Friday, December 30, 2011

The Meaning of Food?


Since we needed to be at Hopkins before 8:30 that meant we both needed to get up and start moving right away which is not how either of us typically operate. Since we are morning people breakfast became multiple servings of Dan’s new favorite smoothie (frozen banana, frozen cherries, kale, walnuts, ground flaxseeds, cinnamon, vanilla, cocoa powder and stevia). We both gulped down our smoothies and flew out the door so that we wouldn’t be late. The one nice thing about early morning appointments at Hopkins is that it is much easier to get a parking space in the building. Hopkins is a huge complex of interconnected buildings and parking can be a nightmare. The pictures below are the atrium in the cancer center from the third floor looking down.

We spend the entire morning at Hopkins. We both surprised when we spent over an hour with our prospective medical oncologist and both of us liked him a lot. He is German (literally with an accent) and extremely thorough which we thought was great. We were both impressed with his knowledge and came away comfortable that he would be able to fill our retiring oncologist’s shoes which is no easy task since he is practically a member of the family now. I have been describing this new oncologist as exactly the type of person who would design and build a Mercedes and most people seem to understand what he is like from that. He was very exacting, used very specific language and definitely knows his stuff. It was a huge relief to find a new doctor that we both liked personally and felt like he knew his stuff.

After the appointment I dropped Dan at this office and came home to get back to my never ending to-do list. It is looking like I am not going to make my self-imposed deadline of having the house cleaned up by Friday. In the past missing deadlines would have annoyed me but now I just take it in stride and keep moving forward. The important thing is that I am making progress not how long it takes me to get things done. By being able to realize that deadlines are arbitrary has allowed me to be less tough on myself when things don’t happen precisely as I want them to.

My lunch was not exactly a meal but more like a bunch of snacks. I made myself a little air popped pop corn, had a grapefruit, two brazil nuts, and make myself a lettuce wrap (I used romaine) filled with almond butter, Asian pear and raisins. I do tend to eat unorthodox food when Dan isn’t home don’t I? ;-)

Before dinner I spent an hour chatting with one of my girlfriends on the phone. Of course this meant that I didn’t get into the kitchen to cook. However that wasn’t a problem since I can always make salad for dinner. Tonight’s salad included: romaine, arugula, kidney beans I pressure cooked earlier in the week, artichokes, salsa, corn, peas, carrots, corn and green beans, and raw pumpkin seeds. To use frozen vegetables in your salad you have a couple of options. One is to quickly blanch them, or you can place them in a colander and pour boiling water over them, alternately defrosted them in your infrared/convection/halogen oven (I really love this thing), or you microwave them. If you have planned to use frozen veggies ahead of time (which I didn’t) you can move the frozen veggies to a bowl or bag in your refrigerator in the morning and they will be defrosted by dinner. I find that defrosted frozen veggies are good in salad and in many other things. My other favorite use for them is to cover them in tomato sauce and finish them with nutritional yeast and they taste like pizza veggies.  The picture of pizza veggies topped with walnut parm is below.

World’s Heaviest Woman on TV:

Thursday night Dr. Drew had the world’s heaviest woman on his show. I watched this in stunned silence. This poor woman weighed over 700 pounds and could barely make it from the couch to her driveway. It was one of the most tragic things I have seen in a long time. It was particularly sad to me that she is in denial about how much she eats. Clearly you don’t get to 700 pounds by not eating much. My heart just broke as I watched this woman on the screen. I really hope that she gets help before she dies.

The show pointed out that 1 out of 3 American’s is obese which I think most of us realize. However I didn’t realize that 17% of American children are obese. How did we get our health so messed up in this country? What needs to happen for people to wake up and realize that we can’t continue like this? If you have any ideas please share them. This problem is so big it feels overwhelming at times.

What Does Food Mean to You?

(Vegan Spinach Lasagna - One of Dan's favorite foods)

I think all of us would agree that food is more than nutrition to most people. We all attach different meanings to food. Some people see it as comfort. Other people view food through the lens of tradition. Still others use food to numb their feelings. It is the rare person that only sees food as fuel. When we first made dietary changes I struggled much more than I expected. I knew that I liked food but I didn’t realize that it was so important to me until my favorites weren’t available. I was not initially prepared for the roller coaster of emotions that I was experiencing as a result of being without my usual food.

I came to understand that my traditional Italian foods were connected to love for me. Foods of my culture were more than just nourishment. When you grow up in a family where food is synonymous with love it creates all kinds of issues. We celebrated with food and we ate when we were sad. To say this makes it difficult to have a healthy relationship with food is an understatement. However I know it can be done because I did it. So if this is the same for you know that there is a great chance that you can break the cycle too. I have learned to make foods that taste similar to the things I love but in a much healthier way like the pizza veggies I mentioned earlier or the pizza almonds. Do you have any favorite flavors that you have been able to replicate in a healthy way?

