Friday, March 23, 2012

Step 1: Start with a healthy breakfast

So the first step (and arguably the most important) in "Breaking the Food Seduction" is eating a healthy breakfast.  The right breakfast can set you up for success, or failure, so choose wisely.  So what constitutes a healthy breakfast?  The two key components are 1) lots of fiber and 2) healthy protein.

Fiber is essential to winning the battle against cravings.  Fiber not only fills you up, but it also fills you up for longer.  Fiber digests slowly, gradually releasing a steady stream of energy all morning.  Low fiber foods (white toast/bagels, sugary cereals) release their sugar too quickly, raising and then dropping your blood sugar, opening you up to mid-morning cravings.  These refined carbohydrates (which you might as well consider pure sugar, because it takes no time at all for them to break down into sugar) increase the serotonin in your brain.  Serotonin regulates sleep, and mood.  These serotonin spikes can leave you feeling sluggish and drained - and reaching for a sugary and/or caffeinated pick-me-up.

Enter protein.  Plant-based protein blocks that extra serotonin surge and prevents the ensuing sluggish feeling.  I say plant based protein because most animal based proteins are laden with fat and cholesterol, and that is  not how we want to start our day.  I'll discuss more on the effects of fat and cholesterol in a later post, for now, let's stick with breakfast.

So here's a breakfast I had on a successful day:

Cantaloupe, dark rye toast, and scrambled tofu.  Fruits have lots of great soluble fiber that will keep your GI tract healthy and happy, and they help bundle up all those fruit sugars and make sure they are released gradually throughout the morning to give you the energy you need to make it til lunch.  Hearty whole grains, in particular low Glycemic Index whole grains like rye and pumpernickel, are also rich in fiber, to keep you full and prevent a mid-morning sugar crash.  Scrambled tofu is a quick protein source that easily replaces scrambled eggs, without all of the cholesterol or moral dilemmas.

If you have never tried scrambled tofu before, don't be afraid, it's really quite tasty.  Simply crumble up a block of firm tofu into a skillet.  You can add in diced onions and peppers for added flavour.  Season it with onion powder, garlic powder, nutritional yeast, turmeric, salt and pepper.  Saute it up til it starts to brown.  Voila!  That's it.  Seriously tasty, hearty breakfast.  That day I didn't crave pastries at work at all!  It had lost its appeal.

Other mornings where I've just had a smoothie, my resolve has not been so great and I find my sweet tooth aching quite quickly.  I either need to improve my smoothie recipe by boosting the fiber and protein in it, or have it along side some other hearty options.  This is still a work in progress, but I'm sorting it out.

Another easy breakfast that satisfies the protein and fiber in one fell swoop is beans.  You may not consider beans traditional breakfast food, but many cultures around the world eat beans for breakfast, and for good reason.  They are cheap, easy, fill you up, keep you full, and are SO good for you.  The easiest way to enjoy them for breakfast is in breakfast burrito form.  Saute up some canned beans with onions, peppers, tomatoes and/or salsa, and season it up with some cumin and chili powder.  Wrap it up in a whole wheat tortilla and you now have a portable breakfast.  The other great thing about this is you can make a lot at once, save it in the fridge, and you have a week's worth of breakfasts at the touch of a microwave button.

I'll have more ideas to come, but I thought I'd better update to let you know how it's going!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Reclaiming Control

For many people, going vegan is often accompanied by weight loss and healthier eating. After all, many of the fattening foods are now off limits, and you find yourself filling your plate with more veggies, beans and whole grains than ever before.  After a while of being vegan, however, you get better at it, and your options expand.  It's no secret that I love making cupcakes, but cupcakes are nothing but fat and sugar (delicious and adorable fat and sugar).  After a while you learn more about what you can eat: no butter vegan beaver tails!  Oh wait, more fat and sugar.  The fact is, there's plenty of junk food out there that is vegan that you really have no business eating (oreos, potato chips, french fries, passion flakies - readily available vegan junk!).  Here's the truth - just being a vegan isn't good enough if your goal is to be healthy and fit.

Or maybe, you start to lose your resolve, get a bit more flexitarian from time to time.  A bit of cake at a wedding here, a sweet treat at a coffee shop there.... sooner or later, that vegan line you drew in the sand gets washed away and you're nibbling from the pastry case on a daily basis!  Ok.  So I have a confession.  I've been a bad vegan.  I started working at Starbucks.  When I started out I restricted myself to only the vegan snack options (blueberry bar, sweet potato chips, packaged nuts), but I gradually started sampling more and more of the pastries, pastries I knew weren't vegan, but I wanted them anyway.  "To hell with it", I would think, "I'm not allergic, it's not going to hurt me."  Eventually I was eating non-vegan pastries every time I went in to work.  Even when I didn't want to eat them - I wanted to resist - I craved them, and the cravings won, day after day.  

It's not like I was craving the animal products, which are quite minimal in a lemon poppyseed loaf, peppermint brownie cake pop, or the new cinnamon swirl coffee cake that I fell in love with.  What I was craving was fat and sugar.  I used to be able to resist these treats.  In fact, I never used to crave sweets at all!  I used to be a salty snack craver (potato chips being my ultimate undoing).  This was desperate, I needed to break free of this craving cycle, I needed to regain control of my diet!  Enter Dr. Neal Barnard.  I've been a big fan of his for a long time, and when I became a vegan I read his book Food for Life: How the New Four Food Groups Can Save Your Life.  It's a really excellent book that discusses the health repercussions of the "standard american diet".  It is well referenced, thorough, and in my opinion, a must read for everyone who wants to be healthy.  One day, guilt ridden after not having the will power to resist sugary temptation, I remembered another of Dr. Barnard's books.  Breaking the Food Seduction: The Hidden Reasons Behind Food Cravings and 7 Steps to End Them Naturally.  I promptly got myself to amazon and ordered it.  It was high time I took charge, and I did that the only way I knew how - by learning as much as I could. 

If any of you find yourself at the mercy of your cravings, if you find yourself addicted to chocolate, sugar, cheese, or other unhealthy snack foods, I highly recommend this book.  It explains, on a scientific level (without being filled with complicated jargon), what is happening in your body and your brain when you crave and eat these foods.  Knowing is half the battle.  The rest of the tools are pretty simple, and the ones I'm going to talk most about on this blog are:

1. Eat a healthy breakfast
2. Choose foods that hold your blood sugar steady
3. Boost Appetite-Taming Leptin

One of the other steps is "Call in Reinforcements", and that's why I'm blogging about this.  It's like my version of AA.  I'm hoping to come on here and post about the foods that I'm eating that are helping me be successful, how many days I've gone without eating pastries (my current nemesis), and tell you about my failures a means to come clean and get back on track.  Stay tuned!