Finding balance with food, movement, and community for my (dairy-free) family.


Saturday, May 10, 2014

Become a Competent Eater: Connecting before Eating

A Little Back Story

All through my teens and twenties I struggled with overeating and emotional eating, occasionally interrupted by mostly unsuccessful restrictive dieting attempts.  For a lovely three-year window in my early thirties, I was a very successful intuitive eater.  As an intuitive eater, I

  •  relied on my hunger and satiety cues to determine when and how much to eat, 
  • selected food based on what sounded most satisfying, 
  • and ate with awareness to make sure I was getting maximum satisfaction from what I ate.

Spinach preparation shouldn't cause
 paralyis by overanlysis. 
An injury that disrupted my exercise patterns coincided with other discombobulating life events, leading to a recurrence of depression.  The depression tipped me back into some old emotional overeating patterns.  Rather than persisting in my newer intuitive eating habits, I responded by wandering into controlling, orthorexic thinking and eating patterns.

One day after picking fresh spinach from my garden, I found myself paralyzed by fear:  should I eat it raw in a salad or smoothie and risk the oxalic acid preventing absorption of certain minerals and perhaps contributing to kidney stones? Or, should I cook it to minimize the oxalic acid, but risk destroying the valuable and delicate B vitamins in it?  My total paralysis in the face of this simple question woke me up to how disordered my thinking about food had become.

Trusting My Body

Today, three years later, I'm working to get to a balanced place with food and body image and am committed to finding balance in eating for both me and my family.   At this moment, I'm not sure if that balance is going to look more like  Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch-style intuitive eating or Ellyn Satter-style competent eating.

The good news is that these two approaches share a lot of philosophical ground and part of breaking away from orthorexic tendencies is rejecting black-and-white all-or-nothing thinking, so I can embrace the best of both.

My starting is place is based on two key principles shared by both models:

  • Trust:  I can trust the intricate internal regulatory systems of my body for reliable information about when I'm hungry and when I'm satisfied to determine how much food I should eat.  
  • Tuning in:  Identifying my hunger and satiety signals requires connecting with my body and paying attention to how it is feeling before, during, and after eating.  My body is a reliable source of information--if I tune into it.  

In Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family, Ellyn Satter lays out six steps to recovering the ability to internally regulate food intake.  Her first step is to "center and give permission before eating."   She recommends settling into a chair, taking 5-10 centering breathes, and reminding yourself that you have permission to eat foods you enjoy in amounts you find satisfying.

As I've been sitting with this advice for the past few weeks and working at implementing it, I've been surprised at how hard it is.  Often I'm three quick bites into my meal before I remember.

Slowly, I'm developing my own little ritual to accomplish this goal of getting centered before eating.  The key word for me has become connecting.  

Connecting before Eating

Connecting with my body--Taking deep breaths has been a great way for me to reconnect with my body.  I spend a lot of time lost in my thoughts, disconnected from the sensations of my body and the present moment.   I may be folding laundry, but my mind is busy planning my garden, composing kind (but pointed) responses to stupid things people past on Facebook (I usually come to me senses and refrain from posting them), or fretting about retirement savings.

I employ the same strategies I used during child birth.  Deep breaths in through the nose; focusing on the breath and following where it goes in my body; identifying muscles holding tension and softening around them; then releasing the air and letting tension go with it.

These deep breaths are also the perfect time for me to pause and really think about my stomach (just below my rib cage) and the sensations of hunger in it.

Connecting with God--Saying grace before a meal is such a habit it can become rote.  Pausing to authentically connect with God requires intentional effort.  Taking a moment to imagine where the food came from--the tiny seed full of potential, exposed to moisture and sun, life emerging under God's sovereign supervision.  Knowing in His omniscience that this carrot, tomato, or spaghetti squash would be His gift to me in this moment to nourish and fuel my body because I am His personal concern.  Being filled with gratitude for His care over every detail of my life.

Connecting with the food--As much as I enjoy and look forward to eating, so often when the moment comes I plunge in recklessly and carelessly.  Pausing to really take in the food helps me get grounded and prepare to truly enjoy the food before me.  What colors are there?  What textures?  What taste am I most eager for?  What combinations of food could I load together on my fork to enhance one another?  

Carryover for the Kids

One of my motivations for finding a balanced place with both food and exercise in my own life is that I want to model this balance for my kids so that they can walk in freedom in these areas and resist the cultural lies that pull us to extremes.  At this point, I'm counting on modeling and a trickle down effect rather than direct instruction.

