Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Pack It Up, Pack It In

I am lazy. Every night I make grand plans about packing my lunch, doing something that is healthy and cost effective. And every morning I rush out of the house with my laptop bag, purse, diaper bag, make-up bag and other assorted crap flung over my shoulder. If I even remember to bring something from home it is a container of yogurt or a container of cottage cheese or maybe a banana...all of which end up crushed at the bottom of one of my bags and not capable of being used for any nutritional gain.

Fast food is fast and deadly, sandwiches are oversized and overpriced, and coffee is not a food, so what's a girl to do? I saw an ad in a magazine recently that showed that Lean Cuisine is selling very cool lunch bags starting in September and a portion of the proceeds will go to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. You can only order them online, which is fine for the tech savvy, but a disappointment for the rest of the world. (

And then there was Fit & Fresh, a Providence based copany that makes fun, useful products for storing and toting food from home. In an article in the Connecticut Post in June, one writer even talks about how she saved money AND lost weight by packing smart.

The products are smart - a storage container for soup on top and salad on bottom; a chilled drink cup with a compartment for powdered mix on the bottom; a fruit and veggie container with a little center cup for dip. (Go to to learn more.)

The products are clever, convenient and clearly portable. So, who is going to come to my house and pack up the fridge for me? I'm still lazy. It's not perfect, but it's certainly a start.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Let Them Eat Cake!

Have you ever heard Bill Cosby do his bit about cake? His wife makes him get up one morning to feed the children breakfast and he decides to give them chocolate cake. Cake has eggs, and eggs are good. Cake has milk, and milk is good. Cake has wheat, and wheat is good. Cake, therefore, is good!

The picture above was taken right before the cake was served at Sydney's christening party. I told the kids that they had to go outside if they wanted cake and there was a rush for the door as if someone had shouted "Fire!" in a crowded theater.

What is it about cake? No one moved that fast for the hummus or the taboule or the fresh veggies. No one even looked up when I said that the fruit was served. But whisper the word dessert and you have madness.

I don't mind that my son loves cake. His grandmother bakes the kind of cake that makes the angels sing. You want to spend quality time with it - you want to wear pants with an elastic waistband and bring a tall glass of cold milk. It's for special occassions that Julie breaks out the pans and goes to town on a masterpiece, a work of edible art, as it were. Ben has already made his request for his birthday cake in January and we are already excited at the thought of it.

It's okay to celebrate - it's okay to eat cake. Nobody became obese from one piece of cake. The trick is the one piece. A normal sized piece of cake can be tricky. Eating a balanced meal before the cake is important. You want to save room for cake but just enough room - not too much room. And you must not eat cake and then lie down. Once the sugar hit the kids they ran and jumped and yelled until they crashed. They worked OFF the cake. By the end of the day, it was gone - burned off and burned up. Kids can do that without too much effort. They don't have to schedule an extra hour at the gym or walk ten miles. Maybe that's the secret...a game of freeze tag, racing to the front door, jumping on the furniture and dancing wildly to the music. There is a line that says "Nothing tastes as good as thin feels." The person who coined that phrase clearly never had Julie's cake.

Monday, August 28, 2006

School wellness policies improve nutrition, reduce vending

8/28/2006- The implementation of new nutrition policies throughout the nation’s schools this academic year has already resulted in schools undertaking significant efforts to provide children with healthier foods and beverages, according to a new report.
These include changes to school breakfasts and lunches, as well as more nutritious a la carte and vending options, according to the School Nutrition Association’s (SNA) 2006 Back to School Trends survey.

The survey, which comes the month after school districts were set to pass local wellness policies, reveals that around 87 percent of districts have passed these, with an additional 9 percent reporting that they are currently in the process of developing school nutrition policies.
Under terms of the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act, by July 1, 2006 every school that participates in the school lunch or school breakfast program- the large majority of US schools- must have had a local wellness policy in place.

The policy, designed to address the problem of childhood obesity, requires that schools set nutrition standards for all foods sold in school, including in vending machines, a la carte lines, and school stores.

