There’s no escaping it. The holidays are long over… much fun has been had…and I’ve got the extra five pounds to prove it. OK, my clothes haven’t fit properly since October, but even still, I just wasn’t committed to dieting immediately following the holidays. For me, winter is a time to hunker down with some cozy homemade soups, stews and comfort foods. I couldn’t fathom starting a diet, or as I like to call it “healthy eating plan,” until I had satiated my taste for Osso Bucco, Beef Stroganoff and, of course, Super Bowl chili, none of which are on any healthy eating plan that I know of!
But the nagging reality is that those clothes hanging in my closet still don’t fit, and signs of spring are starting to linger in the air (or maybe that’s my mind playing tricks on me), and our trip to Italy is just over two months away. So, at long last, there’s no avoiding the responsibility that I have to those skinny jeans that are begging to be worn and loved again. Let the diet begin!!
Mike and I made the ultimate decision last Sunday to jointly enter that grim place of constraint and deprivation as a team. It’s always easier to diet when you have a partner to encourage you, as well as keep tabs on your successes and slip-ups. Now that we are both committed, we must go in mightily!
First thing in order…get rid of the wine in the house (gin in Mike’s case), so there’s no temptation. Alcohol = unnecessary calories. Second step…purge the house of any sweet or salty snack foods that may be a downfall. For Mike, that’s anything that resembles a chip or a cracker; for me, that would be anything chocolate. Step three…avoid Starbucks like the plague! It doesn’t matter that my daily mocha is a decaf with non-fat milk and no whipped cream. It’s still 250 calories and 2.5 grams of fat. So long delectable morning mocha. In your place, I will be having mint tea and a pear. Wait, I love pears! Why, then, do they taste so much better when you eat them for fun instead of for necessity?
Water, water, all the time. Every time I go for a physical, my doctor tells me I should be drinking more water. I know I should be drinking more water, for dietary as well as overall health benefits, but yet I don’t. I just don’t love water, OK?
So, I went out and bought one of those Brita water filter pitchers like my friend Susan keeps in her fridge. Susan’s water always tastes good and pure and cold. I wanted that kind of water! And now I have it. Mike and I did a side-by-side taste test comparing our water straight from the tap to the new filtered water, and much to our surprise, there was a huge difference in taste! The filtered water was much more smooth and mellow and tasty. Now, I have no excuse not to drink more water. I’m doing pretty well, so far…but it’s only day 3.
Lunch consists of a decent-size green salad with generous portions of raw veggies (cucumber, cherry tomatoes, sliced onions or scallions, etc.), roasted red peppers (we roast our own), a few kalamata olives (they have more fat than you would think), thinly sliced pepperoncini and a few feta crumbles, all topped with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and a generous squeeze of lemon juice. Basically, our version of a Greek salad. If you’re a sandwich eater (as Mike was), this probably sounds dreadful, but it’s actually quite delicious and fresh! Mixing in different greens, like red leaf lettuce, arugula and escarole, makes a big difference, as does adding fresh herbs like basil, dill or cilantro.
For protein on our salads (limit to 4 oz.), we grill chicken breast or shrimp on our indoor grill or open a can of tuna packed in water. If I have leftover miso-glazed salmon from the night before, I will use that and change my dressing to lime juice, olive oil, fresh cilantro and a little soy. Really, any leftovers — from roasted veg to grilled fish — can be turned into a salad, so try to get in the habit of cooking a little extra for dinner the night before and setting it aside for your lunch the following day.
For me, late afternoons can be difficult, when I habitually reach for something sweet. So instead, I keep plenty of fruit around and satisfy my sweets craving with a juicy apple (or tangerine or pear) which will typically carry me over until dinner. If not, there are always pickles. Hummus with cucumbers is another go-to snack that I can get my head around. No, it’s not the same as a handful of M&M’s or a cookie, but let’s be real, desperate times call for desperate measures!! And I can hear those jeans calling me right now! “I’m coming, favorite skinny jeans!”
Dinners are the easiest to tackle in my opinion because there are so many options to make with low-fat proteins, such as fish, chicken, ground turkey and lean pork. Here’s the plan we set out for our dinners this week:
- Monday – Roasted white fish with tomato/kalamata salsa and a Greek salad
- Tuesday – Mike’s homemade lo-fat chicken vegetable soup and a salad
- Wednesday – spicy lemon grilled shrimp over a Bibb lettuce salad
- Thursday – Mediterranean turkey burgers (no bun) with roasted mixed vegetables
- Friday – Cioppino (Italian fish stew) and an arugula salad
- Saturday – Fennel-garlic roasted pork tenderloin with roasted baby eggplant
See how easy that was? Next week, we’ll take the same basic ingredients and prepare them in different ways. Maybe we’ll cut the pork tenderloin into chunks and make kebabs; thinly slice the chicken breast and make a stir-fry with a ton of vegetables (and very little oil); make stuffed peppers out of the ground turkey mixed with diced and sauteed mushrooms, shallots, red peppers and kalamatas. Think of all the delicious leftovers you will have for your lunchtime salads!
It’s easier than you might think. And, if you add flavor to your dishes by utilizing fresh herbs and low-fat/low-calorie condiments (see below), it can truly be tasty and satisfying. That’s why I call it a healthy-eating plan instead of a diet. Yes, eating this way will ultimately result in a loss of pounds and even inches, if you stick with it. But this is the way we should all be eating all the time. It’s more of a lifestyle change than a diet. It’s the Mediterranean way of life, and see how great they look! The hardest part is the first week, as you cleanse your body of the toxins (sugar, caffeine, alcohol, etc.) and work through your hunger and cravings. But once you’ve climbed that mountain and survived, you know it gets easier on the way down.
Over the next few days, I will provide you with the recipes for some of our favorite healthy-eating dishes, such as the miso-glazed salmon, the stuffed peppers, the spicy lemon roasted shrimp and the white fish with roasted tomato salsa mentioned above. Stay tuned for more, and don’t stop believing in yourself!
Low-fat/low-calorie condiments (these can be combined in multiple ways to create different dressing and sauces):
- Lemon or lime juice
- Soy sauce
- Sriracha sauce
- Rice wine vinegar
- White, red wine or balsamic vinegar
- Non-fat plain yogurt
- Most varieties of mustard
- Extra virgin olive oil (used in extreme moderation)