Through the years diet fads come and go. Trendy weight loss techniques such as the ’60 Minute Binge’, the ‘All Pasta Diet’, and the ever so popular ‘Atkins’ Diet’ that promise to put one into smaller clothes in weeks if not days are gobbled up as quickly as the forbidden foods we are trying to break the habit of. And so often they fail, or harsher still, we fail. We count calories, we weigh out ounces, we eliminate fat and when that fails we change our philosophy and eliminate carbohydrates. Sometimes we lose five pounds, sometimes ten, but it’s always a struggle and we always gain it back. Yet for some, the authors of the books for example, or the celebrities who endorse them, the diets work weight loss wonders. Pounds are shed seemingly effortlessly and new and improved sculpted bodies are not only ascertained, but maintained.
So, what is the secret to successful dieting? People will blame their weight problem on an undying love of food, and they are right to do so, partly. While the love of food will get one in trouble, metabolically speaking, it is a passion for food that just could bail one out. When we love food we love the act of eating, every aspect of it, the flavors, the odors, the textures. When we have a passion for food however we move beyond the act and into the kitchen. Loving the act of preparing food truly exemplifies a passion for food. And it is here that a diet can be successful. The people who conceptualize diets, whether MD’s like Dr. Atkins or personalities like Suzanne Sommers, and people who successfully utilize diets are prosperous for one of two reasons. They may have a passion that leads to a culinary insight to understanding how certain foods effect their bodies and in turn realize how to use food based on that analysis to work with them instead of against them.
These culinarily inspired yet metabolically challenged individuals will spend hours in a grocery store and then hours in a kitchen flexing their ‘cooking brain’ until they come up with a wonderfully varied menu that meets the diet’s requirements but is still satisfying to a food lovers pallet. Similarly, celebrities or other monied individuals (ie. Oprah) who sample diets are fortunate enough to hire not only personal trainers and dieticians, who tell them exactly what to eat and when, but personal chefs to prepare their low cal, low fat, low carb, low whatever meal. If you have the money, you can successfully diet without a passion for cooking because you can pay someone else who does have the passion to do it for you. But for the average dieter who is limited in their kitchen experience and who doesn’t have the benefit of a personal chef, the diets tend to fail, not because of a lack of will power or motivation, but because of a lack of variety that would keep their food loving pallets satisfied. When the average dieter is told to keep their daily caloric intake under 1200 they see three meals of roughly four hundred calories a piece, give or take.
The dieter usually survives about ten days which is about how long any mere mortal can stand tuna with lemon juice over greens for lunch and grilled chicken breast with steamed rice and asparagus for dinner. Maybe after week one they’ll venture to substituting cottage cheese for the tuna and grilled salmon for the chicken, but these slight variations on the low cal theme is hardly enough to keep a true food lover’s cravings quenched. But a dieter who has a passion for cooking and a flare in the kitchen may see more exciting prospects in that four hundred calories. Say a ½ cup of cannalli beans with chopped onion and sliced mushrooms simmered in fat free chicken broth until the liquid is reduced by a third and then served over a half of a chicken breast and lightly dusted with parmesan cheese.
That’s about two hundred calories. Add a cup of brown rice, also cooked in fat free stock and some steamed broccoli and you’ve topped out at four hundred calories with a tasty meal that feels decidedly undiet like, especially if your previous meals that day were as yummy. Or perhaps it’s the high protein and low carb diet that you are interested in. Dr. Atkins says you can eat as much meat, eggs, fish, cheese and butter that you want and lose a ton of weight, as long as you avoid starches, sugar and fruit like the plague. At first you say, ‘hey, that sounds great’, but it’s only on the second day that you realize just how useless a carte blanche of protein and fat is if you can’t have carbohydrates.
Super, you can finally have all the butter you want, but what are you going to put it on? Meat and cheese are exciting for a day, but by day two you want a sandwich so bad you’d kill the Pillsbury Dough Boy for a bite of his tummy if you saw him waddling down the street. Of course, if you were inspired to do so you’d take complete advantage of Dr. Atkins’ recipe for low carbohydrate bread. This simple recipe could very well save your diet, for after a few days of no bread like substance at all, this high protein loaf, that is made primarily of soya powder, eggs and butter, that doesn’t rise more than a fraction of an inch and that has a spongy light consistency similar to angel food cake will be to your starch deprived pallet well, the best thing since sliced bread. And if you were cullinarily creative (and had both the time and the money to express that creativity), you might experiment with that recipe, try putting it into muffin cups instead of a loaf pan for example or crumple up a slice, drizzle it with butter, sprinkle with some parmesan and garlic powder, bake for five minutes, and waa-laa, croutons.
Of course reality is that we work full time jobs, we possess full time families, we have a litany of responsibilities that come before spending hours a week developing the perfect diet ready, yet creatively inspired menu, shopping for the perfect ingredients to create said menu and finally preparing the dishes. And added to all that is the fact that, if you are the primary cook in the family, chances are your other family members who are not on the diet will still expect regular non-diet meals filled with whatever has been cut out of your meal, whether it be fat, carbs of calories. So now you’re cooking two separate dinners. So what is the answer to successful dieting? Hire a personal chef? Quit your job and go to cooking school? I’m not sure. Like anything else in life though it’s probably a process that needs to be taken one step at a time, which is hard when you’re trying to lose weight and are anxious for the next pound to disappear from your scale’s digital read out. Maybe if a dieter just made an attempt to get to know food better, to develop a true relationship and understanding of food, instead of continuing this ‘wam, bam, thank you ham’ interaction with it society has gotten used to. Maybe.