Although the wellness policy is not federally regulated and is likely to differ form school to school, it contributes to addressing a loophole that allows the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to set standards for foods sold in the lunchroom, but forbids it from setting standards for foods sold elsewhere on campus.

And according to SNA, the wellness policies are having the desired effect.

Conducted at the association’s annual conference in July and released last week, the new report reveals that the most widespread change in schools’ practices – implemented in three quarters of school districts- involves increasing the availability of healthier beverages in vending machines.

Other policies in place among a majority of districts include limiting the fat content of a la carte or vending items (implemented in 67 percent of districts), limiting the hours of operation or availability of vending machines (64 percent), and offering vegetarian options (43 percent).

In addition, the percentage of school districts that reported having a policy that removes carbonated beverages from vending machines is up to 38 percent, from 18 percent last year.
Changes to school lunches include increased offerings of fruits, vegetables and whole grain foods, providing more baked foods instead of deep-fried foods, and placing limits on the fat, sugar and caloric content of foods served.

School districts also reported a greater focus on wellness issues, including nutritional information, student education and more ‘marketing’ of healthier choices.

The survey also revealed that participation in school lunch and breakfast programs increased in about 63 percent of districts, resulting in student spending in vending machines being down from 2005.

By Lorraine Heller

Comments From A Friend

I got an email with some thought provoking comments that were posted to one of my entries last week. I want to share this with others to see what you think.


There are so many different angles to obesity in children and adults and it seems almost always to start in childhood. I read reports and I always get stuck on the social aspects of an issue and where does change begin. I feel like people who exert power and control over us play such a huge role in our physical, mental, and emotional makeup. Children need to be taught that they are in control of the decisions that they make. Children need to be taught that they have choices. For children who lack love and support food can become a means of escape, a means of warmth, and a means of companionship. Like a warm blanket. For parents who are poor and uneducated, the focus is on food, clothing and shelter (maslow's hierarchy of needs). It doesn't matter if the food is healthy, it just has to be cheap and readily available. Where do you start the intervention process? The cycle now has become overweight children become overweight adults and go on to have overweight children. What overweight parent wants to be alone in their misery? (like the bully on the playground who is really asking for help.) As an adult the process to lose weight is overwhelming.

So, before I gave birth I thought parenting started in the home....but then I realized after having David that unless I got out of my house, I was completely alone. And then it occurred to me...I gave birth in the community(hospital) and every week I am taking my baby to the pediatrician's office. Why then is there not info, pamphlets, groups, meetings, etc. readily available in the doctor's office during prenatal care checkups, post natal care checkups, well baby checkups as well as the maternity unit in the hospital. What the hell is wrong with the process of having a baby. I feel that women need to scream to be heard and We have a right to be provided info on nutrition, exercise, emotional health, single parenting, parenting as a couple, etc. You get packets of info on the birthing process, we take childbirth classes, breastfeeding classes, infant massage classes. Then we go home and we are alone and gorge on quick unhealthy foods or not eat at all because we are so stressed out. And contrary to people's beliefs, not eating does not help people lose weight. It trains the body to hold on to fat, because the body doesn't know when to next meal is coming.

So, a captive audience for family nutrition health...I during prenatal care visits and well baby checkups. Just like there are sign up sheets for getting coupons for diapers and formula, there could be sign up forms for Shape Up RI. Some kind of road map to what is readily available and easily accessible after being released from the physical bonds of pregnancy. The parents as teachers program was excellent in teaching me proper nutrition for infants and toddlers. However, unless I went to the library specifically looking for "help" I would never have found this program or any others. I wasn't introduced to a nutrition therapist until days into my post partum depression "vacation". Even that program I had to find by myself! Why can't every women in the hospital be visited by a nutritionist or have a workshop during their prenatal care? My pessimistic side believes that in our society unless you are "sick" care is not provided. If the bottom line is not profit, businesses including hospitals are not interested.

Rosemary Gracia

Party Girl

This weekend was my daughter's christening. We had immediate family and a few friends here at the house for a party after the church. From the second people walked in the door to the moment we went to bed there was food involved. For the most part, there were reasonably healthy selections to choose from but it was the sheer amount of food that was overwhelming. We didn't even serve everything we had bought and we gave leftovers to everyone we could grab on their way out the door. The fridge is still stuffed and the counter is covered with plates of desserts and bags of bread that were untouched. This will be the week of leftovers for sure.

