Archive for the ‘Holiday/travel eating’ Category

Slim down those truckers

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

some truckers are relatively slender

I have two series of posts going, but couldn't resist the article I found in the New York Times while riding a recumbent bike in the gym. The title alone, "A Hard Turn: Better Health on the Highway," was enough to grab my attention.

The first story was typical, a trucker driving long hours every day, eating all the wrong foods, getting no exercise, gaining huge amounts of weight. I found the online abstract of a 2007 Journal of the American Dietetic Association article cited: long-haul truckers of necessity eat at truck stops and of 92 such truckers stopping at a Mid-eastern US truck stop nearly 86% were overweight and 56.5% were obese.

One of our family members used to be a truck driver and I've heard his stories of long days spent behind the wheel, eating greasy foods when he stopped. He's slimmer now and in better shape as his current employment allows him more exercise time and a choice of where and what to eat.

Now that insurance costs are rising sharply, the trucking firms are getting involved and the truckers themselves, there's over three million of them in the US, are coming to grips with the issue out of necessity. One group ran a blood-pressure screening clinic for 2,000 truckers at a truck show. Twenty-one were immediately sent to a nearby emergency room; one had a heart attack before reaching the hospital.

drive carefully around trucks like this

Trucks are involved in 400,000 accidents a year and 5,000 fatalities. I just watched a nearly eighteen minute video on how we, as drivers of passenger vehicles, contribute to those accidents; 70% are caused by the drivers of other vehicles (see link below). Yet many of the ones caused by trucker driver error occur because the trucker has a health problem or falls asleep.

Some truckers are taking steps to decrease their weight and its accompanying risks for themselves and those who share the roads with them. A number of companies are helping (and perhaps finding a lucrative new client group). I just looked at a website for "Rolling Strong," and found a gym in my area that offers fitness programs for truckers. Others are joining Weight Watchers, a solid organization that my slender wife has belonged to for many years (she says she was "chunky" in high school) or creating their own programs for fitness: one carries a fold-up bike in his 18-wheeler and uses it whenever he stops for a break. Many are cooking in their trucks or even hiring a trainer.

Others joined the Healthy Truckers Association of America, paying $7.50 a month to belong to an organization that is rapidly growing (see link below to Chicago tribune article). That group now offers truckers a prescription drug card enabling its members to save ~60% on meds.

I applaud all these moves; if I'm on the road with a large truck or a series of them, I'd like their drivers to be in shape and wide awake.

Eating and drinking European style

Friday, September 30th, 2011

Living and eating at a vineyard

We're just back from 3+ weeks in Europe, almost all of that in Portugal. We had keys to an apartment situated in a village west of Lisbon and owned by old friends. Downstairs was a superb Brazilian restaurant and 100 feet from our buildings door was another, more casual eatery in a glass-sided tent-like structure. We dined at those two places a lot, but also rented a car, drove north, and stayed in walled cities, a university town and a farm in the Douro Valley raising grapes for Port wine, olives and some fruit.

We discovered a new style of eating and drinking, far different from American fast food restaurants or home meals eaten on a couch in front of a television set or hurriedly at a table. Many of our dinners lasted well over two hours and almost all were accompanied by red wine.

We had already, over the past few years, changed our style of eating, at least for our evening meal. We move from the kitchen area to the dining room, serve one course at a time, portion out our meat, salad, and vegetables in the kitchen so we don't have platters of food before us as a temptation to refill our plates. We slow down, talk and reflect on our day or on issues of substance. Perhaps three times a week we have a glass of wine, almost always a sweet white varietal. Our dinners often stretch out to an hour in length, sometimes longer.

I've read about the supposed health benefits of red wine (the Mayo Clinic website has an excellent short review on the subject) and, in recent years, realized there are some reds I can drink without having the kind of reaction (mostly nasal stuffiness) I got from Cabernet sauvignon in the early 1970s. I went back to a March 2011 update from Mayo's which, with appropriate cautions, discusses an antioxidant named resveratrol, which comes from grape skins. Because red wine is fermented with grape skins longer than is red wine, it contains more of this polyphenol chemical.

I knew I wanted to try and likely buy some Port. That was easily done during our four-day farm-stay. But elsewhere in Portugal there were various other local red wines. So we walked from our hotel to a restaurant (I don't drink and drive), ordered some red wine and markedly changed our eating style.

Take a bite, put down the utensil, savor, swallow and then talk for a while. Our meals stretched out to two hours and often beyond. In one restaurant we were next to a French couple and beyond them was a Canadian couple. We entered the place before either and left last.

