No matter what your lifestyle, when it comes to dieting, it's your body and your bulge. But without the influences of a chocoholic spouse, a pack of bottomless-pit teen-agers or a mate who thinks "fatso" is a term of endearment, is it easier for single cooks to lose weight?
Maybe so, maybe not. Every living situation has its hidden hazards, everyone's support system is different and every dieter has another set of strengths, weaknesses and excuses.
Katherine Tallmadge, a local registered dietitian who specializes in weight control, said that she has seen both kinds of clients -- the type who say "I have a hard time dieting because I have a family," and those who say "I have a hard time dieting because I'm single and it's hard to cook for one."
Teresa Coletti, a professor of medieval literature at the University of Maryland and a single cook, said being single and dieting can result in either extreme -- "a possibility for incredible overindulgence -- as well as austerity."
As for the austerity side of the equation, Tallmadge says that single cooks may have an overall dieting advantage because they are in complete control of their eating regimen (an aspect that can lead to the overindulgence side of the equation, too, but more about that later). They can eat when they want and what they want.
In fact, a handful of local single cooks agreed that they find dieting easier in their solo situations. Knowing that tomorrow's lunch may be heavy, they plan on a light dinner (not having to give in to a mate who's had a light lunch and is starved by dinner), and don't have to compromise when it comes to shopping lists.
"You don't have the temptation of the potato chips because you won't buy them," said local single cook Carol Vail, regional sales director for the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim. Janie Sandstrom, office manager for a local consulting firm, said she finds it easy to diet as a single person because she doesn't keep food at home. If she does eat dinner at home, she will usually buy only enough for one meal.
As for entertaining, single dieting cooks often said they have an advantage, too, because they are not under the pressure from a spouse to serve a favorite and possibly fattening dish. Since low-calorie foods have become synonymous with healthy eating nowadays, John Ashford, senior vice president for Reese Communications Companies, who lost a whopping 80 pounds over the past six months, can serve guests his diet food and they don't know the difference. Whether it's gazpacho, salad, a grilled meat and a lively fruit salad for dessert, Ashford said the only difference in what his guests may get for dinner is a dollop of whipped cream on their blackberries or cheese and crackers before dinner.
In fact, several single cooks said that dieting gets tougher when they get involved in "significant relationships." Single cook Tom Byrne, who is in his "panic mode" when he hits 195 pounds, said that on those five-hour dinner dates, he can really "pack in" a lot of rich food.
As for the overindulgence side of the equation, Johanna Roth, a nutritionist and behaviorist with the Optifast Weight Reduction Program in Falls Church, said that the toughest part of being single and dieting is having unstructured time. Single cooks "come home to four walls and a refrigerator," Roth said. Food is company.
Kelly Brownell, co-director of the Obesity Research Clinic at the University of Pennsylvania, said that dieters must identify these high-risk situations that may lead to overeating. Whether it's defined by a time (9 in the evening in front of the television), a physical state (tired) or a social stimuli (your parents call and nag), it's important to make alternate plans, Brownell said. "That's the time to ride the exercise bike, write a letter or call a friend."
Instead of eating, Mary Beth Baluta, a salesperson for a convention services company, deals with those boring or lonely times by turning on the stereo and engaging in a favorite activity -- dancing. Other local single cooks regiment their days by working out or going to aerobics classes after work.
To ward off solitary eating binges, Tallmadge tells clients, do all your cheating outside of home and don't bring the food into the house. It's better to get it over with eating a scoop of ice cream at Baskin-Robbins, than a half gallon at home, Tallmadge said.
(Of course, high risk situations don't always occur at home. Ashford, who travels about 250,000 miles a year for his job, said his trouble areas are airports and airplanes. He knows that when he goes to the airport starved, he'll head for the candy bars. Instead, on his way there, he may ask the cab driver to stop by a grocery store while he runs in for some fruit. And on the plane, he'll order special meals. Likewise, Baluta, who attends a hefty number of receptions and business luncheons, has trained herself to head straight for the fresh vegetable tray or to eat only half of a fancy luncheon meal and drink a lot of water.)
