I had a choice to make: to buy new clothes or to lose the weight.
It wasn't a lot of weight, but it was enough to make a significant amount of my clothing uncomfortably tight. I was my first significant regain since losing over 20 lbs 7 years ago. I wasn't exactly sure where it came from, but I knew it started during the harsh winter, when I worked from home and cooked a lot. Then it picked up more when I started doing more food writing and I was exposed to bacchanalian levels of delicious food and alcohol.
Mmm tasty aged parmesan pao de queijo bun with McEwen farms beef flecked with homemade butter with red-cooked pork belly sauce. A sample of my cooking.
Over the years my cooking has gotten better and better. It's a lot better than many restaurants. But it's also as if you crossed Southern food with Epic Meal Time with some random delicious elements I've picked up from other cuisines mixed in. Which means it's incredibly incredibly rich. And I cooked it usually for both lunch and dinner. The ultra-cold weather also meant I didn't do as much walking as I usually do.
Add beer and cocktail tasting events on top of that, as well as an excellent restaurant near my work that opened up for lunch, and it's no wonder my jeans got pretty darn tight.
The problem is I couldn't just stop eating this way. I was going to continue writing about the best food, I wasn't going to switch to writing about diet food again. So I had to make cuts where I could.
The main cuts I made were
- Meals I wasn't writing about and weren't part of my social life, mainly lunch. As food writer Chris Ying puts it "The problem isn’t the once-in-a-lifetime meals that food writing sometimes presents. It’s the meaningless ones that I still can’t resist."
Those meals I wasn't writing about I replaced with fasting or my own version of "diet" meals made up of foods that have all of these qualities:
- Satiating (to me) even in small amounts
- Satisfying, meaning I enjoyed them enough that I didn't have to force them down and they made me feel energetic and well
For me personally these foods luckily include pretty much any meat (except fried meats), cheese, full-fat Greek yogurt, vegetables, and some other assorted things. A typical lunch for me was things like full-fat Greek yogurt with some toppings, blood sausage and a quarter lb of cheddar from Publican Quality Meats, or thin Finnish sourdough rye crackers topped with sheep's milk soft cheese and salmon. Since these kind of meals really didn't require cooking, I saved a lot of time. And since they replaced eating out in many cases, they saved me money despite the fact that they were made with kind of luxurious ingredients. I've sometimes joked I should write a book called The Cheese Plate Diet.
If these meals sound kind of low-carb to you, you'd be right, but ultimately for me I make this choice because of the satiation and satisfaction factors than anything else and I'll leave it up to others to expound on a metabolic advantage or lack thereof. I didn't bother counting calories because restaurant food is one giant black box that's futile to even bother to estimate, though Anthony Todd, another local food writer, joked he just adds 8 oz of butter to whatever food he's logging and I suggested to also add a couple of tablespoons of sugar and salt.
Other food writers I have talked to use other methods of eating that work for them. I've heard of everything from conventional low-fat to macrobiotic to vegan.
The advantage I have here is I've lost weight before, so I already know there are certain foods that fit the aforementioned criteria. I understand how challenging it can be to find these foods and for some people the selection is likely to be a lot more limited. But some people don't learn these foods because they get stuck with an idea of what foods a diet should contain and often these are foods that don't work for them personally. I know I'd still be where I was before if I thought my only option was whole wheat pasta with steamed broccoli.
I think in the past these meals would have certainly been inadequate, when my idea of a nice dinner was sausage and kale and that's exactly why intermittent fasting gets a bad reputation. But now the meals I face at dinner are far far far more rich in everything. I don't have to worry about feeling crappy because of not getting enough nutrients anymore, that's for certain.
In terms of alcohol, I started accepting I would waste a ton of really great stuff, but I had fallen prey to the sunk cost fallacy. I made my peace with the pour bucket. I essentially just stopped finishing my drinks and drinking what I did drink much more slowly. Also in some situations when I would normally order a cocktail, I ordered just whiskey instead, as I find it easier to gauge my consumption when drinking it nice and neat. Not so shockingly, this cut, beyond helping me lose some weight, also made me feel better.
The amount of beer I didn't drink at a media dinner. It was nice beer too. But wayyyy too much for a person as little as me anyway. Normally they take them away, but there were speakers at this meal and they didn't want to make noise.
I also bought a Jawbone UP24 (also used by food critic Michael Bauer), which I like because it encourages walking, the type of exercise I know is sustainable as a city-dweller, as well as low-impact. It's pretty much built into my commute now that I'm not working from home anymore. I am also a sucker for gamification and it's nice to now view missing the bus as an opportunity for more steps rather than a rote inconvenience. I will put in a big thumbs down on its food tracking system, which was always pretty annoying and has gotten worse since it now rates your food according to how close it comes to the USDA recs and doesn't let you adjust it to your own liking.
Wohoo finally I'm good at something involving physical activity!
And yes, there was food I turned down. If I felt like it wasn't important to the story or that I could write about it without eating it, and I didn't really think it was worth it anyway, I skipped out on it. I was careful with my personal "bad" foods, which are foods I know I will eat if I'm not even hungry: fries, fried chicken, and doughnuts. I'm not going to pretend I ate and drank everything I wanted, since if that were true 90% of my diet would be fried chicken, biscuits, and beer with some daiquiris just to prevent scurvey. Identifying these kind of foods is also really individual. Other people have told me that ice cream is like this for them, but for me personally I have no problem not finishing a pint of good ice cream.
The result is I dropped 10 lbs eating things I think would horrify a lot of people who have a particular idea of what healthy food is and is not. And in case you are wondering about my cholesterol and whatnot, I had a physical recently and during this period of weight loss, my cholesterol dropped (non-HDL by 10 pts), though it was never bad in the first place, and my triglycerides improved. I say this because I often am reluctant to talk about what I eat since so many people are horrified by the idea that meat and cheese could be part of anything balanced. If something that sounds less like it's Klingon works for you, that's great, but this works for me.
Now is the hard part, when I want to stabilize the weight loss and start finding more time for sessions in the gym. When those lunches that are all too satisfying become a liability rather than a lifehack. I know based on past experiences I'll have to add things to my lunches that are a little less satiating. And this is when writing about food becomes a problem with meal timing, since usually these rich meals are at night and don't give me much time for working out afterwards, preventing me from taking advantage of them for exercise energy.