by Tom Sims
Tom Sims searches the Valley for tips on eating healthy, buying healthy food, growing healthy food, and eating out healthy in the Valley, for this Healthy Eating in the Valley column. Feel free to share your suggestions of places and things to check out!
I am on a journey. It is a journey for life and health, wellness and joy. Like Hippocrates, the ancient physician, I have been learning “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
We live in the food capital of the world. If we cannot find good food to eat here, we won’t find it anywhere. Healthy eating in the Valley and in any valley of life, enhances life. It is life-giving, life-affirming, and a celebration of life. I am living this reality and learning as I go. As I take the journey, I like to take snapshots of places, foods, insights, and opportunities that I experience. Now, through a narrowing of some of my options, I am seizing the opportunity to broaden this adventure.
When I started writing this column, I had lost over 150 pounds. Topping the scales at 394 pounds and only able to get enough momentum to lose 50 pounds which I would rapidly regain, I chose a radical transformation. I had Roux en-Y gastric bypass surgery. It was a jump start. I became a serious student of nutrition and food. Within six months I had decided to eliminate meat from my diet. Later, I added a small amount of fish.
I enjoyed five years of extraordinary health, vigor, energy, and freedom from disease, pain, and other infirmities. I believe that my decision saved my life. I started investigating options from healthy eating and writing about them, including options for vegetarians, fish-only carnivores, and meat-eaters. I read menus, sampled foods, and talked to restaurant owners.
What a great assignment! I found that it is possible to find healthy food in the most unlikely places by being a careful and creative consumer.
A year and a half ago, I developed some health problems that I had not foreseen. These manifested themselves in a number of ways that became an interesting and engaging adventure as well. I lost motility in my esophagus. The little nerves and muscles that move the food along stopped working. Later, we discovered that food was not passing from my stomach to my intestine efficiently. It was backing up in my esophagus and creating a very impressive hernia/storage facility.
As a result, I developed numerous nutritional deficiencies which have resulted in iron anemia, Pernicious Anemia, nerve damage, spinal deterioration, neuropathy, hypoglycemia, heart problems, and a few other boring maladies. I had to quit driving because of syncope episodes. I stopped eating most breads and pastas (with small exceptions), raw vegetables, many solid foods, and whatever did not move along efficiently.
My options narrowed.
While all this was going on, my wife, whose tastes were never as broad as mine, had to start giving up different kinds of foods because of her health management commitments. Finding common places to eat together added to the narrowing.
I added protein powders and began exploring ways of creating balance and appeal with them. I have been pretty successful at this.
How do you write about food when so many foods are off-limits, and you cannot drive to the places you want to write about?
I love food. I love exotic food, gourmet food, and adventurous food. Food is an art form, a festival of wellness. I watch cooking shows, and I love to cook.
As my options narrow, I must also broaden them.
I eat for health and for enjoyment. I eat strategically and often. I eat very small meals and lots of them. Mostly, I eat creatively. Here are some principles that help me.
1. Before visiting a restaurant, try to visit its website, study its menu, and make a rough plan for what you might order. This week, I am launching two local Facebook pages for the Valley related to food. One is Eat Well Fresno and the other is Fresno Food Collaborative. I invite participation, links, comments, and suggestions.
2. When reading a menu, start with the appetizers, side dishes, and à la carte items. Last night, at an Elephant Bar, I ordered three side dishes including a tomato soup.
3. Bring your supplements along. You may be able to put your protein powder in a juice or a cup of coffee.
4. Ask questions respectfully and in a friendly manner. If the person serving you does not know the answer, he or she may be able to ask someone who does.
5. Ask for favors. Explain that you are on a special diet, and that you do not expect to be catered to, but if they could accommodate you, you would appreciate it.
6. Find some places you like and visit often. Get a reputation as an appreciative customer. Thank your servers and proprietors. Be a good guest that restaurants want to see coming. Make sure you leave a good tip!
7. If you are ordering appetizers as your main course, ask for them to be brought when the other guests’ entrees are served.
8. Share with friends and create combinations.
9. Take your leftovers home. I have been able to create soups out of extra food that was a little too solid to eat as it was prepared. There is no need to waste food.
10. Some suggestions of what you might look for on a menu, if they fit your needs, are cheeses, sauces, mashed potatoes, salsas, mushrooms. Look carefully. What can you add to a baked potato that is being served with other meals? You can eat sandwiches without bread. You can add hot sauce to tomato juice and make it a soup, especially if they will heat it up for you. Think of what you can mix together like a poached egg and cottage cheese. I sometimes order grits or hot cereal.
11. If I am going somewhere for breakfast where oatmeal is served in a rather plain fashion, I might bring along a baggy of seeds, nuts, raisins, and fruit. Starbucks has a great oatmeal by the way! They also have a high protein smoothie. Ask!
12. Be gracious. If you are asking for something that is served complimentary with another meal, be willing to pay for it. Always order something. Rid yourself of any attitude that says, “The world owes me a living.”
13. Savor the atmosphere and conversation. Eat slowly. If you don’t think you will find enough at the restaurant, eat something before you arrive.
14. Cut your food slowly and carefully into many pieces and eat them slowly. Put your fork down between bites.
15. Finally, I have a real blessing in my life that I can eat a little desert. Too much is not good. A little is wonderful. Have you ever been asked, “Did you save room for desert?” Be the person who does, but choose carefully and eat sparingly. A couple of bites can make your day and everyone can share.
I just returned from a vacation to the East Coast where we mostly ate out, and I applied the principles above on a daily basis. It can be done!
On the Facebook pages and links you will find there, I will be posting recipes and suggestions. Some of my developing specialties are smoothies, soups, and egg dishes. I will continue to explore and chronicle the journey. I will have some “What the heck” moments when I cheat or at least taste something not on my plan. I will keep sharing my “food hacks.”
As we all age and grow wiser, we begin to eat to live more than we live to eat. We make adjustments. I enjoy being your partner in that. Life is an adventure and so is food, our best medicine.
I leave you with two “Attitude Acronyms” for the journey.
Your face, as you face your challenges, can give forth a POUT or a SMILE. Choose the SMILE.
On the other hand, a SMILE says:
• Something good is about to happen.
• Make the most of whatever opportunity comes. That is also contagious.
• I am here, present with you, interested, interesting, and excited about the future. It is amazing how that helps digestion. I plan to enjoy your company and I hope you enjoy mine.
• Let’s get together again soon.
• Enjoy this moment, this food, this good company, and good health.
Enjoy your journey and stay in touch.