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Hungry Like the Wolf

November 21, 2011

Why am I not 300 pounds?

I would like to say exercise. But that would be a bald-faced lie. One day I’m sure Mrs. Fussy will fit me with an odometer to count my steps over the course of a normal day. Naturally, I argue that I’m plenty active just taking care of the business of everyday life. I go up and down the stairs at home countless times every day. But largely my life is sedentary. So the answer is not exercise.

Clearly it’s not diet either. I just bought a big one-pound bag of the lard chips Mr. Dave found recently in a local area market. Pizza slices and dim sum on the go make up a frighteningly large percentage of my lunches. And dinners, while mostly nutritious and lower on the food chain, aren’t exactly light in calories. Think black-eyed peas, cooked with ham hocks on 100% whole wheat toast (with Crystal hot sauce).

Genetics probably play some role in it. I’ve been blessed with a speedy metabolism. But I think there is something else at play, which you may want to consider as the Thanksgiving table approaches in just a few days.

Several years ago, Mrs. Fussy took stock of how we ate.

We ate with gusto and passion. We ate with focus and determination. We ate like wolves. Not necessarily savages. We sat down at the table, used forks and knives, and chewed with our mouths closed. But we ate hungrily.

One key observation was that during dinner, neither of us would put our utensils down unless we were going into the kitchen to reload our plates.

There were two key changes we made moving forward, and they changed our lives.
1)    Used smaller plates for our meals, making smaller portions feel bigger.
2)    Put. Our. Forks. Down. In. Between. Bites.

Here comes some honesty.

Transitions are hard. The first few weeks of the new system were trying. I did feel hungry. But that was a psychological hunger. I was used to eating more. The old me scoffed at the notion that a serving of dried pasta was anything less than a half-pound. Today I could eat through that much food or more, say if I were judging a pasta competition. But I’ve finally clued into my internal feelings of physiological satiety, and now a 13-ounce box of whole wheat pasta is sufficient for our family of four.

This kicked in recently at the Ala Shanghai dinner. Amazingly, after the dim sum starters, my hunger was gone. There were only four small morsels that could be devoured in about as many bites.

1)     A soup dumpling filled with ground pork.
2)    A pan-fried bun filled with ground pork.
3)    A rich flaky pastry filled with turnips.
4)    A dumpling filled with sticky rice.

But ground meat, rice, fat and flour are all filling and calorie-dense ingredients. Taking bites and carefully chewing the food seem to help my body keep track of what’s going down my pie hole.

Certain foods have a way of fooling my body. Ethiopian cuisine is one of them. I’ve never left an Ethiopian meal without feeling uncomfortable from overindulging in food. But I really shouldn’t blame the food. Because I know when I’ve had enough. I just can never resist those last few bites of sauce-soaked injera.

It’s not like I’m a saint. I go overboard all the time. But I think the key to a diet isn’t about the splurges. It’s about what happens on a daily basis. So yes, I go out for pizza at least a few times a week. But for me, a meal of pizza is one cheese slice. My dim sum lunches consist of a meat bun and a dessert bun.

Maybe if I’m extra hungry, I’ll go for the second slice. But I’ll never order two at a time. Primarily because if it’s there I’ll totally eat it. I have little self-control in that regard and I abhor waste (and certain leftovers). Secondarily, the second slice is never as good as the first, mostly because it’s been sitting there while you’ve been eating.

I say, that if you are going to eat something that you know is bad for you, find the best version you can of it and enjoy the hell out of it.

And when it comes to the big eating day, relax. Try to subdue your inner wolf. Here’s my plan. I’ll take small portions of everything, and make every attempt to put my fork down in between bites. I’ll enjoy a sip of wine after tasting each item, and evaluate all the individual pairings. And I’ll delight at being with my family.

