I don’t know why I can eat right and exercise throughout the Winter, Spring, and Summer, but Autumn always makes me crave more calories. Is it the increasingly colder temperatures? The lure of holiday baked goods and other unhealthy fare?
This particular Fall a number of various events have made it harder to eat right or get exercise. It’s the busy season at work so I’ve been spending more hours working. The shift to Standard Time means that it gets dark earlier. The weather has gotten cold very quickly, so I don’t take walks as much outside. My wife started a new job so I don’t have a couple of uninterrupted hours in the morning to walk on the treadmill while she’s sleeping anymore. Plus, there are a few other personal issues that have come up that take my time and attention away from Clean Livin’, or require me to eat & run more often.
I can come up with any number of reasons, but what it boils down to is that I’ve slipped. Luckily I have so many healthy habits that they haven’t all fallen by the wayside. I still weigh-in every day. I still record everything I eat (even the unhealthy, high-calorie foods).
How I Start To Slip
At first maybe I’ll grab some food on the run, or not calculate my caloric intake for dinner until the next day. Then maybe I miss recording a meal. Then miss recording a day. Then I get busy with other things and don’t do any research or writing for this site.
So far no matter when I’ve slipped a little (or a lot) I’ve still weighed-in. I think of all of my Clean Livin’ habits, weighing myself and then recording it are the easiest things to do. After four and a half years weigh-ins have become ingrained in my daily routine. Sometimes I forget to weigh in when my routine changes, but barring a day or so every few months where I don’t weigh-in, I have a solid record, and can at least see when I gain weight rather than lose or stay the same.
It’s hard to gauge gaining or losing weight when you weigh in every day, though, because you do go up and down even when you do everything right and are on a trend of losing weight. I think my threshold for thinking “Shit, I’ve got to do better” is going over a five pound mark. For instance, I was down as low as 254.4 a couple of weeks ago (so close to 250!) and then a few days ago weighed-in at 260.0, after going up and down a pound or so here or there for the past three weeks.
So that was a wake-up call. The hard truth is that losing weight takes conscious effort and attention. You have to think about it a lot more than you may want to, and stick to your daily budget most of the time. Sometimes it’s okay to go over budget, but not most of the time. When those indulgences become more frequent than eating right, you’re going to gain weight again. I don’t know about you, but I’ve worked too hard and come too far to backtrack now. Fuck that noise.
Back On Track
It’s not like I haven’t written about derailment or plateaus before. When it happens, no matter how many reasons I have no one to blame but myself. A slip can be just the kick in the pants you need to refocus your weight loss efforts, no matter how cold it is outside.
I’m not sure how long it’ll take me to lose the next ten pounds (some of those pounds… again) but I know it’s doable. I’ve done it for weeks, months, years now.
Losing weight may be harder as the weather grows colder, life gets busier, and habits slip by the wayside. Plan for weight loss to be slower then, but as long as you’re aware of the difficulty and consciously plan means and exercise, you can hunker-down and do it.
Update: Slipped on Posting Here, Too
Speaking of slipping, I originally had this post set to publish in late November and haven’t finished it until just now. Everything else still stands, and now that the holidays are over and I’m back to focusing on weight loss, updates should be more regular once again.
After trying numerous cioppino in San Francisco my wife and I decided to try our hand at making it at home.
You can prep the seafood while the vegetables are softening or the broth is cooking, so it comes together very easily.
- Prep Time: 10 minutes
- Cooking Time: 40 minutes
- Serves: 4–6, generously
- 1 large onion
- 1 red bell pepper
- 1–2 fresh diced tomatoes, or 3–4 roma plum tomatoes
- 1 clove garlic
- 1–2 jalapeños (optional, if you want it spicier, which you do)
Broth and Spices
- 2 cans crushed tomatoes
- 2 cups dry white wine
- 1–2 tsp crushed red pepper
- 2 tbsp salt
- 2 tsp smoked Spanish paprika
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper
- ground black pepper
- fresh basil leaves for garnish
- 1 pound jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 1 pound live mussels
- 1 pound small clams
- 1 pound sturdy white fish (cod is excellent)
- 1 can crab meat
- calamari rings
From what we gathered during our cioppino scouting trip, everyone who makes cioppino makes it a little differently. You can mix up various kinds of seafood, try other vegetables, change up the spices. It’s a very forgiving dish. Ours is an amalgam of the best cioppinos we’ve tried.
