Saturday, March 28, 2009

Eating is Not Cheating

“Eating is not cheating,” he said in a thick Austrian accent.

So true.

Now this is actually fantastic advice to dieters everywhere and it’s a phrase that should sink into one’s soul if you’re trying to lose weight the good ol’ fashioned way.

Disregard that I first read this sage wisdom many years ago in the now defunct Premiere Magazine and it had nothing to do with dieting.

It was actually attributed to Arnold Schwarzenegger who indelicately blurted out this beauty of a barb when someone barged through the door of his unlocked movie trailer and allegedly caught him in flagrante in the midst of an extramarital affair.

To be clear, I don’t condone Arnold’s wacky view of cheating, but if you are dieting, I do encourage real world eating as soon as you feel able.

For many weeks, the family pretty much stayed at home and declined a number of invitations to eat out (and I don’t mean that in a Schwarzenegger kind of way).

At some point you need to break free of your kitchen and use your foundation and comfort with your food plan and eat in “the real world.”

After two months of almost exclusively eating meals prepared in our kitchen -- an environment that has been completely sanitized for our protection -- this week was a pivotal step forward.

More than ever, we really took our diet to extremes and discovered that eating truly is not cheating. We tackled Disneyland, a poker game, dinner with my brother and two long-time family friends, a few lunches out, and the best frickin’ wine dinner I have been to in about 8 months.

And with all the potential obstacles, traps and land mines we faced, Amy and I still managed to lose 4 pounds each this week. So forgive me if I am a little astonished by the accomplishment.

In the interest of full disclosure, Amy and I actually weighed in on Thursday because there was no way in hell I was going to attend the mother of all wine dinners and hop on a scale the following morning.


I may be fat, but I ain’t stupid!

When I decided to attend this genuinely obscene evening of food and wine, I knew there was every chance in hell that Evil Steve was gonna show up and crash the party, so I planned accordingly.

Now I sense you in front of your computer raising at least one eyebrow. Please don’t give me that look. It was a pre-cheat, for crying out loud. I did what every self-respecting cheater would do.

Yes, I weighed in before the din-din of sin. Sue me in calorie court!

It was still 4 pounds in 6 days and we could have been swallowed whole by any one of our previous encounters with dining out this week. I just figured if something bad was going to happen, it wasn’t gonna be a Mickey Burger in the Magic Kingdom.

Oh hell no, friends, if something bad was going to occur, it was going to erupt like a volcano at the wine dinner.

It was my pre-cheat and I was going to own it – good, bad or ugly. And I have to say, the Elzer experience with pre-cheating thus far has been hard fought and frought with peril.

Those of you following the blog know that Lucas tried to pre-cheat and instead of pizza and cake he ended up with Strawberries.

Amy planned on enjoying dessert to celebrate a special occasion, and then decided to do the right thing and make her own dietetic fat free, sugar free, flour free chocolate cake.

I knew when I heard the shriek coming from the kitchen, it was not a good sound. By the time I arrived on the scene, Amy was literally sitting on the floor in front of a clump of chocolate mess and she was nursing a nasty burn on her arm. But damn if the cake didn’t look good! Apparently she decided to experiment with the recipe and, let’s just say it didn’t end well.

These are important and instructive lessons about fucking with the pre-cheat diet Gods. Apparently they don’t dig it when you play with the plan.

So I set out to conquer the wine dinner like an American taking on Germany in my very own Battle of the Bulge.

As you know, I had been thinking about how to outwit, outsmart and outplay this episode of diet survivor for weeks.

My first plan of attack was to infiltrate the enemy.

I used all my skill and cunning to discover the secret menu for the evening. I then had a serious heart-to-heart with the team at the restaurant - Campanile - to discuss what I will lovingly call “my food restrictions.”

It was an interesting conversation.

“Oh, really, you’re serving pasta. Nope. Can’t have that. And the duck in that great reduction sauce. We’re going to need to nix that too. Same with all the starches, so those mashed potatoes are gonna have to go.”

“Well, what can you have?” the friendly restaurant staffer asked.

“I should be fine with the veal in the first course. We’ll skip the pasta and you can just give me some simple vegetables in the second – but they can’t be starchy. And instead of duck, how about just a few slices of skinless boneless chicken breast.”

And this hysteria repeated itself thru the entire menu course by course.

I felt like I was living a scene straight out of When Harry Met Sally, and I sure wasn’t playing the role of Harry.

Even though all the food and the wines were supposed to be a secret, the staff was wonderfully understanding and especially accommodating.

When I showed up on Thursday night, I walked thru the front door of Campanile feeling pretty good about how I was going to get myself out of this fine mess I had committed to attending.

Note to Amy and Lucas: a successful pre-cheat requires a lot of advanced planning!

It was great reuniting with the guys and just moments after I sat at the table the first plate of Campanile’s famous grilled cheese sandwiches arrived.


These little crusted morsels are legendary and I really had to muster every last ounce of will power to take the plate and pass it down.

Now I don’t know why, but I can honestly say that was the toughest single moment of the diet so far.

I wanted that damned grilled cheese panini with an intensity and passion that has thankfully not reared its ugly head in the last 8 weeks. And once the brain synapses switched from “must eat” to “must pass” I was in control and I remained in the driver’s seat for the rest of the night.

I had a few bites of this, a taste of that and all-in-all, nothing that substantially deviated from the established portions or plan.

“But what about the wines?” I hear you cry.

Well, I looked. I swirled. I smelled. I took a generous portion in my mouth and then promptly spit it into a cup. Through the course of the evening, I would say less than half a glass actually went down the gullet.

And with the wines I was drinking – or not drinking as the case may be – I should honestly be arrested for spitting in public.

Such a hideous waste of some truly magnificent gems. If there is such a thing as wine jail, they should lock me up and throw away the key.

If you are reading this far, I don’t mean to bore you with geeky wine drivel. But nearly 5 hours after arriving at Campanile, I left my friends and the restaurant completely sober and without guilt or regret.

So, amen and hallelujah, does this mean I can return to my life of 8 course wine dinners since I am clearly cured and so blissfully in control?

Fat boy ask what?

The answer is a resounding "no".

