Honoring Hunger and Fullness

By Katie, 8:32 pm

The first time I went on a diet I was in 7th grade.

I remember it quite clearly. I decided to try to lose weight because at my annual physical exam, my doctor – yes, that’s right, my pediatrician started the whole mess – told me I should. It should be noted that I was not technically overweight when the doctor told me this; rather, my weight had simply gone up more sharply during the previous year than it had in years past. The doctor told me this happened because I was eating too much and exercising too little. Looking back, I’m guessing it was actually a natural consequence of going through that little thing called puberty.

My mom, wonderful woman that she is, tried to stand up for me. She reminded the doctor that I was active in sports, and that she didn’t think that cutting my energy intake sounded like such a great idea. Unfortunately, it didn’t matter what my mom said at that point. Starting that very moment, I thought I was fat.

And so the cycles of dieting began. Restricting here, overeating there, over-exercising here, never exercising there, pounds coming off and on and off and on. The constant ups and downs were enough to make me sea sick!

There are a lot of problems with the situation I’m describing, many of which I hope to explore on this blog. Today I want to focus on just one: hunger and fullness.

All of those years of dieting robbed me of my ability to know when I was hungry and when I was full – and my desire to honor those physical signals. That’s because dieting is really the exact opposite of listening to our bodies. When we diet, we follow strict rules about what to eat and what not to eat, and about when to eat and when not to eat. Those rules usually don’t involve eating when our bodies ask for food and stopping when they are satisfied.

When I decided to stop dieting for good – and began labelling “diet” as the four-letter word I think it is – I turned instead to the concepts of intuitive eating and mindful eating. These concepts stress that the ideal way to eat is to listen to our bodies, giving them the types of food they crave in the portions with which they are comfortable. It’s also about really paying attention to our food and the process of eating. I learned so much from the wonderful book Intuitive Eating, by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. If you’re interested in these concepts further, I highly recommend reading this book.

(Source)

So I began the process of getting back in touch with my hunger and fullness cues.

For those of you who haven’t struggled with yo-yo dieting, you might think it’s crazy of me to say that at one point I was unable to tell when I was truly hungry. But those of you who have struggled probably know exactly what I mean. When you spend years purposefully denying yourself food when you’re hungry (because it’s not time to eat yet, or it’s after 6 pm and your “diet” says you can’t eat at night, or you’re skipping meals to make up for “overindulging” the day before), you pretty much lose touch with your body’s most natural signals.

So I started really paying attention to my body, and re-learning how to listen to it. And I made every effort to feed my body not according to the clock or any other external cues; I fed my body when it told me it needed more fuel. Now, having been practicing intuitive eating for quite some time, I find my hunger cues are clear and unmistakable.

The other piece of this puzzle is fullness. Dieting also messes up our ability to stop eating when our bodies have had enough. For years I was either forcing myself to stop eating long before my body was satisfied, or I was licking my plate long after my stomach had said it had had enough. For the longest time I actually found eating in restaurants extremely unpleasant because I would always finish my meal, regardless of its size, and would then spend the rest of the day feeling sick and uncomfortable.

Again, eating intuitively is about turning inward instead of outward, stressing that we should stop eating not when the food is gone or when our diets tell us we’ve had our portion. Honoring our fullness means that sometimes we’ll push our plates away with food still on them, and other times we’ll go back for seconds, all depending on what feels best for our bodies at that particular moment.

If all of this sounds pretty easy…well…it’s not. At least not for those of us who have wrestled with our weight for so long. Why? Because honoring hunger and fullness is all about TRUST. It’s about trusting our bodies to tell us what they need, how much they need, and when they need it. It’s about accepting that diets don’t work. And it’s about believing that when we truly listen to our internal cues and messages, our bodies will naturally stabilize at a weight that is healthy and maintainable for our individual selves.

So how did I go about getting back in touch with my hunger and fullness? Simply by paying attention. A lot of attention.

More specifically, I utilized a very handy little Hunger-Satiety Scale. There are lots of versions of this scale; I used the one from the McKinley Health Center. Basically, the scale is a way of rating your hunger, with #1 being famished/starving, #5 being neither hungry nor full, and #10 being painfully full. I aimed to avoid the extremes, beginning a meal or snack when my body was around a #3 or #4, and stopping when I hit a #6 or #7.

I did this quite literally. I kept a copy of the scale next to my place at the table, and before each time I ate I would look at it and give my hunger a number. Mid-way through eating I would stop, put down my utensils, and check in with my body to see how far along I was. At the end of the meal I would again rate my hunger/fullness level. When eating meals with Dave (my incredibly understanding husband who has never dieted in his life and hence often has no idea where I’m coming from), using the scale became kind of fun, like a little guessing game. “Where are you now, honey? 5, 6, perhaps a 7?”

I’m at the point now where I don’t need to use the hunger-fullness scale quite so literally; I’m in touch with my body enough that I can “check-in” with myself without referring to actual numbers all of the time. And yet, just as a reminder of where I’ve been and where I am now, I still keep the scale next to my place at the table. Proof:

I should also share that the process has really changed the way that I eat, or, more accurately, reverted it back to the way I ate before the dieting craze began. You see, as a child I was always naturally a grazer – I had trouble finishing meals because I got full quickly, but compensated by eating small snacks throughout the day. When I began dieting I lost touch with my natural grazer because I thought that snacking in between meals would make me gain weight.