- Chop the onion, red bell pepper, and jalapeño if you like it spicy, and sautée on high in a tablespoon or two of olive oil in a large pot or dutch oven until the onions are translucent and the peppers have softened a bit.
While the vegetables are cooking, mince a lot of garlic and add it to the pot just long enough to brown it a little and give it that nice nutty flavor. Be careful not to burn the garlic. Stir often with a nice sturdy wooden spoon.
- Chop up the tomatoes and add them, along with two cans of crushed tomatoes to the pot or dutch oven. Add the dried and ground spices, saving the basil for the end.
- Simmer the broth for a while to cook the tomato sauce a bit. Once it’s nice and hot, and the color turns a little deeper red, add two cups (eh, about half a bottle) of a dry white wine. Don’t use cooking wine – use something you’d actually drink. You don’t have to go high-end, but the wine will contribute a lot of flavor to the finished product. I used a chardonnay from Napa, figuring I’d keep it local to the region.
The seafood will water-down the broth a little as it releases some liquid during cooking, so don’t worry about it thickening up as it cooks.
- While the broth is cooking, prepare your seafood. The market we bought our shellfish and seafood at didn’t have calamari, but they did have baby octopus, which I grilled before cutting up into the cioppino. It was the only misstep in this recipe, and I wouldn’t recommend adding it to the dish unless you really like rubbery baby octopus. It could be that I just didn’t cook it properly. I cut off the heads and discarded them (Amanda took a photo of the pile of heads).
- Cut up the white fish (the cod held up really well, and was the best thing in our cioppino), peel and devein the shrimp, and otherwise get the seafood ready to go. Add it to the pot, stirring it gently just to get it covered by the broth. Let it simmer on medium-low (so it’s not splashing or bubbling) for 15–20 minutes or until the mussels and clams have opened.
After simmering the seafood, dish into large bowls and garnish with fresh basil. Serve with some crusty garlic bread and a glass of wine (red or white, both go very well with cioppino).
My wife Amanda and I love to travel and walk around new places, eat new foods, and experience a bit of different culture (even if that culture is just a another region of the U.S.). This Fall we spent a week in San Francisco and its surrounds. One of our favorite regional dishes is a seafood stew called “cioppino.” It’s a spicy, tomato-based sauce that’s loaded with seafood (mostly shellfish), sometimes a few vegetables, but mostly fish. It’s delicious, there are a lot of variations, and it’s fairly low-calorie, especially if you split an entree portion of it with someone, as my wife and I tend to do.
Did I mention variations? All of the cioppinos we’ve had have had mussels and some kind of white fish (although one replaced the white fish with salmon which was also excellent). Most have clams and shrimp. A couple of them had calamari rings and crab. Most are served with garlic bread.
We had cioppino twice during our first time in the Bay Area together back in the Summer of 2009, at Tadich Grill (which claims to be the oldest restaurant in California), which was our first cioppino, and at the Fisherman’s Wharf Boudin restaurant, which was better. While it’s hard to compare our recently sampled dishes with those we tried three years ago, our second time around in San Francisco we wanted to plan better. This time we did some research to find out some of the best places in SFO to try cioppino, and we were not disappointed (although some were clearly better than others).
All in all, we tried five different cioppinos during our seven day stay. We ate the shit out of cioppino.
1199 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
Cioppino price: $19
This unassuming bistro in the heart of The Mission featured the best cioppino of our trip. Beretta features great craft cocktails, Italian small plates, salads, bruschetta, and pizza. They only offer one entree per day. On Tuesday (at least when we went) their offering is cioppino. Because of that, and based on reviews that claimed it the best cioppino in San Francisco (which thus means best anywhere), we made a special trip.
