pounds of my wedding weight, wham! The need for surgery arose. And things started to change. First was that my blood pressure went sky high and never completely reverted to the very normal numbers I had always enjoyed, in spite of the various medical combinations my doctors prescribed. Obviously, diet and exercise were important. So I learned to live within the boundaries of a sodium-restricted diet. Everything began tasting like cardboard. And, I gained ten pounds. So food tasted worse to me, my options were starting to shrink while my stomach and thighs were starting to grow.

Then, sugar became an issue. I didn’t drink sugary sodas, and I didn’t often eat dessert. But I did drink orange juice in the morning. It was my special treat each day. But I grudgingly switched over to low-sodium V-8. Which I now really enjoy, but in the beginning, it made me very grumpy. And more favorite things got crossed off the list.

But I still had my pasta. And I still had my cheese. So I made some adjustments to my diet and carried on.

Then came the thyroid surgery. The surgery I hadn’t been worried about. The surgery that left me without a speaking voice for six months. The surgery that changed so many things about my body, I’m still reeling. But the main two changes were that I got sick every time I ate, eventually realizing it was the gluten that was the problem. And within one year I gained over 30 pounds. So in spite of the fact that I had to cut out my beloved bread and pasta, the weight was piling on faster than I could put food in my mouth.

I exercised. I counted calories. And nothing changed. Finally, I got really strict about what I was doing and over the course of a year and a half, I lost 20 pounds. I was so proud of myself. And I kept it off in spite of so many stressful things happening in my life. Then, out of the blue, last year, the weight slowly started creeping back on. And within about two months, ten pounds came back. NO! I screamed each time I got up the nerve to step on the stupid, traitorous scale. What the heck? I hadn’t changed anything that had been working, and yet those sneaky calories were still somehow sabotaging my best efforts.

I did some soul-searching. There was still one delicious thing left in my diet. I could eat it straight out of the fridge when I was hungry. Melt it on a corn tortilla for breakfast. Shred it over a boring salad and make things tasty. But, it does have lots of calories. And fat. And has addictive qualities. My beloved cheese. The last holdout from my previous carefree life. But in the interest of health and weight control, I researched cheese substitutes. I bought several that were sliced and some that were shredded. I took a nibble of the sliced “cheese” that was supposed to taste like cheddar. I shuddered. I tried the shredded “cheese” over my rice pasta – it wasn’t too bad, melted. Then one of my friends informed me the slices also needed to be melted in order to be food-like. And it’s true. Especially if you add some avocado on top of it.

So far, the scale has rewarded me by going down one pound. One whole pound, imagine that. I’ve given up the last bastion of deliciousness and one pound has melted away. OK.

So, I’m going to try to get some more exercise in my daily life and see if that helps. Some recent studies I’ve read give me hope. One is about the correlation between sleep and weight loss – I could get behind that one. I’m ready to sleep almost any time of day. Especially if I blink too long. Another study said something to the effect that taking a bath might be equivalent to a half hour of walking. Sign me up! If sleeping more and taking baths could get me to my normal weight, you probably won’t see me until the end of July.

 

Meanwhile, nobody better mention taking my avocado away from me. I’m a woman on the edge.

 

Copyright Nancy Machlis Rechtman, all rights reserved

 

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Don’t Give Me Some Sugar

Magazines in a library

We are drowning in misinformation. Boing, boing, boing – our belief system is challenged so frequently we end up with whiplash. There are studies that make us believe one thing. Eventually, those studies are disproved, and we’re supposed to believe something else. We’ve seen it with so many things we ingest, inhale, inhabit. We’re inundated with ads telling us life will be so much better if only we own – or use – certain things. If we question their safety or efficacy, studies are shoved in our face to assure us that all is good and benign and we should all just shut up, close our eyes, and don’t worry, be happy.

