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Sunday, January 27, 2008

What Price Vanity?

I was just finishing up the most amazing lunch yesterday at a restaurant in Fresno when I encountered a fun group of women sitting in the booth behind me. I had overheard one woman talking of sugar-free chocolate. I turned around to tell her of my favorite brand and we started talking about diabetes, hypoglycemia and eventually bariatric surgery. One woman in the group had gastric-bypass. She told me she had dropped 85 pounds, adding that she wasn't "very big" to begin with.

Knowing that there is some elitism in the bariatric community regarding pre-op size, I shrugged and said their was nothing wrong with being a lightweight. After all, better to take control of obesity before its long-term effects take control of you.

"Oh...I had it purely out of vanity," she said.

That stopped me dead in my tracks.

Since having weight-loss surgery almost three years ago, I've encountered a variety of pre- and post-ops with varying reasons for wanting/having surgery. Though every person has given the same party line about "health concerns," I know more than a few really didn't care about their health -- they just wanted to be thin.

It was those people who I originally wanted to help when I started writing this column (now blog) in 2004. I thought educating them on the risks associated with surgery would drive home the point that this is truly a drastic solution to what should be a very drastic health condition. There are days when I feel like I've accomplished that goal, and other days when I feel like I'm hitting myself in the head with a hammer to no avail. But one thing I can say is that nobody I've encountered over the years has had the either the self-awareness or the gumption of the woman I met in the restaurant.

I applauded her for her honesty. There are many who might not agree with her decision to have surgery for reasons of vanity, but I have to give her credit for being open and honest about her motivation. At the same time, there's a part of me that worries about the implications of such decisions. Having been morbidly obese most of my life, I would never wish that fate on anyone. But I would hate to see this surgery be used as "cosmetic surgery" for anyone wishing to drop 20 or 30 pounds without having to "work at it." That, to me, would be an abuse of this marvelous tool.

Is such thinking naive?

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Long Way Around

I've been making little changes since the first in an effort to increase my daily activity level beyond what I do at the gym.

My first order of business was to park farther away from my office. Though I still prefer not to park in the lot that's a half-mile downhill from my office, I don't spend 15 minutes anymore milling around and around looking for an empty spot near the building's entrance.

The next step was to stop using interoffice mail. The campus is not nearly big enough to warrant me dropping paperwork in the office and waiting three days for it to arrive at its destination. Such a decision is even sillier when it only takes about 20 minutes to walk from one end of the campus to the other.

Last week, I decided to stop using the elevator to my third-floor office. To be honest, the elevator is so slow that it's not much of a convenience feature anyway. I take the elevator because I favor high heels (at my height, you take all the extra help you can get), and my klutzy natures makes stairs not so easy to negotiate.

I would probably still be taking the elevator had I not realized last week that I'm not wearing high heels as often to the office. Why the change in fashion? Simple, because on Week 1, I started parking farther from the office. I realized a need to change my footwear by the second day of that habit. I still can't believe it took me two weeks to realize that switch also meant my excuse for using the elevator was null. Then again, I never said I was the brightest bulb in the drawer.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Industry Secrets has a great article on Secrets of the Weight Loss Industry. Definitely worth checking out for those who are looking for non-surgical options.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Day 2

It's the second day of the new year, and I'm just posting to see how everyone is doing with their resolutions. Has anyone already given up? Has anyone decided to postpone their resolutions? Have any of you woken up to realize that your resolution wasn't the right choice for you?

I've never been the typical resolution maker, so I don't have a history of failed ones to nag at me. I always resolve to make the new year better than the last. I know I will make mistakes, but I try my best to make different mistakes from year to year so I can at least say I'm experiencing growth.

So this year has been a little different since I've made specific pledges. So far, so good. I've really been enjoying water and tea for the last two days. Seems I was drinking more caloric beverages than I had realized, because water has tasted like a sweet treat. My weekend of cooking madness has ensured I have more than enough leftovers to keep me away from temptation, and I don't have to worry about having the time or energy for a healthy dinner each night. So all in all, I'd say I'm off to a good start.

How about you?

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

I (heart) food blogs and Web sites

I'm not sure what foodies did for new recipes before the advent of the Internet. I suppose they kibbutzed with friends for new ideas, pored over newspapers and magazines and bought up fundraiser cookbooks. All great methods. In fact, I will still buy up any fundraiser cookbook found at yard sales (the Tracy Fire Department Auxiliary's cookbook is a definite asset to any collection, as are any of the editions put out by the Hilmar Covenant Church or YLI). And I will always be a sucker for any newsstand magazine that advertises slow-cooker recipes (the slow cooker is a must have for any bariatric patient).

Since moving out on my own, I've been able to be more adventurous in my kitchen experiments. After all, I only have to worry about myself and my tastes. Trust me, I didn't get to weigh 335 pounds by being a picky eater. However, the Internet has really helped me broaden my cooking horizons.

For a while, I subscribed to a local food co-op. Getting produce boxes from food co-ops can be a little scary. You never know what your box might hold or what to do with it. That's where the Internet comes in. When I opened my box one week to find fennel, which I had only glanced at on the food network, I only needed to type in "fennel recipes" into Google before finding a pasta sauce recipe that not only used the fennel bulbs I had, but also leftover sweet potatoes from Thanksgiving. Instead of pasta, though, I served the sauce over spaghetti squash, another gift from the co-op box.

