About 7 years ago, I did a lot of research on weight loss and good health. I was with eDiets at the time, not Spark, but they both had a common theme. In order to lose weight and be healthy, you have to get the right nutrition, portion size and exercise.
Portion size and balancing my macronutrients was my biggest problem. I didn't know how to do either. I followed eDiets pregenerated meal plan with recipes. The first time I weighed a 4oz steak, I was horrified! I was used to eating a 12oz steak - and I finished the whole thing.
However, I was committed to giving it a try. In order to eat 4oz steaks, I had to learn how to cook it.
I watched a ton of Food TV. "30 Minute Meals", "Good Eats", "Iron Chef", "Emeril Live" and "Boy Meets Grill" were my favorites. I recorded them on my Tivo and watched them after work.
I also read a lot of books on dieting and nutrition. No, not those kind of dieting books. Books about food philosophy and eating for pleasure.
One of these books was "French Women Don't Get Fat" by Mireille Guiliano. I saw her promoting her book with Oprah and Martha Stewart, and she said something that really stuck with me through the years.
It was along the lines of, treat all meals as a fine dining experience, even home cooked meals. Even if eating for one, set a table, use nice dishes, and pour a glass of wine. Don't microwave something from a package and watch the TV. Take the time to make food look and taste good. Learn to make food like a gourmet.
And so I did. I changed my attitude about food and how I prepared it. I started trying to emulate the fabulous professional chef presentations on Iron Chef with my own home cooked meals. I lived alone at the time, and it felt a little silly the first few times. Then I found I really enjoyed it. Food was not mere subsistence. It was an experience.
And what an experience. It was a good thing I was learning to cook for myself, because I made a few very bad mistakes. I made a 'spicy' orange beef that was so hot, it was nuclear. I made a dumpling with black pepper soup that was pepper with a dash of soup! I made a 'scone' that was like a cookie, and a cookie that was like a 'scone'. Not to mention a few hockey pucks. It was all part of the learning process!
Some of my mistakes were still edible. Some had to be scrapped because they were just too awful.
If first you don't succeed...
I experimented with using parsley and sauces as decoration. I experimented paring wines and beer with my meals. I made three and four course meals for myself.
The weight started drifting off, I appeared younger and healthier, and I was becoming pretty comfortable in the kitchen. All my friends started describing me as a great cook! I started getting kitchen items as gifts for birthdays and Christmas.
When I started traveling, of course I wanted to see the sites, but the thing that really tickled me was researching the best local cuisine. I haven't been to France yet, but when I was in Spain, I noted how much healthier a Spanish diet is compared to Americans. I went through an open produce market much like Pike Place Market in Seattle. I was amazed with the variety and freshness. It was all real food! What a difference to an American market where everything is in a plastic bag or can. I bought a pound of lychees that was fresh and clean tasting.
The French get all the credit for their wine, but I tasted varieties of Spanish wine that were inexpensive and spectacular. There was this one rioja that was probably the best wine I'd ever had, and it was only $13EU. I keep hoping to see it in the stores in America, but no luck so far.
There were no overweight Spaniards in the market at all. It was easy to spot the Americans. They were out of proportion with everyone else.
Everyone seemed very fit and healthy. I got lost in Barcelona and went into a police station for directions. Oh gosh. This Spanish cop was built like an athlete. Gorgeous! I probably hung around and practiced my Spanish talking with him a little longer than I needed to.
Me: "No entiendo?"
Him: (pointing at me) "No entiendAS."
Him: "De nada"
Quite a bit different than the American stereotype of the overweight cop at the donut shop. What happens to those guys and gals? They have to pass a physical fitness test to pass police academy. I guess it's like most of us. After school, we tend to get more sedentary, less exercise, and eat food on the go in the car.
I learned to treat eating my meals as something to be enjoyed. I only eat good quality food. Food worth eating. You might say I've become a 'foodie' because I look at junk food now and think, "Not worth the calories". Pie at Denny's? Not worth the calories.
When I got back from Spain, I was certain that I had gained about 10 pounds. Everything I ate there was cooked in heavy butter or olive oil. Cooking food in butter has been demonized in the States, so when I saw them do it, I thought, "Oh gosh, it's so unhealthy." Everything tasted so good, it must be fattening!
Instead, I found I lost a pound or two! How could that be? I was eating a lot of seafood. Seafood paella. Seafood tapas. Cheeses and chorizo. Lots of veggies and fruit. FRESH, not marinated, olives. Has the replacement of butter with hydrogenated margarine been harmful? Olive oil is a known antioxidant and heart disease preventer. We walked all around Barcelona, which is no small city!
The French invented croissants, pastries, souffles, cheeses, sauces, creams, butter, wines - how are they so thin? They enjoy small portions, and savor it. No food is off limits - just not too much.
If you're looking for a good book on eating food for health AND enjoyment, I recommend "French Women Don't Get Fat". It was certainly a positive influence to the way I live now.