After the party ended it was pajamas and Emmy awards. Watching all of the pretty actors dressed up is always entertaining. Rating everyone's appearance from the confines of our couch is the most fun. There were a couple of people who I think need to sit down to a nice meal but mostly everyone looked pretty healthy.

My mom and I lasted the longest, staying up until the bitter end. We sat through the commercials since we were watching the show live and couldn't take advantage of the power of the Fast Forward button. And that was when I saw it. A McDonald's commercial with children in it - children with red balloons. One child does not have a balloon and starts wailing...until the mother hands him a big container of McDonald's french fries. The child immediately stops crying and the next thing you know all of the balloons are released to the sky as the kids make a break for the fries. Yeah - that's a valuable lesson for parents AND children.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

What is it worth to you?

This is from the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity:
Negative attitudes towards obese children develop early hence they become frequent targets of social stigma. Children as young as three years old associate overweight children with the characteristics of being mean, stupid, ugly, unhappy, lazy, and having few friends. Overweight and obese children are frequently targets of weight-related teasing, jokes, and derogatory names. Peers are common perpetrators of harmful comments, and very often school is the most frequent venue where stigma occurs.

The impact of stigma on a child’s emotional well-being is significant. Not only do obese children feel badly about themselves, but the more they feel they are to blame for their obesity, the worse they feel overall. Research shows that obese children attribute their weight as the reason for having few friends and being excluded from social activities, and that they believe harassment from peers would stop if they could lose weight. This suggests that obese children blame themselves for the negative social experiences that they confront. Research on overweight adolescents shows that teasing about body weight is related to low self-esteem and depression, and that overweight teens are more likely to be socially isolated. Most alarming are the increased reports of obese youth who are committing suicide. This is supported by recent studies demonstrating a positive association between obesity and suicidal attempts among youth.

Remember that when your kids see advertisements and prizes associated with food, they remember it. They want it. And we want to please them - sometimes, just shut them up. We give in to make them happy, which makes us happy. (I'm not happy anymore.)

Sooooo, I ask you - WHAT IS IT WORTH TO YOU? Is it worth more than a cup of coffee but less than dinner at the Capital Grille? How about the equivalent of a Happy Meal? (And after reading this - you know it isn't the kids that are happy in the long run...only the franchise.) What if I asked you for a week's worth of coffees? Can you spend $10 to save our children? Will you?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Nobody Likes a Fatty?

Oh my! This is the email subject line that someone I know used to grab attention on his messages soliciting funds for our walk in September. People who opened it generally assumed it was going to be some sort of joke but upon reading the message felt compelled to donate money. Or maybe it was guilt.

Is it a good thing to catch attention in this way? Do visual aids like pictures of morbidly obese children and adults drive us to action? Or does is drive us to the delete button because it is too graphic, too awkward, too sad.

I wonder if obesity has taken the albatross off of the shoulders of causes like AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases, or alcoholism. While we all agree that there is an epidemic and something MUST be done, secretly many of us think that this is a preventable, treatable condition. Cancer tugs at the heart strings and it's "nobody's fault" - but this...well, maybe that's a different story.

The truth is that in most cases obesity is treatable. And when education happens, it can be avoidable. There is no guarantee of this, of course, because other factors like heredity, genetics, environment, economics, and health all play a big role too.

Just because we are an educated society, doesn't necessarily make us smarter. Yesterday I figured out that my 'better than regular water, better for you than soda and sports drinks drink' was adding 125 calories to my day if I just drank one bottle...and I almost always drink two. So today I vowed to drink plain old water and seltzer. The information was right in front of me and I still missed it. Even when we think we are doing the right thing or the best thing we can make mistakes. Community support, collaboration, and education are all required to succeed in the battle against obesity. There's no room for blame, or guilt or shame. There is only always room for improvement...

