Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Turkey Meatballs in White Wine Sauce

This is a recipe I put together by tweaking a paleo turkey meatball recipe and a recent recipe in Prevention magazine.  I made it this afternoon, then reheated it for dinner and it was delish.  Note that it's not a soup/stew consistency -- it's meatballs with some veg in a sauce.  The serving size looks small but it's pretty filling.  You could easily add more olive oil if you wanted to pump up the fat content without increasing carb content.

1 lb. ground turkey (I use 99% because the other kind seems gross to me)
1 egg
1 1/2 t. dried oregano
1 1/2 t. dried parsley
1 t. garlic powder
1 t. onion powder
1/2 t. red pepper flakes (can be omitted, no problemo)
1/4 c. almond meal
1/2 - 1 t. salt (to taste)
1 t. black pepper

Combine all ingredients and form into 16 balls.  Place on a baking sheet (lined with foil for easy clean up) and cook at 400 degrees for 20 minutes (until cooked all the way through).

2 T. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced (or a big spoonful of the jarred kind)
1/2 c. white wine
2 pt (1 1/2 lb) cherry tomatoes, halved (I think you could substitute canned tomatoes in a pinch)
1 bunch (10 oz) kale, center ribs removed and leaves coarsely chopped

Heat oil in large pot/dutch oven over medium heat.  Add onions and carrots and cook, stirring, until softened.  Add garlic and cook 1 minute.  Pour in wine and cook about 4 minutes, or until reduced by about half.

Add tomatoes and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes have broken down, about 10 minutes.

Stir in meatballs and top with kale.  Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until kale is tender, about 20-25 minutes.

Serves 4.

Nutrition information:
369 calories
22 g carbs
14 g fat
35 g protein
6 g fiber

Saturday, January 19, 2013

A Lifestyle Change

For about two weeks now, I have been eating a paleo style diet (which I am calling "neo-paleo" to myself).  I test drove paleo a bit over the holidays because my parents and my sister and her husband are all doing it.  There are a lot of versions of paleo, but my current version has eliminated the following:
  • All grains
  • All dairy except butter
  • All legumes (beans, peas, peanuts, etc.)
  • Yeast [because of evidence I've seen outside the paleo diet that wheat, dairy, legumes, and yeast all are high in lectins, which makes for unhappy guts; these are all foods that I reacted strongly to back in my elimination diet days and lectins seem a likely culprit]
  • Seed oils
  • Potatoes (I could eat these in small quantities but I haven't been doing so; I'd just as soon eat a different vegetable when I'm at home - but they could be a lifesaver in a restaurant/etc. environment)
I think that's everything I've eliminated right now.  I've purchased some books that I'm reading through, but I decided to go ahead, get started with something, and see how it goes rather than spend a ton of time planning the details - I can tinker with my plan as I learn more and as I see how I react to what I'm doing.

On the advice of Mark Sisson's website, I'm also counting carbohydrates for weight loss; I'm trying to stay at or below around 100-110 g per day.  I'll probably target a bit lower later on but this seems a very doable number for me right now.  (And can I just say that counting carbs is way better than counting calories?  If I hit my carb limit but am hungry before bed, it's not game over [or a break down in my diet plan] like it was when I hit my calorie limit - I can still have a snack; knowing that this is true relieves the anxiety I have when placing limits on my food intake.)

So, how is it going?

The most notable change is that my blood sugar levels are amazingly stable.  I haven't had a blood sugar crash at all, and I have not had that experience (very common before) of being lightheaded and having trouble getting upstairs in the morning after not eating overnight.  I think I am finally experiencing what constitutes normal hunger rather than the desperate dizzy, weak feeling that I always had before; I'm now like, Oh, so that's why normal people can get hungry and not freak out about it - if you're hungry and don't eat right away, you just get hungrier rather than feeling like passing out.

My digestive system is much, much happier, and I no longer worry so much that getting hungry will trigger painful stomach cramps, etc.

