Saturday, February 14, 2009

Down with Choice

In "The Ordeal of Fats Goldberg," food writer Calvin Trillin tells the story of his friend the pizzaria owner Larry Goldberg who, although he has weighed 160 pounds for 14 years, sees himself as "a man who is constantly in danger of weighing 320."

Sounds familiar.

I read this piece many years ago, and Fats' method of losing the weight and keeping it off made a big impression on me, but I didn't act on it until a year ago (and even when I did act on it, it was sort of unconsciously).

See, Fats maintains his 160-pound weight-loss by eating an extremely limited diet. In fact, he eats the same thing every single day of his life. Except that for one week a year, Fats, who lives in New York, flies to his hometown of Kansas City and indulges in a bacchanalia of feasting that leads him to gain up to 20 pounds. But once he's back in NYC, he's back to his non-varied diet and he loses the weight again.

In a delightfully Trillinesque manner, Trillin explains it like this: "Underlying the Fats Goldberg system of weight control is more or less the same philosophy that led to the great Russian purge trials of the thirties--deviation is treason.

See, if you struggle with your weight, I believe the advice to "eat a varied diet" is a lie. Except when it comes to vegetables, eating a varied diet is only going to make you gain weight. If you have all the choices in the world (or a lot of choices in your cabinets), you're naturally going to try to experience as many different tastes as possible. If there are three kinds of cookies on the buffet table, aren't you going to want to try one of all three kinds instead of eating two of just one kind? On the other hand, maybe that's the difference between fat and thin folks. Maybe it's people like me who fall victim to the wide range of choices we find in the supermarket, in restaurants, nearly everywhere we look, while others have an easier time just saying no.

I don't eat the same exact thing every day, but I don't have a lot of variety in what I eat at home. The key for me was choosing a few dishes that I genuinely like and eating them over and over. Except for vegetables, which I eat as much of as I want, I strive for portion control and change up the foods every couple of months (when I was employed I was on a taco streak and ate two tacos for lunch every single day).

My grocery list for myself (my daughter, of course, eats a wider range of foods) can be written on a postage stamp. My refrigerator is hilariously barren. I buy the same things over and over again. Eggs. Whole wheat tortillas. Frozen chicken breasts. Skim Milk. Whey Powder. Steel-Cut Oats. Baby Loaf of Tillamook Cheddar. Broccoli/Spinach/Cauliflower/Asparagus. Nuts. (But not peanut butter anymore. Sigh.) Nonfat Yogurt.

Still, because I've chosen foods I actually enjoy eating (scrambled eggs in a whole wheat tortilla, steel-cut oats with Indian spices, yogurt with a bit of honey for dessert, it doesn't feel like I'm too deprived. And instead of flying to Kansas City for a weeklong binge, I generally have a day once a week or so when I get pretty crazy.

As always, your mileage may vary.

1 comment:

coriander said...

I could eat steel cut oats, spinach, hot peppers and tumeric for breakfast until the cows come home. Now I just need to find a lunch and dinner that I enjoy as much.