Health Topics

Yesterday I had a chance to attend a workshop about creating farm revenue in urban spaces and walked away with my head spinning. A very talented and enthusiastic guy by the name of Nic Esposito, who self proclaimed himself as just a “west-philly-grundge”, passed on his success and knowledge of how to start a small farm on urban land.

Working with several organizations in Philly, including UC Green, to green up urban areas, Nic earned enough of a reputation and was approached to see if he could do something with a particular vacant space in West Philly. In its lifetime the empty space had served as a place to get high, in trouble, and as a site for cherry pickers to park while constructing a new SEPTA station.  This is the space today:

Urban Farm in West Philly (Market & 46th)

In an area that traditionally viewed fresh and organic produce as expensive and out of reach, the community now has direct access to home grown. It gets even better though. Nic is working with a group of college students who are treating the non CSA part of the garden as a traditional farm. The students are learning the day-to-day operations along with selling the produce at Farmers Markets and to small stores and restaurants. The proceeds are there’s to keep.

The workshop spoke to many of the challenges and creative solutions to questions such as how to get land, community participation, water, and even wooden blocks for the plots. The answers to these questions are truly inspiring from a sustainable and community perspective. For example,  the blocks and bricks come from many unused scraps throughout the city. The water from rain will be gathered on the SEPTA station (red brick building on left) will go into barrels and then be used in the garden with the help of a battery and solar panel.

SEPTA station will collect water for Community Farm

Even if you don’t live in Philadelphia, which has 400,000 vacant lots, chances are there are vacant lots in your city. These places are typically gross and home to activities such as loitering, drug use, and other crime. See who you can contact in your cities to simultaneously improve the urban area and give people better access to fresh produce.


Lastly, I want to mention the organization that put together this workshop, SAITA (Sustainable Agriculture Internship Training Alliance). SAITA pulls together interns throughout the southeastern PA farms and creates a network in which they learn about new sustainability topics. Luckily, these workshops are opened to regular people too. Its just really impressive that an organization like this exists to bring together like-minded young people and create an environment where they can learn together about relevant topics.

Thanks SAITA and Nic Esposito!

Sustainable Agriculture Internship Training alliance

I took a 4 month hiatus from blogging and in getting back to it, I had a lot of questions from people about my overall thoughts on the AFPA Nutrition and Wellness Program. While I was enrolled in the program I wrote 2 reviews, which you can read here and here.

I am going to be completely honest, I think I retained 3% of the information from the course. When I signed up for the program, I thought it sounded like a great way to learn more about nutrition and have something food related in my life since my job has nothing to do with food. For the cost of the program, I’d have been better off taking a few fun cooking lessons. I suppose that if you had an impressive resume in a particular field such as finance or marketing and you were working in an industry such as telecommunications and you wanted to switch to food, an AFPA Nutrition certificate on your resume would show that you were serious about your food interest. However, I think linking to a food blog that you maintain would also show that interest.

You know when you start the program that it will be an individual effort, but I really wish there was an online community for the program to at least bring like minded people together. As far as the difficulty of the course, its super easy. Its multiple choice and you can basically find 95% of the questions in the text, likewise with the open ended questions. The case study is also an easy exercise in that you work with someone you know and can basically make stuff up. I know that’s not a very serious way to take it…

Mostly, Registered Dietitians go through such a rigorous program before consulting with patients that its hard to believe its appropriate for someone with an AFPA certificate to do the same. In states such as New York, its not enough, but other states are more lenient.

So in the spirit of full disclosure, I did not benefit from receiving the certificate. If you have any specific questions, please post and I’ll do my best to answer.

Its been exactly a month since my last post.

After my appendix surgery, I wasn’t able to work out for several weeks, my appetite was screwy at best, and I was taking painkillers. For someone that defines themselves by terms such as “workout junky”, “health food nut”, and “I-will-only-take-advil-if-dying”, this was a hellish several weeks. I lost my identity. I felt false, like things I said weren’t true anymore. It made writing about leading a healthy lifestyle too frustrating. By the time the stream of holidays came around, I was eating cookies and toasting champagne with the rest of the world and feeling, big surprise, even more unhealthy.

But, its a new year. And, I, like everyone else, I get to regroup and make and meet goals.

I stumbled back to the gym last week, surrounded by the eager New Years Resolutioners, and feeling like a stranger myself. The treadmill looked so daunting, have I ever been able to run? By the third workout, I started to remember “the workout high” and by the fifth workout, I got on the treadmill. It was a pathetic showing at best, as my endurance is non-existent, but its ok.

Its a fresh start.

Happy belated New Year everyone.

Whether its cold weather, an illness, or you are just having a down sort of day, comfort food has a way of making things better. Since I’ve been recovering from the appendix surgery and its been cold, not to mention I lay around all day, I crave comfort food all day. However, as I mentioned, most of my day is spent laying,  so if I gave in to all my cravings, I would probably have to go back to work wearing my pajama’s since that would be the only outfit that fit.

I’ve been trying to find ways to satisfy my comfort food cravings without having the real thing. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

Ice Cream – non-fat greek yogurt with agave syrup drizzled on top. Must serve in a fancy glass and eat slowly as if it is luxurious, fatty ice cream.

Pizza – its really the warm cheesy bite mixed with carbs that I’m craving, so I’ve been making lots of little whole wheat pita pizzas

Chocolate Chip Cookies – I’m not sure why this works so well, but whole-wheat waffles spread with Nutella make me feel like I’ve gotten to eat quite a few cookies. Waffles is one of the things that I’ve never really eaten before this surgery, and now I crave them for breakfast and dinner.

