Saturday, February 27, 2010

More than Eight Bites

The focus of this blog has been the recipes and dishes that I have used to help me (and hopefully others) deal with the dietary restrictions placed on us by the weight loss surgery we have had. I have discussed the reasons I had the surgery (vertical gastrectomy, June 2008), issues involving the foods that I have eaten, the various formal and informal gatherings, and the culinary experiences that I have had on this interesting journey through my weight loss. Eight Bites has been my personal mantra for the last two years as it was with my wife’s surgery done in 1981. I have literally lived the majority of my life Eight Bites at a time. I have found that the restrictions placed upon me by Eight Bites have not influenced my appreciation for the actual act of eating good tasting food; in fact I believe it has been enhanced. I have found that I can evaluate a restaurant menu and choose between an interesting antipasti plate with a variety of bites, or a single dish from the secondo menu and have Eight Bites of the same thing. It allows  me an infinite flexibility.

The other day at a wonderful restaurant in Berkeley, California called Oliveto’s; I was eating lunch with one of the followers to this blog. Scott is a young guy, not overweight, but he does enjoy the basic pleasures of eating good food, experiencing new tastes and interesting textures. He and his wife had stayed with us in Italy last year and we struck up a friendship. When I went on my recent trip to California, we met for lunch near where he works. Oliveto’s is a great Italian restaurant, owned by another friend of mine. As we sat perusing the menus, we talked about the cooking class in Denver I had just taught, how he and his wife were buying a house, how things were in Italy, etc. In general we were just carrying on a conversation between friends. However it had been awhile since that hotel “sort of” breakfast I had at 7AM and I was getting hungry. The antipasti looked good but I was in the mood for a bit more substance. So I ordered a grilled fillet of black sea bass on a cannelini bean puree, topped with a salsa verde (green sauce). I grill fish all the time so I knew what it should taste like. The cannelini bean puree I also make frequently as a topping for crostini. But the salsa verde was a new element to me. The combination of the fish, the bean puree, and the spicy salsa was extremely good and it was actually more than Eight Bites. Who was counting?  The salsa tasted like a puree of shallots, parsley, vinegar, garlic and olive oil, which I will try to duplicate here when I serve fish again. It would probably be good on other types of meats as well.

So where am I going here? The restriction of Eight Bites has been placed upon me by my surgery, but changing the way you eat regarding controlling portions has a more universal application. So todays entry is about portion control. Whether its Eight Bites, twelve bites or fourteen bites, what is important is examining the way we eat and looking at the concept of portion control as a means to change our weight, and our lives. As a society we tend to eat too much and that is likely the cause of the epidemic of increasing obesity. We super-size everything, we want a “Grande” meal; we want the large portion, the large soda, and the mega- burrito. We want a lot on our plates so we feel satiated and satisfied that we have gotten our money’s worth from the meal. But what has all this super sizing done, besides increasing your waist size, your BMI, and your overall health risk factors? It has also taught us the lesson that “more is better” and we sometimes still hear our Mother’s admonition that we must clean our plates because of all those starving people in Africa and Asia. What was she thinking?  We can’t send the extra food on our plate to help feed them. So we developed the habit of eating more, and cleaning our plates, and then as we aged and our activity level decreased, the laws of thermodynamics began their insidious journey to our bellies, thighs, and butts. Saddlebags are not just on horses. Calories in and calories out. If the calories in are more than the calories out you will gain weight. It’s a physical law. Where that weight goes on your body has a lot to do with genetics, but it will increase. Since as we age our general physical activity level tends to decrease, as a result we have to learn to reduce our portion sizes as well. So here we are back to portion control.

The physical restrictions place upon me by my reduced stomach, limits me to Eight Bites (or so). But even if you haven’t had a weight loss surgical intervention you can still reduce your portion size. Think about an option where you limit your meals to 14 bites (or 12 bites). For example, if you eat two fried eggs for breakfast (which I do most mornings) and cut each one into three or four bites, you have seven or Eight Bites. For many months after my surgery, this was my breakfast. It was high in protein, and was a restricted volume I was able to put into my newly altered stomach. Now I add a slice of toast (four to five bites) and you have a breakfast of between twelve and fourteen bites. The next most important question is do you need that sausage patty, or the hash browns, or the three strips of bacon?  If you eat your eggs and toast slowly, maybe sipping a cappuccino (use artificial sweetener if possible) and read the newspaper or scan your email, you will feel full. Probably not the first time you try it (you will likely feel hungry) but within a few days, that many bites for breakfast will seem plenty. By the way, put some Tabasco sauce on the eggs if you like (I do). Your calorie intake for that breakfast will be less than 400 calories and it will get your day off to a good start.

