It probably shouldn't have come as a shock. Years of decadent restaurant food, augmented by equally rich foods at home, had packed on a few extra pounds, but the visit with my doctor still caught me off-guard. Elevated blood sugar and triglycerides high enough to qualify my blood as a buttery spread told the tale. Some sort of lifestyle change was needed, and fast.
But how would I go about it? I wasn't sure I was willing to dispense with every food and drink I enjoy, and the thought of relegating myself to a life of brown rice and steamed vegetables just didn't sound appealing. Reading about special diets left me with an impression of oversold promises and glossed-over side effects. Sure, the South Beach or Mediterranean diets sound good today, but how many failed Atkins friends do you have? Perhaps you recall the pasta diets of the '80s. How'd those work out? Yeah, not so good. There has got to be a better way.
What caught my eye was a British study that claimed a diabetes diagnosis had been reversed on a small group of people who made changes only to their diet. Followed under close physician supervision, the fat-free diet relied mainly on non-starchy vegetables and fewer than 600 calories a day for two months. (My regular daily calorie intake should be around 2,100.) OK, that seemed pretty unworkable, but it gave me an idea. A low-fat, vegan-style diet might work, especially for a limited duration. Six weeks looked to be a reasonable amount of time. Right after the winter holidays, when I'm at my most bloated, seemed like the perfect target date to begin. Now, I had to get a few things off my plate. First, no booze (a tough one for me, the mere mention of this gave my friends horrified expressions as they contemplated the consequences). Second, no meat, fish or poultry. Third, no dairy (shudder). Last, hold off on carbs for as long as possible and then consume very limited amounts. I did run all this by my doctor. He approved of the plan and didn't think I needed any monitoring. Your physician and situation may require a different answer. So, what was I going to eat for these six weeks? Vegetables, lots of vegetables. Fruits and berries. Lentils and beans sounded good. Perhaps some tofu. Nuts for snacks and iced tea to drink. Quantities? With the exception of the nuts, everything would be low calorie enough to eat my fill, especially if I only used limited amounts of olive oil for cooking. I didn't want to be hungry and spark cravings for things that were off the menu. Sure, that all sounds simple enough, but when faced with actually making meals, it became a little more problematic. A bowl of fruit for breakfast is easy, but what to do for lunch or, especially, dinner when everyone else in the house, including two young boys, is going to be eating as well? Salads were the first choice for lunch, but you can only eat lettuce so many times before it gets dull, especially when you're eschewing dressing. Limiting oils and sugar ruled out most store-bought varieties. In the end, after much experimentation, I went with two basic dressings. I tossed lettuce-based salads with soy sauce and about a half teaspoon of toasted sesame oil. When I wanted something more substantial, say a bean salad, I would toss in lemon juice and wine vinegar. After a couple of failures, the cold bean salad became a favorite in our house. Dinners, it being winter, became slow-simmered affairs from the pot. Hitting the Indian spice section of Penzeys sparked numerous cooking ideas. Take one of their spice mixes, simmer with lentils, onions and garlic until soft, then toss in roasted squash or cauliflower, and dinner is ready. Sadly, my six-week plan got cut short. In late January, I was called to serve on a jury for a murder trial, a situation that was not conducive to sticking to a diet. On the bright side, I feel great and I dropped 15 pounds in four weeks. Now, the only remaining question is, will my doctor be happy on my return in June? Stay tuned and I'll let you know.