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March, 2011

  1. OPP (Other People’s Plates)

    March 24, 2011 by Laura

    Now that I’m on a health kick, I really notice what other people are eating. Last night we went out on a date (!) to hear some live music (!!), and the guy sitting next to us was having steak and potatoes and gravy. He was a big guy. It was when he got the ice cream for dessert that I went into one of those critical care nurse reveries of him becoming diaphoretic and clutching his chest, and me needing to yell, “YOU! Call 9-1-1 and get the AED!!” and then going through the whole CPR thing. As it turned out he survived the show. I can’t tell you how relieved I was. Nothing can ruin a date like an MI.

    And maybe it’s none of my business, right? It’s not like he was smoking and blowing it my way. Besides, my nose is so stuffy I couldn’t smell the steak. Why would I care? Because he’s the guy I take care of after the CPR keeps him going long enough to get to the ICU. And he’s the guy driving up the cost of health care with his MI and subsequent years of compromised cardiovascular health. OK, that sounds really cynical. I don’t really look at my patients and think, “Oh great, there go my premiums!” I see my patients and their families as people who are suffering. What’s sadder, is that they often accept that suffering (and it is considerable) as their fate.

    Not all of the illness I see is avoidable, but much of it is. I tell you this, and simultaneously remind myself, because we have a tendency to blithely follow our habits as though we are powerless to do otherwise. I want to tell you that as long as you are on this side of the hospital bed, you are not powerless.

    Last week I had a patient who was in terrible pain because his left foot was dead; that is, no blood supply to it. His peripheral arteries were so blocked, that he was awaiting the amputation of his foot. Arterial disease is about inflammation, and smoking causes inflammation. When I reminded him of this, he told me to quit nagging. When I told him he still had one foot left to save, he rolled his eyes. He would rather lose his legs that lose the cigarettes. Sound crazy? I don’t know. I don’t know how to assimilate that in a way that does justice to an entire person, rather than just throwing around catchy phrases about personal responsibility. I like to believe that we’re all doing the best we can with what we’re given, while still believing that there’s always room to grow.

    What I do know is that our bodies are, in general, extremely resilient. We have built-in healing processes that we can enhance in myriad ways. The best methods do not require us to seek specialized practitioners, expensive  supplements, or exotic treatment plans. Eat right (and by “right” I mean tons of vegetables), exercise daily, enjoy quality time with people you like and have a hobby. The tricky thing here is that all of these require us to assume some measure of control over our own health and lives. We can’t look to the medication or the herb or the retreat or the trainer to save us from ourselves. We have to trust that we can provide for ourselves adequately. I presume that just about my entire audience is capable of this. If you grew up eating nothing but convenience store foods and have no idea what to do with broccoli well, welcome! I hope I can help.

    I hope we can all help each other, actually.


  2. The dual burden of being overweight and undernourished

    March 24, 2011 by Laura

    The dual burden of being overweight and undernourished.

    Editorial in the Seattle PI illustrating some of the larger social and economic forces affecting how we eat. Please discuss.


  3. Downward Trend

    March 23, 2011 by Laura

    Sometimes, it’s hard to take your own advice. Like when I tell myself, “Don’t let the numbers on the scale dictate your mood for the day.” That doesn’t always work out. On the days when I step on the scale, and it says I’m TWENTY POUNDS LIGHTER than I was a few months ago, you’re damn right I’m gonna be in pretty good mood. Woohoooooo! It’s doesn’t even matter that I have a wicked cold, my lips are all chapped up, and my knees hurt. So I’m not excruciatingly healthy, I’m thinner! Oh what? I’m getting off message? So sue me. No, it’s not twenty pounds from when I started eating like a cockatiel, but let’s say since Thanksgiving. And what is more satisfying than getting into new jeans? Getting into old ones. Oh yeah…

    It remains relatively easy for me to continue to eat healthy foods and eschew foods that I know I love, but are unhealthy. And I wonder why that is. I have often flipped open magazines to the inspiring stories of successful weight loss, you know, the ones with the before and after pictures of a woman who went from being a size 22w to being a personal trainer and triathlete. They all say, “If I could do it, anyone can.” I always wondered why I couldn’t. But I am here to tell you, if I can do this, anyone can. What I have come to believe is that being overweight is the same as being unhealthy. If you try to lose weight by cutting calories and substituting Splenda for sugar, it’s not going to happen. But if you embrace the beauty of vegetables and real food, and you acknowledge that sugar and butter and white flour are basically harmful, you will start to get healthier.

