My fat cells and I

It’s amazing how easy it is to ignore what the scales, the mirror, the doctor, and clothes are telling you–until you get a look as others see you–a video of you going about your normal activity. As you watch, it’s more like watching another person, and you have a sudden OMG-it’s-really-true moment. You suddenly know that the time has come–that repeated New Year’s resolution that you’ve “renewed” umpteen times and not kept must finally be faced. (Hotel bathroom mirrors are almost as revealing–big, usually with door mirrors too so you get an all-around look in really bright light, too.)

You review all the experience that you’ve had with “diets”–the Atkins (worked like a charm but not sustainable because of the ban on fruit, beans, milk, and dairy products except cheese. The New Atkins–for the same reasons. You read the books evaluating low-carbohydrate and low-fat diets, high-protein, Mediterranean diet, and the French Paradox and feel like a real wuss because you’ve not been able to keep to the latest thing you’ve tried. You even check sites that have BMI computations available–everyone gives you the same answer: you’ve moved over from the overweight into the “obese” range. Then there’s the video–wonderful hive inspection but the beekeeper.

9781455533862I bought the latest diet book on the market–the day it was released–Always Hungry?.  I read it, and think about it, and then I saw myself in a video, And the jig is up! You know you’ve deluded yourself when looking in the mirror, looking at photographs, and feeling how your clothes fit.

So reread the book–really read the book (including the recipes and the meal plans). To add motivation, (since the book discusses movement) I’ve dug in the “junk” basket on the bookcase shelf, and in the drawer where stuff accumulates and, finally, found the pedometer. Now I have numbers to show how truly sedentary I truly am! Scary.

Back to this food plan. Refined sugars are a no=no, but that’s not a real problem because your sweet tooth is chocolate dependent. Soft drinks are not in the in this house fridge anyway. But there are pasta and beans on the pantry shelf. From experience I know I  like (maybe even love) complex carbohydrates, aka starches. Those and milk have been the stumbling blocks every time before–but this food plan allows legumes and milk even in the initial phase. There’s one ounce of dark chocolate allowed daily even in Phase 1. This “diet” for weight loss is a plan for moderation. Phases 2 and 3  (essential since you really, truly like food) allows judicious reintroduction of some of the things you most like (baked white potatoes), at least on an occasional basis and still maintain weight loss.

Since some basic sauces are essential for the food plan, I decided to start with some that would need routine weekly preparation and those that I thought I would like particularly well, to give me an idea of how things the recipes are seasoned.

After reviewing the list of permitted foods (again), this book moves to the kitchen. Trying some of the recipes since in the past food plans have always seemed too contrived. Well, the recipe for Blue Cheese Dressing (All Phases) on page 263 seems like a good place to start since it is a favorite. Can’t you eat the lettuce so you can have the blue cheese dressing? Recommended to make a wide-mouth mason jar (have) and immersion blender (have). The prep time estimate was accurate–really fast and easy.. (Since blue cheese is a strong flavor, I prefer more tartness, so I replaced the tablespoon of water with an additional tablespoon of lemon juice.  Tastes splendid so score one for the food plan Bring on the crudities. This sauce is a keeper even if it is on a food plan for weight loss!

So one tasty recipe doesn’t make it acceptable. I like (and make at home often) vinaigrettes and use oil and vinegar dressings. The Lemon Olive Oil Dressing (All Phases), page 269, is straightforward and a good balance of olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. If you make this in tandem with the blue cheese, you don’t have miscellaneous bits of leftover lemon.

[There’s a bonus to using mason jars–they have gradations on the sides so with just a bit of planning you won’t even have to wash a measuring cup. If you use a kitchen scale, you might not even need measuring spoons. (I’ve noted weights of things like 2 tablespoons of lemon juice with the recipes).]

Next  for testing,  I chose Creamy Dill Sauce (All Phases). This sauce is a bit more complicated than the first two but noted to keep for 1 to 2 weeks in the refrigerator. Again, using a mason jar and scales it was easy to put together.Knowing that I tend to find many recipes under-seasoned, and over-salted, I did use 2 small garlic cloves, substituted 1/4 teaspoon of smoked Spanish paprika for the “dash of paprika” called for in the recipe. I found it a bit lacking in the lemon flavor with only the lemon juice, so I added 1/2 teaspoon of lemon zest. After allowing it to stand for a few hours, I was pleased with the tart dill, lemon, and slightly smoky flavors. (This is easily modifiable without changing the balance of protein/fat–ancho chili or Aleppo pepper could be used.