Here’s a few other replacement ideas that I mean to act on in the next few days:

Potato Chips – Popcorn sprinkled with Sea Salt

French Fries – Baked Sweet Potato Fries

Creamy Soup – Opt for creamy tomato instead of something like a New England Clam Chowder

Mashed Potatoes – I say go for it, but use low fat milk and something like Brummel’s Yogurt Butter and enjoy a reasonable portion guilt free. Personally, I prefer a sweet potato mashed and naked.

Grilled Cheese Sandwich – whole wheat toast with a low fat Laughing Cow Cheese spread between, and pressed in a George Forman or panini press

And last, but not least, I have found that one of my true comfort foods is Animal Crackers. When I don’t want to eat anything, but know I really need to, my animal crackers have really come through.

Does anyone have any other comfort food replacement ideas?

Its the infamous month of holiday parties, cocktails, and cookies. Appropriately so, its December 1st,  and today was my first holiday party. Rather than tell you what I ate today, let me start with what I did not eat:

There were bacon wrapped scallops, spanakopita, asparagus wrapped with prosciutto, and a peanut butter chocolate ice cream cake. Those are just the highlights! Its no wonder people gain weight during the holiday season. My strategy was to eat a few skewers of grilled chicken, a few pieces of lox, 1 glass of wine, and then to put gum in my mouth.

Other than the beautiful food at this party, my eats were uneventful. Greek yogurt with grapes and cereal for breakfast, sans the almonds, and I felt like I got hungrier earlier than usual with no fat in my breakfast. The rest of the day followed the fat free plan. It was weight training day – no impact from the lack of fat…yet? Lunch and Dinner were about as exciting as this:

I’m not sure if everyone is like this, but I can eat the same thing for lunch and dinner…is that weird?

How do you handle all the temptations of holiday parties?

I don’t eat a lot of full-fat but as  I was sprinkling Parmesan cheese over my veggies and shrimp dinner, my boyfriend pointed out to me  that I’m attempting to do no fat, not a low amount of fat. Oops! I guess I didn’t take myself as seriously as I should have because in recording the eats for my first day – there’s fat sprinkled into most of my eats. Its not exactly an experiment if you cheat. I want the full experience of my body noticing that fat is missing (or lack of that feeling). Maybe we don’t need fat other than fatty foods taste good?

I started the morning with about 6oz. of non-fat greek yogurt, half a cup of grapes, a teaspoon of almonds, and 1/2 cup of Nature’s Path heritage flakes. I learned that 3/4 cup of cereal is 2 points, and 1/2 cup is 1 point. Since I get 20 points a day this seemed like a good way to save. However, it doesn’t really make sense to me why the difference over 1/4 of a cup – does anyone know why? I was also surprised that 1 teaspoon of almonds was 1 point, the same as my 1/2 cup of cereal!

Before the gym, I had a piece of ww toast with a teaspoon of jelly. This usually would have been almond butter, but I can’t say that my lunch workout suffered. I did a high-power cardio workout with no affect/hunger.

Aren’t the slices of this 40 calorie tiny?

Lunch was a non-fat feast – I managed to avoid any nut butter or other slips.

  • 1 cup of Trader Joe’s Black bean soup
  • TJs’  ww quesadillas stuffed with non-fat cheese, left over turkey, and salsa
  • Veggies and non-fat honey mustard dressing as dip

Lunch kept me full for a long time and I was very surprised about this. I usually think that if there isn’t any fat at all you get hungrier faster.

For a before dinner snack I had my beloved Veggie Booty – and they have 5 grams of fat. Hm…I guess I wasn’t as prepared as I thought for a non-fat life.

And finally for dinner, I enjoyed one of my favorite pasta dishes only this time I didn’t include olives due to fat. And, I didn’t have any pasta because I’m just not a huge fan of carbs at night. But, the bf thinks a meal isn’t complete without carbs and protein, so here’s the his and hers version:

Yes, his looks better.

For tomorrow – I’m going to be more conscious about the normal items I eat that have fat. Sadly, I always have almonds in my yogurt so I’m missing them already.

So the advice generally given is to enjoy the Thanksgiving meal and the next day get back to your usual eating habits and exercise routine. But what if you get sick the day after??? I’ve been sleeping away 70% of the last 2 days with exercise maxing out at walking to the kitchen or bathroom. I feel like a sloth.

Being laid up has given me some time to think  though. I’ve always been curious about how food affects our bodies, health, and weight.  And, I think its interesting how many of my friends live by certain “food rules” such as low carb and fat free. The funny thing is all of these woman are stick thin, so obviously it works for them. I’m not stick thin, its not my body type, however, I’m curious to see how a low carb and non-fat lifestyle would affect how I feel and how I look.  So I’ve decided to become a guinea pig and try both of these lifestyles for a month and see how it affects my energy levels, my work outs, and my weight.

For the first month (December), I am going to follow Weight Watchers because the program keeps fat in check due to the high points assigned to foods like peanut butter. The alternative way to adhere to a low fat diet would be to keep fat intake under a certain percentage of my total calories, but that is way too much math to compute on a daily basis.

For the second month (January), I am going to do the induction period of South Beach and then continue to follow phase 2.

During both of these trials, I’ll keep track of how I feel and my body’s reaction to limiting certain foods. I think the first program will be much easier than the first, as I love carbohydrates. I know that experimenting like this sounds hypocritical to my general approach of eating healthfully and listening to your body – but its only 2 months of my life and I think it will teach me a lot about how my body reacts to certain food groups.

Ok – happy experimenting to me (as soon as I stop being sick)!

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