After our delightful family brunch on Sunday in Los Angeles, I knew I was not going to have any fun at all when I stepped on the scale on Monday morning. I consider myself lucky that I only gained 3/5 of a pound. It was worth it. If you ever have a chance to visit Mort’s Deli/Bea’s Bakery on Clark Street in Tarzana, you’ll know what I mean. I’ll tell you one thing, you can’t get a Dr. Brown’s diet cherry soda or an egg cream out here in the middle of the desert.
Since my return from LA, I’ve been trying to improve my eating habits toward the goal of coming up with better numbers on the scale. In the first week of my company’s Biggest Loser Challenge, employees lost 555 pounds; my own location didn’t contribute much to it. In fact, only one of our five team members lost any weight at all.
Reducing my intake is an obvious tack, but a more difficult decision is what to eat and even when to eat it. Growing up, I learned about the famous Food Pyramid. The bread, cereal, rice and pasta group was at the bottom with 6 to 11 (!) servings per day, then the vegetables and fruits, then the proteins, and finally, “fats and sweets” at the apex (“use sparingly”).
But these days, the word is that carbohydrates are bad, that they raise your blood sugar and cause you to gain weight. The pendulum has swung. Six to eleven servings of carbs per day is decidedly out of style. Diets such as Scarsdale and Pritikin have become popular, featuring lots of protein and banishing those nasty carbs.
It has been interesting seeing how some of my fellow bloggers weigh in (ooo, bad pun) on this issue. Alex Freeman stands with the go-go protein coterie and urges high intensity exercise. Steven Waddell, on the other hand, says eat carbs at every meal, think happy thoughts and love yourself unconditionally. He also says “when in doubt, eat more fat.” I think I like this guy. Anyone who is a fan of butter is definitely on my side.
Some of my favorite advice comes from Michael Pollan, whose formula for health is: “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.” Balm for my near-vegetarian heart, particularly since he is all gung-ho on omega-3 fats and has no objection at all to my enjoyment of fish protein.
Planning seems to be the pivotal factor in making smarter food choices. If I think “I’m hungry” and grab the first appealing thing I come across in the refrigerator, the cupboard, or (heaven help us) the snack cabinet at work, I will end up stuffing my face with items that Pollan would not consider “food” and that will undoubtedly cause me to gain weight. But if I have a sandwich, a salad and some fruit ready to go, chances are I will stick with the program.
As if it weren’t hard enough to figure out what to eat, even when to eat is at issue these days. Some say to eat protein before you exercise; others cite a “protein window” that closes a short time after exercise. But for sedentary fat cats like myself, I recently read that when you eat does not really make much of a difference. The “don’t eat at night” rule, I read, is mostly a misguided myth.
That is, until last week, when I read that, in fact, the timing of one’s meals does make a big difference in how satisfied we feel, how efficiently our metabolism runs and ultimately, whether we gain or lose weight. This school of thought posits that we need fuel to get our bodies going in the morning. Some say this means protein for breakfast, others say this means eat carbs early in the day. Breakfast is not really my thing, but I stopped dead in my tracks when I read that the old bugbear about avoiding night eating is actually true. There are those who recommend that we don’t eat within three hours of going to bed.
Well, this is even more of a problem for me than the breakfast issue. For me, following this rule can only mean one thing: Don’t eat dinner at all. Although I have a proclivity for staying up late, recently I have begun to change my ways by going to bed much earlier and getting enough sleep. During the week, by the time I get home from work I’m not even awake for another three hours.
So I’ve tried something new. I talked with my wife and asked that, whatever she wants to prepare for my dinner, she should simply pack up in a plastic container and it will be my breakfast and lunch for the following day. Yesterday, I had eggplant parmagiana for breakfast and fruit for lunch. Today, I had a sandwich for breakfast and baked garlic Portobello mushrooms for lunch. No dinner for me.
“Don’t you get hungry at night?” one of my coworkers asked me. Sometimes, I responded. But I am slowly learning that feeling hungry tends to be a temporary thing that goes away after a while. If I’m really that hungry, I eat a piece of fruit.
I am also reading that weight loss can be improved when one evens out the metabolism by eating tiny bits throughout the day. So I crunch on celery while I’m working at my desk and I usually break for an apple or some strawberries in the afternoon. I drink two liters of club soda, mineral water or decaffeinated tea during the day.
Is any of this going to make one bit of difference to my weight loss efforts? I haven’t a clue at this point. Perhaps I am fooling myself and it is all for naught. Only the scale will tell.
I will say this, however. We celebrated one of my coworkers’ birthdays today with banana splits. I wanted to participate in the festivities and I did not want to feel deprived. It is said that confession is good for the soul, so here goes: I skipped the banana and served myself one spoonful of ice cream with a drizzle of chocolate syrup, a tiny dollop of whipped cream and three maraschino cherries.
Not exactly diet foot, but I didn’t do too badly, don’t you think?