Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Spicing up the Diet: Our Experiment With Cauliflower Crust Pizza

The photos above were taken last night as Amy experimented with our most daring and innovative recipe yet: Cauliflower Crust Pizza!  The Photos from bottom to top show the progression of the preparation step-by-step.  I have to say that I was intrigued and was really not sure what to expect but being the food-starved foodie that I am, I was game. The result was really pretty good. I kept saying "interesting," but I didn't mean it in a bad way. Amy tinkered a bit with the ingredients, using egg beaters instead of egg and non-fat cheese, but overall, it was really a fascinating and thoroughly original take on one of my classic comfort foods.  When you are dieting, you need to be bold and spice things up with food choices within your plan to keep the program fresh and alive. Too much of the same thing over and over again gets boring real fast.  Here is the recipe for anyone adventurous enough to try this at home. 


Amy recommends you double or even triple the "dough" recipe.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Day I Survived An Hour on The Treadmill & Lived to Tell About It

Yesterday I spent an hour on a treadmill and it didn’t kill me.

After a very, very long hour as the seconds ticked towards the 60:00 minute mark, I began to smile.

There I was, drenched in sweat and throwing my hands above my head in a giant “V” for victory. I felt like Rocky at the end of his work out after running up the stairs.

In my mind, this personal moment of glory was recognition I had just completed a fete that I would have never deemed imaginable just a few short months ago.

When all was said and done, the digital display told me I had burned nearly 650 calories during this very productive hour of my life. It also indicated I had walked nearly 3.5 miles.

And for practically every step, I felt very much like a fat hamster wanting nothing more than to get off the wheel.

Let me state unequivocally I really, truly, bitterly hate exercise. And I mean that seriously. I hate it with all my heart and soul. But I have been forcing myself to go to the gym pretty routinely since I began this life change.

Who would have thunk that something as simple as diet and exercise actually works?

For many reasons, I never was able to successfully crack the code on this simple concept. But I guess my back trouble rang the bell and triggered a magic epiphany.

So for the last several months, I have been doing a lot of cardio and a modest amount of weight lifting all the while building up the amount of time I am able to stay on the treadmill.

Whatever I am now doing is seemingly working. My methods may be less than polished, but I am not doing this with a trainer.

The last time I worked out with a trainer, I just used the exercise as an excuse to leave the gym and eat more.

So this time, I am training myself.

I started working out on the circuit machines and on the treadmill gradually. But for the last few weeks I began hitting 45 minutes pretty regularly. I even started getting ambitious, futzing around with various buttons that control the speed and incline as I went for my stroll.

Now I know you will cringe when you hear this, but the treadmills at my gym have these televisions where you can watch your choice of shows while you are exercising. My preferred programming is The Food Network. Yes, other folks are watching ESPN, Extreme Sports and other Alpha Male programming like Fox News. I am watching cooking challenges.

Hey, as far as I am concerned there is nothing like Rachel Ray, Giada De Laurentiis or The Barefoot Contessa to get the heart pumping.

Different strokes for different folks, I guess.

On Saturday, I wanted to move the cardio goal post to a place on the field where I have never, ever been before. So I threw caution to the wind and went for it: a full hour.

I even “jogged” on the damn thing for part of the time, though I use that term about as loosely as one can.

You look at most people jogging on a treadmill and you don’t see fat people. You see fit people.

They jog confidently with their hands at their sides extended at 90-degree angles. When they jog, their outstretched fists look like they should be connecting with a punching bag.

I, on the other hand, look more like a rather rotund fella moving at a pace maybe one or two notches beyond brisk. My fists are not moving back and forth against my side in that proverbial jogger motion because, let’s face it, my hands are too busy holding the rails in a death grip to make sure I don’t go flying off the back of the treadmill.

For those brief few moments yesterday when I bravely decided to juice up the speed and begin my “jog,” the look on my face was anything but confident.

Panic probably captures it more accurately.

I imagine in time I will become more at ease with jogging on a treadmill. But for my first experience, I was as clumsy as a virgin. And I probably lasted just about as long as one too.

