Saturday, December 9, 2017

[Quasi-] South Beach Diet for Morons


This isn’t actually a post for morons. I thought the title would be funny, and “[Learnable Skill] for Dummies” is copyrighted. This is a shortcut to reading The South Beach Diet, and also a memoir of my weight loss efforts, but mainly a humor piece (because struggling with one’s weight is always funny, right?). Do not come here for an accurate, responsible distillation of the actual South Beach approach (which would be plagiarism and copyright infringement anyway). Call it Sloth Bleach Pseudo-Dieting(-ish). Okay?

Eight years ago in these pages, I wrote about “secondhand dieting”—whereby you end up on your spouse’s diet because he or she is doing the cooking. My goal when I wrote that was to get off the South Beach diet because I was actually perfectly happy with my weight. Well, fast-forward to last July and you’ll see, here, that as middle age has descended upon me, I am no longer happy with my weight—or, more specifically, with my belly. Toward the end of my “Ode on a Belly – Mine” post I declared my intention to do South Beach(-ish) for real, and to blog about the results. Well, here you go.

The good

The good news is, Sloth Bleach really works! When I started it, after my nephew’s wedding (and associated festivities) in late June, I weighed a whopping 193 pounds. I began recording everything I ate, and began eating very carefully, and a month later—just in time for an epic bike ride with my friends —I had lost 12 pounds and was down to 181. Success! I got down to 175 by the beginning of September and held this until the second week of October.

So, yeah … that’s the good news.

The bad

The bad news is, South Beach isn’t really a diet. If it were, it wouldn’t work, because diets never do. Why not? Because they can’t. It’s absurd to think that you could temporarily change your behavior and enjoy permanent benefits.

Let’s look at the logic, or lack thereof, that the dieting concept implies: 
  • Premise: I weigh x because for years I have eaten y calories a day, which is z more calories than I need (hence the weight gain that has motivated me to diet).
  • Premise: If I eat, say, 0.7y instead of y, I will turn z into a negative number—that is, I will be consuming fewer calories than I need—thus my body will burn a bunch of fat and I will lose weight.
  • Premise: Once I have achieved the lower weight that I desired, I can go back to eating y calories a day, which will still be z calories more than I need, and yet I somehow won’t gain back any weight.
  • Conclusion: I am a moron.
Look, if you’re eating the way you always have, and yet you’re gaining weight, something has changed. Perhaps you’re not as active. Perhaps this is just part of getting old. Perhaps it only seems like you’re eating the way you always have, but you’re actually fighting the tribulations of middle age, parenting, and/or the working grind by self-medicating with extra booze, extra butter, or extra sloth. Whatever the case, it is impossible to implement a short-term fix to lose the weight (i.e., go on a diet and expect lasting success).

South Beach is not a diet, it’s an approach. It’s a permanent change in the style of eating that you do, that will yield permanent weight loss results if and only if you stick with it for the rest of your life—which notion is, I’ll admit, depressing as hell. But then, so is ongoing weight gain.

In case you’re hoping these caveats are theoretical, they’re not. I fell off the South Beach wagon because I started taking trips to my hometown to take care of my ailing father, then to help with his hospice, and then to spread his ashes. In order to cope, I ate breathtaking amounts of food, Beck’sted copiously, and allowed myself to eschew exercise entirely. The result is that I gained back half the weight I’d lost through South Beach.

(What do I mean by breathtaking amounts of food? Well, for one thing, my brothers and I would eat indulgent meals out such as all-u-can-eat pasta, and for another, we tended—almost without fail—to eat a pint of ice cream apiece, every night. Or to be precise, four quarter-pints.)

So, yeah—my South Beach effort had yielded weight loss results only while I stuck with it. Recently I found myself back up to the mid-180s. Something had to be done, so I resolved recently to sign up for the San Bruno Mountain Hill Climb bike race on January 1, to force me to adopt South Beach again. (Fear of disgrace is a great motivator.)

By the way, you may be aware that for years I’ve professed that the real key to staying skinny is to be a long-distance cyclist. I still hold this to be true, but with two caveats: 1) I can’t exactly advocate that for the lay reader because it takes a lot of time and it’s best to start young, and 2) I myself, despite gobs of muscle memory, don’t have the time and/or opportunity for that anymore.