We like to hang onto the things that make us feel good. Years ago, it was cigarettes.  cigaretteWhen scientists were attempting to ring the alarm bells as to the dangers of smoking, the tobacco industry funded studies to calm those fears, assuring the public that there wasn’t any real danger and you could just keep puffing away with no ill effects. You were cool and fun if you smoked. Happy, popular people waving cigarettes around were the pictures we were deluged with on TV, in movies, and in magazines. The images of rotted lungs and cancer-ridden bodies were kept well-hidden for years. Big Tobacco had their own “peer-reviewed” studies published in major scientific journals to counter the bad publicity. Is anyone surprised? My guess is, not really.

e-cigNow there’s controversy over vaping. For those who want to smoke anywhere that smoking is prohibited, e-cigarettes initially seemed like a great option. But now we are hearing about their dangerous chemicals and flavorings and the fact that inhaling the vapor both first- and second-hand may be carcinogenic after all. While I don’t know of any current studies that purport vaping is perfectly safe, I’m waiting for that industry to push back in order to keep their profit margins healthy.

antibac-soapRecently, antibacterial soap has been banned. For years, we felt cleaner, even more virtuous, using antibacterial soap instead of plain old soap and water. It made sense, right? We were germ warriors, fighting disease and nasty bacteria while we sang two  verses of “Happy Birthday” as our hands foamed up with antibacterial cleanser straight from the pump, and water. And now, our halos have been tarnished by the knowledge that it soapwas all for naught. A plain old bar of no-name soap has the same cleaning properties as our fancy, expensive, wonderfully scented cleansers. And it’s probably much safer as well.

But to me, the most egregious betrayal has been done to us by the sugar industry. Sugar! Sweet and wonderful sugar. Where would we be sugarwithout birthday cake and chocolate chip cookies and butter pecan ice cream and chocolate?

What happened was almost Shakespearean in the depth of the lies and treachery that pinned our growing obesity and heart disease epidemic solely on fat. Everything changed after these studies seemed to show, without a doubt, that we needed to stop eating fat – immediately. So new fat-freeindustries suddenly appeared – fat-free everything became the rage. The fact that even more sugar was being added to these foods to make them not taste like cardboard, was largely ignored.

A quote found on the NBC News page sums it all up: “Together with other recent analyses of sugar industry documents, our findings suggest the industry sponsored a research program in the 1960s and 1970s that successfully cast doubt about the hazards of sucrose while promoting fat as the dietary culprit in coronary heart disease,” Kearns, Glantz and colleagues wrote. “By the 1980s, few scientists believed that added sugars played a significant role in coronary heart disease, and the first 1980 Dietary Guidelines for Americans focused on reducing total fat, saturated fat, and dietary cholesterol for coronary heart disease prevention,” they added.

dollarsThink of what this means for a moment. Think of all the money you spent on crappy tasting food because you thought it would make you healthy. Think of all the people who developed or increased their heart-disease risks and diabetes risks because they stopped eating fats, but continued to load up on sugar-laden foods. Think of the fact that the people behind industry-funded research don’t give a damn about anything other than the almighty dollar and we are paying the price for all of this greed and corruption. And we are not only paying the price in dollars, but also with our health – and our lives.

Even though I consider myself a realist, this even surprised me. If you can’t trust something as sweet as sugar, who or what can you trust?  I expect politicians to betray me. I expect boyfriends to betray me. I’ve even learned to expect my own body to betray me. But sugar? It’s enough to push me over the edge in search of a bar of chocolate. Or ice cream. Or both.

chocolate

 

Copyright Nancy Machlis Rechtman, all rights reserved

 

Are You Being Served?

