Monday, November 06, 2006

“Back to the Basics”

Disclaimer: Serious-minded readers of the male persuasion may want to skip this week’s entry, but my female readers will no doubt be able to relate.

There it was in front of me, staring me in the face.

The calendar, that is. Set squarely on November 1.

It had been almost six months since I began this blog, and even a cursory glance in the mirror revealed that no real progress had been made. It was, in the words of a popular Beatles song, time to “Get Back.” Back to the basics.

So I took inventory of both my physical flaws, which I’d been ignoring to a large extent, and the “Tools of the Trade” necessary to combat them. Some tools were already in my possession; others had to be bought. It was here that I again came face to face with the truth that not only is it necessary to suffer for beauty, it is also frequently necessary to have deep pockets – unless you can land yourself on television’s “Extreme Makeover,” for which I did not really care to audition.

I began assembling my arsenal. First, I took the box of still-unopened tooth whitening strips out of my bureau drawer. Then came the still-unopened bottle of Sally Hansen “Hard as Nails” clear polish, recommended as a low-budget but highly effective remedy for skin tags. For those of you not blessed with the latter, they are warty little growths that hang off you like the price tag on Minnie Pearl’s hat. Duct tape has also been touted as a cheap, non-medical remedy, but I personally find nail polish easier to use, especially since it does double duty as a pantyhose-run mender.

Living as I do in a southern climate, sandals are a normal part of my wardrobe. Aside from keeping my toenails at a respectable length, I hadn’t been paying much attention to the condition of my feet, until my heels started getting so rough I felt them snag my sheets one night. Note to self: Take that still-unopened tube of Neat Feet Moisturizing Foot Lotion out of your bureau drawer, too.

I next looked at my fingernails. Never mind that in my youth I was the envy of many a girl for my long, hard nails that needed no aid such as gelatin (the effectiveness of which has long since been disproved) to grow. How long had it been since I buffed and shined them? (Men, if you’re still reading, women do actually buy things to make their nails shine without the benefit of polish.) Of course, the people who sell nail buffers claim their products promote healthy nail growth, as well as remove ridges, but frankly, I’ve never heard a woman yet say to another, “My, what naturally shiny nails you have!” Nevertheless, I went back to the Bureau Drawer of Unused Beauty Products for my largely unused buffers, where I attempted to locate the directions telling me in what order I was supposed to use the black side, the gray side, the white side, or the pink side.

The occasions on which I envy men are rare, but there is one facet of life in which they hold a definite advantage, and that is facial hair. It is socially acceptable for a man to grow a mustache, unless he’s Amish. It is not acceptable for a woman to do so, although I have heard of or known personally some women who have no objection to such a thing, with a former boss falling into the latter category. I did not really become aware of mine as a potential problem until a female relative amusedly pointed out, some years ago, that I should start taking a pair of tweezers to mine, as I had apparently inherited my great-grandmother’s. Plucking my eyebrows is painful enough. I opted for a plastic disposable razor instead.

Until, that is, I began being annoyed by those little dark hairs that seemed impossible to remove with a razor. This time the bureau drawer was no help. It was time for a trip to my local drugstore, where I purchased a tube of facial hair removal cream, along with another box of tooth whitening strips. The first box of the latter was only good for seven days, after all, and I’m pretty sure that won’t be enough to combat more than four decades of drinking iced tea.

And speaking of tweezers....Men are at still another distinct advantage when it comes to facial hair. While I have on rare occasion come across men whose eyebrows looked like they needed the aid of a lawnmower, I have never yet heard of one who actually plucks theirs, although I suppose Hollywood actors may do so. (And then there’s Michael Jackson.) Women’s eyebrows, on the other hand, are a different story. Witness the transition they have made over the years, from the 1920’s flapper’s pencil line to the 1980’s Brooke Shields. My grandmother and her sister plucked theirs to the point of near-extinction in their own flapper days, with the result that they had to use eyebrow pencils the rest of their lives to avoid a permanently surprised look. After years of wrestling with mine, and buying various kinds of tweezers, I think my grandmother came out ahead. The purchase of facial hair removal cream was also designed to cope with this problem.

Several major minefields on the path to beauty, or, at the very least, social acceptance, remained: cellulite, acne rosacea, and Big Bertha, with her close counterpart, Big Beatrice. (See blog entry dated May 29, 2006.)

Unfortunately, neither of the first two conditions is presently considered curable, although they are treatable. While the thought of liposuction has tempted me, seeing it performed on TV was rather horrific, and I’m not talking about just what’s extracted. Plus, there’s the expense and recovery time. What story would I tell my coworkers?

Women the world over have tried many things for “cottage cheese thighs,” but perhaps the most curious one I’ve yet come across involves a rolling pin, plastic wrap, and warm coffee grounds. Apparently this is a method that models use. Heat up some coffee grounds, slather them on your trouble spots, and cover them with plastic wrap. Then take a rolling pin – you know, the kind that people who bake their own Christmas cookies use – and, as Jim Morrison sang, “Let it roll, baby, roll!” (Men, if you're STILL reading, this goes to show that even supermodels are human.) I thought of trying this method, in spite of the fact that I am not a coffee drinker. In fact, I believe I even bought a package of coffee. For all I know now, it’s sitting, unopened, in the aforementioned bureau drawer.

Then last week a friend gave me a tube of cellulite scrub and another of contouring cream. Upon learning this, my mother remarked, “You know those things don’t work.” I said that might be true, but I wasn’t averse to trying something when it was a free gift, as this was. The only problem is that I will most likely run out of my initial supply before any results start to show, á la the tooth whitening strips. I can’t help but think that manufacturers design things this way.