Now, however, I find that I naturally want to eat the same way I did as a child. I find that I get full much more quickly than others around me, and yet I get hungry again much more quickly than they do. So I naturally gravitate toward eating smaller meals and snacks continually throughout the day. Others may find that when they begin eating intuitively, their bodies crave three larger, more standard meals per day; that just works for them. That’s the beauty of intuitive eating and honoring our hunger and fullness; we don’t have to eat by a script, but rather in whatever way feels best to each of us as individuals.

Now I’m not saying that we should only ever eat when we’re hungry. There are certainly times when it’s completely appropriate to eat for reasons other than physical hunger. Perhaps because you’re celebrating someone’s birthday. Or you’re about to exercise intensely and know your body needs the fuel. Or because a piece of food simply looks delicious. I think eating for these reasons is perfectly acceptable. But for those of us who have spent years dieting, restricting, and overeating, those reasons shouldn’t be the norm. On an everyday basis, eating according to hunger and fullness is much healthier for us.

I’m not a perfect intuitive eater by any means. I sometimes eat before I’m truly hungry, or when I’m way too hungry to eat in a controlled manner. And sometimes I eat beyond the point of comfortable satiety. Yet I get better at honoring my hunger and fullness every day because I make listening to my body a priority in a way that was simply impossible when I was dieting.

Ok, I think I have made this post long enough! If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! ;-) I guess I’m just pretty passionate about this particular subject.

Do you eat according to your body’s hunger and fullness signals? Do you find that it comes naturally, or is it a challenge?

What I Ate – 1/30/2010

By Katie, 4:41 pm

Did you get any snow yesterday??? We thought it was going to miss us, but such was not the case. :-D I can smile like that because the not-so-fun snow tasks – such as shovelling it – are usually handled by the Hubs. Although snow-shovelling does make for an excellent workout! (For the record, we currently only own one shovel, I’m not actually that lazy!)

Breakfast

I woke up freezing. A bowl of oats was definitely in order.

In the bowl:

  • old-fashioned oats
  • pinch salt
  • banana slices
  • natural chunky peanut butter
  • Archer Farms (a.k.a. TARGET!) Sunny Cranberry Trail Mix
  • ground flaxseed

I’ve been meaning to start adding ground flax to my oatmeal, and finally did it after a lovely blog reader suggested it. (I ♥ when you make comments and suggestions!) Flaxseed has an impressive list of health benefits, including lowering cholesterol and risk of heart disease, and helping to prevent the growth of some types of cancers. It’s also a great source of fiber. Livestrong.com has more information if you’re interested. However, don’t make the mistake I did a few months ago and try to acquire these benefits by consuming the flax seeds whole - either buy ground flaxseed or grind the seeds yourself. Apparently, as this article from MayoClinic.com explains, whole flaxseed just passes through your system undigested, so you don’t really get any health benefits.

A great breakfast!

After breakfast I popped in Jillian Michaels’ Banish Fat Boost Metabolism exercise DVD. Of all the workout DVDs I own/have tried, Jillian Michaels’ are definitely my favorite. I’m actually not a big fan of hers ever since she came out with a line of supplements and detox-type products, but I still love her workouts. I like that they focus on bootcamp-style moves, which I prefer when it comes to workout videos. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE to shake my booty, and I dance around my house all the time. But when it comes to exercising, I just prefer jumping jacks and high-knees to jazz boxes. Do you like dance-based DVDs and exercise classes?

Post exercise, Dave and I immediately headed to the farmers’ market to get our local groceries for the week. On the drive there it started snowing, so we dashed around, picking out our fresh bread, produce, and meat as quickly as possible (this particular market is entirely outdoors but is open year-round). It was fun but cold.

Lunch

After our snowy market experience, Dave and I both knew exactly what we wanted for lunch – HOT SOUP! Paired with a sandwich.

The sammie consisted of cream cheese, spinach, tomato, cucumber, and pickles on pumpernickel bread. (Cream cheese and pumpernickel go so well together!)

Dave and I split this Amy’s Organic Split Pea Soup.

Definitely one of this brand’s best soups. (Although it might be pretty high in sodium. I usually check that with canned soups, but I forgot this time.) It’s the perfect texture for pea soup – not too chunky, not too creamy.

After lunch the snow was still coming down pretty hard, which I took to be a sign that I should put my pajamas back on and curl up on the couch under a warm blanket. I had lots of reading to do for school, so it worked out perfectly. Except that it’s difficult to concentrate on school work when you have this face staring at you the entire time:

I’m sure every kitty-mother says this, but I think I have the most beautiful cats in the world! :-D

Dave had a kitty companion too. ;-)

Afternoon Snack

First I enjoyed a small apple alongside a Laughing Cow Light Cheese Wedge.

Does anyone else insist on always cutting up their fruit? I much prefer to eat fruit in slices if at all possible.

Later I heard Dave breaking open a new bag of chips I’ve been wanting to try: Trader Joe’s Vegetable Root Chips.