In addition to love, food is also connected to suppressing negative feelings for many people. One sure sign for me that my cravings are emotional and not hunger based is when they come on quickly. I have learned that hunger which seems to come out of nowhere is not actual hunger. I grew up being a “good girl”, not getting angry or being disrespectful. Even today when I start to have a “negative” feeling one of my first reactions is to find something starchy to eat. If you have this problem it is very easy to spot once you know what to look for. True hunger builds up over time, it doesn’t come on suddenly. Also if it has only been a couple of hours since you ate you also probably aren’t actually hungry. When this happens to me I make myself a nice cup of hot tea, sit quietly and try to figure out what feelings are trying to come up. I use this time to open up my computer or journal and write. Often just putting my feelings on paper, or into Word, is enough to make the food craving go away. This becomes much easier the longer you do it. At the beginning it will seem strange but like everything else it eventually becomes a habit. Another trick that works for me is to call or text a friend. Sometimes just spending time with people is enough to take me mind off things until the craving goes away. Do you have any tricks you use for this? If you do please share in case they might help someone else.

One of the big problems with food is that it can be addicting. If any of you have read the book “The End of Overeating” you know what I am talking about. Manufacturers put so much sugar, fat and salt into food these days that it has become an addictive substance. Our bodies are wired to seek out those foods since they these used to rare in nature. For most of human history our biggest problem was inadequate food supplies so our bodies were designed to enjoy things like sugar and fat. This is one reason that it is so difficult to eat just one cookie or piece of pizza. We are literally hard-wired to react to these foods. Our biology is trying to make certain that we consume enough calories because it doesn’t realize that we are surrounded by high calorie food now. This overabundance of calories is now harming us. I have found that the only way to break the craving for these foods is to eliminate them from my home. Both Dan and do fine eating higher calories things when we go out that we don’t keep in the house, but that might not work for everyone. For us being 100% off foods high in sugar, fat and salt for a few months was enough to reset our taste buds. If you have are having trouble you might want to try a short period of abstinence to see if that works for you too. For a long time Dan and I tried the idea of moderation and it just didn’t work. It tasted good and we literally got to have our cake and eat it too, but moderation also came with too much weight, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. When you know something isn’t working be open to trying something different. After all none of us should expect to keep doing the same thing and have the results change, that simply doesn’t make sense though I know from experience we all fall for that trap more often than not.

You will know that you have broken the cycle when you start to view food as fuel. I still remember when I realized that this was how I now saw food. No one was more shocked than I was. I have always loved good food so I expected to fight the urge to eat the rest of my life. Somehow when I got my body off the bad stuff, and the on the good stuff long enough my system seemed to reset. I have heard Dr. Fuhrman explain this as what happens when your body has sufficient micronutrients. Is he right? I have no idea how the biology works but I can tell that something changed inside me and that sufficient micronutrient stores could be the reason.

Food is a very complex subject. It is so much than just nutrition. As anyone who has ever tried to lose weight knows there is much more to it losing weight than calories in and calories out. Humans seem to attach many emotions to food and dietary patterns and those are harder to break than most people realize. However I know you can do it since we have. It just takes commitment to change in the beginning. After a while those changes will become your new normal. While it won’t be easy I promise you that it is possible. We really can all do this!

Are You Ready to Make Changes?

The end of the year is a great time to start thinking health improvements. Most of us indulged between Halloween and New Year’s Eve so getting serious at the beginning of the year makes sense. Right after Christmas I start thinking about what my intentions and goals are for my health for the coming year. I try to make them doable, but still a stretch. I start with an intention, which is broader and break it down into specific goals so that I can tell if I am making progress. I will be sharing my intentions and goals with you on Sunday. Please start thinking about the improvements you would like to make now. Do you want to feel better, look better, improve your blood pressure, exercise more or maybe you want to focus on spending more quality time with your loved ones. Remember improvements to your health can come from positive changes to your relationships or attitudes, or they can be around diet or exercise.

Happy Thoughts:

• Who doesn’t love the first snow of the season? While we all might be tired of it by the end of winter the first snow is always a little special. Ours was just a dusting but I enjoyed watching it for the warmth of my family room. :-)

• It was a relief to finalize our New Year’s Eve dinner plans. For the last 5 years of so we have spent New Year’s Eve with “the kids” (Aimee and Michael). We are going out for Middle Eastern food this year and then to the boat to watch the fireworks from there. I am sure it will be a great evening. Dan and I love spending time with those two. They are both fantastic young people and give me hope that the next generation will do great things if these two have anything to do with it.