The final sauce that I made to test was Lemon Tahini (All Phases), page 269. Taking my taste for garlic and tartness into account, I used a large clove of garlic, 2 tablespoons extra lemon juice, and 1 teaspoon of lemon zest.

My clean up after making these sauces (in very close to the prep time given in the book and with a little more experience and organization I’m sure I can decrease that):

  • one chef’s knife
  • one cutting board
  • one set of measuring spoons
  • one spatula for scraping down the side of jars
  • immersion blender
  • microplane grater (for lemon zest)
  • one citrus reamer

I can certainly deal with that. Leftover from this prep, one lemon minus zest (lack of organization on my part–next time I’ll just zest all the lemons before squeezing them)

I didn’t have to buy anything that wasn’t already in my pantry except dill and parsley, but since it’s winter, that’s not a negative thing. I’m certainly not going to have to rearrange my kitchen to accommodate, although the immersion blender will need to live somewhere slightly more accessible.

Sauces, as important as they are, don’t make a meal plan. The recipe for Broiled Fish with Garlic and Lemon (All Phases), page 232, looks like a good way to start testing the main dish recipes. It is simple, and besides, it’s very easy to cook fish, although I don’t use the broiler much–but this recipe works as well as those for the sauces. The serving of cod fillet that I cooked with this recipe was for one–so only about 6 ounces. In order not to overcook the fish, I seared on only one side and then finished under the broiler. . I broiled the fish for 8 minutes (the minimum time suggested in the recipe). Broiling it on the lemon slices with the olive oil and garlic worked: nicely garlicky and great lemon flavor. This is another keeper!

Three things that are called for frequently are mayonnaise and  Ranchero Sauce, page 272. I’m going to opt out of those since I can get a palatable mayonnaise made without sugar (that I usually buy anyway) and I have a favorite salsa that lacks sugar in the ingredient list.My local Harris Teeter grocery has a store brand hummus that is without sugar, so I’ll likely also opt to use that instead of making it at home.(There are resources on the  website  to facilitate the plan.)

Now that I have a feel for the seasoning used in these dishes I think I can use many of the recipes provided with the meal plan without having to alter my pantry much at all. After looking at other recipes, I find several that I am looking forward to trying: Ginger-Carrot Soup (All Phases), Red Lentil Soup (All Phases)Chocolate Sauce (All Phases), and Cabbage Casserole (All Phases). A lot of these recipes lend themselves easily to improvisation with herbs and spices, too–another plus for preventing boredom.

There’s only one “special” thing I have to buy–whey protein for the occasional Phase 1 Power Shake. Because of the stress on the balance of macronutrients emphasized in each phase, I will do that. (The thing sounds good when you consider what else is in it).

After rereading the permitted foods, I’ve decided I can do without pasta if I can have legumes and the prospect of adding some pasta and bread in later Phases 2 and 3. With my physician’s words bouncing around in my brain, and that horrible BMI, I CAN do this. It’s about moderation–and chocolate, whipped cream, and wine (after Phase 1) are allowed. It’s about moderation and balance of the amount and quality of protein, carbohydrate, and fats consumed. It’s also about not having to revamp my pantry or suffer deprivation.

This project has to involve getting off my butt and doing more walking and movement, too! That’s likely to take more effort than eating the right things, given how sedentary my work is. But, needs must!



There is a lead-in phase where you get ready–for three of those days I’ll be on the road or at a convention, but once back home, this starts. No more procrastination!  After sampling the sauce recipes and the broiled fish, I certainly feel more positive about the meal plans that I ever have about any other weight-loss meal plan. (The blue cheese sauce added to egg salad is good–lots of room for improvisation with the recipes, still keeping the macronutrient balance.

I’ll admit to one slight frustration with this book: recipes are listed by name under an entry for “recipes”. Cabbage Casserole appears just where you’d expect it. Coleslaw you will find only if you look for “Tangy Coleslaw”. When trying to locate the recipe for the fish, I couldn’t remember the specific name–fortunately, broiled was in the title so it was close to the first of the list.

Though the main focus is not as a cookbook, but on nutrition and weight loss (index very useful for this), just a few simple entries throughout for main ingredients such as “cabbage”, “polenta”, or “shrimp” would be helpful. But, I shouldn’t complain–I know space considerations often dictate what can be included or what must be cut. I’d happily settle for smaller print in the index (even if it meant getting out my reading glasses) to have those extra entries.



