Want to Lose Weight? Then Eat!
A Culinary Kata that will change your approach to eating — plus 5 simple recipes
A great moment in Woody Allen’s classic 1973 film Sleeper was when the doctors overseeing the patient’s progress marveled at his request for breakfast: “wheat germ, organic honey and tiger’s milk.” Having woken up 200 years after going in for routine dental surgery, the movie’s hero played by Woody Allen himself, awakens in the future. The doctors chuckled at the silly beliefs of the past civilization.
“What? You mean, there was no deep fat…or steak or cream pies? No hot fudge?” The doctor asks her colleague incredulously.
It is estimated that 45 million Americans go on diets each year and spend $33 billion trying to lose weight. This is utter madness if you ask me. Staying relatively thin requires dedication to your kitchen, to the process of preparing food and there is no reason that this dedication can’t be delicious. Losing weight is not easy once it has been piled on. Bad habits form. We become not only more sedentary but also in the way we eat — and oh-so often overeat — and with every passing day the unneeded girth becomes more petrified, determined to become as much a part of us as our smile.
Follow the advice below, mix it up with regular exercise — at least try to walk a lot more — and I feel confident that you will see some positive body changes. And so without further ado: Eat. Just eat.
The Rules are Simple
Rule #1: Don’t skip meals. Feeling famished will only open you up to making mistakes later in the day by either consuming some massive, unhealthy snack to appease the brain’s demand for filling really only a psychological need as opposed to a physiological one; or, it will make you more susceptible to overeating at the next meal. Also, (please) eat nothing deep-fried or in fried breading. This simply explodes my brains because so many healthy foods are ruined when embedded in a layer of really-tasty but terrible-for-you breading. Also, go easy on the bread and salted snacks like potato chips, etc.
Rule #2: Physically prepare as many of your meals as you possibly can — meaning cut, chop, pound, massage, salt, pepper and just make your meal. Eating store-bought prepared meals is not the best route to go for losing weight. Drinking powders and taking other odd supplements gets boring — and besides, those things just aren’t natural for us.
In the ideal “eat and lose weight” world, your cutting board will be worn down from use and the sound of a knife scraping against it should be as well-known to you as the sound of your mother’s voice. The notion that people don’t have time to prepare meals is, in my opinion, utter nonsense. We chose to do what we do — or don’t do.
Rule #3: Understand calories. Know what crosses the threshold of your mouth. You’d be surprised at how many calories are in some foods. The more knowledge we have, the better choices we can make. Big Fast-Food was (is) against showing calorie counts on menus. They know that if people were better able to manipulate the knowledge of how many calories the typical meal added up to, then they would eat less and as a result profits would decrease.
Rule #4: Control thine portions. The easiest way to let those calorie counts creep up is to not fully understand portion sizes. All you need is your hand and you can usually estimate the proper amount of food — ideally a kitchen scale should be acquired but the hand will do. Obviously, this is only one part of the battle, you also need to have a basic understanding of calories (see Rule #3) and how they add up over the course of a day — and how you can burn them, also, during the day. Burn some and give yourself a reward like eating an extra plum or even a scoop of ice cream.
The Kata of Cooking
Kata is a Japanese word meaning “form.” It refers to detailed choreographed patterns of movements martial arts practitioners use. The movements are practiced over and over in order to development muscle memory. The goal of developing this memory is so that without thinking, the practiced movements are realized, automated.
The more you prepare your meals, the more you cut up vegetables and feel the food you eat, the better the sense you get for what is healthy; what is lower in calories and the more easily you will be able to control your portions. Don’t be lazy, don’t ever think it’s too much trouble to slice up a tomato for a salad — the more you do this stuff, the more automatic it becomes, the easier it is to eat well.
Time to Eat, Time to Enjoy: 5 Quick and Easy Recipes
The following recipes have been pulled together from my culinary explorations over many years of “chopping and eating.” I am not going to get into the exact calorie counts for one simple reason — do it yourself! By doing it yourself, the answer to the mystery, “this is so good, I wonder how many calories are in this?” can be learned; and, most importantly you can establish your own method for assessing calories — it’s not rocket science, my fellow food-lovers.
