Spent the month of February 2016 on “The Fast Metabolism Diet.” Lost some weight. It wasn’t fun. But it was also sort of interesting.
Going on a diet of any kind was a radical idea for me. Until a few years ago, I’d been lucky enough – and/or active enough and/or sufficiently indifferent to most fattening foods – to avoid becoming concerned about my weight (or my waistline). Ever since, a few years back, I abandoned a decade or so of semi-vegetarianism, I knew I’d become increasingly casual in how I “decided” what or how much to eat. And I had become completely comfortable with my now-ingrained habit of eating many of my meals in restaurants.
Last summer (fall?) I noticed that I’d been gradually putting on more weight since I retired from my thirty-year librarian career three years ago. I definitely weighed more than I preferred to (and more than is optimal for someone my age and height), and I realized I was now getting considerably less exercise than when I’d been working. Still, I had no plans for changing any of my grocery-buying, food-fixing, eating, or exercise habits.
Last fall my friend Randall mentioned a month-long diet that a colleague of his had used to lose 20 pounds in a single month. It was called “The Fast Metabolism Diet.” Randall was impressed with his colleague’s accomplishment, had bought the book that describes the diet, and he loaned the book to me.
Although the numerous strictures of this diet seemed rather intimidating, its underlying premise seemed plausible. As I understand it, the idea is to deliberately disrupt your internal digestion-related organs (specifically your liver, adrenal glands, and your pancreas) from the dysfunctional ways we have trained them to behave to process the crappy food and “food-like products” Americans habitually ingest.
After reading the book and taking a deep breath, I told Randall that I’d be willing to join him for our own month-long attempt to follow this diet. At that point the year-end holidays were just around the corner, so we decided to postpone our experiment to the month of February 2016 – well past the fattening food-intensive rituals of the year-end holidays.
Although I remained determined to follow through on the planned experiment, by the time February rolled around, I had become increasingly uneasy about being able to stay the course. For one thing, among the features of this diet was a long list of completely forbidden foodstuffs: no wheat, no corn, no dairy, no soy, no sugar or artificial sweeteners, no caffeine, no alcohol, no dried fruit or fruit juices, no “fat-free” diet foods. None, zero, nada for such a long list of American staples! And not just for a day or two, but for an entire month!
Among numerous requirements for the diet: you had to eat five times per day (vs. the two I usually ate); you had to eat an actual breakfast (vs. my usual tea and sugar-laded dry waffle) – and do that within 30 minutes of waking up (vs. my habit of logging onto my computer first thing every morning); you had to drink lots of water – half your weight, in ounces, every day (other beverages didn’t count toward that total); you had to eat differently on different days of the week; and almost all the suggested recipes involved ingredients foods I rarely ate – and a few I had never even heard of (“coconut aminos,” anyone?).
The main reason I was so worried about undertaking the diet was the fact that I know what a creature of habit I am. I also know my lifelong history of being relatively indifferent to the types of food I choose, how often I eat, etc. (well, with the exception of that semi-vegetarian episode).
The upside of the approaching onset of the diet was my being intrigued with what positive effects – physical and psychological – might result from radically departing from my rather haphazard, convenience-based eating habits. Plus I knew I’d have Randall’s support in commiserating with whatever difficulties I might encounter in staying on the diet, locating the to-me rather exotic ingredients for some of the suggested meal recipes, etc. I figured the very worst that could happen is that I might be miserable, food-wise, for a month, but that we’d both come out of February weighing less than we did going into it.
Reader, February was even more difficult as I’d imagined.
What I Noticed
- Dieting is a great way to slow down time. What is objectively, even in a leap year, the shortest month, seemed to be interminable! I thought February would never end.
- There is no perfect month to go on a diet. We’d selected February because it February falls well beyond the year-end holiday debaucheries. But I ended up visiting friends in Florida only a few days after starting the diet, and as that visit included the usual round of socializing (including non-stop grazing) as well as a birthday celebration (i.e., cake), I came off the diet for four days only a few days after having started it. Then there were the three times other than the Florida trip when social occasions involved meeting friends at restaurants whose menus were decidedly not based on The Fast Metabolism Diet.
- Dieters spend lots of time and money in grocery stores. My grocery runs are usually fairly quick affairs, since I’ve memorized where everything is in my local grocery and since I generally buy the same stuff over and over. I really had to search out some of the stuff required by the diet. The good news is that my grocery store did carry everything I ended up using on the diet book’s shopping list. Mainly because I decided early on to minimize the variety of recipes I used. The bad news is that I spent far more money on groceries in February than I am used to spending. (On the other hand, I spent less in restaurants.)
- Dieters spend inordinate amounts of time in the kitchen. The number of minutes devoted to food prep, dishwashing, and putting away the cleaned and dried dishes was astounding! I certainly developed a lot of sympathy for the mothers and fathers of the world who are confronted with producing three meals for themselves and their kids every day, or, rather, the mothers and fathers who try to keep variety in what they come up with, week end and week out. (Note to self: thank thy mother for those many years of such attempts.)