For my church potluck last night, I decided I couldn't just go with gobs of cookies and candy made from the bulging baking shelf of my pantry. I needed to have some "good food" to go along with it. I opted for a chicken stew from, which just might be the best food blog in existence. What I love most about is that the author resides in Sacramento, which means whatever is in easy and available for her is also in season and available to me. Realizing (thanks to the feedback of a few well-meaning friends) that the recipe I chose might be a little "out there" for church folk, I decided to also take a tried-and-true casserole in the form of Paula Deen's (of the Food Network's Paula's Home Cooking") shrimp and wild rice casserole. It was a favorite of my ex-husband's (though he always had me omit the bell pepper and onion), especially when I doubled the cheese.

The chicken stew, though, was my favorite. Chock-full of onions, tomatoes and super tender and moist chicken, it was every bariatric patient's dream. I would challenge any gastric-bypass patient who says he/she can't tolerate chicken to stick by his/her story after trying this dish. The chicken literally melts into the sauce, leaving a warm, hearty meal.

I should stop there, but I won't. I can't sign off without leaving you the recipes I'm speaking of.

Chicken Stew with Onions, Tomatoes and Dijon

I rarely ever make a recipe exactly how it's written. I put my own spin on just about everything. So, for this recipe, I used six chicken thighs and two bone-in chicken breasts. I also omitted the roasted garlic, though it sounds divine! The key, to me, is in the browning of the chicken. Get it good and crispy, because that adds complexity to the final product. (My favorite olive oil is Lost Dogs Farm of Tracy, Calif.) Though the recipe calls for it to be served with rice, I think it would be incredible over savory polenta, such as what Alton Brown recently made on an episode of "Good Eats" on the Food Network. For myself, I just mixed in some steamed zucchini.

Chicken Stew with Onions, Tomatoes, and Dijon

1 whole head garlic
Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
One 3-4 pound whole chicken, cut into 8 serving pieces (2 breasts, wings, thighs, legs)
6 medium red onions (about 2 pounds)
One 28 to 32 ounce can good quality whole peeled tomatoes, drained
1 Tbsp fresh thyme or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
2 bay leaves
A pinch of chile powder
1/3 cup dry white wine
3 Tbsp old-fashioned whole seed Dijon mustard (or 1/4 cup regular Dijon mustard)

1 Preheat oven to 400°F.

2 Peel away the outer layers of the garlic bulb skin, leaving the skins of the individual cloves intact. Using a knife, cut off 1/4 to a 1/2 inch of the top of cloves, exposing the individual cloves of garlic. Place garlic head on a piece of aluminum foil. Drizzle olive oil over the garlic, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Wrap the garlic head with the foil and place in the oven. Bake for 45 minutes or until the flesh of the cloves are light brown feel very soft when pressed with the tip of a knife. Set aside to cool. (See how to roast garlic.)

3 While the garlic is roasting, heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot (with lid) or Dutch oven, on medium high heat. Rinse the chicken pieces in cold water then pat dry with paper towels. Season liberally with salt and pepper.

Brown the chicken pieces, starting them skin-side down, cooking them a few minutes on each side, working in batches so that you don't crowd the pan.

4 While the chicken is browning, peel and quarter the onions. Remove chicken from pan when nicely golden with tongs or a slotted spoon and set aside on a plate. Discard any fat and oil beyond about 1 Tbsp left in the pan. Put the onions in the pot and cook them until softened, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes.

5 Add the tomatoes to the pot, the thyme, bay leaves, and ground chile powder. Put the chicken pieces on top of the tomatoes. Pour in the wine and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook on medium-low heat for 40 minutes, stirring from time to time so that the vegetables don't stick.

6 After the garlic has cooled enough to handle, squeeze out the roasted garlic from the cloves into a small bowl and crush with a fork. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside to serve with the chicken stew.

7 When the chicken has cooked, add the mustard to the pot and stir to blend. Increase the heat to medium-high and cook uncovered for 10 more minutes, or until the sauce is thick enough to cling to the meat. Remove bay leaves. Salt and pepper to taste.

Serve stew over rice or pasta, with the garlic paste on the side.

Serves 4 to 6.

Shrimp and Wild Rice Casserole
(from Paula's Home Cooking)

1 (8-ounce) package wild rice
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
1 (10 3/4-ounce can) condensed cream of mushroom soup
2 cups grated sharp Cheddar
Salt and pepper
Cook the rice according to package directions minus 1/4 cup water. Drain and cool.

Bring 2 cups water and 1/2 tablespoon salt to a boil in a medium saucepan and cook the shrimp for 1 minute. Drain immediately and set aside.

Heat the butter in saucepan and saute the pepper and onion until soft, about 5 minutes.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

In a large bowl, combine the rice, soup, 1 1/2 cups of cheese, shrimp and vegetables. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Mix well. Spray a 9-inch square aluminum cake pan or an 11 by 7-inch glass casserole dish with vegetable spray. Place the mixture in the pan and top with remaining 1/2 cup cheese. Bake for 30 minutes, until bubbly.

Penne with Sweet Potatoes and Fennel
(from Quick Fix Meals with Robin Miller)

For this dish, I left out the pasta and used roasted spaghetti squash instead.

2 ounces uncooked penne pasta
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 fennel bulb, sliced crosswise into 1/4-inch thick slices
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves, or 1 teaspoon dried
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 cup milk (regular or lowfat)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups leftover roasted sweet potatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside. Keep warm.

Meanwhile, melt butter and olive oil together in a large skillet over medium heat. Add fennel, rosemary and sugar and cook 10 minutes, until fennel is tender and golden brown. Stir in the sweet potatoes.

Whisk together chicken broth, milk, and flour. Gradually add to skillet and simmer 3 minutes, until mixture thickens, stirring constantly. Add the pasta and stir to coat. Stir in Parmesan, parsley, salt, and pepper and cook until heated through, stirring constantly, about 3 minutes.