Off the grid and long overdue. Since returning to school after summer break, I've neglected the mess of stuff in my head to blog about (stay tuned!), so here's number one:
Emily is a dear friend of mine who currently lives in the Middle East (that's not a typo....I mean THE Middle East!). She has been a blog follower and supporter and recently shared her own story with me. Given her rich cultural experiences, her zest for great food, and her keen outlook on life, I had to have her share her insights on eating and her path to a sustainable, dietary, lifestyle. And check out her before and after pics!!!!!!!! I'm so proud of her!
No Counting? Count Me In!
I currently live in Beirut, one of the world capitals of GOOD FOOD. Hummus, kefta (barbecued spiced ground lamb), tabbouleh (parsley salad with bulgur and mint), fatouch (garden salad with sumaq and baked bread chips with zaatar [thyme]), tahini salad (tomato, cucumber, and onion salad with thick sesame seed and lemon juice dressing)…..
For the most part, these sound pretty healthy, right? Fresh produce abounds in the Middle East and especially in Lebanon, from the sweetest cucumbers to the juiciest citrus fruits in the South. You haven’t tasted grapes until you’ve pulled them (and their leaves) directly from the vine growing over your (*cough* or your neighbor’s….) patio. Those grape leave you can use later to make doualeh (grape leaves stuffed and rolled with rice, tomato, and sometimes ground lamb, and boiled in stock until they melt in your mouth).
While Lebanon entices the tongue with all of its Mediterranean cuisine, Lebanon is also known as the gateway to the West. That privilege comes with easy access to the heavy Western food that I can’t resist: pizza, hamburgers, pasta, French fries… And even though I’m not a huge fan, fast food is widely available: McDonald’s, Hardee’s Burger King. Lebanon’s national motto could be: “You want it? You got it.” It’s not hard to find most anything you want here.
Lebanon also specializes in scrumptious sweets: beqlawi (baklava), knafeh (sweet cheese and sugared phyllo dough served on soft, fruity bread drenched with sugared rose water), petit fours, fresh tamar (dates), custard, ice cream, sfouf and basbousa (sweet semolina cakes), maamoul (date cookies)……. The list could go on for 2 miles. Sweets? Can’t stay away from them for anything. If it’s got sugar, it will find its way into my mouth.
So in the past 2 ½ years that I’ve lived overseas in Beirut, I’ve slowly packed on the pounds. I exercise regularly, so I was able to stave off more pounds that probably should be on my hips. But when my husband and I traveled to the States this past Christmas, I was at my highest weight ever. Like a lot of people, I’ve always struggled with my weight, but to be at an all-time high was just shameful. Unfortunately, nothing stopped me from packing on the usual holiday pounds as well as the “We’re so glad you’re finally back!” pounds from countless dinners with family and friends.
It was definitely time for a change. In the past, I had done WeightWatchers, sometimes successfully, but more often than not, within days of starting over, I’d just start using the POINTS to eat whatever I wanted within (and without!) my POINTS range. Cake is 7 points? I shall enjoy! Three pieces of pizza? Sure! In the end, I was feeding my body junk, feeling lethargic, and not losing any weight. In my opinion, WeightWatchers does not emphasize nearly enough the importance of what kinds of foods to eat; they rely too heavily on sweet substitutes that still aren’t doing your body any good. knew I couldn’t do that cycle again.
I researched some other plans and came across the South Beach Diet. I had heard of the South Beach Diet, but when it first came out, its name made it seem like such a fad. After finding the first edition of the book on the clearance rack for $2.00 (thank you, Half Price Books in Indy), I read it within a week. I was blown away: it made sense. Maintain an appropriate blood sugar level to keep from binging on sweets and carbs that only tax pretty much every body system. Make your body work to extract nutrients from the foods you eat instead of serving your body simple sugar.
I decided to go for it. Eat from the approved food list. Phase I: Ditch pretty much all carbs and sugar (including fruit) for 2 straight weeks, restoring blood sugar to a normal level. After that first day, by ditching simple carbs, you're teaching your body to reach for long-term satisfaction foods, not sugary fillers that will make you hungry within an hour. Phase II: Reintroduce some carbs slowly, and eat from a new list of approved foods in addition to the other already-approved foods from Phase II. After reaching goal weight, move to Phase III: Seemingly all foods are “approved,” within reason. By that point you'll know what your triggers are and how to manage them.
For me, South Beach is a sustainable diet. I’ve lost a solid 20 pounds in the last few months, and for the first time, those pounds are staying off. I'm not kidding when I say that I crave vegetables with my dinner now.
Over the years, cooking has become one of my heart’s passions, and the South Beach book itself comes with tons of recipes. They’re good; not “out of this world” fantastic dishes, but solid recipes. My real cooking savior has been Kalyn’s Kitchen, a home-cooking blog that features healthy, low-glycemic recipes. The blog’s author, Kalyn Denny, had major success with the South Beach Diet, and initially started the blog as a way to keep track of all the recipes she was trading with friends. Kalyn is one of my cooking heroes.
I don't like too much restriction (like WW POINTS or an all-or-nothing food list like Paleo), but I do need guidance (like the SBD flexible food lists), and I need lots of grace. I go off plan. Frequently. Sorry, but if someone visits us and brings baklava with them, I’m eating it. Something I love about the South Beach Diet is that when you screw up, or you go off plan for a bit, there's no panicking that you don't have enough POINTS to make it through the week. You just start over again with the next meal. Or you go back to Phase I for a week or two. I'm sure that others can do that with WW, but I never could. I would just eat whatever I wanted until the next Monday rolled around, and hop on the crazed merry-go-round all over again. Had I not strayed on the South Beach Diet, I could have probably met close to my goal weight by now, but for now I’m cool with this steady weight loss.
No counting POINTS. Or calories. Or carbs. Or fats. Or portion sizes. Or anything. As those “Hooked on Phonics” kids might say, “The Sauth Beech Dyat werks fer me!”