Kitchen Experiment: Low Carb Pork Belly Chili

It didn’t start out as ‘pork belly chili’. In fact, I had no idea what I was making. There was a nearly 2 pound chunk of pork belly aging in the freezer and I needed to make something low carb for the coming week. The pork belly would be the star – but who would be the supporting characters?

I put the still frozen pork belly in the oven at 300 degrees and shook some of Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute – a mix of spices that seems to work for anything – on top. I tented the thing with foil and went to Trader Joe’s to figure out what was going to be the supporting characters for our porky star – and hoping the house wouldn’t explode while I was away.

The place was crowded and my first choice – cauliflower – was nowhere to be found. Trader Joe’s is a great store, but produce is not one of their strong suits. Instead I rounded up the following:

  • 2 green peppers
  • 2 eggplants
  • 1 container of organic white button mushrooms

These are all good low carb ingredients, though one might quibble over minor flaws in each of them if you really tried. Eggplant is part of the ‘deadly nightshade’ family, for example.  I didn’t want to play that game of going so extreme to analyze each one to that level of detail. They might have their flaws, but they were ‘good enough’.

At home I added some things from the cupboard and some castaways:

  • 3 onions
  • 3 jalapeno peppers
  • 1 box of cherry tomatoes that had not aged well after being abandoned in the vegetable drawer. I cut away the bad parts and tossed them in.
  • 1 large can of fire-roasted tomatoes

I had let the pork belly cook for 2 hours, then had taken it out to cool. Once I could cut it without getting burns I chopped it into bite-sized pieces and tossed it in to the veggies I cut while it was cooling. The beauty of pork belly is it comes with its own oil, so the vegetables cooked in delicious pork fat.

I peeled the eggplant and diced it into small chunks – going for roughly the size of the pork belly chunks – about the size of a pinky tip.

I had no idea what i was creating until it was done. When I tasted it, it had too much of an eggplant taste. Blech. I then decided to turn it into a chili by adding:

  • chili powder
  • cinnamon
  • cumin

No measuring, just eyeballing. I *do* tend to be heavy-handed on the spices, if that’s any help. Lots of chili powder, half as much cumin, and half of that in cinnamon is the best guidance I can give.

When my carnivore daughter came home her nose caught a whiff of meat, chili powder and cumin. Her eyes widened: “What smells so good?”

“Chili.” I said.

What I haven’t told you is that she is not too fond of pork belly. Bacon she’s good with – in fact, any part of any animal – if prepared well – had better watch out. THIS 16-year-old girl will not be turning Vegan any time soon.

“Is it ready?” She asked.

“Yep”.

She took a bowl and tried some. She gave me the thumbs up sign as she ate. While she has a sophisticated palate for a teenager, she has been exposed to Dad’s low carb cooking for over a decade. While she would rather starve than eat anything sub par – I wish I were the same – she liked this.

I personally find that the eggplant, if diced into small pieces, can bulk up the chili – and eggplant has the wonderful ability to soak up oils which works well with pork belly. The strong flavors of the spices minimized the eggplant flavor notes – which just did not go with pork belly in my estimation – and made the texture more complex.

I’ve done similar recipes – I’ve played with the definition of ‘chili’ enough to create what some people would label ‘abominations’ – but this one got readily eaten by the members of the family who could care less about diets and low carb, so for me – it’s a keeper.

Zucchini Pasta in Creamy Italian Sauce – and Gizmo Review

Gizmo with bit of zucchini left over. Bloody finger not shown.

I bought this thigamijig a few weeks ago while picking up pasta for the kids. I don’t remember what the darn thing is called as someone tossed the blister pack it came in, but it allows you to take a zucchini, twist it in this contraption and make zucchini noodles. This is one of those types of things you see advertised on infomercials where, if you act now, they send you Ginsu knives or something else you really don’t need but sounds cool.

It looked like a piece of crap. I bought it anyway.

The ‘why’ seems reasonable: I already have a mandoline, a kitchen device which allows you to create zucchini noodles, but mandolines is large, come in a box with multiple pieces, feels like work, and has caused blood loss as mandolines are designed so that the user slides their fingers towards razor-sharp knife surfaces.

This thing is small and can be tossed in a drawer. It just seemed like so much less of a commitment to use it.