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Late Night Musings

I don't have a problem with food. Not at all - I love it and I eat it all day long. I graze from the moment I awaken to the moment my head hits the pillow. I do it idly, while surfing the web, and I do it with vigor, head down, fork never resting.

My sister and my dad are phenomenal cooks. They subscribe to all sorts of cooking magazines and swap recipes, successes and failures, and take classes a the Culinary Institue in NYC. On the other hand, my mother and I are quite satisfied with a South Beach Diet snack bar, a tv dinner or a bowl of cereal. I hate making a mess of the kitchen for just the four of us. It's not that I can't cook - but rather, I prefer not to. I don't mind grilling or broiling...I am comfortable blasting the life out of food, but I am just as comfortable making a pb&j and sitting down to read the paper.

My mom and I joke that she and I eat to live, where my dad and my sister live to eat. There is a difference, though struggling with weight issues is not predetermined or universal to either group. We are all caught in the metabolic crossfire that causes our stomachs to protrude in a 12 weeks pregnant kind of way, our thighs and hips to spread, and our boobs to sag. (Maybe that one isn't so much about weight!)

For my birthday this year, I just want a big bowl of motivation. Motivation to improve not just what I eat, but how much I eat of it. Motivation to sit in front of the tv and do one of my many, many exercise cds. Motivation to get my ass in gear and go for a very long walk.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Honey, We're Killing the Kids!

I feel like I have access to all sorts of secret information. That isn't the case, of course, but what the average person doesn't know could actually kill them.

For example, in addition to increasing the risk of obesity in adulthood, childhood obesity is the leading cause of pediatric hypertension, is associated with Type II diabetes mellitus, increases the risk of coronary heart disease, increases stress on the weight-bearing joints, lowers self-esteem, and affects relationships with peers. Some feel that social and psychological problems are the most significant consequences of obesity in children. You certainly won't find that kind of information on the food labels in your cupboard.

Gratefully, programs like TLC's 'Honey, We're Killing the Kids', and movies like Morgan Spurlock's 'Super Size Me' have aimed the spotlight on this crisis.

Don't get me wrong - you'll still catch me eating cotton candy at the Annual Fourth of July Carnival in Bristol. And Ben will still have his 3 Munchkins when Mommy is picking up her weekly caffeine injection. BUT, these things are on top of a well rounded, healthy diet - not in place of one.

So which comes first, good nutrition or actual physical activity? Do you have to do both - can't you just pick one? I mean, who has enough time to get it all right?

Howie Mandel once said, "I've decided to get into shape. The shape I've chosen is a triangle." All I know is that the shape I am not going for is zeppelin - or is it zeppoli? No matter - they're both bad!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Shape Up or Ship Out

Our society is getting bigger and bigger. Ironically, while most of us are getting bigger, many clothing retailers are making their sizes smaller. When did it become cool to be a zero?

So, I have started my new job. I am the Executive Director of a non-profit committed to ending obesity in Rhode Island. Sadly, I think I will have a job for a long, long time. And until I can get rid of the excess baby weight that I gained, I feel like I am not just the ED, but I should also be a client!

Sitting in the park the other day, I was saddened by the many terribly overweight people I saw. I was happy that they were getting out (many are probably far more active than I am) but curious about what had led them to this place - heredity, genetics, environment, metabolism, economics, ignorance, medical conditions?

I wonder whether or not obesity is in the place that alcoholism or AIDS was years ago. Is it harder to draw attention to or sympathy for something that is perceived to be avoidable, preventable or easily treatable? Is it agony for a parent to admit that their children are overweight or obese without taking on some responsibility or enormous guilt? Can we avoid blame and work towards a solution? I believe that we can.

In the US, 1 in 5 children is obese and 1 in 3 is overweight or at risk for obesity. Forget the purely medical impact that can have on their lives: a future riddled with conditions like diabetes, hypertension and chronic aches and pains. The stigma of being heavy, the inability to be active or fit into the trendier clothes, the emotional and psychological impact is unbearable to consider. Legislation is finally happening all over the country to bring back good old gym and to ban sugary beverages and crappy snacks from school vending machines. But is it enough? I don't think so. Not by a long shot...