We usually ate bread (freshly made) and ate desserts. I knew I would gain a few pounds, but I also knew I could lose it quickly when we returned home. The food, on average, was wonderful. We ate lots of fresh fish, lots of vegetables and the occasional mousse de chocolata. We hope to carry over some of those habits now that we're home.



Drinking and driving

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

lots of choices, all with alcohol

Twenty-four years ago I was the brand new Deputy Chief of Staff at our largest Air Force medical center. My counterpart at the Army's hospital across town called and asked if I'd like to attend a party. I said, "Sure, what's the occasion?"

His commander had just gotten a second star and, as a new major general, would be moving to DC soon. His immediate boss was going to get the one-star job running the medical center. That never happened. I don't know the exact details, but was told one drink too many led to an off-color comment to the wrong person and then to a lost opportunity.

I got sensitized, through this episode, to drinking at events and, of course, to drinking and driving. I was in a culture where wine and beer flowed freely at parties, but decided I'd be a one-drink person. My wife and I were outliers sometimes; a friend who was a fellow commander when I moved up to lead a small hospital once told me, "I got picked up CWI last night."

"I know what DWI means; what's CWI?"

He replied, "Crawling while intoxicated." Actually he was joking, while telling his story of leaving a party at the commanding general's home and feeling unsteady while slowly walking to his own quarters, two houses down.

The Wall Street Journal on July 2, 2011, had an article titled "Testing the Limits of Tipsy." Our US legal limit for driving used to be a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.15%; now it's 0.08%. In much of Europe it's 0.05%; in India it's 0,03% and in China it's 0.02%. That exceedingly low BAC limit may turn out to be the most realistic, especially on crowded streets and roads.

But the results can be bad, even to metal bodies

Our alcohol-related traffic fatalities have fallen by 50% since 1980, but still account for one-third of all deaths on the highway. Your BAC after drinking depends on a number of factors: your weight, age, prior drinking history, rate of consumption, if you're also eating (consuming food may slow absorption of alcohol, but some foods help more than others) and menstrual cycle (women apparently metabolize alcohol a little more rapidly just after ovulating).

Once you've absorbed alcohol, your BAC falls roughly 0.015% per hour (for either gender), so it may take a long time to reach a "safe" level, if there is such a thing. As you age your liver tends to metabolize alcohol more slowly; on the other hand, an elevated BAC may affect younger brains more adversely.

Having read this, I'll plan to continue our long-standing policy: when we go to a function one of us is the "designated drinker," and usually has only one drink at that. The other is the designated driver. We've occasionally each had a glass of an event where we'll be eating and not driving for a number of hours. It may be time to re-evaluate that policy.

On holidays like New Years Eve, when we know others will be drinking more than we do, we get off the roads early.


E. coli and you

Saturday, June 4th, 2011

This is a "bug" you don't want

I've seen several articles in The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal in the past few days about diseases caused by an extremely toxic new strain of the common bowel bacteria, E. coli. More then 1,800 people in Europe have been infected with this food-bourne illness and some have died from an unusual kidney complication it can lead to.

The "bug" itself appears to be highly resistant to antibiotics and experts in the United States feel the wrong approach is being taken in Europe. One professor from Washington University is quoted as saying, "If you give antibiotics and the strain is (already) resistant, then you give that bacteria a competitive advantage..."

Here the recommended strategy is not to treat E coli infections with antibiotics at all. American doctors give IV fluids to help keep the kidneys functioning. They dialyze patients who develop acute kidney failure. On both side of the Atlantic physicians agree that people who develop bloody stools should be admitted to a hospital in an isolation room/ward. Otherwise a person who has an E. coli-caused diarrheal illness can easily infect others.

But dialysis can save your life

The rare, but deadly kidney disease that these food-bourne bacteria can cause is called hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS). The NIH PubMed website defines it as a disorder that usually occurs when an infection in the digestive system produces toxic substances that destroy red blood cells, causing kidney injury.

Hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS) often occurs after a severe gastrointestinal infection with E. coli bacteria (Escherichia coli O157:H7). However, the condition has also been linked to other gastrointestinal infections, including shigella and salmonella, as well as infections outside the GI system.

In America HUS is most often seen in children and is the commonest cause of acute kidney failure in them. Several large outbreaks in 1992 and 1993 were linked to undercooked hamburger meat contaminated with E. coli.

But in this case we're not talking about meat, but rather vegetables. In the past American outbreaks have been associated with contaminated tomatoes, lettuce and cucumbers.

