Friday, October 11, 2013

Life Update: I'm now eating a Mediterranean Diet!

Well, hello there! And sorry that I haven't gotten a chance to update either of my personal blogs in so long (both this one and my main journal over at As those who regularly keep up with my life at Facebook know, 2013 has seen just as many growing pains with my arts organization, the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography, as 2012 saw, and for the last ten months I've been doing nothing but desperately playing catch-up with everything CCLaP is behind on, to the point of literally making myself sick on several occasions. But we've got lots of new people on staff, in three days we'll officially have released every book we're doing this year, I'm finally all moved and settled into my new apartment, and I'm finally getting back on track with everything; so I'm hoping that means I'll be getting a series of updates written and posted soon about all the things that have been happening to me this year. It's a lot, and it's going to take awhile to get it all written out for you, so here's hoping it won't take too terribly long.

First up, a new project in my life -- I've decided to spend the next year trying to eat almost nothing but food that traditionally fits into the so-called "Mediterranean Diet!" And that's because I'm fucking disgusted with the way my body looks when I'm naked; not the overall weight (I'm 6'0" and 175 pounds, just about perfect), but the amount of fat that hangs around my middle like a bloated, pale, nightmarish baby out of a horror movie, so incredibly common among middle-aged males like me (I turned 44 this year) who have a history of refined carbohydrates, such as pizza, pasta, beer, big rolls for sandwiches, and potato/corn chips (SO many potato/corn chips). First identified and academically studied in the 1960s, the typical diet found along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea (including such European countries as Spain, France, Italy and Greece, Northern African countries like Morocco and Egypt, and the entire "Holy Land" of Israel, Syria, Libya and more) is supposed to be a natural antidote to this carb-heavy diet we Westerners have developed over the last half-century, without going to the extremes of a "diet" diet like Atkins; so I've decided to try sticking to this type of palette and menu for an entire year straight, combined with my usual daily bicycle rides or trips to the gym, to see just what kind of shape my belly area might be in by this time next year.

So what exactly does this entail? Well, I've read a number of books on the subject now, and here's how things boil down in terms of most common and most easily remembered advice…

--Fruits and vegetables: 10 servings a day (1 serving = 1/2 cup fresh fruit; 1/4 cup dried fruit; 1 cup raw vegs.; 1/2 cup cooked vegs.) Or more simply, 3 cups of vegetables and 3 cups of fruit per day. Or even more simply than THIS, make half of every meal vegetables or fruit. This is THE most fundamental key to the Mediterranean Diet being as healthy and as slimming as it is, that it skews so incredibly heavily towards most of your daily caloric intake being fresh vegetables and fruit; and it turns out that when you're ingesting such stuff, without all the additives found in so much processed versions of these fruits and vegetables, you can eat almost as much as you possibly could want every single day. Because seriously, have you tried eating six cups of fruits and vegetables every 24 hours? I now have, and every time I get full long before I reach my maximum.

--Grains: 3 servings a day (1 serving = slice of bread; 1/2 roll; 1/2 cup cooked grains). The major key: ONLY "WHOLE GRAIN" PRODUCTS, which means literally that the product was made out of all three major parts of a piece of grain, while "refined" grain (i.e. white flour, white bread, white pasta) means that two of these three parts have been removed because traditionally people have felt this makes the grain "bitter-tasting," then the remainder cut with bleaches and other preservatives to make the white color we '70s kids are so familiar with. And please note that "multigrain" is not the same thing as "100 percent whole grain;" it simply means that a number of different grains were combined, but it could've very well had the most nutritious parts of the grain seed stripped just like white bread.

So what does this practically mean? Avoid all white bread, white pasta, white rice, tortillas, pizza dough, potato chips, corn in any form, and pretzels; stick to popcorn, oatmeal, brown rice, brown flour, brown pasta, couscous, whole wheat crackers like Triscuits, and new-age-friendly bean chips and lentil chips (which I can now attest taste just as good as plain ol' potato chips). Also, for those like me who are trying to get rid of a spare tire, it's good to think of grains as always a side to your dinner instead of the main entree; or in other words, skip the "pasta with such and such" meals and just make the "such and such," with a small side of couscous or rice pilaf or toasted barley.

