Archive for the ‘nutrition’ Category
Not all foods are what they seem. While some labels are obvious with the addition of words like “flavored” or “imitation,” not all fake foods are such transparent frauds. Sometimes purveyors and manufacturers are actively trying to trick you into spending more for a premium item that’s not even the real thing. Somehow this is completely legal.
Here are some luxury food items that aren’t what they’re purported to be when sold in the United States.
- Cantaloupes are actually muskmelons, which has a reticulated skin like a cantaloupe but a very different flavor.
- Truffle Oil contains no truffles, but instead is composed of some oil (usually olive) and 2–4 dithiapentane, a synthetic compound that’s a component of truffle flavor. Sounds tasty. Anthony Bourdain referred to truffle oil as “the ketchup of the middle class.”
- Wasabi is usually horseradish mixed with colored dyes. You can get actual wasabi in some higher-end sushi restaurants, but it’s not neon-green in color (it’s more of a pale yellow) and usually quite expensive as it has to be imported.
- Kobe Beef is not legal to export from Japan, so unless you’ve eaten it in a fine Japanese steakhouse, what you’ve eaten as a “kobe slider” isn’t actually Kobe beef. It’s probably not even fake Kobe beef, otherwise known as Waygu which is the same breed of cow raised outside of Japan.
- Super White Tuna isn’t tuna. It’s actually escolar, also known as the “snake mackerel,” which can cause diarrhea-like symptoms. It’s illegal to serve in Japan, but just fine according to the FDA in the United States. Consider just getting regular red tuna in your sushi.
- Olive Oil may be “adulterated” with other (cheaper) oils that aren’t as healthy for you. To see which brands of oils are actually 100% olive oil, you can check this list.
- Parmesan Cheese is probably not the real deal. You may expect that from the powered “Kraft 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese” variety, but chances are even the expensive wedge you buy and grate yourself at the expensive local market isn’t actually Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese made to centuries-old exacting standards in Italy, but rather a cheaper fake.
So those are some of the more sinister fakers. There are other “foods” that don’t really pretend to be the real thing, but it may surprise you just how fake they are:
- Bacon Bits contain no bacon. I think this one’s not even trying to pretend to be the real thing, but those Bac-Os or Bacn-Pieces are made from soy.
- Cool Whip is not whipped cream. It’s primarily an emulsion of water and vegetable oil. Nothing says “more, please” than a big glop of oil atop your pie.
- SunnyD is not orange juice. It doesn’t pretend to be, but it contains “less than 2%” of various juices, which means it could contain as little as none actual orange juice.
- Pancake Syrup generally contains not even a little bit of actual maple syrup. Most brands like Aunt Jemima, Log Cabin, or Hungry Jack don’t even use the word “maple” to describe their syrup, whereas some brands will refer to it as “maple-flavored syrup.”
What does this have to do with weight loss and clean livin’? Not much, other than I was surprised to learn about a few of these and wanted to share this knowledge because I don’t think a lot of this is widely known.
I don’t really eat many of these things anyway (especially from the second list) but mostly because they’re horrible for you, are highly caloric, and don’t taste very good. What a triple threat.
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.
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. ↩
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. ↩
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.