How a Bread Eater Stays Thin :: Knowing YOU

I’ve always been active. I grew up on a block with thirty kids, mostly boys, and spent my afternoons climbing trees, playing kick ball, throwing frisbees and jumping from rooftops. I’ve always been a mover, and I know this gives me a big advantage over some other “types,” like my book-reader son, who can sit in a corner chair for hours, even days, without so much as walking across the house. (We boot him out of the chair from time to time to make sure he stays alive!) I’m sure my natural tendency to move has helped me stay trim over the years.

I think it’s safe to say: Knowing yourself, knowing your body is a great help to staying thin.  (And goodness knows, there are all sorts of thin! Your doctor–not visions of you being a print model– is the one who should point you in the direction of your optimum weight.) Knowing how to balance your life between how active you are, how much food you need to consume, and how much sleep helps you recover and remain healthy is harder than it used to be. Food is so blessedly plentiful in this age, but that means we need more self control than ever. Last year I thought it’d be interesting to actually test myself and quantify that balance. I signed up for an online health application that helped get me started, then over two weeks I catalogued every single thing I ate and recorded the activity of my daily life.

The application asked me all sorts of questions. My age, my weight, my goals, etc… I popped that app onto my phone to make sure I didn’t miss one thing that passed my lips. The app told me that in order to maintain my weight, no gaining or losing, at my activity level, I should be eating just a tad over 1500 calories each day. Wow. Not much.

I also utilized another program that helped calculate calories from my own recipes. This was a great tool that gave me real data, showing the difference between a simple rosemary roll (110 calories per slice), and how many more calories are in that delicious pumpkin bread (256 calories) that I like to make!

I embarked on the two weeks and here’s what I learned.

  • I shouldn’t eat chips and salsa for lunch quite so often :). The calories in chips add up way too quickly!
  • We eat fairly well, thanks to my husband and his lean meat/lots of veggies formula. It’s good that my cupboard is often bare of bread.
  • Herbal tea after dinner is the best. No second glasses of wine, no soda, no fruit juices or other drinkable calories when I’ve already eaten a days’ fill.
  • Good fat and protein help me eat less in the long run.
  • Don’t ever buy potato chips. I will eat them.
  • Even a short walk during the day is better than no walk at all.
  • I should keep up my five minute strength training that I do every other day. Push ups, knee bends, sit ups. All good! 🙂
  • Just because I’m thin, and active, doesn’t mean I still don’t have things to change.

At 1500 calories a day over those two weeks I lost weight. I figure the program simply doesn’t know that I run to the mailbox instead of walk–or that I have a John Ronan in the house. Even if I didn’t match up exactly to how they thought I should eat, it allowed me to see, in black and white words, exactly what I put into my body and how I spend my days. It was revealing.

Not only have I always been active, but I also lived in Europe for a string of years when I was young and impressionable. Folks in France, Italy and Switzerland, the three countries I was blessed to be in, truly don’t have a problem with obesity. They love to eat well, but they’ve learned over the centuries how to balance their love of food with the desire to be healthy, vital, and active. French Women Don’t Get Fat, a book written several years ago now, speaks to the cultural differences between French and American eaters. I enjoyed and learned from that book, and if you’ve struggled with weight loss, it might give you a new view of food that could help you turn a corner…

And the Japanese have much to teach us. My husband talks now and again of their 80% full principle. “Eat like a crane,” they say.

But I think the best models of eating come from the church. In the Orthodox Church we fast from meat and dairy almost half of the year. There is a consistent reminder to fill our minds and hearts with prayer, and not stuff our bellies full of food. I love this recent post on fasting from my friend, Katherine. And this article by Rita Madden, a program director for wellness, makes some very practical suggestions on eating and living well. Ms Madden also has a podcast on Ancient Faith Radio titled Food, Faith and Fasting. You can listen and/or download all of her podcasts that touch on various aspects of healthful eating (such as Sacred Eating, Managing Stress, Seasonal Fasting, and The Temptation to Misuse Food). I recommend starting with the first podcast Eating in a Spiritually Minded Manner, and listening to them in order.

So, that’s about ALL I have to say on this subject. From making changes in our home life and living at a slower tempo, to being watchful of how much bread is in our cupboard, to balancing my life between work, food, and activities… I am not an expert at all of this, but I pray some of these thoughts have been helpful.

