Some of the steep inclines in San Francisco
Those large portions are quite a challenge for me. Like many in my generation, I was brought up in the clean plate school, where the words "don't waste it" were coming out of adults' mouths so often at mealtimes, that they may as well have been cross-stitched and framed above a door. As a kid, I took my formal and informal education very seriously (more than most and a little too much, I realise with hindsight). So overcoming that programming requires a huge effort, and you win some, you lose some.
Contrary to the stereotype, it's not just in the US that portion sizes are larger than the average human being can manage - I've noticed many restaurants in London piling on the pasta or noodles too. Marginal cost to the restaurant of these ingredients: slim. Visual impact on the customer of a larger plate and perceived value-for-money, which the restaurant can then leverage into a bigger mark-up: priceless.
Another danger that's rampant in the developed world is the proliferation of refined carbs (especially in the form of white sugar, which is added even to simple things like bread). My experience with refined carbs has been that, in addition to the sugar roller-coaster and the surplus energy getting stored as fat, they actually make your body visibly puff up. A friend told me that when she traveled (away from the world of refined carbs), her frame would shrink noticeably, without her actually losing any weight. I don't know the chemistry behind this phenomenon though.
Excess salt is another challenge. Restaurants are too heavy-handed with salt, either because they're trying to cover up poor quality and tasteless ingredients, or because they're on a slippery slope of adding more salt to satisfy customers who are used to high salt levels across the board. At one fine restaurant in London, the amount of salt used to season the fish went up bit by bit by bit over a few months, until it eventually became inedible.
Some of the delicious (and low cal veggie) food, enjoyed with a view of the Golden Gate
Don't get me wrong - I thoroughly enjoyed the food fest in San Francisco! I've grown to accept that it's impossible to live life on a stable plane (who wants to anyway?), and that there will be periods of indulgence and corresponding periods of rebalancing required. So, for the next two weeks, I'm putting myself on a self-styled detox - and let's face it, diet - programme. This will involve eliminating wheat (no bread, pasta or noodles - sob!), refined carbs (no white rice), dairy (no cheese, cream, milk or yoghurt), added sugar (hang on, does this mean no sticky toffee pudding??), and anything else I figure out along the way. Step forward: brown rice, millet bread, quinoa, and brown rice pasta (a genius invention, which, in London, I've found only in Whole Foods); soy milk and soy yoghurt; plenty of vegetables; white fish, chicken and lean beef; and red peppers, grapefruit juice and tomato sauce (which are said to reduce hunger pangs).
As always, the theory is one thing and the practice another, so let's see how it goes. Any support from you guys in the form of cheering on or further tips will be most welcome! And, please, share your experiences too. What do you do to cut back after holiday indulgences?
Here's what we had for dinner last night, Meal One of the programme.
1. Sprinkle some breadcrumbs, lemon zest, chopped parsley and minced garlic on a plate. Season with a touch of salt and pepper. Spray on some olive oil to bind if necessary.
2. Season white fish fillets with salt.
3. Pat breadcrumb mixture onto fish.
4. Place fish on a hot frying pan and spray on a bit of olive oil. Ideally, I'd have put the fish in a hot oven, but I was too tired to wait for the oven to heat up.
5. Serve with brown rice and steamed broccoli.
After I made this, I realised that wheat had sneaked in via the breadcrumbs. Oh well, incrementalism is the thing to keep in mind. I'm not expecting my palate to switch back overnight.
And don't worry, I won't subject you to healthy recipes and photos for the next two weeks. There is still plenty of reportage to come from San Francisco!