Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Resolution of the Month August - Trackin' Snackin'

I'm reading the Little House on the Prairie series of books by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  I've always been captivated by all the stories of pioneers and homesteaders that I could get my hands on.  Little House was one of the first I read as a young girl.  They are such charming, simple tales centered around family and the home.  There is so much there to reflect upon and ponder, especially in relation to my very modern life.  I love food--eating it, cooking it, growing it, reading about it.  Its such an essential part of life.  So it is no surprise that I love the parts of the books about food--what the Ingalls children considered treats (roasted pig tail at butchering time, an orange for Christmas), what regular meals consisted of (lots of cornmeal), how it was prepared and stored (salt barrels and hanging vegetable in the attic rafters), etc.  And reading about these food experiences of days past made me think of something I read in one of Michael Pollan's books--I think it was Food Rules, but I am not sure.  He was talking about how snacking between meals used to be unheard of and/or shameful.  You ate three solid meals a day and that was that.
In the third Little House book, Farmer Boy, Almanzo is working the fields and cannot wait for the sun to be high over head so that he can have lunch as he worked up quite an appetite in the morning's labors.  He didn't stop plowing to eat an apple.  He just waited for lunch.

I've been thinking about how different this is in my experience of our current culture.  Now we snack.  Its socially acceptable and even encouraged to do so.  I've certainly been told its better to eat six small meals a day rather than three big ones loads of times.  Eating is no longer something done around the dinner table, but happens pretty much every place--in the office, at school, in the car, on the street.  
So, for the month of August I decided to pay special attention to my snacking.  I've been tracking my snacking, as it were.  And oh, has it been interesting.  I've never really been on a diet--counting calories, etc.  I mean, I eat a plant-based diet, but out of concern for the environment and the animals, not for my waist line.  I use the term diet as a noun, not a verb.  Its my lifestyle, not an action I am taking.  I always read package labels, but only the ingredient list.  I care if it has dairy or hydrogenated oils in it, not how many grams of fat or what its glycemic index is.   I've not always been happy with my weight--though I am now--but I've never really tried to do anything about it.  I think I always knew I would lose weight if I ate less, but since I am not trying to lose weight I never bothered with thinking about the numbers.  I care about more about health (and pleasure), not weight, I guess.  I just try to eat a balanced blend of a wide variety of whole foods with a strong emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables and home-cooking.  I think that nutritionism is promising, but there is still so much we don't understand about how our body interacts with the food we put in it to put too much stock in it just yet, in my opinion.

So with all that as the background context, I have to say it was pretty interesting to count calories and consider carbs for a month.  It was essentially new to me.  And I generally enjoy keeping personal statistics.
I learned that:
I snack without thinking about it, especially when the snacks are free.
Example: there are lollipops on the counter at the bank.  Every time I go there I get two.  Its not like I am hungry, but they are free and tasty and there.  So, I eat two.  Being mostly vegan is a help here though.  If its free, but loaded with dairy or eggs I can resist.  Free vegan food though I will always take.  Always.  I will eat free junk food I would never pay my own money for, too.  Its an interesting double standard.

I have a hard time stopping once I start snacking, especially with hyper-processed foods I don't usually eat.
Example:  I visited some friends and ate an entire days worth of calories in just Spicy Sweet Chili Doritos and Golden Oreos.  (This is where I must mention that just because its vegan does not mean its good for you.)  This was of course in addition to my meals.  It was madness, but I just couldn't stop.  Doritos get me every time.  I cannot seem to help myself.  The whole bag must be consumed in one setting.  Its sort of absurd, really, but knowing that doesn't stop me.  That is why I don't buy them myself.

Parties get the best of me, snack-wise.  
Example:  I ate 1800 calories at our August Bunco party--800 of which came just from Swedish Fish!  I was shocked at myself when I calculated that out.  This lesson is related to the previous one.  Once I start I have a hard time stopping.  Since my party snacking is not an every day occurrence I don't mind such an indulgence, but it made me do some serious thinking about how quickly I could lose my health and pile on the pounds if I snacked like that more regularly.

Alcohol is my biggest source of liquid calories--and one that is easy to forget about.  
Example:  I like these fruity drinks called Raz-ber-itas.  Since they are certainly not part of a meal I must consider them a snack.  They come in little bitty 8 oz cans.  Yet each packs more than 200 calories and heaven knows how many grams of sugar.  That is why they are so delicious!  Beer is not much better, though it does contain less added sugar.   I don't regularly drink juice or soda anymore (though I once considered myself a soda junkie), but I do enjoy an alcoholic beverage or two every couple days, especially on the weekends.  And they add up more than I would have thought.  My friend Hannah quit drinking alcohol a while back now and has since lost 20 pounds.  They don't call it beer belly for nothing.

When I am feeling snacky I don't go for fruits and vegetables.  I go for grains.
Example:  I was staring into the fridge loaded with garden fresh cucumbers and peppers, homemade applesauce, grapes, and other fruits and veg and all I could think about was how I wanted tortilla chips or a big slice of bread.   I don't think snacking on fruits and veg would be a bad thing.  In fact, it would probably be a good thing.  But all those grains are probably unnecessary.  It makes me think of something I've said to children in my life, "If you're not hungry enough for an apple you cannot really be that hungry."  I should tell that to myself more often, too, I guess!
And lastly I learned that thinking about food so much could get either exhausting or maddening.  The food I eat is what builds my body.  It is important to me that its good building materials, not junk.  So while I think it is more than wise to know what you are eating (as in eating foods you can recognize and picture like soybeans, not soy protein isolate or natural red food dye from beets, not FD&C Red No. 40) I don't know about memorizing calorie charts.  I'm not sure that knowing how many grams of fiber, carbs, fats, sugars, etc is beneficial.  It just made eating into a math exercise--"Can I drink a couple beers at the concert tonight and still be under the guidelines?  No, what about if I skip lunch?  Or go for an extra bicycle ride?"  And so on.  It seems so much simpler to just eat whole, plant-based foods and have it take care of itself.   Of course, this is just what works for me.  Everyone is different.  I don't eat out.  I don't eat processed, packaged food.  I don't eat cheese or meat.  I get physical activity in every day.  Maybe these things just make it easier for me to be moderate without counting the numbers.  Whatever the reason, I am thankful.
So, I'm glad the experiment is at an end.  I was glad to enjoy a strawberry ale on Monday without once pondering how many calories were in it.  It tasted good.

I am doing another challenge in September, but its more personal, so I don't think I'll be blogging about it.

4 comments:

  1. This article is interesting to me. I am interested in what you learned about America's snacking and your own. My kids and I don't snack much, and it is really seen as radical. It doesn't seem so radical to me, but many people think I am really radical for not letting my children snack on a regular basis. We sit down as a family to regular meals and snack one time in the afternoon (some days.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Its interesting how quickly what is perceived as "normal" can change!

      Delete
  2. I was always enraptured with those Little House Christmas gifts too!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, the charm gets me every time! The simplicity of the gifts and the absolute gratitude of those who received them strikes me as a far cry from how many holidays are now celebrated. I much prefer the former.

      Delete

Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts and ideas. I value the advice and friendship that you share with me!