Monday, February 6, 2012

Lucky in life

That's me. Lucky in life. Quite a bold statement, I know. Am I bragging? No, certainly no intention there. Why do I feel lucky? Because I like to learn. I'm not afraid to admit that I never feel "finished," so I'm open to new possibilities and revisiting whether something I've been doing is right or wrong for me. I'm not willing to settle for the status quo and am always looking for ways to improve.

So what am I learning and re-learning about lately? Real food.

What's real? Not fake.

I'm reading Dr. Will Clower's The French Don't Diet Plan. Years ago when I saw this title on the shelf, it sounded like one of those trendy new diets, so I ignored the book as I usually would. But I was fortunate to hear Dr. Clower speak recently and received his book as an audience member, just like on Oprah. And I've been reading it ever since, absorbing it like a sponge. So how could I not share what I'm learning with you?

The good doctor, a neurophysiologist who taught monkeys how to play video games so he could analyze their brain waves, lived in France two years with his family. With no access to American supermarket foods, the family had no choice but to eat daily rich foods like the French: butter, cream sauces, rich cheeses, bread, wine, and chocolate.

Tough, huh? The doctor, his wife, and his mother were all resigned to gain weight during their stay abroad, but that's not what happened at all. They all, including the children, lost weight and a number of clothing sizes, too! That got the doctor thinking and he began to study what the differences were with the American diet and the French way of life and eating.

The premise of the doctor's book is that the French, along with all Mediterranean cultures, never diet. They eat what they want, but in moderation. They do not super-size, but also they do not eat low-fat or low-carbs. They do not use artificial sweeteners. It's all the real deal. They love their food, are less anxious about what they eat, and are truly satisfied...and not obese.

It's all been so interesting that I've had to read on...and appreciate my roots even more.

Now I've always been a lover of good food and am already a fan of healthy eating, but this book is helping me take it all to the next level. I know in my gut that what this doc says is true. Looking and feeling good is not about a diet or any fads; it's about a way of life.

I should know. It's what my dad taught me. Growing up with a father that came to this country on a ship (or boat, as he says) from Italy was not easy at times. He didn't always understand the American way. But one place where his culture and traditions were right from the start and always will be is around food and family.

Every night we had supper together as a family. Every Saturday evening was celebrated with family and friends, sitting around the table, eating, drinking, and laughing. Every Sunday after church we ate our big meal of the day together by 1:00 or 1:30 p.m. And then we packed up the car for either a Sunday drive or a visit to Grandmom's, then some ice cream. Times were simpler then. We didn't know we didn't have a lot and we certainly didn't know how good life was, even with all the ups and downs.

One thing's for sure back then, though. We always had good food on the table and we spent a lot of time eating and enjoying real food. We ate a lot. The only one in the family who was chubby, though, was mom. Dad taught mom to cook the way he liked things, the Italian way, but even then, as a child, I knew she wasn't always eating all the good stuff she made for us kiddies and dad.

Mom was a closet eater, hiding coconut snowballs, banana cream pies, twinkies, funny bones, and ring dings under dish towels when we came in from playing. The kinds of "food" that can sit on the grocery store shelves and never go bad. Now we know enough to wonder what chemicals allowed that to happen. Back then we didn't.

While mom ate all that junk, what were the rest of us eating? With an Italian dad, lots of pasta with tomato gravy, or sauce to "Americans," as we'd say. We enjoyed a wide assortment of meats and fishes. Whole milk and ice cream. Pastries, rum cake, and cannoli.

And we didn't have a choice but to learn to love all kinds of vegetables, fruits, and nuts. Dad regularly brought home new things for us to try, such as pomegranates, blood oranges, broccoli rabe, brussel sprouts, liver, tripe, pig's feet, eel, and calamari.

With all that experimentation and as new things were added to our everyday menus, we acquired tastes for foods that most children our age weren't eating. It wasn't a choice and it all seemed so normal to us. Whenever family gathered we ate all these strange and wonderful foods together, so we never felt different.

We were "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," but Italian-style. Yes, it was not strange for us to see live chickens running around in my aunt's Philly row home kitchen and whole roasted lambs, pigs, and goats come across our family tables where nothing was wasted. Food was good and plentiful and every family get-together and holiday brought with it so many exciting foods and traditions we all looked forward to. We were different, but we didn't know it.