My problem complexion is as tricky an issue as that pesky cellulite, and one I can’t even blame on heredity. At least I can cover the latter with Capri pants in warm weather, which millions of women know are God’s gift to those saddled with dimpled thighs. It appears that the best solution for the former is laser surgery on my broken capillaries, but I took the advice of my dermatologist to try less dramatic therapies first. So out came the expensive cleanser and the expensive lotion and the anti-redness gel (by now I shouldn’t have to tell you where they were located). Not satisfied with the previous results of this regime, I took the additional step of researching makeup formulas suited for the condition, and ordered a foundation for “moderate to major” disguise with an accompanying powder. (I will not bother to mention that the two of them cost more than I have ever spent on any brand of makeup, but at least the foundation is supposed to last a good while.) It doesn’t stop there, however. There is also the doctor-prescribed vitamin supplement, since rosacea sufferers not infrequently have a deficiency in certain substances, to be followed by the doctor-prescribed pills.

I still wasn’t finished with skin problems! While examining my fingernails and their not-so-shiny condition, I was naturally compelled to notice my sun spots. (I am trying to learn to use this term in place of the less flattering, and now no doubt politically incorrect, “age spots.”) My dermatologist had a solution for that, too, a skin-bleaching lotion. You can once more guess that (a) this was not cheap, and (b) from where I had to dig it out.

Last but certainly not least, there were still Big Bertha and Big Beatrice to contend with. So I resumed walking in the evenings and dusted off Eddie Baran’s “Body Sculpting Bodyweight Exercises for Women.” My original intention was to do one exercise per day from each of the three major sections – core, upper body, and lower body. The only problem was that I can’t yet manage the vast majority of them, so my options were quite limited, especially when it came to the upper body – nearly every exercise featured is a form of handstand! Oh, well. I said I was going back to basics. The whole point of “treading,” I continually have to remind myself, is to do what you can, as you can. So I found a couple I could do from the first two sections and started with them, slowly.

* * * * *

Will all these things work, or will the Bureau Drawer of Unused Beauty Products eventually become known as the Land of False Hopes? Only the future will tell! In the meantime, ladies, I would love to hear your side. Men have their war stories, and we have ours. I’ll even promise not to share yours with my male readers, if you wish. Let me hear from you! And until we meet again…may you all Keep on Treading!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Stop, You’re Breathing All Wrong!

All right, I admit that’s a bit of an overstatement. You must be doing something right in the oxygen department, or you wouldn’t be reading this.

However, thanks to Matt Furey, I’ve learned a method of taking this automatic, necessary action and making it more effective.

I’d been feeling guilty again lately, for neglecting both Matt and Claude Bristol. (Remember him? The author of The Magic of Believing?) Well, Bristol is long dead, so I really don’t need to feel any guilt over him, but there’s just something about Matt – call it his intimidating exterior – that makes you feel guilty about neglecting his teachings, whether you want to or not. Curiously, on the programs I’ve listened to or watched to date, he has a far more soft-spoken manner than one might expect. (I know I was expecting the voice and manner of a Marine drill sergeant when I plugged in my first Fure-Cat CD.) That manner is particularly effective on Matt’s DVD titled “Dynamic Deep Breathing.”

Matt has more than once quoted his idol, world champion wrestler Martin “Farmer” Burns (1861-1937), as saying that “Deep breathing alone has made many a weak man strong, and many a sick man well.” Well, I thought, that is a strong statement! Just what is it about deep breathing that makes it so beneficial to the human body?

One Web article notes that it can increase our vitality and promote relaxation. “When our breathing is full and deep,” says author and Healing Tao instructor Dennis Lewis, “the diaphragm moves through its entire range downward to massage the liver, stomach, and other organs and tissues below it, and upward to massage the heart.” Sounds good. When done properly, he adds, the diaphragm’s upward and downward movements, combined with the inward/outward movements of our belly, ribcage and lower back, “help to massage and detoxify our inner organs, promote blood flow…and pump the lymph more efficiently through our lymphatic system.”

On another level, Farmer Burns promoted the use of deep breathing techniques as an aid to reducing abdominal fat and improving digestion. There’s more to be said on the subject, but in the interest of space I’ll direct you to some useful Web sites at the end of this entry. In the meantime, let’s take a look at Matt Furey’s “Dynamic Deep Breathing,” which he combines with goal visualization for added effectiveness.

To start, Matt and I stood with our feet shoulder-width apart, our hands at our sides, looking straight ahead, but with a soft focus. Then he instructed me to lower my body slightly, with pelvis tucked in and shoulders dropped. Got that? Comfortable? Okay. Now. Inhale and exhale deeply. As you inhale, imagine that you are sucking in a white cloud of energy all the way down to your feet. Then exhale a “dark cloud of negative energy.” As you inhale, repeat to yourself, “Power. Power.” I was too busy breathing along with Matt to actually count the repetitions, but I believe there were probably about ten. If you, like me, experience a little dizziness at first from the unaccustomed oxygen rush, just do however many you’re comfortable with.

Step Two – On your next inhalation/exhalation, imagine “a big yellow sun” in your solar plexus (for all us non-medical types, that’s the pit of your stomach). As you do this round, keep repeating “Power” to yourself while picturing that sun radiating its warmth throughout your body as “positive healing energy.” Personally, I plan to do this before my next job interview!

On to Step Three! Lift your hands to chest level, palms facing out. Again, inhale a cloud of white positive energy, and exhale negative energy, in whatever form it takes within your life. As you exhale, push your hands away from you in a gesture of rejecting negativity. As you inhale, pull your hands back in.

How do you feel? I confess that by this time, with my initial dizziness past, I was starting to experience quite a pleasant sense of overall well-being!

But we’re not done yet. For your next round, imagine that you’re pushing two strong pillars away from you on the exhalation. What do those pillars represent to you? (This is Treader Lucie asking, not Matt.) Anger? Resentment? Bitterness? Push ’em away! You don’t need them!

Step Five – Now visualize those pillars as boulders over your head. What do you do with them? Push them up towards the heavens as you exhale. (Treader Lucie says: Those who are religious might like to imagine that they are releasing their burdens to God.) Next, bring your arms up to chest level, palms facing the floor. Down on the exhale, up on the inhale. You say those burdens are trying to rise up from the floor to overwhelm you? Push ’em back down like balloons.