The kids have noticed and asked about my sitting quietly after our family prayer before I begin to eat.  I've kept my answer simple:
  • I'm relaxing for a second so I can focus on enjoying my food.
  • I'm thanking God for all the beautiful colors in this salad.
  • I'm trying to decide which part of dinner I want to try first.  

Based on Satter's recommendation, I'm sticking with just this baby step until I'm remembering to take this moment to connect before eating at least half of the time.  I'm getting close!  Baby steps are good steps.

photo credit: via photopin cc

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Becoming a Competent Eater

The Events Sparking this Post

Recently a number of events have converged to cause me to focus again with more intention on how I am feeding my family.

I have had an ongoing struggle with my body image, a tendency to eat for emotional comfort, and, on the flip side, a tendency to control food and food intake to achieve an ideal diet and change my body.  In trying to get it all figured out, I've tended to idolize food and health and allow it to take up far too much of my mental space.

My daughter(5) has had some ongoing stomach troubles, which caused us to start keeping a food log looking for patterns and connections.  This process sparked her to make some comments that startled and terrified me because they reflected my own disordered and controlling thinking about food.  It also caused that controlling part of me to panic a bit as I saw the pattern of her food intake (so many carbohydrates, as refined as possible).

Ellyn Satter to the Rescue

I am grateful to God that I had recently stumbled across a recommendation for Ellyn Satter's work and had actually checked out one of her books from the library.  It had been sitting on my shelf for weeks (a bad habit of mine is checking out WAY more library books than I actually have time to read).

I am thankful to God that I turned to her sensible, evidence-based work and not the opining of some kooky-health-conscious-mommy-blogger (pause for an irony check).

Since then, I've read most of her books.  There is significant overlap among them as her basic message is very simple.  For my place in life, my favorite is Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family.

The key to all of her work is the division of responsibility in feeding.  The bottom line is that as a parent, I am in charge of the what, when, and where of feeding and the child is in charge of the how much and whether of eating.

The goal is to raise children who are competent eaters.

She cautions readers against plunging into a radical food makeover.  (Thank you, Ellyn Satter, with my tendency toward black-and-white thinking, I was gearing up to do just that.)

Satter also emphasizes repeatedly that, ultimately, our children will eat the way that we as parents do.  Therefore, before plunging into helping my kids become competent eaters, I've got to become one myself.

My Next Step

Part of being a competent eater is relying on internal regulation to dictate food intake.  That is--trusting my body, tuning into its preferences, its hunger, and its satiety signals.  In a culture flooded with messages about food and body, it's tough to tune out the externals and focus on the internal.  However, I trust God that He designed my body to do this and, in His strength, I can tune into those internal cues.

More to come about the what those steps to internal regulation look like for me . . .

Any other fans of Ellyn Satter out there?  How has her advice played out in your family?

Monday, January 21, 2013

Easy Homemade Super Cleaner

It's citrus season!  Grab your orange peels and some white vinegar and make this easy homemade super cleaner.  I love that it's cheap, easy, highly effective, and puts to good use something that would otherwise be thrown away.

It feels very much like something Caroline Ingalls would do.
Easy Homemade Super Cleaner

Orange peels
white vinegar

Fill a glass jar about half full with white vinegar.  As you eat your oranges, add the peels to the vinegar so that peels are submerged.  If needed, top the jar off with vinegar as it gets full.  Let the peels marinate for several weeks (or months--whatever).  Strain out the orange peels and use the remaining orange-infused vinegar as an all-natural cleaner.  

It's quite strong, so it may be diluted with water for general cleaning or used full strength for tough jobs.  My favorite use for it:  cleaning the textured floors of my fiberglass tub and shower enclosures.  This handy stuff is the first natural, non-toxic solution I've found to getting my fiberglass shower floor really clean.  .

Thursday, December 13, 2012

My Favorite Bread: Artisan Almost No-Knead Bread

I wish that my favorite bread recipe were 100% whole grain and leavened with natural sourdough, but it's not.  My favorite bread recipe comes from and  (the way I make it) is only 50% whole grain, leavened with a small amount of commercial yeast.  

Breadtopia has several videos demonstrating how to make the bread, but the directions for mixing are not included on the site, so I loosely transcribed them after watching the video. The video, however, is really helpful, especially in clarifying how to shape the loaf.   This recipe does require a Dutch oven or casserole dish (2.5-6 quart)  with a lid.  

Almost No-Knead Bread
My entire family loves this bread.  It is easy because there is almost no kneading (although it does require a bit of planning ahead because of the overnight rise), flavorful (just a little tangy, without being sour), chewy without being dense, and to top it off, it's beautiful.   It works great to accompany soup or salad; it's lovely as a sandwich bread for french dips or even Reuben sandwiches.  

