Monday, June 21, 2010

When It Matters

I make most of my own food, except for some salted snacks and sweets. When I say “most”, I mean that I make my own bread, soup, etc. On my current plan, I have little choice but to do these things because I don't live in a place where certain types of foods are readily available. I also rarely eat out at restaurants, though on occasion, I will find myself in a situation where I want to have something or have little choice but to partake of a fast food offering. This is never a big deal for me. I can work with nearly anything, though I wouldn't want to have to consume such food on a regular basis.

One of the good things about preparing my own food is that I can structure the preparation and presentation in ways that boost the nutritional profile and reduce calories. I've been adjusting my meals to break old habits and to modify foods to get the best result for the lowest caloric impact and the maximum pleasure. I think that it is hard for everyone to do what I do in terms of cooking nearly everything yourself. In fact, I wouldn't really recommend it because it can be overwhelming. I would, however, advise most folks to grow accustomed to making as many of their meals as possible themselves. It's worth the time investment because you can get more pleasure and save money as well as gain control of what you eat. You may find that your food is much better than what you can buy.

One of the things I have realized is that we often add calories to food and actually diminish taste based on nothing more than habit. One of the first things that I tossed out the window when I modified my eating was sandwiches with two slices of bread in favor of open-faced sandwiches (except in the case of grilled cheese). Using two slices of bread is a convenience which forces you to put more filling into the sandwich to get enough flavor. Making them open-faced when possible improves flavor and nutritional profiles (better taste from the filling, fewer carbohydrates and calories). Note that Norwegians often have open-faced sandwiches for breakfast. It is only our cultural habits which have us making them the way we do.

If you are working and carrying your lunch, you might think that you have no choice but to use two bread slices, but you can always put the filling in a separate container, take a slice of bread and assemble the open-faced sandwich at lunchtime. I mention this not as specific advice, but as a way of illustrating that thinking outside the box about how you're dealing with your food can have very real benefits.

I've found that when I plan my meals, it's helpful to also consider when a preparation benefits from a fattening addition and when it does not. If I'm having soup, and I want bread with it, I'm better off eating a small piece of crusty French bread than forcing myself to have a piece of whole wheat bread. The French bread is more fattening and less nutritious, but it is what is best with soup because I'm eating the bread alone or as a main component. When I have wheat toast alone for breakfast, I never use reduced calorie margarine, but use real butter and jam. I use reduced calorie margarine when I have toast with eggs because the egg is the main component.

Portion sizes are paramount in these cases. I have found that a tablespoon of jam is plenty and a half tablespoon of butter is enough if I don't try to “spread” it but rather use a cheese planer to slice off a thin layer of cold butter and lay that over the bread (note: I do eat small slices of bread). That allows for even distribution of a small portion. It's also better not to melt all of the butter into the toast, but rather to put the cold jam on top of it before it all melts in. You taste a small amount of butter more than way.

When I make egg or tuna salad, mixing 50% strained yogurt with mayonnaise has little impact on the flavor profile because the spices you add to such mixtures and the strong flavors make the yogurt flavor relatively undetectable, and you still get the moisture and texture elements that are necessary for such salad-based preparations. I make similar decisions about when to cook in butter or to use scant amounts of oil. Eggs always are fried (though I actually prefer poached eggs because of their texture) in butter because they tend to stick otherwise (and taste better with butter). Chicken is cooked skin-side down in scant amounts of Canola oil as it doesn't not require enhancement beyond ground spices.

Again, I offer these as examples, not specific recommendations. I think that arranging and preparing meals such that we use the fat or calorie dense options when they really matter to the outcome and not just using them as a matter of course, or, more importantly, abandoning them altogether in some effort to purge all that is “bad” from our diets, is a sensible and helpful option in managing your eating. The goal should never be to rob yourself of the pleasure of food, but rather to get the most out of it. I would encourage anyone who is trying to lose weight to give thought to what components of their meals are important and which are not and make similar adjustments.


Florida Food Snob said...

You said the majic word "investment". Taking time to do things that enable us to make our new habits perminate is truly invested time not wasted.

Anonymous said...

This is interesting because I have found that eating more fat is essential to my new way of eating. For years, actually for a couple of decades, I focused on making my diet as low in fat as possible, thinking I was eating "healthier" that way. When I began to track my meals online, I was shocked to find that I consistently ate far below the amount of fat recommended. Increasing the amount of fat in my diet has made it much easier for me to eat fewer calories, which has come as quite a surprise for me.

During the late 80s, I bought into the *fat is bad* craze. I wasn't aware of feeling deprived because I simply adapted all my recipes to low fat or nonfat, and ate more carbohydrates, but looking back I realize I seldom experienced the feeling of satiety that I now enjoy. This makes me wonder how many other obese people consistently deprive themselves of fat and end up eating more carbohydrates (and hence more calories than they would have otherwise consumed) because the sense of satisfaction eludes them.


Fat Grump said...

Oh how I agree that eating should remain a pleasure! One of my pet hates is the labelling of foods as 'good' or 'bad'. I really do feel that we ought to be able to face all foods head on and decide what to do with them...and enjoy their tastes and flovours once in a while. What is it all about if we deny ourselves tastes we love because they are 'bad'? That sort of thinking really messes with our heads and it doesn't set us up for coping in the real world, long term. Great post!

screaming fatgirl said...

Greetings to all and thank you for your comments.

Florida Food Snob: I think one of the problems of modern society is that many people don't have the time or energy to invest. Part of the two-income family evolution has been the loss of a type of food culture which fostered better health. I don't think there is an easy answer, but clearly it will require changes and possibly some sacrifices in leisure time.

Rebecca: I agree that eating more fat is important, but there are better and worse fats, and it's easy to get enough healthy fats. Like you, I was around for the low fat phase. I remember a book I read and followed called "The T-Factor Diet" which suggested eliminating as much fat as possible. The bottom line was that people were only looking at calories and nothing else at that time. I guess it's easy for people to go overboard on reducing fat when they've gone overboard on eating it (particularly damaged fats like cooking oil that has been overheated or reused, and processed fat).

I try to moderate all of these things (fat, carbs, sugars) except protein, which I feel I get enough of, but don't need to really reduce.

Fat Grump: I live in Asia, and you know all those skinny people? They eat everything. They don't label foods as "bad" or "good", just as healthy and "less healthy". I think the extremism people adopt is why they have trouble succeeding. All food is good, and you can have anything you want as long as you balance it all out. That's been my policy all along! ;-)

Mrs. Happy Pants said...

I realize this has little to nothing to do with this particular post, but I wanted to let you know that I'm starting to read from the very beginning of your posts (August 2009).
I know you want to keep anonymity, as do I, for now. However, I hope you would consider putting these posts together somehow for publication someday. You are so incredibly accurate in your descriptions, that I truly believe your words could be used as a guide for people, medical professionals, teachers, anyone.
And no, I'm not a publisher or marketer. I work in health care of all things, ironically, one of the banes of a fat person's existance.

screaming fatgirl said...

Hi, Mrs. Happy Pants, and thank you so much for commenting and your kind words. I've been following your blog, btw, though I'm sorry that I haven't had time to comment.

I have considered working on a book at some point when I feel that I'm "done". when I say "done", I mean when I have nothing more of value to say or add. Right now, I'm just gratified to have a record of the process and the changes I've made and especially felt. I have had a real change of mindset and body over the past year. It's something I'll be writing about some time when I have some more time.

I hope you find the record of my early days useful to you. I'm sure you'll see that my focus early on was rather different, far more bodily oriented because that was where my struggles were focused initially.

My best to you!