Step Seven – Stretch your arms out with your palms up. Lift your arms on the inhale, crossing your palms overhead, then bring your arms down on the exhale. Feel like a windmill? Good! So do I!

Still with me? Not dizzy, are you? If so, take a breather (if you’ll pardon the pun). I had to hit the pause button once or twice myself. You don’t know you’re a shallow breather until you focus on not being one!

Okay, back to Step Eight. This time, raise your arms to chest level, about a foot apart, as if you’re holding a basketball. Since Matt instructed me to then imagine that I was “separating heaven from earth,” I found it helpful to picture a globe in my hands. As you inhale, lift one arm up with the palm facing outward, and let the other arm drop, with the palm facing downward. Repeat and switch the direction of your arms on each repetition. Visualize energy being pushed from your palms.

Step Nine – Imagine that you’re embracing a giant cauldron (Harry Potter fans will no doubt find this easy), or hugging a giant oak tree (environmentalists will like this). “Inhale into the little finger of one hand, then into the little finger of the other hand.” (Focus and imagination are definitely an asset here!)

Hang in there, we’re almost to the finish line! Now it’s time to practice your “inner smile.” I have to confess that although I've always been possessed of an active imagination, this one was a bit of a challenge. At any rate, here we go. Imagine a smiley face in your eyeballs. (Yes, you read that correctly.) Smile into the point between your brows, then into each part of your face. Smile into your neck and throat, your heart and solar plexus, your navel, your sexual center (no jokes, please), your arms and legs, your shoulders and back.

How do you feel now? Warm? Positive? Peaceful? Energized? A little bit of all the above? Or are you wondering when we’re going to get around to the goal visualization? Wonder no further, because here it is. Ready? Okay. Visualize a goal you’d like to achieve in front of you. “Inhale into that goal” instead of into your body. (Yep, it was a little tricky for me, too.) Now exhale into it. All your energy is now flowing into that imagined image. As you breathe, repeat the goal to yourself. Focus, focus! Good work!

Step 12. “Smile into the goal so that the energy exchanged between yourself and your vision is one of happiness and harmony.” That may sound a little out there, but hey, Matt does it and it works for him, so give it a try. Add a shot of enthusiasm and desire to your breathing – as Matt likes to quote, courtesy of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” And aren’t your goals worthy of being called great? Well, they’re great to you, aren’t they? Feel the excitement that you’ll experience when you’ve achieved them.

Now let’s wrap up with Step 13. Inhale and bring your hands to your navel, right over left. As you inhale, gather all the energy you’ve created into a small egg or marble. Matt doesn’t add this, but I chose to then move my hands to my heart, picturing myself depositing the egg of my dreams there, safe and sound. Exhale...and you’re done!

Well, not quite. Now is a good time to sit down with your goals in front of you in written form, as you’ll find yourself more inspired to tackle them. Keep this up on a regular basis, Matt says, and you won’t be the same person. While these breathing exercises can be done at any time – perhaps you might want to do a few at work, as you’re able, if you’re experiencing a stressful day and need to regroup – I agree with Matt that they’re a good preparation for the day ahead if done first thing in the morning, and that they’ll help your goals sink into your subconscious, where they can be worked on while you sleep, if done before retiring.

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Want to learn more about the benefits of deep breathing, not to mention tips for how to really do it correctly? Check out these Web sites:

And until we meet again…breathe deeply as you Keep on Treading!

Monday, October 16, 2006

Color My World

Readers who are fans of the music group Chicago, or who are, like me, “of a certain age,” will no doubt remember the popular romantic ballad “Color My World.” Maybe you slow-danced to it at your high school prom while singer-guitarist Terry Kath warbled in his throaty baritone, “Color my world with hope…of loving you.”

If Mr. Kath was alive today, he might be singing a different tune – or at least a different lyric: “Color my world…with hope…of losing my acne.”

Or: “Of increasing my energy.”

Or how about this: “Of losing weight.”

Say that again?

It’s all part of the world of color therapy, also known as chromatherapy – a practice that has existed for thousands of years. I was first exposed to the idea a couple of years ago when I attended a book group meeting at an acquaintance’s house. Another, more sharp-eyed attendee noticed that the hostess – we’ll call her Susan – had a small red dot on a corner wall in her living room. I didn’t hear most of the resulting conversation, but picked up just enough to learn that Susan had had someone come in and place strategically colored dots in both her house and her office, to draw such forces as energy, etc.

I was frankly skeptical, although Susan claimed that she could see benefits in her office, where she’d had a dot placed to attract calm, since she had a stressful job. I didn’t dispute the result so much as attribute it to the power of belief.

About a year later, I got another look at color therapy when I received a newsletter advertisement from Dr. Susan Lark, a specialist in clinical nutrition and preventive medicine. One of the featured therapies was blue light treatment for acne. As someone who has struggled with complexion problems for more years than anyone should, my attention was immediately caught. It turned out that blue light allegedly kills the bacteria that causes acne. And even some dermatologists approve of the practice. Well! I thought. I wonder if light therapy can do anything for my rosacea? I eventually discovered that green light was supposed to be effective for that particular condition. After doing some cursory research, I decided against purchasing a special light and giving it a try, although the expense was not outrageous, largely due to the fact that I still had a healthy dose of skepticism on the entire subject of color therapy, intriguing as it was. In fact, I had pretty much forgotten all about it until I wrote last week’s entry on caloric retention.

What does one have to do with the other? Not a blessed thing, except for the fact that I was interested in looking at other non-traditional ways of losing weight after researching CR. Then the word “color” in a magazine article seemed to stand out in bold, and suddenly I had a strong hunch that someone, somewhere, had probably connected the dots, so to speak…especially in our get-fit-quick-and-painlessly society.

I was right. Readers, meet The Blue Light Diet.

Actually, this program isn’t as simple as it might at first sound, but is “designed to be used in conjunction with any nutrition program, exercise program, or virtually any method you might find for weight loss.” So how does it work?