Today I finally opened the package and tried it with the following impromptu recipe:

  • 1 medium zucchini, twisted into the gizmo to make noodley strips.
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 package of cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup pasta sauce
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • pinch or two of oregano

This took all of 5 minutes to make:

In a frying pan, I melted butter until it was close to burning, then turned down the heat. Next, I twisted the zucchini into noodles over the pan. Then I added the cream cheese and the pasta sauce and smushed the cream cheese until it melted. Next, I added parmesan cheese, oregano, and cayenne pepper. A few minutes of cooking – and more blood spilled by tempting fate and twisting the zucchini too far – and it was complete.

More sauce than noodles, the small amount of pasta sauce with the cream cheese made it look like a vodka sauce.

I went to eat it and my daughter wanted a taste. She loved it – so much to the point that I gave it to her and she finished it herself. She told me that it wasn’t good – it was excellent. I made a second batch – double the amount this time. While the twisting of the zucchini in the machine is simple, my hand started to get tired after the third zucchini, so while good for whipping up a quick dish for one, the mandoline still has its usefulness for larger volumes (and potential for greater blood loss).

My older daughter had some of the next batch, and while not effusive in her praise, did finish the bowl that she took.

the recipe is a keeper – and the gizmo isn’t such a piece of crap – though let’s see how long it lasts before it breaks.

Recipe: 5-Minute Pork Belly with Egg

While I am still trying to navigate what my new approach to low carb will look like (see previous post), my diet still centers around the notion of very high fat and few carbs as possible. This recipe fits the bill in spades.

Trader Joe’s, the eccentric grocery chain in the US, sells pre-cooked pork belly. It’s slow-cooked before packaging which makes preparing it quick and convenient. I warmed it up earlier in the week for the family but there were other things at the meal and it went mostly uneaten, so now I had a half-pound of pork belly to use up.

This morning I was hungry so I whipped up the following:

  • 2 ounces cooked pork belly, diced
  • 1 egg
  • 4 shots Tabasco sauce

Prep was simple: as the pork belly is so fatty there is no need for butter or other oils. Placed in a hot frying pan, the belly releases enough oil to cook the egg. After throwing the egg in, I scrambled them together. Total time cooking was less than 5 minutes and the time from coming up with the thought to sitting down to eat was less than 10 minutes.

(I still have to clean up, but I don’t want to think about that right now.)

The verdict? This was WAY better than I imagined. I thought I was going to get an OK meal and use up some leftovers before they went bad; instead, I got this really tasty dish that I really enjoyed – enough so that I took the time to add it as a recipe to my Lose It! diet web app and post it here.

I also have some nutrition information, if you track that sort of stuff:

Calories: 367
Fat: 35 grams (87% of calories)
Carbs: 0 grams (0% of calories, of course)
Protein: 11 grams (13% of calories)

It was so good that after eating I wanted to make another serving, but I restrained myself for that 15-minute window we supposedly have for satiety signals to reach the brain and by then I felt full enough that I didn’t need a second helping.

This is a perfect meal for people trying to get into induction or ketosis or whatever you like to call it, and at 87% of the calories coming from fat, a great meal if you are attempting a ‘fat fast’.

Recipe: Tuna and Salmon Salad

I love tuna salad made with Wild Planet Tuna. It’s about the highest-quality canned tuna I can find. I also bought their canned salmon but am a bit challenged as to what to do with it. In a rush the other morning I was going to make a tuna salad for work and grabbed two cans of what I thought were tuna, but one was salmon.

Why not?

Tuna & Salmon Salad

  • 1 can tuna, drained
  • 1 can salmon, drained
  • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 4 tablespoons sour cream
  • 6 shakes of Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 firm avocado

I mixed the tuna and salmon with the mayo and sour cream. I’ve found an approximate 1:1 mix of both provides the tanginess of the mayo with the creaminess desired without overdoing it on the mayo. The Worcestershire sauce is unexpectedly good in this.
Once mixed, I add chunks of avocado and folded it in carefully – I wanted a little texture from the avocado and didn’t want it mashed into a goo.

Total time: 5 minutes tops.

This really came out quite well – much better than expected. I ate this on pork rinds and this was my lunch two days in a row. I *might* add a few more shakes of the Worcestershire sauce next time – or not.