My goal moving forward is to do what I can to increase my jogging on the treadmill, but for now, walking for 60 minutes is my new 45 as I step on the conveyer belt of torture.

And as hard as all of this is for a man who despises exercise, I welcome the challenge.

Never in a million years could I have dreamed of a day where I would settle into a routine of diet and exercise to lose my weight.

You see, when it comes to dieting, I have always considered myself more a short cut kind of guy. My motto was “when in doubt, take the easy route.” Probably a reason I flirted with the idea of gastric bypass. It’s also the reason I tried and failed at diets with liquid protein shakes.

I was a magnet to any plan that seemed like it was the path of least resistance.

But now my family and I are burning it off one calorie at a time and there is nothing easy about this route. There are no shortcuts.

I am not the only one exercising. Amy also regularly goes to aerobics classes and the kids get plenty of activity between physical education at school and their daily dose of soccer, softball, karate, basketball or whatever the sport of the moment is in suburbia.

Friday will mark the end of our third month following this regimen. And when I think about how far we have all come in radically transforming our lives it truly brings tears to my eyes. But then again, so does jogging on a treadmill, so just call me Mr. Weepy.

Those who have been following the blog probably sensed from my last post that I was a bit unsure of how we fared on our family vacation to Lake Tahoe.

I admit that I was nervous, apprehensive and more than anxious as we weighed in on Friday. For me, it had been 2 weeks since confronting the scale and while I knew I had been devout, I wasn’t sure about the rest of the clan. For Amy it had been 3 weeks since her last caloric confessional and for the kids, it was a month since they last met face-to-face with the all knowing and all telling.

To be honest, with all that time away from the scale, I was worried about whether the kids and Amy were sticking to the plan.


Well, I saw and heard things that gave me reason to pause. And watching the madness ensue with the cake was just one example.

A word to the wise: when your kids and wife are deprived of carbs and sugar for nearly three months, don’t be surprised if they attack their first chance at cake like a great white shark attacks a surfer when it discovers blood in the water.

So I guess after that savage scene of strawberries and whipped cream, I questioned whether we were lacking in real self-control – and when I say “we” I include me.

To say I was blown away to learn that my fears were unfounded would be an understatement.

Last Thursday night, I was preparing myself for weigh-in results that would have confirmed my suspicions of “rogue eating.”

But when I got the call from Amy on Friday morning, I was stunned to learn Hannah and Lucas lost 15 additional pounds last month.

So our family total since starting the diet together is 146 pounds. Add to that the 10 I lost while flat on my back and we have made a 156-pound dent in our weight loss goals.

Hannah & Lucas are now very close to completing this phase of the plan. They are shadows of their former selves with each of them dropping in the 30 pound range. Soon we are going to have a conversation with the doctor about a maintenance program for the kids.

And if that doesn’t fill me with enormous pride, nothing ever will.

I only wish I could have been in the room when they met their pediatrician last week for their annual check ups.

For years, we have been told the kids needed to drop a few. Well the two together have lost close to 60 pounds since starting this new chapter in their lives. Now the doctor wants to refer other families to our program.

Unfortunately, I wish I could say that others would be as successful as we have been but I can’t. Because it really all comes down to commitment and resolve. And, while I do believe it is a little easier to diet when you take on the challenge as a family and have a kick-ass support system of friends, there is still no quick fix to any of this.

At the end of the day, there is only one question that determines success. Do you want it bad enough? Are you finally ready to make a change?

That is the bottom line of any diet.

And like anyone who has battled losing weight their whole life, I have learned that any diet works as long as you stick to it. My God, The Cookie Diet works if you follow it faithfully.

The real question is what happens when you transition to other eating.

My hope is that we as a family have finally learned the fundamentals of real world dieting.

I see now how we can go on vacation or how I can attend a wine dinner or a nice night out with my wife without feeling deprived. And I see how all these traps are possible while still losing weight.

And that is a monster step in this process.

