Tag Archives: diet

What’s the Point?

By Jason Menard

Mar. 13, 2007 — Stop it. You know who you are. You’re the ones sucking the fun out of life with your incessant obsession over food. You want to diet, fine – but don’t ruin my fun just because you’ve decided to swap living for counting.

You’ve seen the people – so obsessed with counting points/carbs/calories that they can’t look at food in any rational way any longer. For them cooking is no longer a culinary art, but rather a branch of mathematics. And the only healthy serving they’re receiving is self-imposed guilt.

While trying to get healthy is an admirable cause, what’s the point of living longer if you have to take the fun out of life?

Now, let me state that I’m not advocating an all-out, hedonistic, eat-what-you-want deep-fried fat fest. But nor is this borderline-obsessive, neurotic zeal for counting the right answer. As it continues to be proven in most aspects of life, balance is the key to long-term and sustainable health and happiness.

You counters aren’t happy and you’re bringing the rest of the world down with you! Sure misery loves company, but you’ve chosen to wrap yourselves in these miserable caloric and fat formulas so why punish me for your folly? Take, for example, the party. Whether at work or in social settings, invariably a relatively unhealthy snack or dessert will be presented. Unfortunately, and also invariably, one of these counters will pipe up and throw a wet blanket on the festivities.

At best, they’ll decline a piece of cake but not without explaining why, “Oh, that’s 10 points and I can’t do it.” At the worst, they’ll eat the thing and then spend the next few hours in a pathetic – and annoying – display of self-flagellation. But instead of suffering in silence, they’ll let everyone know what they’ve done – lamenting about the lost points and the catch-up they’ll have to do!

And it’s constant. The obsession dominates their lives: mornings are spent recounting how many points were wasted the previous evening; evenings are spent discussing the temptations succumbed to during the day; and weekends are spent not enjoying the time off, but obsessively watching out for potential pitfalls.

I admit that I’m not in peak physical condition. I’m an average weight for my height, but could probably stand to lose five to 10 more pounds. I was on one of these point-counting programs in the past for a few months and lost a fair bit of weight – and over the past three years I’ve been able to keep it off, but not through obsessive counting but rather common sense. I’ll indulge here and there and not feel guilty about it, but overall I try to eat right. And if someone’s celebrating a birthday at work, I’ll enjoy a piece of cake and not get too stressed over it.

Ironically, most of the people I’ve met that fall into this counting obsession are unable to lose weight. They deprive themselves so wholeheartedly that they end up feeling the need to cheat. Restricting their pleasure so much causes them to binge on an increasingly frequent basis. Yet, instead of enjoying their food, they end up wracked with guilt – again, what’s the point?

Instead of enjoying their day and all the wonderful experiences that are present to us, they’re blinded to the joys of life by the self-imposed fog of their own self-denial, self-reproach, and fear. And when you’re afraid to live, then you’re not really living at all.

Unfortunately, that dark cloud that’s permanently over their head ends up covering those around them. I’ve avoided starting conversations with people because the topic always comes back to food – or their lack of enjoyment thereof. And there are few things worse than trying to enjoy a meal under their pathetic gaze – with a look like a hungry dog begging at the table, they can’t contain their misery and feel the need to reproach you with nutritional information.

I know what I’m eating, thanks. And I’m a big boy, I’ll make my choice. And if I find myself becoming a bigger boy, then I’ll watch what I’m eating a little more. The thing is I’m keeping my weight management strategies and efforts to myself – so stop sharing yours.

Food is an experience to be shared with others. It is one of the great joys in our lives. Personally, I love nothing more than to savour a perfectly cooked steak. At that moment, I’m thinking only about the exquisite flavour and relishing every aspect of its texture. I couldn’t give a wet slap about fat content, arbitrary points, or anything else but maximizing the experience.

Now, knowing my love of steak, does that mean I eat red meat everyday? No. I try to balance – get the fruit and vegetables I need each day, restrict my sugar intake, and avoid old pitfalls like chips and salty snacks. And you know what? Over the past few years, I’ve been able to curtail my desires for the less-than-healthy foods, but not through exclusion, but sensible inclusion. Every once in a while, I’ll indulge a craving and not feel one little bit guilty about it.

