The nutrition nazi I saw to shape my new healthy eating plan post-angioplasty minced no words about it, there is no healthy way to eat out. Restaurant food has too much of everything that’s bad for me, salt, sugar and fat.
Yet I eat lunch out every day of the workweek and some weekend days as well. I need that time away from my office to break the daily routine and clear my head. So my lunches have become pretty much nothing but salads.
I normally eat at the food court in Chicago’s mammoth Merchandise Mart building, which is only a block from my office. It has an Arby’s, a McDonald’s, a Japanese fast sushi place, a Mexican place, a pizza place, a Mideastern fast food place and a place with a build-your-own salad bar. The build your own salad place has become pretty much my daily stop.
My usual salad has field greens, cucumbers, tomatoes, artichoke hearts, red quinoa, dried cranberries, a chicken breast, celery, garbanzo beans, and beets. Several of those items may actually be on my forbidden list, dried cranberries have sugar, for example, but I’m hoping the small number each day are ok so I have some flavor. I bypass all the dressings there and bring my own individual packets of olive oil and vinegar that I bought in bulk on Amazon.
I woke up early this morning fighting a mild cold with a bit of an upset stomach. Still in all, I woke up glad to be alive. Six months ago today, I was being wheeled into a surgery to save my life. Doctors had discovered one of the arteries around my heart was 80 percent blocked, meaning blood was barely getting through.
An angioplasty took place, a procedure in which doctors used a small balloon to clear the blockage and then inserted a stent, a wire mesh tube, to keep my artery open. It’s fair to say that changed my life, giving me years I likely would not have otherwise had, hopefully.
It also changed my food life more radically than anything else that has ever happened to me. My diet now bears little resemblance to what it had been. Gone are the daily chocolate candies, snack cakes and diet sodas that once were staples for me. Gone are burgers from McDonald’s, Wendy’s and elsewhere. My lunch almost every day now is a salad with oil and vinegar which I carry myself since most places don’t have it as an option. Dinners involve more vegetables and also more ground turkey, more fish and an occasionally very lean steak or 96 percent lean ground beef burger. White bread, rice and anything made with white flour are out.
The result? When I checked into a hospital Aug. 13, 2012, I weighed 219. This morning, six months later, I weigh 190, so I’ve lost 29 pounds in six months by eliminating everything I once loved from my diet.
I am constantly hungry these days, my appetite has not receded as predicted by some know-it-alls. And my taste for chocolate has not disappeared either. Indeed, yesterday I had the first real chocolate chip cookie I’ve eaten in months and it was amazingly good. This morning, to celebrate my anniversary, I ate the last two Drake’s Yodels I bought on eBay after parent company Hostess went into bankruptcy at the end of last year. And they tasted as wonderful as I remembered.
But like a diabetic who can no longer eat sugar, I can no longer eat my favorite foods if I want to continue living. So I am slowly finding substitute dishes, remaking old recipes with new healthier ingredients, and adapting. In six months, I have established a fairly decent home cooking routine that takes care of most dinners. Lunches out are salads, as I mentioned, boring but not harmful. And my wife and I are slowly assembling a new list of restaurants that have healthy dishes or that can accommodate me when I call ahead and say I want dishes with no salt, no fat and no sugar involved.
I’ve also thrown myself into a wonderful new avocation, acting. I’ve wanted to try acting since I was a kid but was too shy in those days. Luckily, my wife and I starting an acting class before my surgery and I fell in love with the whole process. Now, acting gives me the escape from everyday trials and troubles that food once did. As I write this, I’m preparing to be in my first student-made film and a play I wrote myself.
So if you’ve faced massive life changes like I have and had to leave your safety blanket of old foods behind, take some heart from my experiences. Rebuild and find new ways to enjoy the life you have now. I’m here to help. John
One of the biggest frustrations for me now that I’m on a low-salt, low-sugar, low-fat diet is that I pretty much have to cook everything from scratch to avoid those three food demons I’m not supposed to eat.
That means coming home tired from work only to face an hour of cooking every night. I love to cook but not every night. I used to have go-to quickie meals like frozen pizza or quick hamburgers or grabbing some hot dogs on the way home. Those all are no-gos these days.
I have found some quick substitutes though. One of my favorite is tilapia fillets made in lemon juice with a side of broccoli or beans. Frozen tilapia is common in major supermarkets these days, I buy a bag of eight frozen four-ounce fillets. They defrost quickly in the microwave and cook on the stove in the lemon juice almost as quickly. Pop some frozen broccoli or frozen string beans in the micro too and you have a relatively quick, relatively healthy meal in about 15 minutes. Continue reading “Can You Ever Make a Quick, Healthy Meal?”→
Chicken legs and thighs have been my favorite parts of the chicken. I’ve been taking the skin off for years to save on fat intake. Now, after the new diet I’ve been ordered on since my angioplasty, the legs are out completely as well and I’m left to find creative ways to make normally dry breast meat taste like something.
The only dish I’ve cooked in the past with chicken breast was a low-fat version of chicken Parmigiano in which I did not bread the chicken breasts and I used low-fat cheese. Now all cheese is out of my diet, so I’ve modified the dish again to simply chicken breasts baked in my own home-made tomato sauce.
Super Bowl Sunday is upon us, an annual ritual that has become more about eating and TV commercials than the game itself. All over this country, people will be gathering for Super Bowl parties and that will mean mountains of food — ribs, burgers, beer — and a cavalcade of other foods that those of us on no-salt, no-fat diets can’t eat any longer.
So does that mean fasting on the big day, much as you do the rest of the year? I have held a Super Bowl party at my house for many years, but will not be having it this year. That’s because I’m changing the menu drastically and people accustomed to my old ways would not understand.
But it doesn’t mean I won’t be eating. I’ve searched out alternatives that will still allow me to eat with the game and have some of the old food fun I was once accustomed to. Let’s start with some basics, like salsa. Salsa has become as American as apple pie, but it’s usually loaded with salt, so it’s generally a no-no now. But I’ve found low-salt salsa at both Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. Combine that with salt-free, tortilla chips from Trade Joe’s. Fourteen unsalted chips have seven grams of fat. I also have salt-free potato chips with nine grams of fat per ounce and a low-fat, low-salt popcorn from Trader Joe’s with three grams of fat per ounce.
Kroger has a fat-free cookie that has only 25 mg of salt per cookie, another treat I’ll have tomorrow.
And then for the main course, I’m making my own whole wheat manicotti filled with low-fat ricotta and covered with my low-salt homemade tomato sauce. My sauce has less than 200 mgs of salt per quart. Since I’ll likely use less than a pint on my manicotti, I’ll have only about 100 mgs of salt from it.
So I’m ready for kickoff and you can be too, just search out the low-salt, low-fat treats out there. John