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Keeping the pounds from creeping northward when I can’t exercise normally

The heavy whipping cream glugged loudly as I poured it into my toilet. That’s going to be a mess to clean up, I thought.

I have no idea how many calories were wending their way through my sewage system, but at least they weren’t setting up pup tents on my butt. Two big bottles. Geez. You’d think I was in the pie business. That’s a lot of heavy cream.

Shortly after that I delivered my unopened gallon of half and half to my new next door neighbor.

Almost done.

Just a few more of these to go.

Let me back up a bit here.

I’m a recovering donutaholic. Perhaps you can relate. While I largely can keep that under control, I do on occasion indulge. However under normal circumstances, I have a workout program which keeps everything pretty tight. One donut, or even eight on one memorable occasion, does not the next size make. As long it’s only on very rare occasions. VERY rare.

Enter lockdown.

Look. Like everyone else I know, we stocked up, and in many cases many of us also stocked up primarily on what could only be called “comfort food.”

For me, since I’m not willing to drive all the way to the closest Krispy Kreme(even if they are considered an essential business) I did the next best thing: I stocked up on bulk chocolate almonds. My other nemesis.

Snacking is nice, snacking is fun. But like most things, it depends. Snacking on chocolate almonds out of boredom, without a regular exercise program — and for me that means running or hiking thousands of stairs — well. Six chocolate almonds is about 159 calories. The way I snack, or more aptly put, inhale, let’s just say there’s no way that a few laps up and down my stairs will undo that damage.

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And then there’s tea. Call me nuts, but I love tea with cream. Back in 1984, I learned to drink English tea in New Zealand, where regular whole milk is damned near half and half. I love cream, so every so often I would add a touch of whipping cream. It’s a serious treat that can become a very dangerous daily habit.

You can see what’s coming. I had a supply of chocolate almonds that would satisfy a family of twelve for a year. Then I stocked up on huge bottles of whipping cream. Four hundred calories for half a cup. The way I drink coffee and tea, that hot liquid is little more than an excuse to drink hot cream.

For me excess fat is misery. And misery LOVES company. Anyone who has ever been obese, and I have, can relate.

Don’t need to tell you what happened.

I have no issue with occasional treats. Nor do I have an issue with a stack of pancakes slathered in butter and syrup once a year (Denny’s on Veteran’s Day). Again, the rare treat.

But after 33 years of working my butt off to keep my butt off, my butt began to reappear. Not horrifyingly so, but in that way that the creeping realization that your pants don’t fit the same way communicates DANGER DANGER WILL ROBINSON.

Last week I wrapped everything chocolate up into some bags and banned the goodies to the garage.

Haven’t touched them since. The bag still sits like a guilty kid in the corner of the cabinet. I’m the one who wore the dunce cap for buying them in the first place.

Then I returned to what really does feed me and my soul:

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I switched most of my meals to veges, like corn or asparagus or other high fiber foods that I love but which do a really nice job of filling me up without filling me out. I really do love high-fiber food, and fruit. Lots of fruit. That’s my normal diet anyway, and part of how, some 33 years ago, I dumped all that excess in the first place.

But that tea.

Here’s one of the best things about being stuck with yourself all the time. You get to really learn to notice. When I would put breakfast off for a while, I began to feel how my body responded to the tea with cream. Tastes good, but about twenty minutes later, didn’t feel good. I felt like going back to bed, at a time when my energy is the absolute highest of the day.

That’s food feedback.

Instead of a rare treat, the heavy cream tea had become a three or four times a day habit. Habits have a tendency to expand on you, which is why MickeyD’s once a week so easily becomes MickeyD’s four or five times a week. Handy, easy, cheap. Really bad for you.

For those of you wondering if I am lactose intolerant, I’m not. I’ve also done the work to see if milk products are a problem for me and that’s not an issue either. I think it’s legitimate to argue that certain kinds can be. For example I thrive on organic yogurt. Heavy whipping cream…..nah.

Comfort food has an important role. It does indeed comfort, and it soothes. It can take us back home, reinforce feelings of family and togetherness. The bad news is that comfort food also tends to be high fat, high carb, high sugar, or any combination of the same. Like, say, homemade fudge. While comforting to the tongue, it isn’t very comforting to our health if eaten consistently. Ask any of my fellow Southerners about that lifetime diet of so-called comfort food.

Again. Great for an occasional indulgence.

But not all the time.

My best buddy Dave, whose parents are in nursing home lockdown now and are in their mid-eighties, grew up on classic American comfort food: biscuits and gravy, meatloaf, chicken fried steak, mac and cheese. Not the best for aging bodies. Okay once in a while, but for them it’s still a habit. Dave worries, with good reason, about how their lack of activity and daily dose of high calorie, low-fiber food are taking a toll on them. Because they are failing fast, even without having to deal with the Conditions.

For my part, this is one of the lessons I’ve learned after 33 years of redirecting my food choices. After dumping 85+ lbs (well, not at the moment, but close), I overhauled my choices. Treats are fruit. No bread of any kind. No red meat. Other important changes that have allowed me to maintain that weight for 33 years.

When you carefully retrain your body to love what is good for it (which is of course unique to each of us), after a while it doesn’t much like what isn’t. That’s really good news.

