Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Poker at the table

Right now, my daughter is making a cheese rainbow.

For the uninitiated, or for those who are envisioning multicolored cheese molded into a half-moon, mounted on a plate or other medium, you are not in a four year-old’s mind. My daughter’s cheese rainbow involves taking a piece of string cheese, bending it into an arc and shoving it violently over the top of her sippy cup, and repeating, “Look Mommy, a cheese rainbow!” over and over again until I respond with some sort of positive affirmation along the lines of “Wow, dear, that’s really neat. Now eat your cheese!”

I used to love to eat meals. I used to love to take my time, unfold the napkin, savor each bite of delectability that I had taken time to prepare, whether it was as simple as spaghetti and meatballs, or as complicated as lasagna florentine or eggplant parmigiana. But all of that changed when my children outgrew babyfood purees and started having actual opinions on what they put in their mouths.

Now, each meal with my daughter starts like a hand of poker. We each have foods in mind that we want her to eat, and the pot just grows and grows until one of us is caught bluffing and gives in. A typical conversation as dinner is served:

“Sydney, eat your meatballs please.” Substitute any form of protein other than deli-sliced corned beef, peanut butter or the infernal string cheese for meatballs and you could have any meal at any time in our house.

“No! I don’t want to eat my meatballs. I don’t like meatballs!”

After a moment of silence, she allows, “I’ll eat the rice.” Or pasta, or bread, or peas or corn or potatoes. Anything which has a noticeable carb content.

“That’s fine, you may eat the rice too. But I need to you eat some of the meat.”

“But I don’t like the meatballs.”

“You haven’t even tried it yet. You at least have to try it.”

“Meatball! Mmm!” my son, who is nearly two, interjects, shoveling food in his mouth indiscriminately and missing his target most of the time.

“If I try it and I don’t like it, can I have something else? Like buttery noodles?”

Buttery noodles are kids’ nirvana. Not that I don’t agree—when I don’t feel well, there is nothing more comforting than buttered, salted noodles.

And so the bargaining begins. She opens with the low stakes of food switching, and I study her face to see if she is bluffing. And then I raise her.

“You have to try three bites. If you don’t like it, then we’ll discuss other options.”

She calls and moves a forkful of meatball to mouth. Barely allowing it to touch her tastebuds, she immediately screws her face up in disgust and allows the half-chewed meat to fall out of her mouth.

“Use your napkin, please!” I intone from across the table, making a mad dash to catch the falling meat before it hits her clothes. I miss by a long shot and she smiles, a tell that she doesn’t yet know she has.

Round one is over. She raises again. “Now can I have something else?”

I study her, wondering how much she is prepared to gamble to get out of eating the meatballs. “Like what?”

“Buttery noodles!”

I have to master my own smile for a moment, since I now know I have won this round. “You have rice in your bowl. Buttery noodles and rice are the same food group,” I explain patiently. “If you don’t want meatballs, then you need to have some other kind of protein.”

“Like cheese?” She calls.

I envision her cholesterol levels. “You had cheese at lunch,” I raise.

“But I like cheese!” she whines. Another tell. I almost have her. When I am unmoved by the whine, she raises. “What about peanut butter? That’s protein, right?”

I study her carefully and weigh my options. If I am to get her to eat any sort of protein with dinner at all, it is going to have to be corned beef or peanut butter. The meatballs are clearly off the table. Now I just have to decide how much I want to take from her this time. I can raise and say “Meatballs or nothing—dinner’s over,” forcing her to show her cards and effectively ending the hand. If I opt to do that, however, I will be at a distinct disadvantage for the second hand, which comes right before bedtime and opens with her plaintive, “I’m hungry.”

I decide to call and save myself from a second hand in an hour or two. “Peanut butter or corned beef?”

“Peanut butter,” she smiles, showing her cards at last. She thinks she has won the hand. “On bread,” she adds, wondering how far she can push her alleged victory.

“Aha! Bread is the same food group as rice,” I say, a note of triumph creeping into my voice. I pull out my ace in the hole.

“You can have peanut butter—with carrots!”

Her face falls when she realizes she has been beaten. She accepts her defeat with minimal grouching and I turn at last to my plate of cold rice and luke-warm meatballs, wondering when I will once again be able to enjoy a meal.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

This cleansing sh*t is for the birds

Over the weekend I undertook my first “cleanse,” a homeopathic concept of cleaning out one’s intestinal tract so as to minimize toxins and promote better health. I had heard of cleansing before, and was encouraged to try it by a well-meaning woman on a weekend writing retreat.

Seventy-four dollars later, I am feeling wholly… duped. Based on Ann Louise Gittleman’s The Living Beauty Detox Diet, I trotted off to the homeopathic section of my local organic grocery store and purchased organic, unsweetened cranberry juice, dandelion root tea, two bottles of “First Cleanse,” Barlean’s Greens (a superfood mix of a whole lotta stuff that I wouldn’t otherwise eat), and flaxseed oil. I was supposed to also buy something called “Super G.I. Cleanse” but it wasn’t available and I was too wiped to search out regular Metamucil.

Friday morning, I dutifully woke up and drank 2 glasses of filtered water. I also consumed the recommended “Living Beauty Elixir,” which amounted to 8 oz. unsweetened cranberry juice and three horsepills of Barlean’s Greens. Barlean’s actually came in powder form, but the pills form was enough to turn my stomach on its own.

A word about cranberry juice: this is not your kid’s Ocean Spray. This is an entirely different kind of cranberry. Think intense. Think almost syrup-like consistency. Think bitter. Now think of mixing a fiber powder into this and attempting to drink it.

