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How I plan to lose 20 pounds, Part 2: The Food

I eat food, mostly plants, too much.

That’s how I eventually internalized Michael Pollan’s famous words: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” I eat very few heavily processed foods. I eat a home-cooked meal almost every time I eat at home (which is often). I shop in the farmers’ markets and the whole-food emporia and the globally sourced sambal and pecorino stores. I use meat as an accent rather than the star of the plate (been doing that for 20 years). I choose restaurants in which the food is carefully cooked, locally sourced … you know the drill.

But I eat a bit too much. Not a huge amount, but enough to end up 20 pounds over my happy weight, at a middle age in which losing the pounds will require a more concrete plan than simply repeating a Pollan mantra.

In the last blog I outlined the two apps I’m using as part of what I’m calling the Cooking Light Food Lover’s Social Diet. In another post I’ll talk more about the “social” part. But here, after three weeks on the plan, is the basic deal on the food.

Measuring portions. We eat first with our eyes, and our eyes are bad judges of portions. Cooking Light experiments repeatedly show that people routinely misjudge ounces, cups, pinches, and pounds. Today, when I measure out a cup of cooked quinoa, it’s usually less than I would have served, unmeasured, yesterday. So for now, I’m measuring my breakfast cereal, my grains, my low-fat latte milk, my pasta, my olive oil, my curried lentils. I’m counting my almonds. Measuring has two benefits: Less food is eaten, and more accurate information is obtained for the e-journal.

• Eating even more plants. This is the right season for leaning on produce—the farmers’ market is a-bursting. However, that doesn’t mean more pasta, rice, corn, and starchy legumes; it means more carrots, beets, tomatoes, arugula, and other low-calorie choices, as well as fruits.

• Leaving food on the plate at restaurants. Important, because I eat out a lot, often for my job. I’m not the sort to simply choose a salad, a steamed piece of fish, or a steamed vegetable plate. I want what the place specializes in. If I’m at the locally sourced Mexican restaurant in my home city of Birmingham, I want the fish tacos, or I want the tamales. (I’ve decided that less is probably half.) I’ll take the rest home. That said, there are full-satisfaction choices on, say, a bistro menu that can keep well within the allowances, even with full portions:  At Chez Fonfon last night (an excellent local bistro), I avoided the excellent croque madame, which is a sublime fat bomb, for an order of grilled asparagus with mushrooms in a classic bistro vinaigrette, followed by seared scallops and crawfish on a perfect portion of delicate herbed pilaf—both dishes had Chef Frank’s characteristically well-etched flavors. As for dessert, I admired the four-layer strawberry cake on the way out.

Eating less cheese. That’s simple enough. Not easy, but simple. Less cheese!

Eating less yogurt. A favorite of mine, but I’m mostly shifting it from breakfast staple to dessert treat.

Cooking ahead. Office lunches at Cooking Light happen in the Test Kitchen. There might be three dishes to taste, or nine. It’s a wonderful duty to taste this food, but I find it very hard not to oversample. I’m reducing my visits to one or so a week. On weekends, I’m making pots of whole grains and bringing 1-cup portions of those grains in, topped with sauces or sambals and vegetables.

Freezing stuff. I’ve cleared out the freezer and bought better containers for clear labeling and portioning of leftovers.

And that’s pretty much it: a straightforward approach. Real food. Plant-focused. Just a bit less. With my apps and my Board of Advisors to keep me honest.

What are your best tips for staying on track? Comment here, email Scott_Mowbray@timeinc.com, and tweet @ScottMowb or @Cooking_Light using #SocialDiet.

A recent pie tasting in the Test Kitchen. It’s a wonderful duty to taste the food in the Cooking Light Test Kitchen, but I find it hard not to oversample. To meet my weight-loss goal, I’m reducing my visits to one or so a week.