Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The challenge of restaurants

I worked for several years in an eating disorder treatment center. It was there that I first worked, at least clinically, with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I have a small publication on the topic that I wrote in the days after 9/11. While I was updating it this week, I ran across some information I'd written for this booklet on restaurant eating that may be helpful for people in recovery.

Sometimes, addictions can develop as a way to dull your awareness to the after-effects of trauma. Restaurants can be especially challenging to people with PTSD, because they can be noisy, and chaotic, with lots of sensory input from the sights, sounds, and smells of food, not to mention the people preparing it and eating it. It can be an easy place to start to crave, especially since the visual trigger of a bar and other people drinking is often part of the restaurant experience.

If you're noticing that restaurants are stressful, just aren't as fun, or are triggering cravings, consider trying the following:

--go during an off hour, when there are fewer people and noises
--pick a restaurant with just a few choices on the menu
--be a "regular" at a favorite place so that people are familiar
--if the weather is nice and it is an option, ask to be seated outdoors so that you can focus on other things that aren't quite so triggering
--get a copy of the menu beforehand and at least narrow your choice down to a few possibilities

If you are aware that it's potentially the chaos, and you have several tricks up your sleeve to minimize the chance that this chaos will cause problems, eating out in restaurants can hopefully be enjoyable instead of something to dread.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

My Mini-Mexican Health Food Vacation

One of the things that's hardest for me about choosing what I choosing what I eat. I love food, of all kinds, and to narrow it down to just the few I need to get through the day, can be tough. A few years ago I started doing something fun that helps me with that task.

I had moved into a new condo, and after moving 14 years worth of old "stuff" from my former apartment, decided to methodically clean and organize. I started with my old Sunset magazines, which I kept because they each had a recipe I wanted to try some day but never got around to. I tore out the recipe pages, and created a monthly file for each one. So when May came, I pulled out my May file and flipped through my pages of ideas.

I found this great recipe for beet salad, which called for a Mexican cheese called "queso fresco." Living in Phoenix, I assumed it would be easy to find queso fresco. Was I ever wrong. After unsuccessfully visiting 5 stores in my neighborhood, I consulted with the Cheese Goddess (that's actually her title on her name tag) at the store on the corner. She immediately suggested a store in the Hispanic section of town, but warned me, "You'll feel like you're walking right into Mexico--even all the overhead announcements are in Spanish!"

Which, of course, meant this was a must-do outing for Saturday.

Am I ever glad I ventured! If Mexico City has high-end grocery stores, this is what I envision them to be like. There was a huge seafood section, a fresh juice bar with all kind of tropical fruits, and a gorgeous produce section where I saw at least 18 kinds of chiles, two kinds of coconut, exotic vegetables I'd only read about, and exotic fruits I'd never even heard of.

What was really interesting was how, in stepping out of my comfort zone, things I probably walked right past in my neighborhood store, popped out at me as ideas for things to eat. There were also some interesting alternatives to favorite foods I'd never seen in my neighborhood store. One example I brought home, was canned tuna with vegetables mixed right in.

Psychologically, I think my mini-Mexican vacation reminded me that eating healthier is not always boring or about deprivation. A lot of the foods I saw in this store are foods I readily eat when I'm on vacation, (like shrimp), but never think to choose when I'm back at home.

If you're someone who tends to shop in the same store, with a standard efficient route that allows you to get the regular foods in a minimum of time, consider opening up your world--as well as your eyes--by stepping into a new store. A cultural experience like mine is fun if you have the time and interest, but you can even challenge yourself by stopping by your favorite store in a different location.

Oh! Before I forget, here's the beet salad recipe I mentioned, from the May 2006 Sunset Magazine.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Alcohol Substitutions for Cooking

When cooking food that calls for alcohol, use the following suggested substitutions:

Amaretto: Use almond extract-about 1/4 teaspoon extract mixed with enough water to equal the amount of alcohol per 2 tablespoons amaretto
Champagne: ginger ale
Cointreau: orange juice, fresh or frozen concentrate
Cognac: juice from peaches, apricots or pears
Dry red wine: broth or broth mixed with red grape juice or cranberry juice
Kahlua: 1/2 teaspoon instant coffee mixed with 2 tablespooons water for each 2 tablespoons Kahlua
Kirsch: syrup or juice from cherries or berries

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Summer's here! Stay cool without tipping the scales

As beautiful as the weather is here in Phoenix right now, it's clear, summer is just around the corner. It always catches me off guard in the spring, when it's so beautiful outside and I want to spend as much time as possible out there...but it's not warm enough for me to be aware of the fact that I'm losing water to the atmosphere. It's only when my eyes start to burn that I realize I've allowed myself to become dehydrated.

This past week I worked with a client who learned the same lesson the hard way. In the month since I'd seen her, despite following a very healthy diet, she gained weight instead of losing the weight she'd wanted to. As we chatted, it became clear that the problem was not in what she was eating, it was in what she was drinking. With our record low humidity readings, it would have been a challenge for anyone to stay hydrated. But in her case, she is also on medications that were increasing her thirst. And she was coping with it by heading to the refrigerator and drinking as much as she could of anything she could find that would quench her insatiable thirst.

Her experience is not unusual. Many people in recovery are also on psychiatric medications. And many of those medications increase thirst. If you compound that with a change in weather, you've got to really be smart about your choices.

Here are some of the rules we discussed, which I hope are helpful to you all as well.

1. Read your labels! Many beverages are sweetened with high fructose corn syrup, which adds calories and can promote the development of diabetes. You've already got more of that risk if you're on many psychiatric meds, so don't double the trouble.

2. Watch out for fruit juices. Even though they've got vitamins, antioxidants, etc., they also have calories. Read the serving size on the label and stick to one serving at a time. I like to freeze fruit juice into ice cubes and then use those cubes in mineral water. I also throw a shot of fruit juice into a smoothie to help intensify the flavor. You can also add juices to marinades and salad dressings if you like to cook and feel creative. It's just not the best idea to drink large quantities right out of the bottle.

3. Look for mineral waters and waters flavored with essences. One of my current favorites is Metro Mint, which tastes like a liquid mint candy. Essences are calorie free, and it's a great way to get flavor in what you're drinking without calories, sugar, or artificial sweeteners.

4. Have fun with herbal teas! There are dozens of flavors, and you can mix and match to create your own concoctions. Here in Arizona a favorite is sun tea. If you have a big glass jar, fill it to the top, add some tea bags, and let the sun brew it over the course of a day.

5. Green tea is one of my favorites. It's full of antioxidants, and it also helps to increase blood flow to the brain. Be sure to look for the decaffeinated version to be sure hydration and sleep don't interfere with each other.

6. Get creative! Just before I sat down to write this blog, I took some decaf green tea I'd brewed in my coffee maker earlier today and then refrigerated, and poured a shot of Metro Mint water in it to wake it up a bit. Mmmmmmm.....!

7. Beware of caffeinated drinks. Caffeine not only makes it hard to sleep, it can promote insulin resistance. And both insulin resistance AND caffeine can promote weight gain. That's a double whammy you absolutely don't want on your plate.

8. Decaf ice coffees, as long as they're not Frappabinos with extra whipped cream, are ok...but remember, even decaffeinated coffee has a little bit of caffeine in it. If you are an all-or-nothing kind of person and tend to go over the top with things you perceive to be "good", then you still might overdo it in the caffeine department.

9. Be sure to eat lots of fruits and vegetables. They are high in water content and can help to keep you hydrated.

10. Drink lots of smoothies and eat lots of soups. Again, it doesn't matter if you "eat" or drink your liquids, it matters that liquids get into you!