It’s simple. Just install a Blue DietLight in your refrigerator. According to, research has shown that blue light suppresses the appetite, and that blue is the only shade in the color spectrum with such an effect. As if that wasn’t enough, they claim the Harvard Business School discovered that blue light promotes positive decision making and strengthens resolve.

Well, I can see how those two things could help with weight loss. But is it really possible to “turn off your hunger pains every time you open the refrigerator”? Seems to me you’d have to keep the fridge open for a while to get much effect. And what about the times you reach for food in the pantry? Or at the local fast food drive-through? Or even the freezer?

Turns out that the Blue DietLight is accompanied by a Weight Loss Hypnosis CD. According to the products’ producers:

“By using the Blue DietLight in conjunction with the Hypnosis program, every time you open your refrigerator you will be reinforcing your determination to follow through with your weight loss program. Your appetite will be suppressed, your weight loss goals will be brought up by your unconscious mind, along with the image of you being at your perfect weight, to aid you in your quest to lose weight and feel great!”

And you can get both for only $30.

But there’s more. For presumably faster and better results, you can also purchase Red Solarized Water, a “vibrational medicine” that will stimulate your metabolism. (For the record, I have no idea what vibrational medicine means, nor do I know why anyone would want to pour this water into their eyes. Apparently the latter is a possibility, however, since a warning is issued to not do so, as this will stimulate the appetite.) Then there are the Yellow Color Therapy Glasses, which will allegedly improve your focus and stimulate your elimination system. I’m all for improving my focus, but I can’t help wondering how my future coworkers, not to mention my supervisor, would react to my wearing them in the office. Finally, you’ll want to have a Color, Food and Weight Loss Book on hand as well. And the price isn’t bad – for only $50, you can buy the whole package with a Solarized Water Chart thrown in. (The Web site doesn’t explain what those last two products actually are, for some reason.)

I learned one interesting tidbit from – the origin of the term “blue plate special”:

“Weight loss plans suggest putting your food on a BLUE plate to assist in suppressing your appetite. Remember the old BLUE plate specials (when they came on BLUE plates), they had smaller portions, were less expensive, and the customer left feeling satisfied, all thanks to the color BLUE.”

Oh. And now I know why I get those Big Mac cravings every once in a while:

“… [D]o not look at red, orange or yellow as they are natural appetite stimulants, only blue is an appetite suppressant. Now you know why MacDonald's is painted in these colors, they stimulate your appetite, and also cause you to eat and run, great turn over for a fast food.”

Does this mean that if I drink the Red Solarized Water, I should close my eyes while swallowing it?

You may be wondering by now if I’m going to plunk down my $50 for the complete package, or $80 for a more deluxe model that would include blue glasses as well. Not so fast! I won’t deny that I find the idea of color therapy intriguing – and there’s a great deal more to it than I have room to cover in one week – but skeptics aren’t converted at the click of a computer mouse. The fact that the makers recommend their products as tools to accompany nutrition and exercise is encouraging, but I was not overly impressed with their Web site, on which I would have liked to see more hard facts backed by research. I also couldn’t help wondering that even if I used the glasses, drank the water, installed the light, etc., while exercising and eating more sensibly, how much of any weight loss credit would be due to the last two factors and how much could be attributed to the former – especially since I believe the majority of people who have made significant changes in their bodies have done so without the use of blue light or red water.

But I keep an open mind, folks. So if any of you have ever used the power of color to help you achieve any goal you may have – whether it’s for more peace of mind, energy, a better complexion or a slimmer body – write me and let me know. I would love to hear about it. In the meantime, my jury’s still out until I do more thorough research. And if you’d like to do the same, visit or Tell 'em Treader Lucie sent you.

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Readers Write! Last week I had the pleasure of hearing from Matthew Lake, a practitioner of calorie restriction, who lives in Cardiff, Wales. He's been doing CR for about a year and a half and found that his allergies completely disappeared within only two weeks of starting, along with other health benefits. You can find out more about Matthew and his diet at Check it out!

And until we meet again…May your path be filled with color as you Keep On Treading!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Starving for Longevity

Several years back I heard about a newish trend in weight loss, which had to do with reducing calories, in some cases rather drastically, in order to extend one’s lifespan. I don’t recall the source now, but I do remember seeing a photo of one man who looked to my eyes unhealthily thin, but who was planning – or at least attempting – to live to 100 or beyond.

Frankly, I couldn’t help wondering if I really wanted to live that long, if it meant reducing my caloric intake that much. That was a long time to go without my favorite foods, which I was sure I would have to sacrifice.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, when one of the major TV news channels ran a spot on low-cal devotees. I only caught the end of it, but the newscaster was commenting on how adherents were cranky because they were hungry, had to watch how they sat, due to a lack of posterior padding, and how they were frequently cold, due to a lack of overall padding. I guessed that he must be referring to those folks I’d heard about years before, and sure enough, they had their own organization: The Calorie Restriction Society.

(I have said on more than one occasion that there is a society for just about anything in this country, and here again is proof.)

A Calorie Restriction Society? I don’t deny that there’s strength in numbers when it comes to cutting calories, but I suspected this group of being a little over the top. However, my interest was piqued, so I clicked over to the CRS Web site, where I found that the Society, which was formally launched in December 1994, was indeed born out of an interest in life extension, claiming that “the only valid life-extension method that has any proven scientific backing behind it at all is ‘Calorie Restriction.’ ”

I’m not a scientist and have never done any research on the subject of life extension, so that sounded like a mighty big claim. How many calories would I have to reduce, I wondered, if I wanted to live to 100 or beyond?

“Calorie Restriction,” I learned, isn’t just about eating low-fat, low-sugar, low-sodium, and occasionally low-taste frozen meals, or bagged salad mixes, instead of the Big Mac I might be craving. Specifically, it’s “the consumption of a diet with adequate quantities of all essential nutrients, except that the energy content of the diet (caloric intake) is safely reduced (by as much as 10-40%) below the amount of energy (calories) that the body would tend to naturally desire, absent any special dietary measures.”