Fat, Dumb, & Happy Day 7

Sunday, March 16, 2014  – 221.4

9:15am

Earlier in the year I had intended to begin exercising and tried running. I liked it – even though when I was doing it the temperature was near zero. I was running for about 10 minutes tops each day, which isn’t much, but since I haven’t run since I was in primary school it was a big improvement. I liked running outside as opposed to the treadmill, which I think is somewhat soul-deadening compared to running outside in the real world.

But then my knees began to hurt. A lot.

I’ve seen the T-Shirts that say ‘pain is the weakness leaving your body’ – very macho – but I also know a number of my contemporaries who have had hip and knee replacements. No matter how cool titanium joints sound, I would prefer NOT to have one, thank-you-very-much.

My plan ‘B’ for this is to try again after losing 30 pounds so there’s less weight pounding on my knees I’ll try again.

In the meantime, I’ve been given the opportunity to get my exercise in another way – one that is low-impact and much more gentle for fat folks trying to get a little exercise: swimming.

It was nothing I pursued – it sort of found me.

A local drama that made the papers, good intentions, and mismanagement led to the construction of a beautiful building intended to be a Jewish Community College. It was funded by a huge donation by a generous benefactor, but cost overruns and overoptimism led to the whole project collapsing and the generous benefactor left with a huge, unfinished, empty building.

The generous benefactor, now a reluctant landlord with a white elephant on his hands needed to do *something* with this facility, and leased it to a local family who decided to open a ‘family-friendly’ athletic club.

I like that. It’s not a muscle-head gym, but a place where families can come with their kids and feel welcome and comfortable.

My wife came home one day and announced she signed the family up for a membership. The place hadn’t even opened.

I figure it’s water under the bridge *now* – I might as well see if I can get some return on the investment.

I got to test it out for the first time this morning. It is an olympic-size salt-water pool – I never knew salt-water pools existed. I did 20 laps.

I must be honest and state that I can’t swim – I only know how to propel myself through the water and avoid drowning. It’s not flailing, but a rather graceless yet workable facsimile of ‘swimming’.

I have no fear of the deep water because my ample adipose tissue causes me to bob like a cork.

With my poor form, swimming side by side with people who actually know how to swim, I shamelessly made a fool of myself if there was anyone there watching and judging me – but being of an age and disposition where I don’t much care what people think of me most of the time, I was unselfconscious and quite enjoyed the experience.

It was also a bit of a timing test. Much of my life, with kids and school and schedules and work and meetings sometimes requires down-to-the minute timing to make sure I can get done what needs to be done. From the time I left the house, got there, got undressed, got in the pool, did the 20 laps, got out, dried, dressed, left and got home and threw the bathing suit and towel in the dryer was 55 minutes total – I might be able to make that work.

I can get there at 5am on weekdays when they open, be back a little before 6am, have 20 minutes to chill with some coffee, then wake the kids and go through the morning routine of having my younger daughter to before-school daycare by 7:30, then head off to work and be there between 8:30 and 9am.

Could not only be workable, but enjoyable – oh – and good for me as well.

It bears repeating because it’s so important: I’m not exercising because it will help me lose weight! That doesn’t work except for the most dedicated gym rat with plenty of spare time. Exercising to lose weight is a myth perpetuated by people who sell gym equipment, athletic club memberships and sports accessories.

You can sit on your fat ass, diet, and end up with a much less fat ass without a lick of exercise. I did.

The reason to exercise is because it’s good for you – if you can manage not to hurt yourself doing it. There is ALSO a booming industry in repairing the injuries of exercisers who hurt themselves. A friend who was about as physically fit as one could imagine and looks way younger than his age (mid 50s) just got a hip replacement. Why? All that damn exercise – that’s why!

Exercise because you like it, because it is good for your health, and because it can make you feel better psychologically. Don’t EVER think it will help you lose weight – the chances of this are thin (pun intended).

4:00pm.

The feeling of being on the clock never ends. The moment I came home from the athletic club, my daughter needed to go to her lacrosse practice. I have no idea what lacrosse *is* – something involving a ball and long sticks with tiny fishing nets at the end – but my daughter seems to be interested so – whatever.