The ugly

I’ll bet you’re expecting me to say being overweight is ugly. Well, I won’t. It’s being old that’s ugly. No it’s not—I’m just playing with you. This whole thing isn’t about looks. It’s about health. Being healthy and fit happens to look better than being unhealthy and overweight, but that’s incidental. I used the heading “The ugly” above simply because The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. I mean, duh!

The buddy system

It’s easier to change your behavior—especially in a way that involves reducing creature comforts—when you have a buddy along. Here’s how the logic of that works. 
  • Premise: Misery loves company.
  • Premise: I love misery (obviously).
  • Conclusion: I love company. (This is according to the Transitive Law, I believe.)
The argument isn’t perfect, because eating the South Beach way isn’t a miserable experience, exactly, but I doubt anybody would deny that having friends involved in your effort will help.

My wife, supportive as ever, agreed to do South Beach(-ish) with me. So did my brother Bryan, who isn’t doing an all-uphill bike race on January 1 but wants to lose weight anyway. This is only partly because I made fun of his belly when we were in Boulder together. “OMG,” you’re thinking, “you actually made fun of somebody because of his weight? What kind of monster are you?” The answer is, a sibling. Bryan made fun of my weight too, decades ago (when, at age 6 or 8, I had an oddly big belly). The chickens have come home to roost! But again, that’s only part of it. Bryan wants to be heathier, and we’re talking about doing a grueling 108-mile bike race, over giant Alpine passes, in a summer or two, so he appreciates my encouragement (even when it takes the form of taunts and jeers).

Where South Beach is concerned, the buddy system consists of sharing snippets of your daily journal, where you record not only what you eat but what you weigh each morning. So it’s not just a matter of providing encouragement, but also holding one another (and yourself) accountable. If a little bit of rivalry finds its way in there, well so be it. After all, that can be motivational, too.

In the case of my brother, the buddy system also means explaining how South Beach works—i.e., what you can and cannot eat. In case you’re intrigued by this miracle weight loss plan (which phrase I use here quite deliberately, to help Google direct people to this blog), I’m going to share my quickie, just-the-gist South Beach(-ish) wisdom with you as well.

How this thing works

South Beach is divided into phases. During Phase 1, you can’t have any fun at all—no bread, no pasta, and in fact no starches at all really, just lots of veggies and maybe some really unappealing whole grains like quinoa or something. The point is to get some immediate results, so as to motivate yourself. (Full disclosure: I don’t have the chutzpah to do Phase 1. If you think you do, maybe you should get the actual South Beach book.)

After a couple weeks on Phase 1, the plan goes, you move to Phase 2, which lets you have a few indulgences, but is still fairly austere. You do that for—what, a couple more weeks?—and then move to the third, final, permanent phase, which is—you guessed it!—phase 3. (Wow, you’re a quick study!) This final phase lasts either forever, or until your resolve flags.

More important than these phases is the emphasis on filling up on veggies instead of starches. The principle, as I understand it, is simple: we didn’t evolve to eat refined stuff like flour and sugar. That stuff is too calorically dense for us, especially since we’re not doing much physical labor anymore. (If this sounds like the Paleo diet, that’s a coincidence, since I know essentially nothing about it except that it’s probably annoying.)

Long story short, you essentially need to serve up all kinds of bulky, low-caloric, simple foods like vegetables, and fill your gaping gut with those instead of the tasty stuff. By “tasty” I mean “foodstuffs that have been manipulated to be more tasty.” (Obviously if we’re talking about all things that taste good, we should include fruit, vegetables, and other naturally tasty things, but the fact is, most people have forever thrown those over for highly manipulated crap like sugary cereal, “chicken” McNuggets, pasta, pizza, fries, etc. and I’m not going to pretend otherwise.)

So South Beach is way to reconcile what our bodies really need with what we feel like we need. We sorry humans have this pathetic need to feel full, because we’re so used to this feeling and because our souls are empty. And it’s actually okay to feel full, but only if it’s because a lot of high-fiber, low-calorie stuff is pushing against the inner wall of our bellies. We leave the table feeling sated, or at least bored of eating, and our overall calorie intake goes down.