I loved returning to my wine group and participating in this very special evening, but there is no way in hell I am going to do that again anytime soon.

Volunteering for this kind of foodie torture is like an Iraqi detainee asking for a transfer from Abu Ghraib to Guantanamo Bay because he hears the Water Boarding there is a blast.

If you could read my mind when that platter of grilled cheese passed thru my pudgy little hands, you would know that on any given day, at any given meal, only one bite separates the old way of life from the new.

Once I cave to the cravings and allow myself that deviation, I know all too well it’s often very hard to recover.

That’s not to say that I won’t allow myself the opportunity to enjoy my food faves because at some point I will. But for now, I’ll stick to pre-cheating because I know that you can’t really control cravings. How you react is all about commitment and resolve to be the better you and that can vary by the day, hour and minute.

When you are working your way down on your weigh down, it's taken me nearly four decades to learn it’s not the pounds that count. It’s every bite.

 Steve Elzer, 2009
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Hey Elzer Family, You Just Lost 100 Pounds! What Are You Going to Do Next?

When you’re big, every destination becomes a matter of food.

You tell me “we’re going to Temple,” my brain will eventually start a conversation that only I can hear.

“Wonder what they’ll serve after services? I hope there is gonna be a good rugalah.”

When you’re in the dieting “zone,” this inner voice can become a very important early warning system. It’s like Robby the Robot shouting, “Danger, Danger Will Robinson!”

Last week when we started thinking about how the family would celebrate losing our first 100 pounds, we kicked around a few ideas but Disneyland seemed to be the consensus favorite.

Now I have to admit, Disneyland and dieting do not go hand-in-hand. Unless, of course you are on the Magic Kingdom weight loss plan where you gorge on every imaginable piece of crap known to man and are fine if you gain 5 pounds in a day.

Talk about flirting with disaster.

My little inner voice completely failed me on this one.

For a few moments on Friday, it looked like we were a pound shy of our victory lap. And I was serious about not doing anything celebratory until the scale showed a triple digit loss.

We needed to lose 10 pounds this week to hit the Magic 100.

On Friday morning I showed up at the doctor’s office and really wasn’t feeling like I had made any substantive progress since last Friday's weigh in. When I stepped on the scale, I was very happy with the results. I lost 3 pounds putting the pressure on Amy and the Kids to bring home the remaining 7.

And when they all weighed in, together they lost only 6.

99 Pounds was great, but it wasn’t good enough to get Goofy.

Then Amy decided she really had to go to the restroom. And when she came back, she got back on the scale and faster than you can say Hakuna Matata, there was a healthy round of hugs and high fives erupting in the room.

Sure most people go to Disneyland for the rides and the joy of watching their kids charging into the breach of fun. But I am not sure that truly sane people choose the park as a destination to celebrate their weight loss.

I mean let’s be honest. Is the Happiest Place on Earth really all that happy when you and your kids can’t have that irresistible corndog, caramel apple or a heaping bag of kettle corn?

Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, Adventureland, Temptationland!

Now forget that it took 3 hours to get to Anaheim in rush hour traffic Friday.

Ignore that by the time I pulled into the Mickey & Friends parking lot at 6:30, I was hungry enough to eat Walt Disney’s cryogenically frozen head.

I wasn’t sure how we were going to get thru the night without a non-scheduled pre-cheat. As I heard the chirp of my car alarm and started to walk towards the parking garage escalator, I had a bad feeling in the pit of stomach and it wasn’t hunger pain.

Fifteen minutes later, Lucas and I stepped off the tram in Downtown Disney and we were immediately overcome by the smell of freshly popped caramel corn.

All that bubbly brown sugar and butter. Gawwwwd. The smell was everywhere.

Lucas looked at me and his big eyes bulging out of his little head told me all I needed to know.

His mouth was wide open, his hands were on his cheeks and he stood frozen for a moment.

If someone took a snap shot of the two of us at that precise time, it would have looked like a weird combination of Macaulay Culkin on the Home Alone poster mixed with the agony of the man in the famous Edvard Munch painting, The Scream.

As we passed the Kettle Corn cart, I was convinced that this was turning out to be a pretty stupid idea, a thought that was only further reinforced as we passed a family on a bench chowing down on two pizzas.

Since we arrived in separate cars, Amy got to the park first.

She was about 30 minutes ahead of us and immediately headed straight to Napa Rose, an upscale restaurant at the Grand Californian Hotel. It turned out to be one place where we could get a decent, healthy meal.

The idea was to eat a meal that was on our diet plan before heading into the park. While I may have raised an eyebrow over some of the choices, everyone ordered great. The kids and Amy had steak. Our friend Michael Spellman had fish. I had salad and an Ahi tuna appetizer.

A little more than an hour later, we walked out of Napa Rose ready to tackle the park.

Resolve is everything in a situation like this.

But it was almost like destiny when we walked thru the entrance and strolled up to the fruit cart on Main Street and found loads of dill pickles and packages of these freeze dried/dehydrated apples called Apple Crisps.

Come on! Pickles and Apple Treats. Who else in the world would crave these things with the exception of maybe a pregnant woman or perhaps someone who was incredibly stoned?

But you know me and pickles… And the Apple Crisps have become an Elzer Family staple.

Suddenly all my fears started to ease. Seeing this cart loaded with the family favorites was just what I needed to feel like everything was going to be OK. We were safe.

It’s not that we didn’t want the ice cream, cotton candy, turkey legs, pizza or the trip to the Emporium Candy Store, cuz we did.

It would be a lie to say we were all under control.

I am sure I wasn’t the only one who noticed every food cart and restaurant in the park because when you diet, the food deprivation triggers a bad version of tunnel vision where you hone in on the churro cart like a sixth sense.

But by Midnight, we had accomplished what we were never able to achieve before – a healthy trip to the Magic Kingdom.

And beyond the 100 pounds of weight loss, that was a milestone worth celebrating.

But the weekend didn’t stop there.

Fresh off conquering Disneyland, I decided to see how much true food torture I could endure so last night I had the boys over poker. I brought in pizza, chicken, tri tip and a bunch of killer desserts and the poker crew brought over their own arsenal of beer and chips and salsa, etc.