According to the sample menu plan, in addition to the water, the elixir and the greens, I was also supposed to consume a cup of dandelion root tea. It took some getting used to—-roasted dandelion roots aren’t exactly what I would put in my tea cup, given the choice—-but I got through two cups a day. Dandelion root is meant to cleanse your liver, which is the organ of the season, according to psycho nutritionist Gittleman. Each season had its own organ. Gittleman walks you through a little quiz to determine what season is your “season” for cleansing. I ended up with winter, which doesn’t surprise me, since I basically shut down and hibernate from two weeks before the holidays until way after Puxatawney Phil makes his predictions. But after assigning me a season, Gittleman stated that cleansing is good in any season. And as I wanted to detox, I decided to follow Spring. Hence the dandelion root tea.

Feeling more fully saturated than I had in a very long time, I took a break before dealing with breakfast. Like most low-carb diets (and I hadn’t realized this was low-carb until I was $74 in the hole), breakfast is all about eggs. Unlike most low-carb diets, however, there was nary a slice of cheese in sight. Apparently dairy is one of the major allergens in the world, and Gittleman advises no dairy during the cleansing phase of spring. Once you decide to “maintain” your cleansed state however (which can be three days to two weeks into the cleanse, depending on your level of toxicity, which is determined based on the test you took), you can add one to two cups of whole or goat’s milk yogurt, or one to two cups of whole milk or 2% cottage cheese per day. Whole milk yogurt! Unsweetened, no less!

Breakfast on Friday consisted of two scrambled eggs, sliced cucumber and sliced tomato. That was it. No toast. No cheese. No vegetarian sausage. But because of the onslaught of liquids prior to breakfast, I was actually very full.

Feeling very awake, since I hadn’t had any carbs to cloud my thinking (which I do, sadly, believe is a by-product of most carbs for me personally), I was ready to go, ready to play outside and garden and chase cars around the house with Sam.

Thirty minutes later, I was intensely hungry and I had a splitting headache. I had also peed twice, which was probably why. Psycho Gittleman said that at mid-morning, I could have two glasses of water. It helped—-a little. But I was looking forward to lunch.

I shouldn’t have bothered. Based on the guidelines in the book, lunch was mixed greens with tomato and cucumber, with six oz of canned tuna and dressing of flaxseed oil and lemon juice. No liquids with lunch, but mid-afternoon, I could have 1 ½ cups of strawberries along with two glasses of water. I decided to take my chance and have my mid-afternoon snack with my lunch.

Fruit, by the way, is limited to two servings per day, and is seasonal in nature. Meaning, if I followed her to the letter (which I wasn’t doing, even after just six hours of being on program), I couldn’t have watermelon or blueberries until after June 22, since those were summer fruits. I also had to relegate any consumption of bread to winter, when sprouted bagels (what the hell is a sprouted bagel?) and rye bread were allowed on the maintenance part of the winter cleanse.

My headache went away and I guzzled extra water to keep it at bay. I looked forward to dinner, but wondered what I would eat, as Marc and I were to go out by ourselves for the first time in months.

I scanned the menu at Encore. We sat in silence as we both tried to find something to eat. Marc said “nothing’s jumping out at me,” and I agreed, but for different reasons. The pasta dishes loomed large, but pasta wasn’t allowed until Autumn, and it had to be spelt pasta, which sounded nastier than it probably was. I love whole wheat pasta and prefer it to white. But I was clueless about spelt in general.

I opted for a chicken and brie salad, rationalizing that my entire caloric intake for the day was probably hovering at about 700, so one slice of brie cheese wouldn’t hurt me. Ditto for a slice of white bread dipped in oil as we were waiting for our dinners to arrive. I dutifully ordered water, even though diet soda looked more appetizing than it ever had before.

Before retiring for the evening, I had my second dose of Living Beauty elixir, two glasses of water, First Cleanse and dandelion root tea. For the first time in thirty years, I wondered if I would make it through the night without wetting my bed.

I woke up Saturday morning and gingerly stepped on the scale. I was 2 lbs. lighter! Gittleman was a miracle worker! I felt cleansed! I felt light, fluid and happy. But I was starving and my head was beginning to throb.

I repeated most of Friday’s menu on Saturday, allowing myself tortilla chips at dinner before consuming chicken fajitas (without tortillas) which definitely were not prepared with flaxseed oil. I added chocolate to the menu in the evening and wasn’t surprised to see an extra ½ lb. on the scale Sunday morning.

By Sunday evening, I didn’t want to see another green pill. After a dinner of a tofu hot dog (not allowed, but seriously, how bad could it be?) and spinach cooked in flaxseed oil and garlic (note to self—-don’t cook with flaxseed oil), I was ravenous and went for anything whole grain I could find. I capped off my night with a sugar-free pudding cup and another mug of the infernal dandelion root tea.

This morning, I decided my cleanse was over. I learned a few interesting things while following Gittleman’s proscribed routine—-that dairy products in some way contribute to my seasonal allergy symptoms, that I need to drink more water and cut back on diet soda, that I need to eat more fresh, non-starchy vegetables rather than loading up on fruit, and that carbs, whole-grain or not, do tend to make me tired. But I will not be “cleansing” any more this spring. Or summer. Or autumn or winter. I am a testament to “everything in moderation.” I am returning to Weight Watchers Core program humbled and grateful for my whole grain pasta, watermelon and diet soda.

I just wish I could return the dandelion tea.