29 Aug 2011

Dieting and Decision Fatigue.

The other day, my husband pointed out an article that 'would interest me'. He was right – as usual.

The article was called 'Do you make too many decisions?', posted at the smart and thought-provoking Farnam Street blog.

Decisions, Decisions ...

Now, before you think this was his subtle way of calling me bossy, you might want to read the article. It deals with the decision density of modern life, and how each decision takes mental effort, thus reducing the amount of energy left for stamina, persistence and willpower.

This leads to what is called 'decision fatigue', which is described in detail in this New York Times article and in Roy F. Baumeister's and John Tierney's book: 'Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength' that's coming out in a few days (September 1st, 2011).

One of the most interesting takeaways of the articles for me was the discovery that glucose plays a vital role in willpower. It explains why dieting is a particularly difficult test of self-control.

The Catch-22 of Dieting ...

Seriously, everyone who's ever been on a diet knows this - myself included. Even people with very strong willpower in other aspects of their lives feel they're lacking when it comes to dieting.

We start the day with the best of intentions, manage to resist the first temptations thrown at us, but each of these brave acts takes up mental energy and lowers our willpower. Towards the end of the day, willpower simply runs out. To replenish it, we'd have to give our brain glucose, hence the sugar cravings.

So here it is, the catch-22 of dieting:

1. We need willpower to resist eating.
2. We need to eat in order to have willpower.

Now, the good news is that, once an explanation has been found, one can start looking for solutions to a problem. *Cheer*.

Dieting and Decision Fatigue ...

Reading the article at Farnham Street came at exactly the right time. Over the past year I'd gained a few pounds, and now the summer holidays have come to an end, I'm working on losing them again. Being a foodie and a wine enthusiast, I have to stay alert. But that's okay; the alternative is worse.

I've written extensively about weight management before in my 'Manage your body weight - the green way' series, but here's a summary of what I'm doing at the moment, in case anybody's looking for inspiration / motivation after some summer indulgence and wants to join in:

1. I register everything I'm eating at http://www.fitday.com - it's very little work and it gives me an overview of how I'm doing. It's easy to miscalculate or lose track of the calories and nutrients you're consuming if you just play it by ear. A reliable food diary shows the facts, which helps by taking away some of the strain of having to make the right decision every time.

2. I manage my environment to reduce temptation, which leaves me with more willpower for when it matters. This means: if I can't or shouldn't eat it, I don't have it in the house. In short: no candy, no crisps, ... and instead plenty of fresh vegetables, low-calorie meals in the freezer, easy snacks like my favourite fruits, nuts, Greek yoghurt, dark chocolate (70% cocoa or more), lemons & soda water (to make stevia-sweetened lemonade), etc.

3. I eat smaller meals but more often: 5 to 6 times a day. (I aim for 6, usually manage 5.) Being able to eat on a regular basis reduces the burden on your willpower.

4. No sugar, except for the bit that's in my daily piece of dark, bitter chocolate, which isn't much, and a bit of grape sugar (dextrose) - see under number 5.

5. My new favourite emergency trick (after reading the articles I mentioned above): if I get a really bad sugar craving and I'm about to give in, I take a teaspoon of grape sugar / dextrose. It works for me, but that doesn't mean it's good for everybody. If you want to do this, do it wisely. Glucose affects your blood sugar levels, so if you're a diabetic, this is probably a really bad idea.

Also, know that 5 grams of dextrose amounts to about 20 calories, so don't exaggerate, register the calories and don't fool yourself into thinking it's good for you. If you focus on eating healthily, you should get a steady release of glucose from the other foods you're eating, so this is just a fix for the most difficult moments.

If you're wondering why I use dextrose instead of normal sugar, cane sugar or any of the other sugar varieties out there: it's because grape sugar / dextrose is 100% glucose. Regular sugar, cane sugar and the others also contain fructose, which is to be avoided. (Read this article / watch the video if you want to know more.)

Recommended Reading ...

Farnham Street blog: http://www.farnamstreetblog.com/do-you-make-too-many-decisions/
Complete New York Times article: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/21/magazine/do-you-suffer-from-decision-fatigue.html
The Book: http://www.amazon.com/Willpower-Rediscovering-Greatest-Human-Strength/dp/1594203075

Photo 'Sick and Tired' by Stephanie Lepoint, available under a creative commons license. © 2007, Stephanie Lepoint.
Photo 'Gluttony' by vitaeer, available under a creative commons license. © 2006, vitaeer.
Photo 'Belgian chocolate' by K.C. Woolf, available under a creative commons license. © 2011, K.C. Woolf.
Photo 'Grapes' by Dave Rutt, available under a creative commons license. © 2008, Dave Rutt.
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24 Aug 2011

Glorious Rheingau, Ravishing Rieslings.

