Cheating and Deserving

IMG_20140910_083912675Last night, my wife made a Korean dinner in honor of our son. Whenever we have all our children home she feels a strong desire to feed them her cultural cuisine. I understand that and always encourage her—especially since I love Korean food and truly love my wife’s cooking. Now to understand the rest, you have to know that my wife is the best cook on planet earth as far as I’m concerned. When making food she’s passionate about, no one can beat her. She cooks Korean, of course, traditional southern American cuisine, Italian, Mexican and some French. I’ve described my wife’s cooking skills by telling people, “If you make something and my wife likes it, she’ll ask you what’s in it and before long will make it better than you.” This is important to understand, because if my wife pours her whole heart and a whole day into making a single meal (she literally started cooking at 8 AM for a meal to be eaten at 6 PM), I am not going to pass any of it up—diet or no diet. These meals are rare, and deserve to be enjoyed—my wife also deserves to be honored.

Keep in mind that when I started this journey I was so unhealthy I no longer had choices. I had to choose to change or die. I wanted to get down to a low enough weight and healthy enough condition that I would be free to make real choices about what to eat and when. I wanted to free myself of the fat to be free, not to be chained to a freakish inhuman way of eating for the rest of my days (some of the diets out there are bizarre). I wanted to be healthy enough that if I chose one day to indulge in something less healthy—or even flatly unhealthy—I was free to make that choice. The problem with most people today is the false belief that they have this freedom. If your body is craving unhealthy foods then you are not choosing them freely.

I have done well on my program. I’ve lost about 150 lbs. from my lifetime highest (110+ lbs. from my starting point on program). My blood sugar, cholesterol and other numbers look great. Keeping all this in mind I had to decide how I would approach my wife’s special meal. There is a great deal of talk among various diet programs about “cheat days”, etc. Many will also convince themselves that they have done so well they “deserve” to splurge. Both ideas are poisonous. Both show a different view from mine.

A cheat day implies “forbidden fruit.” I am bound. I am chained to a program, but choose to cheat—“Just once, I can come back to it tomorrow.” The idea of cheating makes the program something bound upon me by someone else. I owe that someone else loyalty and am cheating with a special forbidden meal. Giving yourself permission to cheat does not change this. But if I have chosen my program and do so every step of the way, nothing I do is cheating. I cannot be tempted by forbidden fruit because there is no forbidden fruit. I can have any of it. I just have to understand and remind myself that I can have food A and a fatter body or I can have food B and a lighter body. The laws of science make it impossible to have both—I have to choose. That is part of our problem as Americans. We want to have both. “Cheat days” are a stupid concept. I make my choices and cannot “cheat” on myself—when I try I only end up cheating myself. If I choose to eat foods that slow my weight loss then I have chosen and should live with the results—or look for alternatives.

As for deserving a splurge or something special for all the hard work, “deserving” is a special concept that is often misused. Think about what you actually deserve in life. If you define the term properly then we deserve very little. We deserve what we have earned—because that is how an exchange works. I agree to work for you for 1 hour and you agree to pay x dollars. After one hour of labor the dollars are no longer yours, they are mine. I deserve them because they are mine. If I opt to not work for you for that hour, and find no one else to offer more then I deserve my empty pocket. Another similar concept is the respect we deserve from others. Why do we deserve respect? Years ago I had a fellow teacher challenge a student to ask me a hard question she could not answer. The student said, “Mr. Cluck, why is it wrong to be disrespectful?” I answered, “Because the respect is owed to that person because of either whom they are in relation to you or what they have accomplished. It is theirs. If you refuse to give them respect, you are stealing from them.” So let’s say I work hard for six months to lose weight by closely following a diet. What do I deserve? If I follow the program and lose weight then what I deserve is the weight loss—I earned it. It is reaching the goal itself that one deserves when striving hard for a goal. To say I deserve a special fatty high carb meal for all my hard work dieting implies something that violates simple science. It would be more accurate to say, “I’ve worked so hard making good choices so I will allow myself to make a different one tonight.” But that is far different from saying I deserve it. The only reason one would say it this way (deserve) is to either alleviate guilt or to prevent the judgment of others. But if you are free to choose moment by moment, meal by meal, bit by bite, then why feel guilty? Why worry about the judgment of others? Your program is your business. Claiming “I deserve a splurge meal” is a lie. Stop using lies. I can choose a “splurge meal” but I can’t deserve it. I will still reap the results of any choice I make.

All this came up because my wife’s traditional meal, being Korean, includes a large number of carbs that I have to avoid on my program. Quite a few of these carbs are actually refined carbs. Also, the meal is being served as a feast in honor of family and friends. Eating copious amounts is expected.

Most of the food was perfectly fine for my program—beef and pork Bulgogi. I could simply avoid the onions and the carrot IMG_20140910_085037100slices. There were also two kinds of kimchi—turnip and cabbage. Then there were bean sprouts and fish slices, called O Daeng (I love the name because, “Oh dang! This stuff is good”). I could have simply skipped all the other stuff and grazed off of these. However, I wanted to do an experiment to see if there was another option. I’ll explain what I actually did in a moment.

