Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Not Part of the Process

My marketing/production firm has a number of locations in the U.S., so I tend to travel across the country many times a year. During my most recent trips, my arrival has elicited two common responses from colleagues who haven’t seen me in almost a year.

The first was: “You’ve lost weight!” This is a typical reaction to seeing someone who has lost about 35 pounds in the course of 10 months. I am happy to say that I am back to the form I had when I was a starving post-college grad working 14 feverish hours a day in a Hong Kong manhua studio (only today I’m not actually starving; I am also not as spry as I was 25 years ago either…).

And as you may have already guessed, the second response was: “How did you do it?”

And by, “How did you do it?”, they actually mean, “What’s your secret?” As if there is some magic formula that makes you melt away pounds without any effort. This is ridiculous, because I can say there definitely was effort involved. For the most part, I used the only proven method of losing weight that works for everyone: eating less (going back to practicing “hara hachi bu” is quite a challenge in this food-plentiful country) and exercising more (I’m still figuring out which was the greater challenge there: the exercise itself or finding the time to do it). I also “watch what I eat,” balancing most meals with ¼ vegetables, ¼ fruit, ¼ protein, and ¼ carbohydrates. The USDA agrees with this strategy, so no real mystery there.

But I guess I do have an additional “secret” method – a method that requires more effort than what I have listed above:

I avoid processed foods as much as possible.

Okay, that isn’t really a secret method – and not only because I just told you. The World Health Organization informed the public ten years ago that processed foods are the reason for rising obesity levels and chronic disease around the world. I can say from my own observation that obesity was a rare thing in the Asian countries I lived in until a multinational phenomenon that starts with “McD” infused itself into the eating culture.

But the issue is more than just fast food. Even the so-called “low calorie, fat-free” foods (ironically labeled as “healthy” in the brand name in many cases) often have higher amounts of fructose sugar (sugar!)  so they can be more palatable. And the nutrients and fiber that may have been in the original fruit and vegetable ingredients are usually removed to enable a longer shelf life.

Of course, I didn’t know all this until a little over a year ago when I started consulting for the nutritional division of a national health care organization. My contact there passed me a copy of Twinkie Deconstructed by Steve Ettlinger, a fantastic book which goes into excruciating detail about the sources (and other industrial uses) of the most common processed food ingredients. She also gave me Food Inc. by Karl Weber, which examines the horrifying changes made to farming in order to meet the demands of the fast food industry. Both books were quite an eye-opener, and they inspired a dramatic shift in my family’s eating and shopping habits.

So for the past year, we have been buying a lot more fresh foods. We choose fruits and vegetables that are in season, and from local farms if possible. We also get our meat, milk and eggs from local farms – all organic as well.

Of course, we accept the fact that it is impossible to avoid processed foods altogether. However, we stock our shelves with minimally processed foods that have all-natural ingredients, and ingredients that I can find in the kitchen pantry. And yes, you can find such foods in stores out there, from cereals to spaghetti sauces.

We also don’t avoid treats. But again, we stick to “minimally processed” sweets. Häagen-Dazs ice cream is a great example; many flavors have five simple ingredients (milk, cream, sugar, eggs, vanilla/chocolate/coffee). We also make our cookies and cakes from scratch whenever possible, using basic natural ingredients. We also don’t overindulge.

Sounds simple, but it really isn’t. As I said, it takes quite a bit of effort. We have to cook more often, read every food label, shop in multiple markets, spend a little more money, and resist a lot of temptation. But the results are worth it. These practices have essentially changed my lifestyle, as well as that of my family, for the better. It’s also changed my body beyond losing weight; I now get physically ill after eating fast food or chain restaurant food, which I used to do on occasion while on business travel. Now I pack my own travel snacks of dried fruit with nuts and organic cereal, and stay in hotel suites that allow me to cook my own meals.

Even more effort. But still, a change for the better, at least for me.

[NOTE: I am a marketeer, not a doctor; this blog does not constitute medical advice. Results may vary.]

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Let’s Talk About Breasts

Now that title caught your attention, didn’t it? Not unlike how a recent Facebook post from a good friend’s wife had caught mine.

A few weeks ago, my wife was perusing her Facebook “news feed” during breakfast, and I couldn’t help but look over her shoulder to see a surprising announcement from my friend’s spouse, who states that she is going to “live in Amsterdam for the next 28 months.” Having just spoken to the friend the previous day, I was a little baffled by why he didn’t mention anything about moving abroad in our conversation. This immediately made me wonder if there was some family emergency that sparked such a drastic creation of plans.

I was about to call my friend to see if there was anything I could do to help, when my wife stopped me and said I had nothing to worry about. She then showed me a forwarded Facebook message she received from the woman herself:

Ladies, it is that time of year again! It is time to raise awareness for Breast Cancer.

Remember the status about our bra color or where we put our purse?? It made more people aware of the problem as it went viral on FB and made the news.

Don't tell any MEN what the status means! Copy, and resend this message to all your girlfriends, let's see if we can make it work like before, keep them guessing, let's see if we make the news!

The idea is to use you birthdate, month and day only, no year!

Write: "I am going to live in (see corresponding city for your BD month below) for (day of your BD) months and a happy face

Ex. if your BD was on February 14th, then
" I am going to live in London for 14 months!!!!

January - Mexico
February - London
March - Miami
April - Dominican Republic
May - France
June - St. Petersburg
July - Austria
August - Germany
September - New York
October - Amsterdam
November - Las Vegas
December - Colombia

The wife’s birthday was October 28, so that explains Amsterdam and the 28 months. This was all just a “Facebook game” that, according to this chain-letter-type message, received media attention in the past and supposedly increased breast cancer awareness. Although I must admit I don’t remember ever hearing about any of the past attempts in the news. I honestly do not see how a cryptic message about leaving the country would actually raise awareness for this disease. The only thing this posting raised with me was confusion and concern.

I found out from the husband later that this was also the case for a number of his other friends and family members, who jumped to a completely different conclusion than me and thought his wife was leaving him. They immediately reached out to the husband, who, because he didn’t see the Facebook post, was quite stunned by several phone calls and e-mails at work informing him of this “news” and offering sympathy and support.

Long story short, there was quite a bit of relationship reevaluation that day. Not between the husband and the wife. He understood the good intentions behind her post once she explained everything to him. I’m taking about the relationship between the husband and some of his close pals and relatives who believed the wife was skipping out. With what I’m sure was the best of intentions in trying to be supportive, these people opted to explain why the husband was “too good for her” by telling him what they really thought about his wife.

There are some things one can say that cannot be unsaid. And while the initial misunderstanding was eventually resolved, these relationships remain forever changed.

I’d like to think that the creator of this “Facebook game”, whomever s/he is, didn’t intend to make this kind of impact. I can understand how one can get a lot of attention by creating a little controversy, but this idea obviously needed a little more thought.

If you want to help raise Breast Cancer awareness, you can make a donation to the National Breast Cancer Association to fund educational programs and free mammograms to women in need. Simply click the “Donate Now” button at this website:

Let’s stop playing games, and take some action.