Where Beretta excelled was in their broth, which was spicier (not spicy hot, just nicely spiced) and more delicious than any of the others we had. They added some fresh basil at the end which was unique to Beretta’s cioppino. Sure, they had mussels like every other cioppino, but they also added calamari which was a great addition. The portion size was average (i.e. a large two quart bowl) and Amanda and I split it, along with a panzanella salad.
552 Green Street
San Francisco, CA 94133
Cioppino price: $38 (enough for two)
Sotto Mare is a charming little neighborhood Italian restaurant in the North Beach section of San Francisco. We went on a Thursday night and it was packed with locals and tourists alike. While we waited for a table the hostess offered us a glass of house white or red wine, which we accepted and enjoyed while waiting for our table, which turned out to be at the counter.
We ate our last cioppino this trip at Sotto Mare and it was either first or second best, depending on what you mean by “best.” While Beretta had the tastiest broth, Sotto Mare wins by just the sheer volume of seafood. Their “enough for two” crab cioppino arrived in a massive silver soup cauldron and must’ve contained a couple pounds of shellfish.
They call theirs “The ‘Best Damn Crab Cioppino’ with seafood” and they’re not just boasting. Our cioppino did indeed contain an entire crab, chopped up, and pre-cracked so we shouldn’t have to use a cracker to pop the shell.
We sat at the counter by the kitchen where we enjoyed dinner and a show, although it was very very hot there. Still, the festive atmosphere, watching the waitstaff abuse the happy-go-lucky cooks who laughed as they were being yelled at, and the happy slurps of our fellow diners, most of whom were also eating cioppino, was worth the trip.
Follow up cioppino with a cappuccino and a cannoli at one of the classic cafes in North Beach afterwards (if you can eat another bite after stuffing two pounds of shellfish down your gullet) and browse through the stacks at the City Lights bookstore. It’s all very romantic.
1 Al Scoma Way
San Francisco, CA 94133
Cioppino price: $39
Scoma’s at Fisherman’s Wharf offers what they call the “Lazy Man’s Cioppino” because most of the fish has already been shelled for you. They offer the recipe on their web site (although you may want to make my cioppino recipe, coming soon, instead, as it was better). Scoma’s was the most touristy of places we tried, but what do you expect, they’re located at Fisherman’s Wharf, the most touristy of San Francisco locations.
Scoma’s cioppino is very good (as it should be, they’ve been serving it for years) but at $20 more expensive than Beretta for a similar portion, it feels like you’re paying for the location (and we didn’t even get to sit at a table overlooking the bay).
Sam’s Anchor Cafe
27 Main Street
Belvedere Tiburon, CA 94920
Cioppino price: $26
Sam’s was the worst cioppino of our trip, and it was still really good, so we did pretty well. It wasn’t on our list of the best cioppinos in San Francisco – we just happened to be visiting Tiburon via the ferry and it looked like a nice place to stop and have lunch (although our waitress said that their cioppino has been featured on the Food Network – twice). The price for the lunch portion of cioppino was the same as their dinner menu, so maybe it’s the same exact dish. It was an ample amount for one person.
Their menu claims it includes “dungeness crab, clams, prawns, mussels, fresh fish, in a spicy tomato broth” but there wasn’t much crab (although it does tend to disintegrate in the broth).
Of all of the restaurants we visited to try cioppino, Sam’s had the best view.
It’s nice to take a ferry somewhere – Tiburon, Sausalito, Larkspur, Angel Island – and just get out on the bay. Tiburon was a cute, relaxed place to visit and walk around. It’s not as crassly commercial as Sausalito, but then there’s not as much to see either, unless you’re into natural beauty.
