A Personal Tune-Up

Two new routines in my life.

I turned 56 at the end of June. (Unlike other women, I don’t lie about my age.) And although I’m a lot more active than my mother (for example) was at my age, I’m not quite as active and fit as I’d like to be. To make matters worse, I’ve discovered that Mother Nature plays nasty little tricks on a person’s body as he or she ages.

While most people would take the attitude that it’s all part of aging and there’s nothing they can do about it, I’d rather not. So I’ve set August as the beginning of a personal tune-up period and have added two new routines to my life.

Feeling Better through Weight Loss

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that back in 2012 I lost 45 pounds or approximately 23% of my body weight. (I’ll let you do the math; and you never thought you’d use high school algebra, huh?) This huge weight loss coincided with the beginning of my crazy divorce and lots of folks assumed that stress from the divorce caused the weight loss. It didn’t — although I suspect it did help. I lost all that weight by getting on and sticking to Medifast, a diet plan that two friends had used to lose 80 and 70 pounds respectively. A friend who started at the same weight as me lost just as much as I did in about the same amount of time. Truth is, by the time I got home from my summer job to face the crazy that awaited me, I’d already dropped most that weight and I managed to keep most of it off for two years.

But as you might expect from going off a strict, unsustainable diet plan — I had no desire to eat that “food” for the rest of my life — the weight crept back on. Not all of it, thank heaven. But enough to make me feel the sluggishness and lack of motivation that I felt back in the final days of my ill-advised marriage. So I decided to do something about it.

The question was what to do? Sure — I could get back on Medifast and drop all that weight in another four months. But then I’d secure my seat on a dieting seesaw I never wanted to be on. I needed a more sustainable plan, something that would allow me to eat the food I wanted without counting calories or getting overly concerned about portions.

Enter Whole30

Long story short: six different friends raved to me about Whole30. It’s apparently been around for a while. It’s a version of a Paleo diet. Food is broken down into broad yes/no categories:

Yes No
Meats, fish, and eggs Dairy, including cheese (!)
Fruit Added sugar or sugar substitute
Vegetables (with some exceptions) Legumes
Nuts (with some exceptions) Grains, including whole grains and pasta
Natural fats Alcohol, including wine (!)

This isn’t everything you need to know, of course. But it is about 90% of what the plan entails.

It’s about your health, stupid.

I have no patience for overweight people who claim that they don’t care what other people think of them or that fat can be beautiful or that society places too strong an emphasis on perfect bodies and they don’t care. These people are missing the point.

I’m not saying we should all look like runway models. I’m saying that we should maintain healthy body weight. So many ailments can be avoided or even cured by weight loss. This isn’t bullshit hearsay — it’s the truth. Not only will you look better and feel better when you get down to a healthy weight, but you’ll be healthier and have a much better feeling of self-esteem. Take it from me: I’ve been there. Stop making excuses and start taking care of your health.

The idea is to stick to this plan exactly as written for 30 days (yes, it’s the 30 Day Challenge). The authors of the plan and the book that goes with it make all kinds of claims about how good you’ll feel at the end of that month. Some of them are admittedly outrageous — like claims to “cure” literally dozens of ailments related to “silent inflammation.” I don’t believe all that crap, although I do believe that symptoms of some ailments can be greatly reduced with a good diet and healthy weight. For example, I have had high blood pressure for years; it runs in my family. When I was very heavy, it took three meds to control it. When I lost all that weight, I got it under control with just one med — and that’s where I am today.

(I might also mention here that one of the reasons I was determined to lose all that weight back in 2012 is because my doctor told me I needed to start watching my sugar numbers. Type 2 diabetes also runs in my family and I didn’t want any part of that. My weight loss took the possibility of that off the table — no pun intended.)

Whole30 BookThe Whole30 book itself is pretty funny if you read it with a mind as cynical as mine. It’s all “rah-rah” and “you’ll hate us for this but” and other such nonsense meant to encourage weak people. The way I see it, if you want to see results, you have to stick to a plan that’ll work. No amount of coaxing is going to work on someone with no willpower.

The gimmick with the Whole30 Challenge is that for the 30 days you’re following the plan, you can’t cheat. Not even a tiny bit. If you have anything to eat that isn’t allowed, you have to start over. So yes, the 1/3 teaspoon (I measured it) of sugar and half ounce (estimated) of milk that I put into my 18 ounce cup of coffee (allowed) this morning is cheating and I’d have to start over tomorrow. That ain’t gonna happen. I was warned by my Medifast diet coach that coffee, milk, and sugar weren’t allowed on Medifast and I wouldn’t get results if I had them every morning. But I did and I still lost a shit-ton of weight.