Often, too, single dieting cooks are prone to eat quick, junk food dinners. To prevent such attacks, said Brownell, it's important for single cooks to: 1) prepare large batches of healthful foods and freeze them, i.e. a big pot of lentil soup; 2) purchase healthful things that can be made quickly, such as frozen dinners that are low-fat and low-sodium; and 3) have low-calorie snacks available at home to take the edge off hunger until you can be more rational about what to eat for dinner.
Several local single cooks have already heeded these common-sense approaches. Byrne says he cooks a "major meal" on the weekends, freezes it in portion sizes and then "nukes" it in his microwave as needed. Vail keeps unbuttered, unsalted popcorn around the house to ease the hunger pangs before dinner. Administrative assistant Nancy Fecondo has successfully lost 40 pounds by making sure she has healthful snacks in the house, rather than "grabbing for Aunt Millie's old fruitcake" when she comes home hungry.
Single people who finish work at 6 or 7 p.m. and haven't eaten since noon set themselves up for failure, said dietitian Tallmadge, who advises clients to bring two or three pieces of fruit to work to ward off dinner pangs. One should be eaten at 11 a.m. (the high risk time for a coffee and doughnut break) and one at 4 p.m., she said. And it's important to keep them at your desk, Tallmadge said, otherwise those late afternoon munchies may result in a trip to the vending machine or a walk across the street to the cookie shop.
This technique is also helpful for those who attend meetings or classes after work and don't get home until 9 or 10 at night, "ready to eat two dozen doughnuts," Tallmadge said. In fact, Tallmadge often will buy two sandwiches at lunch if she has a committment after work, and eat one before she goes. Then, if she's still hungry when she gets home, a small snack is all she needs.
And although many single cooks say they don't like to prepare dinner for themselves, Tallmadge stressed the idea of making it a ritual. It's crucial to get "psychological satisfaction from a meal," she said; otherwise the evening may turn into one long snack.
Another technique to ease high risk situations and make dieting easier in general for single cooks may be partnership dieting. In Brownell's weight control guide called "The LEARN Program," he explains that there have been about 20 studies on partnership dieting, some of which he has conducted. In some cases, the relationship greatly increased weight loss; in others there was no advantage. Those who were successful in reducing weight had a supportive relationship; those who weren't had an unmotivated or discouraging partner, concluded Brownell.
In addition, it is important for dieters to assess their style and personality before entering such a partnership, wrote Brownell. Are you a "solo dieter" or a "social dieter?" Do you like to confide in others or would you rather keep things to yourself?
If you conclude you are a "social dieter" then it's important to chose the right partner. You should feel that your partner is genuinely interested in helping you lose weight, shouldn't be the jealous sort when you start to look and feel better and should be someone you can talk to even if your diet is going poorly, are the conclusions to be drawn from the "partnership quiz" in Brownell's guide.
Whether from the workplace, family or friends, Brownell said that dieting partners can be helpful for encouragement or scolding, food shopping, exercising, recipe trading and so on. Both members of the partnership needn't be overweight, either, Brownell said. It's important to tell your partner how to help, make specific requests, state them positively and reward him or her, Brownell wrote.
And whether you're single or part of a family, Brownell emphasized that dieters should make reasonable weight loss aspirations ("don't expect 20 pounds in two weeks"). Even more important, Brownell said, is preventing a lapse from becoming a relapse.
If you eat 7,000 calories at a sitting, that's only two pounds worth of calories, Brownell said. But what will determine your success or failure is the reaction to the binge. If you think it's a catastrophe ("I'm doomed to be fat, this proves I have no willpower"), then it weakens your restraint and the lapse becomes a full-blown relapse of overeating.
If you think to yourself, "It's more than I wanted to eat, but it's not the end of the world, I deserve to enjoy myself, I'll exercise more tomorrow," then you're less likely to re-indulge, Brownell said.