Coming home I had to help my younger daughter practice piano. Before that, however, I decided to make something with the crockpot. In another experiment I threw in a can of tomatoes, a pound of grass-fed gound beef, 2 bags of frozen artichoke hearts, some lelftover sliced onions, some aging mini sweet peppers and the remainder of the taco mix that was masquerading as smoked paprika (and threw away the container). lastly – 20 shakes of Tabasco sauce. I left that to cook, did the piano practice with my daughter, then needed to take her to ballet, then take her to her piano lesson, then come home and do dishes and clean the house.

Along the way I found two abandoned hard-boiled eggs. I had these with a few splashes of low carb ketchup. I’m not much for hard-boiled eggs but I’m a big fan of ketchup. they went well together. I should remember to do this more. Eggs are a perfect food – relatively cheap for even the highest-quality eggs, easy to cook, and packed with top-notch nutrients, protein and fat –  and hard-boiled eggs are convenient.

I also had a tiny brie, packed in a small plastic container.

I’ve been in ketosis continuously since day 2 and I still feel the ‘water in the gas line’ feeling where waves of energy appear, then falter, then appear again. Occasionally a slight headache appears, then disappears as well. Again, nothing unexpected – and certainly beats how I felt when eating a lot of carbs – perhaps I was more miserable than I realized.

9 pm

I ate a lot in the evening, though all of it low carb – if not as low carb as I would have liked.

I avoided the pasta, the cake and the pie that was about had my crockpot dish of ground beef, tomatoes, & artichokes. In fact, I had three bowls. The fact that I didn’t put in too much seasoning brought out the natural flavors of the meat and vegetables.

But I was still hungry.

I ended up having a half-bottle of wine while eating pork rinds with cream cheese. I had a lot of cream cheese – perhaps half the package. Again, right now the focus is on sticking to the right foods and not necessarily portion control.

The wine as concerning. It doesn’t make me fat in itself and is low carb, but it stalls me at least until it gets out of my system. The worse part is it’s potential to get me into carb-gobbling mischief. I thought this was it – the screw up I’d been waiting for. But it didn’t happen.

Before bed I finished up 2 cups of the drinkable yogurt and went straight off to sleep.

Fat, Dumb, and Happy Day 6

[this post is a bit of a ramble, but as part of this experiment in writing I’m going to leave it as-is and see what happens.]

Ides of March, 2014 – 12:30pm

So far today I got a lot done – it’s the first time in a while I’ve felt productive at home. I already got a lot of things off of a long-neglected to do list and finally got around to cook my pork belly. The only problem was *someone* decided to put taco seasoning in the smoked paprika container – I only noticed this after mashing up the stuff in a mortar and pestle and rubbing it in.

Yes – I did wonder why the smoked paprika looked funny…

So now it’s ‘Mexican Pork Belly’:

I started with one pound of the fattiest pork belly I could find. The guy at the meat counter always gives me a strange look when I ask for the ‘fattiest pork belly’ – good – less competition. Mine is locally produced which means that it is coming from a smaller farmer, which means a (somewhat) better chance that the pig who is about to be my dinner might have had a somewhat tolerable, albeit short, life prior to slaughter. I *do* consider the fact that a creature – a relatively intelligent one – gave it’s life for my benefit. The least I can do is support small farmers who are more likely to take better care of their animals, and remember something died so I could have a great meal.

It used to be much more common at one time to ‘say grace’ before a meal. No matter your faith – or even no faith at all, it’s important, I think to reflect on the origin of our food and express some gratitude.

OK – this is a recipe – not a sermon – off the soap box.

I rubbed the dry belly with 2 tablespoons of Trader Joe’s Taco seasoning, 2 teaspoons salt and about a dozen turns of the pepper mill. I rubbed it on all sides with the seasoning, drizzled maybe 4 tablespoons of olive oil on the top. and tossed it in a preheated 350 degree oven for 2 hours.

If I subtract the fumbling time I spent finding the mortar and pestle, and cracking my shin trying to get it off the top shelf of our cabinet, the total prep time was about 5 minutes.

Now it’s back to chores – I got a lot of them.

6:45pm

Pork belly. Yum. My Mexican pork belly came out – can I say it? Superb. The pork belly did a very odd thing, however: it rose like a cake. When done, it was 3 times the original thickness while it shrunk in length and width. Delicious, though. My older daughter also had some and enjoyed it. Other than minding the oven, very little work involved.