Sending you all love., and now, back to the bread kneading board!

How a Bread Eater Stays Thin :: Being Slow

Face it. The evidence is overwhelming. Too many carbs will make you fat. Our country has gone carb and junk food crazy and it’s showing. Even kids these days are struggling with diabetes and over-eating issues.

But you know all this…

With my father as a baker, we always had bread in the house. Fresh bread, every day, came home from those fabulous old brick ovens at 512 Rose Avenue. I bet I ate a sandwich on sourdough bread every day of my elementary school life! I loved salami and yellow mustard best. (Still do!)

Over three posts I’m going to outline a bit how our family, despite the enticement of fresh bread being pulled regularly from the oven, has managed to stay thin.

Quick Disclaimer! I am not a medical doctor. I don’t pretend to be a nutritionist. My only expertise is a lifetime of trying to be Jane.

Slow.

My husband and I used to own a much bigger home, and spend more money, and drive more miles, and consume many more goods. We were the kind of Americans who helped the people in Washington DC do the Happy Dance. Somewhere along the line we made a few big decisions and moved (from Colorado to Santa Barbara) for a variety of personal reasons. We found ourselves at a time of change, which allowed us to make all sorts of choices about our lives. We set out on a course to live more simply, and slowly, and have been adjusting this past decade, with more changes probably still to come.

I believe that many of these changes have helped us live a happier, healthier life–keeping us fit and thin. Here are a few examples of how choosing slow–over the alternative of fast–has kept us in shape.

Walking Shoes. Well, we wear sandals most of the year, but we chose to buy a home in a neighborhood that is near many services. It is a quarter mile walk to: two food markets; the post office; the hair salon; a bookstore; three coffee shops; dry cleaners, etc… You get the idea. When there’s a choice to walk or drive to pick up those fall pumpkins using the blue wagon, even if it means taking an extra half hour, we walk. And when it’s a bit too far to walk, we (my husband mostly) hops on the bike. Down to the farmer’s market, off to the beach. We’ve even set our big kids free, encouraging them to get places on foot. Three miles to downtown to hang out with their friends. They plan a bit in advance, put on their favorite pair of Vans and off they go.

Muscle Power. In our home we have an assortment of appliances and machines, just like in other homes. A mixer, a vacuum, a waffle maker, a dryer, even a mini food processor. But when it comes to making choices, we typically choose the slow, electricity-free route. We use a push mower on our lawn, we sweep with a broom, we knead our bread by hand, we crush the croutons into bread crumbs using the mortar and pestle, we hang our sheets on the line, we even gave away our microwave. If there’s an opportunity to get fit and do a chore, we choose the muscle-building route. It may take a bit longer, but in the end we’ve saved energy, money, and burned a few calories all in one swoop! Not a bad tradeoff.

Saying No. This is a big one, and something we have to struggle against constantly. We try to live a life that leaves us time to sit and chat with the neighbors. We say no to many extra activities so that we can take a walk after dinner, or go for a hike on a Saturday morning. Sure, my husband is on the parish council at church, and I volunteer at my kids high school often, but we know our limits. Being out every evening at meetings, rushing from place to place changes the way you eat, and live. Suddenly you’re sitting at In n Out, munching down fries and a hamburger. Or drinking too much soda in the afternoon to keep you awake. Or having to drive that quarter mile to the store simply because you don’t have two extra minutes in your schedule.

Eating Together. Though breakfast and lunch are a bit scattered, with most of us on different schedules, we always have dinner together. Every night we set the table, light the candle, prepare a healthy meal and sit around our table, eating, laughing, planning and simply being together. We don’t watch TV and eat. Well, we don’t watch TV at all. We eat our food slowly (most of us, Andrew!), teaching our kids to enjoy a variety of different foods and to enjoy them in company. Dinner is at least an hour long, and later there is herbal tea in the pot.

So, there’s some of what we do to live a life that isn’t flying by at super speed and that helps keep us active and thin, despite fresh enticing loaves of bread. I know many of you live this way too. I’d love to hear your ideas–feel free to add any and all in the comment section below.

Cheers, my friends!