And sure, you can throw my words about willpower above back in my face, but my morning coffee is something I’m not willing to give up for a week, let alone a month. I want to find a plan I can live with, not suffer through.

Not a Weight Loss Plan?

I should point out here that the Whole30 book claims it isn’t a weight loss diet plan. I honestly think they say that so you’re not disappointed when you don’t lose weight. But in the book, they say that you will lose weight as a side effect of getting all the bad food out of your system. And although they don’t have you counting calories, they do talk about portion sizes and having just three meals a day — or at least keeping three hours between smaller meals. And that sounds a lot like Medifast.

I guess it’s all the same no matter how different it is.

You Have to Like to Cook

One of the interesting aspects of Whole30 is that because you have no idea what they put in restaurant food, you can’t really eat in a restaurant. And because you’ll likely die of boredom eating plain salad and grilled meat all the time, they have lots of recipes in the book. (There are also a ton online. Want to make a pork dish? Google Whole30 pork recipe.) So you’ll theoretically do a lot of cooking at home. I like to cook so that’s okay with me.

The other day I made their Classic Chili recipe using some of the ground beef I already had in my freezer (from the 1/4 cow I bought last year) and vegetables right out of my garden. It was surprisingly delicious. It also made enough for me to freeze two portions so the next time I don’t feel like cooking, I can grab one out of the freezer, pop it in the microwave, and enjoy.

The book also has a ton of recipes for various sauces to spice up plainly prepared foods. I made an almond- and tomato-based “romesco sauce” yesterday to top garlic shrimp with zucchini noodles. The recipe made enough for several meals, so I used some this morning on an omelet I made with eggs from my chickens and onions, tomatoes, and peppers from my garden. It really did make breakfast more interesting.

Home Made Lara Bars
With no added sugar and simple, wholesome ingredients, you don’t need to be on a special diet plan to like these energy bars.

I also found a recipe online the other day for Whole30-compliant energy bars similar to the Larabars you might find in your supermarket or health food store. I made two versions: one with dates, coconut, dried cherries, almonds, and pepitas and the other with dates, coconut, dried apricots, almonds, and flax seeds. I put half in the fridge and used my vacuum sealer to seal and freeze the other half in individual bars. I’ve been eating them for dessert and will likely take them on hiking or day trips. They’re actually quite tasty.

So I guess that as long as I can continue to make interesting foods, I’ll have no trouble sticking with it. My 30 days started yesterday and I’ll go until month-end. I’ll likely blog some interesting things I discover along the way.

But I don’t actually expect Whole30 to be the reason I lose weight over the next few months. I’ll leave that to Invisalign.

Stopping Shifting Teeth

Here’s something I never knew about aging: your teeth shift.

I’ve always had very healthy teeth — only three cavities in my life so far. They were not, however, perfectly straight. When I was a kid, my parents actually debated me getting braces for an overbite and eventually decided that it wasn’t severe enough. (They were right about that.) My bottom teeth, however, have always been a bit crooked, with one of the front ones sitting at a 30° angle to the others. Fortunately, no one sees that when I smile since my front teeth steal the show. So although I was never happy about those bottom teeth, I never saw a need to fix them.

One of the happy side effects of my divorce is that I smile a lot more now. (It’s true! I’m a much happier person!) And about a year or two ago, I started to notice that in photos of me smiling, one of my front teeth seemed to be in the shadows. I realized, with a bit of horror, that it was starting to shift backwards in my mouth and it was affecting my smile.

Now I’m not raving beauty and I came to terms with that years and years ago. But I do look best when I’m smiling so I do it a lot. I found the thought of my smile getting ugly very hard to swallow.

Enter Invisalign

Invisalign is a program with dental “appliances” to straighten teeth. It’s extremely effective in cases where not much straightening is required — like in my mouth — and it’s popular with adults because it’s basically invisible to others. The patient starts with a set of clear plastic appliances that fit over his or her teeth and gently tug them toward the desired end position. Every 7 to 10 days, the appliance is replaced with a new one that continues the positioning. At the end of the program, the teeth should be in the desired end position.

My dentist showed me an animation of my teeth moving into the proper position over time. It was very cool. I’ll see if I can track down a sharable copy.

