I have a confession to make — I am the son of a serial dieter. My mother has been on every type of popular and obscure diet one can imagine, or find on a “health and wellness” page online. Along the way, I’ve participated in some of these diets and cleanses to varying degrees of success and diarrhea. I would be lying if I were to say that I hadn’t continued in her tradition during my teens and mid-20s.
The last time I went a diet of any sort (in this case, by ‘diet’ I mean a change from my day-to-day consumption of food and drink) was in 2012 when I did a 40-day raw vegan cleanse to complement a course of herbal medication I was taking to fight a virus. Not only did I rid my body of the virus, I also felt wonderful and lost a lot of weight (fat and water) and looked slimmer than I ever had. However, the cost associated, both in time and dollars, was significant. My meal and beverage planning took at least an hour to two a week, plus groceries (often shopping at St. Lawrence Market in an attempt to get the most nutritional value) and preparation time. The preparation time itself was a serious commitment. Switching over to a raw vegan diet, and ingesting enough calories to power me through a 9-6 (plus overtime) job, with the added joy of a daily, 2-hour transit + car commute, required that I wake up even earlier than I normally would to wash, clean, cut, blend, organize and pack my meals and snacks, plus prep part of my dinner so I have a head-start when I get back home. 40 days of this was exhausting! I would also head down to the gym in my building every morning at 5:30 for a half-hour workout to get my metabolism going and use my body’s gifted ability to sweat to help lose weight and burn fat. All in all, it was highly effective but costly. The only problem was, I realized through that process that I have a deep love for the meaty and cheesy and bready; and that I am an omnivore at heart. I decided that I would use my experience with the raw food movement to inform my normal diet (here referring to the on-going consumption of sustenance to survive and thrive) and cook with that in mind.
When we were assigned a new blog topic in Theory of Food II at GBC to try a diet for 5 days and document the experience, I knew that it was not going to be a raw vegan one. I looked at my calendar for the coming weeks and realized that between Summerlicious reservations, food blog events, Rib Fest and a couple dinners I’d agreed to host at home, something drastic was not going to work. After some careful calculations and derivations, I settled on a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet, concluding with an enormous pig-out (literally and figuratively) at the Lakeshore Rib Fest on Sunday, July 24. Lacto-ovo-vegetarianism is certainly the one closest to my existing diet since you can enjoy milk products, as well as eggs, and of course consume vegetables and fruits to your heart’s content. With milk and eggs to break up the lack of fats in vegetarian part of the diet, I was a happy camper. I kept the following log documenting my thoughts and experiences:
Tuesday July 19 – (Morning) It’s Day 1 and I’m hungry. I start my day with a fried egg on toast with a glass of OJ and small bowl of steel-cut oatmeal I’d made last night in the slow cooker. I feel energized and ready for a day of class. I have a group presentation to give in my afternoon class so I need some good, slow-release calories to be alert and generally coherent until then. (Evening) I feel great – no afternoon-lag and now I’m back home and just made dinner. I had a mixed veggie sub for lunch with all the trimmings and a handful of blueberries when I got home. Dinner will be some rice and daal (indian lentils) and with sauteed potato and fenugreek leaves on the side (see example image below). Simple, delicious and nutritious.
Wednesday July 20 – (Morning) Another bowl of steel cut oatmeal, this time with raw honey and blueberries on top. Keeping it light because I want to have a heavier lunch of some leftovers from dinner last night. (Evening) Energy levels are good, though I am getting a faint craving for chicken tikka or souvlaki. Some sort of marinated boneless chicken. I must resist. Dinner was a big salad and a fat veggie burger without the bun, followed by 2 slices of cake. I’m happy.
Thursday July 21 – (Morning) Extra thirsty this morning from all that sugar last night. Breakfast will be some leftover salad with a microwave-poached egg and toast with some feta spread on it. I have a 4-hour lab later this evening so need to make sure I don’t hit a wall. (Evening) I hit that wall. Lunch was insufficient and half-way through the lab I started feeling slow and tired. The intense heat and humidity in the lab certainly didn’t help. 3 litres of water later I’m feeling much better and I’m back home and making dinner. My craving from yesterday intensified so I decided to make some tikka but swap out the chicken for paneer, an Indian, un-ripened cooking cheese. I marinated them for 30 mins in a quick tikka sauce I made with yogurt and spices from my cupboard, and make skewers with peppers and onion to broil in the oven. It was a great success and my craving was stealthily satisfied.
Friday July 22 – (Morning) Up at 6am and out the door with a banana and coffee in hand. Breakfast on the go. Ideal? No. Necessary? Absolutely. I’ll be back home by 12:30 and can have a proper lunch before I head back to school for my afternoon class. Lunch will be leftover paneer tikka wrapped in naan with some chutney and mixed greens. DELICIOUS. (Evening) Back from Art of Eating and Dining class after 2 glasses of rose and many slices of baguette. Dinner will be had after Symphony of the Sea at the Ripley’s Aquarium…back from the event with a large slice of veggie pizza. Will likely raid the fridge later.
Saturday July 23 – (Morning) The raid happened but the marauder was benevolent in his attack. I exercised a modicum of self-restraint and only ate half of a naan with the last few pieces of paneer and the final bit of the potato and fenugreek I made on Tuesday. And a glass of milk. Thankfully got to sleep-in a bit (you know…to help with digestion), but breakfast will be happening shortly. (Evening) Breakfast was scrambled eggs with peppers, kale, tomatoes and cheese with toast, OJ and a coffee. We needed our calories to power us through a day at the beach. While there I also had 3 beers and half a watermelon so I feel fairly hydrated but also like I’m in desperate need for a good meal. Thankfully we’re off to Ouzieri for Summerlicious dinner. We’re back and the meal was disappointing because I would have liked to eat some meat or seafood. But I had made a commitment and I’d come this far so decided to sacrifice on the meat. After all, rib fest is tomorrow.
- At the end of the week, reflect on your experiences
- Provide some advice or ideas that would allow you to maintain your dietary choice and be a chef.
- Would you continue with your choice?
In reflecting on my 5-day experience, one thing is clear. Thank goodness for slow cooker oats. Not only did this make my meal planning much easier, but also gave me a lot of slow-release carbohydrates, fats and calories to get me through to lunch and sometimes even until I returned home from school. My recipe is quite simple and adapted from Chowhound.com:
- 6 cups water
- 3 cups steel-cut oats
- 2 cups 2% milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 banana
Slow cooked on low, overnight and you have nearly 10 1-cup portions for the week. I like to dress my oatmeal in different ways every day so I keep the sugar and flavour in the cooked oatmeal to a minimum. I find the milk and banana really help with the creaminess and balance out the bite from the steel-cut oats. With some honey, or better yet a piece of honeycomb, or berries and agave nectar, this makes for an awesome breakfast to maintain your dietary choice (in my case, lacto-ovo-vegetarian) without gorging on a plate of greasy eggs and bacon that only make you feel like lethargic later in the day.
Overall, I enjoyed myself during this 5-diet diet challenge of sorts. Not that it was particularly challenging, but it was nice to be mindful of my meals and plan ahead because most of the time it’s a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of situation. Would I continue? Maybe a couple days a week. For now I’m off to ribfest to indulge.