Hunger is Not a Catastrophe

The difference between hunger and other things:

Let’s say you’re out in the yard watering your prize-winning zinnias and . . .

A.    you see the neighbor kid chasing his ball into the street, or
B.    you feel a hunger pang.

In which situation do you . . .

a.    drop the frickin hose and take immediate action, or
b.     wait fifteen minutes to see is the situation escalates?

Or, let’s say you’ve just come out of a social event, maybe you’ve been tutoring at your local library, or maybe you’ve been to the gym and had a great workout that’s got you on an endorphin high, or maybe you’ve been inventorying your stock of comic books at the little shop you opened on a whim. It’s late. It’s dark. You start your car and, like the safe driver you always are, you check your review and . . .

A.    you see that someone is crouching in your back seat, or

B.    you feel a hunger pang.

Do you . . .

a.    drive as fast as you can to the nearest fastfood establishment to see if you can appease the beast  within,

b.    get out of that stupid seatbelt and car as fast as you can, or . . .

c.    give it fifteen minutes to see if it goes away on its own?

Or, let’s say you wake up in the middle of the night, as you so often do since raising kids complete destroyed your wonderful youthful ability to enter and maintain really deep sleep, and you . . .

A.    notice a funny smell. You sniff. You try to place it. Your eyes begin to burn and water. Then you recognize the odor. It’s the scent of fifteen-year-old nylon shag carpet, that’s looked like crap for the last twelve year and you’ve said over and over again that you wished you’d gone with hardwood, burning. Yes. Your house is on FIRE! Or . . .

B.    you feel a hunger pang.

Should you . . .

a.    jump out of bed, wake everybody up and see if they want to make smores,

b.    jump out of bed wake everybody up and get out of the house,

c.    jump out of bed, sneak down to the fridge and get some of your favorite dairy product because dairy may not be the solution for every problem but it can certainly be a distraction,

d.    or give it fifteen minutes to see if it goes away on its own?

I’m not going to tell you what to do. Chances are you’ve already got enough input in your life. But I will say that in my weight recovery process, which included redesigning my diet (see Don’t Verb Diet) I learned to make friends with hunger.

Hunger is a bully.

Appetite, the tongue, is a fiend, but the belly is a bully. It goes about its own business, pushing and shoving as it needs to in order to get what it wants at the time. It doesn’t care about the body it’s part of or whether all the parts are getting what they really need. It only wants. It makes demands. The more you respond to it, the more you encourage it. The more you ignore it, the less likely it is to come back around and pester you.

The feeling of hunger is the guts tightening. It’s like internal tummy crunches. It will actually reduce the size of all that stuff in there if you let it happen. In the course of weight recovery, it is a good a feeling as the endorphin rush from running or working out. Feeling it and letting it pass can be a very satisfying exercise.

Making Cents of Kilowatt-Hours

What’s an hour worth?

In “The Juice” I discussed the quantity of power my house had consumed in one year. I was surprised out how far below the national average we were, but that wasn’t the most surprising thing I saw in the numbers below.

Our_Energy_Consumption

The surprising thing was the per-kwh cost. Nine cents!

What does that mean? It takes an old fashioned incandescent 60 watt bulb over sixteen hours to use one kilowatt-hour, almost 67 hours with a compact fluorescent. So if you go off to school or work and leave a light on all day you spend a nickel if you’re old school and not even a full penny if you’re newfangled. Worst case, do it for a month old-school and you’ve cost yourself one sixteen ounce soft drink.

According to the US Energy Information Administration, it takes about a pound of coal to generate one kilowatt-hour of electric power. So electricity (conveniently delivered right to my home, 60 watts, 8 hours a day for a month) and root beer (at a local convenience store, chilled, bottled, 16 oz) cost about the same.

Weird, huh?

Don’t Verb Diet

weight

There’s this great little Calvin and Hobbs cartoon in which Calvin explains the method of verbing a word. Verb is a noun. Verbing is turning a noun into a verb, so verbing verbs verb. (Calvin does it better. Look it up.)

Anyway, I promised a post about verbing the word diet and here it is, inspired by running into someone who hadn’t seen me in a while, the conversation going immediately to my weight loss and to dieting (verb).

