A food critic makes a St. Patrick's Day fitness resolution

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 nine of this series:

Try and guess what I ate for breakfast this morning.

If you said eggs, you're wrong. You're also wrong if you guessed steak or lamb or some sort of meat left over from the night before. In fact, if you guessed anything even related to protein -- which is what I should have eaten for breakfast, were I following the plan laid out by Jamie Atlas, Bonza Bodies owner and personal trainer extraordinaire -- you are not even close. Because for breakfast this morning, after seriously contemplating a big old wedge of cherry pie WITH ICE CREAM, I slathered a three-day-old poppyseed bagel with peanut butter and jelly (over a base of butter, for good measure) and ate the entire thing, errant drops of jelly on the plate included. Gluten, dairy, sugar, mediocre food for not-work... I think I broke every single cardinal rule of the plan. Shattered them, in fact.

I probably had this coming. Two weeks ago, I smugly typed that I could count on two hands how many times I've cheated on the high protein breakfast part of the Jamie Atlas plan since May, surviving wedding season and Thanksgiving in the process. Now I'm not even sure I could count on two hands how many times I've cheated on breakfast in the last week (so I've had a lot of double breakfasts. What?).

And breakfast was just the first thing to go, in a blaze of pancake- and French toast-coated glory. After that, I quickly took one of my brand-new gifted boots to the rest of the plan, engaging in a full-on gastronomic bender, the pinnacle of which had me eating row upon row of Fannie May chocolates after an ice cream sundae, a basket of fries and a bowl full of caramel corn.

It was glorious until I returned to my apartment from the marathon of family events and faced my skinny jeans, which stare at me judgmentally every time I open the drawer. My scale is also giving me the stink-eye, and I haven't even stepped on it yet. Because -- OBVIOUSLY -- you can't gain weight if you never weigh yourself.

Normally, this is about the point where I give up and trade the gym membership for the frequent scoop card at a nearby ice cream parlor. This year, though, I have Jamie blowing up my text-message inbox, and after completely ignoring his attempts to taunt me with the results I was destroying while cramming my face full of expensive cheese (and by "expensive cheese," I actually mean "cheap, horseradish-spiked pub cheese." I told you, big gifted boot to the rules), I'm ready to go crawling back. After all, New Year's resolution season is right around the corner. The days of homemade, cream-based egg nog are drawing quickly to a close. "It's fine, Jamie," I said, when I finally broke down and called the guy back. "I've made a New Year's resolution to get back on the plan. I will totally lose so much more weight, and it will be awesome."

"No," he said. What? Was my six-foot-seven-inch Australian finally giving up on me?

"I'm not giving up on you," he laughed when I asked. "But you have to get your momentum going back in the other direction. And a lot of people who make half-hearted New Year's resolutions work out, like, twice before grudgingly accepting the five extra pounds they packed on during the holidays and reverting right back to whatever lifestyle they were living before the end of the year."

"I'm not going to do that," I said defiantly.

And then he did that baby animal laugh, the one that means, if you didn't have me to guide you along in the world, baby chick, you would totally get eaten by a hawk after it brutally clawed your eyes out. "I know you're not," he said. And before I could pat myself on the back too much, he continued: "Here's why: You're not making a New Year's resolution. You're making a St. Patrick's Day resolution. I want you to commit to be on my plan -- the modified, food critic plan -- for eleven weeks, from New Year's Day until St. Patrick's Day. That means eating high-protein breakfasts every day, completing re-feed workouts before you eat out, avoiding gluten and dairy when you're not eating out for work, eating protein before carbohydrates and dairy when you are working and cutting down your booze by drinking one glass of red wine or one high-alcohol drink later in your meal."

The reason for this, he explained, goes back to momentum. The hardest part of weight loss and fitness is the mental game. New habits are hard to form, especially when you've been on a joyride in the calorie sports car for weeks on end. Going cold turkey for an indefinite amount of time sets you up to give up -- because who wants to have no fun for eternity? Suck. Eleven weeks, on the other hand, is a good time frame for getting your act together: at the outset, it doesn't seem impossible to complete, but it also gives you enough time to change your behavior. The hope, of course, is that once you hit week eleven, you've gotten a bunch of "Oh, heyyyy" compliments about your svelte new bod, thus giving you more motivation to continue down the fitness path, fraught as it is with delicious obstacles. And then at some point -- and that point is still sort of a glimmer of light at the end of a very fat tunnel for me -- the motivation becomes intrinsic, and you just live in some sort of beautiful skinny harmony where you have everything you ever wanted and you never risk going back.

I'm looking for that harmony. But first, I have to get back on the plan. "Can I start the day after New Year's Day?" I asked. "I'm probably going to need a hangover breakfast."

"Sure," said Jamie with a wink. "But then it's back to it."

"Deal," I said.

I'm living it up this week, and come New Year's Eve, I will probably wash down a cornucopia of delicious snacks with my very own bottle of champagne. But this year, I'll toast to St. Patrick's Day -- and I'll pour one out for you, if that's the commitment you're making, too.

"Enjoy yourself," Jamie concluded. "Because next week, we're also amping up your fitness plan." Yikes.

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

- Step six: surviving a multi-course feast plus a re-feed workout video

- Step seven: staying on the wagon for the long haul

- Step eight: avoiding diet food while losing weight

Watch for the next installment of Bar Belle next Monday.

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Laura Shunk was Westword's restaurant critic from 2010 to 2012; she's also been food editor at the Village Voice and a dining columnist in Beijing. Her toughest assignment had her drinking ten martinis and eating ten Caesar salads over the course of 48 hours. She still drinks martinis, but remains lukewarm on Caesar salads.
Contact: Laura Shunk