In my case, I’ll be using 20 sets of appliances. They started me yesterday with my first one. The worst part is the placement by the dentist of small upraised points on several teeth to hold the plastic braces in place. Then they snap in snugly and go to work. I can feel them pulling, but although I thought they’d keep me up, I slept like a log last night — nine full hours!

And yes, I do have to wear them night and day. You must wear them 20 to 22 hours a day for them to work.

I’ll wear these for 10 days, then switch. Then 10 days of that and a switch. Then I visit my dentist so he can see how things are going and get the next batch. I’m hoping that they’re going well enough to do a switch every 7 days instead of 10 to speed up the program.

The net results: I should have all my teeth — even the bottom ones I’d already decided I could live with crooked — straightened within about six months.

Of course, since my teeth will want to continue to shift as I continue to age, I’ll have to wear a retainer at night, likely for the rest of my life. Let’s hope I can live with that.

Invisalign and Weight Loss

Of course, I talked to a bunch of people about their Invisalign experience before plunking down a bunch of money to give it a try. (It ain’t cheap.) And one of the things that came up is the fact that you lose weight when you’re on Invisalign.

What?

Well, it actually makes perfect sense. You have to wear these things at least 20 hours a day and you can’t eat or drink anything other than water while you’re wearing them. Sure, they’re easy enough to take out, but if you take them out to eat, you need to brush your teeth and clean the plastic appliances before putting them back in. This is a huge pain in the ass. So, as a result, people wearing Invisalign appliances don’t do much snacking between meals. That means they lose weight.

So combine Whole30 with Invisalign and it would be a miracle if I didn’t lose weight.

Invisalign and White Teeth

I also expect that my teeth will be cleaner and whiter than they’ve ever been before.

Let’s face it: I hate brushing my teeth. I hate the flavor of toothpaste. (Peppermint has been known to make me nauseous.) When I eat a meal, I want the flavor of the meal to linger on my palate 20 or 30 minutes later, not the minty flavor of toothpaste. So I normally brush my teeth just once a day, and that’s usually right after showering. I do everything in my power to avoid brushing right before or after my morning coffee, which really is sacred to me.

But now I have to brush after every meal or snack. I brushed my teeth four times yesterday. I expect to brush at least five times today as I begin considering my mid-morning snack.

I use a whitening toothpaste. Brushing 4-5 times a day would have to result in whiter teeth, no?

So in six months, I can expect to have the straightest, whitest teeth I’ve ever had.

Is It Time for Your Tune Up?

Getting old sucks. (And don’t give me the tired old saw about it beating the alternative; there will come a point for many of us when the alternative is better.) But you don’t have to take things lying down. You can do what’s within your power or budget to make your life better as you age.

That’s what I’m doing. If you’re not, why not?

Learning about Milk Fat

I learned something new today, thanks to a debate with a friend.

The other day, a friend and I were discussing milk.

I told her I preferred 2% milk but was trying to get to like 1% milk. To me, it was about reducing unnecessary fat and calories in my diet. I’ve been drinking 2% milk for years and actually now prefer its flavor and consistency over whole milk. Whole milk, to me, had become too rich, almost like a light cream. I wanted to start liking 1% milk in an effort to further reduce fat and calories for a healthy diet. I already enjoy fat-free yogurt; indeed, I don’t think I’ve had whole milk yogurt in years, if ever. (Do they even make it? I guess I could make my own.)

My friend was adamantly opposed to reduced fat milk. I gathered from our conversation that she thought they added things to the milk that made it less healthy when they removed the fat. Or that something about the actual process of making reduced fat milk caused it to be less healthy. In any case, she thought reduced fat milk was bad and didn’t want to hear anything else about it.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, especially in the past three or four years, is that when someone is stuck with an idea in their head it’s no use debating the point. At least not without facts. And although I suspected there was nothing unhealthy about reduced fat milk, I had no evidence to prove my point. So I let the subject drop and we chatted about other things.

But this morning, when I sat down with my coffee and some time to kill before dawn, I set about finding some evidence to support my point of view.

How Reduced Fat Milk is Made

I Googled “How do they make reduced fat milk?” I got a number of search results. The first, from The Kitchn website, had the answer I was looking for: “How is Skim Milk Made?“. Here’s the pertinent info:

So how is skim milk made? Traditionally, the fat was removed naturally from milk due to gravity. If fresh milk is left to sit and settle, the cream — which is where most of the fat is — rises to the top, leaving behind milk with much less fat.