In response, our bodies relearn how to burn fat efficiently. Meanwhile, our blood sugar becomes more stable. We snack less, eat better calories, enjoy all the benefits of the vegetables and meats we evolved to draw nourishment from, and become healthier. With our newfound health, we can cheat here and there and enjoy pasta again—because without pasta, life simply isn’t worth living. Obviously.

Some rules of thumb 
  • Try to avoid refined starches
    • If you have bread, make sure it’s whole grain (my family gets this Alvarado bead that has no flour, just wheat berries), and eat as little as possible of it (i.e., open-faced sandwiches only, and go for that really thin heel)
    • Sometimes I just have a big spoon of PB & J instead of a sandwich
    • Rule of thumb: if you have to butter it, you should just stop eating it
  • No pasta, unfortunately, except as a treat ... it is the hardest thing to eat in moderation
  • No pizza except as a treat (it’s a controlled substance in my household)
  • No alcohol ... sorry!  (Obviously you can cheat here, but alcohol is truly fattening, in all its forms including low-carb beer.)
  • If starchy stuff is served, try to eat a ton of vegetables along with it, like spinach or broccoli
  • Try to have brown rice instead of white whenever possible (it’s actually pretty good, not like whole wheat pasta, which is inedible)
  • The greener and more cruciferous your veggies, the better
    • Chard, broccoli, broccolini, and—yes—kale are all good
    • Cabbage is cheap and good and helps you lose your appetite
  • Eggplant is cool—slice it and put salt all over it for a while to chase out the bad-tasting liquid
  • Squash, zucchini, green beans, asparagus, celery, peppers are all great
  • Corn is barely a vegetable—almost more like a starch—so don’t eat it often
    • I think peas aren’t actually much better than corn
  • Asian veggies like daikon and bok choy are good choices and also make you super sophisticated
  • Fruit is okay, especially apples and other fiber-rich stuff
  • No juice ever, no soda ever, no freaking vitamin water for crying out loud, just water and tea and coffee
  • Record all your snacks, if you must snack
  • Watch the condiments! Lots of calories hiding there!
    • Salsa is great
    • Step up and start drinking your coffee black, with no sugar!
    • Black tea has to have milk but that won’t kill you
    • I guess milk in your coffee isn’t the end of the world, but half-and-half or cream? Really?
  • Hard boiled eggs are great ... very filling and they’re not fried in butter etc.
  • Burritos are great if you do them right:
    • Make your burritos with beans, brown rice, and either a soft-taco-size tortilla or half a regular tortilla (no, I’m not going to say a whole wheat tortilla because that’s just cruel)
    • You can still stuff that bad boy pretty full, so that the tortilla may not even totally wrap it up—more like a covered wagon
    • Shove other stuff in your burrito like a few cooked cabbage leaves, or some mushrooms, or grilled peppers, anything to flesh it out without being too caloric
    • Dice some onions real fine and throw them in ... it’s yummy and keeps you in the habit of messing about with vegetables at every opportunity
    • Throw some avocado slices on there when they’re in season because life is too short not to
    • Skip the sour cream ... it’s an indulgence and exactly the kind of empty calorie that fattens you up (that’s right, carbs aren’t the only evil)
    • Sometimes we have chips around but then come to our senses
  • If people are eating yummy caloric stuff around you, what a perfect time to show off your absurd discipline and imperviousness to temptation
  • Write down everything you eat, even if it’s like 1 chip
    • Nobody can eat just one”? I can!
    • Maybe if it gets to be too much hassle writing everything down you’ll snack less!
  • Smiley faces in the margins of your journal are a nice little zero-calorie reward!
So how’s it working out?

My brother e-mailed me a few days into our SB effort and said, “Thanks for the good tips! I'm inspired, truly. I started a food log of my own, and you’re right, Dana, just writing down what I had for dinner last night filled me with shame.” See? It’s working!

Just like I didn’t want to overwhelm my brother with arcane nutritional lore in our first few days of Sloth Bleach, I think it’s time to let you come up for air. Go watch a really dippy romantic comedy now, or wash your hair, or drink a beer, or whatever it is you do to release the viselike grip my relentless text has surely had on your poor head. And tune in next week for more inspiration; delicious, gossip-like updates on my brother’s and my progress (or frustration); and more useful information, including quick and easy lo-cal recipes like Mexican(-ish) rice and roasted Ewok!