So, I have mentioned before that I no longer am able to eat much these days aside from lettuce and cardboard. This often makes it a bit on the frustrating side when I am joining friends or family for a nice meal out. I mean, at home, it’s still not much fun, but at least I have some sort of control over what’s in the fridge or freezer and I am generally aware of what I’m eating – except for the nights that I’m so stressed or tired I forget to eat until bedtime and then I’m not responsible for what I shove down my throat.

wheat-macaroni-pasta-bread-muffin-whole-grainBasically, I do not eat meat and I can no longer tolerate delicious foods which include gluten or cream. Meaning I can no longer tolerate delicious foods. On a side note, you would think I’d weigh 90 pounds at this point for as little I can eat and how often I get sick if I accidentally ingest something that is delicious. But life is cruel and life often goes the opposite way that you think it should, so I have learned not to expect justice.

Following the above-placed dots, this brings us to your example of the week of the frustrations that can be faced by those of us on any kind of limited diet – I know many of you can relate on some level to the following situation.

I went out to dinner with the boy child for his birthday (and hopefully the girl child – they are twins –  and I and maybe even my hubby will get to celebrate soon next time we’re all in the same city at the same time).

We went to an Italian chain restaurant (not the Olive Garden, but one that has a name spaghetticontaining the word Grill) that I used to love, pre the no-gluten thing. I haven’t been there for awhile due to the delicious pasta-based foods calling my name, the delicious bread that is plunked on the table singing its Siren song, the cream-based sauces that demand to add 10 pounds to my thighs… But it was not my birthday, so that’s where we went.

I searched frantically for a salad that was larger than 3 tomatoes, 3 slices of mozzarella cheese and a basil leaf to eat, since everything else on the menu pretty much either had meat, cream, or gluten. No such luck. So I resigned myself to the Caprese Salad, and explained my situation to the waitress who couldn’t believe that was all I was going to eat, especially since I’m sure I look like I have a much heartier appetite. Anyway, she said they have gluten-free pasta there – specifically penne – and I could order off their menu where you can pick your own ingredients. That sounded like a great idea until she told me I could actually order anything off the menu and ask for gluten-free pasta as a substitute.  Well, now we were talking!

menuI really wanted something delicious. I felt like I deserved something delicious. So I ordered a shrimp dish that I used to order that had a lemon sauce and pine nuts and other yummy ingredients. Now, I don’t think I mentioned that when we got to the restaurant, we were told there would be a 10 – 15-minute wait. Not a terribly long wait, although I was surprised there would be any wait on a weeknight, but OK. We waited a half hour. Then it was about another half hour until we got our food, so I will admit that I was hungry. My boy child got to eat the entire loaf of delicious bread on his own, so he was doing OK. I was ready to eat the crayons that were on the table.

pizzaFinally, the server arrived. She handed my boy child his pizza. Then she smiled and said, “Here is your Chicken Piccata.” I looked at her in confusion. I explained I hadn’t ordered that chicken or any chicken. Our waitress was at the next table, and server worriedly hurried over to her where they conferred in hushed tones over this dilemma. The waitress approached and smiled.

“This is what you ordered,” she told me.

I shook my head. “Do you remember our conversation about me not eating meat?” I asked as nicely as I could at this point. “I guarantee you I did not order chicken. I ordered the shrimp and pasta.”

I think a little light dawned at this point. “OK, well, I’ll just move the chicken off this plate and you can keep the pasta and then I’ll have them heat up some shrimp for you.”

Now, the chicken was in with the pasta. I really didn’t want chickenish pasta. So I asked if they could just make me what I had ordered. She said it would take a few minutes and gave me a look like I had told her to dance around the restaurant with a jug of wine on her head.

Ten minutes later, she smilingly brought me the shrimp and pasta – the pasta which looked very suspiciously like the pasta on the first plate. I decided not to say anything other than asking if she was sure it was gluten-free pasta. She assured me it was.

I took a bite. It was not bad, but I was pretty sure the dish I ordered didn’t have chunks of mushroom and cherry tomatoes in it. And this pasta had no pine nuts either. But I thought I’d let it slide, since I was kind of ravenous at this point. Then I crunched on something. Something that tasted suspiciously like a meat-related food. Such as bacon. I called the waitress back over. You can only imagine her joy as she approached the table.