Finally, these recipes don’t shoot for the moon in terms of ultra-off-the-wall molecular or crazy creativity. They can be made with things you will find in any supermarket anywhere. There is nothing more pretentious then when a recipe-creator tells us to pop down and pick up some “virgin lamb’s milk” — a physical impossibility — or “Brazilian wild turtle aspic” and then they write, “but if you don’t have those things, then some standard light cream or butter will suffice.” (Well than just say that, okay?)
Recipe #1: Spaghetti (choose your favorite — Bucatini for me) with Pesto sauce and Ricotta.
A very simple to make dish requiring pretty much only the time you need to boil the water and make the pasta. This is such a fast meal to make that I never put a lid on the pot of water thereby slowing down the process which affords me extra time to enjoy a glass of wine and some olives.
- Fill: a medium sized pot (a massive pot of water filled to the top is not necessary — small steps at cutting down on energy use help the earth), salt and turn on. When boiling, add the pasta and follow cooking time instructions. I always shoot for al dente — remember, turning it off and leaving it the water still cooks the pasta, and very quickly overcooks it.
- Open: the jar of your favorite pesto or whatever you find in your local shop.
- Pour: some olive oil into a pan, chop up some green onions and heat slowly on a low-to-medium heat — don’t salt. The lower heat pulls the flavor out more efficiently, in my opinion. When you smell the onions in the air, you are ready to add the next ingredient. Smell, see, taste if necessary — be in the moment. If you like spicy, add some chili peppers. Toss in with green onions.
- Strain: the cooked pasta into the same pot so you can capture that wonderful, starchy water needed for adding some creaminess to the dish. Fill your favorite pasta bowl— don’t overfill it, see “Portion Photo above.” Pour some of that pasta-water over it. Mix. Now place this into the frying pan and start to apply the pesto. Mix everything up thoroughly so that the pesto, olive olive oil, green onions and chili are all hugging the strands of pasta. This will be a creamier dish because of the water. You can opt not to use the pasta-water if you want a drier result.
- Add: a tablespoon of ricotta cheese to the pasta and mix thoroughly. The ricotta will absorb some of the moisture. If it is too dry add a bit more pesto sauce or olive oil.
- Pepper: with black pepper and add grated cheese of choice. Where I live, I don’t have access to pecorino cheese but that would be the ideal one. The harder the cheese, the better. You don’t want a macaroni-and-cheese effect.
- Wine: If you drink, pour out an ice cold, crisp white wine, preferably not sweet, and enjoy.
- If you like: Sometimes, I add to the green onions and hot peppers chicken breast — just enough to add some extra protein and chewiness to my pasta. Also, drop some fresh broccoli into the pot the pasta is cooking when a minute is left and this will perfectly cook it.
Golden Rule: the more you add in terms of meat and veggies, the less pasta you need to eat. Pasta and meat combinations, when served together, are explosive in terms of filling the hungry belly. This rule applies to the remaining four recipes.
Recipe #2: Chicken drumsticks, roasted with vegetables of choice
This is a wonderful, inexpensive, healthy and very easy to prepare meal. There are so many variations of it and really anything you find in your local store or kitchen can be used. The recipe below is an example of how you can play around with this to make many variations of pretty much of the same thing. If preparing this dish for yourself, make three legs; make six so you can eat them the next day for lunch or dinner — two or three drumsticks is the norm I use here for a serving size.
- Room Temperature: Put the the chicken legs on a plate and set them on the counter for one hour before cooking, but less time is no biggie.
- Rinse off: Then put them in the dish you plan to use for roasting the chicken legs. Remove the skin. Salt, pepper, and cover generously with oil olive — add any other spices you might have: basil and rosemary for Italian, lemon or lime juice for a Caribbean; ginger and soy sauce (or sesame oil) for an Asian taste. Really, this dish can become any “country” in the world with a little imagination. You will also need to set a medium-sized bowl of water aside with salt and some oil for basting-purposes later.
- Preheat: the oven for 20–30 at 220 degrees Celsius (425 Fahrenheit).
