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Posts Tagged ‘eating’

Balm in Gilead

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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.

Easy Substitutions

  • 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[1], 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.


  1. 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.  ↩

Healthy Restaurant Options When You Must Dine Out

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[1].

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.

Sushi

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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

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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.

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Salad

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.

Tacos

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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.

Falafel

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.

Desserts

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.
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Eggs

The three most beautiful words in the English language are “Breakfast served anytime.”[2] 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.


  1. 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.  ↩

  2. I love you, too.  ↩

What a Shame

Shame is like everything else; live with it for long enough and it becomes part of the furniture.

— Salman Rushdie, Shame: A Novel

SHAMEOne of the hardest psychological stumbling blocks to overcome is a feeling of shame about your condition. Unlike alcoholism, cancer, depression, and other diseases & afflictions, anyone with eyes can see your weight problem. If you’re as grossly obese as I was, people can tell from pretty far away. “Oh look, there’s a fat person.” An overweight person’s body is a mark of shame that would make Hester Prynne blush.

Feelings of shame are manifested when trying to do common things in a world made for thin people. I had a difficult time fitting into most armchairs, theatre and airplane seats, putting a seat belt on in someone’s compact car, and so on. I’m also pretty tall, at 6’4″, which compounds the problem, but isn’t something I feel shame about, because I’m naturally tall – but I made myself fat.

Guilt vs. Shame

Guilt is the feeling of having done a wrong thing. Shame is the feeling of being a wrong thing. I see a lot of advertising for low(er)-calorie snack foods that come with the promise of being “guilt-free,” but I’ve never seen any foods as promising a release from shame.

What causes shame about our body-image?  While not being able to fit into small spaces itself can be embarrassing, most of my shame regarding my weight was related directly to food and eating.

I found that eating in public, especially if I was eating something less than healthy, made me particularly self-conscious. Most of the time I don’t really care about what other people think, but this in particular made me feel really uncomfortable. Maybe it fed into (excuse the pun) my already intensely negative feelings about my body. For me, eating something like an ice cream cone at a street faire or neighborhood festival is so unpleasant that I just stopped doing it. Granted, I shouldn’t be eating those things regularly anyway, but as someone who enjoys food the shame that I feel about my weight impacts my enjoyment.

While I have a pretty thick skin about most things, I am more sensitive about my body. To a certain extent I can take a fat joke – and they’re usually not very clever. Yeah, I’m fat. I get it. Har har. It can be especially hurtful when you hear friends or family members make a crack about your weight since these are the people you rely on for support, but I can’t be too hard on them. We live in a society that values super-thinness and derides the obese.

My friends have been very very supportive for the most part. They ask me how my progress is going. If they do see me eating something that doesn’t help me achieve my fitness goals, they may say something about it being “not exactly clean livin’, eh?”

One of my co-workers tells me that he hopes I lose weight, but not to the point where I get super-fit, because I’ll be insufferable about it. I tell him that being smug about having lost a lot of weight is one of my primary motivators. He’s put on some weight himself since he’s gotten married, and I joke with him that he’s my own personal Dorian Gray picture – he’s putting on the pounds that I’m losing. Every Monday morning I would tell him how much weight he gained last week based on how much I’d lost. So yes, even I am guilty of making light of other peoples’ weight, although if you knew this co-worker you’d encourage me to be crueler to him. He’s one of those people who talks smack about everything (but in a fun way – he’s actually a really good guy and a friend).

Finding Pride

This is the point where I’d usually offer a helpful tip or trick telling you how I overcame this problem, but the fact is, I haven’t. I still feel a little ashamed of my eating habits, especially if I eat something unhealthy in a public place. I don’t know if it’ll ever get better. The only thing I can tell you is that I try to use my shame as a tool to help keep myself on track. I may eat a cheeseburger and fries from time to time, but the people at the restaurant didn’t see me walk four and a half miles to get to there, or the 45 minutes of weight lifting I did that morning.

Shame isn’t always a bad thing as long as you can learn how to use it to help you meet your goals.

I’m pretty sure there’s a lot more to life than being really, really, ridiculously good looking. And I plan on finding out what that is.

— Ben Stiller, Zoolander

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. I'm just some guy who lost a lot of weight and studied up on nutrition, diet, and exercise in order to improve my personal fitness. The contents of this site in no way contains medical advice. You should visit your doctor before making any dramatic changes to your diet or activity. While I make every attempt to be as accurate as possible regarding current knowledge and scientific studies (please feel free to let me know when I'm wrong about something), and may from time to time post updates to correct inaccuracies in previous entries, the information on this site is provided "as-is" for entertainment purposes only. Don't do something stupid and then sue me. I'm just trying to help. Thanks.