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A troublesome mantra: Eat less, burn more

“Wow, you’re really packing on the pounds.”

It’s not news to me.

I am dressed in only my underwear, standing in front of the bathroom mirror.

Not a pretty sight in the best of conditions but, today, apparently more shocking than ever.

“That’s quite the gut, big fella. You’ve been working overtime on that one.”

She is like a pit bull that has cornered a bunny; she is not going to pass up the opportunity to make a remark or two about the size of my midsection. It’s not as if Kathy isn’t acquainted with the extra person I carry around my waist, but she can’t resist firing on a ripe target.

“Jump up and down and let’s see what happens.”

I shoo her from the bathroom. I look into the mirror.

Oh, my.

What a sad sight. Despite all those hours spent in the weight room at the gym, the reality is there before me, undeniable: a big, white, doughy mass, covered with way too much hair.

I’ve had clear warnings this blobbiness was on its way. I know the signs; I have gone through the transition before — from relatively trim, to hefty, to huge.

In fact, I’ve gone through the process enough times that I keep three sizes of pants in the closet, the waists ranging in two-inch increments from trim (for me) to “oops, I seem to be gaining a bit of weight,” to “someone bring a forklift, I need to get out of this chair.”

Anything beyond this last and largest waist size requires a trip to what is laughingly called a “Big and Tall Shop.” In my case, absent the tall.

I struggle to put on a pair of the forklift-waistband pants.

“Havin’ a bit of trouble getting into those pants, are we?”

“The clasp seems to be bent.”

“Hmmm.”

In truth, getting into the pants requires a complex series of carefully coordinated movements — pushing the wad of flab one way then the other in order to finally engage the clasp at the waistband and propel the zipper upward. The final moves must be lightning quick, lest gravity undo all the work.

I liken it to ballet.

I need to do something about this.

Friends in the medical trade have told me as much.

My pal, Jim, was somewhat subtle. He deftly equated weight loss to better sleep patterns and lower blood pressure. When I mentioned knee pain I attribute to doing heavy squats in the weight room, he merely raised an eyebrow.

Frank, on the other hand, was (pardon me) more frank. Frank has a detailed knowledge of my cushion of fat since he had to fight his way through it to remove a cancerous prostate. He won’t confirm it, but I suspect he had to bring a team of miners in to shore up the sides of the excavation site so it wouldn’t collapse and trap him. He was very clear during a recent checkup when he told me that one of the sure ways to minimize the chance of a recurrence of the cancer in another part of the body is to deny the cancer cells the nourishment they need to grow.

In other words, lose weight.

“I know how much you like the great food and the wine,” said Frank, “but, you need to drop weight. I suggest you add a lot more cardio to the time you spend in the weight room. Start at, say, a half hour of cardio and build up to an hour or more.”

He smiled as he said this.

Frank is trim. And cruel.

Eat less, exercise.

That’s it. No secret. Burn more calories than you take in, and you lose weight. You don’t have to be a member of Mensa to figure this out.

I suppose I can boost my less-than-marginal cardio time at the gym. I enter the establishment with the best of intentions but, invariably, I gravitate to the room with the heavy stuff, glassy-eyed at the prospect of an endorphin brain bath.

Peddle 20 miles on a recumbent bike and, not only do you not get the endorphin rush, you go absolutely nowhere. Unless there is a fairly interesting magazine available, the cardio express is a trip to Boredomland. Further, if someone with an extremely large butt and tight shorts gets on the stairstepper directly in front of your bike, the experience quickly becomes an aesthetic nightmare. It can get much worse if they have been eating beans and/or cabbage.

So, my first problem will be to overcome the boredom and provide a distraction from the aesthetic hazards.

I will take my own magazines. There’s nothing at the gym that interests me. The magazine options at a gym are like those at doctors’ and dentists’ offices — six-year-old copies of People detailing the marital problems of vapid Hollywood actors, or industry-related materials not even a professional wants to read. In the case of the gym, the mags tout the latest swimming pool disinfectants and I fade halfway through the first paragraph of an article.

I have some great cooking magazines I can read while I peddle my way to nowhere. I can dog-ear pages with interesting recipes .

Sounds a bit contradictory, eh: get in an hour of cardio in order to lose weight, all the while searching for recipes to try out in the kitchen later that day? Perhaps so, but it is better than pawing through an ancient issue of Women’s Day.

I am not intimidated by the notion of boosting the number of calories I use during the day. I can do this.

What worries me is the other half of the injunction, “Burn more than you take in.” After all, taking in is one of the things I do best.

I analyze what I most like to take in: pasta, bread, butter, cheese, fatty proteins, cream, etc. Certified belly builders.

I have already cut back to a minimum on red meats. So, perish the thought, I will attempt to produce some meatless meals and introduce more fish into the diet. As far as carbs go, I will omit the heavy-duty carbs from most meals (note: most — since a future without pasta, bread, potatoes and the occasional flour tortilla is not worth enduring.). When I do tackle a major carb, I will attempt to tackle less.

The big challenge will be curbing my appetite for cheese. To think I can banish cheese to the outer edge of the food system is ludicrous. To consider a diet that does not include cheese? Impossible. I will have to find a way to reduce the intake, but without cheese, I have no will to live.

Then, there’s wine.

“It’s several hundred calories a glass, you know. Two glasses a night — and you pour a big glass — I bet that’s a thousand calories.” Kathy knits her brow and stares at me. It’s her I-read-a-hundred-Internet-health-sites-a-day look. “Empty calories, Chubs.”

My response: “Well, there’s evidence resveratrol has significant health benefits.”

You can imagine how well this works.

So, I have to think about cutting way back on the wine. I can do this, but there must be a tradeoff that works as an incentive. Less volume, greater quality. More expensive wine.

A typical meal?

I’ll fetch a half-pound slab of wild-caught salmon from the store. I’ll pick up a mess of greens, grape tomatoes (the only ones that taste anything like a tomato) an avocado (good fat), an English cucumber, a small shallot, a head of broccoli.

I’ll rough chop a bit of the cucumber, the avocado and a small carrot. I quarter the grape tomatoes. I’ll finely mince the shallot and do the same to a small clove of garlic before I mash it with some kosher salt with the flat of a chef’s knife. I’ll toss all this in a bowl with some chopped parsley. I’ll make a dressing of olive oil, stone ground mustard, red wine vinegar, salt, pepper and some dried tarragon. I’ll add the dressing to the vegetable mix and let it marinate for a while. The mix will be used as a dressing for greens.

I’ll steam the brocolli (no cheesiness … this time).

Instead of oven roasting the salmon the usual way (with a top coat of a mayonnaise-based concoction sprinkled with oiled panko bread crumbs and shaved parmesan cheese) I’ll take the fillet and season it with salt and pepper. I’ll sear it, skin side down, in a heavy pan on the stove burner, then pop the pan into’a 425 degree oven to roast the fish. I’ll serve it with lemon wedges.

The next night … perhaps bean tacos (two small ones), with greens and guacamole.

No wine for a week.

In the meantime, is there such a place as a Short and Wide Shop? These pants are killing me.