Last week, on the way back from 'Holidays - the Sequel', we spent a few days at the river Rhine, in Germany's second oldest hotel: Hotel Krone near Rüdesheim-am-Rhein.

Over the past few years, we've developed a taste for Riesling wines, and after visiting the French Alsace last year, we wanted to continue our discovery of this wonderful grape, in the Rheingau this time.

The Rheingau ...

The Rheingau is one of Germany's smaller wine regions but an important one, especially for Riesling wines. The oldest documented references about Riesling come from this area, and the first vineyards have allegedly been planted as early as the 8th or 9th Century.

Schloß Johannisberg in Geisenheim is supposedly one of the places where it was discovered that grapes affected by Botrytis cinerea (pourriture noble or noble rot) made delicious sweet wines.

For these and many other reasons, the Rheingau had been on my to-visit list for a while, so when the opportunity arose, I couldn't let it pass.

The Hotel ...

Hotel Krone is a charming, old-world boutique hotel, a bit outdated maybe but that only added to its character.

We stayed in one of their suites, with a wide balcony overlooking the Rhine and a huge marble bathroom, complete with private sauna and jacuzzi.

If we hadn't had all this wine-tasting and gastronomic dining on the agenda, we wouldn't have left the room.

I was glad we did venture out, though, because we discovered great wines in the Rheingau, in different price ranges, but nearly all of them of decent quality and fair value for money.

The Wine ...

We started our exploration with a visit to Schloß Johannisberg and a tour of the ultramodern Steinberg cellars at Kloster Eberbach. Afterwards we visited independent winemakers in the nearby towns.

It was interesting to see how in an area that's quite renowned for its wines, many of the local wine growers seemed to have little interest in actually selling their wines. One of them, when we asked if we could sample his wines, looked so surprised one would think he'd never had that request. He even had to check with his wife first, who wasn't home at the time.

When we came back a few hours later, he had recovered from the shock and sat down at the table with a couple of bottles. We ended up having a good chat and bought several of his wines: a lovely dry white, and his personal favourite: a medium dry weißherbst (a rosé made from one type of grape – pinot noir in this case – and harvested from one location). So everything worked out fine, but if we hadn't spoken German, we wouldn't have made it past the doorstep.

Now, my favourite discovery of the entire trip was Weingut Josef Leitz.

Not only were they incredibly accommodating by organising a short-notice private tasting for us; the guy who lead the tasting - Tobias, if I recall his name correctly - was friendly, welcoming, knowledgeable and clearly passionate about wine. He took the time to explain (in English, even) the individual characteristics of the vineyard's winemaking style and the different soils and 'Lagen' they worked with.

The Leitz tasting was one of the most enjoyable ones I've ever experienced. I can honestly say there wasn't a single wine I didn't like, even though they were all quite distinct. Leitz' wines are a perfect illustration of what a difference terroir makes in the final result.

Deciding which ones to buy became a true ordeal. Each of them unique, they all had an irresistible vigour and vibrance, intensely fragrant yet elegant, with a beautiful balance of acidity, minerality and luscious fruit.

After careful deliberation, we settled on one of his more modest dry ones for everyday consumption, and - for more special occasions - my favourite: the 2010 Rüdesheimer Berg Roseneck Spätlese, a sweeter wine with a delicate aroma of rose petals.

But before I get lost in lyrical outpourings, let me share a few photographs of:

The Rhine ...

The Wine Cellar ...

Zum Wohl!
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17 Aug 2011

Blog Love.

Time and time again I'm surprised at how supportive and genuinely kind our blogger-writer community is.

As an example of blog love: last week, the witty and wonderful Margo Lerwill of Urban Psychopomp passed on the Liebster Blog award to me with the much-appreciated words:
'K.C. Woolf at The Woman Condition has an interesting blog. Though many of her posts don’t directly address writing, they often address it in an indirect (and compelling) way.' (1)
Needless to say I was happy, even more so because it felt like she 'got' my blog. Underneath the variety of topics runs my writing. Nearly everything I touch on in my blog plays a part in my novel, be it as inspiration, setting, writing tool or one of the tiny details that make a story more lively and real.