I wasn’t super hungry, so I just sampled a few of each kind.

The parsnip ones were my favorite. :-)

Dinner

Dinner was a repeat from earlier in the week: Last-Minute Lasagna + salad.

This lasagna is one of those dishes that you think won’t make good leftovers judging by the way it looks in the refrigerator, but as soon as you heat it up and take a bite, you realize you were quite mistaken.

Spinach salad with grape tomatoes, cuke slices, carrots, and white balsamic vinegar.

Yum, yum, yum! Unfortunately my eyes were a little bigger than my stomach on this one, and I couldn’t quite finish my entire serving of lasagna. (I left maybe two or three bites.)

Evening Snack

I kept “dessert” light since the lasagna was pretty heavy. I tried a new (to me) yogurt: Stonyfield Farms Chocolate Underground.

Vanilla yogurt for about 3/4 of the container, and then – SURPRISE! – a layer of chocolate on the bottom. Fun! 8-)

Plus a nectarine and a kiwi.

Did you get any snow this weekend? How did you spend your snow day?

Gertrude’s at the BMA

By Katie, 6:12 pm

It’s Baltimore Restaurant Week!!! :-D

Restaurant Week is a fun occasion held in cities all over the country where restaurants offer special prix fixe menus (here in Baltimore the standard is a three-course dinner for $35.10 per person). Dave and I love a good bargain almost as much as we love good food, so we always take advantage.

This time we decided to try Gertrude’s, which is the restaurant inside of the Baltimore Museum of Art. The owner and head chef is John Shields, who is pretty well-known around these parts as a cookbook author and television cooking show host. Gertrude’s emphasizes Chesapeake foods and traditions (hello, seafood!), using lots of local, organic ingredients.

I snapped this kind of artsy photo before we left. (I like how the mirrors look in the background.) :-)

I really liked the decor at Gertrude’s. It was very open, and the ceiling had this fiber-optic lighting that looked like stars (which sounds cheesy but was actually very classy). One wall was covered with a beautiful, Chesapeake Bay-inspired mural that I wish I had photographed to show you. And there was a pillow next to my seat. :-)

Bread to begin, as always.

The long piece was actually cornbread, and it was probably the best cornbread I’ve ever had. Soft and not too dry. I didn’t end up eating the other roll because our food came out pretty quickly, and so I kind of forgot about it. (I also didn’t want to fill up on bread since I knew I’d be having dessert.)

For the first course Dave chose the Traditional Virginia Oyster Stew.

He loved it, but quickly learned that soup is not always the best choice for a first course because it’s so filling.

I went with a Roasted Beet Salad with pecans and local goat cheese.

I’d give this an A+ for presentation, but a much lower score for flavor. The greens and the cheese were excellent, but the beets tasted like…nothing. I absolutely love beets, so I was a bit disappointed. :-(

For the second course Dave went with the Maryland Rockfish which came with strips of bacon, Yukon potato purée, and rainbow chard.

He said this was even better than the rockfish he had at the Woodberry Kitchen. Perhaps because everything tastes better with bacon? ;-) (I actually don’t believe that at all! Ha!)

For my main course I chose the Mussel and Shrimp Bourride.

I wasn’t expecting my shrimp to arrive with their heads intact! 8-O This stew was really good, although I sort of wish I had chosen a meal that required a little less “work” on my part. (This was my first time having mussels, and I admit I probably looked a little awkward getting them out of their shells. But they tasted delicious!) That little piece of bread on the side was smothered with saffron aioli.

And of course, DESSERT!

This dessert made the entire trip worthwhile! It was called the Mt. St. Michaels Apple Crepe – basically layers of crepe with sautéed apples. I love warm, soft desserts featuring cooked apples. It was served with butternut squash ice cream, which didn’t taste like much at first bite, but after a few seconds you got a distinct butternut flavor…yum! The ice cream also had caramelized hazelnuts, which was a great combo.

Dave ordered the pear-ginger sorbet, which went un-photographed because it didn’t really look like anything special. :-| I tried a bite and thought the ginger was way too strong, but that’s exactly why Dave liked it!

Do you take advantage of Restaurant Week in your area?


What I Ate – 1/28/2010

By Katie, 1:33 pm

Did this week just fly by for anyone else? I can hardly believe it’s Friday already! Here’s a quick look back at my eats and treats for yesterday. :-)

Breakfast

Breakfast was a fun yogurt bowl!

  • plain Greek yogurt
  • Barbara’s Bakery Original Puffins
  • Apple (my last honeycrisp :cry: )
  • Plum jam

I’ve heard a lot of people say they can’t take the taste of plain Greek yogurt. I personally like the little bit of tang, but I also always sweeten it up with something – fresh fruit, jams and jellies, honey, or a little agave nectar. There are also lots of kinds that come with sweeteners (Chobani has some great fruit flavors).

This morning my star sweetener was this AWESOME jam from the farmers’ market.

Dave and I have developed quite a good rapport with the couple who runs this business. They make so many interesting, delicious jams, jellies, and butters. We try new kinds all the time!

All mixed up to create a “yog mess,” as Holly at The Healthy Everythingtarian would say! :-D

Mid-Morning Snack

Around 11:00 I snacked on an appropriately (albeit disgustingly) named blood orange.