2362 Market Street (between 16th St & 17th St)
San Francisco, CA 94114
Cioppino price: $22
Catch in the Castro is a lively upscale seafood place that technically doesn’t offer cioppino, but instead has a “seafood stew” that just so happens to resemble cioppino in most ways.
We ate our first cioppino this trip at Catch (after seeing Vertigo in the historic Castro Theater, which was awesome). Catch’s version is very good, although by the end of the trip I think this one ranked second to last.
Their cioppino includes – aside from the usual tomato broth – mussels, clams, shrimp, scallops, crab, and some sort of white fish. It was very tasty, and the broth was a little more interesting than all but Beretta’s (although the chorizo broth that accompanied the mussels appetizer was so good we couldn’t stop drinking it).
Cioppino is such a simple dish, inspired by the Italian fisherman that settled in San Francisco, lived in North Beach, and shaped the local cuisine.
It’s easy enough to make at home, and I foresee cioppino being a regular staple of our weekend dinners.
I like to listen to podcasts and audiobooks from Audible.com while commuting to and from work. I can catch up on tech punditry, learn more about a subject in which I’m interested, or just listen to funny people being funny. Sometimes it’s just nice to hear an author reading their own words (although there are a lot of great audiobooks read by voice actors).
Beginning with this very post, I’ll be publishing an audio version of each blog post on Clean Livin’. Rather than putting out a supplemental podcast, these audio blog entries will be like the audio book version of this blog, for those on the go, or the blind or sight impaired. You’ll get to hear me stammer through what I’ve written. Maybe from time to time I’ll sneak some extra content or commentary into the audio version, especially for older posts.
Over the next few months I’ll fill-in previously published posts with their audio versions, working backwards until I reach the beginning. If you want to listen to them as they’re published, you can subscribe to the podcast feed, stream or download each episode right here on Clean Livin’, or subscribe via iTunes.
There’s no magic formula to losing weight (other than
calories in < calories out), but there are some shortcuts, tricks, and tips that I’ve discovered through my four years of Clean Livin’ that could help you navigate the broken glass that’s hidden in the grass. These tips may not work for everyone, but they work for me, and if you can try them and not mind the changes, you get the added weight loss benefit for free.
Think about it this way: if you can substitute one thing for another that’s just as good (or sometimes even better) it’s one small step toward cutting out a small number of calories, but those small numbers add up over the course of a day, week, or year.
Stupid Human Tricks
- Downsize Your Plate – Since you’ll likely be done eating before you end up feeling full, most people will know that they’re done eating by looking down at their empty plate. You can reduce your calorie intake simply by making your plate smaller. It sounds stupid, but it works. I usually eat most of my meals on a salad or small dessert plate.
- Pre-Portion Everything – Don’t eat from a container or bag unless you intend to eat the entire thing. Sure, you may stop when you’re full, or when you’ve had a serving, but you’re far more likely to over-eat when you can’t see the portion that’s going into your stomach. Place what you intend to eat on a plate or bowl prior to eating it. If you decide you want more, at least you’re deciding to eat more and not just mindlessly shoving food down your craw.
- Measure Your Food – Unless you’re eating something that’s prepared and individually portioned, the only way you’re going to know just how much meat, beans, or soup you’re having is to measure it out with a measuring cup or weigh it on a food scale. Studies have shown that people underestimate the portion size of even something as simple as a chicken breast by 30–40%. It only takes a moment to put your plate on the scale, tare it (i.e. zero it out), and weigh a portion. You can even keep taring the scale between adding additional food to it. Weighing your food is the most accurate way to measure the calories in that food, because the volume of solid food items can vary between measuring depending on how the food is oriented or packed.
- Slow Down – I’m as guilty of eating too fast as anyone. Studies have shown, however, that people who eat more slowly also eat fewer calories than people who scarf down their food. Not only does it take about twenty minutes for you to start feeling full after you start eating, but by chewing your food more you taste it more, and will find that smaller portions won’t leave you feeling hungry afterwards if you eat your food more slowly.