So should we be worried? Thus far there have been only four cases identified in the US. Those people had traveled to the northern part of Germany recently and that's been identified as the epicenter of this E. coli outbreak. Germany has had 1,733 cases in the most recent count I could find. Initially Spanish cucumbers were blamed, but now it appears clear that Germany is the source.

The FDA is closely monitoring lettuce, cucumbers and tomatoes imported from Germany and Spain, but those countries account for <0.2% of our imported produce.

My family is about to start our 26-week season eating locally produced organic vegetables from Grant Family Farms, the CSA we joined last year. That improves my comfort zone enormously. I think the rest of you should consider farmers' markets, CSAs and other sources for vegetables that are grown relatively near your homes.

I've been saying that for a while; this outbreak just reinforces my thoughts on the subject.

If you do eat fast food, you may want to buy this book

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

My writing mentor, Teresa Funke, sent me an email after reading one of my posts recently. She mentioned that her family has a book titled Eat This Not That! Her three kids love reading the book and pointing out choices, especially wrong ones, that she and her husband make. They've purchased several editions of the book over the past few years.

Well I had to buy the book and easily found it in our favorite locally owned bookstore, Old Firehouse Books (that's right; it's in an old fire station). This is the 2011 edition and costs $19.99.

The authors (major and minor) are David Zinczenko, the editor-in-chief of Men's Health and a co-writer, Matt Goulding, who's said to be a New York Times best-selling food author and has cooked and eaten his way around the world. I Googled the second author and found he also has a book called Cook This Not That! Since we already do lots of healthy heart cooking I won't buy that other book.

But let's go back to the book that I did purchase.

So what does this book do? Remember, I rarely eat fast food at all and if I do it's because we're on a trip and didn't bring sandwiches (we almost always do for shorter road trips, but the second or third day out, we may have to find a place to eat). My favorite choice then is Subway since I can pick a simple "sub" and not goop it up. Plus I know what the calories are in the sandwich since they're listed.

But the book is interesting. It lists the "20 Worst Foods in America,' for instance. It tells what's really in a "Chicken McNugget" (seven ingredients in the meat and twenty more in the breading). It has a Top Swaps section telling which burger, wings, pasta, ribs, fajitas, chicken, fries, salad, pizza and ice cream is better than its competitor. It focues on some specific food choices (bad ones, according to the book) and tells why (e.g., a Taco Bell Mexican Pizza has 64 different ingredients; Skittles have more sugar per package than two twin-wrapped packages of Peanut Butter Twix and a whole range of additives that help bring about all those colors; many of those were apparently linked in a Lancet article to hyperactivity and behavioral problems in children).

The bulk of the book fits the title, side by side comparisons of food choices from different fast food restaurants. They're interesting and may be quite useful to those of you who partake on a regular basis of such fare.

I have some real caveats however. Many of their "Eat This' selections still have way too much salt and sometimes more fat than I'd be interested in eating. The book touts losing weight without exercising or dieting. That's not my style at all. Nonetheless it's both a good read, and according to Teresa, a nice way to introduce kids to making food choices. The book rates and, in some areas, grades a wide variety of foods.

Overall I'd give it a C+, but you may rate it higher, even if you only eat fast food occasionally.



Two successes, one failure and a lesson

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

My newest reminder card

Travel is tough on my dieting, but, I've learned recently, so are the events I go to. I had weighed 153 when we left for our trip to Texas where friends hosted dinners, fed us well, too well. I returned at 157 pounds, four over what I now consider my upper limit. I know that I re-started my diet at 177 in May of 2009 and so I'm considerably slimmer, but 157 annoyed me.

So I was concerned; we had Thanksgiving dinner, a series of parties, a Thank the Donors event for the capital campaign I've been running and then would come some holiday events. What could I do to not only lose the four pounds at least, (my real goal weight is 149-150), but to also avoid gaining more. I needed a gimmick.

One of the background books I've been reading is on "mindless eating," the kind of frenzy of ingestion I recognized well. I used to get into this pattern frequently, forty years ago in when I weighed 218.

What I needed was another STOP sign. I already had my red 1/3 cup measure sitting on my kitchen island. Now I needed something for events and occasions. And, when I thought about it, one of those is my weekly writers' critique group. Most of us bring something edible to share and sometimes I get hooked on cookies or something else I wouldn't normally eat.

So I took two three by five inch cards and wrote "Don't Snack!" on one of them and "Don't Eat or Overeat" on the other.

my other card

One card leans up against my popcorn holder which itself is surmounted by the red measuring cup. Eating at home hadn't usually been a problem, but it wouldn't hurt to have an extra reminder.