“I think there’s bacon in this pasta,” I said through gritted teeth, trying to approximate a smile.

“Oh no, it’s not bacon,” she assured me. “It’s pancetta.”

I looked at her in shock. When I was finally able to speak, I said, “Do you remember the part of the conversation where I told you I don’t eat meat? This is not what I ordered.”

images.padShe did not admit that she had made another mistake – a mistake partly due I’m sure to the fact that many restaurants these days insist that your servers are not allowed to write anything down and must instead memorize every last detail of your order. I will happily pay an extra dime for them to use a piece of paper and get my order right. Instead of her apologizing profusely and admitting that she had no idea what I had ordered, she said that she had shown me the list of allergens (she had) and asked if I was OK with what I ordered. I asked her to bring the menu, and proceeded to show her that the dish I had ordered didn’t have pancetta or tomatoes or mushrooms, and should have had pine nuts and other MIA ingredients.

She looked at me, sighed, and told me she’d go ahead and put in an order for the dish I was telling her I should have had. I told her never mind, I had completely lost my appetite.

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She did apologize, but advised me that next time I came there, I should order the choose-your-own meal so I could get exactly what I wanted. I sighed, we left, and I proceeded to get sick when I got home. Yes, sure, I’ll be back there soon.

 

Copyright Nancy Machlis Rechtman, all rights reserved

FOLLOW THE YELLOW BRICK ROAD

Sometimes, you get a sign from above that can’t be ignored. Of course, you need to understand it’s a sign. You might have to get whacked over the head if you’re not one who easily recognizes subtleties. But at some point, once the massive headache has subsided, you realize that you have strayed off-course and somehow need to find your way back to the path that will take you to the magical land of Oz.

Let’s start with how I’ve gone astray. I blame it mostly on the luck of the draw. In the past 12 years, I’ve had two surgeries that basically changed my genetic make-up from a person with a healthy weight and healthy lifestyle, to a shrieking, angry person who does battle with the scale and the mirror each day, trying to figure out what the heck happened to my once-decent body.

These body mutations now include high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high weight numbers. And the doctors keep telling me it’s normal aging. Uh, no, I beg to differ. I exercise, never eat anything even slightly enjoyable, largely thanks to the fact that I can no longer tolerate gluten – no bread, no pasta, no cookies, no cake, essentially leaving me two options: cardboard and birdseed.

image.scaleAnd now, the dirty admission. In spite of what all the experts suggest, I am fanatical about weighing myself each morning. On two scales. First, on the newer, digital scale. Once I am suitably mortified by that scale’s horrific news, I lurch over to my old, non-digital scale, hoping for a different result. Which pretty much never ever happens. The keening and wailing begin as I digest the reality that these numbers are not going to change for the better. But I can’t help myself. Because every once in awhile, the number actually goes down. Like when I have the stomach flu. Or food poisoning. That lasts for days and days on end.

Anyway, then came this morning. First, I weighed myself on the digital. The number had jumped by 3 pounds from 3 days ago. Of course it did. For absolutely no reason. This is the punishment I get for even hoping it might have gone down since all I ate yesterday was an orange, some lettuce and, as I said, birdseed. Then, I went onto my old, non-digital scale. I heard it groan. Then I heard a thud. When I looked down, it had died. Seriously. It just couldn’t take it anymore. And so, it’s gone.

I know scales aren’t supposed to die. It has to be a sign. I need to try once again to change my ways. To find my way back to the decent, much healthier body I had 12 years ago. But, how to make this slamming on my head stop, and how to find my way back to the Yellow Brick Road, and – oops, not Oz. Not exactly. Why didn’t I realize it before? All I need to do is look at the man behind the curtain on TV. The man who has all the answers. Just find me a pair of ruby slippers, and I’ll skip down the Yellow Brick Road as fast as I can! Straight to Dr. Oz!

Copyright Nancy Machlis Rechtman, all rights reserved