Almost No -Knead Bread
1 1/2 cups (7.5 ounces) all purpose or bread flour
11/2 cup (7.5 ounces) whole wheat flour
1/4 tsp. instant or rapid-rise yeast
1 1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbs. honey 
3/4 cup plus 2 Tbs. (7 ounces) water at room temperature
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbs. (3 ounces) mild flavored lager (beer)
1 Tbs. white vinegar

Step 1:  Combine dry ingredients.  Add remaining ingredients and mix well.  Cover loosely. Set aside at room temperature for 8-18 hours. 

Step 2:  Dust counter top lightly with flour. Knead 10-15 TIMES (not minutes--thank goodness!). Avoid over-kneading as you don’t want to remove all the bubbles from the slow overnight rise.  

Step 3:  After kneading, pull the edges up, pursing them at the top, forming a ball with a tight skin underneath. Pinch the top together, sort of sealing it.

Step 4:  Place parchment paper over a skillet. Mist the parchment paper with oil. Place the dough on the parchment with the pinched top down. Mist top of dough with oil as well. Cover loosely. Let rise for 2 hours. 

Step 5: Thirty-five minutes before the end of the bread's rise time (so after the bread has been rising for 1 hour and 25 minutes), place a 2.5-6 quart dutch oven or casserole dish with lid into your oven and preheat to 500 degrees.

Step 6:  At end of rising time, sprinkle the loaf lightly on top with flour if desired (this is just cosmetic).   Score the top of the loaf with a sharp serrated knife, making a ½ inch deep cut. Go over the cut 2-3 times to get the depth without ripping the dough.  Remove the preheated Dutch/oven casserole dish from the oven (use great care as it and its lid will be very hot).   Transfer the bread--parchment paper and all (pick up edges of parchment paper to move it)--into the preheated Dutch oven/casserole dish. 

Step 7:  Place the Dutch oven/casserole dish into the oven with the lid on and reduce the temperature to 425 degrees.  Bake for 30 minutes at 425.  Then remove cover and bake an additional 15 minutes or until the internal bread temperature reaches about 200 degrees. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

DIY Detangler Spray: Natural, Frugal, and Super Easy

DIY Detangler Spray 
On our quest to reduce chemical exposure through our personal care products, I've discovered a new detangler solution 

I'd like to call this homemade detangler, but do-it-yourself detangler is probably a better label.  Either way, this is a great way to make a frugal, natural, non-toxic leave-in conditioner spray to tame bed-head.

Like many families, we give baths at nights and our kids' fine hair needs some help come morning.  For a while I was making detangler from aloe vera juice and essential oils, but this one is much easier and cheaper.

Homemade Detangler Spray:

2 oz spray bottle*
1/8 teaspoon Conditioner (your favorite non-toxic, natural brand: I like Earth Science Fragrance Free Conditioner)**

Put 1/8 of a teaspoon (or just a small dollop) of conditioner into the spray bottle. Fill with warm water and shake vigorously to dissolve the conditioner.  

Simple as that you have easy, non-toxic, and super-cheap detangler spray.  This spray works as well on my daughter's hair as the Paul Mitchel spray we used to buy.

Now, for fun, check out your commercial detangler and notice that the first ingredient is probably water.  I realized I'd been spending $9.00 a bottle for a detangler spray that was probably at least 95% water.

No more!

PS  I'd love to give credit to the source of this idea, but I can't remember where I saw it!

*Check the travel section in the personal care section of your store. 
**Check the toxicity rating of your favorite conditioner at the Environmental Working Group's Database:  Skin Deep.  

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

How to Dry Fruit Without a Dehydrator

A friend recently recommended a lovely book to me:   Preserving Food without Freezing or Canning: Traditional Techniques Using Salt, Oil, Sugar, Alcohol, Vinegar, Drying, Cold Storage, and Lactic Fermentation.   (More about this book another day.)

It indirectly inspired me to try drying fruit without using my electric dehydrator.  This time of year I keep my Nesco dehydrator busy with as much fruit (preferably free: my favorite kind) as possible.  I had the happy problem of having more (free) apricots than my dehydrator could accommodate, so I decided to try drying two small batches in two ways:

  • inside my hot car parked in the sun
  • outside in the direct sun

For drying with out a dehydrator, the book suggests arranging the fruit on a screen stapled over a wooden frame to allow airflow around the fruit.  
  • Instead, I used some spare dehydrator trays. 
  • I cut my apricots in 1/8ths (because my experience with dehydration is that apricot halves and even quarters take ages to dry).  
  • I spread them out to ensure that they were not touching and air could move freely around them.  

