Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A new beginning

Okay, so I am repurposing my blog here. I am still a non-traditional student, studying history at the University of Maryland. I got (thankfully) laid off from my horrible job so I'm essentially living on savings. This should take me through until May, when the plan is to get a job, move to wherever the job is located, and then decide if I want to do Master's degree studies in Military History, which would start in September and run for 18 months.

But that's not really the focus here now. I have another joint priority in my life, and that is to get my fitness back to something resembling decent. For whatever reasons, I've been steadily gaining weight, with a particularly nauseating blossom of poundage in the last half of last year. I'm 6'1", and am now clocking in at a hefty 252 pounds - more than twice what I weighed in high school - and, though it is not to morbid levels, yet, it's still way above where I want to be. I hate how I look in the mirror, how out of breath I feel after running up even one flight of stairs, and how my pants keep getting progressively tighter and tighter. It sucks, and I know that if I don't do something drastic to reverse course, I'll keep doing so until I become Mr. Creosote. Therefore, I've decided it's time to change, right now, with the help of one of my closest friends, who is doing the same thing. This blog will now be a chronicle of that struggle . . . though I reserve the right to get distracted by the other things going on in my life right now.

So today, I went food shopping for the first time this year. Hopefully in chronicling what is normally a very daily-grindy task, it will be interesting enough that maybe it can help some of you all eat a little better as well, and maybe get some ideas about new and interesting things to buy at your average down-the-street grocery store which, in my case, is the Giant food store on Middlebrook Road.

Before I get to that, though, let me step back in time, just a little, to tell you about what I've already decided about what I'm going to eat. (The exercise half of the fitness plan will wait until a future posting.) The first thing I had to do was to decide which criteria I'd use to determine what foods are houseworthy. As it happens with things like this, some of my more favorite foods - Anytizers buffalo nuggets, for example, which I adore - had to be sacrificed on the altar of not being fat, and so they were out. I had previously invested in the Biggest Loser Ultimate Challenge video "game" for my XBox and it had suggested a 2200 calorie limit, which I think is way too high; I settled on 1500 - 400 calories for breakfast, 400 for lunch, 500 for dinner (woo-hoo), and a 200 calorie late night snack, because I know I'll be starving by then and I simply can't sleep on a growling stomach. So there were are; I tried to get things that would fit into these categories. I grabbed a cart, and went on in.

I started by buying every kind of fruit and vegetable that I can imagine eating. Bananas, tomatoes, spinach and mushrooms are my four main go-to's, so I got them all. I used to eat raisins as a kid, too, so I nabbed a box of those for snackage. Finally for the produce section, I had to consider the canteloupe. I should point out that I love eating the canteloupe, but for some reason I have this mental block about preparing it. I have come to grips with the fact that I am apparently easily irritated by the obnoxiously mundane or dreadfully boring, which to me includes the fine art of melon-cutting. So, canteloupes past have occasionally gone uncut and ultimately had to be trashed once they deteriorated into a fetid, boggy mass of yuck. It's a personality deficit worthy of the deepest scorn, I know, but at least I acknowledge it now. Anyway, I decided I was going to risk it this time, however, hoping that my new attitude, and my now calmer and lower-stressed lifestyle, will provide me with the impetus to actually get off my metaphorical ass and cut the damn thing up. We'll see how it goes. Neither result would surprise me.

Next was the 'natural foods' section. The danger in this part of the store is thinking that because something labels itself as 'natural', that is akin to it also being 'healthy'. Anyone who has ever read the nutritional information on a Caesar salad knows that that plainly isn't true. My suspicion is that calling something a 'natural food' is a less polarizing way of saying that it is in fact vegetarian. Accepting this, I decided to look in there and see what's up. A few foods caught my eye:

Cedar Lane All Natural Spinach and Mushroom Egg White Omelette. As already established, I love me some spinach and some mushrooms, and I have recently decided that I need more egg in my diet as well. From what I read, egg yolk is horrible and fat-filled and generally the instrument of death, but this has nothing but egg whites, which are apparently white and fluffy and sent from God himself. 270 calories; perfect with a glass of juice for breakfast.

I should take a paragraph here to note that I paid absolutely no mind to prices. The thunderously expensive is both rare in a neighborhood Giant, and pretty obvious to spot, so in the interests of keeping it simple, I ignored the price and just paid whatever when I checked out. Okay, back to the Natural Foods.

Kashi ("The Seven Whole Grain Company") Mayan Harvest Bake. I freely admit that I picked this up at first because I am fascinated by the mysterious collapse of the Mayan civilization in the 9th century, because I'm a tremendous dork, but the box says it consists of "plantains, black beans, sweet potato and kale Kashi 7 whole grain pilaf, amaranth, and Polenta spicy ancho sauce". I don't know what half of those are, or if I've capitalized it correctly, but it sounded enticing enough (and at 340 calories, healthy enough) to give it a try as a breakfast or lunch. Life is an adventure.

