Archive for June 28, 2012

Mad about lunch

Now that I’m not eating in front of the TV and the computer screen anymore, I’m more aware of how satisfying—physically and emotionally—it can be to sit and enjoy a meal without all those distractions.

And realizing this has made me also wonder about how we eat lunch in America.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but my sense is that most people squeeze in lunch between other obligations—be they about work or family. I imagine that it’s not unusual for most Americans to eat either fast food or a frozen “dinner” for lunch. And I bet most of us do it either while working—often at a computer—or tending to children.

Which makes me also wonder if we would be healthier if we took the time to sit down and enjoy a real meal at lunch instead of rushing through it like something that’s a chore.

Fifty years ago, most working people got paid one-hour lunch breaks during their eight-hour workdays. But these days that kind of luxury is pretty rare. Instead, people with nine-to-five jobs often feel like they HAVE to eat at their desk—while working—instead of taking time off to leave their cubicle or office to do it.

Another thing that was different fifty years ago was that the obesity rate wasn’t nearly as high among Americans as it is now.

Is it possible these two things are related?

If Americans took more time to eat a slow, leisurely lunch away from the stresses of daily life, would we all be healthier? And thinner?

We already know this is true of dinner. Americans have gotten bigger over the past twenty years becuase they’re too tired to cook dinner and it’s too easy to pick up fast food or Chinese carryout or order pizza delivery.

But we haven’t really talked that much about lunch and the fact that one thing we’ve lost in our society over the past half a century is the institutionalized lunch break. The more I think about it, the more confident I feel that if we brought back the paid one-hour lunch break, we’d all be healthier and happier. And maybe we’d have more energy at the end of the day to cook a real meal when we got home.

Back in my day . . . actresses had curly hair and a little meat on their bones.

Elizabeth Shue has a new movie coming out. Dave and I caught the preview at the multiplex over the weekend, and it made us start talking about all the great movies she was in when we were young . . .

 . . . Adventures in BabysittingRadio Inside, Leaving Las Vegas, and, of course, her breakout film, The Karate Kid.

Dave and I have both loved Shue ever since she was in The Karate Kid (the 1984 original), and one of the reasons we both liked her in that movie was because she looked like a real person.

In that movie, Shue had actual curves and curly hair and chipmunk cheeks and thick eyebrows. And she didn’t wear clothes that left nothing to the imagination or so much makeup that you couldn’t see her gorgeous freckles.

I’m not saying Shue wasn’t in tip-top shape because she was, which is obvious when she appears in her bathing suit during a scene at the beach, though it’s notable that it was a one-piece.

But I am saying you would never see someone who looked like such a down-to-earth girl-next-door in a film about two high schoolers today.

Instead, nearly every young woman—save some of the women on TV’s groundbreaking Glee—you do see playing a high schooler in film or television today has stick straight hair, a super skinny bod, a tiny nose, sculpted cheeks, shaped brows, plump lips, and movie star makeup.

And if we ever want to change our unhealthy obsession with thinness and perfection—especially among young girls—then we’ve got to go back to letting our female actors look like real people.

What’s your rush? Taking the long view with health
and weight loss.

oprah The High Risk of Weight Cycling and Yo yo DietingI talked to a friend tonight—Nancy—who told me that she was upset she hadn’t “lost more inches” since she’s been working out and trying to eat healthier.

Nancy isn’t dieting, but she is trying to be a healthier person.

She never used to exercise at all and now gets in three 45-minute cardio sessions a week. And although she’s not dieting, she is paying attention to what she conumes by keeping track of how much water she drinks and how many fruits and vegetables she eats in a day.

“How many inches have you lost?” I asked Nancy today.

“Two,” she said in a plaintive tone. “I’ve only lost two inches in nine weeks.”

“Two is pretty good,” I said. “Besides how long do you think it took you gain those two inches?”

“I don’t know,” Nancy said. “A year?”

Thankfully Nancy got the piont pretty quickly. We all believe we can lose weight  fast–in a week, a month, or slightly more. It’s a rare occasion when someone says, “I’m going to give myself ten years to lose this weight because that’s how long it took me to gain it.”