Drying Apricots in My Car

I positioned the tray on an old towel in direct sunlight in my car and left it with doors and windows closed:
Apricots drying in my hot car.  

I re-parked my car a couple of times a day to ensure that the apricots remained in direct sunlight as much as possible.  I was quick getting in and out because let me tell you, that sucker got hot!  

After a mere 30 hours my apricots were finished:

Apricots done dehydrating in my car. 
Pros of this method:
  • These apricots dried almost as quickly as they would have on my electric dehydrator.
  • Their texture was great.
Cons of this method:
  • The apricots had an off flavor.  This is a huge con (obviously).  At first I thought it was just these particular apricots, until I tasted another batch of the same apricots dried with a different method.  I can only describe the off flavor as chemically.  And I can only assume it came because some one I love likes to polish my car interior with a product I'm sure is not considered food safe.  
  • Turning my car into a dehydration chamber reduced its effectiveness as a means of transportation.   I didn't want to drive it without the AC and dehydrate myself, but I didn't want to drive it with the AC and drop the temperature for the drying fruit. So I just didn't drive it.  

Drying Apricots in the Sun:

I positioned this tray of apricots on an old cotton sheet (with a stunning floral pattern) on our patio table:
Apricots Ready to be Dried in the Sun
I folded the sheet over the top of the tray so that the fruit would be protected from dirt and bugs.  

The patio table is on the east side of our house, so it is sunny from dawn until 2:00ish in the afternoon.  The first day, I moved the tray to a sunny spot for the later afternoon and evening and then brought them inside at night (to avoid any moisture overnight).  

After 24 hours, we had made some progress, but not a lot:
Sun-Dried Apricots after 24 Hours
Then I went out of town for three days and left them on the patio table with no one to move them in the afternoon and no one to tuck them into bed.  

I came home, four days after having set them out, to beautifully dried apricots:
Sun-Dried Apricots after 4 Days
A few had some dark discoloration:
Apricot Discolored from Caramelization
These dark spots did not seem to be mold or spoilage of any kind.  I think they are simply spots where the fruit's sugars caramelized.  This happens sometimes during dehydration, particularly with over-ripe fruit.

Here's what the weather was like during these four days of dehydration:

Day 1:  High 92, Low 57
Day 2:  High 99, Low 58
Day 3:  High 93, Low 63
Day 4:  High 99, Low 61

Pros of this method:
  • The finished fruit was delicious!  The texture and flavor were great.
  • This method saves money over using an electric dehydrator.  My frugal-self loves it:  drying free fruit with free solar energy!
Cons of this method:
  • It took 4 days.
  • It's risky:  what if there had been rain?  A sudden shift to cool weather?  Did I just freakishly stumble upon four perfect days, or would this work with a greater range of temperatures?


Because of the chemically, off flavor of the apricots dried in my car, I won't be using that method again (bummer).  Because of the uncertainties of drying in the sun, I probably won't be abandoning my Nesco dehydrator anytime soon.  

However, when an abundance of free-fruit lands on my door step (some one invited me to come pick plums tomorrow!), and the weather looks favorable, I will definitely try sun-drying again.  The results this time were great.  Not to mention, as I'm spreading fruit out under a sheet in the sun, I feel like I'm getting in touch with my inner Caroline Ingalls.  

I shared this post at Simple Lives Thursday #109.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Frenchifying Dinner, Part 3: A Fancier Table

Inspired by Karen Le Billion's book French Kids Eat Everything, I've unleashed a French food-attitude makeover on my family.  I'm hoping to make our dinner a sacred hour of family time together, patterned after French eating principles:  more courses, a more leisurely pace, a fancier table, and better conversation.
Simple Centerpiece:  Flowers Floating in Jam Jars
Trying to dress up our table is way out of our comfort zone, but here's what's happened so far.

A Fancier Table

Ahem.  One couldn't get much less fancy than we were.  Our table serves as craft-central, lego construction site, and play-dough spaghetti factory.  I'm usually pushing a popsicle stick creation out of the way, while scraping up glue stick residue as I set out our dishes.  So far we've added place mats, cloth napkins, and the occasional center piece.
Fancy (for Us):  Napkins and Place Mat with our Salad Starter

What I've noticed . . . 
  • The cloth napkins in particular seem to set a new tone for the kids, creating a bit of . . . . perhaps . . . respect ?? for the meal . . . I'm not sure . . .
  • Making our table setting a bit more formal has created a pre-dinner job for my four year old--in which she's delighting.  
  • I love that they're figuring out how to use a napkin, setting them up to feel more comfortable at restaurants or holiday dinners.  

Apricots in a Contrasting Bowl:  a Center Piece and Dessert