HOW TO SHED THOSE EXTRA POUNDS AND STAY TRIM IF NOT THIN...

Obesity IllustrationThe road to obesityImage by Combined Media via Flickr
Have you noticed that diets never really work? I've had friends who followed stringent diets under medical control, who've gone to America for an operation, and yet, in every case, results were never permanent. Most disappointing! After a while all the weight - or nearly all of it - was back.

So, after watching this happen to my friends who tried all sorts of diets and never achieving any permanent result - actually slowly growing fatter over time - and finding that I too was slowly putting on weight - a couple of pounds every year, starting at age 40 - I tried to control this slow drift towards fat. I went for something else: I've changed my lifestyle in the kitchen! A different eating style is harder to implement at the restaurant, but you can fight the pounds off if you stick to ordering just one dish - preferably the grilled variety and no sauce - and cut out the dessert.

But at home you're in full control of what you (and your family) eat. And the first thing to do is review how you cook and adjust it in case there's a problem. And, noticing how most of my friends cook, I would say there's a problem: TOO MUCH FAT is regularly used. Yes, I know, that's what teflon pans are for...but what about the taste? We all are convinced deep down that an extra pat of butter or a spoonful of olive oil is going to add that indispensable extra taste to our food. Well, if that's your conviction, try to add it AT THE END, when you're finished cooking, and then only HALF of what you're used to.

Mashed potatoes are a case in point. Of course one shouldn't eat them if one is trying to lose weight, but if you really love them (as I do), why punish yourself? Just stay away from cream and other luscious fats and mash them with skim milk. Bring to a boil and keep beating with a wooden spoon to make them fluffy, then add a pat of butter at the very end, just before serving. You'll see how good your mashed potatoes are, full of fresh butter flavour precisely because you've put it in when you've stopped cooking and it's off the fire. And mashed potatoes are not that fattening: potatoes, by themselves are not bad calorie-wise. The problem is that they absorb fat like a sponge, and french fries, as everyone knows, are a real no-no...

Well, yes, if you want to keep trim, there are certain foods you have to eat very, very rarely: fried food and desserts. It's just common sense. But there's no reason to cut anything out of your diet: just eat less (or rarely) of the stuff that you know is fattening. But don't cut it out altogether! Do have that piece of chocolate or that whiskey and soda when you really feel like it! Again, it's psychological common sense: one has to maintain a balance in life and indulge in a few good things just to feel good...

Over time, I've developed a few rules to follow in both cooking and eating. Indeed, I find that my cooking is so much lighter than anyone else's that I don't enjoy much eating out anymore because I find other people's cooking often hard to digest... I thought you might be interested in those rules - and they're not that hard to follow, keeping in mind that you should always allow yourself a splurge now and then, just to keep smiling and stay on the sunny side of life! So here they are - a bit personal, sorry about that, but I find they work for me and I hope they might work for you:

1. Breakfast, as all nutritionists insist, is not a meal you should skip, but it really isn't the most important one in the day, and if you're not hungry in the morning...don't eat! But you do need to get a little something in you to face the morning's work: a plain yoghurt (based on skimmed milk) with a sprinkle of brown cane sugar does nicely for me, and one piece of toast with jam, and lots of tea (I'm a coffee drinker, and a big one, but only after breakfast). Plus an occasional fresh orange juice, but only if I have the time to press the oranges myself (I hate the frozen stuff); if you're keen on fruits, breakfast is a great time to have a couple of fresh fruit. Also breakfast is a good time to take all those vitamin supplements and in particular Omega 3. The latter is extremely important to keep your hair and eyes shiny and fight off the signs of age on your skin. Since you could never eat the amount of fish required for a daily minimum of Omega 3, take a spoonful of linseed oil (the edible variety, found in pharmacy). Sure, it doesn't taste good but the effects are guaranteed!

2. Break up your standard meal - first and second courses - into two parts: one for lunch, the other for dinner. Better the second course in the middle day because you have time to exercise it off in the afternoon. And by "second course" I mean either fish or meat plus an ample vegetable side dish, but, of course, you may not have time for it. Then reverse the order, and have it at night, sticking to the lighter first course for lunch. Living in Italy, what I mean by a "first course" is naturally a pasta, rice dish or polenta. But let's face it: if you have a whole grain sandwich with a good filling of healthy stuff without skimping on the vegetables (lettuce, tomatoes etc), you're okay. From a nutritional point of view, it's about the same as a good pasta with broccoli and sausages or tagliatelle with asparagus tips! Notice that I don't mention pizza: I love it, but let's face that's one of those dishes you should eat as rarely as you can: a pizza is a real calorie bomb, alas...

3. Try to cook with a minimum of fat. All recipes are systematically wrong in the amount of fat they call for. And, as I said before, if you really must have that taste of fresh butter, add it at the end. And put in half of what you usually use.

4. Eat plenty of vegetables - fruit too, but remember they're full of sugar (so more fattening than veggies). The way I balance the weekly intake of vegetables is to make a soup of pureed vegetables at least three times a week. And the soup followed by a small piece of cheese becomes a whole meal. And I do it entirely without fat, and I just use Knorr broth powder in place of salt - I personally like the taste of Knorr better (it seems more natural to me) but any other brand does nicely. Then puree whatever mix of vegetables you've decided on in your blender until creamy smooth. Try to give your soup a colour: for example, put extra carrots for a pink soup, spinach for a green one. Dont' forget onions and/or leeks for taste and remember to use at least one potato to ensure that the mix will be creamy. Also turnips are a nice addition or replacement for potatoes, making the soup lighter.

5. If you can and live in a place where organic food is available, do buy it. It know it's more expensive but there are definite benefits. First, it often noticeably tastes better, and that's a plus in itself. Also, organic fruit  and vegetables last longer on the shelf and that's a definite advantage. An organic banana can turn brown on you, and if it were a normal kind of banana you'd have to throw it away but not the organic one: if anything, it tastes better and sweeter. Amazing! Another reason why I like organic food - including organic or "bio" meat - is that I suspect that something happens when we eat the products of our modern agriculture, so full of chemicals/fertilizers to make plants grow bigger and taller and hormones to make animals fatter faster. I can't prove it, and I haven't yet found any scientific confirmation of my suspicions, but I do suspect that since "we are what we eat", the chemicals and hormones that have gone into our food have also seeped into our system, provoking an inevitable tendency to obesity. Indeed, the wave of obesity started in America, the first country to embrace modern agriculture and its fertilizers and pesticides, and it is now rushing through Europe and surely will soon invade China. The only country that has more or less resisted is Japan, no doubt for its cultural tendencies to eat fish and sushi in preference to anything else...

Basically, that's all there is to it. It's just five simple rules and not 15 tips like in the article below (a very good article btw, do read it!). They're just overall, common sense rules for healthier living - not forgetting to exercise of course, and walk, walk, walk whenever you can! But it does make for a sea change in your diet and if you stick to it, you'll see that you won't put on anymore weight, and after a while, you'll even start to shed off those extra pounds. The process is a slow one, but it (generally) works for me (except when I break down at Christmas time...) and I do hope it will work for you too!
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