The other I put into the cup holder of my car. I'd look at it just before going into a house where we were joining an ongoing party or before entering, twice this week alone, the local country club, where we were attending a luncheon for symphony donors and, later in the week, the Thank the Donors event.

Oh, and there was one more event, a baby shower I wouldn't normally have attended. In this case it was for the wife of a young relative. We hadn't seen him since his high school graduation and I felt it was important to go to his spouse's shower.

So here's my score card and the lesson I learned. I looked at the card in my Prius just prior to entering the country club for the luncheon. I ate three fourths of my salad and half my entree and said, "No thanks" to the dessert. I did even better at the donor event. I pre-ate a bowel of cereal and a piece of fruit. At the event itself I ate nothing and drank one third of a glass of Merlot.

But the shower, held at a pizza parlor, was another matter entirely. I didn't remember to look at the card hat evening, shared an appetizer with my nephew and his fiancee and had three large slices of pizza, even eating the dry crusts.

Actually the donor event was last night and today I'm down in my safe zone again. I'm going to lunch with friends at our favorite Thai restaurant, but before I leave my car I'll look at the card.

Lesson learned. I'll bring the "Don't Snack" card to my writers' group next week and look at it just before I leave my car.

Miscellaneous ramblings, centered on portion size and vacations

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

Today I read a book on "Mindless Eating" and eventually I'll write more about it. But first off it rang a cord for me with a section from a Harvard Health Publication on cutting down on salt. We eat too much salt, too much sugar and too much fat. One of the simplest ways to cut down on those is to diminish your portion sizes.

I don't weigh in on any of the fad diets except to say they won't solve the long-term problem that two out of every three of us have in the United States. I think eliminating something you like won't work very well over the years. So instead, I diet by cutting off a portion of everything on my plate. I can still have a small amount of almost anything; I just don't overeat..except on vacations.

We spend six days on a trip to Texas recently. Our surrogate dad had turned 90 and we wanted to visit him. So part of that trip was with an elderly couple living in a retirement community. Part of it was visiting other friends. Everyone wanted to make sure we were well fed.

We went to restaurants, clubs and dining facilities in the retirement village. There were abundant choices and generally quite good food (though I did miss our fresh fruits and vegetables from our CSA). The problem was my lack of the ability to say NO.

I left home at 150.6 pounds, well within my comfort zone. I returned at 157 pounds and have had to play catch up ever since. I'm almost back to where I started at. I do fine at home; I even mamage local parties and restaurants without a problem. So what happens with a trip?

Ah, I think I have figured out some of the issue; we were with good friends who wanted to treat us to their favorites places to eat. Or, in the case of our older friends, we were eating buffet style. Both situations are diet traps. They require some extra punch in my diet resolve.

So one of my coping mechanisms, one that I have to strengthen for vacations, is portion control. I really didn't eat anything on this trip that I wouldn't otherwise; I just ate more. I have a four by six card that says "Don't overeat." It may appear a little silly, but it's saved me countless times at home or in our area. Even that simple device makes me pause, eliminate the extra scoop of frozen yogurt or the second piece of bread with butter and jam. it's time for the card to be on my packlist.

The pause is the real necessity. In the book I was reading today, just moving a dish of food a distance away, or as we do serving everything in the kitchen so seconds require a trip back from the dining room can help.

Dieting or, in my case, maintaining a weight you've worked to get at, requires some thinking. The pause can let you move away from the mindless eating trap.

Harvard Medical School Weighs In

Friday, July 16th, 2010

I recently received an email from Harvard Medical School (HMS) about their series of medically-related Special Health Reports. I purchased one on Women's Health Fifty and Forward for my wife and then saw another in their list titled "Lose Weight and Keep it Off." That one arrived just after we got home from a two-week vacation. On the morning we departed I weighed 149 pounds, the bottom edge of my goal weight of 149-150. I knew before we left that I wouldn't be sticking to my usual diet, but hadn't realized that I'd gain six and a half pounds on the trip.

I went back to the strict version of my diet as soon as we got home and three and a half of those extra pounds are gone already. This morning I weighed 152.2, within my acceptable range. Having started my dieting in May of 2009 at 177, I'm not too upset, but I wanted to look at the HMS take on dieting and especially on maintaining your weight goal once you've achieved it. I'd like to do better on vacations.

I had lots of excuses for my temporary weight gain: I was recovering from b ack surgery and couldn't exercise like I usually do six or seven days a week;we had visited relatives on the first leg of our trip and they fed us very well; the week-long Chautauqua stay was at a lovely hotel with abundant meals included and the final three days were spent visiting friends, one of whom is on the New York Times staff as a deputy food editor and took us to his favorite restaurants. I wasn't happy with my excuses.

