So hey--there's this boy, Marshall Reid (age 10). He's been doing something pretty darn cool.

On a mission to eat more healthily, he's undertaken his own "Portion Size Me Challenge." What this entails is finding low-fat, low-calorie substitutions for popular dishes every night for a month, using only wholesome ingredients. Think ground turkey and low-fat sour cream and ample fresh veggies for tacos.

Without portion-cutting or calorie-counting or obsessing, Marshall has lost 11 pounds in about a month--while enjoying real food.

Think of it as a lifestyle change.



Spotted as I lunched in front of Coffee Society:

Two older women, I'd say about 60 to 65 years of age, sipping lattes and chatting it up. Dressed in white shoes and argygle, clearly just back from a round of golf.

Lady 1: "You were amazing out there!"
Lady 2: "I know! All my shots were going perfectly! It felt great!"
Lady 1: "You were amazing."
Lady 2: "Thanks, I know!"

Pretty simple, nothing too special there. But I took notice because how often have I heard people sheepishly refute compliments? Accepting a compliment means you're proud of yourself and aware of your capabilities and talents. Love how naturally Lady 2 took it in stride!

I discreetly returned my attention to eating.



It is well known that maintaining weight is an energy equation: calories in, calories out. The formula is a simple one of sums and differences--add up energy ingested, subtract energy burned. A total of 3,500 extra calories signifies one gained pound; conversely, a deficit of 3,500 indicates the loss of a pound. A straightforward computation indeed.

However, eating is rarely so simple, because calories are far from the only factor of consideration. Vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, fiber, macronutrients: in other words, the quality of the food. Consider the example of Weight Watchers® brand Golden Sponge Cake:

The pleasantly slim, oblong box touts a reassuring Weight Watchers® logo. It contains six individually wrapped pastries that bear a remarkable resemblance to Hostess Cakes brand Twinkies®. They are fluffy and golden, plump with creamy white filling--but with only 80 calories and 3 grams of fat apiece, reasonably healthy and perfectly incorporable into a nutritious diet, right?

Perhaps not. Past the Golden Sponge Cake's rather uncatchy moniker, 1 Point Badge, and charming exterior, there is nearly nothing comforting about its contents. And it has many, many contents, 44 precisely--the first of which is sugar. If that were not suspicious enough, consider the others: enriched flour, stripped of any nutrients it once posessed and fortified with non-absorbable ones. Monocalcium phosphate: what is that? A common component of agricultural fertilizers. Er... what is it doing in my snack? Propylene glycol: used in deodorants, antifreeze, massage oils. Artificial flavor: unlike in people and detective novels, I do not appreciate mystery in my food.

In Steve Ettlinger's delightfully probing book Twinkie, Deconstructed, the soft, buttery nature of the Twinkie is scrutinized carefully. Turns out that the 'butter' is manufactured from natural gas; the filling is shiny and voluminous thanks to cellulose gum. Horrifying indeed, but not much worse than the Golden Sponge Cake, despite its claims of health and guiltfree snacking. Both contain ingredients that, when isolated, would never be considered edible. Baking them into pastries should not alter that fact.

Which results in a basic rule of thumb: if a food (or sub-food) needs to extol its own virtues by way of bright assertions of health, it doesn't really deserve them. No manufacturer would waste money promoting a product that is truly, irrevocably healthy--think fresh fruits and vegetables. Parsnips are not labeled "low calorie," nor are pumpkins stamped with the words "high fiber."

Remember that products are marketed so that you will buy them. So buy real food, read the labels, and caveat emptor.

A sweet, repetitive jingle rolls on endlessly, punctuated only intermittently by soft plopping noises. It is inexplicably satisfying to watch the pastel-hued lumps of virtual ice cream soar through an imagined sky that morphs realistically with altitude, albeit rather rapidly: starting from a muted cityscape, coursing through the stars, past the moon, a ruddy Mars, and (as far as I have gotten) white-ringed Saturn.

Seafoam green mint chip! Golden lemon! Cream vanilla! Speckly blue tutti-frutti! The most magnificent rainbow 'wild scoop'! ... that strange but enticing nonetheless lilac dollop!

Unfortunately, there is the matter of those vexing vegetables... that self-satisfied tomato, those sanctimonious white and violet onions. The villains of the game Scoops. Three accidentally stacked onto one's cone signifies death. Game over. Even brushing against one of these dastardly dessert-ruiners is enough to provoke a ghastly wail: "WHOOOAAAH!"

Of course, in reality, it is clear vegetables are far superior nutritionally to ice cream. The game even offers a little disclaimer: "veggies ARE great apart from icecream!" Therefore, the issue here is not the negative portrayal of innocently fibrous, antioxidant rich onions and tomatoes.

What is interesting about the game is that it offers a 1UP chance in the form of a special ice cream scoop. Imagine your complete dismay as you tilt your screen in hopes of snagging that beautiful chocolate scoop and instead hear a sickening squelch as a dumpy tomato splats on top of your cone. One life vanishes instantly; the rate of the falling ice cream slows as if to mock your failing. Now picture the renewal, the cleansing sensation that you feel when, as if by magic, a glittering amethyst scoop emblazoned with yellow stars careens gracefully down the screen.