I also bought two things from Amy's: a box of cheese pizza snacks (for a dinner, maybe, despite them being called 'snacks'), and a spinach and feta pizza, one half of which would make a nice meal.

Now, it's time for the Great Yogurt Experiment of 2011, which is important because I eat a lot of yogurt and I'm historically picky about it. Normally, I like and eat plenty of Yoplait "Swiss-style" (that is, not "fruit on the bottom") yogurt. I like the taste, I like the consistency, I like the options, I like the price. However, several months ago, my now-ex-girlfriend Jennifer pointed out to me that Yoplait has a lot of sugar in it and is therefore not the healthiest yogurt on the planet. Pish and tosh, I retorting in my culinary arrogance, it's yogurt; how can it not be healthy? She tried valiantly to get me to try other flavors, but I hung on to my familiarity and remained with Yoplait. Now, of course, in my new-found label-checking frenzy, I realize, duh, she was right, and 190 calories for a 6 ounce yogurt is just too much. Sorry, Jen.

The problem here is that I like Yoplait. Fortunately, that does not automatically mean that I won't like any other, so I decided to institute the GYE. I invested a few minutes pacing up and down the yogurt section, peering at random brands like a mental patient, and bought one or two sample from several other brands, most of which (including Yoplait Light) have about half of the caloric content of the Yoplait. The only exception was a cup of Chobani Greek yogurt, which I bought because I have never tried honey flavored yogurt, and it sounded tasty. It is 170 calories, which is only 20 less than the Yoplait, but it will still qualify for late-night snack material. So, more on the GYE as it unfolds.

Never in my life did I think I'd become this domestic. I can hear my 25-year-old self groaning.

After I bought two gallons of skim milk (I have managed to successfully downshift from 2% now), I was finally out of aisle one. Now, as I can sense that your eyes are glazing over already from ready this treatise, I imagine that it will be some comfort for you to know that the majority of the store from then on was pretty unworthy of scrutiny. I deliberately didn't buy juice, having replaced it and its 120 calories per glass with water; ordinarily I would still buy orange juice except that my fruit juice needs are being met by apple cider from the Amish market down the street from my house. A future post will cover this glorious godsend, but for now, I just gave it all a miss.

Otherwise, I went through the bulk of the story carefully but uneventfully. I finally remembered to buy my Alpen, a mueslix cereal which I humbly think is the greatest breakfast food ever made. I decided to take Bob Harper up on his exhortations and bought some breakfast oatmeal to try, which I haven't had since the Dark Ages. Bob Evans is now packaging their pre-made mashed potatoes in smaller portions, for which I am glad. I opted to experimentally try out a few other foods - garlic bread, turkey steaks, parsely and basil Wheat Thins, Campbell's Select Maryland crab soup, and some kind of white wine vinegar for my spinach - and I am fully prepared to loathe some of them. I'll keep you posted.

The trip got moderately more interesting at the end, when I triumphantly walked, eyes forward, past all of the processed Hungry Man and Stouffer's dinners that I otherwise would have piled on. I made only a few exceptions in these last few aisles: I did get some Green Giant frozen vegetables, including broccoli with cheese, rice pilaf, and creamed spinach. They didn't seem repulsively caloric, and should work well as side dishes or late night snacks. I skipped the fish, the ludicrously breaded chicken, the Anytizers, those prepackaged Smuckers peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that I used to eat like candy bars, and the ice cream section in total.

There is one more company to exhort here, and that is California Pizza Kitchen. I had tried something they make called a Margherita, which is an overly flowery way of saying a little frozen thin-crust pizza, and I loved it. So, I bought another box of those and a full-size CPK Sicilian pizza, which, despite being physically larger, is only 12 ounces to the Amy's pizza's 14, and has the same calorie count. I checked out, came home, put everything away, and then proceeded to eat that whole pizza for dinner, with barbecue sauce.

Normally, eating an entire pizza for dinner is not the correct plan, but on this particular day, all I had eaten all day was a Cinnabon breakfast bar (150 calories) in the early morning, I could afford it. Total for the day so far, including the glass of apple cider I am currently nursing, is 1,218 calories and 43.5 grams of fat, far enough below my limit that I can still have my late-night snack, and probably a glass of milk or something. The food today was not particularly balanced - no fruits and veggies, for example - but I'm under my goal for the first time since I started this, and all it took was a day of errands and starvation to do it.

So there you are. Adventures in shopping.

Now, here is where I throw it back to you, my loyal readers. Well, since I've been neglecting the blog and have now changed the focus of it, I may not have any loyal readers, but if you're out there, this part is for you. If you know of any great but low calorie foods I may have missed or should give a try, let me know here in the comments section. I plan to keep this up for a while, with a fair but hopefully non-gruesome amount of transparency, and I'll let you all know how it goes. With hard work and the wind at my back, I should be able to meet my goal of getting below 200 by graduation, which is on May 19th. Wish me luck!