- Prepare: your vegetables you plan to use for the oven. I am going to suggest some mix of fresh beets, potatoes and pumpkin for this meal. Whatever combination of spices you chose above, soak your vegetables in this mixture and add olive oil.
- Oven: Put the chicken in the oven. If plan on roasting potatoes then put them in now also as they take more time to cook. After about 30 minutes, check the chicken; pour some of the “basting water” over it; put the rest of the vegetables in.
- Time: After an hour, check the legs to avoid drying them out. As I am not a fan of barely cooked chicken, I like my legs fully cooked which usually takes about 80 and 90 minutes. All ovens differ, however.
Chicken legs versus chicken breast: In the US, many Americans have lost any interest in actually TASTING food — this is my opinion based on observation. Salt and other processed flavors based on salt and sugar so dominate the American palette that if a flavor dares stray from this salt-sugar foundation, it quickly becomes one of those “ewww” moments. People have lost the ability to taste what’s real and so want to taste what they expect, what their brains are used used to (and in some cases, addicted to).
I love chicken breast for many dishes — the first recipe here is often enlivened with a few thin strips of it. For this recipe, however, the drumstick works best. They better handle the heat, soak up the oils and spices efficiently and the meat itself seems to be much tastier. MOST IMPORTANTLY, the skinless legs have a limited amount of “edible-surface” and so its real easy to limit your calories with this dish. Three legs with no skin comes to less than 300 calories!
Recipe #3: Lemon chicken with capers and green onion
Chicken again (can be substituted with a nice, middle of the road white fish like Haddock or Cod. This time, however, we are going to use our trusty friend the chicken breast. It is ideal for this dish because after about 30–40 minutes of simmering on low heat, energized with the occasional spritz of fresh lemon juice, the meat becomes marshmellowy-soft and fully imbued with the lemon and green onions. The marinated capers add a pleasant sharpness. This is a very light dish and can be accompanied with either a nice piece of freshly-baked focaccia, potatoes or with a plate of linguine.
- Cut: Make sure the chicken breasts are cut thinly, at about the thickness of half a finger. The size of the cutlet can be the full length of your hand — covering the palm and extending to the end of the fingertips. Set it on a plate. I don’t salt here.
- Heat: Slowly heat up some olive oil on medium to high heat. Drop the cutlets in a pan and after a few minutes turn them over. When the cutlets are fully white with no raw spots, turn the heat down to low-medium and add a bit of water.
- Spices: Add a little salt and then pepper as much as you like — black pepper is a secret weapon in all recipes in my opinion. Add a bit more water. Chop up a few stalks of green onions or however much you like — with this dish you can’t have enough of it — and sprinkle, covering the chicken fully. Put a lid on for about 20 minutes. Checking and adding water as needed.
- Squeeze: the juice of half a lemon over the chicken, toss in a handful of the capers and drop heat fully to low, turning the chicken from time to time. Over the course of the next 20 minutes or so, slowly add the juice of the remaining lemon half.
- Time: After 40 minutes turn off and let cool. When cooled sufficiently enough, lightly sprinkle in some flour and stir; sprinkle in some more and stir. Keep this up until the excess fluids have been absorbed by the flour forming a gel-like sauce that covers the chicken and green onions.
- Re-heat: Slowly reheat until hot again. Add a few more spritzes of lemon juice if too dry. If serving with potatoes or pasta, you can remove the chicken and stir your “starch”of choice around in the sauce, covering it thoroughly.
Recipe #4: Pan-Asian Soup
Soup is truly the king when seeking to fill an empty belly and also to keep calories in check. The reason I am suggesting an Asian soup here is because with a nice American-European style soup, you always want an big hunk of fresh bread. In Asia, they don’t eat bread. Sure you can find it some shops but they just don’t “do” bread, it’s not a staple like it is here. Bread is loaded with calories. If you want to enjoy some bread with a meal, make this your starch — cut out the pasta and potatoes.