• We are thrilled to have found a new medical oncologist to replace our current one who is retiring. Both Dan and I bonded with our current oncologist and couldn’t imagine anyone taking his place. Thank goodness we found a doctor we like as a person who knows his stuff. This was a huge relief for us.

• I chatted with my friend Jackie for an hour. She had forwarded the YouTube video above which I thought was hilarious so I had to call her and thank her for the link. Before you watch this please make sure there are no children within ear shot because there is a lot of profanity in this short video. I laughed so hard that I was crying while watching this. I hope you enjoy it half as much as I did.

• It was nice to have Dan home from work about an hour early Thursday evening. He should catch a ride home with Troy more often. We had a relaxing evening at home just the two of us and the three fur children.

• We are meeting our friend Louis for dinner this evening which will be great. Dinner with Louis and seeing the gang at the restaurant is how we will be spending our evening. Sounds like a great evening doesn’t it? There is nothing better than spending the evening surrounded by people you like.

Signing out:

I need to get moving today since my to-do list isn’t getting any shorter. I hope you have some wonderful things planned for your weekend. Happy Friday! Talk with you again soon.


  1. Is it okay to ask, since I am new to following your blog, which blog post explains who has cancer and just more details about that?

  2. Happy to see more posts from you again! Always thoughtful and informative. :)

  3. Christy,

    I have written about cancer before, though it was long ago so I am not sure where specifically those posts are. Both my husband and I have had cancer. However my blog isn't actually about cancer it more about what to do to avoid it, or to keep the upper hand over it. Neither of us define ourselves as cancer survivors. There has been more cancer talk on the blog recently because of circumstances. Sorry if that confused you. :-)


  4. Kaitlyn,

    Thanks! It is good to be back. I was having online withdrawal during my "quiet period". LOL

    Thank you so much for letting me that you found the post useful. I am warming up for January month of better health posts. If you liked this one you will enjoy January. Well, at least I hope that you will. ;-)


  5. Hi, Ali! I'm excited for the 31 Days of Health in January. I might be kind of quiet--I'm back to school Monday, boo!--but I'll be hanging in with you and taking part. I'm looking forward to making 2012 even better than 2011!

  6. Jackie,

    Yay! Thanks for letting me know. I have been working on it for a little while so I hope you like it. *fingers crossed*

    Boo to going back to work. I am sure that is tough after having a nice long Christmas break. But I am sure you will make the best of it.

    Have a great NYE!

  7. Ali,

    Thank you for the quick reply.
    I wasn't confused. I just find using plant based nutrition to prevent or keep cancer at bay fascinating. I saw your eCornell link and looked into that last night. That's something I might like to do in the future. I've never had cancer, but am using plant based nutrition to try and keep my fibromyalgia flare ups down. I was just really curious about your story, but understand if you do not want to focus on that. I really admire you and find your blog inspiring! Thank you. :)

  8. Good Morning Christy,

    Given the fibromyalgia you are battling now I completely understand your question. I hope changing your diet is working for you too. We have seen remarkable results from our changes. I only wish we had understood the power of food so that we could have prevented the problem. However, if we can use food to manage the problem then I am not complaining.

    Early on I decided that focusing on cancer would be too depressing for both me and the people who were reading. That is the biggest reason I don't write about "the cancer" more specifically. It really has become something that we don't give much thought to at our house as crazy as that sounds. If it were not for doctor appointments we probably wouldn't never think about it. The oncologist always marvels at the fact that all the labwork comes back perfect. Apparently that is not what he normally sees though it is normal for us. Go plants! ;-)

    If you have any questions about the Cornell program, what they cover, who might benefit from it, that sort of thing, please let me know. You can always email me at since that makes it easier to communicate.

    Have a great New Year's Eve,

  9. Ali--again, so happy to see you blogging again! Do you have an email addy I can reach you on? I looked on the blog but couldn't seem to find your address! tks! :-) Happy New Year!

  10. Dr. Cat,

    Sorry you could find the link to my email, I thought it was on my profile page but maybe I am wrong. You can reach me at anytime.

    Happy New Year to you too! :-)

  11. Thanks Ali! I obviously am still figuring out all the technology in this blogging world! I'll email you today :-)

  12. Dr. Cat,

    You aren't alone, technology is not my strong suit either. In may case I am very fortunate to be married to someone who "gets" technology. When that isn't enough Dan Jr. has a masters in computer science so I can always get him to help. LOL

    talk with you later,


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