The last chapter of the HMS report cites the statistic that 95% of people who lose weight will regain it in a few years. Well I'm interested in being in the 5% who can keep their weight off, so I read that chapter with great interest. It turns out there's a project, the National Weight Control Registry, that has been following over 5,000 long-term dieting successes. Of course, those people, in general, stick to diets that are healthy and don't have excess calories. They also exercise regularly.

That made sense, but it turns out that they differ considerably in their diets and what they do for exercise. What they do share is the ability to pick out an approach to eating and exercise that fits their own long-term goals. Then they adhere to that plan, get an hour of exercise a day, eat lots of fiber and less fat, weigh themselves at least weekly and don't watch much TV.

Okay, I do all of that and, having read the HMS publication, I realize watch TV is a double-edged sword. By that I mean you're stationary and you're exposed to lots of food commercials.

That's great stuff, but didn't tell me what to do on vacations. I think what I have to incorporate into my travel plans, maybe on my computerized pack lists, is a statement. "You're going on a trip, Peter. You're also going on your own diet plan, especially the part about portion control."

Finally, I'm back home with a lesson learned

Friday, March 26th, 2010

We've been on the road for thirteen days, driving to Phoenix and back for my wife's Integrative Mental Health meeting. The trip covered nearly 2,000 miles and we got a chance to visit six sets of old friends. I weighed myself this morning, expecting to be way up, but I'm only at the top of my acceptable limit, three pounds over my current goal weight. That didn't make sense at first as we've eaten out a lot and had home-cooked meals in three places; those were delicious, but not what I've been eating while I'm dieting. I had also spent four days in the car and several more with friends who didn't exercise regularly.

Then I realized I still got a fair amount of exercise along the way, snowshoeing in Angel Fire and walking four miles a day in Phoenix while Lynnette was in her meeting.

My central focus in losing weight has been eating less, but when we're home I'm in the gym six or seven days a week. I've said before the vast majority of people have to modify their intake of calories to lose weight, but I don't think you can keep it off without exercising.

So I pulled out an article I picked up at a hotel we stayed at on the trip (we spent three nights there and two more on Air Force bases). This on was from USA Today and focused on "older women." It came at the issue from a different slant, that of normal-weight women who want to avoid weight gain as they age. A group of Harvard researchers followed a large group (34,000 participants)of women over an extended time frame (13 years). These women were healthy, didn't need to lose weight initially and eat a normal diet.

The conclusions fit with my premise; the relatively small cohort (13%) who never gained more than five pounds during the entire length of the study regularly did an hour a day of moderate-intensity exercise. The researchers didn't extend their findings to men or younger women (or kids), but I firmly believe the way to keep weight off for all of us is through some kind of exertion. Whether you chose to walk for an hour (at least five days a week) or do something more strenuous for shorter time periods, get off your couch and find a form of exercise that fits with your age, health condition and inclinations. Even shorter periods or exercise will convey at least some health benefits. You'll be ahead of most of your fellow countrymen and women if you do so.

And Back Down Again

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

We got home from our East Coast trip last Friday. We made it to three of our four planned stops (the oncoming snowstorm heading toward the DC area truncated the trip). I ate far more than I have been for the past eight months and gained 4.8 pounds.

But I had pre-dieted and left at 149.4, well under my current goal weight. And when I got home I went back on the stricter version of my diet and the weight melted off. I also snowshoed for an hour on Sunday and worked hard at the gym yesterday

We even went to a party last night, a fund-raiser for the Symphony Guild. It was titled "My Curry Valentine," and featured four curries: beef, lamb, chicken and shrimp, three kinds of rice, pappadums (Indian flat bread), a variety of topping for the curries, salad, a variety of wines (or Fat Tire beer, a local favorite) and cookies plus three choices of sorbet for dessert.

I drank a lot of water, took small helpings of each curry, didn't have seconds (that's not quite true; I did have several pappadums), some salad, a few of the toppings, ate one cookie, had one small helping of one of the three sorbets, and one half-glass of Reisling.

Today I weigh 149.6 pounds, only two tenths up from my pre-trip weight and well under what I've been terming my final goal weight. I'm thinking of re-setting that to 149 as I've recently gotten lots of compliments on how I've slimmed down; nobody has said, "You're too thin).

So overall I had a short and temporary hiatus from my diet, but had prepared well for our trip and went back to dieting as soon as we returned. I didn't let the short-term weight gain throw me off my overall plan. Concentration on my long-term goal helped a lot as did the exercise and the past eight months experience with a successful approach to eating sensibly.