Real Entertaining: I lose, my guests win. It's all good.
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
I wonder whether the friends who eagerly accepted my invitation to dinner next week would have been as excited if I'd put it this way: Please join us for an evening of restrictive eating!
Subjecting guests to diet food was not part of my original plan. Something changed in the interim, however: my resolve to lose weight.
I managed to ignore exhorting voices while I gained 30 pounds in the past three years. My personal trainer lectured me thrice weekly about my poor diet. My doctor rolled his eyes and said I could face a future with diabetes.
And then there was my mother.
"Remember when I said you were getting too pumped up?" she asked during a recent visit. As I nodded, she launched an offensive.
"I meant that you're fat." A pause. "I can say that. I'm your mother."
It seemed harsh, but it was what I needed, at least this time. In 2007, I had a heart attack that resulted in my having a stent implanted in a major artery. I wrote a column about the experience titled "Doc, I've Seen the Light."
Well, over time that light dimmed. As it did, the one lighting up cupcakes coming out of the oven got brighter. Statin drugs brought my cholesterol levels not merely under control but within the "excellent" range.
How could I have let things get so out of hand even though I was aware of the risks? Here are the justifications I came up with, by way of self-assessment: I love food. I'm spoiled, a little bit lazy and particularly gifted at denial.
Slowly but surely, old habits returned. I abandoned the self-imposed rule to eat only fish when dining out, and I told myself that ordering dessert was done in the name of research. At home, I let starches slip back into evening meals and added something that hadn't even been part of the mix before: the 9 p.m. dessert, often ice cream. A steady supply of decorative candy displayed around the house ("for company") kept me going throughout the day. I washed it all down with diet soda.
Once my fat pants got tight, it was time to act. When a stress test and a colonoscopy were scheduled in the same week, involving some fasting and cleansing, an opportunity presented itself.
A few friends suggested the Atkins diet. I decided to try it not as a lifestyle but as a way to jump-start my return to a better way of eating. I just don't see myself maintaining it ad infinitum. The program, oversimplified: Protein, fat and fiber are in; carbs are out. During the two-week induction period, you can eat 20 net carbohydrates (carbs minus dietary fiber) daily, 12 to 15 of them from vegetables. (As a point of reference, five Starburst candies contain 20 net carbs total; an apple, 17.) The theory: In the absence of carbs, the body will burn fat, including stored fat, for energy.