- Pay Attention – My wife and I still eat while watching television sometimes. We almost always eat official “meals” at the dining room table, but will often eat an evening snack while watching a movie or TV show. We try to combat overeating by portioning our snacks (usually fruit or air-popped popcorn) in the kitchen and then taking our bowls to the sofa, but it’s probably still a bad habit that promotes mindless eating. Have you ever finished eating only to discover that you didn’t even notice you were eating by the time you were done? This is especially frustrating when you’ve been eating something unhealthy, because now you’ve not only eaten a large number of calories, but you didn’t even get to enjoy them. That doesn’t sound like fun. If you’re going to eat potato chips, at least eat them mindfully so you can enjoy the experience.
- Mustard Instead of Mayo – Mayonnaise is an emulsion of oil and egg, but it’s mostly oil. Mustard is usually comprised of ground mustard seeds (mustard is a plant), vinegar, and salt. Unless you get honey mustard or mustard mixed with some other sugary concoction, it’s usually zero calories, whereas mayo is 100 calories per tablespoon, which is about as much as you’d put on a sandwich if you don’t use a lot of mayo. You get the added benefit that mustard is tastier (although I do admit a love of mayo on certain types of sandwich).
- Fat Free Singles Cheese – If you’re going to eat processed American cheese anyway, switching to the 25–30 calorie variety versus the 60 calorie per slice regular is a no-brainer. They’re also usually individually wrapped and melt really well, so they’re great in omelettes, on sandwiches, and as a cheesy additive to beans. I actually prefer the taste of the fat-free vs. the regular slices of my local supermarket’s brand. The Kraft fat free singles are generally available everywhere, though, and are also very good.
- Reduced- or Non-Fat – I’ve been drinking 1% or 2% milk instead of whole milk for so long that the whole milk (typically 4% fat) tastes too creamy to me now. However, skim milk just tastes watery and thin. It’s amazing what 1% of dairy fat can do to the taste of milk. Switching from whole milk to 1% will save you 60 calories per cup. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but adding up a few 25–75 calorie substitutions in a day can mean an extra pound lost per month. Cheese is another area where you can get reduced or non-fat varieties of some cheeses. As with the fat free singles cheese, skim-milk (which is sometimes harder to find than “part-skim” varieties) mozzarella is another example where if you’re mixing it into a recipe or using it to top a baked dish you won’t even miss the added fat and the calories that it brings. Easy substitution.
- Leaner Cuts – You probably already consider boneless, skinless chicken breast a diet food, but did you know that the more succulent pork loin is ounce-for-ounce less caloric than chicken breast? Believe it, bucko. When eating red meat, like steak, you can probably switch out a fattier ribeye or sirloin for a leaner filet mignon or New York strip steak. Ground beef is usually labeled with the percent of lean meat that’s in the container, but with steaks it’s harder to tell, especially when you’ve been trained to look for good marbling (the white marble strains in the otherwise red meat is the fat). Barring buying a leaner cut of beef, grilling it so that the fat drips between the grates is a healthier option than pan-searing it so that it reabsorbs its fat while cooking. Pro tip: while letting the steak rest for a few minutes, take some marinade and pour it over the steak to make it juicier. Yes, after cooking. While the meat fibers cool and the protein strands relax they’ll wick up that flavorful juice and make even leaner cuts of beef taste fantastic. Just be sure to use a low-calorie marinade or you’re just substituting beef fat calories for calories in the marinade.
Easy Foods To Cut
This one is harder to provide examples for, because the high-calorie foods that you eat often but don’t really enjoy that much will be different for you than they are for me, but I can at least share a list of foods that I’ve cut out or those of which I’ve drastically reduced my consumption.
If you’re eating something out of habit or just because it’s there (for example, snacks that are available in the office) and you wouldn’t miss them, just cut them out. Not eating something you don’t even like isn’t a sacrifice at all. If you examine what you’re eating every day and really think about it, there are probably at least a few foods that you can give the pink slip.
