Food has always been my go-to. When I’m happy, I eat. When I’m depressed, I eat. When I go out, I’m not having fun until I’m eating – and not just any food. It had to be the most unhealthy, over-the-top things I could find or think of. Like a peanut butter, ranch dressing, and bacon sandwich or a funnel cake covered in bacon. If it was unhealthy and served at a festival, amusement park, carnival, or food truck, I’d probably try it. I’ve done this my whole life. When I was a kid, I would make hotdog sandwiches. Never had one? Well here’s the recipe: take two slices of bread, cover them in butter, and put them in the microwave for about ten seconds – just long enough to melt the butter. Then put two slices of cheese on each piece of bread. Then slice two hotdogs longways, place them on one side, and close the sandwich. Heat until the cheese is gooey. Mmmm, can’t you just feel your arteries hardening?
Moderation was not part of my vocabulary. I stopped making a choice on what to eat a long time ago. I decided I would have all of what I wanted at one time. Instead of one sandwich, I’d have two or three. Plus every snack I had a craving for. No matter where I went or what I got, it had to be extreme. I tricked… no, made… no. I WANTED to believe that this was my “thing,” the thing that made me unique, the thing that made people like me. The thing that made me accepted. Sometimes you have to admit things out loud, so to speak, to realize just how truly stupid they sound.
Most people think of Subway as being reasonably healthy. Well, I took that as a challenge. I would go to Subway and order a footlong tuna sub. Sounds harmless, right? I’d get it on an Italian herb and cheese roll and get it toasted. I know, I know, what’s the big deal? Well, I’d also get it with chipotle sauce, have double bacon put on the bread first, then have it toasted. Then add double tuna, veggies (because, yeah, that made it better), Ol’ Bay, and drench it in more chipotle sauce (enough to gush out with each bite). Don’t forget the mini-cornucopia of snacks I’d hoard like I was going on a cross country bus trip. I seriously ate like the death row prisoners in the movies having their last meal.
If you’re not a calorie counter or a macros (macro nutrition) watcher, you’re probably thinking, “So what, that’s not so horrible.” Well, let me put that sub into perspective for you. One footlong Italian herb and cheese sub roll is 500 calories, 10 grams of fat, 20mg of cholesterol, and 80 grams of carbs. The chipotle sauce (that I was eating [I’m guessing] about a cup or two per sub) has 100 calories, 10 grams of fat, 10mg of cholesterol, and 1 gram of carbs (that’s for one serving [2 tbsp] by the way). Two slices of bacon has 45 calories, 3.5 grams of fat, and 10mg of cholesterol (double meat, remember). That brings us to the tuna. Which has 310 calories, 24 grams of fat, 35mg of cholesterol, and 10 grams of carbs (and again, double meat). Do the math. That equals death on a sub roll.
When I first got home from the hospital, I still didn’t have much of an appetite. But that started changing quickly. Those first couple of weeks I was eating only 60 carbs a day. With other dietary requirements, my daily meals were severely limited. I would start the day with an Ensure. Lunch would be something like a bowl of lite soup with a tortilla. Then for dinner, I’d have a beef slider patty or a single lean hotdog in a tortilla with a side salad or in a wrap, or lean fish with salad. At the time my wife was making these meals for me, but neither one of us fully knew what I could actually eat without going over my carb limit and/or raising my blood sugar. This was a huge learning curve for both of us. I pretty much went from eating every and anything I wanted, to eating next to nothing, and it wasn’t fun.
Remember, I had also quit smoking as well, so these were stressful times. The silver lining was that I was sticking to my diet and losing weight intentionally. Slowly getting my health and independence back, coupled with seeing those numbers go down, made it a lot easier to deal with.
Hating how miserable and bored she could see I was getting with my food choices, my wife suggested turning to meat substitutes. If she had said that one month before, I would have looked at her like she was crazy, then laughed like I was crazy. Which I had many times before at the suggestion. But can I just say that – that – turned out to be the best idea.
Finding healthier alternatives to my previous eating habits opened a whole new culinary world for me. I now had choices to curb some of the cravings. Don’t get me wrong; I still have cravings for some of the foods I used to eat. But with things like veggie burgers and hotdogs, vegan lunch “meat,” and chik’n, I don’t feel the need for McDonald’s or Lexington Market. Plus I’m not sitting around feeling sorry for myself for what I can’t have anymore. So after getting the correct carb intake information from my doctor (60 carbs per meal at three meals a day, plus two 20 carb snacks [a huge difference from 60 carbs a day]), my wife and I went to work exploring the vast new world of meat substitutes and healthier options.
The first suggestion she made was veggie burgers. So we tried the brand MorningStar Farms; they make a griller veggie burger that’s magnificent. Having a very similar texture to meat and even tasting like a “real” burger, they don’t leave you wishing you had Burger King. From there we tried every MorningStar product we could find. Veggie chick’n patties and nuggets, veggie bacon (which is awesome), hotdogs and breakfast sausage. All delicious.
Knowing how much I was craving a cheeseburger, her next suggestion was to find a lactose-free cheese. That’s where GoVeggie cheese came in. As with the MorningStar products, I tried them and fell in love. The taste is rich and buttery. In my opinion, just as good – if not better than – real cheese. It also makes an excellent grilled cheese sandwich. GoVeggie makes individual slice packs of cheddar, American, smoked provolone, and pepper jack. They also do cream cheese, shredded mozzarella, and cheddar.
Once we found this cheesy goodness, the first thing I made was something I thought I could never have again – a double cheeseburger… and it was all veggie heaven.
Earlier I talked about my 1,210 calorie Subway sub. So hopefully it’s understood how huge it was for me to have a complete veggie-based dinner that totaled 674 calories with no snacks or dessert. Of course, that’s laughable now since I total 500-600 calories for the whole day. But at that part of the journey it was pretty epic, and since then I’ve learned more productive ways of keeping the weight loss rolling. I look back at that meal as a triumph.
Finding comparable, healthier alternatives to everyday unhealthy foods has been major fuel to continue this journey. Being able to enjoy things like seitan cheesesteak subs or tempeh Reuben sandwiches makes plain salads with no dressing easier to deal with until you actually enjoy and crave zucchini pancakes or even just a plain old salad. Exploration without suppression, that’s what this journey has taught me so far. How to explore, experience, and enjoy food without suppressing my inner “foodie” or digging an early grave. If you take nothing else from this entry remember this – don’t deprive yourself. Modify your craving to your healthier life.