Besides the foods that fit fine, there were several that were not going to work with the program. We had Kimbap. This is what many Americans know as Sushi rolls. It is white rice, carrot, spinach and turnip rolled inside of seaweed wraps. I could eat for a year on nothing but Kimbap and never get tired. One other food takes a bit of explaining. One day, when my wife and I were dating, I went by her house and saw she wasn’t home. The landlady told me that she had gone to the market. Understand that the market was a huge area with various stalls, like the Asian open air markets you may have seen in movies. She was shocked when I snuck up behind her at a stall where she was having lunch. She ordered me some Duk Madu Guk (wonton soup) and we shared some Sun Dae. That was about the time I started feeling very deeply for her, so Sun Dae holds great comfort for me. Any time we find it at the market we get it and eat it together. It is also an important part of any celebratory Korean meal served to our friends. Sun Dae would not be allowed on my program. Now as I explain what it is, I already know what to expect from the average American reading this. Keep in mind that we eat stuff that Koreans think is gross, too. Sun Dae is a wonderful traditional sausage. It is a mixture of ground pork snout, beef blood and sweet potato noodles stuffed into a natural sausage casing. It is cooked, sliced and eaten dipped into a mixture of salt and other spices. The blood, meat and casings would be fine with the program, but the noodles blow it right out.

I had a choice to make. I could ignore the meal and have a regular Lean & Green then simply enjoy my family while they ate—but I had invited friends over. I could stick to the foods that would fit with the program and skip those high in carbs. I could choose to eat any and all of it, and simply roll the dice to see what happens to the rest of my program—would I start craving carbs or get knocked out of fat burn? Another option was to prepare in advance to blunt the effect of the carbs.

I decided to do the latter as a test. I have been reading lately on the effect of carbs and how they are metabolized. When eating carbs they are transformed into glucose. This is burned as energy, and any excess if pushed into fat reserves. It is false to think this works as a sort of balance system and when you get to end of the day your body decides whether it is in a negative or positive balance. Actually this works moment by moment throughout the day. If you eat a high level of carbs and your body at that moment does not need the excess, it immediately stores the excess. The idea that I can have one huge high carb meal now and really cut down for the rest of the day is fallacious. Our bodies are much more efficient at storing fat than at removing it. Everyone who has tried to lose weight knows it goes on easier than it comes off.

However, there is one part of carb metabolism I decided to experiment with. You see, besides fat, the largest carb storage in our body is as glycogen in the muscles and liver. This muscle storage is used when those muscles move. Glycogen stored in the liver is slowly released between meals to keep blood sugar from crashing when no food is being digested. One option for preparing to eat a meal with excessive carbs—especially refined carbs—is to eat them within a couple hours of an intense workout. After the workout! We were going to eat between 5:30 and 6:00 so I went to the gym and worked out hard for over an hour. I wanted to drain my muscles of as much glycogen as possible so my body would take those refined carbs—like the white rice and the sweet potato noodles—and move them into muscle glycogen instead of fat. I also wanted my body to be forced to keep burning fat because the carbs were going into the muscles. This was my preparation for the meal.

During the meal, I ate everything. I ate smaller than I would have in the past, mostly because I did not want more—I get stuffed so much easier. I also enjoyed the items with refined carbs, but kept them to a minimum. For example, I only had three pieces of the Kimbap and a few of the Sun Dae. I also passed up on the traditional bowl of rice. This still honored my wife’s hard work and our guests without blowing my goals.

I checked twice during the night and again this morning. I am still in fat burn. While this will not be a regular practice, it is good to know there is another option for those times when I either need to have something I otherwise would not, or even for those times when I really want those items. Once again, it makes my choices my own. It liberates instead of binding. By the way, doing this also helped to drive something home. It helped to show just how costly on the system such a meal can be—I worked hard for over an hour to make room in my muscles for the meal. Everything has a cost!

“’Everything is permissible,’ but not everything is helpful. ‘Everything is permissible,’ but not everything builds up (1 Cor 10:23 HCSB).”


Hunting the Elusive Tasty Vegetable Dish

I have found I can have a vegetable dish that I have long loved, but thought might be forbidden. The nice thing about the Take Shape for Life program is that besides my coach I can also call a Nutrition Support line to ask questions of a dietician. That has saved my bacon on several occasions—except they still won’t let me have bacon!

My wife makes a vegetable dish that I could eat daily, and fortunately she makes it in large quantities. We usually have several large jars of Kimchi around the house. For those of you who don’t know, Kimchi is a heavenly concoction that improves any meal. It is also quite versatile and doesn’t feel out of place in fusion cuisines.

I know. Some are going to think of weird and disgusting ingredients they’ve heard were used in Kimchi. There are two points to remember: (1) most of those stories are xenophobic lies from those claiming they heard it from a friend whose brother’s sister’s cousin’s husband was there and saw it; (2) there are over 350 varieties of Kimchi. So even if one has things you find offensive there are plenty of other that will not.

Some are going to say: “But they let it rot!” Actually they allow it to ferment. Shock! Horror! Fermented cabbage? You just described Sauer Kraut. Make your favorite German Kraut, use Chinese cabbage, and add a bunch of garlic and red pepper and you just made Kimchi! Besides, not all Kimchi is fermented.

Oh, of course some will say, “But they bury that stuff!” Well they only do that with winter Kimchi and that gives you the reason. Koreans traditionally make Kimchi in huge ceramic and stone vats that are stored outside. In a cold climate, like Korea, traditionally the best way to keep something accessible outside without freezing solid has been to place it below ground with a heavy cover for access (our own ancestors did this with various foods up to a century ago). Because this Kimchi is stored for months while waiting to be consumed it ferments longer, taking on a stronger lactic quality. It is not rotten! It is almost incapable of rotting with all the salt, red pepper and garlic!

The ingredients of the one she most often makes are Chinese cabbage, sea salt, red pepper powder, garlic, and small minced shrimp and oysters for flavor. She also adds Splenda instead of sugar (a habit she picked up years ago working as a cook in a Nursing Home).

The dietician says I can have a half cup as a serving of vegetables for my Lean & Green meals. However, because of the sodium I can’t have it every day. This will make my meals a bit less drab, allowing me more variety.

Now to keep hunting the ever elusive vegetable—I guess it will be a slow hunt for such a slow moving prey.