Trying to lose weight? Eat more like a food critic

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"Actually, there are some things you're doing very right," he said, which was enough to put a smug spring in my step for the rest of the day. But then he went on: "You even have an advantage in certain aspects."

Shut the damn door. I wasn't expecting that.

I asked him to please, please, expand upon his thoughts. He came back at me with his top five ways that eating like a food critic actually confers an advantage when it comes to losing weight.

1. I really, actually taste the food. I can't tell you how many meals I've mindlessly munched down while doing something else -- whether it was gossiping with friends at restaurants or reading at my kitchen counter - but that started to change when I became a critic. If I'm going to make astute observations and clever comments about dishes, I need to actually taste the food. Interestingly, a lot of dumb diet books really harp on this concept. Tasting your food means you appreciate it more. It means that you learn to differentiate between the good and the bad. And, most important to weight-loss, it means you recognize when you're full, thereby saving you from stuffing down that next bite. Actually tasting the food shifts your focus to satisfaction - and it's easier to get skinny when you want to eat food that satisfies you. Not to mention tasting your food makes eating a lot more fun. You really want to drop $100 on dinner and not remember anything about what you ate? I didn't think so.

2. I recognize that there's always more where that came from. The single biggest lesson that came from becoming a food critic is that, after more than two and a half decades of life, I finally grasped the elusive concept of portion control. As a kid, sharing a plate of food with my brother meant one of two things was going to happen: We were either going to competitively try to out-eat each other, cramming as much into our mouths as we could to prevent the other person from eating more, or we were going to split the dish exactly evenly, down to the last grain of rice, and polish off every single bite to, yes, prevent the other person from eating more. We may have been a middle-class suburban family, but we ate like we were at risk for starvation. I think that's why I've never been good at portion control, and why I'd just finish off a plate of food without thinking about it, even if I was full. But once I started actually tasting my food, I got full long before I'd finish the dish. And since there was no one waiting to stab me in the hand with his fork so he could eat the rest, I started to be okay with boxing up the leftovers or, you know, not eating every last crumb. Because the truth of the matter is, there's always more where that came from. By the way, Jamie suggests boxing up part of dinner before you START eating if you need help getting to this point.

3. I skip the foods that are never satisfying I don't have many food aversions -- I can really only think of one, and that's whole hard-boiled eggs - but I certainly have foods I like more than others, and a list of things that I just about always find boring. Chicken fits in that category. Why not just eat duck? Or pork? Cake is another one on this list. There are exceptions, but for the most part, cake is the "she's nice" of desserts. As in, "she doesn't have any other qualities that are worth talking about, but she's generally fine to be around. I might as well be around her." Just like I might as well eat the cake. Even though I'm totally not even going to think about it as I polish off the whole piece only to promptly forget everything about it as soon as the last bite slides down my gullet.

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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