The graph above shows my weight over the last year and a half or so. My doctor and I had watched my weight increase through my forties, when, as we believe, we just always get fatter. Actually, my weight had been steadily increasing all my life, excepting a few very unhealthy periods that don’t count. I had told myself that I was just a big guy; fatness was unavoidable for me. But I also told myself that if I ever actually arrived at 250 I’d have to make some major changes. I arrive there in the Spring of 2012, and told my doctor I was going to make some major changes. He looks at me very skeptically, worried that I was talking about dieting (verb).

It didn’t take me long to put his mind at ease because I had no intent of dieting. Instead, I planned to change my diet (noun). The distinction between diet (noun) and diet (verb) is lifestyle. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, diet (noun) is “food and drink regularly provided or consumed, [or] habitual nourishment”. This should be our limit of the meaning. But the definition goes on to include “the kind and amount of food prescribed for a person or animal for a special reason”. This definition is getting risky, implying some of the unhealthy imbalances people tend toward. Then, finally, the dictionary throws in “a regimen of eating and drinking sparingly so as to reduce one’s weight,” which means: “going on a diet.” Dieting (verb). This last definition is almost always dangerous and leads to limited success. The dictionary obviously doesn’t make moral judgements, just reflects how we use words, much to the dismay of some purests.

Through my recovery from obesity I ate at the following establishment: McDonalds, Burger King, Taco Bueno, Whole Hog Café, Golden Corral, CiCi’s, Oriental Express, Subway. Basically, if it’s out there, I eat it. At a fish fry I eat fried fish, and hushpuppies of course. Little bit of slaw, but who wants to fill up on cabbage when hushpuppies are around? (I do love me some hushpuppies.) And Denny’s! Denny’s does pancake hushpuppies, which I highly commend! For breakfast I almost always have eggs and bread, sometimes fried in butter with ham and cheese, a breakfast favorite of mine. But how did I manage to lose 75 pounds eating all that?

That question nudges me toward a diatribe about unholy living, but I’ll save that for another post.

My method has had four components. First, I completely gave up soft drinks and candy. What I had learned from my research for I Town about the differences between calories and carbs told me that that stuff was packing on unnecessary extra weight, not the unrelated fact that I was getting older. I started exercising, biking at first because it’s easier on the knees, then running, since my daughter and wife had proved that it could be done. Third, was another bit of dietary wisdom I learned from my wife: the value of snacking. Not letting myself get very hungry. Here is where dieting almost always brings people to failure. Failing to eat  a balanced diet always leaves us in need of nutrition. We may not necessarily feel empty, but our bodies aren’t getting everything they need. Want ensues. Want for protein, or want for carbs, or for fat, or for whatever dietary shortcut the dieting is forcing upon us. For me snacking was Cheezits and almonds. Just a few. Half a dozen or eight in the middle of the morning and afternoon. Cheezits and almonds probably have about the best balance of protein, carb and fat of any of the quick and easy snacks. And finally, and I think most importantly, I drastically changed the ratio of main course to raw veggies in my diet (noun).

dinners Here’s what it looks like. Upper right is my old diet, lower left is my new diet. Main courses are reduced from the size of my face, jowls and all, to the size of my fist. Volume in high fat is replaced with high fiber raw veggies. The picture doesn’t show the dressing, egg, and bit of cheese I usually have on my salad. Less with a fatter main course, more with leaner. And none of that fat free crap either. I’m highly suspicious of that stuff, and apparently it doesn’t matter. Maybe I’d have to do that if I wanted to get ripped, Speedo ready, all that. But that’s not what it’s about. It’s about being healthy and happy. Happy with my body and how I look.

With the reduction of my waist size from 44 to 32 and my resting pulse from 98 to 49, my cholesterol and all those other health indicators had dropped or risen to almost perfectly in the middle of the healthy range.

So my advice is this: Don’t diet (verb). Get a healthy diet (noun).

The Juice

At first I thought we were environmental superheroes.

One thing I had to put in perspective when I wrote I Town was energy usage. According to good ole Wikipedia the US uses 3.7 trillion kilowatt-hours of electricity per year and has a population of just under 313 million. That’s about 11,820 kilowatt-hours that each of us use. (We’re 12th in the world, by the way.) My home consumed 14,360 kilowatt-hours of electricity and 1,470 cubic feet of natural gas in one year. To figure our annual kwh equivalent I had to convert the natural gas usage in kilowatt-hours, which is a factor of about 0.8, one ccf of gas is equal to about 0.8 kilowatt-hours of electricity. So that’s about 1,180 kwh in gas. Altogether a house of five people used 15,540 kilowatt-hours in twelve months, or about 3,110 kwh per person. Just over a third of the national average.

