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Around the Table | DineOut Articles


Do you enjoy eating? Really?

by CJD, Fri 16th Apr 2010 03:16pm

What exactly is healthy eating nowadays? For as long as I can remember the food pyramid has been the basis for healthy living and eating. Stick to this, exercise now and then, and you'll never be fat or unhealthy. Seems easy enough, so why are we in the middle (or start?) or an 'obesity epidemic' then? Is fast food to blame? What about those liquid calories in all those soft drinks and energy drinks, maybe it's their fault? Or is it because we eat out more now than our parents did and we should blame the restaurants? How about those mocha-iced-frappy-latte-caramel-chino drinks sold in buckets from chained coffee shops, surely they deserve some finger pointing. Maybe it's just because we're now busier than our parents were and we no longer have time for a hot breakfast, a packed lunch and those well planned meals at the table with the family in the evening? Too busy to eat properly, too busy to exercise, too busy to be eating, too busy to live healthy.

I have some issues with the food pyramid, for several reasons. Firstly, let me give you some background into my mind...

  1. For years, and I mean lots and lots of years, I ate junk food, sweets, pies, cakes, deep fried everything, biscuits, ice cream, fizzy drinks loaded with sugar, and as little in the way of fruit or vegetables as I could get away with. To be fair, a chap I was living with got the early stages of scurvy while we were flatting together, but it was only mild, and a vegetarian fiesta via his mother cured him right up. During this time I was as skinny as a rake, scarily so, and only managed to put some weight on when I started consuming copious amounts of beer while I was getting 'educated'
  2. Once I got married, I had a hand in a large number of 'diets' that were guaranteed to work while the wife was trying to recover from the weighty condition brought on by the consumption of wedding cake. It didn't matter if I was low fat, low calorie, high this, high that, I never changed weight. In fact, since the age of 25 I have been between 100kg and 110kg. That may sound like a lot, but I'm tall, so it sits well (mostly). Having a variation of 10kg over almost 15 years no matter what 'diet' I was playing with at the time kinda means that they were never going to work on me I guess. I am resistant to change!
  3. When I turned 30, I got Type I Diabetes. Yea, I was a little shocked as you can imagine, but thankfully medical technology is well in advance of what it was only a decade ago, and it has been very well managed since diagnosis. My doctor loves me, and discussing my blood tests he claims that if I could tighten the reigns on my blood sugars slightly more I might pass for a non-diabetic in perfect health. A bit like saying "if only you had 2 legs, you'd be able to run twice as fast" I guess. When I got diagnosed, I had lost over 15kg of weight in a matter of weeks. A successful diet, but by no means a healthy way to do it, and the long term consequences are not too hot either. The dietician stressed the need to follow the food pyramid, and introduced me to the Glycemic Index (GI), how to rate the sugars in foods and directed me to low GI foods.
  4. For the first 35+ years of my life, I did little or no exercise. I'm a computer geek! I drink 20 cups of coffee a day, sit hunched over a keyboard, bask in the reflected glow of my computer monitors and had been a smoker since I was 13 years old. I could hardly manage stairs let alone participate in sport! I did have the occasional flurry of activity, joining the gym a few times, spending 6 months SCUBA diving, indoor netball for a season, but my diet was always the same - appalling.

So, that's my history. What's new this year? Well, I've stopped smoking (wasn't hard) and started an exercise regimen. I have been riding to & from the office every day for the last few years, but still not terribly fit beyond that. I now do 3-6 PT sessions a week, a reasonable hill climb each weekend and ride to the office & back. I've been doing that for 10 weeks now. I'm quite a bit fitter, considerably stronger, but my weight is pretty constant. I have lost a few kilos, but I'm still in my range. And I have changed my diet a little bit. I'm trying low carb for a while, as it seems to be healthier for me as a diabetic. Now I will stress at this point that I have seen hundreds of diets attempted and failed by various members of my family. Some of them have always been big, some have never been big. Genetics? Yup.