Like most awards, this one comes with a few rules guidelines:
  1. Thank the giver and link back to the blogger who gave it to you.
  2. Reveal your top 5 picks (blogs with under 200 followers) and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog.
  3. Copy and paste the award on your blog.
  4. Have faith that your followers will spread the love to other bloggers.
  5. And most of all - have bloggity-blog fun!
As befits a good girl, here we go:

1. A sincere thank you to writer Margo Lerwill of Urban Psychopomp. Go check out her blog if you haven't already!

2. My top 5 picks:
  • Bards and Prophets by L.G. Smith. She is smart, funny and interesting. A true writer. Her blog seems to attract like-minded people, and I've met a lot of great fellow writers there.
  • Girl Wizard Suze. Suze has a knack for describing everyday life with an eye for those details that turn the ordinary into an adventure.
  • Munk Davis, who is ... different, in a very good way. He makes me laugh, think and wonder, and the opening lines he so generously shares are brilliant.
  • Blue Skies Sunny Days. I only met Linda recently, and I'm gradually reading through her blog. I'm intrigued by her open-minded outlook on life – sometimes gentle and understanding, sometimes sharp and uncompromising. On top of that: she's an INTP (like my husband and several of my friends).
  • An Endless Fascination with Stories by Toby Neal. I love Toby. She's got tons of personality, is incredibly supportive of her writer friends, and she's about to embark on the next stage of her writing adventure. She lives in Hawaii and often posts great pictures that make me want to move.

3. Done.

4. I do.

5. Okay!
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13 Aug 2011

Lucky 13: Women Writers about Friendship.

"There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature."
-- Jane Austen (Northanger Abbey)

"If all the world hated you and believed you wicked, while your own conscience approved of you and absolved you from guilt, you would not be without friends."
-- Charlotte Brontë (Jane Eyre)

"the world is not a pleasant place to be without someone to hold and be held by."
-- Nikki Giovanni

"Sometimes being a friend means mastering the art of timing. There is a time for silence. A time to let go and allow people to hurl themselves into their own destiny. And a time to prepare to pick up the pieces when it's all over."
-- Gloria Naylor

"Constant use had not worn ragged the fabric of their friendship."
-- Dorothy Parker

"He was the strangest of strangers in that he was also her oldest friend."
-- Ann Brashares

"Like so many plain cups on the shelves. You can reach for them, use them without thinking. Most of them don't matter. Sometimes you lose your grip on one of them and it falls and smashes to piece, and you shrug and say to yourself, what a pity. Then you reach for the cup that you use every day, one that you love and use so often that as you stretch out your hand it is already making the shape that fits its curve. You are certain that yesterday it was in its proper place, but now there is nothing. Just air. You have lost something that was so familiar, so much a part of your life that you were not even looking for it. Just expecting it to be there, as always."
-- Rosie Thomas (Iris and Ruby)

"I am treating you as my friend, asking you to share my present minuses in the hope that I can ask you to share my future plusses."
-- Katherine Mansfield

"This is what I miss, Cordelia: not something that’s gone, but something that will never happen. Two old women giggling over their tea."
-- Margaret Atwood (Cat's Eye)

"My mind is a neighborhood I try not to go into alone."
-- Anne Lamott

"It takes much bravery to stand up to our enemies but we need as much bravery to stand up to our friends."              
-- J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone)

"The friend who holds your hand and says the wrong thing is made of dearer stuff than the one who stays away."
-- Barbara Kingsolver

"Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born."
-- Anaïs Nin

(to my friends)

Photo 'friends' by Ferenc Pohly, available under a creative commons license. © 2006, Ferenc Pohly.
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5 Aug 2011


For a large part of my life, I considered 'money' a dirty word.

I was an ideas person. Something as mundane and tangible as money or earthly possessions didn't seem worthy of my interest.

In the meantime I've come to understand that this attitude could only sprout and thrive in soil that was a) there and b) fertile. In other words: I grew up in the privileged situation where I could afford to deprecate money.

I come from an average, middle-class background. We were never rich by any stretch of the imagination, but our basic and important needs were met and my siblings and I got a good education. That alone puts me in the top quartile of richest people in the world – a gift I never acknowledged.

These last few years, through research my husband is doing, I've come to look at money in a different way: as a representation and carrier of human energy. Money, like energy, is a means to an end, neither good nor bad until it's put to a purpose.

Once I got past my aversion to the world of banking, finance and global economics, new and exciting layers of understanding opened up. This has given me a new perspective on history, human interaction and, above all, on personal responsibility.

Underneath all this, my inner hippie is still very much alive; often enough she rears her wild-haired head. But her job description has evolved. She still gets to rule my dreams, fuel my writing and inspire my choices. However, in the other realms I dwell in, I listen to my other advisers.

Tied in with the topic of this post and in honour of my inner hippie, I wanted to share this:

When thinking about a concept as vast as money, it's easy to lose perspective. The 'Global Rich List' is one of those tools that helps me keep it.

Give it a try. It only takes a few seconds and you might be surprised!

Image: design by: whatshername13 @ deviantart. Text by: unknown.
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