What’s the point of eating if you don’t enjoy it? If that’s the case, why strive for variety – just eat the same thing with the least amount of points and be done with it. The thing is, variety is the spice of life. And food is one of the key things in making life worth living. There’s a place in life for weight management programs, but they have to be a complement to your life – not the defining focus of it.

Being healthy and happy is about balance so what happens when the pendulum swings too far towards obsession? What’s the point of obsessively counting points if you’re only trying to prolong a life that you’re not enjoying? And if you’ve made that choice, stop dragging the rest of us down with you!

2007© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Nothing to Cry Over

By Jason Menard

Good thing that our government and its police forces are fighting the good fight and taking down those severe threats to our society – like a farmer who champions the right to sell and drink raw milk.

Thank goodness we know they care. Now I can feel safe when I go to the store. In fact, I think I’m going to go buy some legal cigarettes, high-fat foods, and copious amounts of alcohol – after all, the government’s taking care of the truly bad stuff, right?

Yes, with amazing speed and co-ordination, last week inspectors from the Ministry of Natural Resources descended upon the Durham, ON farm of Michael Schmidt, confiscating some of his equipment. But that wasn’t enough.

In protest of the Ministry’s actions, Schmidt has engaged in a hunger strike, drinking only water and the demon’s nectar – raw milk. And just recently his bus – from which he sells his organic food – was surrounded by police and public health inspectors. Of course, the little matter of no search warrant prevented them from hopping aboard, but the point was made.

So why all this crying over a little raw milk?

There is a law in Ontario that prevents the sale or gifting of raw milk. Apparently everything has to be pasteurized. The idea behind the law is that e-coli and other nefarious organisms, including salmonella, can be present in the unpasteurized product.

Funny, last time I checked raw beef and chicken is available on your grocery store shelves. My butcher still is able to peddle his trade, so why the disparity?

I’m not a raw milk proponent. Of course I’m not opposed to it. I do like the concept of pasteurization simply because I’m a little less-than-enamoured with where the milk comes from. And I still question to this day, who discovered this product? And how.

But I digress. The point is I’m allowed to make my choice to not drink raw milk. I’ve eaten raw milk cheese, though – and lived to tell the tale. I’ve eaten a Lebanese raw meat product, yet still am able to draw breath. And, most importantly, I’ve been able to sample bits and pieces of the global cuisine simply because I have the right to make my own choices.

So why should it be any different for raw milk aficionados? Currently Schmidt is able to circumvent the law by making all of his customers part-owners of his cows. Because of that they’re able to take advantage of the loophole that allows farmers to drink their own milk products – even if they’re unpasteurized.

It’s a choice and a right people should have. Our commitment to banning raw milk products is based on a shaky foundation of concern for public health when cigarettes are still able to be sold at the local variety store, alcohol is sold in government-run establishments, and high fat foods are prevalent everywhere. So is our government really looking out for our best interests in the long run? Or does the raw milk lobby not have deep enough products.

Cigarettes, alcohol, fat, sugar – and milk? Which one of these things is not like the other?

We play Russian Roulette with every meal we consume. Does everyone follow proper sanitation techniques at home when they’re preparing chicken or pork? Is it possible their meals could be contaminated by less-than-fastidious washing and disinfecting? Of course, but it’s a risk we’re willing to take.

When I go into a restaurant and order a “rare bordering on blue” steak, I know that my epicurean joy could be followed by severe gastrointestinal distress. Having worked in a grocery environment in the past, I’m pretty sure some places play fast and loose with the ol’ health regulations. In fact, if we really knew everything that went into the processing, preparation, and distribution of our foods, we’d probably all go on a permanent hunger strike.