    To my foodie pro friends, here’s how I see it: You know how the food you make tastes, you don’t need to keep eating it every day. Imagine the mess I’d be in if I tried every pill I passed out. I just trust that they work. I’m serious. There was a time when steaks and cakes were luxuries to be eaten rarely and savored. Meanwhile, I can’t make you eat your vegetables, but I wish you would. I worry about you.




  4. Full of beans

    March 19, 2011 by Laura

    As a Nutritarian, I am committed to eating one serving of beans or legumes daily. Here is why, according to Dr. Fuhrman’s website:

    “Beans’ unique composition makes them a dietary wonder. Beans are rich in fiber and resistant starch and are not easily broken down by enzymes in the small intestine. They pass into the large intestine where bacteria ferment them into short chain fatty acids such as butyrate.6 Butyrate protects against colon cancer in many different ways:

    • Butyrate halts cancer cell growth and causes cancer cell death.7 

    • Butyrate increases the expression of detoxifying enzymes and limits DNA damage due to oxidative stress.8

    • Butyrate inhibits tumors from acquiring a blood supply.7

    • Butyrate has anti-inflammatory affects.7″


    So there. I love beans. And before we go any further, let’s get this out of the way, okay?

    They both work. ‘Nuff said.

    Tonight I made a vegetarian bean soup with a blend of about 10 varieties of beans. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t miss the ham. It’s not that the soup was lacking anything, I am just very partial to bean soup with ham. Ham, however, does not pass the “Will this make me healthier?” test. Here is the recipe for my delicious, ham-less, bean soup:

    Makes a lot, use a big pot.

    Dice and saute in a small amount of olive oil the following:

    • 1 yellow onion
    • 1 or 2 ribs of celery
    • 1 or 2 carrots
    • 1 red bell pepper
    • 3 cloves garlic

    when they are soft and fragrant, add:

    • 1 Tablespoon ground cumin
    • 3 cups of assorted beans and lentils
    • 14 oz can of diced tomatoes
    • 2 cups of tomato sauce (I used some I’d made a few days ago)
    • 12 cups of water or stock
    • bay leaf or 2
    • thyme

    Bring to a boil then turn down and simmer for 3 hours or until the beans are soft. Add some fresh parsley, and correct the seasonings with salt & pepper.

    Serve with crusty bread and bacon fat.

    And beer.

    Oh, sorry, that was my evil twin.

  5. Parsnip Soup with Leeks and Parsley Recipe | Simply Recipes

    March 17, 2011 by Laura

    Parsnip Soup with Leeks and Parsley Recipe | Simply Recipes.

    The food blog Simply Recipes is one I’ve been following for a few years. Indeed, it is simple, with beautiful photos and well worked recipes. Elise, the blogger, is a Bay Area resident, so her recipes resonate here. Elise is a classic foodie, apparently eating whatever she wants without regretting a calorie. Her recipes are delicious, but nowadays I often have to modify them to accomodate my current nutritional requirements. Here’s a recipe for parsnip soup that I plan to make today, minus the butter and some of the salt and oil, of course. Perfect for St. Patrick’s day.

  6. Vitamix Mania

    March 16, 2011 by Laura

    Last week I strolled innocently enough into my local Costco. You know, just another mom needing 900 baby wipes and a case of San Pellegrino. Little did I know, I had a date with destiny. It was Vitamix demo day in Santa Rosa, and I was the target demographic. How did they know? They actually held up a panel of the Whole Foods grocery bag with the Top 10 ANDI foods printed on it. At first I made some feeble, “I’ll have to check with my husband before I make this kind of purchase,” statement. Yeah, right. I did a couple of laps to try to shake off the small appliance lust.

    But the hum of the 2+ Peak HP motor was like a siren. After passing up the samples of Louisiana Hot Links, I again found myself at the booth where Michael and Diane of were fixing up a “live foods” smoothie for the crowd. Across the aisle, a larger crowd was elbowing for caramel popcorn. Two aisles down, Melva was just taking the Dino Bites out of the counter top oven. They were no match for the green goodness flowing from the easy-to-clean BPA-free Eastman Tritan co-polyester container. “Okay, just put one in the cart, quick! Before I come to my senses.” On the drive home, I think I heard it singing to me.

    Oh, just what is a Vitamix? Only the most totally freaking awesome food preparation device ever made. What?! Don’t you call it a “blender.” A blender makes stupid frozen cocktails. A Vitamix makes “perfectly smooth whole food juice and smoothies, steaming hot soup from fresh produce, and low-fat frozen treats.” Take that and stick it in your Osterizer. Oh, you can’t, because the Osterizer couldn’t handle it. Lalala.