I still have more than 100 pounds to lose so I am a long way from reaching whatever finish line I have set. And the ultimate goal is to keep the weight off for good and that will be a struggle I will wage for the rest of my life. But I can’t even think that far into the future.

Today I am encouraged about all of the results to date and for lots of good reasons.

*I have NEVER followed a food program for three months – EVER.

*For the first time in my life, I actually feel in control.

*It has been nearly 10 years since my weight has been this low.

*I am just about ready to get a new belt and I am close to 8 inches smaller than I was last December.

*Amy hasn’t been this weight since before Hannah was born.

*By now my pharmacist is wondering what happened to one of his best customers.

And the kids – well, they are my heroes.

So I guess I have no choice but to stay on the hamster wheel and keep eating the hamster food.

And if you happen to be at the Spectrum Club in Valencia and you see a guy trying to run on a treadmill a minute or two at a time, the panicked look on his face is the look of someone who finally gets it.

 Steve Elzer, 2009

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Let Them Eat Cake: A Dieter's Journey While on Vacation

Many of you are wondering why I haven’t posted in the past few weeks. Some may even be wondering whether I am off the grid because I have completely abandoned the diet.

Fear not, friends. The Elzer Family is safe – I hope.

One word.


This is a word that may as well signal the onslaught of overeating.

For me and countless others, vacation ranks up there with all-time gluttonous behavior. Sure, it’s a time to relax, enjoy and just let your self go.

But unless your vacation includes a visit to a fat farm, it may as well be like a license to over eat and over drink.

I don’t know about you, but when I go on vacation I bring an unbridled appetite to every meal and a nearly insatiable thirst to every bar.

Vacationing is like eating on steroids.

Picture all the food you can imagine at a buffet AND Thanksgiving AND a Luau and then cram all that eating into the course of one week.

In previous years when we would board a cruise ship, trust me, the chef was relieved when the Elzers disembarked.

So when we took off on a Family Vacation to Lake Tahoe last week, I was a bit apprehensive about how this was going to affect our diet.

After all, I believe a good deal of our success these past several months is anchored in our regimen: we pretty much cook for ourselves.

But when you go on vacation, you have very little control over how food is prepared. Does the chef cook with butter? How much oil? What size are the portions? What kind of rich sauces do they pour over the food? Will the menu be so filled with temptations that we will fall apart like a house of cards?

About a year ago, we joined a fantastic vacation club that gives us access to spectacular homes all over the world. On our previous trips to New York, Laguna Beach and Hawaii, we pretty much ate like starved savages. This time out, we were going to continue to cook on vacation like we did at home.

Except for one tiny hurdle.

I was especially nervous because the first night of our time away was Amy’s birthday. More than a month ago she threw down the pre-cheat gauntlet. She said she wanted to enjoy a piece of birthday cake on our first night of vacation.

I remember thinking we were gonna be colossally screwed.

Cake is like a Lay’s Potato Chip. You can’t have just one bite – or one slice.

But how could I say no to my wife’s birthday celebration?

I sided with Marie Antoinette and shrugged.

“Let them eat cake.”

Now originally, I am sure Amy was thinking “give me the richest, most decadent cake you can find.” Yes, she had more than earned it. But then something wonderful happened. In the weeks that followed, I watched as Amy began searching thru every diet cake recipe she could find.

She even severely burned herself experimenting with the flourless, sugarless chocolate cake.

I should say here and now it tasted pretty damned good - especially when I snuck a fork full after Amy dropped it and it splattered all over the kitchen floor. Perhaps it was the kitchen dirt that added texture and flavor cuz it just didn’t taste as good the second time she made the recipe and it didn’t fall on the floor.

And the non-fat cheesecake was also pretty satisfying and tasty considering most everything in it was allegedly fat-free.

So, as Amy was packing the car for our time away, I saw the springform pan for the cake she planned to bake for herself and I simultaneously smiled and frowned.

I arranged a surprise for Amy – a real birthday cake.

Never before have I been so conflicted over a frickin’ cake.

I agonized over the purchase and I knew by bringing this monster of custard and whip cream into our world, it could lead to disastrous consequences.