It’s our choice. And unless our health authorities are willing to assume full responsibility for ensuring that we only consume products that are devoid of potential health risks, then they can’t play the selective enforcement game. I can’t buy raw milk without owning cattle. Funny, I can buy smokes and booze, but I don’t own shares in DuMaurier or a backyard distillery…

You want to ban raw milk? Fine. But that should be low down on the totem pole. In fact, we should be allowed to toast the banning of malignant products like cigarettes, alcohol, and saturated and trans fats with that milk first, before we’re forced to give it up.

After all, if this is truly about health – and not about lobbyists’ deep pockets – then doing the right thing should be painfully simple. Until then, the government should not just stay out of the bedrooms of Canadians, but also the refrigerators and pantries as well.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Brewing Up a Health Conundrum

By Jason Menard

You know, I really do want to do right for myself when it comes to making sensible choices for healthy eating and drinking. But when trying to do right may end up being wrong, it’s almost enough to make one dehydrate themselves out of spite.

Take, for example, my recent attempt at converting to green tea. Now, I’m not a band-wagon jumper and I refuse to jump on somebody else’s train and from craze to craze based upon the latest headline. But, I figure, millions of green tea devotees can’t be wrong. Back in my university day, I was up to an obscenely high number of cups of coffee a day. Although I quit cold turkey, I have bounced back to a cup-a-day habit – certainly not unhealthy, but I wanted to do better!

So, like the person who stumbles across the Backstreet Boys in the discount rack and, after a listen, looks back wistfully to an opportunity lost, I obtained my first box of green tea. Feeling slightly poseurish and mildly conformist, I brewed my first cup. And, after swallowing my pride and convincing myself that following the masses in the quest for a better life is an acceptable form of populism, I took my first sip.

And I hated it.

Same thing with the second sip. Unpleasant sips numbers three and four were chased by equally vile sips five and six. And on and on it went until I reached the grainy, cooled-by-delaying bottom of the cup.

However, instead of discounting it outright, I chose to look back on the experience with the perspective of time. Maybe it’s an acquired taste – I couldn’t remember my first experience with coffee, but I can’t imagine it was as bad as this. After all, I wouldn’t have picked up another cup. So I chalked it up to a bad experience and committed to trying again.

Thinking perhaps it was my ability or the quality of the tea that I had, I chose to go to a more appropriate establishment, which will remain nameless, and decided to go upscale with a latté-based green tea product. With some enthusiasm balanced by more trepidation I watched – or, more accurately, was unable to watch — as the barista worked in secret behind the machine, infusing my beverage with melon flavouring, whipping, foaming, and presenting it to me. All of this hullabaloo is, of course, an affront to my black coffee sensibilities, but I decided to remain open-minded.

Let’s just say the mind slammed shut the second I tasted it. Oh, I tried to prop it open with a few more sips, trying to convince myself that I could actually, possibly, in the right mood, enjoy its sweetness. But it was to no avail. Perhaps a fitting parallel to my personality, the beverage was just too sweet for me to stomach and didn’t contain enough bitterness.

But don’t be sad for that fine coffee product. It found a home in one of my co-workers. I guess if I can’t improve my health, then I could play the medicinal Marco Polo bringing green tea to the masses.

Overall, I’ve been successful in my conversion to a healthier lifestyle. I gave up my beloved sugary soft drinks for its caffeine-free, somewhat flavour-free, diet version. I cut out salt and processed foods and added healthier alternatives and seasonings without batting an eye or offending my palate. I lost weight, lowered my triglycerides, and have managed to keep it off.

Yet a switch to green tea is beyond my reach. And that may not be so bad. In fact, just this week the United States’ Food and Drug Administration rejected allowing green tea vendors to make the claim that it reduces the risk of heart disease, based upon lack of evidence. This falls in line with the organization’s previous decision to reject claims of cancer-prevention properties.

Ironically, antioxidants can be found in acceptable quantities in my black coffee. So maybe while others were chasing the elusive green tea leaf, I and my other java-inspired brethren were on the right track. Then again, in six years coffee may be on the outs and Juan Valdez could be branded a medicinal pariah in the face of the newest research on the health benefits of spruce beer! We can never tell what the future will bring.