It is a savior! You regain a star denoting another life, and are imbued with new confidence and delight as you continue the game.

It is a pity that Scoops cannot mirror reality. Who would not enjoy polychromatic lumps of sweet, cold dairy falling from the sky? More importantly, who would not give anything for the real-life version of the godly purple scoop--an instant fix-all, a global panacea? Unfortunately, it takes time, effort, motivation to earn good grades, lose weight, cure a disease.

Perhaps this can be for the better, however--sometimes things mean a lot more when you have worked for them. It can be so much more fulfilling to stand back and realize where exactly the outcome was directly impacted by your own efforts. Would you be as inclined to maintain your success had you not understood the struggle that came before success?

Yes, WT, for the record, the tomato is scientifically a fruit.

photo credit: Bram Janssens

Summer: a cherished season of rippling crystalline blue water, of bright flashes of swimsuit prints, of the nostalgic scent of mown grass at dusk. For schoolchildren, a three-month respite from book bags and lectures; for everyone else, a stretch of delicious sunshine and greenness.

However, this morning I chanced upon an eye-opening article about summer depression. The phrase seems rather paradoxical: how could balmy, sunny joy possibly have anything to do with gelid, dark melancholy? I found myself lifting an eyebrow, but the disorder and its causes are actually quite intuitive:

Summer Seasonal Affective Disorder:

The more commonly cited (as well as appropriately abbreviated) SAD occurs during the wintertime months of low sunlight, dissipating like a vapor in the warmer months. Symptoms include fatigue, need for more sleep, and increased appetite, which often result in weight gain--rather reminiscent of a bear in torpor. However, Summer SAD, which enshrouds June, July, and August, results in just the opposite: restlessness, trouble sleeping, and consequential weight loss.


Though not well understood, SAD seems to originate from a disruption of the body's biological clock that regulates sleep, mood, and hormones--a disruption that is linked to levels of light absorption. Additionally, the article cites other seasonal changes that can throw people off balance:

- Changes in living patterns: Shorter days and the promise of glorious sunlight often entice people out of bed, but at a cost. Both parents' and children's routines are thrown into disarray when school and its regulating force is temporarily halted. Vacations alter established routines of eating, sleeping, and activity.

- Body image issues: Magazines splayed with attractive models clad in minimal swimwear, social gatherings at the pool--summer is the season of skin. However, for those less confident about their bodies, the heat can signify the onslaught of anxiety, fear, and feelings of inferiority. Even intensive diet and exercise plans (often established at the beginning of 'bikini season') can produce negative effects, triggering pressure to succeed and hopelessness with failure.

Too much sunlight, if there exists such an idea, can lead to summer depression. So can reveling in the glory of short nights, barbecues, pool parties, vacation. The article advises sufferers and would-be sufferers to recharge, eat properly, and understand their limits. Enjoy, but with caution.

It appears that the lesson is that moderation ought to be exercised whenever possible--even when summer and its shimmery smile beckon.

Be Mine

photo credit: Christina Ma

This February the 14th, will you choose to savor a crisply sweet-tart apple, or lavish yourself in the glacé decadence of a buttery apple strudel muffin?

The choice is yours.

Happy Valentine's Day.

SAT Stupor

As a high school junior with a weekend to spare, I am fully aware of the possibilities in which I could be indulging. Momentarily relieved from the black onus of finals, homework, and various social obligations, I am free to frolic, cavort, and caper to a reasonable degree (it is junior year, after all, and the horizon teems with leaden clouds). 

parties? picnics? photography? a facebook binge?  ... a rave? 

Appealing pursuits indeed, but what have I been doing in my spare moments? SAT class and practice exams. Something certainly appears to be askew. After all, preparing for the SAT exam (January 24--just a week left!) does seem to lack the 'fun' factor so desperately craved by many. Hours spent in a stuffy hotel room, enshrouded in the almost visible stupor of ennui of 16 high school students, do not necessarily bring about an alacrity to assimilate information. 

(And it is true that despite most valiant efforts on my part, the paper-thin practice tests have yet to be labeled satisfactorily with a color--ecru with a gray pallor is the closest I have come. Additionally, something truly must be done about the surfeit of candy the instructors use to stimulate our attention...)

However, SAT class is quickly becoming my love. I deeply appreciate the opportunity--that my parents are able, and willing, to pay to give me information to do well on an exam--information that I perhaps could glean for free from an old prep book in the library. But it extends past this. 

I feel empowered. I know I am doing as much as possible to ensure success on the SAT. I head to each class and approach each practice exam with a sense of purpose. My score will be directly influenced by how hard I work now, and that is unambiguous. I am not letting any 'unforeseen circumstances' alter my performance; I am committed and steadfast and unrelenting.

Admittedly, the SAT is just a standardized test that in all probability does not come close to measuring the intelligence, or scholastic aptitude, of the taker. Claims that it lacks socioeconomic equality probably have some basis in fact. However--this feeling of confidence and preparation is one that is universal, legitimate, and is something that I will strive to achieve more often.

So, yes, I have been missing out, but I have gained so much more.

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