Really, we were eating unprocessed "real" foods. As Dr. Clower says, we were eating foods that had a mama and a papa or grew as a plant and weren't later extracted as a science experiment in a food processing lab.

Yes, as we grew and were inundated with Saturday morning commercials and "progress," we begged mom for all the fun supermarket processed foods we saw on TV and everyone else ate. What kid wouldn't like chocolate cereal with a cartoon Count on the box, red jello, candy that made our tongue blue, and some salty-sweet coating (MSG) to shake and bake our pork? It was all fun, but was it good for us? Probably not as good as all the real food we had been primarily eating.

Well, to make a long story short, over the years, we've retained our healthy eating habits from dad. I raised my children on real foods and there's really nothing that they won't eat. Family traditions and food are still very important to us all.

What I'm gaining from reading Dr. Clower right now is an affirmation of what dad has taught us: Eat real foods. I'm also glad for scientific data and info to back up good reasons to avoid what the good doc calls "food inventions." Artificial flavors, colors, preservatives, and ingredients that just don't need to be in the foods we eat.  Just a few examples:

High fructose corn syrup. Why does it need to be in every on-the-shelf food? Food processors like it because it's cheaper than sugar. Corn farmers are susidized by government who are rewarding lobbyists from corporations who contributed to political campaigns. It's a vicious cycle and we are the ones who lose since we reap no reward and it's our health at risk. Our bodies can't process the sweet HFCS as a sugar, so our livers work harder to treat it as a toxin. HFCS is associated with fatty liver, obesity, and diabetes. I don't need that in my food, for sure, especially now that I know.

Silicone dioxide. This is another example of what I don't want in my food now that I've learned more. Check to see if your boxed cake mixes or other powdered food products include silicone dioxide, better known as sand, quartz, flint, agate, and also used in foot powder.

Silicone dioxide is used in many foods as a "flowing agent" to ensure products pour well after sitting on the store shelf a long time. I don't want a product that is engineered to last a long time on the shelf. I want to know my food can go bad. Then I know it's real and not processed in a food lab.

And I know for sure that the only time I want to eat sand is on a windy day on the beach. If I want cake, I'd rather make it myself from scratch or buy one with a label that doesn't look like the output from a science experiment. Just saying that's how I see it now and what's working for me.

Yes, anyone who knows what's going on has heard it all on the news on and off. What's good for you yesterday is now what's bad for you...tomorrow it's good for you again. Corporations, lobbyists, politicians, marketers. They're all controlling what "foods" are available to us and telling us what we should eat. If they don't like the studies that come out of the Food and Drug Administration, they work real hard to take care of that and get their product back on the shelf.

But I'm a lucky learner and I know more now, so I've taken back that control. I make choices that work for me. A tomato or an orange doesn't need a food label. And the foods I choose to buy that do require food labels are being scrutinized even more closely by me now.

I love food and I'm an educated consumer of food. I can't say I've always made the best food choices in my past, and I've done my share of yo-yo dieting over the years, but now that I've learned more, I can't ignore what I know.

But I can go back. Back to where I once belonged. Eating the Mediterranean way. And I have done that over the years. I'm happily satisfied that I feel and look so much better now that I'm truly dedicated to food. I love it the way it deserves--with high respect for the good stuff, but in moderation.

Just since reading Dr. Clower, I've cut out artificial sweeteners, something I knew wasn't so good for me, but I told myself I didn't have too many vices, so it was okay. Already I see a major drop in headaches that I was attributing to sinus issues and allergies.

I've even just recently, since reading the book, bravely ditched lowfat and nonfat products for the real deal. I was leery about that decision, but I can say I do feel satisfied now with less food. And I've lost a few pounds myself in short time with the real stuff, which I would have never expected.

So dad and Dr. Clower are on to something. Staying thin and feeling good are achievable without following a fad or a diet. It's about a lifestyle, a lifestyle that I've made work for me.

I'm an ongoing learner. I like that about me. I won't settle for less. I'm lucky in life.

Until next time, yours in fun and real food...Therese

P.S. I bought a copy of the doctor's book for each of my children for Valentine's Day. It's the most loving way I can show them I care for their life and health as I do my own. Buy one for yourself if you're interested. Your body may just love you for it, too.

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