Most bizarre is that I have not been craving my normal grain-intensive things like oatmeal, cake, cookies, pancakes, pizza, etc., or other sweets like ice cream.  I mean, I still recognize that those are tasty foods but I do not feel any particular motivation toward them.  I had heard from several people that the paleo diet reduces or eliminates cravings, but I did not believe it at all.  It's still early days, of course, but I would have expected these first two weeks to be the worst with cravings.  I haven't even made paleo-style desserts yet (like these fabulous cookies that my sister made over the holidays), though I do eat a small amount of dark chocolate most days.  It seems that this style of eating has really reduced my preoccupation with eating overall, which is awesome.

I've lost about 5 pounds so far.  This may not seem like much, but it constitutes the very first evidence in about 2 years that it is even possible for my weight to go down at all.

I also feel like I have had less achiness in my joints - diminished, but not eliminated.  But that's kind of hard to tell because this achiness ebbs and flows.

I have not experienced some of the benefits that other people have talked about: I haven't had more energy in general (though the lack of blood sugar swings is good); my allergy symptoms (stuffiness, runny nose, sore throat, sinus headaches, fevers, etc.) have not improved; and I seem to feel sick/puny about as often as ever.  But we'll see how things go in the coming weeks.

An unexpected side benefit is that with my current schedule (i.e., doing what I want when I want), it's actually easier to plan and prepare meals on this diet than any kind of "generally healthy/eating in moderation" diet that does not place limits on categories of food.  I'm mostly just buying and cooking whatever meat, vegetables, etc., look appealing in the store rather than working from recipes that have more strict ingredient requirements.  I'm not sure if I'll get tired of these kinds of meals soon (though fortunately I do not need a lot of variety in my diet to be satisfied), and I do have a paleo cookbook on hand for when I want to get fancier with it.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Grad School, I'm Through

I've submitted my official resignation letter.  I've cleaned out my office and turned in my keys (I did this Saturday evening to minimize the chances of encountering anyone in my program there; I saw one of the new assistant professors in her office, but she didn't see me - hah, sucker).  So I'm outta there.

I threw out almost all of my articles, etc., in my office, but I need to go through and figure out what to do with the box of things I brought home, as well as go through the articles, etc., that I already had here.  I can't quite face it right now, but I figure I'll get to it some time later this week.

I've decided that when the next person asks me what I'm doing next, I'm going to tell them that I am running away to join the circus.  (I know these inquiries are just curiosity and are kindly meant, but I'm sick of being asked this question nonetheless.)

One thing I am doing is right now is focusing on getting my health back after it was basically destroyed by 3 years of grad school.  It would be much worse if I hadn't maintained my time-consuming treadmill regimen even on my busiest days (unfortunately, at the expense of sleep).  My diet was pretty good -- probably 85%+ as good as "normal" -- but I think it wasn't good enough.  And the stress was a real killer.

The test results from my check up just before the holidays were good.  Almost everything was in the healthy range, even my blood cell counts that have been down since the Great Blood Loss Diet almost 20 years ago, and they determined I do not have a thyroid problem or rheumatoid arthritis or fibromyalgia, but my inflammation number was slightly elevated (0.6 when it should be below 0.5).  My main problem is that I have been feeling really crappy, and I'm ready to stop feeling that way.  I'm hoping that some lifestyle changes (in addition to eliminating the primary source of stress in my life by quitting grad school) will help.

To be continued...

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Tours Salad

This is my version of a salad that Robert's mom makes.  For the dressing, I use 1 T. of olive oil and kind of wing the other quantities. 

Serves 1

1/2 - 2/3 bag of salad greens (whatever kind you like; I use a romaine blend with cabbage, etc.)
6 green olives, sliced
2 large dated, diced
1/2 oz. Tours mix, toasted for about 3 min at 400 degrees (see package)

1 T. olive oil
1 t. white wine/rice/etc. vinegar
1 t. Dijon (or spicy) mustard
1 t. chopped garlic (I use the jarred kind and include some juice as well)

Salt & pepper to taste

It has about 330 calories and 25 g of carbohydrates.