And at midnight, as I packed up the remnants of the garden of good and evil, and sent the pizza, chips and desserts out of the house with the departing guests, I was filled with enormous pride and satisfaction that I hadn’t strayed – not one bite – off the plan.

Now why would I willingly set myself up and surround myself with chocolate covered oreos and cheesecake and all the things I love to eat?

I guess I figured if I could get thru Disneyland and really test my boundaries with the poker game, I could get thru just about everything.

As obsessed as I am with food, I suspect I will always have eating issues, but I was really OK not eating all the crap I would normally eat the last few days. And that was an important hurdle to overcome and acknowledge.

I will never be a runner, but I often hear of this mythic runner’s high that allows you to keep running forever.

Right now, I guess I’m experiencing the dieter’s high and I am interested to see how far it will take me and how much power it will give me as I tackle the biggest obstacle in my path – this week’s wine dinner that I can not resist.

 Steve Elzer, 2009
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Tale of Two Cakes: Pre-Cheating Is Not As Easy As It Seems

For those of you following the blog you are aware that my son Lucas was salivating over the chance to attend a party this weekend.

Since he and Hannah have been so amazing following our family diet, we decided a few weeks ago that Lucas could have a piece of pizza and some cake at a party that was scheduled for this weekend. I called this anticipatory eating pre-cheating.

I am not going to rehash everything I already wrote, but Lukey got invited to a second party this weekend and while he attended both events, he was forced into a huge dieter's dilemma as he had to choose between the cakes.

Now had it been me, I would have gone for the event with the pizza and the cake. Easy choice. Hands down. Give me the slice of pie and the slice of cake any day.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the cheating forum.

First - the pizza party became a mid afternoon event. Since it was in between meals, the pizza was a no-show. At that point, my little guy decided he would wait until Sunday to go for the full-on party splurge.

When he woke up this morning, he was so excited about his reward. You could see the drool dripping in anticipation of his chance to ditch the diet, if only for a few bites.

But then, he got to the party and his little cheating world came crashing down on him.

He learned the cake wasn't a cake at all. Instead, it was one of those huge cookies and it wasn't just any monstrosity of frosting. Apparently it was a Snicker Cookie Cake. I am salivating as I type this just thinking of that yummy, gooey caramel and peanut goodness.

Wow. Score!

But wait a minute. No, no no!!!!

You did not just say "peanut," did you?

Lucas is allergic to all things peanut and anytime one of those pesky suckers gets near him, his throat starts to close like a government office at 5 pm. I mean when it's time to close, it's time to close and it's Epi-Pen Time!

So no pizza. No cake. No cookie.

Sad clown.

We were ready and willing to put the eating in cheating and all I can say is when did slipping off the diet become this hard?

Apparently there was a back-up chocolate cake at the party, but Lucas chose to eat a bowl of strawberries instead. I think that decision freaked just about everyone out.

So when we showed up to pick up our young son, I was proud, surprised and actually a little sad for him. Especially since we were leaving one event and heading straight to the Third party of the weekend, a team celebration honoring Hannah's basketball teammates. Taking him to yet another party felt a little like torture to me.

As you blog followers may recall, a few weeks ago we attended a similar party for Lucas. Well, tonight was round two. Same coach. Same insanely huge, beautiful house. Even better food, if that is at all possible. And this time, we had absolutely nothing to do with picking it up! :)

But when we walked into the kitchen, we spied the most glorious sight.

A huge chocolate chip cookie cake - no peanuts - just chips.

Oh, yes, this story has a happy ending.

Hannah and Lucas had very small, satisfying slivers of the chocolate chip cookie cake and they earned and savored every delicious bite.

UPDATE AT 8:30/Monday night 3-16-09

I was exchanging IM's with Mark Kaplan, a long time friend who hosted the Snicker Cookie Party.  I have known Mark since I was Lukey's age.  There is a little twist in this tale of two cookie cakes... Apparently, it wasn't a Snicker Cookie afterall, it was a Snickerdoodle Cookie. And if you know your Snickedoodles, there are no peanuts in this delight of a dessert. It's all cinnamon and sugar. I am guessing Lucas heard the word Snicker and figured it was loaded with peanuts because when he comes home from Halloween, the first thing we do is confiscate all the Snickers... Too Funny.  But once again, he shows incredible maturity and restraint.  Love that boy! 

© Steve Elzer, 2009

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Week We Lost 90 Pounds and I Found a New Attitude

Here’s the weekly ritual.

I pull into the sub-garage and Israel, the best parking lot attendant in the entire city says something like, “looking good! How much, you think?”

I shrug and tell him I haven’t a clue.

He asks a series of questions: “What time is your family coming? Was it a good week?’ “How is everybody doing?”

We engage in friendly small talk and I head up to the second floor, step off the elevator and take a deep breath before entering the doctor’s office.

Well, actually, I’ll go two doors to the right and down the hall to take a leak because I am fighting for every ounce here.

After the business at hand, I step into the familiar reception area and I sign in. The office staff knows me well at this point in our long relationship.

I get weighed in first thing in the morning on Fridays. I want to know what I weigh fasting. The rest of the family visits the office after the kids are out of school later in the afternoon.

I have been seeing this team on and off for a few years now. While they have a new weight loss program, they are not diet specialists. It’s a pretty diversified practice that focuses on medical and physical therapy matters.

I first met them when I needed a podiatrist for some foot problems. Then I returned when my back needed an adjustment. As my problems started to compound – mainly because of my weight - they convinced me to take a swing at their gym-based cardio and physical training to push me into losing weight.

When you decide to "take a swing" and your head isn’t really in the game, you tend to strike out. And it’s a funny thing this whole idea of weight loss without dieting. Apparently it doesn’t work too well.

In the big guy’s brain, if you exercise for 90 minutes, and you really are NOT into exercising at all, you weirdly believe you are entitled to eat more as some sordid reward.

Yep, I know. Makes no sense. I am outrageously ill that way.

And that is pretty much how it worked for a while. The harder they worked me out, the more my mind said, “Dude, Gummibears! You can have it. You worked out.”

Every few weeks the physical therapists would ask me to take these progress tests – measuring my stomach, my thighs, getting on a scale – all the indices that would allegedly make me accountable to myself.