That little guy was juicy! At one point I took a bite and somehow juice ended up all over the wall in front of me! :oops:

The wall was a good four feet away, so that juice got some distance! :lol:

Lunch

I have a tendency to open a can of beans early in the week, use just a few, and then have to try to think up interesting ways to use them up. Fortunately beans are extremely versatile and can be added to just about anything. Lunch was a taco salad of sorts.

In the mix:

  • lettuce
  • grape tomatoes
  • cucumber
  • black beans
  • red kidney beans
  • pineapple salsa

I just realized now, as I write this post, that I forgot to add cheese!!! Oh well, it was still quite good.

Plus some tortilla chips for CRUNCH!

I ended up deconstructing the salad and making little nacho bites, which was sort of fun! You’re never too old to play with your food a little bit, right?  8-)

Afternoon Snack

My afternoon snack was some carrot sticks with a Cinnamon Roll Lara Bar.

Have you tried Lara Bars? They’re FABULOUS! They are all natural and made from real, whole foods – no added sweeteners, fillers, or weird unidentifiable ingredients. In fact, each flavor contains no more than eight ingredients. That’s quite impressive, considering that most bars out there – even the healthy ones! – contain a disturbingly long list of ingredients.

Want to try Lara Bars? PreventionRD is currently hosting an awesome Lara Bar Giveaway! Three winners will get free samples of eight Larabar varieties! So go enter! What have you got to lose? :-D

This snack was perfect fuel for my workout. I waited to exercise until the early evening so that Dave and I could hit up the Y together. I was really excited to exercise because of this little contraption:

That would be an armband for my iPhone! I was really excited about it because I loved the idea of listening to Pandora while working out because then I could hear all kinds of music without having to buy it first. The truth is that it’s a little bulky; when I’m running on the treadmill I’ll probably just stick to my little Nano. But yesterday I used the elliptical and it totally did the job – I ended up going for five minutes longer than planned because Shakira came on Pandora and I just couldn’t stop bopping along! Yes, I am that person who dances a little bit while exercising…I can’t help it!

Dinner

On evenings we go to the Y together, our dinners are usually quick and easy because it’s getting a little late by the time we get home. But quick and easy can still be delicious! Last night was BLT sandwiches.

That would be lite mayo, lettuce, tomato, and turkey bacon on toasted whole wheat bread.

With a side of sweet potato oven fries, which were GREAT!

I followed this simple way of making them from Trading Up Downtown. I just sliced two small sweet potatoes (you can peel them if you prefer, but I like to leave the skin on because 1) it’s delicious, and 2) that’s where all the great fiber is!), put them in a Ziplock bag with some olive oil, cinnamon, and paprika, and did some major Shake ‘N’ Bake action. Then I baked them at 425* on a foil-lined baking sheet for about 30 minutes, turning them over occasionally. Perfection! I cut mine more like steak fries, but if you like crispier, more shoe-string-like fries, you can always just slice them thinner.

Dave and I were trying to figure out what would be a good dip for sweet potato fries. I know some people use ketchup, but I’m not sure if I’d like that. Dave thought Ranch dressing might be good, but I don’t really like Ranch all that much. Maybe plain yogurt/sour cream?

Evening Snack

My sweet tooth kicked in right as I was settling in to do something very productive watch Project Runway. I satisfied it with a dark chocolate Vita muffin top (pomegranate flavor), plus some strawberries that needed to be eaten immediately or tossed. A little bit of chocolate +  a little bit of fruit = the perfect indulgent yet still healthy snack! :-)

Some people might be surprised that I just confessed to eating a snack so late at night (it was probably around 10:00 pm) because there is so much hype out there about late-night eating and weight gain. But the reality is that weight gain/loss is all about calories in versus calories out, regardless of when you eat them. Correct me if I’m mistaken, but I think the real reason people do lose weight more easily when they nix night-time eating is that evening is when mindless snacking is most likely to occur.

I personally really enjoy a little evening snack, usually a sweet one. So instead of trying to deny myself – and then going overboard and feeling guilty about it – I simply plan for it and then enjoy it mindfully (meaning that even though I was watching television, I waited to eat this until a commercial came on, muted the television, and gave eating my full attention). No harm done! :-)

How do you feel about evening snacking?

Drive-Thru Diet Ads: More on Food and Advertising

By Katie, 9:07 am

The post I wrote a few days ago on Food and Advertising generated some really insightful comments! I knew I wanted to continue the conversation with a follow-up post when I saw this article in the New York Times: Forget Jenni Craig. Hit the Drive-Thru.

The article examines the growing trend of fast food chains using dieting or weight loss-based marketing campaigns to sell their products. It all started with Jared, Subway’s famous spokesperson who lost a significant amount of weight dining on the chain’s Fresh Fit subs and sandwiches. Today the attention is on Taco Bell, which has released a “Drive-Thru Diet” marketing campaign to advertise its lighter Fresco menu. And lots of other fast food chains – including Dunkin’ Donuts, Quiznos, Starbucks, and McDonald’s – have begun offering lighter menu options with fewer calories.