UPDATE:  I've decided it's fabulous with some chopped red onion as well.  You can also substitute silvered almonds (toasted like the Tours mix) and it's still quite yummy.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Fitting Words

Surprisingly, I have not yet started playing Oblivion again after returning from my holiday travels.  But I did play some Bookworm Adventures 2, in which you spell words using letters in a grid to attempt to defeat various enemies drawn from (apparently mostly children's) literature (for example, there are several "chapters" involving Alice in Wonderland characters, culminating with the Red Queen).  I always enjoy using words that resonate with the enemy I am fighting, even though it sometimes is sub-optimal from an objective tactical perspective.  These were my favorite fitting fighting words from my last session:

Against the Stick Pig (from the Three Little Pigs): PIGLET

Against the Slothful Monk (from Buddhist stories): LOAFER and LAZIER

Against the Gluttonous Monk (ditto): TUMMY and LAPPER

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

New Year's Resolutions: Bah

Tam sent me this great column on New Year's resolutions - read it!

A few comments:

A wiser approach may be to set “process” goals: instead of specifying a target salary, commit to spending two hours a week investigating career opportunities. Rather than deciding to write the novel of the century, commit to 45 minutes of writing every morning. “Nothing discourages the concentration necessary to perform well,” writes the sports psychologist John Eliot, in his book, Overachievement, more than “worrying about the outcome.”

I think that the way my grad program fosters "worrying about the outcome" is really dysfunctional; it screwed not only with my ability to settle down and work well but my desire to do the work in the first place.  Being in a highly self-evaluative state seems unavoidable when you know for a fact that you are being evaluated by faculty all the time and that negative evaluations will get you booted from the program like other myriad other previous students who were stereotyped as "lazy" or "not smart enough" or whatever, even if they were meeting the objective requirements of the program. 

The constant emphasis on how you will only get a job if you can have X number of publications in the top 3 journals by the time you go on the job market is not only kind of ridiculous (given that I am in one of the only fields of academia where the number of candidates and number of jobs is basically equal) but makes you think too much about whether an idea you have is likely to lead to a paper in the Journal of Blah Research in the next couple of years.  [Note: one senior faculty told me that she does not even try to publish in this journal because what they require is so ridiculous.]  And really, the probability of any given idea bearing that fruit that is pretty low.

Over time, I found that it was not only the regular commonplace failures (like an experiment not working out) that were crushing and demoralizing and made me despair for the future when I must have that premiere publication on my c.v.  The (rational) expectation that the next thing I did would also be a failure sapped my interest and energy in proceeding with it.  Add to this the way that grad school leads people to over-identify with their scholar identity and minimizes other identities, thus robbing you of other sources of self-worth (e.g., that you're a kick-ass cook, a running machine, a supportive friend, a loving spouse, a person with a great sense of humor, a handy person who can fix anything, a person who can finish the New York Times crossword without a dictionary--because grad school does not value these things and you don't have time and energy to do them anyway) and it all just feels bad.

It's unfortunate that the professors in my program with PhDs in social psychology who study topics like self-regulation, choking under pressure, persuasion, and the like are not able to foresee the obvious negative consequences of their approach.  I guess true superstars are so extremely motivated that none of these things affect them.

Or try the process-goal method used by Jerry Seinfeld early in his career, when he was determined to spend some time every day writing jokes. On a wall calendar, he marked an X every day that he got some writing done, gradually creating a chain of X’s: “Your only job ... is to not break the chain.” It’s a mechanical, nonintimidating target. If Seinfeld had aimed instead at “becoming a world-famous comedian,” might he have sabotaged his success?

I have been using a similar method myself, with placing stickers on my prominently displayed wall calendar.  It seems silly, but it works pretty well.  In my case, I've even found that beyond not wanting to break the chain, I actually feel an immediate reward from placing the sticker on the calendar. 