And every few weeks I would come up with every lame excuse, voodoo mind trick and spin in the Elzer War Chest to put it off for just another week. They saw thru the games pretty quickly and just decided to work me out harder and harder. I can't tell you how many times the lead PT guy said, "this isn't going to happen without you dieting." I listened. I nodded. I promised. 

At some point late last summer, after many months of moving in the wrong direction, even I became fed up with the insanity and futility of my little charade. On the scale of haphazard attempts, this had to be somewhere in the annals of wasted time for them and me.

So I just  walked away at about the same time they gave up on me. It was pretty much an issue of mutual abandonment. And I remember in my twisted mind blaming them for my failure.

Then came the holidays. 

I ballooned to peaks I had never known possible. I could barely fit into any of my clothes. I was a mess and unhappy.

During the New Year, I pledged something like my 30th consecutive resolution to lose weight. And like any good resolution, the diet wouldn’t really begin until the Monday after the holiday – essentially delaying whatever I was planning until the 5th day of the New Year.

But destiny has a weird way of pulling the rug out from under your plans.

I first noticed something was wrong while I was watching a movie at Sony on January 6th. From there, it was all downhill.

On January 7th I thought my back was out of adjustment and by the time I was in my car driving to the office, the pain started getting worse and worse. It hit me like a sucker punch. I immediately called the doctor while on the 405 and said I needed to get an adjustment asap. By the time I arrived in the garage, I found myself hobbling back into their office virtually unable to move.

Ironically it was the same day I was supposed to meet with another diet specialist who was highly recommended by one of the industry’s legendary heavyweights - a title that applies in every way possible.

In November, we had been doing some business together, and out of the blue he asked me how I was doing with my weight and my diabetes. I was as truthful as industry folk are to one and other. “I am doing good. Everything’s good,” I said.

He told me how he had found this amazing new program thru a studio chief who had unbelievable success losing a huge amount of weight after only a few months of following a new regimen.

He explained that for $10,000, this diet doctor to the stars was gonna give me a complete health scan including a long-form analysis of my body, and a blood screen to determine what specific foods were the best match for my genetic make up. It would be the ultimate in personalized diets.

Why do people believe if you pay more, you get more? And why did I believe if stars and Hollywood executives were going to this doctor, well then, sheesh, he was good enough for me?

I think there is a whole psychology to this non-sense that goes something like this: if you pay more, you are more apt to not want to lose your money – so, in a weird way, you commit to the cash, not the diet. Money talks, bullshit walks.

Not exactly the bedrock of behavior you should be looking for when you want to change your life.

Now let’s forget for a second that when this very kind man offered up this new savior, he read for me his personalized list of things he could and couldn’t eat. It sounded like the “duh” kind of dieting to me. No flour. No starches, yes this, no that.

So I took the guy’s name and did a little internet research and did what the desperate do.

I was gonna give it a try. For me, the drive behind the hype was the idea that this guy was gonna finally crack the code by getting all sorts of data from my body and then, after I had been poked and prodded, he was going to teach me the magic answer.

Then my back interrupted his chance to cash a big fat check (pun intended).

So there I was on Jan 7, wincing while trying to walk. I saw the chiropractor in my group and knew immediately after the adjustment and the heat treatment and electric stim, this pain was not like the other times I had thrown out my back.

And if you have been following the blog, you are familiar with the fun and games that followed.

Given my less than illustrious and sometimes colorful track record with the staff in this office, I would lay down even money that when we signed up as a family for their new weight loss program, there was probably a betting pool somewhere within this practice that had good money that I would be over and out within days, if not weeks.

I have to face the facts. 

I was the guy on the treadmill proudly telling my physical therapist about the 8 course meals I had the night before.

So when I returned for the sixth consecutive Friday weigh in yesterday, and the scale said I had dropped another pound, I figure someone somewhere in the building probably wasn’t the only one losing.

Don’t get me wrong. I think this team is truly terrific and completely rooting for every pound. But I can’t ignore that I behaved like Bluto in Animal House and my diet GPA was a zero point zero.

For me, it still is despite my success to date. 

Yesterday, as I walked into the gym to fill up a water bottle, one of the guys stopped me to tell me how proud he was of the work we were all doing. He said after years of game playing, he never thought he would see this kind of progress.

Neither did I.

Something has changed as I enter the 7th week walking down this road.

Yesterday, when I saw I had lost a pound, I wasn’t in a funk and I was genuinely happy. In week 2 and week 3 when I was staring at that frickin' scale looking at only a 2 pound loss, I was beyond peeved.

Now, I finally get it.

The random way the pounds fall is something I can’t expect or explain.

When I lost 7 pounds a week earlier, I didn’t go to the gym and I barely drank the 130 ounces of water a day they want me to consume. I just followed the diet and the weight flew off me.

This week, I went to the gym 4 times. I worked over that treadmill like it was the thing responsible for the drop in my 401 K. I was as hard on myself as any of my personal trainers ever were. And I figured I would finally see the big, bad drop.

Not so much. One. 

That’s all you get, pal.


There is no real rhyme or reason with how the fat seems to shed. And I no longer really care. Like my stocks and my financial portfolio, I just want to look at this long term and see where we are. Whether it’s 1 pound or 7 or 2, my head is in a great place.

I have a pile building by the day of clothes in my closet I can no longer wear. I am very close to a waist size that is 6 inches smaller than where I began. And next week, we are flirting with an experiment that will take me off blood pressure medicine completely.

To quote my President, that is change I can believe in.

My family and I have now lost 90 pounds in 6 weeks.

That, too, is change I can believe in.

I look at my kids and I see for them everything I was unable to accomplish as a child struggling with this issue. My dream for all of us is coming true day by day and I am over throwing a petulant and silly pity party because the scale dissed me.


I am down 30, Amy has shed 26, Lucas is down 18 and Hannah has lost 16. If in December, someone told me we would be 90 pounds thinner in 6 weeks, I would have booked that bet and taken the under.

The kids are close to maintenance now and how we continue to keep the family focused while Amy and I travel the long journey is going to be a major challenge.

Those who have seen me in Vegas know I am a betting man.

Anyone wanna lay some money on how far this goes?