All we can do is do the best we can and be satisfied with our effort to improve ourselves. The one thing that will never go out of style is a healthy attitude – no matter whether you choose to kick start it with coffee or green tea!

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

No Time to Weight for a Magic Bullet

By Jason Menard

With the announcement that Atkins Nutritionals has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the U.S., yet another magic bullet has missed its mark. And yet we still haven’t learned that the solution for weight loss won’t come with a bang – rather it arrives, as always, with the tried and true whimper, grunt, and groan.

People have turned their backs on the Atkins revolution, just as they have with any number of fad diets that have dotted the landscape and are revealed off the covers of countless magazines. But instead of making the sensible decision to do what’s right, we’ll all stumble blindly to the next fad diet – justifying it as the right one!

The next big thing in diet is actually an older revelation – glycemic index – and many of us will be walking around with our GI calculators, anticipating insulin surges, and doing mathematical calculations to see what and how much we can eat. But instead of mental gymnastics, maybe we should get off our butts and engage in some physical gymnastics.

The problem is that we are a society driven by instant gratification – that’s how many of us got these extra pounds in the first place. If it tastes good we want to eat it, and hang the consequences. That is until our shirts fit us a little tighter and we have to move to the next notch on our belts.

Years of less-than-stellar eating habits brought me to a point in my life where I was less buff muscle man and more Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. My father’s emergency bypass and my own elevated triglyceride levels later, I completely changed my diet and dropped a small child within a couple of months.

I was one of the lucky ones in that, with minimal effort and sensible eating, I was able to drop 40 pounds in a very quick period of time. But that was a couple of years ago and that little extra padding I have around my waist persistently refuses to leave. While I haven’t gained from that day, I haven’t lost either, and there are still a few inches that could stand to disappear.

So why are they sticking around? Because I’m lazy. I go to the gym to do physio for a shoulder injury, but I don’t take the opportunity to exercise my gut as much as I should. I do cardio as a matter of course, but I don’t have the dedication it takes to make the full commitment that living a healthy lifestyle demands.

And I’m not alone in this. Look around you and you’ll see countless people that talk a good game about losing weight, but never end up getting off the bench.

Essentially, we all want it to be as easy to take off the pounds as it was to put them on. That’s why energy bars are so popular! If a Snickers satisfies, then a protein bar may take those pounds off the thighs. But what we forget is that the protein in those bars is intended to help build and repair muscle that’s been under stress from exercise. If the most we’re doing physically is lifting a remote, then that protein’s not just going to waste – it’s going to our waist!

We sit around begging science to come up with the one pill that will solve our weight management problems. We want our diet to be purged like a Catholic’s soul at confession — we want our dietary sins to be absolved instantaneously! That’s why we gobble conjugated linoleic acid supplements or turn to herbal treatments like TrimSpa and Herbal Magic – in the hopes that science can counteract the effects of that extra piece of cheesecake.

The thing is that science has already answered our call. It has proven that a sensible diet, combined with regular exercise is all the majority of us need to do to stay in shape.

And dieters are the worst offenders of all. How many times have you overheard a group of people complaining about how hard it is to stay on their diet. How many of these people are doomed to failure because they’re depriving themselves to the point where cheating on their diet isn’t just an option, it’s an inevitability.

Instead of being dumbbells, we need to lift a few. There is no magic bullet. There is no restrictive diet that’s going to magically melt away the pounds long-term on its own. The chips-and-dip diet is not around the corner, so we need to stop waiting for it to come (especially since most of us are too sedentary to get up and go look for it!).

We have to face the truth that just because we don’t like the answer that’s in front of us, doesn’t mean that it’s wrong. Instead of waiting for that magic bullet, it’s time to actually bite it and get on with our lives.

While Atkins may go bankrupt, we don’t have the luxury of letting our bodies to the same. The path to better health has been clearly laid out in front of us for years. There’s no magic to it – just honest exertion, sweat, and hard work. There’s nothing sexy about it. There’s no magic bullet. But maybe, just maybe, we can forget about the fads, take a step in the right direction, and stop shooting ourselves in the foot.

