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The Way To A Man’s Heart

I like food. That is to say, I am not particularly picky, and I enjoy eating. I am not a connoisseur by any means, but I like to think that I am well-versed regarding certain dishes. As a graduate student on a budget and as someone looking to lose weight, responsible dining is on my mind.


Yummy Steak!
From lileks.com

I am not a picky eater; I like most of the foods that I have tried and I do enjoy trying new foods. Some items are still on my do-not-eat list: artichokes, brussel sprouts, eggplant, yams and sweet potatoes, and plain avocado. I love most other fruits and vegetables, though only recently have I been able to stomach zucchini (short story: in elementary school they one day replaced the cucumber slices with zucchini slices, into which I bit with zeal and which I promptly spit out with disgust). I am not yet a fan of mushrooms, though I have been willing to swallow them when they are on pizza and just pick them off otherwise for years, but now I will actually chew them if they look tender and properly cooked. I had a bad experience at Taco Timetm as a child, and either due to eating too much or food poisoning, I puked sour cream and burrito contents all night; since then I have had a massive aversion to sour cream, even though I love yogurt, whipped cream, and various cheeses. I once drank club soda as a kid and hated it; when I went to Germany for the first time I avoided carbonated mineral water like the plague, but last summer in Germany I started drinking it in order not to become dehydrated, and I have grown very fond of it. Now I buy six-pack after six-pack of Klarbrunntm. I love tea but I don’t really drink coffee. However, I love the smell of coffee and coffee-flavored ice cream is a personal favorite. I know that I could learn to enjoy coffee, but I figure I don’t need another habit, so I avoid it. That having been said, I love iced coffee, and as a kid I liked dipping buttered toast in coffee. Thai iced coffee is up there with Thai iced tea for me.

Growing up I had a number of allergies that went hand-in-hand with my asthma. Dust, cottonwood trees, pollen—these caused most of my problems, but I did have one particularly problematic food allergy: milk. It was not lactose intolerance. Until I was a teen I could not eat/drink dairy products in any quantity, though I occasionally had a bit of cheese (and the aforementioned sour cream incident might have been related to my allergy). Instead of milk we had a “formula” (in a greenish can that we mixed with water) that we used instead; my brother had the same milk allergy. We tried goat milk a few times, but goat milk is less “reliable” than cow milk, and after a bad batch we gave it up. As a teen I started eating ice cream—whole cartons of it—and over time I “out-grew” my allergy; now I can drink milk with no problems, though I have mostly gone over to soy milk. I also had a major allergy problem with MSG; the symptoms resembled very nasty food poisoning, and the night we discovered it I spent hours on the bathroom floor near the toilet. As a result I was unable to eat at Chinese restaurants until my late teens.

I have, however, remained open to new foods. When I first had sushi I was skeptical, likewise with certain vegetarian, Indian, and Chinese dishes to which I was introduced in the presence of friends (meaning that abstaining was not really an option). The feast scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom features some items I have little intention of eating, such as monkey brains, but other than that, I’m rather flexible.


I had my growth spurt in the 5th grade. For a number of years I needed to eat a lot just to keep my body satisfied. My father grew up post-WWII in a culture of being thankful for what you had, which meant you did not leave the table until your plate was clean. My mother was a great cook and only rarely produced dishes I was unwilling to eat (such as one instance of brussel sprouts). For breakfast I could and would often devour the greater part of a box of cereal. I then became involved in sports and my body not only needed more fuel, but was able to take just about anything I threw at it without complaint.

When I went to college and switched to a less-active lifestyle I started putting on the pounds because I did not change my eating habits to match. I did, however, define a limit as to how much weight I was willing to gain. For example, I refused, beyond a certain size, to buy any larger pants, and I would not allow myself to develop a double-chin. That did not, however, stop the inches from collecting at my gut; I can’t even blame it on beer.

I have never been big on dieting; I have seen too many people go on them, and then off again. My dad’s infrequent diets were sporadic and short-term. When living on Johnson Street with my brother and his health-food (or “healthy-eating”) craze I cut back on junk food and pre-processed foods. I also switched to Silktm brand soy milk and dumped most dairy from my diet (at the time I did not eat much cheese).

At a MadLUG meeting I saw Bill F. for the first time in many months; or rather, I saw half of him. As long as I had known him, Bill had been proportionally heavier than I (he is several inches shorter), but he had gone on the Atkinstm diet and dropped more than 50 lbs. or so. I contemplated this when I returned home but was unwilling to go the same route at that time. In the weeks leading up to moving out of our hold house last May I ate a lot of junk food; it was convenient and Pringlestm were plentiful and cheap at Walgreens. I told myself that I needed the quick energy. When I did move out I trashed a lot of my high-sugar foods and for the month that I lived with Dan my own diet was rather Atkins-esque: high on protein and almost devoid of carbs (except for the tablespoon of sugar that went into every 2-quart container of iced tea). When I went to Europe for almost two months I tended to eat responsibly, except for those few days on the Black Sea coast when I was willing to splurge and eat anything that looked tasty. While in Marbach I ate only the portion I was given; this contrasted with my semester in Marburg years before, when I would eat all the extra desserts that my colleagues did not want.

Upon returning to Madison I partially “relapsed” despite healthy purchases. I bought “good” stuff from the store, but at the same time I started buying Mr. Brown’stm iced coffee (in single-serving 8 oz. cans). On the way home I would often stop at the Chocolate Shoppe for ice cream, and a couple times a week Di and I would hit Qdoba for burritos. Other times I would stop by McDonald’s for $1 double cheeseburgers and McChicken sandwiches (crack in a wrapper) or pick up a quesadilla at Taco Bell. I went through quite a few six-packs of Capital, New Glarus, and Sprecher beer as well as several bottles of “faux-Bailey’s” (off-brand Irish Cream).

