For Losing Weight in the New Year, Try the Anti-Diet

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in: Healthy Cooking

chicken, beans, yams

I don’t know anyone who wakes up on Jan. 1 cheering, “Woo-hoo, I can’t wait to go on a diet.” Most of us hate to diet. But as a rite of passing into a new year with well-intentioned resolution, The Diet is an annual dilemma that needs to be looked at a bit differently. In this first month of 2013, let’s resolve not to diet. Let’s anti-diet.

You can already see the ads on TV. Lose weight with this system, here’s an impossible-to-believe before-and-after shot of [insert you] after some charlatan’s weight-loss scam. We know most of these don’t work and don’t last. You’ve got the low-carb diet, the calorie-restriction diet, the açai berry diet — all cruel and unusual over a prolonged period. And not sustainable either.

This discussion is mostly for post-holiday bellies and diminishing a gut that’s bigger now than it was before Thanksgiving. It is not for anyone diagnosed as morbidly obese. For that you need medical advice. But anyone looking for a resolution you can live with should be thinking about wellness. And that means a new way of eating and of shopping, getting into a heartfelt ritual of improving the quality of the food you eat.

Here are five candid points that have helped me and could possibly help you.

1. Eat clean

This means getting habituated to eating better,  shopping for, and simply cooking, fresh fruits and vegetables and a piece of meat or fish for dinner. Stay away from what I view as unclean food, usually posing as low-calorie frozen dinners. They’re not lean on unnatural ingredients and certainly not anything resembling cuisine. Another example is a commercial spinach dip available at a big box member store. It’s got an ingredient label of biblical proportions. Sure, the dip’s got spinach and dairy, but it also includes hydrolized soy protein, high fructose corn syrup. What’s this stuff? Why not wilt some fresh spinach (or defrost frozen spinach) and mix it with some garlic, Worcestershire and real sour cream or thick yogurt? Dinner is perhaps a serving of fresh chicken with two vegetables. Those vegetables might be steamed peas and mashed sweet potato. That’s clean.

2. Stop eating crap

Yes, I said crap. The commercial spinach dip, mentioned above, is unnatural. Potato chips as a side dish with a sandwich are nutritionally ridiculous. Cheetos, as yummy as they are for salt addicts, are not food. Twizzlers aren’t food. Pizza has trick nutrition, because with it calories and fats can pile up fast. I recommend avoiding it while you’re getting started this year. Ignore nutritionists who encourage daylong snacking. I say stop snacking, and this should help a few pounds here and there melt away.

Don’t forget the  stop-eating-crap rule when you’re eating out too. Over the next couple of weeks, don’t get trapped in the salad-is-diet-food myth. There’s low nutrition in lettuce and lots of calories in dressing. When you find yourself out for lunch or dinner, make your own meal. Look over a menu to see what ingredients are on it, then ask the waiter to tell the chef you want the chicken breast out of the chicken sandwich and bring it with the side of chard that comes with the steak entrée. Sometimes the chef can be very obliging.

3. Get used to being a little hungry

This rule goes well with the stop-snacking rule. Some experts say hunger pangs send the body into starvation mode. Snacking your way to satiety is self-defeating.

A few hunger pangs are a sign your stomach is getting accustomed to less. Also, eat dinner early so you’re up more hours to burn calories. You may go to bed a bit hungry, but there’s always breakfast eight hours away.

4. Go to a farmers market

You’ll eat seasonally and you’ll be able to practice one of the best pieces of nutrition advice ever to come along: Eat your colors. Buy orange produce such as winter squash, yams, carrots and oranges. Go green with chard, spinach, kale, broccoli, even frozen peas. Get your red from beets, red cabbage and pomegranates. If you hate beets, don’t eat them. The variety from eating colors keeps boredom at bay. A farmers market will awaken your interest in fresh food, which obviously requires some skill to cook, and that brings me to the next rule.