So what do we make of these so-called “fast food diets”? Is this just harmless, clever marketing on the part of the fast food chains? Or is there a bigger problem with these restaurants associating their products with healthy living, or touting them as an effective weight loss tool?

(Source)

I personally keep waivering back and forth. On the one hand, if I truly want people to be healthier (which I do), then there’s a lot of good going on when a fast food chain starts jumping on the healthy living band wagon. On the other hand, the idea of using the phrases “fast food” and “healthy” so closely in the same sentence is a bit…unsettling.

I’m going to try to break it down into some pros and cons. I’m sure I haven’t thought of everything, so please add more!

Pros

1. Let’s be honest with ourselves. Sometimes we need a fast, cheap meal – health concerns be darned! It’s only being realistic to say that even the healthiest among us are going to partake in some fast food fare every now and then. So maybe we’re a bit too hard on the whole industry.

2. When fast food chains use dieting and weight loss as a form of advertising, it means that there are at least some better/lighter/healthier (not sure which word is appropriate here!) options on their menus. So when the health-conscious do eat fast food – be it for price, convenience, or taste – we have some more choices that fit within our goals and values.

3. A lot of people in our society eat fast food regularly…some even eat it a lot. While I’d love to see those people change their habits and lifestyles more drastically, I’d also just like for them to be able to live somewhat healthier lives. If adding a Fresco menu allows that to happen (at least slightly), great!

4. Fast food is not evil in and of itself. Like most things, enjoying a little bit every now and then is no big deal. As mature adults, we are able to make our own decisions about what and where to eat, and for some people that might include fast food.

Cons

1. It seems a bit misleading to me when fast food chains claim that their food is HEALTHY, when the reality is probably more like, there are some options that aren’t THAT BAD. This isn’t necessarily the case across the board, especially at a place like Subway where you can customize your meal. But…really? Fast food…healthy? We know that, in general, that’s just not true.

2. As with all advertising campaigns, there’s a lot of fine print that the average consumer overlooks. For example, the Taco Bell Drive-Thru Diet ads make it seem like the spokeswoman lost weight just by eating their food; the fine print, however, says that she actually lost weight by changing her diet overall and committing to an exercise routine. Is it ok to mislead as long as you put the truth in teeny tiny print?

3. What are the costs to people who actually do lose weight by eating fast food? Surely they must be missing some vitamins and nutrients due to a lack of dietary variety. No one should eat any one thing – be it subs, sandwiches, burritos, whatever – every single day (which is what some of these “diets” recommend).

4. These fast food advertising campaigns are contributing to our society’s overall problem of equating “healthy” with “low calorie.” Almost all of the fast food chains mentioned here focus on calories – either exclusively or primarily. Quiznos has 500 calorie-and-under subs. Starbucks has panini sandwiches with 400 calories or fewer. The New York Times article points out, however, that calories are only part of the equation. Many of these meals are so high in sodium that they can hardly be considered healthy.

(Source)

My overall feeling is that I am glad that fast food chains are attempting to offer some lighter options on their menus. At the same time, touting fast food as a weight loss tool or legitimate component of healthy living seems a bit too misleading for me.

What do you think about “drive-thru diets” and other fast food campaigns that make diet, weight loss, and health claims? Is this just harmless, clever advertising? Do you eat fast food, and if so, do you try to choose one of the “healthier” options? Have you ever used fast food as a tool for weight loss?

Last-Minute Lasagna

By Katie, 4:46 pm

If you read a lot of food blogs, you’re probably already familiar with Last-Minute Lasagna. It’s causing quite a stir in the blogosphere. :-)

And no wonder! It’s originally a Real Simple recipe, the kind that really helps the magazine live up to its name. After coming across it first on Carrots ‘N’ Cake, and then again on Kelly Cooks, I knew I had to try it.

So if you’ve already been enjoying last-minute lasagna, please excuse the repetition. But this dish is just so quick, easy, and delicious (and novice-cook friendly!) that I couldn’t resist spreading it around a little more. :-D

(Note to self: food looks significantly more appealing when photographed by Dave and his high-quality camera than when photographed by Katie with her cell phone!)

In a nutshell, you basically just layer pasta sauce, cheese ravioli, spinach, and shredded mozzarella…and repeat!

Bottom Layer.

Frozen spinach – thawed and squeezed of excess water.

Hmmmmmmm….cheese….

Another layer.

All topped with grated Parmesan.

Baked until irresistibly melty and bubbly. I enjoyed my portion with a spinach salad (because the more spinach in a meal, the better!  ;-) ) dressed with balsamic vinegar.

You definitely want to eat this!

All-in-all, an easy, filling, lovely dinner, no significant cooking skills required! :-D

Last-Minute Lasagna (via Real Simple, Carrots ‘N’ Cake, and Kelly Cooks)

Yields 6 servings.