Ten percent didn’t sound that bad. But forty percent? And that was considered safe?!

Interestingly, my initial Web search for the Society landed me on their “Risks” page, which warned that “calorie restriction may result in a range of negative side effects.” I can imagine, I thought – such as that practitioners might end up looking like cadavers while living to be 100 or more. I stuffed my sarcastic skepticism in my pocket, however, and read on.

CR-induced weight loss can affect the appearance of those who pursue it. No surprise there! Reduced bone mass is another possibility, since that often accompanies weight loss. CR practitioners can suffer from cold sensitivity due to reduced body fat. “This may put you at greater risk in case of unexpected, prolonged cold exposure – such as after a car failure on the highway in winter,” says the Society. Frankly, I would hope that anyone who drives in cold climates in the winter would prepare for this ahead of time by carrying blankets in the car, regardless of their body fat percentage.

“Loss of cushioning” – discomfort sitting on hard surfaces, etc. – is another potential result. While I have occasionally lamented the size of Big Beatrice (see blog entry dated 5/29/06), I couldn’t help thinking about how tired she gets from sitting too long on a comfortable sofa, much less a hard chair, at my current weight. Menstrual irregularity can occur in women with dramatic weight loss. Speaking strictly for myself, this is hardly something I would categorize as a problem, but it certainly would be for women who are attempting to conceive.

As for males, CR can result in decreased testosterone. (Did I just hear the retreating shuffle of masculine feet?) My favorite, however, was the mention of “reduced energy reserves” due to the reduction in body fat: “(B)eing unexpectedly (emphasis in the original) stuck on a boat, locked in a room or lost in a wilderness are all scenarios where energy reserves may be important.” How often does the average person fall into that type of scenario?

And let’s not forget hunger. “Thoughts about food sometimes increase while practicing CR.” I’m not being sarcastic when I say that this must have been about as hard to figure out as determining that the sun is hot.

As any dieter knows, food is frequently associated with social events, potentially leading to more temptation and slip-ups (especially during the holiday season!). CR recognizes this, saying, among other things, that “CR diets may not be suitable for all family members.” How many of you have ever cooked meals for your family containing foods you couldn’t eat yourself because you were dieting?

Finally, the most serious risk of all – that a dramatic change in diet such as CR represents can attract “people attracted to the extreme,” possibly leading to behaviors such as anorexia or bingeing.

So much for the bad news. Now what’s the good news about CR, according to its proponents?

First, the goal of calorie restriction is slower aging and an extended lifespan, with weight loss considered merely a side effect. A safe CR weight is generally considered to be your weight during your late teens or early twenties, providing you were not obese or anorexic at that time. Proponents also advise against shedding pounds too quickly, as it will “flush lots of toxic chemicals into our bloodstream – too fast for our bodies to effectively eliminate,” and that CR should be implemented over a span of at least one to two years.

Second, the Society claims that scientific research conducted since the 1930’s has shown that calorie-restricted diets have improved the health and extended the life spans of every species tested, from worms and spiders to cows and monkeys, and members believe that those benefits are likely to be experienced by humans as well. (By the way, if you’re wondering exactly how one measures the health improvement of a worm, you’re not alone.) One study has even shown that calorie restriction may reverse early-stage Parkinson’s.

Third, some doctors promote CR as a disease preventative. As Dr. John Holloszy, an authority on enhanced athletic performance and disease state management, told CBS News, “There’s no chance of them [practitioners] getting Type 2 diabetes, they have very low blood pressure, and the risk of them getting cancer is markedly decreased.”

But it was the following statement that really grabbed my attention – that exercise is “not an option,” as “CR dieters simply don’t have the calories for it.”

“The calorie restriction protects them from the same diseases that exercise protects against, and more potently actually than exercise,” said Dr. Holloszy. (God bless you, Doc.)

So what do CR practitioners eat? Well, as one Joseph Cordell described it, his goal is to squeeze the most nutrition out of the lowest number of calories. His diet includes blueberries, nuts and apple peel (most of the fruit’s nutrition is stored there), as well as salmon, broccoli and asparagus. And he’s obviously doing something right, since his doctors say he has the blood pressure of a child, the cholesterol of a teen, and a nearly zero risk of heart disease. In addition, he has a body fat ratio of only seven percent, while the average man of his age (late 40's) has a body fat measurement of 23 to 25 percent.

But Cordell is still a realist. “Americans, many Americans, are not good at deferred gratification,” he says. (Amen, brother. You’re looking at one.) In the end, for Cordell and others like him, the potential payoff is worth the restrictions.

How about you? Would you be willing to reduce your daily calories by up to forty percent in order to reap long-term health benefits? It sounds like an easy question, but I’m certain that for the majority of us it would not be an easy practice. In fact, although CR is not really about “Starving for Longevity,” I don’t doubt that, for me at least, there would be days when it sure felt like I was starving myself!

Calorie restriction involves various long-term ramifications, and even the CRS admits that it’s “relatively uncharted territory.” As a proper understanding of the subject requires more time and research than this blog entry allows, I suggest the following resources as an introduction if you think you’d like to give it a try:

The Calorie Restriction Society (
"The Longevity Diet" by Brian M. Delaney and Lisa Walford (CRS founders)
The Longevity Meme (

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I’ll leave you with a recipe from the CRS Web site, which sounds good enough that I’ll probably make it myself in the near future. In light of the recent food scare involving spinach, I had a momentary hesitation about featuring this particular recipe, but since the day will undoubtedly come when we can all eat spinach again without fear, here’s to your calorically-reduced health, and until we meet again…Keep on Treading!

