Sunday, May 15, 2011


Whenever Mom would say “It’s time for an agonizing reappraisal of things, Kid,” it meant that, be it your drawer or your attitude, there was no getting around it: things were going to have to change. It was time to think long and hard, and to straighten up. Back in January, I flippantly dubbed 2011 as “The Year of the Agonizing Reappraisal,” with the idea of getting everything around here in its proper place and putting a fresh coat of paint on the walls too, getting “war-ganized,” as Katie used to say.

The plan was to have an agonizing reappraisal of my stuff, not my self, but some months back Helen had urged me to have my cholesterol checked, just for good measure. I figured, “What the Hell,” and made an appointment for my first physical in many years.
My guess was that my numbers would be ok, that the doctor might tell me to lay off the cheese and sausages a bit, but that since I look like Dad on the outside, hopefully I inherited his ability to eat salami and sausages galore as well as his good looks. Not so. My cholesterol numbers are bad, my triglyceride numbers shocking, and I’m a step away from developing diabetes, which means that heart disease, gout, and possibly stroke are just up the street for me if I’m not careful.

I figured that all of these aches and pains I’ve been having in my joints, bones, and fingers were just a matter of getting older, from wrenching my shoulders carrying things, and from overworking my fingers with all of the typing, painting, sewing, and other things I do. I figured that my recent tiredness and exhaustion was simply from not being in as good a shape as I was when I was younger and chasing Jack around all over the place. I also figured that a little bit of depression was normal: of course I was bummed out, all of my kids were off and gone. Not so. That bone pain that kept me up at night, the fingers that could barely hold a brush or a needle or even type, all that tiredness and sadness, it all came from a vitamin D deficiency.

Now my first inclination was to be very “Conroy” about this. That is, to be private about it. Keep your personal information to yourself, and don’t bother or bore everyone else with the details of your latest medical exam. But then I thought about, and decided that you might want to know, because you might want to avoid some discomfort and pain. So pay attention to yourself, and have your blood work done every once in a while, especially as you get older. 

At first I was taken aback by this. I’m not skinny anymore, but at 10 lbs over the healthy limit for my age and height, and with a BMI of 25.5, I’m also not severely overweight. I admit that I don’t exercise enough, but I do take the dog on walks a couple times a week and go to yoga class once or twice a week. And, although I crave cheese, love sausage, and adore pate, I don’t eat it all the time. I don’t eat out often, and never eat “fast food”.  For years I’ve banned shortening and anything with any amount of hydrogenated oil from my kitchen. I make just about everything I eat from scratch, though I have been pretty free with the cream, butter and lard in the past few years. I eat plenty of vegetables, and grow many of them myself. I do enjoy wine, but not more than 2 or 3 glasses of it. I like what I eat, and I want to keep eating it!

So at first I started by just cutting down on any excess¸ cutting back on the wine a bit,  measuring my portions, recording all I ate, and making sure I went to yoga twice a week and walking the dog at least 5 days a week.  I thought I should be able to loose a few pounds that way. Not so. After a month, nothing. 

How sobering. Was I fooling myself? Was my cooking that bad for me? Was I going to have to give up my favorite recipes? Was I going to have to abandon cheese making? Was I going to have to start exercising for hours every day? I don’t even have time for all of the things I do as it is! What a drag!

Well, after moping around a bit, I decided that I had better have an agonizing reappraisal of my activity level, and of what I’ve been putting in my mouth. After all, moving more and modifying my cooking and eating must be less of a drag than diabetes, a heart attack, or gout!

So I’ve decided to do two things: start really analyzing my exercise, as well as my cooking, eating, drinking, and to modify it as need be. I also decided to take inspiration from my young friends Jeff and Katie, of Tasteful Gluttony, who said of their new 6 day a week diet restructuring, “We’re learning all kinds of new ways to cook lentils!”

Another thing that Mom has taught us all how to do is to dive enthusiastically into a new research project. Gather your resource material and get to it!  First, I rounded up all my “diet” cookbooks, old and new (thank you, Susie and Deb), onto one shelf. And then I dove into the ocean of online dieting information. Wow!  

These are a few online resources that I recommend.

Danielle Omar, MS, RD; eat smart, live confidently.  Danielle has a practical and positive approach that seems so grounded to me. The blog section of her site has a positive tone, nice pictures, and tasty looking recipes. I met Danielle through our food52 DC group, and she is as positive in person as she is on line.

Healthier Kitchen. Wendy, also a DC food52er, posts varied and interesting recipes on her site, but they also are recipes that I’d like to try and my family would like to eat.

Tosca Reno’s Eat-Clean Diet My friends Susie and Ben have had good luck with this diet, which is essentially the “no white death diet” that Arnold Schwarzenegger and other bodybuilders have been promoting for years, but Tosca Reno has made it mainstream. This gal is definitely in the business of selling cookbooks and magazines, but she seems to also be promoting eating healthy foods that you cook yourself, and her recipes are straightforward.

Self Nutrition Data know what you eat. This is a site put up by Self magazine. It has an extensive database with nutritional information on just about any food you can imagine, tools for tracking your food intake and calculating daily needs. What I really like is the Analyze Recipe feature, where you can put in a recipe and it will calculate the complete nutritional information per serving. They also have information on diet and weight loss, diabetes, heart health, and recipes. Now you have to put up with all kinds of jumping animated ads and sell your soul to Conde Nast if you want to use the tracking and calculating features, but that’s the price we pay these days.

If you know of any others you like, please share them with me!

With food and love,

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