In fact, as the Buddhist-influenced Japanese psychologist Shoma Morita liked to point out, it’s perfectly possible to do what you know needs doing—to propel yourself to the gym, to open the laptop to work, to reach for the kale instead of the doughnuts—without “feeling motivated” to do it. People “think that they should always like what they do and that their lives should be trouble-free,” Morita wrote. “Consequently, their mental energy is wasted by their impossible attempts to avoid feelings of displeasure or boredom.” Morita advised his readers and patients to “give up” on themselves—to “begin taking action now, while being neurotic or imperfect or a procrastinator or unhealthy or lazy or any other label by which you inaccurately describe yourself.”

I love this.  One thing that has been helpful to me when facing a difficult or onerous task is realizing, "I don't have to like this.  I only have to do it."  (Those are the exact words that I generally use when talking to myself.)  That sounds terribly negative and all that, but it's truly very liberating.  It's much easier to just do something than to make yourself feel a particular way.  And once I've given myself permission to not enjoy it, it's often not so bad.  (Sometimes it's murder, of course, but that's OK.  I can hate it all I want and not feel like some kind of failure for not liking it.  I mean, hey, I did it even though I hated it, that's pretty good, right?)

My mom and I have often talked about how often people in the exercise business carp on how important it is to find the exercise you enjoy and then you'll realize that exercise is just awesome!  As though there are not many people who just don't like doing any exercise.  Instead of leveling with people -- you know, esp. when you're overweight and out of shape, exercise is really hard and can totally be not very much fun at all, but over time, it will get easier because you'll be stronger and exercising will become habitual, though some days, it will still suck and you'll have to just grit your teeth through it -- they claim that if you could just find your Ideal Form of Exercise, it will be awesome every day from day one.  They seem to have no insight into the fact that the kind of people who become professional exercisers are not representative of the population.  There's a weird kind of empathy/theory of mind failure mixed with the belief that you have to like something to do it underlying this advice.  (Of course, it's not that I think people should pick their least favorite form of exercise -- I, for instance, hate elliptical machines and just won't use them -- but the idea of an "exercise you enjoy" seems to be placing the bar pretty high for a lot of people.  And for many, exercising might be an activity that they have to learn to like.)

Several months ago, when I was reflecting on just how counterproductive the constant evaluation and emphasis on outcomes in my program is, I did a fair amount of reading in the literature on self-relevant thought.  I really like the work by Mark Leary on "hypo-egoic mindsets"* -- i.e., "psychological states that are characterized by little involvement of the self" and "a low degree of abstract self-awareness" (common to phenomena such as flow, meditation, and mindfulness).  A big idea here is that although self-relevant cognitive modes (thinking about yourself in the past and future, introspection, self-evaluation, and thinking about how you are perceived and evaluated by others) have benefits, they can also be liabilities.  They can be distracting; promote unnecessary regret, shame, worry, and a focus on social image; cause choking under pressure; and undermine motivation.

* Leary and Terry (2012).  Hypo-egoic mindsets: Antecedents and implications of quieting the self.  Handbook of Self and Identity (2nd Ed.)

Because I've done work on construal level theory, I am particularly struck by how thinking about yourself abstractly/at a high level of construal can backfire.  For example, thinking abstractly about leaving dinner in the oven too long so it became inedible can lead you down the sinking road of "I am irresponsible, I have a terrible memory, I can't cook, I'm an incompetent person" etc.  Thinking concretely is more likely to come up with, "Man, I really fucked that up.  Time to call for a pizza!"

I'd like to note that hypo-egoism is very different from high self-esteem, a state that society at large views as desirable but which recent research shows is not really all that great a thing (particularly the kind of unearned and therefore brittle high self-esteem that is fostered by meaningless praise, etc. - i.e., the only kind of self-esteem that most people talk about).