Good Habits #9 – Risking Disaster in the Kitchen Can Help You Lose Weight

I mentioned a while back that when I was a bachelor, I ate crap.  As a result, the five miles a day I was running was completely cancelled out by the garbage I was wolfing down.  Sometimes it was a tendency to binge on potato chips and ice cream.  Sometimes it was my tendency to indulge in fried chicken.  Since there’s a Publix two miles away and they have, hands down, the best fried chicken on the planet (don’t @ me, your argument is invalid), this was something I did a bit too often.

One trick I tried to get past this was just not keeping food that was premade in the house.  That way, if I was hungry, I had to work for it.  My innate lack of motivation to cook anything or leave the couch offset my desire for food.  Of course, unwillingness to leave the couch is its own problem, but that’s a subject for one of my pieces on exercise.  

Another thing I tried was to eat apples or other fruits, which, as I’ve noted before, is something we should be doing more of.  But these aren’t full meals.  Sooner or later the desire for something more substantial would set in, resulting in a trip to Publix, unable to resist the siren’s call of their fried chicken, or a trip to the nearest fast food joint.

The real problem was that I couldn’t cook.  Not well, anyway.  My attempts at cooking always seemed to invite catastrophe. My attempts at bacon produced bacon flavored charcoal.  My attempts at grilled cheese produced what I can only describe as grilled cheese after it’s been napalmed.  Several times. 

I even tried to make chocolate chip cookies once.  Not that dessert is a particularly good idea.  But that’s beside the point.  I ended up making chocolate chip hockey pucks.  They were so hard their only possible value was for starting a riot.  Although breaking windows with chocolate chip cookies would have been so awesomely ridiculous, it almost would’ve been worth it. The headline would have said “Florida Man breaks windows with chocolate chip cookies, starts riot.” I guess I missed my chance at immortality.

I couldn’t even make an omelet, which is one the simplest of breakfast meals.  My omelets inevitably produced a “chef’s scramble”.  Which, I’ve learned, is just an omelet gone horribly wrong.   The act of flipping the omelet tended to end in disaster whenever I tried it.  So, every time I see “Chef’s Scramble” on a menu, that just means the chef at that restaurant lacks the ability to make a proper omelet.  I immediately leave when I see this.

I wasn’t completely useless as a cook.  I had the standard man-cooking abilities.  I could make steak, hamburgers, and hot dogs.  But hamburgers and hot dogs can be surprisingly fattening, and steak, unless you eat a relatively small portion, has loads of calories.  Especially the kind that really taste good, like ribeyes, which are from the fatty part of the cow.  And despite what the most rabid acolytes of the Keto/Carno religion will tell you, too much fat in your food is a problem.

I occasionally tried to download recipes.  There are plenty of free recipe sites.  Allrecipes.com, FoodNetwork, etc.  But there are a couple of problems.  Any recipe online comes with a lengthy story about how some guy or some gal’s grandmother or great-grandmother made some extraordinary recipe back during the 1930s and fed her shoeless family of seventeen kids.  These unnecessary overshares usually require endless scrolling.  The kind of scrolling that produces irreversible carpal tunnel syndrome.  But that’s not even the worst part.

After scrolling through the seemingly interminable story about how Mam-Ma or Mi-Ma managed to help her overly large brood survive the Great Depression, I’d get to the actual recipe and find several deal breakers.  Such as a recipe that would require some absurdly obscure ingredient that’s only available in one shop that I’d have to drive ten miles to get to.  Or available in a nearby Whole Foods, but I’d have to go bankrupt to purchase it.  There’s a reason that store’s nickname is “Whole Paycheck.”

Or I might find that it’s a recipe that requires that I marinate something for thirteen hours.  Ain’t nobody got time for that.  Or it might just require a bazillion steps and take more than 15 minutes of prep time.  If the recipe takes more steps to complete than a piece of Ikea furniture, I’m just not interested.  I don’t mind cooking, but I don’t pretend to be Gordan Ramsay or any other fancy schmancy chef.  I’m not going to work that hard if I’m not getting paid.  I want simple recipes that take less than half an hour, and preferably less than five minutes.