1 24- or 26-ounce jar pasta sauce
2 18-20-ounce refrigerated large cheese ravioli (I used Trader Joe’s Three-Cheese Jumbo Ravioli. Also, some people have used frozen instead of refrigerated.)
1 10-ounce box frozen chopped spinach, thawed and excess water squeezed dry
1 8-ounce bag shredded mozzarella
1/2 cup (2 ounces) grated Parmesan

Pre-heat oven to 375° F.
Spoon a thin layer of sauce over the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.
Cover with a single layer of ravioli.
Top with half the spinach, half the mozzarella, and a third of the sauce.
Repeat with another layer of ravioli and the remaining spinach, mozzarella, and sauce (not all of the ravioli may be needed).
Sprinkle with the Parmesan.
Cover with foil and bake for 25-30 minutes.
Uncover and bake until bubbly, 5 to 10 minutes more.

Have you tried Last-Minute Lasagna yet?

PANIC! Some Strategies for Managing Anxiety

By Katie, 10:48 am

Whenever some unexpected problem pops up, my husband Dave’s natural reaction is to remain calm and slowly but steadily devise a logical solution.

My natural reaction, on the other hand, is to PANIC! 8-O

I’m not exaggerating, either! My heart rate starts soaring, my legs get all jittery, and the wheels of my brain start spinning like car tires in the snow. Not exactly the ideal state for finding a solution, huh?

Here’s a basic example. I’m about to head out the door and realize my wallet isn’t where I thought it was. In this situation Dave would stop and thoughtfully consider where he last had his wallet, and trace back his steps in a slow, controlled manner until it is located. In contrast, I would immediately begin rampantly tearing through the house, tossing random items onto the floor in a desperate search, all the while wildly exclaiming that I don’t understand “how things just disappear.” Guess who would find the wallet first?

Here’s another example. Tuesday night I attended my first class of the semester. All was well until I realized that all of my peers were in on something that I wasn’t. Turns out the professor had sent an email the week prior instructing us to prepare for the first class by reading a few chapters, completing an assignment, and choosing a research topic. Everyone received this email…except me.

I am not one to come to class unprepared. And now, on Day 1, I’m already behind on the reading and I’m late completing the first assignment??? EEK!

The second I realized that something was wrong, my brain hit the PANIC button!

I’m sharing this story because in the past I found such anxiety a little overwhelming, and would often numb the uncomfortable feeling by eating emotionally. But over the past year and a half I have put a lot of effort into learning and practicing more effective coping strategies. I put three such strategies to use Tuesday night.

Strategy #1: Relax My Physical Body

I decided to try using my twenty-minute drive home to calm my body down a bit. I turned on some relaxing music and took some deep, cleansing breaths. I squeezed and released some of my muscles to try to release the tension. Many times this is all it takes to ease my agitation; other times it’s merely the first step of the process. In this particular case, the latter was true. Probably because I was driving, so I couldn’t totally relax for fear of running my car off the side of the road! Had I been at home, some gentle yoga would probably have been effective. So then I tried…

Strategy #2: Insert a Reality Check

Because for me, that’s what that “panicky” feeling is all about: losing touch with reality. I was home for a good thirty minutes and my brain was still obsessing over how I was going to remedy the situation. So I tried this little exercise, asking myself two important questions:

1. Is there anything I can do about the situation right now?

In response, I realized that I had already done everything I could do – I talked to the professor about it (although he had no idea why I hadn’t received the email), and I made a list of what I had missed and would need to make up.

2. Is now a good time to work on it?

The answer was a resounding “NO.” It was 9:30 at night, so I couldn’t call the IT department help desk. Plus I was just too worked up to do anything productive. It was just like the situation with misplacing the wallet – you never find it when you’re all wound up, but as soon as you calm down, there it is!

Having answered both questions in the negative, I mentally imagined putting the issue into a box, wrapping it up, and placing it on a high shelf to be opened and dealt with the following day. Basically, I tried to create a mental barrier between myself and the situation.

Strategy #3: Connect to Something Greater

At this point I was feeling much better, but this strategy is always a useful one. I climbed into bed with my gratitude journal and my Bible, ready to give myself some real perspective. It should be noted that I didn’t do this with the hopes that journaling or reading the Bible would give me a solution (either to the specific problem at hand or to my anxiety in general). Rather, I just wanted a little reminder that, even though my eyes were so focused on the situation right in front of me, beyond that there is a much deeper world – one that in calmer states I am able to appreciate. And that is what I wanted to be thinking about as I fell asleep.

This amazing photo Dave took always gives me some perspective.

Now, we all know that the situation I just described is no big deal. (Although my email is still not working, and hence my assignments are still not completed :-x .) But I wanted to share it anyway because I think that practicing these kinds of strategies in small, non-consequential situations is what enables us to employ them when the bigger problems roll around (which they inevitably will!).

Do you relate to my story at all? Does your brain hit the PANIC button, or are you calm, cool, and collected like my husband (LUCKY!)? Do you have any strategies for effectively working through that state of anxiety and agitation?


Food and Advertising

By Katie, 11:55 am

On any given day, we are all wearing multiple hats. We’re daughters, sons, mothers, and fathers. We’re spouses, partners, and friends. We’re students and employees. We’re artists, writers, and musicians.

We also all play another role, yet its one that most of us rarely think about: the role of consumer.

As consumers, we are constantly subjected to companies’ attempts – sometimes obvious, sometimes not – to grab our attention, to convince us their product is worthy of our hard-earned cash. We are bombarded with advertisements, commercials, flyers, endorsements, and circulars promoting everything from clothing to housing to prescription medications. And, of course, the food industry is no exception.