Healthier eating: More fruits, grains, and vegetables, please.

A couple of recent events and activities have made me give some serious thought to what I eat:  books I’ve been reading about the impact of food on environment, and the current obesity epidemic, and the fact that my doctor has said that I DO  need to lose weight, a lot of weight–at least I think that 25 or 30 pounds is a lot.  Obviously I have to find a way to do it as pleasurably as possible since I readily admit to being a hedonist.

All this has led me to look at what I have been eating–not that it’s exactly unhealthy or junk food, by any means; but it would seem that the weight loss is likely to be abetted by adding more fruits, vegetables and whole grains.  So, I’m going to try to do better what I’m sort of do already.

One of the things that I’m going to try to do is eat more salads.  Now I’ve already complained about the waste when I clean out the refrigerator and find all the slimy veggies that did not make it into the salads. This is going to be interesting–I truly dislike having to throw out food, especially after reading some statistics on the amount of energy that goes into producing the food that gets thrown away.  The challenge is going to be keeping the salads interesting enough that I will actually eat them every day.  If I can achieve that, I’ll likely not be throwing away so many veggies.

Another decision that I’ve reached (after reading the label on the salad dressing bottle) is that I have to re-think salad dressings.  I don’t like the list of ingredients on “low-fat” or “no-fat”, or really, any mass-produced dressing.

My first solution to that was with my salad this evening; I started with mesclun, added some fresh herb leaves (from my deck) which made the taste very complex.  Then I added veggies that I had brought home–ones that I think (hope) will find multiple uses: celery, cucumbers, cherry/grape tomatoes, onions as salad material and as snacks.  I had some black table grapes in the fridge, so I threw some of those into my single-serving salad bowl.  Now to dress my salad.

It’s easy to make a vinaigrette dressing, but being in a hurry and lazy this evening, I opted for the simplest thing that I could think of:  extra-virgin olive oil and an acid.  I did not want anything as tart as wine vinegar, so I added a squeeze of lemon juice.  With the sweetness of the grapes, spiciness of the radishes, and the fresh herbs it was great–and so simple, and so healthy.  In retrospect, I suspect that some nuts would have added some texture and different flavor to the salad too, but I did not think about that at the time.  (After all that extra-virgin olive oil provides some of those monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) that are supposed to be so good for us, and according to some studies–more on that later–and even help in losing belly fat!  Pleasant thought that something that tasted that good could actually be good for me!  I’m sure that I’ll be trying out other citrus juices in combination with the oil for my dressing!  I’m sure that I’ll also get around to actually emulsifying the oil and the acid to make a good vinaigrette too, eventually.

Next project: getting more whole grains into my diet. Accompanying me home from the grocery store this evening in anticipation of  that first goal was a multi-grain cereal.   I’m going to make a serious effort to eat breakfast as I’m told that is helpful in losing weight too.  My problem with that is that I do not actually like food early in the morning.  I love hot cereals like steel-cut oats, multi-grain cereals; just not at the time I need to eat them before I go to work–and it’s not the cooking time that makes me not like them.  I can figure out lots of ways to have long-cooking cereal without spending time cooking it in the morning.  It’s more basic–I don’t like early-morning food.  I can’t take it to work with me to eat at my desk later, because “work” is delivering a lecture, so I’ll have to find some other way to do this–without getting up too much earlier!

The last, but not least, goal of this project is reducing my (already pretty low) meat consumption.  I’ve posted references to some of the books that I’ve been reading lately on the bibliography page.  The information on energy consumption related to meat (term used loosely to include poultry) production is–not sure what adjectives to use to describe some of that data–thought-provoking to say the least.  I’m reducing consumption, not giving up meat totally, nor am I giving up milk, eggs, cheese, or other animal products.  As much as I like meat this is going to be an interesting time for me.

I always liked grains and pulses (beans, lentils, peas and such) so that’s part should not be too difficult (famous last words?).  I expect I’ll be using  some new  grains and  pulses now, so it will be a learning experience.  I’ll be finding out how to cook and use these in small quantities, or single-serving amounts.  I was pleased to see that my supermarket had teff, spelt, and quinoa available as will as the more usual bulghur, kasha and brown rice of different varieties.

If I can get add some regular exercise, as well as eating food early in the morning, I might actually get to like this regimen, and succeed in doing what I need to do, and keep the weight off as well.

Now…let me go peruse a cookbook or two in search of recipe ideas that I can adapt for a single-serving.