If we don’t do something about our worsening health and expanding waistlines, then our next step may just put us one foot in the grave.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Chewing the Fat on our Kids’ Health

By Jason Menard

Does it really come as any surprise that Canada received a D for its overall commitment to our children’s health, when our kids have us setting an example?

On Thursday, May 26, 2005, the Active Healthy Kids Canada Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth was released to the public and the results certainly give us something to chew on – unfortunately, it appears that we’re chewing on fat.

Essentially the report states that Canada is failing its kids by not ensuring that they’re active enough each day to ensure optimal growth and development. The report continues by saying that “less than half our kids are expending the energy required to maintain a healthy weight, and to develop healthy hearts, lungs, muscles, and bones.

But should we really expect anything less? We’ve gone from a society that had to chase down our own food and kill it with our bare hands to survive to one where we can sit in our boxers at a computer screen, click a mouse, and have our groceries delivered to us.

And it’s a good thing that we only need one hand to use a mouse, because the other’s usually immersed in a bag of Doritos.

Physical activity, which was once a given component of daily life, is now nothing more than an afterthought for the majority of people. Instead of being an expected part of our day, exercise is treated as a luxury for which we don’t have enough time. Most of us – and speaking as a parent, I am more than guilty of this – find that by the time we’ve come home from work, prepared dinner, and done our evening chores, there’s precious little time to enjoy with the family. So because it’s difficult to shoehorn physical activity into our evenings, we make excuses to avoid it.

The end result is that, because of this, we have to shoehorn our own butts into our jeans. The long-term effects can be catastrophic, with poorer long-term health, increased diabetes, and a whole host of other health-related problems all of which can be attributed to our added girth. It’s a good thing

We’ve undervalued the importance of physical activity at school. We look down our noses at physical education classes – and really, is there any profession more maligned in our popular culture than the gym teacher? Instead of realizing the value of daily exercise, we look at gym class like a glorified recess. We talk about the three Rs and lament how our kids aren’t getting a solid foundation in the basics, but there seems to be no recognition that a fourth R should be added to the list – running!

However, the problem does not lie within the confines of our schools. It’s time we look squarely in the mirror for the real source of the problem – the parents. The Report Card gives parents a D for Family Physical Activity, professing that only 43% of parents are physically active with their kids. The saddest thing is that the number drops off as our kids get older: a reduction of 25% by the time our children turn five, and a further drop-off of 30% when they become teenagers. It appears that we, as parents, abdicate our responsibility believing that the school system will pick up the slack.

The end result of all of this? The prevalence of childhood obesity in our kids has jumped from 2% in 1981 to 10% in 2001 – and is there any reason to believe the trend hasn’t and won’t continue?

A 1998 Gallup Poll showed that 78% off Canadians were in favour of instituting 30 minutes of daily physical activity in schools, but that’s not enough. Our kids are not somebody else’s responsibility, but when it comes to ensuring the health of our children, a tragically large number of us take a hands-off approach to their physical development.

Unfortunately, the school system is going to have to be the one that picks up the ball we’ve dropped – after all, the exertion may be too much for us. Parents aren’t going to change their ways no matter how many publicity campaigns or surveys come out. It’s easy to sit here and say we should all spend a half-hour riding a bike, going for a walk, or tossing around the ol’ pigskin with our sons and daughters – but we have to deal with reality here.

This isn’t a matter of who should shoulder the responsibility – it’s about who will. Our school systems – both elementary and secondary – are in the best position to quickly and effectively institute mandatory physical education periods. Just a half hour a day will give our kids a good foundation. There’s really no reason why gym should be an elective course in high school – if we put a premium on developing the mind, we need to do the same for the body.

Looking long-term, by making exercise a regular part of our kids’ lives, they’ll be more likely to continue to make it a part of their everyday routine. Ideally, spending a half-hour or more working out, walking, or just being active won’t be an imposition but rather an afterthought in their lives.

And then maybe they can turn around and show us the right way of doing things. For the good of our health, our kids will have to be the ones teaching their parents – because we’ve shown that, when it comes to healthy living, we’re no role models.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved