Archive for July, 2012
It’s easy to be down on the restaurant industry for their massive amounts of fat & salt in most dishes, but there are healthier choices out there if you’re willing to look for them.
When eating out with others I find that it’s actually easier to eat healthily because most people that I dine with know I’ve lost weight, and know that I’m still working to lose more. So there’s a certain macho bravado with ordering the healthiest meal at the table. I’m sure some people are annoyed when I make When Harry Met Sally-style special requests to cut back on the salt & fat, put the sauce on the side, make the omelette with egg whites (sometimes – usually I’ll just eat whole eggs), or substitute a salad or side of fruit for hashbrowns or fries.
Strategies for Eating
Eating is such a pleasurable activity, and one downside of Clean Livin’ is that it makes it more of a chore. You’re no longer just eating whatever for the pure enjoyment of your food, but instead planning an eating strategy wherein you’re mentally calculating every calorie, nutrient, and figuring out what you should be eating instead of what you want to eat. That’s the opposite of fun. That’s work.
Once you’ve learned a few tricks, though, you can dine, if not with reckless abandon, then at least with the confidence that you’re doing the best that you can. Passing on the fries is a difficult moment in any eater’s life. Let’s take the sting out of feeling like you’re depriving yourself.
- Back Yourself into a Corner – Instead of eating the bread, getting a few drinks, an appetizer, unhealthy side dish, an entrée, and then dessert – get just one of those things in addition to your entrée. You can mix it up – one meal, get an appetizer. Another, go for your favorite dessert. It really sucks to spend your calorie budget on high-calorie foods that you don’t even really like that much, so if you’re going to splurge, ensure you make the most of it. As an American, I’m all about maximizing my enjoyment, making sure that everything is always the best it can possibly be.
- Gratis Schmatis – We sure do love things that are free. Skip the bread basket and butter (unless that’s your favorite thing), popcorn, or whatever other freebies they bring you to get you eating as soon as possible.
- You Booze, You Can’t Lose – Johnny Cochran rhyme aside, alcohol contains more calories per gram than any foodstuff other than fat, so be careful to not drink the equivalent of an entire meal.
Recommended Things to Eat
Since people are always asking me what I eat, as if there’s a magical diet that will make you lose weight, I’m going to be specific about things that I order in restaurants. Granted, you won’t lose weight as fast eating out a lot, since you have much less control over how a dish is prepared, and what ingredients go into it, but I like restaurants and I can eat out and still lose weight if I’m smart about it.
When I want to eat out but don’t want to blow through two days of calories in a single meal, I’ve made a mental (and now written) list of go-to foods that are reasonably healthy. With these choices you still have to watch things (sauces, side dishes, preparation method) but it’s easier to eat right when you eat the “more right” things. You know how I am about making the right choice the easy choice.
If you go easy on the soy sauce, skip the maki rolls loaded with fried breadcrumbs and mayonnaise, and eat only a small bit of white rice, sushi bars can be an excellent (albeit expensive) source of lean protein. I tend to stick with salmon, tuna, and other fish high in omega–3 fatty acids (since they’re known to help lower cholesterol). Miso soup, while high in sodium, is full of all sorts of beneficial compounds, and if I’m going to have anything unhealthy at a Japanese restaurant, miso is where I’ll blow it, which isn’t so bad.
Watch Out For: Soy sauce, which is essentially a flavored salt. Avoid “spicy” anything (since they make it spicy by adding chili oil to mayo – yes, fat & fat), vegetables prepared in the “tempura” style (i.e. breaded and deep-fried), and the fancier maki rolls that are stuffed with things like fried shrimp or cream cheese.
Broiled or Poached Seafood
Ask for it without butter, as most restaurants will glaze the fish with fat so it gets a nicer crust when they stick it under the salamander to cook.
Shrimp and scallops are excellent sources of lean protein. Don’t worry about the cholesterol in shrimp, especially in the small quantity you’ll be getting in a dish at a restaurant. Just be sure that it’s simply prepared without a rich, fatty sauce.
Avoid: Fish that’s battered, breaded, or otherwise fried, or served in “garlic butter” or some other heavy sauce.
Oh, restaurant salad, you’re such a tease. Salads offer the illusion of being healthy, but most salads on a restaurant’s menu get tarted-up with cheese, bacon, fatty dressing, croutons, and other unhealthy things that largely negate the nutritional benefit of the vegetables. Oh, I could write another whole post on how salads are often higher in calories than a burger and fries.
Get the salad with the most interesting greens or other vegetables, dip your fork in the dressing (that you’re getting on the side), and don’t be afraid to be annoying to your server and ask for it without the offending bits. Personally I’m a big fan of a beet salad with goat cheese, since beets are delicious and goat cheese is expensive enough that they tend to give you only a few crumbles. I love that beet salads also often come with walnuts, although a lot of places candy them first, which sullies their health benefits.
Since vegetables tend to be lower in calories, and greens are cheap, you can eat a lot of them. Fill up on the dark, leafy greens and go easy on non-vegetable toppings and dressing.
Favorite Healthy Salad Ingredients: arugula, field greens, avocado, grilled chicken breast, steak, shrimp, tuna fish, fruit, beets, goat cheese, tomatoes, cucumber, onion, shredded parmesan, olives, feta cheese, capers, bell peppers, jalapeños, hot peppers.
Skip: Creamy or sweet dressings which are full of sugar & fat. Croutons, tortilla strips, or other deep-fried crunchy things. Fatty cheeses like bleu cheese, cheddar, or swiss.
Depending on the place, of course – having tortillas made with lard in the traditional method will add hundreds of calories to a meal that can otherwise be fairly low-cal, and even if you get steak, chicken, or shrimp on your taco, they tend to be lean and you don’t get much on each.
Squeeze some fresh lime juice on your taco for a huge kick of flavor for almost zero calories. Most hot sauces contain little more than vinegar, hot peppers, and salt, and are usually calorie-free as well while packing in a lot of flavor (and heat!).
Beware “fish tacos” as the traditional fish taco is battered, deep fried, and covered with mayonnaise and cheese. Some places will let you substitute a grilled fish, and you can always ask them to hold the mayo.
Skip: Crunchy fried hard-shell tacos. Anything covered in a sauce, like enchiladas. Mexican Coke (just because it has sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup doesn’t suddenly make it a health food).
Steak & Potatoes
A leaner cut of beef (think filet mignon, flank steak, or sirloin) and a baked potato (bonus points if you can get a baked sweet potato) and a side of some steamed or grilled vegetable like asparagus can be a pretty healthy meal (you don’t have to eat the entire potato, as the russets that most restaurants employ are gigantic).
Avoid: High-calorie sides of french fries, mashed potatoes, creamed spinach, and the hollandaise sauce often served with the vegetable.
Okay, so falafel balls are deep-fried, but usually in vegetable oil, and the falafel itself is porous and tends not to hold much oil after frying. Falafel (ground up, fried chickpea balls) are usually served or garnished with hummus, mediterranean salad, tabbouleh, and pickled vegetables, all of which have numerous health benefits. I enjoy a falafel sandwich in a pita from time to time, but if you get it as a platter instead you can save yourself 100 or so calories by skipping the pita.
No need to avoid the hummus or tahini sauce – the garbanzo bean mash and sesame seed tahini come together to form a complete protein. Generally, the combination of beans + seeds = good for you.
Also recommended: lentil soup, especially if it’s vegetarian.
I’m not going to lie – very little of what I eat would be described as a “dessert” by most people. Having said that, I’ll have a post-dinner evening snack most nights, and while most of the time we’ll skip dessert when eating out, there are still some desserts that I’ll eat when out.
- Frozen Yogurt – I especially enjoy the extra tart pro-biotic froyo from Pinkberry. Most frozen yogurt these days just tastes like soft serve vanilla ice cream (and isn’t much healthier or lower in calories) but some of the healthy frozen yogurt places do it right. The original should taste like yogurt, not vanilla. Pass on the toppings (yes, even the fruit, which is usually macerated in sugar).
- Popcorn – I used to get a big tub of popcorn just about every time I went to the movies. Now I’ll get a small popcorn from time to time (without the artificial butter-flavored grease). If I’m going to eat popcorn I’d much rather make it at home where I can control the oil and especially the salt, but if you can get air-popped popcorn out that’s not heavily salted, go for it. Popcorn is high in fiber and very filling. Just be cautious of the movie theater since the average medium movie theater popcorn contains over 1,000 calories (without the “butter”).
- Fruit – You may say that fruit isn’t a dessert, and that’s where we differ. I eat fruit most nights at home (and often for breakfast) and if I can get a fruit cup or side of fruit at breakfast I often will.
The three most beautiful words in the English language are “Breakfast served anytime.” I could eat breakfast foods for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a late night snack. Thankfully, my favorite breakfast food is also one of the healthiest: eggs.
I may have mentioned my love of eggs before. I especially love omelettes because the combinations of fillings can make what’s essentially the same dish taste completely different.
However: Sure, you need to avoid the side of hash browns, butter on toast, and fatty breakfast meats (although I’ll splurge to spend some calories on bacon or sausage sometimes), but if you want a nutritious meal that’s filling and satisfying, eggcept no substitute.
So I Just Shouldn’t Eat Out, Right?
If you’re careful you can eat out without torpedoing your fitness goals. Just remember to skip everything that’s delicious. I kid, but pick your battles. If you want a BLT get a BLT. Try eating just half of it. If you want a little extra kick in your salad, get the bleu cheese dressing every once in a while, count it in your food log, and eat more healthily the rest of the day.
Your daily caloric budget is yours to do with as you please. Enjoy yourself when eating out but a little moderation goes a long way, and restaurants are definitely working against your best health efforts.
Thanks to the low-carb Atkins Diet that was popular a decade ago, a lot of restaurants have Atkins-friendly substitutions right on the menu. Sometimes there’s an extra charge for fruit instead of potatoes, but I’ll pay an extra buck to not eat a meal’s worth of calories in my side-dish. Then again, sometimes I’ll just get the potatoes, because they’re delicious. ↩
I love you, too. ↩
By tomorrow I won’t be happy weighing just under 275 pounds, but today it’s a milestone that feels worth celebrating. I’ll celebrate a milestone with every 25 pound loss, which means I have about three major weight milestones left (maybe four if I count my “ideal weight”). After that I’ll have to set new fitness goals to make the most of my new body, like running a marathon, climbing a mountain, etc.
Of course, there are some BMI range and personal history milestones left to come:
- 262.5 pounds – 3/4 of the way down from my starting weight of 451+ pounds
- 250 pounds – over 200 pounds lost, and a nice round number
- 240 pounds – dropping from “obese” to merely “overweight” on the BMI scale
- 200 pounds – my base goal for now – will need to re-evaluate once I reach it – but also moves me into the upper range of “normal weight” based on BMI
Getting my weight down to below 275 feels almost as significant to me as being below 300, but maybe only because it’s been so long in the making. I reached my previous weight-loss milestone post a little over two years ago, although what really happened is that I maintained a weight of around 300 pounds for two years, and then gained 15 pounds back, and now have lost 40 pounds in the past four months. So here I am 27 months after my previous milestone celebrating another 25 pounds lost.
A Little Perspective
According to Wikipedia, a Scottish caber weighs about 175 pounds. While I’ve never picked up a caber, they sure do look heavy. I suppose that from now on whenever I reach a milestone and say I’ve lost the equivalent of [blank] that most people will have no real idea of how much that is exactly.
Since people rarely lift things that weight more than just a few pounds I’ve run out of reasonable comparisons. I know that 175 pounds is more weight than most whole persons, so maybe I should just pose for photos with people weighing what I’ve lost so I can point to them and say “There. See this guy? I’ve lost this much.”
Weighing under 275 pounds was my goal for Labor Day so now that I’ve reached it five weeks early, I’m re-setting my weight loss goal to 262.5, which is 3/4ths of the way to my overall weight goal. It’s a little ambitious, but even if I miss it, at this rate it won’t be by much. I’m losing about ten pounds a month, so losing 12.5 pounds in five weeks isn’t that unreasonable.
Because everyone loves before & after photos, here’s one of me playing pool (badly) about a month into my Clean Livin’, back in July 2008:
And then to contrast and/or compare, here’s one from July 2012 (last week):
Restaurants can be a minefield of mostly bad choices for someone trying to lose weight. Everything is loaded with salt & fat, and even if you’re counting calories, without knowing how much salt, butter, or other oil goes into the preparation of your dish (hint: it’s a lot more than you would imagine) you’re at a disadvantage.
My wife and I sat at the “chef’s table” at a popular local restaurant once. It was a lot of fun, like having dinner and a show. We got to see many dishes being prepared, and were a bit startled to see an entire stick of butter go into a single serving side-dish that otherwise contained mostly vegetables. Yikes.
I enjoy eating in restaurants. I tend to order dishes with ingredients that are difficult to come by for the home chef, dishes that are difficult to prepare, or that have a long list of ingredients that it wouldn’t make sense to make at home. Eating out often also helped me to gain a tremendous amount of weight. I especially enjoy “fine dining” restaurants where the preparation of food is akin to an art form. These forays into haute cuisine are an annual tradition, though (at most) – not part of my regular diet.
Most of the time you’re not going to be eating at the best restaurants, but eating fast food on the go or grabbing a bite on the way to your next appointment. Getting delivery, fast food, or take out is “eating out” too. Just because you eat the fried chicken at home doesn’t make it any healthier. These days I tend to avoid any food served in a bucket.
I’ve noticed on days that I eat out, not only do I tend to go over my calorie budget, but I also tend to gain weight the next day. Even if I stay within my budget, if I eat out for dinner I tend to go up the next day, sometimes more than a pound or two. Since I know that you need to eat about 3,500 more calories than you burn to gain a single pound, even if I underestimated what I ate I’d still not be off by enough to warrant gaining a single pound, let alone more than one in a single day. So what happened?
Salt. Excess salt in your system makes you retain fluid because it messes with the water/salt balance that’s regulated by your kidneys. Since most restaurant food is salty, I’m more concerned with the salt than I am the fat, as it has more lasting effects (at least in the short term for the next day’s weigh-in).
When I talk about salt I mean standard table salt, sodium chloride, NaCl. The kind the girl with the yellow raincoat is standing under. Whether it’s finely ground, coarse, kosher, or comes from the sea, it’s all just good ol’ salt.
Salt of the Earth
One teaspoon of table salt contains 2,325 milligrams (mg) of sodium. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends no more than 2,300 mg per day for most adults, and no more than 1,500 mg for those over 51 or who have high blood pressure or kidney problems. How much do typical American’s consume instead? The CDC report on sodium claims that the U.S. average is 3,300 mg per day, and many restaurant dishes contain much more than that in a single meal.
You need some salt for your body to function correctly, but chances are you’re getting way more salt than you need. Most foods naturally contain small amounts of salt – even vegetables. Prepared foods are usually loaded with salt, though, as it’s a preservative, makes the food taste better (personally, I love salty things), and is a cheap ingredient to add to prepared foods.
The only way you can truly know how much salt is in your food is to cook it yourself. Well, that would be true if so many foods you buy at the store aren’t already heavily salted. Most supermarket chicken and pork are essentially brined with salt so that they stay juicier, longer. You know how if you eat a lot of salt you retain fluid? So does the meat you buy. Brining is a great way to protect meat during a long roasting or grilling process, but it does add extra salt to your diet, making your meat retain moisture too.
A Salient Point
Restaurants salt their food because salt is a natural flavor enhancer. It not only makes food taste salty – it makes other flavors taste better.
You may see a notice on a Chinese food menu that says “No MSG.” That’s an abbreviation for monosodium glutamate, another type of salt (table salt is sodium chloride, NaCl). They’re bragging about not adding MSG to their food because back in the day Chinese food in the United States was often prepared with insane amounts of MSG which causes all sorts of health issues associated with a high salt intake, like high blood pressure and heart disease.
The benefit of using MSG is that it’s a flavor enhancer like table salt, but it doesn’t taste salty. So you can eat a large amount of MSG without even realizing you’re consuming way more salt than your body can process.
When you eat more salt than your kidneys can deal with, it stays in your bloodstream causing your blood volume to increase, which means that your heart has to work harder to push more blood through your system. Some people are more sensitive to the effects of salt than others. I know when I’ve had too much salt because I can feel added pressure in my ears due to the temporary increase in blood pressure.
Chains of Fools
Chain restaurants, where the foods are assembled rather than cooked, are some of the biggest culprits in the crime of over-salting food.
For instance, the Denny’s chain’s “Moon Over My Hammy” breakfast sandwich with a side of hash browns comes out to 3,230 mg of sodium before you add any condiments like ketchup. So that’s about twice what you should be eating, or a thousand mg over your maximum recommended intake for the entire day, just at breakfast.
Eat a larger meal at Denny’s, say, a bowl of clam chowder, their Spicy Buffalo Chicken Melt sandwich, and a side of seasoned fries, and you’re eating over four and a half days worth of sodium in a single meal (which contains about 1,700 calories too).
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) performed a study in 2009 in which they looked at some national chains and attempted to put together reasonable meals at those restaurants. The amount of sodium in each is astounding:
- Red Lobster Admirals’ Feast with Caesar Salad, Creamy Lobster Topped Mashed Potato, Cheddar Bay Biscuit, and a Lemonade: 7,106 mg
- Chili’s Buffalo Chicken Fajitas (with tortillas and condiments) and a Dr Pepper: 6,916 mg
- Chili’s Honey-Chipotle Ribs with Mashed Potatoes with Gravy, Seasonal Vegetables, and a Dr Pepper: 6,440 mg
- Olive Garden Tour of Italy (lasagna) with a Breadstick, Garden Fresh Salad with House Dressing, and a Coca-Cola: 6,176 mg
- Olive Garden Chicken Parmigiana with a Breadstick, Garden Fresh Salad with House Dressing, and Raspberry Le[m]onade: 5,735 mg
Cooking your own food is the only way you’ll know for sure what’s in what you’re eating. Sometimes you just have to eat out, whether it be due to convenience, a work or social function, party, or vacation. In those cases, there are some things you can do to at least alleviate the problem of too much salt and fat in standard restaurant portions:
- Eat Local – If you can’t prepare your own food, try to at least eat somewhere that prepares its own foods. Most chain restaurants do little but reheat and combine ingredients that are processed and packaged elsewhere, and have no control over what goes into your dish. Local restaurants may be able to prepare your food with less salt if you ask when you order.
- On the Side – Ask for potentially salty ingredients on the side. Instead of pouring salad dressing on your salad, just dip the tines of your fork into the dressing before eating a bite. Sauces are another culprit and are usually the saltiest ingredient in a dish, especially when eating Asian cuisines. If you can get the sauce on the side at least you can limit your intake.
- Simply Prepared – Skip the gloopy dishes where everything is mixed together with a ton of sugary, salty sauce that’s thickened with starch. Look for keywords like “roasted,” “grilled,” “steamed,” or “baked.” Avoid things that are “glazed,” “crusted,” or “fried.”
- Break the Shaker Habit – Don’t add extra salt to your food with the salt shaker on the table. Or if you do, at least taste the portion you’re about to eat before you add salt to it. When you do add salt (say to vegetables that have been as yet unseasoned) limit the amount you shake on, or better yet, shake the salt into your palm and then sprinkle it onto your food when you can see how much you’re using (salt shakers in restaurants usually use fine-grained salt which pours very easily).
When shopping at the supermarket, beware health claims on labels. “Sodium-free” means that a serving contains less than 5mg of sodium per serving, which even though it’s a minor amount toward your 2,300 mg of sodium per day, still adds up. “Reduced sodium” means that it contains 25% less sodium than the standard item. So if something’s loaded with 2,000 mg of sodium, a 25% reduction to only 1,500 mg may not be doing you much good. “Lite,” “light,” or “low” sodium means that it contains 50% less than the standard, whatever that standard is.
The USDA recommends avoiding foods containing more than 200 mg per serving. Of course, that means being conscious of how many servings you eat. The nutritional facts label on a 20 oz bottle of Coca-Cola, which I’d consider single-serving, actually claims it contains 2.5 servings. Ditto most bags of microwave popcorn.
Your taste for salty things is acquired through years of eating too much salt, so if you cut back gradually you can help retrain your body to get by with much less salt. It’ll take time to reduce your sodium intake without craving salty snacks all the time.
I’ve Eaten Too Much Salt. What Now?
Drink plenty of water to try to wash out as much as possible. As your kidneys process the salt and water the extra water you take in will help to dilute the salt.
Exercising and sweating will also help remove salt from your system (have you ever tasted how salty sweat is?).
Otherwise, wait it out and in a few days of drinking copious amounts of water your body will re-align your salt/water balance (unless you have kidney disease or another medical condition that affects your kidney’s ability to regulate sugar and water balance).
There Was Talk of Salt and Fat
Yes, restaurants tend to add a lot of fat to your foods too, but except for adding a huge amount of extra calories (since fats are the most caloric food you can eat) they have little lasting ill-effects. By eating out less, reducing your sodium intake, and being smart about what you order when you do eat out, you’ll be able to live a normal life while losing weight.
It’s possible, but it’s not easy. Restaurants really work against you because salt & fat make things taste really good. I’ve found that substituting protein for fat helps keep me just as satisfied, although most proteins contain some fat too. Once you’ve weaned-off salt you’ll find a little goes a long way.
Don’t be afraid to ask for less salt & fat when eating out. You’re going to have to eat it, and you’re paying for it, so don’t be shy about protecting your own health. Of course, your mileage may vary, so take my advice with a grain of salt.
Sometimes people find out that I’ve lost a tremendous amount of weight and ask me “What’s your secret?” as if there’s one key piece of information that I know that helped me lose weight and get fit. My stock answer is that “I’m more active and eat better.” Everyone knows that’s how you lose weight, right?