This explains the attraction of the most diabolical of modern cooking implements.  The microwave.  Cooking things in the microwave basically ruins them.  And the stuff that’s ready made for the microwave might as well be dog food.  It’s either barely filling 300 calorie Lean Cuisine stuff (which tastes like dog food), or it’s some preprocessed corporate slow acting poison that provides lots of calories and few nutrients.  And also tastes like dog food.  So, hard pass.

So I tried doing stovetop things.  The easy thing to go with when one is a bachelor is Hamburger Helper.  It’s relatively straightforward, but I noticed a problem.  One night, I cooked a batch of this, ate part of it, then put the rest in the fridge.  And when I went back the next day, my previous night’s feast was locked in an iceberg of congealed fat.  No wonder my waist kept expanding.  

Having said that, the skills involved in making Hamburger Helper are useful.  Because it’s basically stir fry, which is a decent way to cook healthy food if I use the right ingredients.  I’ve written before about how ground beef (at least the wrong kind) can be an excellent way to get fat and die young.  But if I avoid the fattier of the meats, add in some greens (I’ve explained at length why this is good) and maybe some rice or potatoes (another thing I’ve explained the value of before), I can cook a healthy and relatively cheap meal.  

My first attempts were probably so toxic they violated the Geneva Conventions.  I’ve occasionally shared some of these abhorrent calamities on my Instagram feed, just to horrify the denizens of the Internet.  But once I got the hang of it, they were…not bad.  So I’m no longer at risk of getting raided by the FBI or ATF or whoever arrests people for cooking up biological or chemical weapons.  My food is no longer a war crime.  And mostly edible.  Although it does occasionally look like dog food.

There’s another implement I used to ignore that’s even better, though.  The microwave oven may be a disgrace in the eyes of God and humanity, but the regular oven is an entirely different story.  What if I told you there was a way to cook stuff that took only five minutes of prep time?  

I’ve learned that it takes maybe an hour or two to make a roast (along with roasted potatoes and veggies), but the prep time is only five minutes.  I season a roast, potatoes and veggies with salt and pepper and maybe a few random spices.  Then I put the roast in the oven.  When there is an hour left of cooking time, I add in the potatoes.  When there are ten minutes left, I add the veggies.  A complete, healthy meal, which always comes out great.  And while it’s cooking, I can be doing literally anything else.

And, of course, there’s the one cooking implement that all men must learn to be proper men.  The grill.  Any man’s man card is invalid if they can’t grill.  Besides, it’s easy.  Grilling is basically what our barely sentient caveman ancestors used to do. So anyone should be able to handle a grill.  I, like most real men, prefer the charcoal grill over the gas grill.  In part, because the result tastes better.  I mean, I guess the gas doesn’t require cutting down trees, but the added taste from the charcoal is worth the cost in deforestation.

I use the three beer method to grill.  Start the fire, then drink a beer.  By the time I’m done, the coals are ready.  Then I put the meat on and drink another beer.  By the time I’m done with that one, it’s time to flip the meat.  Then I drink another beer.  When I’m done with the third  one, the meat’s ready.  The secret here is to make sure the beer is light beer. Too much alcohol can break a diet (and a liver) if you’re not careful.

Home-cooked food is usually lower in calories than restaurant food or precooked or preprocessed food.  Usually because these things have a lot of added fat and oil, which can be a problem.  By doing it myself, I cut out a lot of calories.  I mean the restaurant food is better (way better), but not being 60 pounds overweight anymore is kind of awesome too.

I’m still not Gordan Ramsay, nor will I ever be.  Mostly because I don’t have that weird twitch when I talk.  Or an explosive temper and rude demeanor. But also because I’ll probably only ever be a decent cook.  Having said that, being a decent cook contributed to my weight loss.  Cooking for myself, as opposed to eating take out, pre-cooked food, or processed, soulless corporate food, probably reduces my caloric intake each day by at least 500 calories. 

So all of us should be cooking for ourselves.  More of this, plus a decent amount of exercise, will turn us from a nation of fatties to Adonis-like, statuesque things of beauty.  Or at least people who aren’t constantly splitting pants and dying of heart attacks.

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Published by drilldowndiet

Formerly obese CPA/health humorist using Cronometer and FitBod to lose weight. Sharing assorted life hacks to squeeze nutrition and exercise into a busy schedule. Also on Twitter at @drilldowndiet and Facebook.

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