I lamented to her that I couldn’t mop up the pork fat with bread because of my diet. This is one aspect of low carb that Really Sucks. there are no low carb foods on my list for absorbing liquids. There’s many reasons bread is awesome: this is one of them.

I experimented with microwaving a pork rind but there’s no moisture and it came out crunchy. I gave up. My daughter noted that I certainly seemed desperate. I eventually mopped up some of that great fat with some peppered salami. I made her laugh with that one.

I also had some almond milk. My daughter said: “I think that almond milk is the first thing I’ve ever been addicted to – I craved it every day last week. I don’t even know why.”

I told her that I thought it was because almond milk has – as food industry pros might say – an appealing mouth feel and flavor profile. It is creamy and silky in the mouth and the flavor profile disappears with a subtle, pleasurable almondy taste.

We both agreed that coconut milk just doesn’t cut it – less creamy, and none of the complexity of flavor.

In my opinion: you drink coconut milk because you think it’s good for you. You drink almond milk because it’s tasty.

Afterward, both my daughter and I were getting sleepy – my energy was flagging, probably from the late hour I went to bed and my morning list of chores I tore through – her from attending a sports program in the late morning. We decided to take a ride to the mall where I got to do what men typically do in malls when going with a female: stand around and wait while they shop.

Men – at least this man – treats a mall like a surgical military strike: Get in. Get what I went for. Get the hell out. Women – at least the ones in my life – tend to linger, and seem to need to look at every damn item in a store.

That pork belly fat infusion could be felt – I’ve read it could take a few weeks to become fully keto-adapted and my energy was still going up and down. I had a good, productive run until mid-afternoon, then the energy began to flag – and being in a mall probably worsened it.

Luckily there was a Dunkin Donuts in the mall and I got an extra-large coffee with cream. That restored me for the remainder of the trip.

I checked for ketones when I got home – really high.

I think I’m done for the day energy-wise. I’m going to do my best to chill for the rest of the day.

9pm

Will the lack of energy be a problem? I found myself ‘grazing’ – some pickles with cheese, a few pork rinds, more salami, then some almond milk. I could have continued – but I stopped myself.

This could be the beginning of the screw up I’ve been waiting for.

One commenter on these rambling posts – a long-time reader – said my problem is two-fold: pizza and work stress – and that I give myself a free pass on cheating because I don’t moralize my cheats. My impish reply:

As the only place in the US without pizza and stress is a coffin I guess I’m doomed to a diet fail.

While my current porking up is a little out of my comfort zone, I wonder if part of what success I’ve had is because of the cheating – or to add another layer, perhaps *that* thinking is WHY I fail at all – but then if I didn’t fail I’d have little to write about, so perhaps I fail so I’ll write.

It’s deep. Like the movie ‘Inception’. A left-handed Scorpio thing, maybe.

OK – she might have a point about my cheats – perhaps I *do* give myself a free pass too often, but what if I had the same amount of cheats and beat myself up about them?

Aldous Huxley once said: ‘the end cannot justify the means because the nature of the means determine the type of end produced’ – or something close to that.

So if I became a slim by berating myself – would it result in a happier me? Or would I be thin and miserable?

Italian Style Chunky Soup with Eggplants, Peppers, Olives, and Artichokes

photo

Forgive me as I don’t know what to call this. Is it a pasta sauce? A stew? A soup?

It beats me. All I know is my wife called me to tell me it was good – and not to ruin it by putting in more seasonings or cooking it further.

That doesn’t happen much. The fear I’ll ruin something? All the time, but phone calls on how good my recipe turned out? Never.

Here it is – you tell me what it should be called. I was an opportunistic recipe – most of the ingredients were on hand – I had inventoried what we had in stock and only bought the ground beef, Romano cheese, and fire-roasted tomatoes.

  • 2 pounds organic grass-fed ground beef.
  • Two medium-size eggplant.
  • 12 dried sun-dried tomatoes cut up with scissors.
  • One can Muir Glen fire roasted tomatoes.
  • One can pitted black olives.
  • One can artichoke hearts.
  • One third jar of four cheese pasta sauce.
  • 10 turns of the salt mill
  • Pepper.
  • Cayenne pepper.
  • 1 tablespoon oregano.
  • One green pepper.
  • One red pepper.
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • Three onions.
  • 4 tablespoons of olive oil
  • Fresh grated Romano cheese.

I browned the meat in olive oil, salt and the garlic while chopping the veggies and putting them in one by one, stirring as each batch went in. Then I poured the fire-roasted tomatoes and the 1/3rd jar of pasta sauce in. I brought this to a boil, added the remaining ingredients and let it simmer for 2 hours.

I ate covered in fresh grated Romano cheese. It *was* excellent.

It would work fine as a pasta sauce for people who eat pasta – low carbers can just eat it by itself, so feeding the family with disparate diets is doable with this recipe.

Canned Salmon and Avocado Dip – Version 2

I wasn’t impressed by my first version of this recipe, and might have forgotten it completely, but the other day my 14-year-old asked me: “Daddy, can you make more of that salmon dip?”

I was not expecting that. I do get requests to make my low carb dishes from my family on occasion – but I didn’t consider the salmon dip to ever get mentioned again.

My daughter is a natural-born foodie – if she saw something in this recipe that was worthy of requesting it, then there must be something to it.

My second batch differed from the first in 3 important ways:

  • I added more scallions
  • I added more Worcestershire sauce
  • I left the avocado, which was ripe but still somewhat firm, in chunks rather than totally mashed up

These adjustments made a wold of difference.

Ingredients:

  • 1 ripe but firm avocado, in chunks
  • 1-6oz can salmon
  • 1/3rd cup of sour cream
  • 10 dashes Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 scallions, chopped
  • a pinch of cayenne pepper
  • salt
  • pepper

The extra Worcestershire sauce overpowered the flavor notes of canned salmon I’m not fond of without overpowering the dip itself, and the textures of the chunked avocado and scallions added complexity.

This was quickly gobbled down by my daughter and I – and my wife, who seemed unimpressed with the first one, seemed to enjoy it as well.

I’ll definitely make this one again.

 

Canned Salmon and Avocado Dip

As I like to avoid vitamins and supplements (a long story) I try to get my nutrients from my food. So instead of taking a fish oil gelcap I’d rather get it straight from the source – and one of the best sources is from salmon.

There’s a number of problems with this:

  1. Farmed salmon might not be all that good for you
  2. Wild-caught salmon is freakin’ expensive
  3. Salmon is not my favorite fish unless prepared just right – and I have never successfully prepared it right

So to manuever around these problems I decided to buy Wild Planet Wild-Caught Alaskan Salmon in 6 ounce cans over the Internet. I still paid over $4 a can, but in terms of convenience, cost ($2-3 less than if I bought it locally), and the time needed to whip something together, I thought this a good compromise.

The only problem was what I was going to do with the stuff.

I was in the mood for a kitchen experiment – those times where I risk throwing away perfectly good food by trying something new – so I grabbed a can of the salmon and an aging avocado and did some searching to see what I could do with these.

I came across a dip on some Aussie site and riffed off the ingredients and created the following:

Ingredients:

  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 1-6oz can salmon
  • 1/3rd cup of sour cream
  • 1-2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 scallions, chopped
  • a pinch of cayenne pepper
  • salt
  • pepper

Mix the ingredients until dippy in appearance and you’re done.

My older daughter was wary but curious. She had some with potato chips. Then she had more. She said she liked it – it reminded her of a hot crab dip we had at a restaurant. I ate it with pork rinds. It wasn’t quite ‘there’, so I added the salt then as well as more Worcestershire sauce and another scallion and that improved things.

I ate my fill and put the rest in the fridge. Would I make it again? I’m not sure if I would do the exact same thing. It was good but not great. I’ll be sure to finish it up – and maybe, like tuna salad, the flavor will acquire a depth as the flavors meld.

I’ve got 11 more cans of the stuff – what can I try differently next time? Do I have the guts to try baking this with cheese on top? What other seasonings might I try?

I’ll have to think about this one a bit more.

The 2014 Diet: The First Few Days

On January 1, at 225, a set a somewhat simple goal – at least for me: just stick to what *I* consider ‘acceptable foods’ and that’s about it – not portion control, calorie-counting, exercise,  nor worrying about net carbs, fat percentage or protein. This point of this being only to work on one ‘willpower challenge’ at a time – the first being my food choices – and once I had a handle on this, then move on to other challenges.

The last few months were ones where I let myself reacquire a number of bad food habits – mostly too many carbs. I love the things, really – I just can’t eat them and feel good, nor keep off weight.

So, instead of plunging headlong into some strict, self-punishing diet, I wanted to start slow and ease myself in to a change of eating habits that focuses on the pleasure of the foods I can eat rather than the feelings of deprivation from the ones I can’t.

So how have my first few days gone?

Well, following the above approach I am 220 lbs. as of this morning. I don’t see this as any amazing feat as this is most likely water weight,. nor was the number on the scale my focus so far (though it’s nice seeing it move in the right direction): my focus was on food choices.

Despite a few bumps in the road, I think I did OK.

  1. Coffee, either black, with cream, or coconut oil was part of my daily routine already and little changed here. By any measure I drink too much of the stuff, but a reduction here is a challenge for another day.
  2. For New Year’s I cooked a (slightly modified) recipe from a Jamie Oliver cookbook: leg of lamb covered in rosemary with roasted eggplant and red onions which were then put into a from-scratch pasta sauce with parsley, oregano, balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, and some chili powder. This was a winner of a recipe and the sauce might become a staple – I’ll have to play with this one more.
  3. Eggs, either fried or nuked: with a few minutes before a conference call I nuked an egg with some cheese in the microwave for a minute, gave it a stir, then nuked again for a minute, then put on salt, pepper and Tabasco sauce. That was not bad at all – I’ll have to remember that trick.
  4. I made a batch of eggplant pasta sauce with strained tomatoes, leftover eggplant, parsley flakes, oregano, onion, minced garlic, chili powder, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil for my daughters to have with pasta. It was so good I took some the next day, put maybe 2 ounces of cheese on top, microwaved for 2 minutes and stirred in the melted cheese and used it as a dip with pork rinds, then had another bowl I ate like a thick soup. Another trick to remember.
  5. My wife had made a stir fry from some of the lamb along with celery and tofu and I had maybe 2 cups of that.
  6. Last night was sashimi night and I had raw tuna and scallops, as well as shrimp and two stir-fried dishes with chicken: one with zucchini and one with lotus root. There was also a miso soup with chicken, tofu and Chinese cabbage
  7. Along the way I have been drinking unsweetened almond milk with a few drops of EZ-Sweetz (pure sucralose) as a means to eliminate my milk-drinking habit and it has done the trick – I love the stuff. It also works to satisfy the sweet tooth and I find the stuff surprisingly filling – I might try a habit of having a cup before eating and seeing if it helps with portion control in the future..
  8. There was also some Greek yogurt, dark chocolate, macadamia nuts, and breakfast sausage along the way.

The above did not feel like deprivation and all the ingredients were acceptable, though I tend to steer clear of tofu and the soy sauce might have had some gluten in it, neither indulgence is the end of the world.

My failures both happened at night, fatigued and stressed.

  1. As I was putting away the pasta I made for the kids, I had a bowl. It was late, I was cleaning up, and it happened before I knew it. Not much thinking was going on at this point: my prefrontal cortex had already gone to bed.
  2. A similar situation on another evening caused the disappearance of some Lindt Chocolate balls and a Xmas cookie from a batch sent by a friend that arrived in the mail that day.

I’d say on the whole I did OK. The only thing to do about the failures is to keep practicing to stick to the acceptable food list and when the habit becomes ingrained I won’t need my prefrontal cortex to navigate around these hazards.

As to the mental techniques of ‘surfing the urge’ and ‘in 10 minutes’, I used the first a lot and the second a few times as well. Perhaps because I had a long list of forbidden items I was avoiding and the New Year’s started with the stress of a broken washing machine, a 9-day wait to fix, and frenzied attempts by my wife and I to diagnose the problem and fix it ourselves to avoid a rapacious bill and have clean clothes, my primary cravings were for wine and, oddly, cigarettes – since I have not smoked in more than 6 months (I took it up briefly after quitting for 14 years). It’s as if the cravings for the recently prohibited goodies brought to the surface other prohibited goodies that I’ve been abstaining from. I found myself planning the route to the store with the cigarettes, then to Trader Joe’s for the wine, but the craving passed and I went on with my life without ciggies and wine.

It’s only been 4 days so I think I’ll continue with the current approach a bit longer before I move on to the next challenge.