Spinach Omelet (recipe courtesy of CRS member Robert Cavanaugh)

12 ounces raw spinach
Two medium onions, chopped
Two medium tomatoes, chopped
One large red bell pepper, chopped
Six large eggs
One 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
One tablespoon oil

Wilt spinach in covered saucepan over medium heat. Remove from heat and allow to drain in colander until needed. Heat oil in large skillet and add onions and pepper, cooking until tender. Add tomatoes and continue cooking until moisture is reduced. Preheat oven to 350°. In a large casserole dish, beat eggs. (Add preferred spices here; Cavanaugh likes a half-teaspoon of nutmeg.) Add the tomato mixture and spinach to the eggs and mix well. Top with the chickpeas. Place over low heat for about 15 minutes to firm the bottom. Cover with foil and cut slits to allow moisture to escape. Bake for about 45 minutes. Omelet should be firm; if not, continue baking as necessary. For a golden top, remove cover. Yields eight servings. Suggested serving size: One-eighth pie. Calories per serving: 170.

Monday, October 02, 2006

The Human Aspect

Seems like I keep getting distracted from returning to Claude Bristol’s “The Magic of Believing” by meeting up with people in interesting or unusual situations, whether it’s on television or in person. Such was the case last week, when I attended a businesswomen’s networking dinner and had the privilege of sitting at the same table with a woman named Carmen Velazquez. Carmen is the President and CEO of a company called Biohazard Response, Inc.

My initial introduction to Carmen and her company came when our table went through a round of one-minute introductions. I was astonished when she described her job, which consists of cleaning up the scene of a suicide or homicide, houses where there has been a death involving infectious body fluids, or residences where there are dead animals and bird or rodent droppings. It wasn’t that I had never heard of such workers before, but I’d never given them much thought, either, having fortunately never been faced with a need for their services. And I suppose part of my surprise was that the mention of such a job seemed almost like a loaded grenade thrown into this atmosphere of happy, positive, well-dressed women.

I quickly went from being startled to intrigued, and made a mental note to speak further with Carmen at the close of the evening. I had to know what had attracted her to such a career. Was she a nurse, perhaps?

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to catch all of what Carmen said, due to the noise level in the room as people were getting ready to leave, but I was struck by her first statement, that she’d had a lot of experience with victims of domestic violence, which led me to wonder if some of those experiences had ended in death. I later learned from her Web site that she had worked for many years with the government on issues of domestic violence, and it was seeing the aftermath of some of those experiences that led her to found BRI. But the one thing she said which resounded with me so strongly that I felt moved to write about her was that her company attempts to bring “the human aspect” to the dirty aftermath of traumatic events.

I learned some important things from BRI’s brochure – such as that police, fire department, EMTs and medical examiner personnel do not clean up after traumas such as those I mentioned above. What surprised me in particular was that most of them are actually forbidden to give referrals to a trauma scene cleanup specialist. Nor had I ever considered that strict federal regulations might apply to such cleanup and disposal (understandably, in the age of HIV/AIDS, they do).

You might be wondering by now what all this has to do with the overall concept of fitness featured in this blog. So glad you asked.

Too often we think of that word as applying only to the shape of our physical bodies, don’t we? Yet we are spiritual beings as well, and our minds and spirits can get out of shape just as easily as our bodies. I believe it’s a form of spiritual fitness that BRI address in three words which appear in their brochure: “Protect and Care.” To quote them directly:

“At Biohazard Response, Inc., these two words define our mission. The Care we take in our approach in serving our clients, while striving to Protect them from the psychological shock and physical dangers. Many people are shocked at the burden of cleaning up, when left to deal with a traumatic episode, alone.”

Carmen, her husband and their certified Bio-Technicians bring “the human aspect” to difficult, messy, odorous and onerous work. As she pointed out, trauma cleanup workers frequently, maybe even characteristically, display gallows humor or macho attitudes about their jobs – and I don’t think any of us could completely fault them for it. I imagine it’s their way of coping with the unpleasantness, much as physicians learn to do to emotionally distance themselves from their patients. But, as Carmen told me, her company is attempting to change that stereotype.

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Throughout the evening I had been struck by the theme of community that resounded in the meeting room. Women helping women to connect on a business level was the main focus, but underlying all was the necessity for connection on a human level at the same time. I was moved by an old rabbinical story told by the meeting’s director, which goes like this:

There was a saint who had a vision of life in Heaven and Hell. In Hell he saw a huge table laden with food in the center. Surrounding the table were starving people who all had very long forks attached to the ends of their arms. They could stab the food, but the forks were too long for them to put the food in their mouths. They were screaming in frustration as they tried to eat the food they longed for. In Heaven, the saint saw the exact same table laden with food, and people with long forks at the ends of their arms. However, here the people were all smiling & enjoying the food: They were stabbing the food & putting it into EACH OTHER's mouths!

In my opinion, people like Carmen and her “compassionate company that will put your peace of mind first” are feeding the community in a special way with their focus on “the human aspect” of tragedy. I felt privileged to have crossed paths with her, and that’s why Biohazard Response, Inc. is featured here as Web Site of the Week. Folks, I sincerely hope you never need their services, but in the event that you or someone you know eventually does, I’m glad to be able to recommend them. You can find out more about BRI at If nothing else, drop them an email and give them a well-deserved thanks for the caring they bring to their services.

And until we meet again...Keep on Treading!

Monday, September 25, 2006

There’s Power in the Pom of Your Hand

No, that’s not a typo above. It’s a pun, and admittedly a rather bad one. But I have to get my readers’ attention somehow.

The “Pom” I was referring to isn’t a cheerleader’s pom, either. (Is there such a thing as a “pom,” by the way? I’ve never seen those articles referred to in the singular form. Former cheerleaders, help me out.) Nope, I was actually referring to the homely looking edible that I like to think of as the piñata of fruits, since you have to give it a good whack to get to the treasures inside: the pomegranate.

Several years back, I had something like pity for the pomegranate. It seemed to be a rather neglected fruit, at least in this country. (Never mind that I hadn’t eaten one myself for a considerable time.) And so it was with delighted enthusiasm that I embraced its healthful properties when I was working for a beverage company and looking for a new product idea for my department’s annual innovation fair.