Being the gambling man, I just hoped that we were strong enough to enjoy the celebration and move on like normal people.

When we arrived at our home away from home, we had brought a lot of perishable food with us in a cooler. The first thing we did when we got to the house was place those items in the fridge. As soon as the Subzero door was opened, the gig was up. The cake was discovered.

From that point on, the kids went into nearly fanatical excitement and anticipation over what is really just well constructed flour, eggs, sugar and cream.

I had become the agent provocateur among us.

What had I done? Why couldn’t I just let Amy make her guilt free dessert? Why? Why? Why?

I wish I could answer those questions honestly, but I am not sure I know the answer myself.

I guess the only logical response is that deep down inside, I wanted the real deal crème de la whipped cream. It was a vacation after all, and normally, I pack a suitcase full of wine and we eat out nearly every night to the point of excess.

Maybe Amy’s pre-cheat had turned into my attempt at sabotage.

When it came down to dessert time, Amy thrust the cake knife into my heart. Since I brought this evil into our home, she wanted me to divvy up the servings. Whatever I decided, she and the kids would live with.

This cake thing was turning into my own personal hell.

I doled out respectable pieces of the cake – which for the people that need to know - was a white cake with a custard filling stuffed with strawberries and frosted with whipped cream. Yes, we prefer whipped cream to butter cream and please don’t even get me started on this frosting debate which is actually legendary in our lives.

Anyway, the pieces were not too large, nor too small. Like the three little bears, the pieces were just right.

Racked with insane guilt, I took the tiniest sliver of slivers and confirmed the obvious. The cake rocked like few cakes before.

This sad fact triggered the inevitable.

“I want another piece, Daddy,” was the thrust of what I heard for the better part of the remainder of the night.

One member of the family actually started to take the cake to their room and threatened to eat what was left. Then this person backtracked and decided it needed to be immediately put into the garbage disposal.

A fine idea except for one simple fact.

I quickly explained that we were in Lake Tahoe and I really didn’t think the disposal would handle the load. To me, the cake would clog its little septic system arteries like a cardiac patient gorging on a diet of rendered fat.

As one too many members of the family started to freak out about the outcome of the cake, I erupted. “Enough obsessing with the cake! OK?”

I decided we would give the cake to our concierge – the woman who was so helpful in arranging for its purchase. So the next day, while we were on a day trip, we begged her to enter the house and remove the cake before we returned.

Now, truth be told, after the kids and my mother in law had gone to bed, I was genuinely tempted to ask Amy whether she wanted a second piece of cake. But I just bit my tongue on that one.

For the rest of the trip, The Elzers were exceptionally good at sticking to the program. Amy and I even managed to enjoy a date night out that remained pretty faithful to our diet despite the chef’s best attempts to prepare food his way instead of ours.

Perhaps the biggest surprise for me during our time away was my commitment to work out at the gym literally every day. Hannah even joined in on the treadmill a few days.

But with all the good – and there is plenty of good in our lives - I really have no idea whether we are moving in the right direction.

It has been three weeks since the kids have stepped on a scale. It’s been two weeks for Amy and it will be two weeks for me later this week.

I know that cake aside, everyone has been as good as they possibly can be. But the kids have been getting antsy with the food choices and this change is hardest on them. And Amy, too, has been getting a bit bored.

The other night after watching a few things I didn’t quite like as extra ounces were put onto plates, I asked whether the diet was too hard as we entered the 11th week.

I was reassured that the resolve was strong but there is no question that with each passing day, it remains harder and harder to stay focused.

The program is no longer a novelty -- it’s truly a life change.

If I have any doubts or apprehension about our progress, it’s really because I have no idea how any of us have done in these last several weeks.

And isn’t that ironic? After years of hating the scale, I know now I need the needle to keep us focused.

To me that realization is like relying on an arch enemy to save your life.

So my nemesis is now my partner in this journey. And that is a completely new way of thinking for me. I still hate climbing on board that damned thing, but after several weeks of knowing but not knowing, I just need a definitive answer telling me where we really stand.

 Steve Elzer, 2009