WOW!

I was proud of us. We were really keeping our consumption down! We actually have a pretty big house compared to the one I grew up in, 2800 square feet, but we keep the thermostat on very conservative settings: 79 in the summer and 65 in the winter.

Almost a third , though. Really?

No. Not really. There are lots of other factors to consider in our individual energy consumption. For example, I run. Most of the time I run late in the evening or early in the morning because I have other things to do during the day. The trail I run on is lit all night long so I can run on it anytime. Very convenient! (I do love the Fayetteville trail system, especially after running in other towns.) Now I could figure the amount of time it takes me to run the distance from one light to the next to figure the amount of electricity I need while I’m running. Or I could use my average running time and how many bulbs light the length of the trail where I run to get a little broader view of my electricity consumption on the trails. But all those bulbs are using electricity all night long whether I’m running or sleeping. They’re on for whoever to use whenever they choose. So, to be fair and accurate, I should take the total energy consumption of the trail lights and divide it by the total population of Fayetteville. Then there are all the streetlights burning all night. And all the traffic signals running all day long, using convenient electrically powered sensors so we don’t have those crazy old timers that were absolutely maddening. There are all the city government buildings. And schools. And that’s just local power usage.

What about the state?

The nation?

What about the usage of all the stores I visit? I can’t very well turn the lights off when I leave.

Basically, what I’ve discovered is that for every kilowatt-hour I use at home, the society I live in uses two on my behalf.

Watt’s a Calorie?

Abbott and Costello did a “What’s a volt” bit like their “Who’s on first” routine. It was shorter. Lou asks, “What’s a volt?” and Bud, too involved with the conversations of adults in the room, nods and says, “Yeah,” hearing watts instead of what’s. Lou could have asked “What’s a Calorie?” and Bud could have given the same nodding affirmation and sent his partner into the same fuming rage. Technically, a watt is a measure of power and a calorie (lower case) is a measure of energy. Time is the primary difference between the two. Search watts to calories and you find lots of conversion calculators, and unless you’re smarter than I am, they’ll leave you slapping yourself just like Bud’s answer did for poor Lou. Plus, a Calorie (upper case) is a thousand lower case calories–thank you, scientists, for further confusing a already bewildering issue! Before I finished my research for I Town I thought a calorie was a number that related a food to weight gainThe Calories in the food we eat are much less mysterious to me now, and much more meaningful.

200caloriesLook at the nutritional info on any packaged food. Multiply the grams of protein and carbohydrates by four. Multiply the grams of fat by nine. Add the result and you’ll have the total number of calories. Knowing the total calorie content of a food tells you almost nothing about what your body will do with the food. Proteins, fats and carbs are different kinds of molecules and serve different functions in the body, just like trees, petroleum, and sunlight are possible sources of energy. But we consume them differently and can do different things with them. We make houses out of trees. We propel cars with petroleum, but we can also run our cars with trees if we burn them to turn water into steam. We can turn petroleum into plastic and make construction material out of it. It’s a lot simpler to build with wood and use petroleum for fuel, at least with our current resources and facilities and for the purpose of the point I’m making. Our bodies are very similar.

If you’ve ever counted calories you’ve done the equivalent of trying to add 2x4s and gallons of gasoline into a single total. If you need to get to work and only have lumber, good luck getting your minivan to eat it. If a storm is coming, five gallons of gas won’t do nearly as much to protect you as four solid walls. (Don’t bring up asphalt shingles here. It’s my blog and my metaphor, and I set its limits.)

If you’re watching what you’re eating and trying to control your weight, you need to make sure you’re giving your body the balance it needs. If you’re exercising but not providing your body with more carb (fuel) than protein (machinery) calories, you won’t be able to build muscle. It’s like providing your construction crew with all the diesel but no equipment. Muscle will help burn more calories in the future. (A future post will discuss why we’re more apt to continue rather than change a current weight trend.)  Cutting back on carbs puts your body in a state of burning its building materials. Fat calories are great energy sources and provide essential metabolic functions carb and proteins calories can’t and won’t accomplish.

There are several web sources that help explain this in better and simpler terms than I can. My favorite is freediet.com. Info about the different type of calories is explained at nutristrategy.com.  Nutritiondata.self.com offers a great graphic view of nutritional contents of foods. I hope this helps enlighten your diet. It certainly helped me improve my eating habits.

Coming soon in this category: “Don’t verb diet.” If you’re up on your Calvin and Hobbs you get that one.