I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). The symptoms (for me) are lack of energy, really poor sleep patterns and the accompanying urge to doze during the day. It starts in November and usually by this time (mid-February), what with the longer periods of daylight, I’m feeling perkier. But this year it’s not happening, and the last two weeks have been pure hell.
I’ll blame the weather. We’ve had unrelenting gloomy grey days, interspersed with ice, rain and snow mixes that glazed everything and made walking treacherous. My truck is still encased in ice, I’ve been housebound for ages and all I want is comfort food.
In past years, that’s meant a weight gain, which at my age I can ill afford, because comfort traditionally started and ended with chocolate or salty bits of goodness. My downfall has always been potato chips, Tostitos, hard pretzels… If it crunched, it was likely in my mouth (try not to over-think that).
But this year, I made a vow to change bad habits into healthier ones: learning to combine comfort and nutrition yet still keep taste a priority. It hasn’t been easy.
We aren’t sweets people here on the hacienda (chocolate doesn’t count, it’s a valid food group). I don’t buy or bake cakes, pies, cookies or treats like that. Not a pudding fan. Forget Jell-O. No really… Forget it. So, if I exclude salty snacks, what’s left?
I hear you grumbling not much, and trust me, I’m not arguing, but desperate times call for desperate measures.
Step One: don’t have it in the house. That means when you are out panic shopping before the next big storm, you eat enough before heading out to take the edge off, stick to the list, and bypass the snack aisles.
Step Two: load up on fresh veggies. We always have regular and cherry tomatoes, green/yellow/red/orange sweet peppers, mushrooms (non-hallucinogenic), celery, scallions, cukes, and Romaine lettuce on hand. I never, ever, buy canned vegetables. The salt content is out the roof and for me the taste verges on unpalatable.
For those of you sputtering what about frozen… Snacking on defrosted brussel sprouts is doable, just not mah thang.
Bottom line, eating healthy ain’t cheap. It also means making more frequent trips to the market because fresh doesn’t last forever, and there’s no sense compounding that cost with the additional waste when you have to toss something speckled with white or black mold. Or limp. I really, really hate limp. Eeeuw. (Make of that what you will.)
Step Three: take time to prepare snack-sized portions and place in those convenient plastic containers. I cut up the peppers, ‘shrooms, and celery, add a handful of cherry tomatoes and box up lunch-sized portions for both of us. For a dip, I use either honey-mustard salad dressing (I can make my own, of course, but I found a brand I especially like so I go with that) or I mix commercial salsa with whipped cream cheese or sour cream.
Step Four: do like in the old days, have a cauldron/pot of soup going at all times. We fancy cream of cauliflower soup (recipe below) or veggie soup with everything but the kitchen sink in it (including lentils or beans of your choice). For me, soup—especially homemade—is the ultimate comfort food. It warms me up from the inside out, fills me up without loading me down with calories, and I can control the salt content which is a good thing.
Did you know most commercial brands of soup contain a minimum of 650 mg of sodium? Yikes! Yes, there are low-salt versions, but still. Instead of salt, I use a variety of spices/herbs to add flavor: cumin, dried basil, rosemary, garlic powder, nutmeg, etc. It passes the taste test with flying colors and I really don’t miss the salt.
Step Five: look for ways to add protein to your diet. We are blessed with the Hens from Hell who deliver free range goodness on a daily basis. I hard boil eggs for use in salads, in soup, as a condiment, and as deviled eggs. If you don’t have the luxury of backyard chickens, commercial eggs will do.
I am addicted to cheese and I am lactose intolerant. But I can handle brie, havarti, swiss and horseradish cheddar just fine. Go figure. So when a celery stick won’t cut it, slapping a bit of brie on a dried everything bagel crisp or a slice from a fresh French baguette is usually enough to take me to my happy place (I also have pills for that from knee surgery but we can discuss that later).
Since this is a new offensive, all I can tell you is that I’m really looking forward to a steaming bowl of soup at lunchtime, and we haven’t been nearly as tempted to eat in the evening (reading or watching TV) because 1) the junk food is absent and 2) the meals I’m making—heavy on veggies and protein, lighter on carbs—seems to be satisfying those pesky food cravings.
You know what they say: your mileage may vary. I think the win for us has been simply not buying the junk food. Out of sight, eventually out of mind.
I feel a little better, have a bit more energy. Now I just need for it to stop snowing…
**********Cream of Cauliflower Soup**********
3/4 large head of cauliflower broken into florets
2 medium onions, 1″ dice
3-4 celery stalks, 1″ dice
1 qt canned low sodium chicken stock (or make your own)
1 pint light cream (or half and half)
To taste: I use ~2-3 tsp cracked pepper, 2-3 tsp cumin, 1 tsp garlic powder (or just shake it in until it looks right)
Place all ingredients in a crock pot or slow cooker, set on low for 3-4 hours.
Let cool, then puree in blender, add light cream to taste
When ready to serve, sprinkle nutmeg on top
Optional: add some shredded 5-cheese Italian, cheddar or taco cheese, and saltines crumbled (I said I controlled salt, not eliminated it).
If you suffer from SAD, hopefully this will encourage you to look for nutritional fixes.