No one is ever satisfied by that answer, though, because it’s only part of the equation. It’s harder to tell people that there are a whole bunch of things that you have to change: what you eat, your habits, hobbies, tools, attitude, and self-perception. I’ve been posting my “secrets” to this blog for the past four years. I tried to distill the psychological aspects of weight loss in “How to Lose Weight” but that’s not the only part (although I believe it’s the biggest part).
I’ve been trying to come up with an elevator pitch that condenses my weight loss “secrets” down into a 20–30 second soundbite, but its’ hard to compact a few dozen little things into a pithy statement, and even if I could, people would likely be dissatisfied with that answer anyway.
The Bigger You Are, The Faster You Fall
Here’s something that’s promising: the more weight that you have to lose, the easier the initial pounds come off. It’s encouraging to see weight come off the scale every single day when you’re just starting out with your Clean Livin’ regime, even just a week or two in.
Not everyone has as much to lose as I did, though, so my results are probably atypical and while I’m happy to be an inspiration for anyone, don’t be disappointed if you don’t lose 50 pounds in three months like I did.
As I’ve lost more weight it’s gotten harder to lose weight, and it’ll likely get harder still. I’ve had to reduce my calorie budget a couple of times already since I’m no longer burning as many calories just keeping my now smaller body alive. It’s not terrible. I’ve adjusted by eating healthier, lower-calorie foods so I wouldn’t have to reduce portions to the point where I’m hungry all the time (although I am hungry before I eat).
You’ll have to experiment a little, and adjust your calorie budget based on your weigh-ins, how fast you want to lose, etc.
Surely you’re thinking “I want to lose weight as fast as possible,” but if you want to keep it off, and get healthier while you’re losing weight, that’s probably not your best strategy. Optimal, sustainable (local and organic) weight loss is healthy only if you lose about 1–2 pounds per week, which means creating a calorie deficit of 500–1000 calories per day, either through eating less, eating healthier foods, by exercising more, or some combination of the three.
Garbage In, Garbage Out
A lot of people ask me “what do you eat?” as if there’s a magic weight loss diet. Me? I eat what I like. I try to eat new vegetables, or familiar favorites prepared in a new and exciting way. Novelty helps me. People are so used to various diets that stipulate cutting out entire swathes of foods that they expect I’ll have a short and simple answer like “Oh, I used the Paleo Diet” or “I cut out carbs, fats, and sugar.”
Sometimes people get annoyed with me when I try to simplify my eating strategy down to “I count calories, stay within my budget most days, and eat healthier foods so I’m hardly ever hungry.” Is it because that’s the conventional wisdom that everyone already knows? It’s common knowledge because it works, people.
Weigh yourself. Record the weight. Log what food you eat. Count the calories (especially helpful is to plan out a meal before you eat it). Take a tape measure and measure your waist. Take your blood pressure if you have a cuff. Talk to your doctor about measuring your percentage of body fat.
The more you know the more information you’ll have to help you make better decisions.
Check the color of your urine. While cloudy, yellow urine isn’t a sure sign that you’re dehydrated, clear pee is a good sign that you’re well-hydrated, especially if it’s combined with more frequent urination.
Wash the Weight Away
You’re not drinking water because you’re thirsty, you’re drinking water to flush out the crud that’s been building up in your system, and making it easier to get the water that comes out of your adipose tissue (i.e. your fat cells) flushed out of your body as you break down the fat cells (which also contain water) to make up for the calorie deficit you’re creating by eating fewer calories. Why weigh all that extra water weight? Go pee that stuff out because you’re hydrating like crazy.
It’s a Decision
That’s all fitness is: a series of good choices that get you to where you want to go.
You are trying to transform your body, but the transformation has to begin in your mind. Imagine an Olympic athlete suddenly inhabited your body (like in one of those Freaky Friday, 18 Again, Vice Versa, or Like Father, Like Son movies, but with an athlete switching bodies with you instead of a relative whose life will inspire you to change. That athlete will likely be frustrated with how your body performs, like asking a race car driver to compete in the Indy 500 in a Prius. You can bet they’d whip their new body into better shape, though. So become that athlete yourself and you won’t have to wait around and hope for a magic mirror, fountain, or fortune cookie.
You’re Not Exercising. You’re An Athlete.
Exercise isn’t something you do for thirty minutes at a certain time every day. It’s who you are. You are motion. You are activity. Every day you’re getting stronger. Your day-over-day improvements in strength, endurance, and speed may be imperceptible to you, but week-over-week, month-after-month you’ll start to find that you can do so much more than you could a month or two ago. Exercise isn’t work. It’s training.