Here are some recipes to turn to instead of Oreos: KATHERINE TALLMADGE'S CHUNKY SPLIT PEA AND VEGETABLE SOUP (6 to 8 servings)
1 pound split peas
4 ham hocks
Bay leaf and few sprigs fresh parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 head cauliflower
2 large carrots, sliced
2 stalks celery, cut into chunks
1 medium onion, chopped
Bring 6 cups of water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add split peas and ham hocks and simmer, covered, for about 45 minutes. Check soup about 20 minutes into the cooking period. You will probably need to add 1 more cup water.
Add spices, vegetables and another cup of water and cook for another 15 minutes or until vegetables are crispy-tender. Remove ham bones and serve. JOHN ASHFORD'S GRILLED CHICKEN BREASTS (4 servings)
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3 stalks celery, cut into thirds, leafy tops included
3/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/2 cup rum or white wine
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons ground celery seed
2 teaspoons ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
Place chicken breasts and celery in a baking dish. Combine remaining ingredients and pour over chicken breasts. Marinate for at least 4 hours.
Remove chicken breasts from marinade and broil for approximately 7 minutes on each side, basting with marinade. Broil celery pieces for last 5 minutes of cooking and serve alongside chicken. Ashford uses the leftover chicken breasts in a chicken caesar's salad or sliced on sandwiches. RONNIE'S WARM SALMON SALAD (2 servings)
1/4 cup white wine
3 tablespoons chopped scallions
1/2 pound salmon fillet
2 tablespoons grapefruit juice
1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 teaspoon curry powder or to taste
1/2 tart apple, peeled and diced into 1/4-inch cubes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 bibb lettuce, separated into leaves
1/2 grapefruit, cut into sections and halved
Salt and pepper to taste
Place wine and scallions in a skillet and bring just to a boil. Place salmon fillet in skillet and poach for about 5 minutes, being careful not to overcook. Remove salmon from poaching liquid and set aside to cool slightly.
To make dressing, add grapefruit juice, mustard, curry powder and apples to poaching liquid and reduce over high heat by about 1/2. Remove from heat and whisk in the olive oil.
Place lettuce on plate and top with flaked salmon and grapefruit sections. Moisten with dressing. POPPY SEED AND BLUE CHEESE DRESSING (Makes about 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup lowfat cottage cheese
2 tablespoons crumbled blue cheese
2 tablespoons lemon juice
5 tablespoons skim milk
1 teaspoon poppy seeds
In a blender container combine the cottage cheese, half of the crumbled blue cheese, lemon juice and skim milk. Blend until well combined. Transfer mixture to a small mixing bowl. Stir the poppy seeds and remaining blue cheese into the cheese mixture. Cover and chill.
Adapted from "Dieting for One," by the Editors of Better Homes and Gardens (Better Homes and Gardens, $5.95) GRILLED SWORDFISH WITH GOLDEN PINEAPPLE-POMMERY MUSTARD PUREE (4 servings for dieters, 2 to 3 for non-dieters)
This meal fits all the requisites for a dieting single cook who wants to have company, doesn't want the guests to feel deprived and has about 30 minutes to make a presentable meal.
1 pound swordfish steak (about 1-inch thick)
3/4 cup fresh ripe pineapple chunks, well drained
1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard
4 small red-skinned new potatoes, cooked and sprinkled with cracked black pepper
1 pound fresh green beans, steamed
4 lemon wedges
Broil the swordfish 6 inches from the broiler flame for 5 minutes on each side. Check to see that the fish does not dry out.
To make pure'e, place pineapple in a blender or food processor. Process until pure'ed. Just before serving, stir in the mustard.
To serve, cut the swordfish into 4 equal portions. Place each on a heated dinner plate and arrange the drained potatoes and green beans around them. Garnish with lemon wedges and parsley and serve with a portion of pineapple mustard pure'e on each plate.
Calories per serving: 185. Pure'e: 17 per tablespoon.
Adapted from "Spa Food," by Edward J. Safdie (Clarkson N. Potter, $19.95)