But we should be saying things like that because most people don’t gain weight all at once. They gain five pounds one year, three pounds the next, etc. etc. And then—all of a sudden—they’ve put on thirty pounds.

Which they actually think they can lose before their cousin’s wedding at the end of the summer.

But it doesn’t work that way. Sure, you can lose thirty pounds in two months if you set your mind to it. But 90% of you will gain those thirty pounds—and more—back within five years. (For evidence of this in the celebrity world, see Oprah, see Jonah Hill, see Carnie Wilson.) This is common. They even have a name for it: yo-yo dieting.

So why not take the long view? Figure out how long you spent gaining weight and give yourself an equal amount of time to lose it.

I promise that even if you just drop a pound or two a year, you and your health care providers will be happy.

Why are we so good at feeling bad?

I had a fitness evaluation tonight and found out that my waist and hips have gotten a little bigger, my calves have gotten smaller, and my body fat has dropped.

When the evaluation was finished, my instructor said, “Don’t be bummed about this,” and I immediately interrupted her and said, “Oh, I won’t. This doesn’t affect me or my identity.”

Though that’s true, I wish I had let her keep talking, so I could have found out what she was going to say next. Perhaps she would have imparted some even greater wisdom.

Still, what she did say—”Don’t be bummed about this”—is invaluable advice for all of us. We can’t let random setbacks harm our psyche because doing so means that we do ourselves double the harm.

I was talking to my friend Christina recently who said she felt guilty about something nice her husband had done for her when she was having a bad day. I said, “Are you crazy? You feel guilty because you have a husband who loves you? Because you’re in a healthy relationship and are such a good wife that he wants to be good to you too? That doesn’t make sense.”

Of course, Christina knew I was right, but that didn’t really make her feel any better.

It reminds me of times when I feel guilty about eating something unhealthy. I know I shouldn’t feel guilty. I know it’s okay to indulge sometimes, but I still have trouble letting go of that guilt. Why is that?

It’s because, as women, we are taught all of our lives to feel guilty about so many things—to feel guilty about eating too much food for starters. On top of that, many of us were taught to feel guilty about having sex. And for years, women were taught to feel guilty about having our own thoughts or our own careers.

Because of this, it’s no wonder we have trouble letting go of those bad feelings and just accepting ourselves as the beautiful and imperfect creatures we are.

But I really wish we would.

Bonding at boot camp

It occurred to me this week that participating in my local boot camp does more for me than make me healthier; it also makes me happier.

And I don’t just mean it makes me happier because I feel better physically.

I mean it makes me happier because of the time I get to spend with the other people at boot camp.

When I started boot camp back in January, I didn’t know anyone but the instructor. But six months later I know most of the bootcamp regulars by name and am friends with about half of them on Facebook.

As corny as it sounds, I love getting a break from reality three times a week to see these people, to trade stories with them, and to complain about boot camp under our breath. (Would it be any fun if we didn’t complain?)

Research has shown for years that working out with a buddy or in a group is one of the best ways to stay motivated and keep exercising.

In that sense, joining your local boot camp—or any other group exercise program—is a great opportunity to stay motivated and feel like you are part of a community.

It’s also a perfect way to blow off some steam and vent with the other bootcampers about the people who drive us crazy, especially because, when we’re doing any kickboxing, my bootcamp instructor often tells us to imagine a person who has recently pissed us off.

And that is probably the best motivation of all.

Breaking the boob tube habit

After we got home from the first half of our cross-country trip, I decided to make a change in the way we eat.

For years, my husband and I have been the kind of people who eat most of our meals in front of the TV or in front of the computer. Since we walk every morning together and talk almost the whole time, we don’t feel obligated to chat over dinner at night. And when we were still in grad school, we often ate in front of the TV because it was one of the only times each day we would allow ourselves to watch television instead of studying. In that sense, TV and eating was a break from reality.