- Broth: The key to any good Asian soup is the broth. Fill a pot with some water and turn on the heat. Chop up some — yes, green onions, I love them and their flavor is so much subtler than onions — fresh ginger, fresh garlic and the magic bullet for Asian soups: two or three drops of sesame oil. Sesame oil is VERY strong so be careful. Add some black pepper and again, if you like spicy then toss in a freshly-chopped chili. Bring to a boil and then lower heat to low and let it simmer for a bit.
- Chop and Cut: Vegetables are key to making this soup awesome so whatever you many have in your refrigerator or shop, cut them up and get them ready. I love to use broccoli (cut), fresh leeks (chop) and bok choy (cut) if you can find it. You can also add slices of fresh ginger so that they float on the top and don’t get fully cooked. Cauliflower can also work as well as really any vegetable except tomatoes and eggplant — just don’t work here. Do not put the cut-up vegetables in yet.
- Noodle it: Turn up the heat a bit and bring the broth to a slow, rolling boil. Now drop in a proper amount of noodles — see above. You can use rice noodles here or any Asian noodles. I don’t really like Japanese soba for this but ramen noodles work wonderfully. Cook the noodles as per the instructions on the package.
- Bowl it: In a large bowl from which you will eat, put in your chopped-up vegetables and pour some of the broth over them. Wait a few minutes. The broth will cook them ever so slightly removing the “rawness” but keeping them still nice and crunchy. Now add you noodles and cover everything with the broth. Best eaten with chopsticks and a spoon.
Recipe #5: Sweet Pepper in tomato sauce with “sausage” of choice (great for vegan/non-meat sausages)
This is another great recipe that requires very little preparation and is really quite inexpensive. Honestly, all you need are some sausages — any type of meat or non-meat sausages will do — -bell peppers and tomato paste. I prefer to buy different colored peppers just to make the meal more colorful — red, green, orange or yellow ones work great. Any kind of spicy pepper also works in this dish. If you need to make for four or more people, you can use all four different colors. Sometime, I add fresh celery so if you like it, give it a try.
- Pour: Open the tomato paste and pour out the whole container into a pot — usually around 500 ml. If more than two people, then double this. I prefer to use the tomato paste made from the strained tomatoes like Pomi which tend to be more liquid. I don’t like working with the thick, gooey pastes that requiring adding water. Place on medium heat. Prepare another medium-sized pot for the rice (follow the directions for the rice).
- Season: Salt to taste. Pepper and add any fresh herbs you might have like basil or parsley. If nothing fresh, then the dried “Italian herbs” work great.
- Chop: Prepare the peppers by slicing into a fork-sized chunks. Let the sauce come to a slow boil, lower the heat and toss in the peppers. Add a tablespoon of olive oil and a little more salt and pepper. Turn heat on under the pot for rice.
- Sausage: As this slowly simmers, cut the sausages into threes — I usually make one full sausage per person. Lightly saute the sausage in a little olive oil until it seems to be cooked all the way through. When finished, pour the sausage and this oil into the simmering sauce.
- Stir: Lower the heat and keep an eye on the sauce. The longer it cooks, the more flavor from the peppers leaks into the sauce, sweetening it a bit. 30–40 minutes at a low simmer is sufficient (set a timer for every 10 minutes and go about your business).
- Rice: Keep simmering on low heat until the rice is finished. Pour the sauce over the rice and enjoy — don’t forget about portion control. To make like a thick soup, add more sauce.
These recipes are inexpensive, easy to make, delicious and permit for you to substitute in — and out — whatever your tastes demand. Once you begin making these dishes, and learn to strategize how you can makes things differently (personalizing the recipes to our tastes), a hurdle many can’t overcome will have been leaped. The fear of food, and an odd notion that every recipe has to be written down in stone and followed to the most minute detail, often paralyzes people. With my recipes, this is not the case — do whatever you want because you are the one who is going to eat it.
When you do begin to experiment, you will sometimes make mistakes and sometimes your food will be anything but delicious. Don’t worry, this happens to everyone. Keep a small notebook in the kitchen and write down each step when making a dish. The more context you can create for the food you prepare, the easier it will be to see what works and what doesn’t.
As for these 5 recipes — they all work! Don’t believe me, try one tonight — try one right now.
Enjoy and eat your way to weight loss.