 Steve Elzer, 2009

All rights reserved

Monday, March 9, 2009

Here Are A Few Recipes We Like -

Here are a few recipes that we really like.

Your portion control is between you and your scale.

Awesome and Creamy Asparagus Soup with no Cream

This recipe was originally designed with a bit of cream and potato as the thickening agent. I substituted cauliflower to add the texture and flavor, and it’s a filling, great, easy to make soup. (see photo above)

1 onion chopped
2 stalks of celery, chopped
1 clove of garlic, pressed (not necessary)
2 bundles of fresh asparagus
½ head of Cauliflower
4-5 cups non fat, low sodium Chicken Broth  - I would start with 4 and see if you like the consistency
Salt and Pepper to taste
Chopped fresh chives to sprinkle on the top of the soup

In a dutch oven or good soup making pot, heat a dash of chicken stock and olive oil. Sautee onions and celery for about 5 minutes, until onions are soft and translucent, but not brown. Add garlic, asparagus and cauliflower and mix with onions and celery for a few minutes.

Add chicken broth – enough to just about cover the vegetables.

Bring to a boil and then immediately cover the pot and simmer for about 15 or maybe 20 minutes until vegetables are good and soft but not mushy.

With a slotted spoon, remove the veggies in small batches and place in a blender or cuisinart. Add about ¾-1 cup of broth from the pot with each batch and puree.

Putting less broth in will make the soup thicker. Adding too much chicken stock will make the soup thin and runny, so start with a little and add more until it reaches your desired consistency. I like a hearty, thicker soup.

I put the batches one at a time into a large container and the soup tastes delicious right away, but for some reason its even better as all the flavors mix and mingle over the next few days.

This soup can be eaten hot or cold.

Grilled Rosemary, Garlic and Lemon Chicken

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 lemons
Olive Oil
Fresh Rosemary
4 cloves of garlic
1 TSP of Italian Seasoning
Salt and Pepper (generous)

Salt and pepper both sides of the breasts and place in a bowl. With a zester, take the lemons and get a good serving of lemon shavings being careful to not grind too deep where the zest is just the white pulp. I like a lot of lemon so I use the zest from 1 ½ lemons but for others who want to throttle back, 1 lemon is fine.

After you are thru zesting, cut the lemons and squeeze the juice on to the chickens being careful to remove the seeds. Add the Italian seasoning.

Take 2 or 3 branches of rosemary and remove the greens and throw in the bowl. Press 4 cloves of garlic over the chicken and add a good dash of olive oil. Enough to offer a good coat to the chicken. Gently mix the chicken, lemon juice, zest, garlic and herbs and toss in another good sprinkle of salt and pepper.

Let the chicken sit for at least an hour, but if you can do this overnight and let it absorb the yumminess in a large ziplock bag, the chicken is awesome grilled the next day on a gas or coal bbq.

Only word of caution is monitor your fire. You don’t want charred chicken.

Every so often I will post more recipes that are working well for us....

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Week 5: The Family Struggles With Do or Diet Situations - Can you Cheat without Cheating?

I really blew it this week and I still lost 7 pounds.

Actually, the family lost 10 pounds during our Friday weigh-in bringing our 34-day total to 77 pounds!

We have lost a small child but no need to issue any kind of Amber Alert. In this case, it’s good that we ditched that chubby little kid and I hope we never find him again.

Between my 7 lbs and the grand total of 77 lbs, we should have gone to Vegas and played the slots because, to me, we hit the 7-7-7 Jackpot!

As elated as I am, I must confess I have cheated in a way that may be the worst possible way to break your diet.

I have cheated without cheating. This phenomenon is something I call Pre-Cheating.

Pre-Cheating is anticipatory cheating. If you are familiar with the Philip K. Dick short story Minority Report (or the Spielberg/Tom Cruise movie) you know that the storyline is about foretelling the future and changing the outcome. As the story goes, in the distant future there are psychic beings that alert the Pre-Crime Police to murders before they happen. The Pre-Crime Cops track down the suspect and swoop in before any violence can occur.

Well, if you saw the film, (which is different from the short story) when the psychics name you as a murderer, your name gets etched onto a very cool looking wooden ball. Well, in the Pre-Cheating world, my name is on one of those little suckers and Amy has one and so does Lucas.

We are all diet criminals on the run.

This was just a week of weakness. Through the last seven days, we struggled with enormous temptation. And I would be a fool if the outcome didn’t worry me more than just a little.

Now I don't mean to sound dire or dramatic. Our determination and dedication has not evaporated into a fantasy of breathing THIN air.

But this is more a cautionary tale. Here is what happened.

Since we began our diet, we have lived in our own little cloistered cocoon. And that may be the problem. We have prepared all of our own meals in our own kitchen and have not really ventured out to our normal stable of restaurants in the real world.

So, while we remained protected in our little bubble, I thought our resolve was stable and strong. Instead, I have discovered just how incredibly delicate we all are as dieters.

The first blow came when we booked a future vacation. Amy said something to the effect of, “I am telling you now, I am gonna have dessert on the first night we are away.”

This was Pre-cheat #1.

Now Amy has a truly legitimate reason to celebrate a forthcoming occasion with dessert, and as I really think about it, when she threw down the “Get Out of Cheaters Jail Free Card” it was actually the second family Pre-Cheat in as many days.

Those following this blog already know we are allowing Lucas some pizza and a small piece of cake at an upcoming party. That is actually the first recognized family Pre-Cheat.

As a brief aside, part of the curse of being a little kid is you are invited to every other classmate’s birthday party. So, as fate would have it, that same weekend Lucas was invited to yet ANOTHER party.

Choices, Son, choices. Get used to ‘em.

Of the two invitations, Lucas has been told he has to pick one party where he can splurge.

This is a tough choice for a kid. Is it gonna be cake and pizza, or will he opt for what’s behind door number 2 – the cookie cake?

I know what I would do, but this is his little food nightmare.

Like Hannah and Amy, he has been so good, I feel lousy about this situation and a kid should be a kid. Unfortunately what was going to be his little celebration has now turned into a bit of a dilemma. Instead of being understanding and empathetic parents, now I feel like we’re really just strict dieting dicks.