Even now—seven years after grad school—I still feel like eating is a waste of time when school is in session (and I’m working almost twelve hours a day at least six days a week). So I often try to multi-task and either:

1) eat while I’m working in front of the computer


2) take a thirty-minute break from work to watch something we’ve taped on the DVR—usually The Daily Show or Parks and Recreation—while we eat.

But when we were on our road trip, we ate many meals out in restaurants and the ones we did cook for ourselves were eaten at our California rental, which didn’t have a television. As a result, we got in the habit of eating without watching a screen of any kind.

I probably don’t have to tell you that the result was cathartic.

We ate much less, really tasted our food, and enjoyed our meals more. From that point, it was easy to decide we would be healthier if we continued eating without distractions when we got home.

I’m not saying anything you don’t already know. We all know that we eat more when we have a television or computer screen in front of us and that eating in front of the TV is directly related to weight problems.

But what I am saying is that it’s going to be really hard for me to make this change. I’m so used to watching TV, working on the computer, or even just reading a book while I’m eating that I’m not used to the quiet contemplation that occurs when you eat without entertainment.

In other words, I’m scared I won’t be able to do it.

They say it takes thirty days to form a habit, so in one month I’ll report back on our success or lack thereof.

Fingers crossed that we can do it.

Appreciation sandwich for Mindy Kaling

Can I just say how much I love Mindy Kaling?

Girfriend is the whole package—real body, fabulous sense of humor, and obvious brains. She also has the ability to laugh at herself and not take herself too seriously, which I appreciate more than I can say.

I’m also glad that Kaling—like Baby in Dirty Dancing—refuses to be put in the corner. In the whitewashed world that is American television, Kaling isn’t afraid to say, “I belong here. I’m just as funny and interesting and talented as you are. Put me on center stage.”

I love that too.

If we all took a page from Kaling’s playbook—and didn’t let other people tell us that we’re too curvy or too real or too different—we’d all be much happier.

The good news is I’m not the only one who values Kaling, so she’ll be getting her own show on Fox next fall.

If you’re looking for some fun and insightful commentary from the kind of woman we need more of in Hollywood, be sure to follow Kaling on Twitter, watch her show in the fall, and read her book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?

This is important because if we want to see more real women like Kaling on our screens, we need to keep supporting women like her.

Travel post #7: Pack for the trip you’ll have

This is the seventh in my series of short travel posts from the road as my husband and I drive from one side of the country to the other. See highlights from our trip here: Across the Great Divide.


We just finished a cross-country trip that took nineteen days, covered almost 6000 miles, allowed me to visit more than a dozen sights, and required me to change my clothes about forty times.

The only problem is that I packed all wrong.

I packed enough clothes for three weeks and two climates, but only wore a half of what I brought with me.

I packed fourteen nice tops and only wore six. And I only ever put on two of the six scarves I had in my suitcase. On the other hand, I wore all four of the t-shirts I brought with me more than once.

Similarly, I packed five skirts and only wore one. But I wore nearly all of the jeans and sweatpants I packed.

It shouldn’t surprise you then when I tell you that I packed two dresses and wore neither. But I also brought two sets of pjs and wore them until they were dirty enough to throw in the trash (which I didn’t actually do).

After lugging four suitcases from Kentucky to California and back, I can’t help but wonder why I packed so much stuff I didn’t use or need.

I think it’s because when I’m packing for a big trip or vacation, I imagine myself like someone in the movies—walking along the beach in a long flowing dress or having drinks in a tight skirt, flashy top, and heels.

In other words, I imagine myself looking glamorous all the time.

When in reality, I wore shorts every time I visited the beach and jeans every time I ventured out for drinks or dinner. There’s nothing wrong with having a slightly more glamorous sense of how trips like these will go as long as we’re happy with the reality we end up with, and I’m very happy with the reality of our trip. But I do wish I had packed more sensibly and hope I can do so in the future.

But I fear I’ll never change—when I go to Manhattan later this summer, I’m sure I’ll pack for my imaginary Sex in the City walk-on—and picture myself dashing across the Meatpacking District in a pair of Manolo Blahniks and a Michael Kors dress—rather than packing for what will really happen when I spend my days running to catch the subway wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and sneakers—albeit cute ones.

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