--Legumes: 2 cups a day. In a diet short on meat (but more on that in a moment), legumes are a major source of protein; they include things like hummus/chickpeas, lentils and all forms of beans.

--Nuts: 1 oz a day (50 pistachios, 25 almonds, 15 sesame sticks, 14 walnut halves, 170 pine-nuts). Another major staple of the Mediterranean Diet, you should always reach for these every time you have an urge to snack, backed with legume-based chips like beans and lentils.

--Dairy: 2 servings a day (1 serving = 1.5 oz cheese; 1 cup milk/yogurt; 1 egg), but with the key being only low-fat milk and yogurt. Also, never have eggs more than once a week; and any day you include cheese in a dish, skip cheese altogether the next day. (Need more calcium than this? You can get lots of calcium as well from almonds, figs, sesame seeds, salmon, and leafy green vegetables.)

--Fish: 2 to 3 servings a week. When it comes to animal flesh, this is the main choice in the Mediterranean Diet, for obvious reasons; and as you can see, even it is not turned to so terribly often. Most common fish associated with the Mediterranean: salmon, sardines, tuna, mussels, and oysters. Best fish for buying frozen and then re-thawing: shrimp, squid, tilapia, sole, snapper.

--Chicken and red meat: 1 serving a week. Beef is almost unheard of in the Mediterranean Diet; instead turn to lamb and pig, and more often simply serve chicken.

--Olive oil: 2 to 4 tablespoons a day. And much more importantly, SUBSTITUTE ALL BUTTER IN ALL RECIPES FOR OLIVE OIL, at a 75-percent ratio. One of the biggest factors of all in the Mediterranean Diet being as healthy as it is.

--Red wine: 1 to 2 glasses every night. Hoorah! I miss my beer, but I don't miss my beer gut.

Of course, one of the biggest challenges always for me with specialized diets is that I'm a single male, with not much reason to cook very often, and with bulk purchases always pointless because things go bad so quickly; so the basic plan for me is to start every morning with some sort of combination of yogurt, fruit and oatmeal, have either a soup or salad for my main meal every weekday, and supplement it with lots of nuts, legume chips, vegetables, dips like pesto and hummus, fruit, frozen fruit bars, and popcorn. LOTS AND LOTS OF POPCORN. And then every Friday evening, starting next week, I've decided to commit to a major sit-down, "slow-cooked" meal of fish or chicken, which I will dutifully record for all you Facebookers and other social mediers; and now that I'm in the new apartment with all the fancy furniture and red walls and shit, I'll also be inviting anywhere from three to seven other people over on most Friday nights, to help partake in these fancy slow-cooked dinners. Combine this with daily visits to the free gym on the first floor of the fancy new apartment building I'm in, and I'm hoping this will quickly get me into the kind of shape where I can start dating again, which I haven't done in a decade. (This was another major reason to get the new apartment, after all, was to have a nice enough place that I could invite women over; but since I'm still sickened every time I look at myself naked, it's still going to be awhile before I start getting into the habit of asking people out. And hey, hopefully these Friday dinner parties will help grease that wheel!)

Okay, so that's enough about the new diet plan; next up, an update on my "gamifying all the crap in my life I hate doing" plan, in which like a child on allowance I assign myself points every time I do something I dislike doing (going to the post office, updating CCLaP, cleaning my bathroom), then assign rewards based on how many points I'm spending. (25 points = night of beer and pool at my neighborhood hipster tavern; 50 points = rare book; 75 points = EXPENSIVE rare book; 100 points = out-of-town trip; 150 points = new iPhone). I've been gamifying all this stuff for ten months now, and the results have been surprising!

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