My body was getting very, very tired of being poorly nourished over the last few weeks. It wasn’t just that I could see what was happening every time I sat in the tub or pulled on my workout shorts. Even though the bulk of my diet still consisted of salads and eggs and yogurt, those overly frequent insults of cream and chocolate almonds and treats took a toll.

When you have completely retrained your body to prefer much healthier food, if you start abusing it again, it will absolutely let you know. Hence: feeling tired and logey and uncomfortable. That’s a great big neon sign shouting

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So first I banned the almonds and Bueno Bars.

Then day before yesterday, I emptied my whipping cream, pricey stuff, down the toilet. Gave the half and half cream to my neighbor Judy.

This morning I woke up and made orange spice tea. Didn’t even register that the cream was gone in the same way that I largely don’t even register that the almonds are gone. The same way that I no longer really register that there are chocolate almonds in my garage. Out of sight and for me, out of mind.

And I increased the intensity and frequency of my workouts.

I can’t speak for anyone else but when I work out a lot I’m a lot less hungry. Yes. Please see:

Why You're Less Hungry After an Intense Workout
The old paradigm: lactic acid is a corrosive byproduct of hard exercise that makes your muscles burn and eventually…

Not working out increases my hunger and leads to wanting to fill empty time with empty calories. So I switched to short burst exercises all day long. That helps. Keeping densely caloric foods out of reach also helps. Removing the temptation helps a great deal.

The compulsion to treat ourselves is powerful when we’re scared. It’s a natural instinct to feed the fear, in effect, as though ensuring that we have those extra calories will allow us to respond effectively to the fight or flight syndrome. Here’s a way to think about anxiety-driven eating:

What to Do When Anxiety Is Driving You to Overeat
In the moment, a snack can seem like just the thing to stave off boredom, loneliness, depression, or even anxiety…

I stocked up on nut butters, which are calorie- and fat-dense snacks. The benefit is that they’re filling and deeply satisfying. However, sitting down with an entire container of Justin’s Almond butter while you binge-watch Groundhog Day is probably not the best strategy. To wit, my container of sunflower seed butter is 2660 calories. Fun, but awfully hard to burn that off while seated.

As part of a way to manage my munch needs I loaded up on celery, which I chop into salads in huge piles. Full of satisfying crunch and filling, that helps.

My other snack of choice is an apple. About the handiest and most nutritional of snacks, sweet, fibrous and full of goodness. YES eat the skin. Don’t believe me? Try this:

Why You Should Never Peel An Apple
Part of what makes an apple the ultimate healthy snack is the ease with which you can wolf one down. The only thing…

There’s a very good reason- in fact LOTS of them- that the old saying “an apple a day keeps the doctor way” has a basis in fact.

When I took a very long horse trip in the Muskwa-Kechika Wilderness last summer, the only fresh fruit that would survive being banged around inside my panniers was an apple. I learned to cherish the sweetness and crisp crunch that marked the only fresh fruit I got each day. I fell back in love with apples for damned good reason. Now I am rarely without them. And you bet I eat the skin. By the time I got back after a month, I was a dedicated apple fanatic. Still am. Two huge bags are in my fridge. I keep several in my car at all times.

Is it working? Well yeah. That and a very simple fix that works extremely well for sitting too long. If you experience- and we all can- the side effects of bad food, binge watching and sedentary habits, I will pass along the good advice that my primary care provider gave me: a little recipe to gently move the mail, if you’ll pardon me:

Half cup applesauce

Handful of prunes

1 Tbsp chia seeds

1 Tbsp flax seeds

(I sweeten with a bit of honey)

Whip in your blender or food processor.

In all fairness, this looks like shit. Tastes all right but I have difficulty getting past how it looks. Yes it works, but so does this much preferred alternative:

When I make my big fat daily spinach salad, I throw in a healthy pinch of both those seeds, and a handful of walnuts. I chop up apple pieces and toss those in. That’s a lot of fiber. Those all add crunch and taste without having the unfortunate side effect of looking a little too much like, well, you know.

I feel precisely the same way about quacamole.

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And yes boy howdy, does it work. Much healthier and kinder alternative to over-the- counter chemicals. AND before you make use of that recipe or those seeds, please kindly check with your medical provider. Just because this works for me doesn’t mean it’s right for you.

Are these methods working? Yep. But as with all things like this they take time. Until I get back into a full regular workout program, it’s going to be slow going. However the side benefits of feeling a whole lot less heavy and uncomfortable in my skin as well as maintaining better energy are considerable.

I can tolerate a little give and get. However, I don’t want to end up coming out the other end of quarantine with an END that’s a lot larger than when we started. That’s a bit like extending Thanksgiving dinner for several months.

I can’t speak for you, but there are only so many helpings of stuffing and pecan pie I can take. To say nothing of my aging body.

Like lots of folks, I am itching to get outside and back to the gym. Reinstate what I can of a normal life, which involves many activities. In the meantime, I have no intention of making my body pay for a situation that asks that we hang out inside for now and for at least the foreseeable future.

The kindest thing I can do is get rid of the comfort food, and make myself a lot more comfortable with good nutrition, lots of movement and the good sense not to abuse the privilege of having this body in the first place.

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