5. Learn to cook

Zester readers may know more than the average reluctant cook about getting a meal on the table, but many people indulge their interest in food by eating out and making excuses for not cooking.

microwave chicken

Microwaved chicken that tastes like baked. Credit: Elaine Corn

You won’t think that time spent cooking robs you of time spent doing other things if you decide that cooking is one of those other things. Taking charge of what goes into your body benefits you on many fronts: your budget, your nutrition and your control of all ingredients that enter your body. If you regard the knobs on a stove like they’re controls on a nuclear reactor, then cook in your microwave. About 99% of homes have microwaves. I’ve used the microwave to cook an entire meal that’s clean, nutritious and not too expensive.

Ultimately if you can make yourself a reasonable promise, you’ll feel better, you’ll lose that holiday gut, and you may well be on your way to some new good habits.

“Baked” Chicken From the Microwave

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 whole cut-up fryer, bones in, pieces rinsed and dried with paper towel

Salt and ground black pepper

2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon oregano (leafy type, not powdered)

Few sprinkles paprika, for color and a bit of kick

Directions

1. To make the breasts of relative size to the rest of the pieces, cut the breasts in half crosswise. Arrange chicken pieces on a microwavable large dinner plate like spokes, with the plump ends along the rim of the plate and narrower ends toward the center.

2. Season with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with oregano and paprika. Do not cover.

3. In a microwave equipped with a turntable, microwave on high, in 5-minute intervals, for up to a total of 10 to 15 minutes*, until meat is browned and no longer pink inside.

4. Serve with fresh microwaved green beans and half a sweet potato.

* Depending on microwave’s wattage power, your chicken may cook very quickly or slowly. At home, mine is done in about 12 minutes. At a friend’s house with an older model, the chicken was done in 14 minutes. You can stop the microwave at any time to check progress.

Microwaved Yam

Serves 2

This is the easiest type of produce to microwave.

Ingredients

1 medium-sized yam

Dab of butter

Directions

1. Halve yam lengthwise. Lay both pieces on a large dinner plate, flat side down. Puncture several air slits in the skin for steam to escape. Do not cover.

2. Microwave on high for 5 minutes. Test doneness by piercing with sharp knife. If it glides easily into the yam, the yam is done. If not, microwave 1 minute more.

3. Turn yam halves over, cut slits and top each with a small dab of butter. Serve hot.

Microwaved Fresh Green Beans With Butter

Serves 2 or 3

Ingredients

⅓ pound green beans (pick tender ones instead of big fat ones)

Sprinkling of salt

1 pat of butter

Directions

1. Trim stems off beans. Set beans in a shallow bowl with a tablespoon of water. Sprinkle with salt. Set dab of butter in center.

2. Cover the bowl with a plate. Steam-microwave for 90 seconds. If the beans are still too crunchy for your taste, microwave for another 15 seconds. Scoop the beans out of bowl with a slotted spoon and set on the serving plate with the chicken and yam.

Healthy “baked” chicken, green beans and yams from the microwave. Credit: Elaine Corn


Zester Daily contributor Elaine Corn is a James Beard Award-winning cookbook author and food editor. A former editor at the Louisville Courier-Journal and The Sacramento Bee, Corn has written six cookbooks and contributed food stories to National Public Radio.

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Comments

Gina Spadafori
on: 1/15/13
Great column, and thanks for easy recipes. I started making most everything from whole foods (as opposed to Whole Foods) and started slowly losing weight as a result. I wasn't really intending to do so, but I sure didn't mind. And my cholesterol and blood sugar levels both dropped to normal as well. So much win!
Ken Albala
on: 1/15/13
I used to insist that the microwave was the work of the devil, but as I get older I'm using it more and more. It's perfect for baking potatoes - why would anyone ever boil one? And sliced eggplant or zucchini are splendid nuked. Agh, I bet someone will use this info to blackmail me. Well, you're yam sounds great Elaine. Maybe even the chicken too.
Alice Osur
on: 1/15/13
I was just going to share this on Facebook......it amazes me still that so many seemingly intelligent people talk "going on a diet", Medifast, Lean Cuisine, diet soda, diet anything...blah blah yada yada....come on...thanks Elaine! Eat what grows....learn how to prepare it simply without turning green veggies into khaki veggies ala our grandmothers....Yes, I can delight in a colorful plate of grilled fresh salmon-which I can eat left over the next day, a yummy baked sweet potato sprinkled with cinnamon only and maybe a sprinkle of kosher salt and fresh perfectly steamed or boiled shortly or sauteed broccoli, green beans, spinach etc maybe tossed with a few sprinkles of olive oil and fresh garlic or ginger...oila and yes I might have a piece of good chocolate at the end. Read directions, follow directions...recipes are there for a reason...easy to follow...1-2-3. I just ate a delish avocado for a snack at work with fresh pepper and some salt and some Greek yogurt with fresh blackberries and cantalope...Now I will dig into a small piece of real cheese, left over butternut squash and broccoli...all cold and yummy and full of natural sugars. Do I have butter and ice cream? You bet. Do I exercise? Practically daily on the elliptical or something. It is about balancing. When I eat the ice cream and the pasta and the cake, I remember that the next day I will not...thanks, Elaine
Charity Kenyon
on: 1/15/13
Good, clean, fair food! A balanced diet of whole foods -- seasonal, local, organic WOW! Real food. How many ways to say it?! Good work Elaine.
hilary
on: 1/15/13
PERFECT ADVICE! A lifetime of dieting (and starving and binging) brought me to these conclusions. Now--to DO them consistently! Two additional thoughts: Note how the trend of the moment -- pomegranate -- is added in marketing to everything for the health conscious audience. Note that trail mix can be CRAP even though it includes POMEGRANATE! White yogurt droplets, white chocolate droplets, dark chocolate droplets....1/4 cup--HOW MANY calories?! Our apartment building elevator will be out for six weeks. That's five floors of walking how many times a day? I think I'll do what Elaine says (and I know) and finally lose the weight without giving up a glass of wine three times a week!
Catherine Stifter
on: 1/15/13
Elaine, When you say it, this anti-diet seems so simple and RIGHT! More and more I find myself going for the simple meal. Forget all the sauces and weird fusions of exotic stuff. My stomach just wants comfort in this cold weather. A nice pot roast and oven roasted root veggies with olive oil, salt and pepper. My new apartment came with a microwave. I joined the 99%, but found myself really stumped as to what all those controls mean. Would my food be safe in there? And then I started "nuking" yams for breakfast. Oh my. I think I could get behind the microwaved chicken recipe you post here. OK, I'll try it! Especially since my stove is now electric. I miss my big gas Wedgewood. These days I find myself really wanting control over what goes in ME. Eating clean starts with shopping clean. And that can be hard to do outside of farmer's markets and co-ops. I'm still looking for a place to buy good clean food out in Folsom. Any ideas?
Catherine Stifter
on: 1/15/13
PS I love your 5 Tips. Sharing 'em on Facebook!
Ellen Huls
on: 1/15/13
Funny and inspiring....thanks for dealing with "crap eating." I vow to eat clean and enjoy your great recipes. Thanks, Elaine.
Teresa Urkofsky
on: 1/15/13
I am a microwave snob but I do love the idea of "eating clean". As I read this, I am inspired - and even looking forward to making this meal tonight in my regular, old oven. I'm looking at the photograph and see that most of the plate is filled with produce. Shopping at the farmers market makes this easy to do.
Suzanne Reifers Judd
on: 1/15/13
Hurrah for good advice and common sense. It is amazing how so many know so little about what they eat. Good job, Elaine!
Elaine Corn
on: 1/15/13
My my, what legitimacy from all these comments. This is really how I eat. Except for ice cream, cheeses, half-and-half and a love of smoked fish all adding fat -- which I love -- I am honestly DRAWN to simplicity most times at home. I love ethnic complexity in authentic recipes, too. They typically are "real." As someone who's covered food for 30 years and remains small despite eating what I want, people ask how I do it. I always say: I. DON'T. EAT. CRAP.
Jane Gassner (@MidLifeBloggers)
on: 1/15/13
If I were the sort of person who could always remember what she read where, I would have the reference handy for an article I just saw about the move among foodies to take advantage of the microwave's ability to do more than just heat frozen food.
Tracy Kuhn
on: 1/15/13
I couldn't have said it better but I would add one other item and that is to plan several days of meals, shop for those meals and then stick to the plan. Eating clean is also less expensive.
Jennifer Basye
on: 1/15/13
Spot on, Elaine. And I just finally got around to giving up wheat, dairy, and sugar in ANYTHING for a few weeks and already my jeans are a bit looser (thank heavens).
Lori Korleski Richardson
on: 1/15/13
Ever wonder why the first three letters in diet are DIE? So I'm all for the anit-diet. This is great advice, and easy to follow at home. If you can't get up the gumption to ask for what you want to eat at a restaurant, avoid them. To skip the microwave, take the meat off the bone and cook it in a cast iron skillet at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes if it's under an inch thick. Most fish takes 10-12 minutes to get flaky but not dry. But do try the sweet potato in the microwave; it uses a whole lot less energy than the 30 minutes to an hour it takes in an oven.
Debby Senna
on: 1/15/13
Sage advise as usual from Elaine! Where can I get the "I'm a Member of the Anit-Diet Club" T-Shirt?
Ellie Shaw
on: 1/15/13
These tips are not just great for those trying to lose weight, they can help folks with high cholesterol and diabetes. Good eats = good health!
Admin
on: 1/15/13
What size t-shirt? I love this idea. -- Corie Brown, Zester Daily founder
Alice Medrich
on: 1/15/13
Good one Elaine. The T Shirt I want is the I. Don't. Eat. Crap. Shirt. Because I don't! Aren't we good? Seriously, I am astonished at the "convenience" foods and other rediculous things that otherwise intelligent people eat (and think is healthy). Don't get me started...
Sally McKee
on: 1/15/13
It's the getting used to a little bit of hunger part that's hard. But I'm used to it. My rule of thumb is to think of a vegetable to cook for dinner and then choose either a protein or a carb but only on special occasions will I eat both a protein and a carb with the vegetable. Actually, my real triad -- with the vegetable in the center of the triangle -- is protein, carb, wine (ok, wine is a carb, sue me). When I cheat, I cheat by adding wine. I'm not losing weight this way. As a way of not maintaining a certain weight, I find it works well.
Admin
on: 1/15/13
I like that one as well! -- Corie
Neil Budde
on: 1/15/13
OK. All I had to eat today was two small bowls of tomato basil soup. I think I'm good with "Get used to being hungry"
Debby Fortune
on: 1/15/13
Excellent advice. I am especially delighted by "stop eating crap"... and if you can't pronounce it, don't eat it. All those fresh things that do not have an "ingredient list" are the best things. But cheese, glorious cheese, calls to me....
Gary V
on: 1/15/13
Good advice except for the microwave. Toss that out with the Cheetos.
Janet Vitt
on: 1/16/13
I like your description the color palette available at the farmer's market! Nothing drab there.
Beverly Krikorian
on: 1/17/13
'Good on ya', Elaine. This column speaks to me. And, so many valid comments from other subscribers. Thank you.
jacqueline s
on: 1/20/13
Love the advice--i need to start dropping this winter weight!
Fox
on: 1/28/13
the microwaved YAMs recipe came out great - but I substituted dijon mustard for the butter - yum !! appreciate your suggestions - still trying to drop a pound.

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