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A food critic learns how to survive the holidays and still lose weight, plus a bonus refeed workout video

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Over the last few months, I went from the worst shape of my life to the best while continuing to eat like a food critic. Don't punch me in the face; instead, read how I did it in part six of this series:

Three weeks into Bonza Bodies and the Jamie Atlas plan, I'd achieved a precarious balance: I was breakfasting on protein; I was cutting the excess; I was drinking later in the meal (and, therefore, drinking less); I was refeed workout-ing. And then I got on a plane to head to a wedding in San Francisco.

I know myself. That terrible, terrible mantra that "nothing tastes as good as skinny feels" wasn't even a single drop in the motivation bucket to help me say no to the culinary delights in store. Because whoever came up with that mantra has obviously never tasted croissants, dim sum, lamb belly or sourdough. Moreover, that person has never known the joy of an open bar, a free-for-all buffet or the towering pre-event cheese tray.

So before Jamie could tell me to suck it up and power through the weekend with my future skinny self as motivation, I launched into a defensive rant. "I don't want to be the dumb ninny standing in a corner with my club soda and carrot sticks while everyone else is making their way through the buffet line and taking advantage of the open bar," I said. "And if you think I'm forsaking even one good meal in the name of weight loss in San Francisco, you are crazy."

It's incredible to me that Jamie wasn't totally fed up with my antics by now -- he was no doubt cringing at my insistence that I was going to eat like a fat kid in the candy store for a weekend, just when I'd started to see some progress despite the limitations of my job. But he actually was understanding, laying out the rules for not derailing myself too much. It worked great -- I may not have shed fifteen pounds during my jaunt to the West Coast, but I didn't get off track, either.

And I'll be following these rules this Thanksgiving weekend, too, when the rest of my family members are stuffing themselves as if they're about to hibernate and then passing out in front of the TV. 1. Do a refeed workout first.

I've mentioned before that the refeed workout -- a short, twenty-minute burst of high- intensity exercise -- was the key component in my plan. Making sure I did a refeed workout before events gave me all the good effects of that workout when I did go stuff my face, making it possible for me to eat more without doing too much damage. But it also did something to my mentally: If I didn't allow myself to eat off the plan until after I worked out, I curbed what I stuffed in my face. It pretty much ensured that I always ate a high protein breakfast and that I went easy on the gluttony until I'd done some physical activity. Never cheating on Jamie's plan until after I've worked out has been key in keeping myself in check. Also, I enjoy my food more because I feel less guilty. Bonus: "I have to work out" is a good way to get alone time when you have a house full of family around, and you can treat anyone who argues with you to a big, fat smug smile that you're burning calories before consuming them.

2. When you sit down to the big meal, eat protein first.

This was a rule Jamie eventually applied to my work meals, too: When you eat protein first, it does a couple of things. Most important, it stabilizes the blood sugar, so when you start cramming carbs into your body, they cause less of a spike -- and, therefore, less damage to your system. It also makes sure you fill up on the good stuff, and eat less of what's off-limits. So I'll have a hefty portion of turkey before diving into the mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing and pie.

3. Skip the mediocre stuff.

Something about the buffet line -- or vacation meal or holiday feast -- makes me forget that I have a discriminating palate. It becomes a free-for-all, and I eat with almost competitive intensity, thinking nothing about what I put in my mouth until I'm about to bust the button off my pants. But I've got stuff on the Thanksgiving meal docket that I like less than other foods. I'd happily skip the canned cranberry, for instance, to eat plate after plate of mashed potatoes and gravy. I've liked how the stuffing turned out about three times in my life, but the sweet potatoes -- we do them with rosemary in my house -- are something I look forward to weeks in advance. So this year, I'm skipping the stuff I like less to make room for the dishes that are worth more to me, aiming for satisfaction instead of overkill. This is also a good argument for only marking reservations at really good restaurants on vacation -- and skipping the crappy spots in touristy areas that are never satisfying. 4. Don't go back for seconds.

A moratorium on seconds saved me at the San Francisco wedding: I made better choices in the dinner line because I knew there'd be no return trip. In my family, the order of Thanksgiving Day is to eat until you're at risk of heart failure. This is not actually enjoyable; in fact, it's pretty painful. So I'm putting the no-seconds rule in place again. I'll still taste everything and enjoy it. But this will help me stop before I'm beyond the point of no return.

5. Don't turn it into a weekend long extravaganza -- get back on track.

I usually treat Thanksgiving weekend as an excuse to eat pie for breakfast, gravy on everything and snacks -- from leftovers, naturally -- 25 times a day. But my success on this plan has been mostly related to keeping the momentum going in the right direction, even after what most dumb diets would consider falling off the wagon. So this Thanksgiving, I'll be enjoying every single moment and bite of Thanksgiving Day. I'll try to play by the rules the best I can, but I'm going to enjoy my food, possibly until the point when I need an after-dinner Fernet to settle the stomach. Then, instead of allowing the festivities to drag on through Sunday, I'll be back on the plan come Friday morning, getting in a work-out and a high-protein breakfast before the rest of my family can rustle up a trough of dessert to start the day. Because it's a marathon, not a sprint. And the most important thing about a successful plan is remembering that and not getting discouraged --or letting yourself go -- over one enjoyable meal.

In the warm, toasty spirit of the holidays, Jamie has put together a refeed workout for anyone who wants to do it. Follow along with the video here and enjoy your Thanksgiving, complete with jealous commentary from relatives:

Following the plan? The step-by-step:

- Step one: turning the corner with a high protein breakfast

- Step two: cutting the trash

- Step three: getting a handle on the booze

- Step four: the short workout key

- Step five: eat more like a food critic

Watch for the next installment of Bar Belle next Monday.

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