In the spring term at a LUG meeting Tom arrived and I discovered that he had gone on the Atkins; Staci challenged me to do the same, claiming that I could not do it for two weeks. I found this an easy challenge to meet, and when I am given a challenge, I find the motivation to stick with something. I started keeping a food diary as “proof”; after that two-week interval I decided to continue with it, at least in a somewhat modified form. I cut practically all processed sugar from my diet as well as almost all starches, though I have, recently, allowed certain grains back in, such as small doses of rice or pasta, or whole grain bread for sandwiches. I have no idea of what my "real" weightloss might be beccause I do not have a scale and have not weighed myself in a decade or so; however, my pants fit better, so I’m probably doing something right.

Balancing the Diet

A balanced diet requires that several factors be considered. Balance indicates stability and the weighing of several options. In particular, it indicates that for most people, a diet for losing weight is, by definition, not balanced.

The one truth of losing, gaining, or maintaining weight that stays the same through all fad diets is that one must consider calorie intake and calorie use/output. If you intake more than you use, you gain weight; if you intake fewer than you use you lose weight; and if you intake and use about the same, your weight is stable. This is not all that matters, but it is of prime consideration, because diets tend to rely on two things: calorie quantity and (a more recent concern) calorie quality (carbs, fats, proteins), and calorie quality (calorie sources) is often used to modify how your body burns what it intakes.

While not an absolute truth, it is worth mentioning that the body prefers to be in some sort of balance. This is not a “truth” insofar as the body cannot want anything on its own, but the tendency toward balance is rather clear, and it is one thing that makes dieting difficult. If you reduce your calorie intake but are not mindful of your activity level, your body might very well lower its metabolism, thus stabilizing your weight again (but at a lower energy level).

I am also skeptical of the fad diets out there, and into that category I toss Atkins, the Southbeach, and other low-carb implementations, for they are not a “balanced” solution for many folks who might use them; weightloss diets are primarily for people whose bodies are “out of balance” and it would be foolish to assume that they are a general solution, which is not to say that they do not provide a lot of useful information. One notes that several low-carb diets were designed for or based on experience with the severly obese and/or those with extreme heart trouble. The casual reader must remain aware that these groups, and not a representative sample of the population, made up the test-cases upon which the studies supporting these diets are based.

Tasty Eating

I allow myself occasional excess (as they say: everything in moderation, even moderation)—when I go out with friends or attend receptions I don’t stop myself from eating desserts or having more than a few glasses of beer or wine. My normal, day-to-day routine, however, has become a bit more spartan, and yet manageable and tasty. I have cut snacks out completely (except on those rare occasions) and have three meals a day (though on some days I only have two, or get four).

I have cut refined sugar almost entirely from my diet, though it sneaks in when I bake or if I eat at a restaurant. When I first cut it out a lot of things seemed bland, but after a few days my sensitivity to sugar returned, and now even a small amount of sugar suffices where teaspoons were necessary before. I don’t consider sugar “evil”; I do, however, consider it a source of unncessary calories (unnecessary insofar as I am trying to lose weight). I now drink my hot tea and iced tea plain.


I almost always have a cup of black tea (Earl Grey, Darjeeling, Irish breakfast, or even a black tea chai) and a cup of vanilla soy milk (I have described Pure Soy: Vanilla soy milk as “crack in a carton”). I generally add either of bowl of oatmeal (with honey and/or cinnamon) or an egg and possibly a sausage.


Reuben Sandwich
From rowlandweb.com

I often go for a bowl of salad and a tuna fish sandwich or two, though other types of sandwiches would also work. I am fond of whole wheat / whole grain bread; various types of rye bread, especially pumpernickel, make everything taste better. I should probably cook up more soups.


In the evening I usually combine a meat dish with some sort of vegetable, and maybe something rice- or pasta-based. I am a big fan of steamed or stir-fried veggies. Recently I have cooked a lot of chorizo, but I also have turkey sausage, chicken breasts, fish, and hamburger at my disposal at the moment.


Ever since I became dehydrated and ill for a week while in Croatia during the summer of 1999 getting enough water to drink has been a major concern of mine, although I must admit that until recently I haven’t been mindful enough of how much I drink. These days I try to drink three to four 20 oz. bottles of water a day. Some people scoff at the idea of bottled water, especially when the local tap water is safe to drink, and while I agree with this to an extent, I must point out that 1) Madison’s tap water is extremely hard and tastes atrocious and 2) I enjoy the flavor of black cherry and raspberry Klarbrunn (carbonated). I buy ground black tea (I tried the generic brands, but they don’t mix well; therefore I have returned to Nestle) and use it to make iced tea (about 1/3 cup to make 2 quarts). I no longer drink pop/soda (carbonated Klarbrunn provides a nice substitute) and I usually reserve alcohol for when I’m at a restaurant with friends.

None of these dietary changes is an absolute “lifestyle change”—many of them are based on practical considerations, such as my limited TA budget. By introducing a certain level of order to what I eat I have also made it easier to control how I eat—smaller or fewer portions, no snacks, and a reduced dependency on sugar for quick energy. Since I live alone certain cooking practices are impractical; many recipes and dishes are for multiple people, and although it is possible to make a big batch and then save the left-overs, this is not a good solution for some dishes that do not store well. All I can conclude is that it is easy to eat on a budget, that it is easy to eat good food on a budget, and that I have felt better in and about my body since taking charge of the foods I eat.

—May 18 2004