In fact, the food industry is one of the top advertisers in the United States.

In thinking about the topic of food and advertising, I’ve been asking myself two questions. First, are we really that susceptible to it in the first place? And second, should it be regulated?

(Source)

How powerful are advertisements, really?

I don’t think there’s one single answer to this question; it varies from person to person. For example, my mom can see a commercial on television for Dairy Queen, and it will haunt her for days until she finally gives in and buys an Oreo Blizzard. I, on the other hand, like to consider myself immune to the clever tricks of advertisers. (Although this may be a self-fulfilling prophesy. I hate the idea of being mentally manipulated by a corporation so much that seeing a commercial often makes me go out of my way to not purchase the product. Go figure. :roll: .)

But my attention was recently drawn to a study conducted at Baylor College of Medicine (reported on by The New York Times Magazine‘s Clive Thompson in 2003). The study examined the brains of participants as they taste-tested Coke and Pepsi. Interestingly, when participants tasted the two sodas without knowing which was which, they preferred Pepsi. However, when they were aware of the brands, they preferred Coke.

Using MRI brain scans, researchers discovered that during the two taste tests, different areas of the brain became more excited. In the blind test, the area of the brain that processes feelings of reward lit up. During the test with the brands exposed, the area of the brain associated with memory lit up. What does this all mean? Basically, our food preferences go far beyond our taste buds; they are also influenced by our past impressions and experiences, which includes all of the advertising our brains take in each and every day.

Should food advertising be regulated?

If it’s true that we are susceptible to the messages of advertisers – even if we think we aren’t – then does it make sense for such messages to be regulated, particularly when they are promoting food and beverages that do more harm than good for our bodies? It’s a question that’s open for debate.

At this point, several European countries say yes, while in general the United States says no. For example, Ireland bans all television commercials for fast food and requires that candy wrappers contain a “warning” (much like the Surgeon General’s warning on cigarettes) that the candy should be eaten in moderation (source).

And what about advertising geared toward children? According to the same article referenced above, Sweden, Norway, Austria, and Luxembourg ban television advertising to children completely, and Belgium, France, and Portugal ban school-based marketing. In the United States, the food industry spends over $10 billion per year on advertising geared toward kids (source). And of course most of these advertisements aren’t promoting fruits and vegetables; they’re promoting sugary cereals and candies.

(Source)

But does that make it wrong? And is it only an issue in regards to unhealthy food, or should we somehow be protected from advertising messages of all kinds? Then who is to say which messages are acceptable and which are not?

I find these questions really interesting, particularly because I believe there are no easy, definite answers. I’d love to hear what you think!

Are you susceptible to the messages of food advertisements? Do you think food marketing should be more regulated? Why or why not?

What I Ate – 1/25/2010

By Katie, 8:05 pm

I hope you had a good Monday yesterday! Mine was quite delicious. :-D

Breakfast

Like many of you, yesterday I awoke to dreary rain and wind. Yuck. I felt the need to combat the weather with something sunny and yummy, say, EGGS!

While I would have preferred something really cheery – perhaps sunny side up? – Dave and I were a bit rushed. So I went with an egg white and cheese sandwich on a whole wheat English muffin, which hit the spot.

Plus some fresh fruit.

Mid-Morning Snack

After breakfast I headed to the YMCA for 30 minutes of speed intervals on the treadmill, which actually went really well considering I had an entire egg sandwich in my stomach! After exercising and getting ready for the day, I headed out to run some errands. I packed a small snack to take along for a very important reason: one of my errands was grocery shopping. And the # 1 rule of grocery shopping is this: don’t do it hungry! It’s bad for your waistline and it’s bad for your budget.

So before I went into Trader Joe’s, I had a few raw almonds and some dried apricots.

Lunch

My kitchen is currently overflowing with fresh produce that is crying out to be enjoyed. So for lunch I did one of my favorite things: raided the refrigerator, grabbing everything that looked appealing and throwing it together in a bowl.

Contents of the salad bowl:

  • Boston lettuce
  • Pan-fried tofu
  • Grape tomatoes
  • Cucumber
  • Carrots
  • Orange slices
  • Plum
  • Crumbled feta
  • Drizzle of seasoned rice vinegar
  • Handful of Kashi crackers (toasted asiago flavor – yum!)

I never worry if the contents of my mega salads don’t exactly “go” together, and somehow it always ends up tasting good!

I also had a few slices of roasted buttercup squash (leftovers from the previous night’s dinner). This was my first time trying buttercup squash, and I really like it! I have yet to find a winter squash (or summer, for that matter) that I haven’t liked. (I’m eager to try a Kabocha, but I can’t find one!)

Very satisfying lunch!

Mid-Afternoon Snack

Well, this was actually more like an early evening snack. Before I started cooking dinner I munched on some whole wheat pita bread wedges dipped in roasted red pepper hummus. This is because of another very important rule: don’t cook when hungry! Cooking on an empty stomach = so many “taste tests” that you’re not even hungry for dinner when it’s ready!