Now what about lunch? If you are required you to eat out at lunch with clients or colleagues, the mid-day meal can be problematical. If you have eaten a good protein-laden meal for breakfast it is less likely that you will be starving at lunch. If you just had a croissant or a pastry and a coffee for breakfast, it is highly likely that you will be hungry since these foods digest quickly, lead to increased blood sugar levels and will leave you with an empty feeling that you want to fill at lunch. This can sabotage your fourteen bites quickly.

Look at the menu and assess the possibilities. Is there something on the antipasti or starters list that intrigue you, maybe something you have never tried before?  Experimentation with new flavors and tastes makes your meals interesting and allows you to savor each bite individually. It also allows you to reduce the need to eat a big plate of anything in order to “stay up” with your dining companions. My guess is that they will sit there and watch you eat those interesting bites and not really consider how little you are eating. Frankly it gets them off your back to some degree. And you will not feel obligated to eat more. Lunch out can be fun and still meet the portion needs you are striving for. A well-controlled lunch may be 600 to 800 calories. So in two meals you are at about 900 to 1000 calories. Careful food selection which might include a small vegetable dish or a side salad along with your protein will provide a balanced lunch. My guess is that how much you eat will be less than what you have been consuming in the past. Walk back to the office, or back to the car and you have had a satisfying lunch, good conversation (hopefully) and a solid nutritional middle of the day meal. If you have plenty of protein at lunch you should not have a serious “crash” of blood sugar in the late afternoon when you might really want a piece of cake or some cookies. I would suggest keeping a stash of good quality cookies in your desk drawer, and if you feel the need, eat one or two with a coffee or a glass of water. Stay away from the icing-filled cookies and maybe eat a small shortbread cookie or a ginger cookie. It will satisfy your hunger, satisfy any craving for sweets, and not kill your calorie count. Eating a portion-controlled diet should not be about deprivation and enforced eating restrictions. It should be about smaller servings of exciting textures, flavors and tastes. You are not in prison and you always have the ability to select and consume the foods you want.  

To finish the day, dinner at home is relatively easy to deal with. Plan the meal so you have three to four ounces of meat of fish, a small amount of starches such as rice or potatoes (try to minimize the amount of carbohydrates you consume), and a bit of vegetables or salad. If you are eating with the family, sit at the table and enjoy the dynamics while you slowly eat your dinner. Do not let familial problems alter your perceptions of your meal. Don’t let emotions get in the way of the eating, because if you are upset or angry, you will eat more than you anticipate. If you are eating alone or with your significant other, serve your plate(s) in the kitchen and take them to the table. If you don’t put food in serving bowls and platters on the table you will be less likely to eat more.  Controlling the portions to 12 to 14 bites per meal will automatically reduce the caloric intake and by taking a walk after dinner (hold hands with your significant other please, it aids in the digestive process) you will alter the thermodynamic equation in your favor.

So by limiting yourself to 12 to 14 legitimate bites per meal you will reduce the total number of calories consumed. Just remember not to just eat a big slice of cheesecake and then wash it down with a chocolate milkshake. That dietary plan will certainly alter the thermodynamic balance in the wrong direction. When you get your plate, look at the food and see how it can be divided into bites. Two eggs easily divide into six bites, a tuna sandwich for lunch can be Eight Bites or less, while a four ounce steak can be cut into seven or eight bites.

To meet my Eight Bites limit, I eat a couple of eggs for breakfast and maybe a small slice of toast, a sandwich made on small slices of bread with a high protein filling (like tuna or egg salad, or a BLT) for lunch, and then 3 ounce of fish or meat for dinner along with a small amount of vegetables. Usually I don’t eat much rice or potatoes. To me these are really empty calories, and of little value to my nutrition. I try to zip up the flavors by adding Tabasco Sauce to the eggs, giardineri mix (a pickled vegetable condiment) to the tuna or egg salad, and some interesting chutney or a spicy mostarda to the meat for dinner. Meals become more interesting by adding condiments, and can be changed daily so you don’t get bored. Remember that recipes are recipes, and virtually every one, including the ones I have provided in this blog do not focus on just eating Eight Bites. 

What you have to add to the culinary equation is your own portion control.

So Eight Bites are not for everyone, but effective portion control can help win the battle with the effects of thermodynamics. It is more what and how much you eat and not just about consuming as much as can possibly fit in your stomach. When I saw the surgical report for my stomach surgery and the doctor’s comment that my stomach was enormous, it made me realize that I had been super-sizing my intake for years and also effectively super-sizing myself. We can do more (and less) for ourselves. 

Gary, this one is for you, in appreciation for all the advice and counsel you have provided. May we continue to be friends and may your fourteen bites keep you happy and satisfied. kfk

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