Goals Are Where You Are Going To Be, and What You Are Going To Do To Get There
Your weight loss goals aren’t something that would be nice to do. Your goals are a series of small things that you do that get you incrementally closer to where you want to be. You’re playing the long game, setting milestones and taking every step necessary to get there.
Your goals are small enough that each one should be 100% achievable. You’re going to lose those ten pounds because you’re going to create a calorie deficit every day, by reducing what you eat at most meals, most days, and increasing your activity level to take up the slack.
The best way to predict the future is to invent it.
– Computer scientist Alan Kay, 1971
So How Did You Lose So Much Weight?
I eat better and move around a lot more.
So much fuss has been made over the poor little egg. Eggs have pretty consistently gotten a bad rap in recent dietary history. Are they good for you, bad for you, neutral, or really good for you? New research points to the latter.
When talking about the “egg” from here on out I’ll be mostly talking about standard white chicken eggs, but most bird eggs have a similar nutritional profile, and are equally delicious (although I have a particular fondness for duck eggs).
Who, besides Zooey Deschanel, doesn’t enjoy eggs for breakfast, lunch, or dinner? For me, the three most beautiful words in the English language are “breakfast served anytime.”
Yolk It Up
While there are numerous parts of an egg, when we talk about eggs as food we generally discuss only two parts: the yellow egg yolks and egg whites, known scientifically as the albumen. Nutritionally the whites are a good source of protein… and little else. Given the cholesterol scare of the past half century many people have started eating egg white omelets or otherwise avoiding the yolk. Why so much fuss about such a tiny little yellow embryonic sac?
Is it because of the saturated fat? A single egg yolk contains only 1.5g of saturated fat, and contains about 80% of the calories of both the yolk and white combined, since the egg white consists of about 90% water, which has zero calories. An average large egg white has around 17 calories, whereas a whole egg (white + yolk) is between 70 and 100, depending on size (for calorie counting purposes I always record a 100 calorie egg regardless of whether I’m eating large or extra-large eggs).
While an egg’s protein is split nearly an even 50/50 between the yolk and the white, the yolk contains dozens of nutrients, and is rivaled only by wheat grass juice in packing a nearly complete nutritional profile for humans in such a small package. The only major nutrient you can’t get from eggs is Vitamin C. So drink a glass of orange juice with your breakfast (or better yet, eat an orange, the fiber is better for you than the juice).
Eggs are one of the most perfect sources of protein available to the human diet, supplying all nine essential amino acids necessary for proper health. They’re high in Vitamins A, D, B12, E, riboflavin, folic acid, iron, calcium, potassium, and choline, an essential nutrient for brain development, especially in fetuses and babies. Some eggs are “fortified” with omega–3 fatty acids (the same found in avocados and fish oil) by feeding the laying hens kelp meal, whose nutrients are then passed through to the eggs.
The Vitamin A in the yolk actually helps your body to better assimilate the protein, so when you make an egg white omelet you’re doing yourself a disservice both in missing the nutrients present in the yolk, but also in degrading your body’s ability to process the protein you get from the whites, which we should once again mention is the only real nutrient in the egg white.
Is it an added bonus that egg yolks are delicious on just about anything? Drop a poached egg onto just about any sandwich and you’ll greatly improve the quality of that sandwich. I can’t remember the first time I ate a burger with a fried egg on top, but my pupils dilated like in Requiem For A Dream.
Most eggs produced in the United States are white, although in New England brown eggs are more common than elsewhere in the country. There is no difference in taste between different colored eggs, whether they’re uniform in color or speckled, or even their size. Different colored eggs are nutritionally all the same. I’ve noticed that brown eggs in my local supermarkets tend to be more expensive than plain white eggs, so unless you want brown eggs for their aesthetic properties, you may as well stick to the cheaper and more plentiful white eggs.
Health Scares Aren’t All They’re Cracked Up To Be: Egg Myths Debunked
Myth: Cholesterol in eggs raises your blood cholesterol.
British researchers have determined that there’s little evidence to support the common wisdom that the cholesterol found in eggs has any effect on raising blood cholesterol in people who consume them.
From the British Nutrition Foundation’s publication:
The egg is a nutrient-dense food, a valuable source of high quality protein and essential micronutrients that is not high in SFA or in energy. In the current difficult financial climate, eggs can play a useful role as a relatively inexpensive source of nutrition for all and especially for people on low incomes. The high protein content of eggs may help with weight maintenance or loss, a significant factor in the context of the current fight against obesity. It is high time that we dispelled the mythology surrounding eggs and heart disease and restored them to their rightful place on our menus where they can make a valuable contribution to healthy balanced diets.