The quicker, modernized way of making low-fat and skim milks is to place the whole milk into a machine called a centrifugal separator, which spins some or all of the fat globules out of the milk. This occurs before the milk is homogenized, a process which reduces all the milk particles to the same size so that natural separation doesn’t occur anymore.

The article goes on to provide some other interesting information about milk and fat free milk. Among that information was a note about additives:

Federal law mandates that most skim milk has to be fortified with vitamin A and sometimes vitamin D. This is due to the fact that even though whole milk naturally has a fair amount of both, the vitamins are fat soluble and thus lost when the milk fat is removed during the skimming process.

Milk solids in the form of dried milk are also added since they contain proteins that help thicken the watery consistency of skim milk.

Not only was this likely the additives that worried my friend, but it also explained how some brands of skim milk were far more palatable than others: they likely added back more dried milk to thicken it up.

2% Milk
The only thing that creeps me out about Shamrock Foods milk is its extraordinarily long shelf life: the quart I bought last week is supposedly good until March. Could it be the plastic packaging?

Now I don’t know if the 2% milk I normally consume has a lot of vitamins or any milk fat added back in. The milk in my camper’s refrigerator now — remember, I’m on the road this winter — is from Shamrock Farms and says it contains “reduced fat milk, Vitamins A & D.” Nothing about milk solids.

So nothing I learned about the production of reduced fat milk has scared me away from drinking it.

Benefits of Whole vs. Reduced Fat Milk

Scrolling down in the same search results, however, brought up links to two different articles in TIME Magazine. I read them both. After all, I wanted to learn the truth — a truth that would either support or even change my own opinions.

  • The Case Against Low-fat Milk Is Stronger Than Ever from April 4, 2016 cites a study of people whose health had been tracked for 15 years. The conclusion was that, if anything, people who consumed whole fat dairy products were less likely to be obese or suffer from type 2 diabetes.
  • Why Full-Fat Dairy May Be Healthier Than Low-Fat from March 5, 2015 cites the results of over 25 studies that concluded that “people who eat full-fat dairy are no more likely to develop cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes than people who stick to low-fat dairy. When it comes to weight gain, full-fat dairy may actually be better for you.”

Huh.

Both articles suggested that there might be something special about the fat in dairy that works with our bodies to help them process the foods we eat and help us feel full. Dairy fat could actually be preventing us from eating less healthy sugars and carbs to feel sated. And these articles maintained that it was foolhardy for diets to recommend cutting (or eating) just one kind of nutrient — for example, low fat or fat-free diets — when the body naturally works with all consumed nutrients together.

I understand how these studies could have gotten these results. Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s when the fat-free diet craze was in full swing, stores were full of fat-free processed foods. I know because I still lived at home (or at least visited regularly) and saw that my mother bought them. She, like so many other people, thought that the answer to keeping weight under control was to keep as much fat out of their diets as possible. But rather than do this by eating naturally low fat foods like fruits and vegetables and whole grains, they did it by buying processed foods labeled “fat free.” They then consumed as much as they wanted, not paying attention to the ingredients that made this food taste good despite the lack of fat: mostly sugar. Calorie counts were sky high. It was around this time that I started reading labels and making food choices based on what I read. While I don’t have a perfect diet, I’ve learned to minimize my time in a supermarket’s middle aisles where all the processed foods reside.

The Calorie Argument

Okay, so what about calories? The articles both confirmed that one of the benefits of reduced fat dairy products was the accompanying reduction in calories. So I decided to see just how many calories I was saving by switching between whole, 2%, and 1% milk. (I really detest fat-free milk and generally only have it in lattes because I think it froths better. Fat free yogurt tastes fine to me.)

So I Googled “What is the calorie count for whole, 2%, 1%, and fat free milk?” The PopSugar website had the answer I sought: “Whole vs. Reduced vs. Low-Fat vs. Nonfat Milk.” Here’s the nutritional information that interests me for one 8-ounce cup of milk:

  Whole 2% 1% Fat-free
Calories 150 130 110 90
Total Fat (g / %) 8 / 3 5 / 2 2.5 / 1 ~0 / 0

What’s interesting when you read data in the article’s table is that they all the same fiber, carbs, and protein but 1% and fat-free milks actually have more sugar — although admittedly it isn’t much more: 11g vs. 12g.