My own introduction to the pomegranate was with some mild bewilderment over exactly how to eat one. I don’t recall now if someone told me or I simply figured it out after slicing one open, but it was an enjoyable experience – crunching on tart-sweet seeds encased in juice-filled sacs that looked like little rubies. My only regret was that there wasn’t much payoff for the work involved. (It’s not for nothing that one wit has referred to the pomegranate as “the perfect diet food.”)

Neither do I recall exactly what gave me the idea to feature the pomegranate in my beverage theme much later, but as far as innovation went, I was pretty sure no one else in my group was going to be using it. After all, while the “piñata fruit” was popular in the Middle East, its juice sold by sidewalk vendors, I didn’t see much evidence that it had caught on in America. I briefly allowed myself grandiose visions of changing that with a couple of beverages I named “Pom-Pow,” for straight pomegranate juice, and “Peach-Pom,” or something of that nature, for a juice flavored with just a bit of peach nectar. (Okay, readers, these were working titles.)

My attempts didn’t set the health beverage world, or even my department, on fire, but I learned enough to gain a new respect for this culinary rough diamond. First, I was intrigued to learn that Iranians believe the pomegranate was the fruit that Eve fed to Adam in the Garden of Eden, rather than the traditional apple, although personally, I had a bit of trouble picturing that, since she would have needed something to cut it open with. On the other hand, the Good Book says that the pair tended the Garden, so they must have possessed some kind of tools. Well, as I’ve said before, this is not a religion blog and I’m no Biblical scholar, so you’ll have to consult your local theologian on that one. Other cultures have their own pomegranate traditions: the Chinese, for example, eat a sugared version of the seeds on a couple’s wedding day, to bless the newlyweds, while Greeks break open the fruit at weddings as a symbol of fertility.

Today we know that what a BBC News article described as “the fruity panacea” is loaded with vitamins A, C, E and iron, and that its antioxidant properties outweigh even red wine and green tea. (Antioxidants are naturally occurring substances in plants which protect our bodies from free radicals, or “bad chemicals” in our blood.) When I was putting together marketing concepts for my own beverage ideas, I was particularly fascinated to discover that scientists in the U.K. were looking into using a pomegranate-derived substance in the development of an AIDS vaccine, although I don’t know now what became of that study. But our ancestors didn’t need fancy studies or modern laboratories to figure out that the pomegranate, in spite of its slightly inaccessible nature, was a health “super food.” For many years healers in the Middle East, Iran and India have used all parts of the fruit to cure conditions ranging from conjunctivitis to hemorrhoids. It is even said that a paste of the leaves, massaged into the scalp, can apparently reverse baldness. Now that’s not something I’ve ever had a problem with, but take note, Hair Club for Men customers! What really tickled me was culinary historian Margaret Shaida’s statement that when she lived in Iran, she was given a bowl of pomegranates to help her recover from “Tehran Tummy” – a condition I’d never heard of before, but which I strongly suspect bears a resemblance to “Montezuma’s Revenge.”

About a year ago, I was in the bagged salad aisle of my local grocery store when I happened upon a product called “Pom Wonderful.” Holy cow, I thought – someone stole my idea! No, not really. But I was intrigued to find the line of both “straight” and flavored pomegranate-based beverages available in both juices and tea, in an American grocery store. Somebody had finally caught on, I thought.

That somebody was a California-headquartered company called POM Wonderful LLC. According to noted nutritionist Andrew Weil (, the company pays researchers to study the health benefits of pomegranate juice, gives doctors information on studies, and, naturally, sells pomegranate products. And some of those products sound pretty cool – like the Pomegranate Lychee Green Tea or the Pomegranate Peach Passion White Tea. (Hmmm...were some of this company’s researchers at that innovation fair I mentioned earlier?) If juice is more in your line, you can try flavor combinations of pomegranate with blueberry, cherry, mango and tangerine. For more information, just click on over to, or check out the produce aisle of your grocery store. Tell ’em Treader Lucie sent you.

The homely pomegranate is indeed a culinary asset, and America is indeed “catching on.” According to a company that tracks new products, 215 new foods and beverages containing pomegranate were introduced to the U.S. market this year, while as many as 258 pomegranate products were added in 2005. So check it out. Not only will you be doing something good for your health while you eat one, but you can impress your friends and family with your knowledge of its benefits and colorful history. Who knows – maybe you’ll spark a local trend.

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Of course I couldn’t talk about pomegranates without giving you at least one recipe including same. Enjoy! (Disclaimer: I haven’t actually tried it myself yet – I was too busy writing this entry.) This recipe originally appeared in Sunset magazine.

Fresh Pomegranate Chutney

1/2 cup red currant jelly
1/3 cup finely chopped green onions, including tops
1 cup pomegranate seeds (from a 1-pound pomegranate; see note below)
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon minced fresh jalapeno chili
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper

Put currant jelly in a 2-cup glass measure. Heat in a microwave oven at full power (100%) until softened, about 20 seconds.

Stir in green onions, pomegranate seeds, ginger, chili, coriander, and lemon juice; add salt and pepper to taste. Let stand about 15 minutes before serving.

Yield: about 1-1/4 cups

Note: Remove pomegranate seeds up to one day ahead; chill seeds airtight.

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Let me know how you enjoy those edible little rubies. And until we meet again - Keep on Treading!

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Era of Our Discontent, Part II: When Knowledge is a Double-Edged Sword

“…For I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need." – The Apostle Paul, Philippians 4:11-12.

I have to admit that every time I heard or read the above verse, I secretly thought – even if I never would have dared to admit it out loud – that Paul was, in essence, wimping out. After all, if you’re content in any situation, why would you ever reach for something more? It seemed a stagnant way of living.

Last week, however, when I was thinking about contentment and the seeming lack of it in our society, it finally dawned on me that not only was such a thought disrespectful to a great man, but I was most likely misunderstanding what he’d written all those centuries ago. I believe now that what Paul meant by contentment was not satisfaction, as I’d always interpreted the word, but peace of mind.