    I think I’ve used it 40 times in 5 days. I’m in love with it. I walk in the kitchen and it purrs.

    What’s the best thing I’ve made with it? Hmmmm… I think the Raw Borscht. No, I’m serious. If you love beets like I do, you’ll want to make this:

    Raw Borscht (serves 2)


    • 1 large beet, peeled & cut into chunks
    • 1 large carrot washed & cut into chunks
    • 1-2 ribs celery cut up
    • 1/4 red onion or the white parts of 4 scallions chopped
    • 1/2 to 1 whole avocado
    • 1/2 cup raw cashews
    • small clove garlic
    • About 1 teaspoon of minced jalapeño
    • About 1 teaspoon of minced fresh ginger
    • juice of a lemon
    • splash apple cider or rice wine vinegar
    • 1 cup of water–I used San Pellegrino for a bit of effervescence
    • salt & pepper

    Put it all in your Vitamix and blend adding more water to achieve a smooth, creamy consistency. Garnish with dill & chopped cucumber or more avocado. I wish I had a picture, because it is the most beautiful magenta color. It’s quite tangy & warming, even though it’s a cold soup. Add ice to make it really cold, or blend it for 4-5 minutes to heat it up.

    When we were in Santa Cruz, we ate at Malabar Restaurant on Front Street. I can’t recommend the place highly enough. Truly, truly delicious-by-any-standard vegetarian fare. They had a raw borscht they made with Kombucha. I might try that next, even though Kombucha is up there with Vegemite on my list of dubious comestibles.

    Stay tuned for more Vitamix Magic…

  7. Why be healthy? (Updated)

    March 15, 2011 by Laura

    Ok, I promise after this post, I’ll move on to recipes, but I had to get this down on… LCD?

    In my first post, I addressed the question, “What am I doing?”  But I didn’t say why. I mentioned that I want to look good in my brother’s wedding, and that is motivating, but in the past I have had plenty of other equally compelling reasons to lose weight, and none of them ever resulted in permanent results. What’s different this time?

    For most of my life I have struggled with body image or weight or both. I have had periods of time being in great shape, but always feeling as though I could stand to lose a little more, or else feeling as though every morsel was potentially ruinous. I’ve lost weight by means that were far from healthy. As a teenager I thought, “I’d rather be dead than fat.” Cruel, no? I wish every minute that every teenage girl — and grown woman for that matter — spent worrying about what her body looked like could be given back to her for more useful pursuits. It’s a tragic waste of time and brain power.

    But we don’t get that time back. Nor does all the worrying, complaining and bargaining make us thinner or healthier. At a certain point, wanting to be thin is not a good enough reason. A friend of mine likes to say, “Nothing tastes as good as being thin feels.” I agree that being thin, and fitting into those jeans with the t-shirt tucked in, is enormously satisfying to those of us for whom it is elusive. But it can’t be enough. We get thin, we get un-thin again. Perhaps because in the end, vanity alone is not sustaining or sustainable.

    Dale amended the phrase to “Nothing tastes as good as being healthy feels.” I think a lot of us have forgotten what it means to feel truly healthy. I know I have. I usually think of myself as being in “very good” health. And yet, I have come to accept things like loss of strength and flexibility as par for the course. But lately, looking at my patients who are unbelievably sick at 60 or 50 years old, or a pack of thirteen year olds who are so big that any one of them would have been mercilessly teased for being “the fat kid” when I was in school (not that I think that’s okay), I see my own state of well being differently. Pursuing health and promoting my ability to enjoy living in my body is sustainable and sustaining. Nourishing, even, where trying to be being skinny is emotionally and physically draining.

    I owe much of this shift in attitude to my sister-in-law, Diane. Diane died in January at age 51 from breast cancer. We will probably never know why Diane had to get breast cancer. She was thin, athletic, and even funnier than me. Diane loved her life and hated being sick. She loved being in her body. She hiked, biked, walked, swam. In 2009, at 48 years old and two years after a mastectomy, she still rocked a bikini. When I visited with her in January, shortly before she died, she was very thin, and I was fat. It struck me that my body image problems were pretty meaningless. She had spent months trying to gain weight, trying to keep up her energy to do the things she loved, like going on walks. I had spent months complaining about not being able to lose the baby weight, all the while spending much of my time on my butt.

    Thus I continue on the path to being “excruciatingly healthy,” rather than just “thin.”

  8. Taking Stock

    March 9, 2011 by Laura

    My conversation with Amos yesterday:

    Mommy? why are you so fat?

    I’m not fat, Amos.

    Yes you are. Your belly’s fat.

