Friday, December 12, 2014

Year of No Breakfast

I am near the end of a year of skipping breakfast…sort of. Yes, it has been a year. No, it hasn’t been perfect; there were some skips (skipping skipping breakfast). Did it change much for me? Not really. Most people I know eat breakfast and many say it is the most important meal of the day. On the other hand, some doctors advocate skipping it. I became interested in it as a way to lose weight and be healthy. Is this crazy or ill advised?

One day more than a year ago I read about something called intermittent fasting in an online column by Dr. Joseph Mercola, who sends his messages to about a hundred thousand Americans, among them me. His online existence is at He wrote about benefits of intermittent fasting, which include good health and longevity. Then I found books: The Mini-Fast Diet: Burn Fat Faster than Ever, by Dr. Julian Whitaker and Peggy Dace, and The Fast Diet: Stay Healthy and Live Longer with the Simple Secret of Intermittent Fasting, by Dr. Michael Mosley.  It sounded like the great panacea. Well, maybe.

These doctors presented stories about people whose lives were greatly changed by intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting is not starving oneself. It is timing one’s meals to allow for regular periods of fasting a couple of days a week, or daily shorter periods. There are various ways to do it. They also recommended exercise during the fasts. As I understood it, during the fast the body goes into a state called ketosis, which burns fat. The other recommendation was to eat a low glycemic, or low carb, diet.  The people quoted in the books lost many pounds and reversed chronic diseases. They were more overweight and obese than I have ever been. Maybe that’s why the program worked for them so dramatically.

I opted for Dr. Mercola’s version, which was to abstain from all food daily for sixteen to eighteen hours but drink plenty of water. I chose to fast from evening supper until late morning or noon the following day. It’s easier to fast while one is sleeping, so it looked like the best way to me. (I hesitate to say it looked like a piece of cake.) I am rarely hungry in the morning, so that was a plus. The doctors spent a lot of pages telling people that this diet would eliminate their hunger and cravings; I wasn’t experiencing hunger and cravings most of the time. So I said this would be easy.

Most days it was easy after the daily arguments with myself about whether my interest in food was coming from my stomach or my brain. I wouldn’t call this craving, and it never was hunger. Partly it was a habit of eating in the morning, and partly it was my brain telling me that just eating a little bit would be a good idea. That little gremlin in my brain never stopped talking to me for the eleven-plus months of skipping breakfast. Sometimes it won; sometimes I won. Mostly I didn’t eat in the morning. But often I changed my supper time to occur early in the evening so my sixteen hour fast would end by about ten o’clock in the morning, when I could eat again. I never was a big breakfast eater. Dr. Whitaker said to eat breakfast at noon if one thinks breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

Exceptions to this plan occurred when it was time to eat breakfast with other people such as my family when I was with them, when I had a later dinner with friends, and when I was on vacation. These occasions were infrequent. I caved in and ate.

Well, did it work? As I said earlier, sort of. I lost ten pounds from January through April. Then came the plateau that lasted the rest of the year. Possibly Dr. Whitaker was mistaken when he said that his diet would result in calorie reduction of about four hundred calories per day. I think that works only for people who spend their lives eating big high carb breakfasts. I am not one of them even when I eat in the morning.

Dr. Whitaker’s book has a chapter about obstacles to weight loss related to intermittent fasting. Mine is thyroid related. He didn’t say that hypothyroid people would have an easy time. He said, backed up by many testimonials, that this works for many people. Dr. Whitaker runs a weight loss clinic.

Dr. Whitaker’s book offers a summary of why intermittent fasting, which he calls the mini-fast with exercise, works:
·         Cuts daily caloric intake by skipping a meal;
·         Reduces the need for calorie counting and making difficult food decisions throughout the day;
·         Switches you into the fat-burning mode and keeps you there for hours;
·         Curbs appetite by triggering ketosis and eliminating blood sugar swings;
·         Allows you to eat what you want—within reason—for the rest of the day;
·         Improves underlying risk factors such as insulin resistance inflammation, and oxidative stress, and “turns on” antiaging genes. (p.66)

I expect to continue with intermittent fasting for a while, even without dramatic results.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Thanksgiving and Black Friday

Our day of national gluttony is almost here. We fill ourselves with turkey and dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole and pumpkin pie, and we sit down to watch football, the sport that offers brain damage from concussions. What a day. It’s one of a few days in the year when families gather to gorge and love one another.

Something has replaced the local enactments of our national mythology. It’s shopping. The thing I have been hearing about is Black Friday. Black Friday is the busiest shopping day of the year, and now it is becoming Black Thursday. A bit of an uproar has surfaced about stores being open all or part of Thanksgiving Day, due to people being required to be at work in those stores when God and country have previously expected them to be at the table and in front of the television set. What has happened to our priorities? Our families?