This stuff is hard, people, and we are winging it as it comes. We just want to keep everyone on the right path. 

The next family hurdle occurred last Sunday night, when we attended Lukey’s end of the season Basketball team party.

As Team Mom of the Nuggets, Amy volunteered to help the Coach by picking up the food. We got to the restaurant and by the time the trunk was loaded and the rear hatch was shut closed, the back of the SUV was packed with no less than three Pizzas, two kinds of chicken, garlic mashed potatoes, salad, breadsticks, BBQ tri-tip and whatever else was in those damn foil trays.

As I started to pull the car out of the parking lot, it was almost as if the scent from the food took on a life of its own and had its way with us.

You’ve heard of shell shocked, right?

Well, I think we were all just a little bit smell shocked when we arrived at the coach’s beautiful home about 10 minutes later. I honestly couldn’t wait to get out of that car.

As we escaped from the BBQ scented Audi and unloaded the trays, we walked the food into the kitchen where we stumbled into an orgy of freshly baked cupcakes that were just being frosted for each of the team members.

The coach’s wife seemed to need a helping hand with the frosting and, well, leave it to Hannah to volunteer for the tough assignments and jump right on in.

To me it was like an accident on a freeway. I really didn’t want to see the blood, so I just turned my head.

I honestly don’t believe any of Hannah’s frosted fingers made a detour into her mouth, but later in the evening, I did see a few things that gave me pause. A little extra nibble of tri tip, maybe a few extra ounces of grilled chicken. Nothing that appeared too heinous in the scheme of the spread that we confronted.

After dinner, as each of the kids was presented with a trophy for leading their team through an amazing, undefeated season, they were also given one of the aforementioned cupcakes. When it came time for Lucas to receive his award, we had pre-arranged with the Coach that he would only be handed his trophy, and my heart sank just a bit as he stoically sat down while everyone around him ate their Hannah frosted goodies.

What I didn’t know was that the cupcakes were really just a team teaser – an appetizer, if you will, for the grand finale – cheesecakes from The Cheesecake Factory.

When they rolled out those two irresistible bad boys, I felt like a defeated General waving the white flag. Enough! I hustled the family together for a hasty retreat and we bolted thru the door with the urgency of a man with Montezuma’s Revenge.

When we climbed into our car - our safe haven - we discovered that it still reeked of BBQ food. I had to laugh.

We survived the party and our first major journey across a road riddled with land mines. We all had our limbs.

Just a day later, I was barely over the escapades at the Team Party when I received an email marked urgent from a good friend. He knows how committed I am to this life change, but he also knows that I am beyond freaky and geeky when it comes to certain wines and winemakers.

To me, there are a handful of genuine wine Gods and apparently a dinner was in the works with one of these true world-renowned wine titans. He believed I would want to know about this particular event, despite my self-imposed hiatus from all things wine.

I think he probably was under the impression that had I discovered this event without being given a courtesy “head’s up,” I would have been angry. And I hate to say, he would have been right.

When he laid out the evening, my curt reply was clear.

“Fuck the diet,” I hastily wrote.

It was a phrase I now regret.

There is no question this forthcoming dinner is a once in a lifetime opportunity with a genius I genuinely worship, but this diet is also a once in a lifetime opportunity to regain my life and my dignity.

So my mind went into overdrive. How can I do this? What are my options? What if I just show up and do a quick fly-by and say hello? What if I go to the restaurant and bring my own food? What if I attend and don’t actually swallow the wine. I’ll just vigorously swish it around my mouth and spit it out in a cup, like a professional taster.

Yeah, that’s it!
The problem: I am a swallower, not a spitter.

By the time I talked myself into how I could attend and still be observant to my diet, Pre-Cheat #3 was barreling down on me.

My month long resolve caved like a house of cards and over what? A five course meal with a living wine legend?

So I had a heart-to-heart with my bad self, “Are you really gonna trash all this great work for this?” He replied, “Damn straight ☺ And I am gonna do it Wine God style.”

I guess you are gonna have to continue reading the blog in a few weeks to see what
really happens. Frankly, every hour I have another silly thought about how I can make this work.

Now, I wish I could say that the family’s collective weakness ended there, but like a chimp on Xanax, sad stories sometimes turn tragic.

Yesterday, my straight A girl discovered that her speech on Saving the Rain Forests was judged as the First Place winner in the school’s Toastmasters competition. So in the coming weeks, she will represent her school in a district wide public speaking competition. Normally, when something this special occurs, we would have gone out for a celebratory dinner.

Instead, after our weigh-in, Hannah had her first gathering to meet the players and coaches on her new softball team.

But of all the gin joints they could have picked, they chose Farrell’s.

“Play it, Sam. Play as Diets Go By.”

Normally, Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor would probably be a great place to hold such an event.

But these days… not so much.

And this isn’t just any other Farrell’s, this one is located smack dab in the middle of Mountasia, a kiddy complex on steroids with an arcade, batting cages, go cart racing and every possible dollar sucking machine known to man. It’s like a child’s heaven on earth if heaven was in the suburbs of LA County.

In our touch-and-go lives, perhaps this was a meeting we should have just been wise enough to skip. But Hannah, Amy and Lucas braved on. Mountasia and Farrell’s or bust.

Everyone was getting nice and cozy and acquainted with each other when the stampede occurred. A Zoo was delivered to the team table.

For those of you unfamiliar with the legendary feast known as The Zoo, let me read from the Menu to describe the 40 scoops of insanity that is in this concoction of cream:

“So huge it takes two strong Servers to deliver it to your table. Their knees sag under FIVE flavors of our famous ice cream. THREE fruit flavor sherberts, FIVE delicious toppings, whipped cream, cherries, nuts and bananas. All for only $49.99.”

Wow. $50 bucks. That’s a veritable binge and purge bargain, is it not?

Just reading the description makes me wanna puke like a super-sized Monty Python character after eating a wafer thin mint.

So, as this monstrosity was being devoured by the spoon-wielding 12-year-olds, little Miss Frosted Fingers decided she, like Lucas, was entitled to her own special do or diet moment.

Oh, what a tangled web we parents weave….

Hannah had a few bites from the Zoo and called it quits. Still, I can’t help but agonize over the boundary testing that we have all exhibited this Week.

