July 8th, 2010

An experiment in eating

I decided recently that I was sort of horrified by the things that I ate, and I wanted to do something about it. My body was also encouraging me in a variety of ways to make less of it. I love good food, but I'm profoundly lazy... when left to my own devices, I'll eat all sorts of crappy prepared stuff. I've never really learned to acquire and use fresh food in reasonable ways, and it was time for me to learn.

Michael Pollan, noted author of The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food, said something a while ago that stuck with me. "Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants." It is his most famous quote and for a very good reason-- it's wise advice.  The other one is not to eat things that your grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.  Neither of my oh-so-midwestern grandmothers would have contemplated eating sushi, so I'm using a broad definition of someone's grandmother rather than specifically my own.

Armed with this, I decided to create an eating experiment for myself. The experiment would start on July 6, and run through the end of July when I depart for BARGE. That's a short enough time period to not be insurmountably daunting, but long enough to get into the groove.

My rules for myself are, basically:
  • Don't be stupid.
  • Eat real food, not food products.
  • Avoid chemical-laden foods, artificial sweeteners, reduced fat foods that substitute god-knows-what, etc.
  • Especially, no HFCS.  None, nada. 
  • No prepared foods, except on dining out occasions, and in those cases be cautious.
  • Some packaged stuff is OK-- bread, crackers, condiments-- as long as they conform to the above rules.
  • Shortcut foods are OK as long as they're made of food, e.g. frozen pre-grilled chicken breasts, egg whites in a carton.
  • Eat mostly vegetables, fruits, lean meats, dairy, and some rice/grains.
  • Try to keep it at around 1000 calories/day, with the expectation of actually hitting 1200/day.
Doing this during the summer makes my life easier and much more pleasant-- I had a grand good time at the farmers market last Sunday stocking up on things.

I knew that I'd have to make it easy for myself to stick with this, so I spent some time plotting out a list of quick-and-dirty things that I could make, along with approximate calorie counts for them, and then making sure I had the ingredients I needed.  My work lunches this week are a mostly-egg-white frittata with caramelized onions, asparagus, and goat cheese, and some sort of fruit.  I have baby carrots around to snack on.  Plain yogurt is a staple.  Heirloom tomatoes are in season, so I made a big tomato salad with onions, cider vinegar, sugar, and a little bit of olive oil, and that salad shows up at dinner.  I'll also make roasted tomato soup at some point.  Another side dish that has been making an appearance is a slight take-off on Mexican elote-- I use organic frozen corn, crema, cotija cheese, lime juice, and ground chilis. 

Tonight I was at about 900 calories, so I treated myself to dessert-- a single-serving blueberry crisp made with berries I got at the market last weekend. I used butter and agave nectar in the topping, and it was still only 150 calories.

Note that many of the usual diet things aren't up there-- no diet soda, no artificial sweeteners, no diet shakes, no low-fat cheeses,, etc.  I have no interest in eating any of that garbage.  I want my food to come from plants and animals, not a beaker.

So far so good.  I can see where I might be able to build the right habits and routines, and I'm actually enjoying the things I'm eating.  I want to figure out how to make some stuff that I can freeze for later, so i don't always have to be on top of my game.  Soups are definitely on the list but I'll have to figure out what else.

There were bagels in the office today, and I contemplated having half of one as an afternoon snack.   Guess what?  Noah's has HFCS in at least some of their bagels.  Ick!