Thursday, April 04, 2013

La Grande Salade

Lose five pounds in just seven weeks!

Well, I don't think it will be screaming from the tabloid covers any time soon. But it makes me happy. I'm eating a lot of good food, and submitting to a very mild calorie restriction: I'm aiming for somewhere between 2,000 and 2,500 calories per day. There are problems with the calories as a measure -- the human body is not an internal combustion engine -- but it seems to be good enough. "Calories" of protein and fiber are somewhat more metabolically expensive for the body to process than "calories" of sugar, and different bodies, with different gut flora, may handle various foods in various ways. It's immensely complicated, and it's not a closed system. But measurement, in the real world, is not a matter of getting it exactly right: it's a matter of getting it right enough. Carpenters work with millimeters, not microns.

This is not, by the way, a diet: not a temporary regimen while I slim down. I'm trying to map out the terrain for how I want to eat for the rest of my life. So I fiddled with various calorie counters and tables to come up with a reasonable guess about how many calories a "normal weight" man of my age and height and activity level would consume, and came up with 2,500 as a first approximation. The real science of all this is vague and unsatisfactory: nobody really knows what an ideal weight is, or if the concept even makes sense. Life insurance companies, apparently, would be happiest if I weighed something like 160 lbs, so I took that as the first pencil-mark on the 2 by 4. If the counters and tables are right, if I just go on averaging 2,500 calories a day, and staying active, my weight should slowly ease down, making an asymptotic approach to 160. I actually have strong doubts as to whether the curve will look much like that; I have a suspicion that I'll level out around 175, which would be just fine. In any case, the rate of weight loss should steadily slow, as I approach wherever "level" will be: I might lose 20 lbs the first year, 10 the second year, and 5 the third year: something like that. Projections that far out are ludicrous, but that's the rough time scale I'm envisioning.

I'm doing it this way, slow though it is, for a three reasons. One is, I don't want to think of this as a temporary yoke that I'll throw off at some point. I want to acquire the eating habits I'll have for the rest of my life. Establishing habits is damn hard work, and I don't want to have to go through it twice. If I'm going to accustom myself to eating a certain amount, I want to just get it right the first time. Second, the evidence is pretty clear that rapid weight loss is normally followed by even rapider weight gain: people who successfully lose weight usually do it slowly. My plan was, if I found myself losing more than a pound a week, to up the calorie count. Third (this is probably actually the same as the second one, stated differently) is that I don't want to panic my body into slowing its metabolism, or shedding lean mass -- which it will do, if it gets the idea that its maintenance energy needs might not be filled.

I've been hungry twice, so far. Hungry, that is, in that mean, savage way -- hungry like I used to be all the time when I was eating mostly junk. Both times I got hungry like that, I just ate. Hungry is bad news. I'm not going to do hungry. So one day I ate 2,800 calories, and another, 2,600. Big deal. The weekly totals still came out fine.

So the question -- the real question -- is, why is this so easy this time? I've put together probably a dozen regimens. Maybe even a couple dozen. They've all gotten off to grand starts. A few lasted two weeks. A couple lasted a couple months. This is already one of the gray elders, at 7 weeks, and it hasn't even begun to get wobble and get difficult. Why is that?

1) I'm eating satisfying food, and lots of fat and protein. My breakfast? A big pile of eggs and bacon. I eat the foods I love most: hamburgers and tuna fish sandwiches. Fatty hamburger. Tuna fish with real mayo. I eat and by God I know I've eaten.

2) I view sugar, and its evil twin corn syrup, with suspicion. I don't eat much. I do eat some: sweet pickle relish and ketchup. I eat a lot of fruit. By any reasonable standard, I eat a lot of sugar. But I eat far less in a day than there is in one can of soda pop.

3) La grande salade. I always call it that, on the model of Napoleon's Grande Armée. Every couple days I make a huge salad. It's very simple: just romaine, carrots, cuke, and radishes. A whole big head of romaine, or two, if the heads are small. I eat a big bowl of this -- a really big bowl, I mean, like a small mixing bowl, not like a soup bowl -- at least once a day. Often twice. Often I eat half a gallon of salad per day. I eat it with my fingers, without dressing, because I like eating with my fingers, and it crunches like potato chips. I love it.

Now, two important notes about this salad. One is, I used to hate salad. I used to hate romaine. I didn't much care for the other ingredients I put in, either. I just started eating it, daily, because I knew the stuff would be good for me, and because salad was the form in which vegetables came that I hated least, and because I suspected that I would only be able to eat reasonably if I found some way to fill my stomach with food that was not calorie-dense. So I made it an iron-bound rule, that I always had to have the salad available, and I ate a bunch every day. Of course I broke the rule every once in a while. That's how it goes, with rules. But making and eating the salad is just what I do, now: it happens almost without effort.