While I haven’t completely barred any food from my diet (because I’m not on a diet, I’m just eating better), there are a bunch of things that I hardly ever eat anymore.
- The Offender: Soda/Pop – Of course, as I list soda as a beverage I rarely consume, I just finished drinking a tiny plastic cup of Coke Zero while I type this on an airplane. I used to drink a few cans of regular Coca-Cola Classic while at work (because it was there) every day, and switching to coffee and then water made it easy to remove hundreds of calories from my daily intake. I don’t miss it at all, although I did buy a SodaStream carbonator to make fizzy water for when I want some bubbles, which is hardly ever.
The Lower-Calorie Substitute – I usually drink plain old filtered or tap water (I know, I’m boring).
- Offender: High Carb Breakfasts – I used to eat a lot more bagels, pancakes, and waffles than I do now.
Substitute: Usually yogurt with a bunch of nutritionally-strategic additives – granola, berries, walnuts, flax seed, chia seed, or other foods that I’m getting into my diet by adding them to my morning mélange. I’ll have eggs for breakfast once or twice a week (and then maybe once again for lunch or dinner). I’ll have oatmeal once or twice a week (which I should increase but I like my yogurt more).
- Offender: Sugary Desserts and Snacks – I used to eat a lot of cake, pie, or ice cream for dessert.
Substitute: – I’ll have some fruit or popcorn. Sometimes in the summer we’ll splurge and have some frozen yogurt or kefir, which is about 100–120 calories per 5 oz, as opposed to the 200ish calories in the same volume of ice cream.
- Offender: Cheeseburgers – Man, I loves me a good burger. Add cheese, bacon, and katsup to really kick things up a notch, especially if you throw in a side of crispy french fries and a tasty cold beer.
Substitute: – There is no substitute for a burger. I just eat them less frequently. I enjoy them a whole lot more when I do eat them now, though, and will grill up the burgers myself rather than get them at a restaurant.
- Offender: Sausage – Most sausages are loaded with fat (and other things).
Substitute: Chicken Sausage – Before you close your browser in disgust, just hear me out. I used to be like you, scoffing at the idea of a chicken sausage or some other ridiculous hot dog substitute, but in the past few years chicken sausages have really kicked it up a notch. At one-half to two-thirds fewer calories than their pork or beef counterparts, chicken sausages can be well spiced and mixed with healthy alternatives to fat, like apples, peppers, or even low-fat cheese. Living in Chicago, I’m particular partial to the new chicken sausages from Vienna Beef. They’re so good I actually prefer them to their hot dogs (although I do miss the natural casing snap of the standard dogs).
- Offender: French Fries, Rice, Bread Stuffing, Pasta, and other Starches – Growing up most meals would consist of a well-rounded plate of some meat, fish, or other protein, some vegetable, and some starch like macaroni & cheese or rice. The problem with these starches is that they provide a ton of calories without providing that much in the way of nutrition.
Substitute: Beans – Beans also contain a lot of starch, of course, and with that, a lot of calories compared to vegetables or proteins. However, beans are also loaded with dietary fiber and vitamins, and are thus really good for you. I usually don’t eat more than a half-cup serving of beans at any given time, but they’re excellent (and if you spice them up, much tastier than boring ol’ white rice).
Small changes to your eating habits add up over time to big weight loss. A few calories here and there don’t seem like much, but you can easily lose a pound a week by reducing your calorie intake by just 350 calories a day; reduced because you’ve found ways around starving yourself by eating lower-calorie foods that taste just as good (or better) than their higher-calorie culinary equivalents.
Truth be told I don’t eat that much red meat these days, but sometimes a nice grilled flank steak or filet mignon is a nice side dish for a big salad. Yes, I’ve flipped the portions. The meat isn’t the main course, it’s a side dish to vegetables. You won’t miss the difference between 4oz and 8oz of meat, especially if you’re eating it slowly, don’t have it very often, and savor every bite. If anything, you’ll probably enjoy it more when you do eat red meat. ↩