How do I find peace with any of this? I wish I could say I can, but I can’t. We are strong, but we are equally weak. Despite the parties and the Zoo and The penultimate Wine Dinner, we still remain completely dedicated to our diet. And we are taking these encroachments on a case-by-case basis because this is now our life in the long term.

We can’t live each day thinking we can never have this or we can never eat that.

But all this Pre-cheating is giving me a little Pre-look into our future, and I am not sure I am entirely comfortable with what I see. If I am skeptical or cynical, it’s only because of the life I have lived until now and there is no Pre-Crime Division to stop us.

No cops are gonna swoop in on ropes and crash through our windows so we better learn fast how to Police ourselves.

 copyright, Steve Elzer, 2009

Friday, March 6, 2009

Numerology and Weight Loss

When you lose 7 pounds in a week, something funny happens to your brain. Especially when you thought you weren't doing everything possible to push the pounds in the right direction. I didn't really exercise as much as I wanted and I was lousy with my water intake this week, so imagine my surprise when I stepped on the digital scale and it said I lost 7.

The moment 7 pops into my head, I want to go to Vegas. I feel like I need to play slots or put a big bet down on the roulette wheel.

My immediate reaction was something is wrong. This can't be right. So, I stepped off the pad, we zeroed it out and I stepped on again. Still 7. I asked the nurse, "do you guys have this thing checked regularly, because that can't be right." She assured me that it is constantly monitored and calibrated.

All I can say is I am in stunned disbelief and I just want to pinch myself. We are down 29 lbs in 34 days.

The rest of the family goes in later today. I can't wait to hear what's in store for them!!!!!

I will sit down and write my weekly post later tonight or tomorrow, but Damn!!!!! We are definitely making progress and loving it!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Cheating and Why 12 Step Programs Aren't For Me

For most dieters, will power alone is simply never enough.

You start the day with the genuine desire to commit to whatever PLAN you're following, and then, without even thinking about what you're doing, you sabotage your best intentions and find yourself finishing a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey and dabbing chocolate off your chin.

With every new day, dieters confront one of a gazillion tempting trigger foods. And we all know what happens when that trigger gets pulled.


Suddenly you're sitting in some cheesy faux leather banquette saying, “Waitress, I guess I picked the wrong day to give up Buffalo wings. Can I have a little more ranch dressing please?"

Most of the time, you are barely aware of your destructive behavior. Cheating can sometimes be a little like sleep eating, but without the Ambien.

Once the demoralized dieter has gone rogue, you give yourself some reckless license to overdo for yet another day. And from that first Buffalo wing onward, you're pretty much screwed as you move from meal to snack to mid-afternoon bite-sized nibble to post dinner refrigerator raid. Like pound markers on a scale, the "I've been naughty" needle just keeps moving from bad to worse.

Many years ago, my Grandma Bea told me one of the greatest cheater stories ever.

In the early 70s, she attended this weight loss program at Duke University in North Carolina where the privileged paid gobs of money to pretty much eat rice all day. 

Sounds like a great racket, right? 

Anyway apparently she was there with the rather rotund and hysterically funny comedian, Buddy Hackett, who happened to be friendly with my grandfather. She said one night, Buddy was so desperate for anything other than rice that he literally climbed out a window and escaped from the famed campus. A short while later, he struggled to crawl back through the window and showed up in her room with a very large pizza pie in hand.

Buddy was a very bad boy :P

Since I have been that proverbial "naughty boy" on literally every diet I have ever been on, I started to think about what I am doing now and why and how it differs so far from my other dieting experiences.

Some might say most diets are based on the concept of having friends support your goals. Weight Watchers certainly has very good support sessions, and other programs, like Overeaters Anonymous (OA), revolve around group meetings where you are encouraged to pick a "sponsor. " This person, who is sometimes a friend, is supposed to provide you with a check and balance system as you work your plan.

What I find different about the approach I am now taking is the way I have activated my friends and family, work associates, neighbors and yes, strangers. Instead of binge eating, I am binge friending.

In the past, before the liquid shakes and doctor supervised diets, I attended programs like Weight Watchers or OA. And while I was there, I was surrounded by folks who really didn't have the foggiest clue who I was. I never socialized with these people outside of the meeting I was attending. So if I cheated, no one really knew but me and my scale. I guess when I stepped into the bathroom and closed the door, I entered my own private caloric confessional. My diet diversions were my secret.

In the past month, because I have been so candid with so many people who I encounter on a regular basis, my commitment to what I am doing is such that I really am gonna have to think long and hard before I leap into that large plate of lasagna.

This social network dieting is clearly not for everybody. For me, it's like a doomsday plan that you only consider when everything else has failed. And when all is said and done, this idea may ultimately be relevant for only one person - me.

I say relevant because I can't really say helpful. At least not yet.

After nearly 5 weeks, I am not pretending as though I have found the dream fix. I just know that I am behaving differently than I have in the past partly because of my decision to loop in close and casual friends.

When you are big and you are trying to lose weight, it really shouldn't be shameful to ask your colleagues and friends for a little help. And it's not as though all that extra weight you're carrying is a state secret that you have brilliantly managed to keep hidden all these years. You reach a certain size and I think people can safely assume that there may be just a wisp of weakness within you.

Now I don't have a crystal ball and I have no way to determine how far this diet will take me and my family. All I know for sure is that we all want to have a fairytale ending with a long-term lifestyle change. But right now, forecasting success is a bit like asking my 8-year old what he wants to be when he grows up. So, let's agree to talk in a year or two and see where things really stand.

What I can say about this experience to date is that I am really thinking about how I got to this hefty place. To be brutally honest, some of these thoughts and feelings are issues I am just coming to terms with for the first time ever. As Fat Bastard might say in a thick Scottish brogue while choking back tears, "I've got to get in touch with someone.... Myself."

Blogging and having friends support what I am doing has triggered a lot of memories and thoughts about my life. It's my own form of Fat Bastard therapy.

Thinking about how harsh it is for the heavy is plenty of incentive to push me and my family on a different path. And perhaps best of all, I am not charging myself $200 bucks an hour to spread out on some plaid couch while spewing to a shrink about how all I want to do is shrink.