- Dieting is a way to quickly learn how much mindless snacking many of us fortunate (and heavily-advertised-to) Americans engage in. I grew up in one of those rare middle-class American families where snacking was not typical, and that carried over in my adulthood all the way into my pre-retirement era. But in the past three years (since retiring), I have gradually slipped into the habit of keeping around all sorts of chocolates, Fritos, cookies, etc. And I do not reserve them for guests who come to tea! (Luckily, I never got into the habit of swilling carbonated/sugar-saturated soft drinks, but Calvin definitely prefers not only sugar with his guestless daily tea, but cream as well.)
- I suffered no noticeable sugar or caffeine or chocolate withdrawal symptoms. At first – and only at first – I did sorely miss my morning ritual cup of hot-tea-with-cream, but I think I missed the ritual – and having to get used to preparing an actual breakfast – more than I missed the beverage itself. I was more annoyed with having to invent something to replace the candy dish full of M&Ms to snack on than I missed the chocolate itself.
- Dieters spend time feeling a bit hungrier more often than they’d like to. No matter how many apples or pears (with or without almond butter) that I snacked on, I often felt a bit peckish. Which is to say that, for a month anyway, I resisted the urges to in snarf down whatever was handy whenever I felt hungry. (Which, in my house, usually meant something salty or sweet. Eating fruit as a snack was a huge departure for me. Blueberries ended up being my snack o’ choice.)
- You will probably fail to drink as much water as some diets require you to. I never managed even half of the 100 ounces of water I was supposed to drink each day. Putting cucumbers in my water pitcher was the only way I managed even 50 ounces – and that was on a good day.
Luckily, there were also a few pleasant surprises resulting from the Great Dieting Experiment
- I discovered how satisfying cucumber-flavored water can be. My pre-diet beverage-of-choice was the pre-bottled sugar-loaded lemonade Kroger sells. I do love that stuff, but I no longer will need to feel it’s something I must definitely keep on hand.
- I discovered how amazingly satisfying and tasty gnawing on carrots – or eating a clementine – can be. I’m not planning to leave off buying Fritos altogether, but I can certainly include those bite-sized (and not necessarily orange) carrots to the snack repertoire.
- If you’re lucky enough to find the right variety of apples, you might cease to loath and even come to enjoy, eating apples. (The brand to buy is “Jazz Apples.”)
- Turkey bacon isn’t as boring as I’d thought it would be.
- Dieting might result in your stumbling across a really yummy new recipe to add to your cooking repertoire. For me, that happened with red cabbage soup. I made four batches (!) of this in my crockpot, and am still so happy with it that I feel compelled to include herewith the (so simple!) recipe:
RED CABBAGE SOUP WITH CHICKEN SAUSAGE
- ¼ to 1/3 head of red cabbage, diced
- 1 can diced tomatoes
- ½ onion, diced
- 1 box of frozen chicken sausage, warmed for five minutes in skillet and hacked into bite-size chunks
- 2 cups chicken (or vegetable) broth (I use Better-than-Bullion brand)
- 3 dollops/tablespoons of rice wine vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
Dump all the ingredients into a crockpot and cook on High for 3 hours. Makes about five or six bowls.
According to the scales my friend Kris loaned me for the duration of the diet, I lost 14 pounds between February 1st and this morning (March 7th). My dieting wasn’t consistent (because of my trip to Florida and those couple of restaurant meals in February), and I did not, as the diet requires, follow the instructions strictly or appreciably increase my aerobic exercising. (A very short daily walk and tai chi routine ar the only exercise I regularly do, and neither the walking or the tai chi is aerobic.) My friend Randall, who followed the diet more strictly, lost over 20 pounds. So, yay!
While relieved to be free again of the strictures – and the radically different behavior patterns required by – the Fast Metabolism Diet, I expect that, at least for a while:
- I’ll be more mindful about what and how I eat. Maybe fewer carbohydrates?
- I am continuing to eat breakfast every morning – a radical departure from many decades of skipping it.
- I’ll probably continue buying and eating more fresh grapefruti, mor pineapple, more blueberries, and more turkey bacon than I used to.
- Fewer sugary snacks is a post-dieting habit I hope to continue, although, given how delectable eating my first post-diet hunk of non-sprouted bread was, I doubt that I am going to be eating appreciably less bread (or butter). I may – or may not – be able to cut down on the amount of cheese I eat (which was zero for the month of February).
- I’m hoping the warmer weather will result in my automatically spending more time moving around in the garden. Maybe I will choose to use my bicycle instead of my scooter to do at least a few of my errands?
Finally, although the insights into my eating habits that I gained – and the weight I lost – was gratifying, this particular diet is, for me, far too rigorous and attention-requiring for me to resort to it again.
For me and my personality, the key to eventually achieving and maintaining my ideal weight (and/or waistline measurement) is probably that old and trusted friend of mine, moderation. The older and less active I become, the more moderate I’m apparently going to need to be, food- and exercise-wise.
And that’s not a bad thing.