It’s not a race. It’s not a contest. It’s food. And food should be enjoyed. So take your time and savor each bite. If you like, eat more than you should. I’m not preaching against the evils of overindulgence on Thanksgiving. I’ll be doing a bit of that myself. Instead I’m arguing for the benefits of lingering around the table and appreciating every morsel.

Still, old habits are hard to break. But the wolf inside all of us can indeed be tamed.

Leading up to the holiday I’ll have a few other tangentially related posts to Thanksgiving. But if you do have any urgent questions, ask away. Pressing questions get speedy answers. The rest are shuffled off to the next Ask the Profussor (which is shockingly delinquent).

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    November 21, 2011 11:59 am

    Having once had a speedy metabolism, I can say with some authority that by age 50 or so, it will slow down.

  2. November 21, 2011 11:59 am

    I’ll admit that I still eat like I’m Hungry Like the Wolf. I try not to, but I feel like I can still hear my grandfather bitching at me about children starving in Africa. My grandparents’ survival of the depression made them use force by guilt to make everyone in the family clean their plates. My father is chronic over-eater with all of the side effects that come with it – acid reflux, high cholesterol, a big belly. And while I may be an over-eater, I do heartily enjoy every bite. But I’m 31 now and, for the first time, didn’t lose last year’s winter layer of fat. Oy. I’ve been looking for motivation to eat less – and I think I’m going to take your fork and wine advice…once the Thanksgiving leftovers are gone.

    On a separate note – here’s a question. I love homemade pie dough and while I have a bitch of a time rolling it out, I have found one recipe that works better above all others – it calls for distilled white vinegar in addition to the ice water. Any idea why something like that makes the difference between dough that’s hard to work with and dough that’s perfect 100% of the time?

  3. -R. permalink
    November 21, 2011 12:09 pm

    I too am blessed with a rapid metabolism. However, is it actually a blessing? Slightly chunky woman cast gazes askance at my now forty-something svelteness as I tuck into some calorie bomb that they would gladly sacrifice a digit to indulge in. Well-proportioned chefs who clearly enjoy their professions will sometimes concoct outrageously sized examples of their cooking just to see ‘if I can do it’…I’m usually able. I can drink copious quantities of heavy stouts, porters and IPAs without so much as gaining an ounce. Fatty Arbuckle wants to take me out drinking so he can what I’m made of. The list goes on.

    The fact is, I eat twice a day, and I try to make it count- lunch and dinner with perhaps a piece of fruit (or two) sometime before bed. Lunch is my weakness as it is consumed out; dinner is usually in strict adherence to the Mediterranean diet. I don’t snack, ever. While I enjoy chips, dips, and things from the fryer I do consciously try to avoid them (for the most part). I take my time while eating, and I don’t do other things while eating (like poking at the phone thingy, watching TV, etc). Good food, like a fine wine, takes time to unravel its complexities. If you can Tweet and eat, chances are the food is lacking.

    I’ve often felt that the rise of the “grazing culture” of the last several decades has had deleterious effects on, if not the waistlines, then the general health of the American public. Obesity related illnesses (diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, etc) now kill more folks in the US than cancer. Food today is ubiquitous, constantly available, marketed and consumed (like so much of American culture) without thought, or time to appreciate – talk, walk, work, shop, drive – do everything…while eating. Food – the new cigarette. Happy Thanksgiving!

  4. Darren Shupe permalink
    November 22, 2011 5:17 pm

    I think much of the current American obesity problem owes much to fast food. It’s not a matter of eating too much in the way of meat and potatoes – but has to do with the way that food is processed and prepared. I’m not a scientist, so this is just a layman’s hypothesis, but I know that – metabolism aside – if you eat three squares a day, including vegetables, fruits, and other good-for-you delights, you’re more than likely going to stay relatively healthy.

    If, on the other hand, you head out to Burger King or Jack in the Box every day, you’re probably going to look like a blimp before too long. Perhaps that has something to do with laziness, too… after all, moving pots and pans around does consume calories. ;)

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