As long as Black Friday has moved to center stage, Thanksgiving Thursday seems to be taking second or third place. Second place behind our economic system. Third place behind the pilgrims of two hundred years ago and their big dinner with the native people that became part of our national mythology. It’s shopping that matters. Let’s get a head start on Christmas, which is only a month away.

I’m glad to know that some churches in Madison will be serving Thanksgiving dinner for those who would like to partake. Those dinners will be lovingly presented by people who won’t be in their homes and won’t be at the mall. Hats off to them. We still have plenty of goodness in the USA.

What can we say about an economic system that is powerful enough to overtake a national holiday? Are human beings primarily economic animals who serve the capitalist system? Some of the store workers may need the money more than they need a turkey dinner. And the turkeys themselves are part of the financial expense of Thanksgiving. Some people can’t afford big turkeys. Low income people are in a bind every day, not just Thanksgiving Day. It’s a system that needs to go to rehab.

We rejoice with our families as we fill ourselves with turkey, watch football and go shopping. Let’s give a thought to American wonderfulness. Families still matter. Being together and sharing food matter in spite of the things that interfere. Let’s put Black Thursday in the back seat, away from our table.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Dolores Allen and Recipes

This is an article I wrote for Edible Door, a Door County publication. I don't mention that she is my mother. I don't know if it will look like this after the publisher does something with it.

Dolores Allen was part of the Door County cooking scene for more than fifty years. She created her long lasting recipe program in 1951 shortly after the startup of radio station WDOR by her husband Ed Allen. First it was called “Kitchenette and Fashionette,” and not long afterward it became “Five Minutes With Dolores Allen.” It might have been put into the Guiness Book of World Records if anyone had documented its duration for number of years it was on the air. More than fifty. In later years the recipes became a cookbook, Door County Recipes and a Little Local Lore.

Dolores’ little down home five minute program sparked an ongoing relationship about cooking with her listeners, who mailed her recipes regularly. She wasn’t like Julia Child or Martha Stewart and wasn’t like the other well-known culinary experts. She had no education in cooking, or home economics as it used to be called, but she knew cooking from her mother, her own experience, and the women’s magazines she read during her long life. So Dolores happily tried out most of the offerings of her listeners and announced them on her program for all the world to enjoy. The program’s long time sponsor was Corner House Shops of Sturgeon Bay.

After saying, “Thank you and good morning, everyone,” Dolores would tell what the day’s recipe was, with anecdotes about the person who created it if she was familiar with the person. She would list the ingredients and the method of preparation, and then repeat the recipe, all in a five minute time period. This was radio, so she was not cooking while talking. Her program originally was on the air before Sturgeon Bay began to have television from Green Bay.

This woman was no couch potato. Dolores grew up in Winona, Minnesota, where she proved to be an attractive, creative person. She was Miss Winona in the late 1920s, earned a degree in English and French from the College of St. Teresa in Winona, and then moved to Chicago. She worked for Life Magazine and did some modeling. She married Ed Allen who was a Chicago radio announcer, and had three children, while being a writer of fiction and radio drama. They brought these talents and advantages to Sturgeon Bay, created a corporation with local investors, and WDOR was born. That produced the beginning of the cooking program.

Dolores could write, and she could talk. She brought a wide range of recipes to the program. Some were from Door County restaurants (with permission), some were from listeners, and some came from her own recipe collection or cookbooks. She once borrowed a chapter from a cook book belonging to her daughter, Kathy, and later returned it with many notes and dates of broadcast in the margins. Always she gave credit to the sources. Dolores also created in and published The Key to the Door Peninsula guidebook for many years, in the 1950s once a year and later twice each year. It continues to exist in altered form today.

The popular cookbook was an outgrowth of the recipe program. Door County Recipes and a Little Local Lore is a book of recipes compiled by Dolores from her radio program, along with some of her personal favorites. She included little comments with the recipes, anecdotes of Door County history and illustrations by her daughter.  Who could resist Mrs. Bassford’s Strawberry Pie, which arrived from Connie Anderson?  And everyone would want to try du Nord Cherry Torte from Mrs. Max Fletcher. Don’t miss Broccoli and Apple Soup from Eileen Madson  of Sister Bay. Then everyone should try Dolores’ personal favorites, like Infallible Roast Beef or $200 French Dressing. The story of the dressing is included, including the story of the bill for $200 that the lady who requested the recipe received, whereupon she shared it widely. This is the flavor of the Dolores Allen cookbook.   Publication was in 1989, with a second printing in 1994, by her company, Key Enterprises of Sturgeon Bay.  It is out of print but still appears in used book stores.