Now, what's my issue with the food pyramid? In a nutshell, as a diabetic I am very conscious of carbohydrates - the pasta, bread, grains, sweets, potatoes and other goodies - as I need to take insulin to account for every gram of carbohydrate I put in my mouth. And here's the thing - it doesn't matter if it's sugar (top of the pyramid) or pasta and bread (bottom of the pyramid) it raises my blood sugars the same amount. Except, if I eat a handful of jelly beans or jet planes (yum!) it raises my blood sugar slower than if I eat a couple of slices of white bread. Pretty much any bread has a higher GI than sugar does. So why is it on the bottom, in the eat mostly category, when my lollies are on the top? Both are sugar as far as my body knows. And both, if not converted into energy immediately (like while exercising) both convert to fat. Surely the bottom of the pyramid should be veggies or meat? As a diabetic, the pyramid is all wrong, but there's not magic bullet, so I do what's right for me - plenty of veg, lots of protein (mostly eggs and meat) and a smattering of carbohydrates. My blood test from a couple of weeks ago show me still being in perfect health. So, it's fine for me, and my insulin usage has reduced a reasonable amount too. Is it right for you? No idea, I'm not a dietician or medical professional, so try it if you want to, but research it first.

Why am I blathering on about all this? Well, restaurants have been demonised in some circles as being high-calorie and high-fat and topped off with desserts loaded with sugars and fats. You know what? They are right, but so is fast food, so is home cooked food, so is pretty much everyone's daily diet. If you ate at a restaurant every night, you might end up eating more calories than you would if you were cooking your own meals. Or maybe you wouldn't. When I look at a menu in a restaurant I am looking for something that grabs me, something that I wouldn't or couldn't cook for myself. I want decadence. I want to enjoy my food. I want to see the skills of the chef and their choice of ingredients. I want to be spoilt. What I do not want to do is peruse the menu, say "can't have that because it's too fatty" or any other excuse. I'm here to enjoy myself. I will order what I want, and a glass of wine to go with it too.

So, when you are next at a restaurant and looking at the menu and find yourself discounting options on the menu, make sure you're doing it because you don't like it, or are (actually) allergic to it. Don't make a potentially wonderful evening out (or breakfast for that matter) less than what it could be by denying yourself. It's even worse when those you are with don't follow the same food-denial you do, and order the full-fat, sugar loaded treats you really wanted and moan with pleasure while you sip your water and chew on your celery. If you don't order what you want to eat, you won't have a good time. You'll be miserable. Good food makes good company, and when you have those two things at your table, you'll have a fantastic time.


Your Comments


Fri 16th Apr 2010 05:41pm

Interesting read CJD, I have to admit that when my (then) 2 year old son was diagnosed as type 1 diabetic last year it threw us all into a spin!! We had to take a huge crash course in the do and do nots of dietary requirements, not easy when dealing with a fussy little boy!!
But as someone who works in the industry, I whole heartedly agree with your comments on why you are there, eat, drink and be merry everyone :)


Girls Night Out

Fri 16th Apr 2010 09:01pm

My doctor also recommends the Low GI diet. Imagine my surprise when I found out that she is following the NO-Carb diet.



Sat 17th Apr 2010 12:35pm

I tend to ignore anything the public health punka wallahs yabber on about they are all so earnest, slim and boring everything in moderation,I am probably one of the few people left in NZ who still has a lard jar in their fridge,along side the jar of goose fat...........mmmmmmmm tuahiwi gold potatoes roasted in duck fat with a sprinkling of salt.............. I'm fit and healthy eat heaps of fruit and veg, shop at markets, butchers and fishmongers and stay as far away from processed food as possible, good food is one of lifes true pleasures


paul and helen

Tue 20th Apr 2010 11:05am

Well as the exception to "the rule" I find myself in my early 40's and havent eaten vege/fruit or salad for 30 or so years. ok there is the odd exception like potatos and a few onions but nothing else.
I still like greasy fried food with lots of salt, my blood tests are excelelent and im in pretty good condition.
I try to stay away from overprocessed foods as much as possible and eat all my meat as fresh as possible. The amount of processing in foods today is unreal and as i was told by an undertaker a few years back it now takes an extra 3 days for a human body to begin deacay after death so makes you wonder what the hell we are eating.


Judith B

Mon 3rd May 2010 08:03am

Butterball, you're not the only one who has lard in the fridge! I have a dripping tin too, just like my grandmother used to. CJD you are so right about a low carb diet being healthier fro diabetics, both types 1 and type 2. Diabetes expert Dr Richard Bernstein recommends a very low carb diet for his patients, no more than 30g daily. Agree with you about dining out too - that's the time for a treat.



Mon 5th Jul 2010 06:35pm

The low-carb movement is getting increasing sympathy amongst health professionals, and rightly so in my opinion. It was misunderstood for many years but research over the last several years has backed up its health value, not just for diabetics but for everyone. There's a NZ website which has excellent information and recipes.


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