That’s why I eat eggs but pass on Egg Beaters™. Given the choice, I’d rather consume a food made by nature than one manufactured by a giant corporation. You don’t always have that choice, at least not without the tradeoff of convenience or price, since locally grown eggs from chickens who haven’t been raised on a diet of corn feed and growth hormones are not as readily available at the supermarket as those from mass chicken farms, and even when they are available they can cost several times more (although many would argue that they’re worth it, as they taste better).
The diet-heart hypothesis [that suggests that high intake of saturated fat and cholesterol causes heart disease] has been repeatedly shown to be wrong, and yet, for complicated reasons of pride, profit and prejudice, the hypothesis continues to be exploited by scientists, fund-raising enterprises, food companies and even governmental agencies. The public is being deceived by the greatest health scam of the century.
Consider also that Japan, the country with the highest consumption of eggs in their diet also has one of the lowest rates of heart disease. That can’t be a coincidence.
Myth: Eggs cause type2 diabetes in adults.
It was once thought that eggs (specifically the yolk) was a cause or major contributor of type 2 diabetes in adults, but that myth was also recently debunked.
Myth: Egg pasteurization reduces their nutritional content.
Nope. Eggs are pasteurized through applying a little heat to a simple water bath. Unlike many vegetables, eggs lose none of their nutrients through cooking (although runny yolks are delicious on just about anything).
Myth: Raw or undercooked eggs may contain salmonella.
Okay, this one’s real. While getting salmonella from eggs is rare, it still does happen. Salmonella is a dangerous (to humans) bacteria that is found in many chickens. You can reduce your risk by:
- Only eating eggs where both the white and yolk are fully-cooked.
- Ensure that the raw egg doesn’t touch anything else that you plan to eat.
- Eat only pasteurized eggs (most eggs from the supermarket are pasteurized, but read the label).
Granted, while we tend to buy pasteurized eggs I love a good runny yolk, and will even order over-easy eggs at a restaurant.
If you want to be scared about egg safety, though, you can read Scrambled Eggs a publication produced by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI, which sounds like a government agency, but isn’t) which describes both the problem and suggested solutions for how the government can help to reduce our risk of contamination, like requiring more frequent inspections of egg-producing farms and requiring that farms refrigerate eggs sooner.
The Egg and I
I enjoy eating eggs. I’m an egg-enthusiast. If I’m going to eat a bunch of vegetables together, I’d rather wrap them in some ovum protein in an omelette than eat them any other way. Omelette possibilities are endless – you can basically stuff them with anything – vegetables, cheese, meats, or any combination of the three. I tend to not add more than three fillings to keep the flavor from becoming too much of a melange, and of course some things go better together than others. Add some spinach, tomato, olives, and feta cheese for a Mediterranean flavor. Bacon, tomato, and cheddar make for a nice burgery sensation. Avocado, shallots, and goat cheese and you’ll eat like a Californian (provided all of the ingredients are local, sustainable, and organic).
Sometimes I just want to experience the pure joy of eggs themselves. For my money, the perfect expression of the egg is poached. I even bought a fancy egg poaching spoon produced by celebrity chef Michael Rhulman for easier separating of the white and then retrieval of the eggs from the poaching liquid.
If you’re looking for ways to introduce more eggs into your diet, indulge me on a Bubba from Forrest Gump exploration of the various ways eggs may be prepared:
- eggs benedict
- spanish torta
- french toast
- croque madame
- egg salad
- egg foo young
- huevos rancheros
- loco moco
- toad in the hole / egg in the basket / bird in the nest / one-eyed jack
- scotch egg
- eggs in purgatory
So now that we know that eggs are both delicious and nutritious, won’t give you high cholesterol or diabetes, you can eat your unfertilized chicken embryos without guilt, apology, or having to worry about getting any metaphorical egg on your face.
The egg white is actually comprised of two parts, a more solid protein and another watery part. When you make scrambled eggs you usually just crack the whole thing into a bowl, but most chefs will actually separate out the two parts of the egg white before poaching an egg as it makes for a prettier finished product (and you don’t end up with little strands of the thinner albumen in your poaching liquid). ↩
I’ll concede the point that the eggs we buy at the supermarket also arrive there by way of a large corporation and are as much a product of chemistry as cultivation, but given the two evils, I’ll take the one with the shorter ingredient count. Plus, I try to avoid things that are known to cause death in rats. ↩