Dinner

Dinner was divine! I followed this Real Simple recipe for Turkey and Bean Chili, with a few changes. I planned on using ground turkey, but then I found local ground beef on sale at the farmers’ market (from Woolsey Farm in Churchville, MD). So I went with that instead. I also doubled the recipe because I knew it would make great leftovers for the week, and I also wanted to freeze some. Not to mention making a giant pot of chili is just FUN! :-D

This meal was SO GOOD!

Big bowl of chili topped with avocado, plain Greek yogurt (tastes just like sour cream!), and corn bread (not homemade – don’t judge!).

Dave and I were literally saying “Mmmmmmmm” as we ate.

I mean, I hated it, obviously. ;-)

Evening Snack

Dessert was one of my new obsessions. If it doesn’t look appealing to you, blame my lousy photography skills (or, more accurately, the fact that my photos are coming from my cell phone).

After dinner I melted some dark chocolate, dipped the banana into it, and popped it in the freezer for an hour or so until the chocolate formed a hard shell. A perfect little treat!

What’s your favorite kind of chocolate-covered fruit? Bananas, strawberries, oranges – so many possibilities! :-)

Energy Boosters

By Katie, 1:14 pm

It’s just an average day.

You’re plugging along, slowly but surely chipping away at your lengthy (as always) to-do list. But your shoulders have slumped. Your brains feels a little fuzzy. You have to rub your eyes because for a second there you thought that book on your desk was actually a big, fluffy pillow. You just feel drained.

You glance at your watch, not that you really need to. When you start seeing mirages, you know exactly what’s going on here: the dreaded 3 p.m. slump.

Or perhaps yours is a 10:30 a.m. slump. Or perhaps you feel like you’re living your life in a constant state of slumpdom.

Sometimes we all need a simple, fast pick-me-up.

I came across this fun little post from Zen Habits called “55 Ways to Get More Energy.”  Some of the suggestions are lifestyle changes that can make you feel more energetic overall. Others are quick little energy boosters that can help you push through the dreaded slump. Feel free to check out the list in its entirety, but I’ll share some of my favorites.

Energy Boosters

Have an afternoon power snack.

If you read my “What I Ate” posts, you know that I almost always have an afternoon snack. Having a small snack that incorporates some healthy carbs plus protein can provide a boost of energy (and prevent you from feeling ravenous come dinner time). Some of my go-to snacks are yogurt, nuts/dried fruit mixtures, and fresh fruits and veggies with hummus or nut butters.

Drink lots of water.

I admit, this is an area where I could definitely use some work. I just don’t feel thirsty the way other people do, so I really have to force myself to stay hydrated (although I’m noticing my thirst increasing as my workouts get more challenging, so I guess my body knows what it’s doing!). The post says that “dehydration is a sinister cause of fatigue because it slowly creeps up on you.” So grab that (reusable) water bottle and get drinking! :-)

(Source)

Play to Relax.

When our ability to concentrate starts to falter, sometimes a short, fun distraction can be just what our brains need to re-gain focus. The idea is to play a quick game that takes your mind away from the day’s stress while still keeping your mental juices flowing. Now I’m not suggesting you organize a daily afternoon round of poker with your co-workers (although is that such a bad idea? ;-) ), but a quick game of Solitaire on the computer might be worthwhile.

Stand up, stretch, and take a couple of deep breaths.

Basically, give yourself a mini-break. I find that simply standing up can make a big difference. It gets my blood flowing a little bit.  I also do a little exercise where I inhale for five seconds, exhale for seven, and repeat five times. It takes no time at all and no one knows I’m doing it, but I feel instantly rejuvenated.

Listen to music.

The post claims that “our brains’ pleasure centers light up when we hear music.” I believe it. There’s nothing like an upbeat tune to boost my energy (and my mood!). A little dancing doesn’t hurt either. ;-)


Exercise in the morning.

I realize that this can be a scheduling nightmare, but exercising in the morning instead of the afternoon or evening can give you energy throughout the day. Plus, if you’re really fatigued in the afternoon/evening, your workouts will surely suffer. Of course, everyone’s energy cycles are different; I’m probably biased on this one because I’m naturally a morning person. But if you find your energy lagging throughout the day, it might be worth at least trying to fit in an a.m. sweat session.

Dress up.

The post’s author claims that when we feel better about ourselves and the way we look, we seem to magically have more energy. So true, right? When I was in undergrad, I found it much more difficult to concentrate during a lecture when I wore sweat pants to class than when I took the time to get a little more spruced up. So much for wearing pajamas in public. :roll:

Take a walk outside.

Movement + The Great Outdoors = Instant Energy! Take five to ten minutes to step away from the fluorescent lighting and into some natural sunlight. As the post so rightly states, “seeing the sun is a signal to your body that it’s not bedtime yet.”

Have a laugh.

There’s nothing like a good chuckle for brightening your mood and boosting your energy. Perhaps you could even use a laugh right this second. Let me help you out with that!

What do you call a pig that does karate?
A pork chop.

What happens when frogs park illegally?
They get toad.

Why were the teacher’s eyes crossed?
She couldn’t control her pupils.

Ok, ok, I’ll stop. But I bet you’re smiling right now, if not at the jokes themselves then at my lame attempts to make you laugh! :-D

What do you do when you need a little boost of energy?

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