Part II is here.

For a complete index of albertnet posts, click here.


  1. Tips from someone who's been dieting for centuries

    PART I

    There are some things you should never, ever eat. The good news is that you never have to struggle with the question, “Should I eat that?”

    Never Eat the following:
    Pasta of any kind not even whole grain pasta. It has a ridculous amount of calories and is not worth it.
    Avocado. (SO many calories and it's almost impossible to eat a tiny bit. Not worth it.)
    Rice, even whole grain. (SO many calories plus it causes global warming – something about methane from rice paddies. Other whole grains are ok because they are not particularly tasty.)
    Shrimp. Loaded with fat and not worth it when you could have some other fish.
    Nuts. (Yes, theyre “healthy fat” but a handful of nuts has, like 800 calories.)
    Red meat. (Ok, this is mainly for the environment -methane - and for the cute cows.)
    Mayonaise or any condiment with calories.
    Any drink that contains more than 5 calories. This means no milk, not even added to coffee or tea. You can, however, add splenda to all sorts of liquids and you can guzzle diet sodas (Keeping one's weight down does not always mean organic.) This means no alcohol.

    Social Situations
    Say you go to a sandwich shop with a bunch of flabby friends and you have to order a sandwich because not only are you hungry, you'd be weird. You can order a sandwich with lean meat, such as chicen breast. Order your sandwich with NO condiments. (Veggies are ok, including pickles.) Remove all cheese and bread before eating. You will be eating lean chicken and veggies, only, yes. Toss the cheese and bread into the parking lot for birds.
    There is a saying, “Better in the trash than on your ass.” This is true. However, you can avoid waste by tossing food to animals.

    If you are in a bar with friends and you are expected to drink, order a glass half full (or half empty) of beer and hold it so that it appears you are drinking. Order a club soda with piles of fruit and say it's a gin and tonic or a gimlet or whatever. You could say you are the designated driver but that would be lame.

  2. Tips from someone who's been dieting for centuries


    Random Tips
    Always remove (and do not eat) the skin and fat from chicken.

    Choose crunchy over smooth. Things you have to chew take a long time to eat, thus reducing the number of calories consumed. Yogurt, a smooth item, is truly evil. One can slurp down a pint of yorgur in five seconds. Was it worth the calories? Hell, no.

    Chew gum. Yes, it's a disgusting habit but it works! Sugar-free, chemical-laden gum, of course. When you feel hunngry, chew gum rather than eat.

    Do not use heat or AC. Sitting in the cold (as I am now) burns lots of calories. Your body burns calories as it desperately tries to keep warm. Living in the heat kills your appetite like nothing else.

    Drink hot bubbly drinks to help dull the hunger. Even sipping plain hot water will help. Try tea, diet sodas (caffeine free is suggested so you can drink a lot), sparkling water. Load in the splenda if you have a sweet tooth. A favorite of mine is a pinch of unsweetened cocoa powder and splenda in hot water.

    Ride your bike as hard as you can for a couple hours a day. This burns a lot of calories however it also makes you ravenous. Being not fat is not easy.

    Substitue exercise for whatever lazy-ass thing you used to do.
    Ride a bike or walk rather than drive. (Driving isn't usually faster, anyway.) Take the stairs rather then the elevator even if you work on the 120th floor. Mow the lawn with a push mower rather than a power mower. Dig with a shovel rather than a back hoe, etc.

    Eat only when you are very, very hungry. Eat only to dull the pain of the hunger. You should always feel the gnaw of hunger. If you ever feel full, you are getting fat.

    Measure your food, especially fats, beans, and grains. If you're eating olive oil or almond butter, measure it. A level tablespoon of almond butter has 80 calories and this isn't much volume. You could easily scoop up 600 caloires in one heaping, unmeasured spoonful. Don't kid yourself.

    Eat slowly.

    I hope these tips are helpful.

  3. Thanks for the comments and tips! I have posted my second essay on this topic, and addressed some of your ideas. Here is the link: