losing weight while writing about and reviewing food
June 30, 2011 2:15 PM   Subscribe

I have decided to try to kick-start my severely stalled weight loss by seriously cutting back carbs. Obstacle: I am now have a paid gig as a food writer/restaurant reviewer and I'll be ordering three course meals in restaurants once or twice a week, in addition to attending various restaurant openings and general food-related events.

I previously tracked every bite I ate for four months, starting at around 1500 kcal per day and dropping to 1350-1400 when nothing happened at 1500, and I stuck to roughly 30/30/30 carbs/fat/protein averaged over the course of a week. I was great about tracking it and was losing weight but suddenly I started getting EXTREMELY hungry and anxious about food. I gave up completely and gained back at least half of what I lost.

So now, in spite of the fact that I have previously completely dismissed it as a lazy and unhealthy way to lose weight, I'm ready to try cutting way back on carbs. I am a big fan of all kinds of lean protein and green vegetables, and from what I hear this kind of eating cuts back on hunger and makes eating kind of a boring-but-necessary aspect of life, like brushing your teeth, instead of something to constantly think about and look forward to and get anxious about. I'm just worried about the fact that I will be ordering and eating and writing about all kinds of delicious food on a regular basis.

I know I could, in theory, just have a bite of everything and then go home to salmon and spinach, but I have a feeling that I won't be able to do that. So what I'm asking is, will eating carb-heavy meals at least twice a week completely negate the effect of eating low-carb the rest of the time? How should I be eating for my 19 or so non-restaurant meals per week to make this plan as effective as possible? I will try to choose healthier menu items when I can, but I can't let my diet keep me from ordering the menu items that readers really want to hear about.

I have seriously considered just saying no to the writing gig, but it's PAID. PAID WRITING. I just can't say no to that.
posted by cilantro to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Just so you know, occasionally eating a higher calorie meal will kick start your metabolism back up particularly if dieting has slowed it down.

Just figure out a way to add exercise and or weight training to your regimen and enjoy your gig!
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 2:20 PM on June 30, 2011

My understanding is that, especially at first, you really need to cut way down on the carbs consistently to get the (temporary) results you seem like you're looking for. It seems like you'd have better success putting a bit of that paid writing money (and/or your insurance coverage) towards a good nutritionist who can help you develop a diet plan that is consistent with your anticipated restaurant meals, your metabolism, and your habits.
posted by maxim0512 at 2:26 PM on June 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

You should be more forensic when you are reviewing food. As a restaurant reviewer your job is not to eat everything put in front of you, down to the garnish. You should be focusing on the plating, tasting components individually and together. You don't need to eat a whole steak to know whether it is well cooked or to be recommended.
posted by smithsmith at 2:29 PM on June 30, 2011 [3 favorites]

Seconding maxim0512, get some support, don't try to do this yourself. It's not that you're not competent and wonderful, it's that you're making it unnecessarily hard on yourself.
posted by facetious at 2:30 PM on June 30, 2011

Another suggestion: bring someone else with you and share each course. Not only does it halve the amount you eat, but you also get the benefit of objective feedback.
posted by smithsmith at 2:32 PM on June 30, 2011 [3 favorites]

Frank Bruni has written a few articles/blog posts about this. For what it's worth he never avoided the indulgent foods. Here's one post about the subject where he recommends a book by another food writer. He claims that her book discusses this issue. I would imagine that his memoir Born Round also discusses it, although I've read neither.

That blog post isn't any of the articles I remember Bruni writing on the subject. Let me see if I can find some of them...
posted by stuart_s at 2:37 PM on June 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think this is the blog post that I remember. In the link in my previous comment, he alludes to an article that he wrote for Men's Vogue. Apparently Men's Vogue is no longer a thing, but you can probably hunt that article done in your friendly neighborhood library.
posted by stuart_s at 2:42 PM on June 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: smithsmith, I know I don't HAVE to eat the whole whatever, and I know how to evaluate a plate of food. Unfortunately, once an evaluation has been made, a mixture of guilt about wasting food and a general sort of on-and-off food addiction makes it difficult for me not to finish what's in front of me. Hence my problem. I do plan on dragging along as many people as I can, though, and encouraging them to order the pork belly (and to let me have a taste) while I order the fish.
posted by cilantro at 2:45 PM on June 30, 2011

Exercise more (strength training too) - it makes more of a difference than you think it does.
posted by mrs. taters at 2:46 PM on June 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

from what I hear this kind of eating cuts back on hunger and makes eating kind of a boring-but-necessary aspect of life, like brushing your teeth, instead of something to constantly think about and look forward to and get anxious about

I've been at it for a while, with success, and am beginning to doubt I will ever experience this phase.

I'll agree with the others that a trip to the nutritionist would likely be helpful. If you're worried that success comes with stringent documentation and low carb eating is "lazy," AND you'll be introducing a lot of food where carb counts will not be apparent or even available, some customized expert advice will be a huge help.

On preview: Pork belly is low carb until there's sauce on it, and sometimes even then.
posted by gnomeloaf at 2:50 PM on June 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Research "carb cycling", there's lots of good info from the bodybuilder communities. Basically, yes, you can integrate your review meals w/a weekly plan of carb cycling and still benefit from a low-carb diet and lose weight.
posted by jpeacock at 2:55 PM on June 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Another option is looking at CKD (Cyclic Ketogenic Diet, which is low carb and high carb cycles - sorry, I don't have any particularly good links), which is popular among people who do weight lifting and may or may not help you depending on how willing you are to exercise and time it around your meals. At the very least, it might help you understand the concept of depleting your glycogen stores (which fuels your muscles) and replenishing them with carbs.

I eat low carb whole foods for 90% of my meals, and find that the other 10% - catered lunches at work, hot dogs and beer with friends, etc. - haven't had a negative effect on me. The low carb means I'm very rarely hungry, so I don't splurge with a giant plate of pasta and, for once, am satisfied with smaller portions and throwing food out. This may work for you - god knows I've dealt with food addiction - and it may not. I'm not sure if you can know unless you try it.
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 2:57 PM on June 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you feel guilty about wasting the rest of your meal, then ask the restaurant to box it up. It may be considered gauche but even the fanciest places will still do it, and then you can share the rest of your meal with someone who would love to have it and not regret it later (whether that's a friend or family member or a person in need).

If you eat strictly low carb all week except for two normal sized moderately carby dinners, you'll probably still lose weight, but you'll make your life more difficult. The initial switch to low carb is pretty unpleasant and you get past that point by eating low carb consistently for a few weeks. Having carby meals will set you back in that regard (and likely give you a nasty headache).
posted by telegraph at 3:00 PM on June 30, 2011

If you were getting hungry while you were eating low-carb, then you weren't getting enough fats and protein - or the hunger was not physical hunger, but a manifestation of emotional/psychological stuff.

Don't worry about ordering the pork belly: worry about eating the entire portion of potatoes or polenta that comes with it.

Having been doing the low-carb thing for a few months now (at or less than 50g a day), I do notice that eating a lot more carbs than that at one sitting makes me feel not so great. YMMV.
posted by rtha at 3:42 PM on June 30, 2011

I am a food writer. I try not to eat refined carbs, though I'm lazier than I used to be and don't worry too much when reviewing (but I don't typically review restaurants as often as you will be). I think you can probably do this if you're very disciplined.

Firstly, you can't let diet affect what you order. Restaurant reviewing isn't always fun -- you don't order what you want, you order what you should. This means signature items, crowd pleasers, staples and things that are consistently on the menu. That delicious sounding one-night-only special is not for you. If the restaurant's focus is pasta, you're going to have to order pasta.

But as others have said, you don't have to eat everything you're given. This is easier said than done, especially if you love food as most food writers do AND you get anxious about not tasting everything correctly. Here is the best advice I can give:

Bring friends: You'll appreciate a second, third or fourth opinion, you can try a far larger range of dishes, you won't eat as fast and your friends will be flattered to be invited (especially if your work is comping their meal). You're also less likely to give yourself away as a reviewer (you won't be so easily spotted taking notes on your Blackberry, and you won't have to return so many times), you'll see how wait staff deal with different personality types and how the kitchen deals with larger orders and timing. If you must dine alone, bring something like a book to distract yourself -- otherwise you'll have nothing to do but eat.

Get a to-go box: Many reviewers do this even if they're happy to eat everything on their plate, as it can be a Godsend in writing up your review. That dish that you could describe so vividly at the time becomes a blur a day or two later. Then once you have it down on paper, give the rest to someone else or throw it out. Quickly. Don't second guess yourself, just get it in the bin.

Never show up hungry: You won't have any self control by the time the meal arrives -- especially the bread plate. Eat a snack an hour (or whatever works for you) beforehand. Make sure it's plain -- you should do this any way to make sure your palate is as clear as possible for the meal.

Avoid alcohol where possible: Wine, beer and cocktails are full of carbs and empty calories. In many places you will have to have some, as it is an important part of the dining experience. Share with friends, drink lots of water beforehand. And don't drink alcohol before you begin your meal -- not only are you likely to be hungrier and have less control, but it will also impair your judgement in portion control and mess with your palate. I often don't drink at all for the first visit. You can also judge a lot about a restaurant's wine or cocktail program just from the menu: do the drinks appeal to a wide range of tastes? Are they using house-made ingredients? Are the wines good matches for the dishes offered?

Avoid dessert if possible: Depending on how long your reviews are, where they're being published, how much you're being compensated for the meal and what the restaurant is, you can often get away without writing about the dessert. Unless they sounds remarkable or they're one of the restaurant's big selling points, they're often not worth commenting on. If you can't avoid it, share between friends and/or get it to go -- it's easier to be disciplined about it at home than it is in a social food-focussed situation.

Study the menu beforehand: Reviewers should do this anyway, but going in knowing exactly what to expect and order will help you remain confident and in control.

Eat simply when not out: Lots of salads, simply cooked meats, etc. Don't fall for the "as long as it's low-carb I can binge on fat" myth. Eating rich foods will make the meals you have out less enjoyable, make you crave rich foods all the time, and again, mess with your palate. Eat healthy, fresh meals. Don't eat artificial "low fat/low carb" replacement foods, because you'll just crave the real thing. Don't eat tiny portions, either -- just make a huge salad with every meal. And another one if you're still hungry at the end.

Exercise: You have to do this. It will speed up your metabolism, burn more calories and put the carbs you do eat to good use. Find an activity you really love doing and it won't feel like a chore. It can be a great distraction to thinking about food all day and fills in hours you might usually spend snacking.

Openings and media events: These can be tricky, but take the above advice and double it: Eat a full meal beforehand. Don't drink. Hors d'oeuvres are sneaky and difficult to resist. Free cocktails and wine are difficult to turn down, but do your best. Just because all the other journalists are drinking like fish, doesn't mean you have to (Hot tip: hang out with the PR people; they're less fun, but richer and more image conscious, so less likely to be stocking up on free crostini). Or just, y'know, don't go. Those events are good for gossip and networking, and if your job is more than just reviewing -- you need to be in on industry rumors and meet the right people -- they can be important. But if you're just going for free food and to chat to famous people and because attending make you feel special, then reevaluate it. You probably shouldn't attend the opening of a restaurant you intend to review, anyway, if you can avoid it. Ideally, the fewer people in the industry who know what you look like, the better. You'll also probably find they get boring once the novelty wears off: same people, same conversations.
posted by retrograde at 4:18 PM on June 30, 2011 [8 favorites]

Ed Levine, founder of Serious Eats, is on week 176 of his diet and he details all the temptations, along with the ways he's learned to cope with with dieting when food is your job. Here's the link to week 1.
posted by Room 641-A at 4:21 PM on June 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Unfortunately, once an evaluation has been made, a mixture of guilt about wasting food and a general sort of on-and-off food addiction makes it difficult for me not to finish what's in front of me.

Forgive me if this is totally uncouth for a food writer, but... is it possible to take home your leftovers? If you can at least get as far as stopping, you can deal with the guilt by either 1) taking it home and eating it later 2) taking it home and giving it to a friend later. "My fridge is overloaded with food right now, but you gotta try this steak!" or 3) offer your leftovers to a homeless person. If you've already divided your food up into eat now/take later portions, it's not even like you're giving someone half-eaten food.
posted by katillathehun at 4:22 PM on June 30, 2011

I eat a low carb diet. I said low carb and not no carb. I control my diet through portion control rather than subsituting low carb foods for high carb foods.Those unfamiliar with the diet assume "no carb" when one states "low carb".

Since you are eating the diet out of choice and not for medical reasons (as I do) I suspect the high carb meals you eat will just make you more sleepy after eating them due to higher blood sugars. I don't believe this will cause serious problems for you later as the diet is not for medical reasons.

Oh yea - I am not a Doctor.
posted by BuffaloChickenWing at 6:11 PM on June 30, 2011

You could try to make your other meals more boring. Your body's reward pathways adapt to this by decreasing demand for food and making simple foods more satisfying.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 8:27 PM on June 30, 2011

I've been eating low carb since January for weight loss and am happy with the diet and the results. I've never heard of low carb making "eating kind of a boring-but-necessary aspect of life, like brushing your teeth." It has definitely changed my hunger responses, but there's nothing boring about what I eat. If anything, I think more now about what I eat, as I have to manage my choices a little more carefully.

I would have a hard time eating several high carb meals every week, primarily because lots of carbs kick me out of ketosis, and I feel crappy adjusting back to it. Not everyone has that reaction, though, so you'll need to figure that out for yourself. I find myself eating around the carbs -- I'll have a bite of the potatoes, or the polenta, or the bread in the salad, and leave it at that. I've tasted it, but not consumed very much. That's one way I manage eating out when meals come with carbs on the plate that I don't want.

Your comment about skipping the pork belly for the fish confused me. Both are equally low carb, in the absence of some sugary sauce on the pork. Don't avoid fat. Embrace it. Also your comment about low carb being lazy and unhealthy. I intentionally chose low carb as a scientific, healthy way to lose weight. There's plenty of good information out there about why it works and how to do it well. Gary Taubes gets cited a lot in AskMe for good reason.
posted by gingerbeer at 9:12 PM on July 2, 2011

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