A little earlier I was talking about Overeater's Anonymous. Let me share a personal example of why traditional diet programs like this are a little weird for me.

I was about 13 when my mother drove me to a little known park just east of the Farmer’s Market and left me alone in the care of a complete stranger, an OA sponsor, who seemed to me to be an absolute 100% freak.

Now clearly, a parent exhibiting that kind of care-free behavior today would probably get reported to the authorities. So I have a question for my long-deceased and beloved mother which will surely never get answered: who leaves a young boy with a strange man in a nearly deserted park?

I know it was the early 70s, but honestly, what were you thinking? No, really! Completely inappropriate.

I was expecting to go to some touchy-feely group meeting, and instead I got one-on-one face time with Mr. Creepy.

I vividly remember sitting awkwardly with this bozo on a park bench as he started talking about OA and how I needed to turn my life over to the care of God, and blah, blah, blah. I kept waiting for others to arrive, but they never came. They probably had more sense than me or my mom. The whole time I was sitting there waiting for my mother to come back and pick me up, I must have been thinking that instead of listening to this wannabe diet bwana, I would rather be home placing a hot soldering iron on my tongue.

But it was my first experience with a 12-step program and I have been giving a lot of thought to the last 8 weeks of my life in a 12-step recovery kind of way.

I believe the episode with my back was that elusive and proverbial "bottom" that 12 steppers frequently talk about. You need to hit bottom before meaningful action can change your life.

For those of you who aren't aware of the 12 steps, the 1st step in recovery is admitting to yourself and to anyone who will listen that you are powerless. In my case I admit that I am powerless over food.

But that first step is not just about admitting you are powerless, it also says something about your life being completely unmanageable. Well, the rule book of life pretty much states when you are being pumped with drugs because you can barely move, your life has officially become unmanageable.

Yep, look for yourselves. It’s all right there in Chapter Fucked.

Don’t get me wrong. I probably would normally dig the I.V. cocktail had I not been in agony. So I guess, in the context of the 12 step thing, I have to put a little check mark next to the unmanageable part of my life.

Step 2 is all about believing that a higher power can restore you to sanity and I think I have that one covered too. I was absurdly high on that morphine and everything else they gave me to dull the pain of the blown back disc. And, I gotta say the whole experience definitely restored me to sanity. I never want to go thru that again, so I decided it was time to change. Seems sane to me. Chalk up another check in the “yes” column.

Step 3 involves turning your life over to the care of God, and damn if I am not batting 100% on this whole 12-step stuff.

As many of you know, I am in the care of a doctor who is monitoring my progress. Show me a doctor that doesn’t think they are God and I will show you a doctor with a PhD instead of an M.D.. So, while I have never seen a burning bush in her office or any member of her staff turn into a snake, I guess in a way, I have turned my life over to the care of the medical gods.

Step 4 covers the concept of taking a fearless moral inventory of ourselves. Hmmmm. Well, for starters, you are currently reading Exhibit “A” in my fearless moral and immoral inventory. Case closed. "Waiter, can I get another check please! Oh, and you never brought me that damn ranch dressing for the wings. No tip for you!"

Step 5 says you need to admit to yourself and to another human being the exact nature of your wrongs. Does sharing your frailties to more than 650 facebook friends count? Probably so.

All right, the rest of the steps are all about God and making amends and praying and I am so NOT into the GOD particle in these steps. And this is why traditional recovery programs based on these tenets don’t work for me.

When half the program revolves around God, it's a religious movement, not a road to recovery. When I want to communicate with God, I'll go to my temple, thank you very much.

I walked through the door because I wanted to lose weight. I was not looking for a Stairway to Heaven. I like the Zeppelin song too much.

In the end, I believe I am the only one controlling my diet destiny and I don’t mean to trivialize the amazing works of 12-step recovery programs. Nor do I mean to offend anyone who relies on these passages to help them thru their day.

As I said, I have actually attended many 12 step meetings in my life. And as much as you may think the bizarre encounter with the guy in the park would have left me running for the hills, the great thing about these programs is if you find yourself alone in a park with a creepy guy who freaks you out, there are plenty of other meetings in the area that you can try and may even enjoy.

Let's just say when you are 13 and you are forced to hang with some coot you don't even know and he is trying to get you to talk about your food issues, it's probably not going to be a productive session.

I remember at the end of that insanely odd meeting, the guy asked if he could hold my hand and pray with me. I am sure to anyone observing this tender moment between man and boy, it was a scene torn from the cover of the NAMBLA newsletter.

There we were standing alone by the park bench, suddenly hand-in-hand. And as he recited the Lord's Prayer, I was just praying for this nightmare to be over.

Ultimately, I attended many Overeaters Anonymous meetings and they were held in real buildings with truly inspirational speakers. Imagine that! One of them was even held in my former High School cafeteria after school was closed for the day. Leave it to the food addicts to book a help session for fatties in a cafeteria. After that, I often wondered whether AA meetings were held in bars.

Had I been a bit more mature, these meetings may have actually been helpful to me, but all the talk of food and God just left me wanting to eat more. 

I figured if God exists, he has better things to do than worry about whether I am snacking on a ding dong.

So here I am, more than 30 years later, an expert in many diets with a magna cum laude advanced degree in screwing them up.

The reality is that any good, common sense food plan works. As the 12 steppers say, "it works if you work it."

When I had my own rare "moment of clarity," I looked at myself in the mirror, acknowledged my many shortcomings as a person and a serial dieter and decided I couldn't "work it" alone. So instead of turning once again to a bunch of strangers, I humbly informed my friends that I could use a hand if they witnessed me in a moment of weakness. Not that it's wise to encourage people to step in and take food from a hungry lion, but I don't have claws and my teeth are really no where near as sharp.

Instead of turning friends into the food police, I received resounding motivation, inspiration, encouragement and support. My facebook pals have become a personal cheer leading squad that roots for every single ounce we lose. In my mind, if I am thinking about cheating, they are continually on the sidelines and whether I am alone or not, I know they are constantly there and watching over me. And like any player getting cheered in a big game, the last thing you want to do is fumble the ball in front of the fans.

© Steve Elzer, 2009/ text only