And what circumstances did he have to challenge his peace of mind! The above verse, after all, was written while he was jailed under appalling conditions. Just thinking about it makes me feel a bit guilty about that box of tooth-whitening strips in my bureau drawer – which box was purchased, of course, in a moment marked by lack of contentment.

Thinking about Paul brought to mind yet another of his sayings that always gave me a twinge:

“In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with braided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.”

Well! I used to say to myself. Paul was a man, and a single one, at that. He didn’t know how women think, or how most of them instinctively long to be found attractive by the opposite sex.

Yet light seemed to dawn again as this verse came back to me. What I had once simplistically viewed as a condemnation of female adornment now sounded more like an instruction to put our priorities in order…that beauty of character should be our primary concern.

I don’t know if my interpretation is correct, and this is not a religious blog. But for a moment it intrigued me to think of what the apostle might say if confronted with today’s mania for plastic surgery, natural “enhancement” products, and the like. And amusingly, what set off my remembering the verse that has probably caused countless women to secretly cringe was reading about hair: specifically, that of singer Beyoncé Knowles.

What does Beyoncé have to do with St. Paul? Not a thing, really. But there I was, fresh off TV programs about plastic surgery and male enhancement products the night before, just powered on to my PC and connected to the Internet, when I was confronted with the following advisories from AOL:

“Copy Kate Hudson’s Look for Less!” “Get Beyoncé’s Skin and Hair Secrets!”

Since I probably weigh about 100 pounds more than Kate Hudson, I didn’t think there was any hope of my looking like her no matter what I wore. As for Ms. Knowles, we are of different races and she is 21 years my junior. Nevertheless, I couldn’t resist a peek at her “secrets.” I suppose I was inwardly hoping that she might have some previously unheard of weapon that would aid my own occasionally troublesome complexion.

The “secrets” turned out to be a slideshow of different hairstyles the singer has worn during the past eight years. I had expected some advice on how she kept her locks healthy and shining. Instead, I learned from her hairstylist that she “likes the feeling of it being big, long and free-flowing,” while her makeup artist informed the reader that the singer has two sides, one of which is “the natural side, which is about her being real and not wearing much makeup. Then there’s her adventurous side, where I can put strong green shadows on her eyes and fuchsia or orange on her lips.”

Honey, I thought, if you put those colors on me, I’d look like a clown, not Beyoncé! And I suspect the same would be true of many a gal.

But after I had a bit of a laugh at myself, I couldn’t help wondering if a number of young black women were viewing the same slideshow and trying to copy the singer’s look – only to discover that what worked on her didn’t necessarily work on them? That they were still themselves?

By an interesting coincidence, this same week I had been reading a book set in Pennsylvania’s Amish country. At one point, after pondering the seemingly endless choices for lightening my teeth, reducing my weight, vanishing my cellulite, fading my age spots, and so on, I found myself momentarily wishing that I had been raised Amish, where everyone dressed alike and wore their hair alike and didn’t diet or wear makeup or contact lenses or pluck their gray hairs or get braces…but still managed to date and get married.

Hold on. I might be more content, but I would look awful.

And speaking of the Plain folk…

Channel-flipping once more, I came across an interesting story about a Mennonite man who had raised some eyebrows in his community when he opted to have a “body lift.” In my view, he had a valid reason: he had lost about 100 pounds or so and been left with a good deal of sagging skin. Yet this was not his only plastic surgery procedure, and apparently some of his fellow Mennonites viewed his decisions as evidence of vanity.

That got me thinking about knowledge, and when “a little” becomes “dangerous.” It was good for this Mennonite man’s self-esteem to know that such a procedure as a body lift is available. But was it good for his relationship with a community that puts such emphasis on conformity and self-denial? And at an average cost of $13,000, was it good for his finances – especially when it was not his only cosmetic procedure?

The woman I talked about last week, who elected for cosmetic surgery of a sexual nature, agreed with her husband that it had improved their romantic life as well as her self-esteem. In her case a little prior knowledge was evidently a good thing. But what about the woman who cannot afford to have such a procedure done, or the man who buys a “male enhancement” product to find that it doesn’t deliver the desired results? What about the person who buys a tooth whitener that says it will lighten teeth “up to six shades” but feels they’ve only gone up four shades? I found myself wondering if we were heading slowly but steadily into an era of “sexual eugenics,” in which only the most taut/pearly-white/cellulite-free/surgically enhanced would be considered contestants in the romance race.

Perhaps you think I’m being overly dramatic. Frankly, I would not be sorry if that was the case. After all, whenever I look at the people around me, whether in my own family, among my friends, or at the local shopping mall, I see bodies ranging the gamut from obese to Paris Hilton-thin. I see crooked teeth and bald spots and age spots. And I’m encouraged to see how many of these average-looking folks are accompanied by a significant other, although they would seem to be the dream target of many marketers. But then I recall the article describing how some men find themselves concerned about their growing inability to relate to “real” women after a surfeit of airbrushed images, or the statistics about the rapid increase in cosmetic procedures among teenage girls. I remember a former coworker who, when describing a potential date, said nothing of his character but noted that his teeth were straight and white, and another coworker who could not have been more than a size six yet habitually wore a blue denim Oxford shirt over her clothing at work, because she felt she had “a multitude of sins to cover.” And I’m left with more questions than answers.

One possible answer came to me, however, in the form of a fantasy…a dream of a world free of advertising. Would we find our ideas of beauty, our desires and “needs,” changing if we were not surrounded by diets and creams and pills and strips? Of cars and houses with more gadgets? Unless we all join the Amish, I doubt we’ll ever know. But for a moment, folks, it was fun to picture.

In these last two entries I’ve focused on contentment based on physical appearance. Obviously there are other aspects to this issue, but the subject could fill a book. How about you? How does contentment play a role in your life? If you’re willing to share, I’d love to hear from you.

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For the first time since I began writing this blog, I have no idea what I’ll be talking about next week. But whatever it is, I hope to see you there. So until we meet again...Keep on Treading!