Now I don’t drink a lot of milk, although I probably do drink more than the average adult. I’ll go through a half gallon in about a week. Every cup of 2% is saving me only 20 calories over whole milk and a switch down to 1% milk would only save another 20 calories. Is it worth it? I don’t think so.

At this point, I sort of regret getting so used to 2% milk.

An Exercise in Critical Thinking

So what did I learn?

In a way, my friend was right: reduced fat milk isn’t any better for you than whole milk. And if she believed that there were additives, she’s right — although I’m not sure those additives make reduced fat milk any less healthy.

But in a way, she was also wrong: reduced fat milk isn’t really bad for you. It just doesn’t give the health benefits we’ve been led to believe.

As for me, I was wrong. There’s no real reason to switch to reduced fat milk. I have no evidence to show her. I have nothing to stand on for pressing my original point of view.

Will I change the way I buy milk? Probably not — at least for now. I really do like 2% milk. I’m used to it. To me, drinking whole milk is almost like drinking cream. I’m not so picky, however, that I’ll turn down whole milk if that’s the only thing available. I’m not worried about 2% milk hurting my health.

But 1% and fat-free milk have definitely become a little bit less attractive. No real calorie benefit and what’s with the added sugar? And what if milk fat really is good for you? Should I really be minimizing it?

And that’s what critical thinking is all about, folks. Gathering information and forming your own opinions after thinking about what you’ve learned. Even if you begin researching with a preconceived notion, you need to be ready to change your mind when the evidence clearly tells you your notion is wrong. You shouldn’t just look for evidence that supports your view. You should look for evidence that tells the whole story, the true story, or at least the story that properly conducted research and established facts support.

I sure wish more people would learn to think critically in today’s world.

Low-Fat, Low-Calorie Raisin Bran Muffins

A variation of a Martha Stewart recipe.

This summer, after cleaning out my RV for the last time, I found myself with an unopened box of raisin bran cereal. I like raisin bran, but there are other cereals I like better. So I searched for a way to use up the cereal and remembered how I used to occasionally make raisin bran muffins. So I went in search of a good recipe that called for the ingredients I had on hand. I found this one on MarthaStewart.com.

I made them with just one substitution: I didn’t have whole wheat flour so I used just unbleached flour. They came out amazing: moist and tender. I stored the leftover muffins in the fridge and reheated them one at a time with a 30-second zap in my microwave.

Of course, the big drawback to the recipe is also what makes it moist: it contains oil, which is high in fat (duh) and also high in calories. Although the folks at MarthaStewart.com seem to think this is a “low-fat” recipe, it could be better. I decided to try again with a substitution that could make it better: using unsweetened applesauce instead of oil.

This isn’t something I dreamed up. I’d read it in other places and figured this recipe would give me a good opportunity to try it. Here’s my version of the recipe — not only did it come out great, but it’s about 80 calories less per muffin than the Martha version. Like the other version, this makes 6 largish muffins.

Ingredients:

  • Nutritional Info
    Nutritional information with the ingredients here. As you might expect, it’s pretty high in fiber.

    1 1/2 cups raisin bran. I used Kellogs, but you can use any brand. If you can get it without sugar-coated raisins (ick), go for it.

  • 3/4 cup 2% milk. You could probably substitute fat-free milk for even less fat and a lower calorie count.
  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour. If I had whole wheat flour — it’s on my shopping list now — I’d do 1/2 cup of each.
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 tbsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar. You could probably reduce the amount of sugar if you wanted to since the unsweetened applesauce is still sweeter than oil. That would further reduce the calorie count.
  • 1/4 cup sauce unsweetened applesauce. If you use sweetened applesauce, you might be able to completely omit the brown sugar. I don’t know; I haven’t tried it. I don’t buy sweetened applesauce.

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Lightly grease a 6-cup muffin tin.
  2. In medium bowl, combine cereal and milk. Let stand until softened, about 5 minutes.
  3. Stir applesauce, egg, and sugar into cereal mixture and mix well.
  4. In a small bowl, thoroughly combine remaining ingredients. Fold into cereal mixture.
  5. Raisin Bran Muffin
    One of the drawbacks of substituting applesauce for oil is that the muffin sticks to the paper liner. The next time I make this, I’ll put the batter in the individual lightly oiled tin cups.

    Divide batter into prepared muffin cups. Bake 20-25 minutes, until toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.

  6. Cool in pan 5 minutes, then move to a wire rack. Store in a sealed container in refrigerator.

If you do make this, let me know what you think. I’m also interested in any substitution ideas you might have.