But the other important thing about la grande salade? I made it into a habit before I started counting calories. I started this habit a year ago, and I was careful to make it the only habit I was working on. It takes about six weeks, to settle a habit. This was a hard one. It took a lot of effort of will, at first. But I didn't mix it up with any attempt to short myself on any other food that I really did like. I didn't want it associated with deprivation. I ate my potato chips and ice cream just like before. It's just that also -- I ate the salad.

A queer thing happened, a bonus that I really, really did not expect. I started liking the salad. I liked its taste. I liked its texture. I liked everything about it. Last week, when Fred Meyer was out of romaine, I was distressed, like I was distressed when Safeway's freezer case broke down last year and there was no ice cream. No romaine? How could I get by with no romaine? What would I do for salad?

I think it was then that I realized my taste had genuinely changed. A year ago I could not have imagined missing romaine, could not have imagined that such a thing was even possible. I'd always (inwardly! I try to be polite) scoffed at people pretending to like the stuff, or anything green. I thought they were delusional. I still view people who claim not to like junk food that way: I'm pretty sure they're making it up. How can you not love a glazed doughnut? That's just silly.

Be that as it may -- I like my salad now. And I think it's half of why this is being so easy: I'm eating not only the high-satiety foods, the fats and proteins, but also the high-volume salad. My body is convinced that it really has eaten. The leptin goes out to every Middlesex village and farm, to tell everyone to forget about food for a while. And we do: we forget about it.


Robin said...

I must know because it's one of my favorites as well: How do you prepare tuna for a sandwich? I mean what all do you mix in?

NT said...

How wonderful to read a HAPPY post from you about food! That's so great!

mm said...

So good to read this,Dale.

We're on a very similar track foodwise btw, except that I'm trying to keep my weight up so I make free with extra virgin olive oil on my dinner-time grande salade. ...

rbarenblat said...


Dale said...

Robin, just mayo & relish, & maybe celery if I'm fancy :-)

NT: I was pretty gloomy about food there for a long time, I guess!

mm: yum. :-)

Rachel: :-)

am said...

Wonderful news! What you are doing is pretty much what has worked for me for so many years. I'm 5'7" and when I am weighed at the doctor once a year, my weight varies from 138 to 145 pounds -- an ideal weight for my build and age. I haven't been on a diet since I was in my late 30s. I'll be 64 in October. For me, it has become a daily pleasure to thoroughly enjoy and be satisfied by approximately 2000 calories a day, avoiding sugar except for that in fruit, completely staying away from alcohol, and only eating foods that I truly love to eat. I get moderate exercise through walking and an asana practice.

It is so good to know that you have found what works for you!

Robin said...

Dale, that was me for a long time till I discovered curry powder. Same mix as yours but with curry powder added...and pine nuts. But the classic approach is delicious on its own. Happy eating.

am said...

My version of "La Grande Salade" is "La Grande Sopa." I put generous amounts of what could also be salad ingredients into a curry-flavored soup that I make with canned pink salmon from Alaska and coconut oil. In addition to the curry, I add anise seeds, fennel seeds and fenugreek. That soup is something I enjoy daily.

Robin reminded me of that when she mentioned curry (-:

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Dale, "a big pile of eggs & bacon for breakfast"...every day?? Um...what about cholesterol?
And lots of hamburgers?? The animals are given hormones in industrial quantities to fatten them up faster and the customer ingests those chemicals too.

However I wholly agree with a non-dieting diet and you seem to be in great shape eating as you do.
Sorry to introduce doubt into the party but these are genuine concerns and apparently well-documented.

Dale said...

Hi Natalie! I have no qualms about cholesterol at all: I don't believe any health consequences have been successfully tied to dietary cholesterol, despite decades of determined attempts. (Cholesterol in the blood *does* track with heart disease, but our bodies manufacture that cholesterol, and how much cholesterol we eat doesn't have much affect on how much we produce.) I do plan to switch over to locally farmed, non-chemical beef, eventually: I'm sorting through sources and prices and what-not now. I'm not much worried about ingesting hormones, for my own sake, but I am worried about the hormones, and more particularly the antibiotics, for the sake of the environment. Perhaps I'll eat less meat eventually, but I'll leave that for now. One change at a time!

arboretum said...

Dale, just reading about La Grande Salade makes me want to pinch some of it (I'll have it with some dressing, though). I love salad, it's one of my favourite food in summer. In Winter I eat very little salad, I don't crave it then, it feels "too cold". Unlike you I never ate a lot of junk food, I cook meals for myself and am into organic, seasonal food (if possible, regional, too). Nonetheless I didn't pay enough attention to what I ate - I ate too fast. I've starting working on my eating habits wanting to change them towards more awareness.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts about and experiences with changing your way of eating. Thanks for the links, too, I found some interesting things to read.