A while ago I got a letter from a reader named Emily, who reported that she had joined Weight Watchers some time back, and found it especially helpful for portion control. Having watched the movie “Fat Head,” read Gary Taubes’s book “Good Calories, Bad Calories,” and read Your Health is On Your Plate, she wants to know if she can follow my recommendations and Weight Watchers at the same time. Plus, she wants to know what I eat.
Okay, here’s how I do it. First, I don’t make menus or plan meals very well. Working full time gets in the way of that. What I really do most is to follow Michael Pollan’s advice: Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much. Breakfast today was a sweet potato with a generous spoonful of peanut butter, and black tea. For lunch, I had leftover roasted chicken (with carrots, zucchini, and celery) and an apple. I had a cup of green tea in the afternoon with a piece of dark chocolate, and an orange. Dinner yesterday consisted of scrambled eggs, cucumbers, and flax-seed crackers. Friday night dinner, with 10 friends at the table, was fish chowder; a beautiful salad with red-leaf lettuce, cabbage, avocado, sesame seeds, tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers; roasted asparagus; quinoa; salmon; and fresh fruit (berries + mangoes) for dessert. We don’t eat like that every day, but we try to have a nice meal together at least twice a week.
Next, Emily wanted to know how much grain she should be eating: “Some seem to say that I shouldn’t eat grain at all, though steel-cut oats, bulgar, quinoa, or even air-popped popcorn when eaten in moderation seem OK. How many grains do you eat in a day?”
If you are struggling with this, then I recommend not actually planning to eat any grains in a day, but saving them as opportunities come up, like if you happen to stop at your friend’s house just as a loaf of homemade bread is coming out of the oven. [This doesn’t mean to make a regular habit of running errands when you know your friend is baking!] Also on special occasions, like a wedge of corn bread at your family’s weekly Sunday dinner, a slice of cake at your sister’s engagement party, or a piece of challah on Friday night. That kind of thing. Special.
There is not one right answer for how much or how often. It depends on your metabolism, your activity level, your stress levels, and what else you ate that day. As long as you doesn’t start to feel like you need bigger pants, you can feel pretty comfortable that you are making healthy choices. If your pants are getting tight, on the other hand, you may want to try reducing the amount of grain you’ve been eating.
Now, with regard to combining my recommendations with Weight Watchers, I would say that it’s a great idea. Real food, with guidance about how much for those who need it. Weight Watchers does a great job teaching portion control, but the real secret to its success is that it specifies the amount of manufactured calories you can eat. Fruits and veggies are “free” because they are real, nourishing foods filled with color, fiber, and phytonutrients. All of which adds up to the fact that this program fits very nicely with my recommendations, and you, dear reader, should feel free to post below if you’d like to share your own examples of how you’ve make them work together.
What I liked most about Emily’s comments was this: “I want to maximize the nutrients I put into my body and minimize hunger.” That is key. Improving the nutritional value of the food you eat is the key to improving your health, and your nutritional status. Because being well nourished is the best solution for hunger. How does that work?
Let’s imagine you went to the movies, ate a big bag of candy, and then went out for dinner. Totally believable scenario, right? This happens every day all over this country. But what if they sold roasted Brussels sprouts and grilled salmon at the movie theater? No one would go out for dinner! Why? Because, despite the fact that your belly is filled with 300 calories worth of sugar and gelatin, your brain knows it hasn’t been nourished yet. And it’s still hungry, and rightly so.
The key to satisfying your hunger, therefore, is to eat real food.