    Oh, that’s because there was a baby in my belly & it takes a while for it to go back.

    No, I think you ate too much food.

    And then I locked him in the back of my truck overnight. No, I didn’t. Nice kid. He went off to play with imaginary guns, and I promised to add extra kale to his smoothie. grrrrrrrrrr

    When I joined with the Nutritarians, I signed up as a subscribing member on the Eat Right America web site. This provided me with a 28 day meal plan and nutritional program to get me on my way. I just received the e-notice that I “made it!” through my first 28 days. In truth I started about a week before I signed up. Here’s what they say I’ve accomplished:

    Day 1 to Day 7: You started the process of adding health-promoting foods to your way of eating.

    Day 8 to Day 14: You moderated you intake of certain foods (e.g. meat, eggs) and switched to healthier options.

    Day 15 to Day 21: You challenged conventional myths you have been told such as benefits of milk, olive oil, snacking, meat protein, etc.

    Day 22 to Day 28: You are embracing the Nutritarian Lifestlye and making it an everyday part of your life.

    Yeah, yeah, all that’s true, but that’s not what you care about is it? You want to know just how hard it is and how much weight I’ve actually lost, don’t you?

    Ok, for those who don’t know me, I’m 5’4″ tall. When I started this around January 28th, I weighed 1p3 pounds. This morning I weighed 1r9 where p-r=10. Therefore, I have lost (not quite) 14 pounds. There’s a little slush in my numbers, but it is definitely one full pants size. I have about 21 pounds to go.

    Mostly, it’s been painless. When you sign up, you learn about true hunger and toxic hunger. Toxic hunger is what most of us think of as hunger: the gnawing feeling in your stomach and low-blood-sugar feeling in the head that steers you toward chips or a Twix bar. In fact, says Dr. Joel Fuhrman, MD, that miserable feeling is toxic hunger, which is basically addictive withdrawal. The first week or so of eating mega-veggies, I definitely felt the withdrawal. I was having croque monsieur dreams.

    Since then it’s been a breeze. No, really. Why is it so easy? Because I can eat a lot of food and go to Farmer’s Markets all the time. I get to eat lots of very beautiful food grown by my neighbors. It’s also been easy, because I no longer feel crummy if I haven’t eaten for 2 or 3 hours. I might feel hungry, but I don’t feel crazy hungry.

    My favorite part of this is trying to figure out new recipes and ways of cooking all these lovely veggies. My least favorite part is also trying to figure out new recipes and ways of cooking all these lovely veggies. I confess, there are days when I just want to go out and pick up a roast chicken.

    Here is what happens now in order to maintain my status among the Nutritarians:

    Your Action Plan: Continue to embrace the five cornerstones of healthy eating:

    1. A large salad every day
    2. At least a half-cup serving of beans/legumes in soup, salad or a dish once daily
    3. At least 3 fresh fruits a day
    4. At least one ounce of raw nuts and seeds a day
    5. At least one large (double-size) serving of steamed green vegetables daily

    That’s pretty easy. If I do that every day — and I have been — I won’t have room for the other stuff. Like salami and cheese.

    Here is a video of a lecture by Dr. Fuhrman about toxic hunger and food addiction. It’s long, but I had it playing in the background while I did other things. Also, please check out some of the links on the sidebar if you haven’t already.

  9. Eat your veggies

    March 3, 2011 by Laura

    Last night we watched Get Low with Robert Duvall. One of the many great lines spoken by Duvall’s character, Felix Bush, occurs when another character, Buddy, finds Felix slumped over in his barn, unable to get up.

    Buddy: You stuck?
    Felix: You have no idea how right you are, boy.
    Buddy: You sick?
    Felix: Going through the motions.
    Buddy: What does that mean?
    Felix: There’s going through the motions. There’s alive and there’s dead and there’s a worse place in between. And I hope that you never know about that, pal.

    And that place is where I work: the Intensive Care Unit.

    Last week I cared for a patient who was, let’s say, typical. Not 20 years older than me, he was obese, diabetic, had suffered several heart attacks, had a portion of a leg removed because of non-healing infections, had a multidrug resistant bloodstream infection, and was in my care because he had gone into respiratory distress and probably suffered a stroke. His condition had left him unable to attend to his own hygiene and unable to feed himself. In the uncharitable language of nurses-trying-to-cope he was “a train wreck.”

    As I was feeding him his dinner, I lowered the fork into his pureed vegetable (green beans?). He shook his head, “I don’t eat vegetables.” Of course. I put the fork down.

    I went home and ate an entire Napa cabbage (ANDI score 704).