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Meats & Methods: How I adapted a meat only diet to living a full-on life.

October 21, 2011

Somehow I knew that although I’d come to work out regularly, I would probably not be able to do it with the same intensity that I did before I started this mass reduction regime.  It’s hard to make your muscles respond to physical demands when they simply don’t have carbohydrates at their easy disposal.  I had to lower my expectations and keep on exercising – not to burn calories, but to maintain the muscle mass that keeps burning calories all the hours I was not exercising.  I made a bargain that improvement (versus maintenance) would proceed again once I had blitzed the bloat and could get some kind of carbs back in my gullet.

Initially I implemented this radical gastronomic shift by over-controlling my food preparation.  Every Sunday I would cook (usually grill) enough skinless chicken breasts and/or turkey burgers and/or hamburgers and/or any other animal flesh to see me through 3 meals a day for at least three or four days, including breakfast.

The quantities of meat per meal varied, but typically ended up being about 1/3 pound of meat for breakfast, ¾ pound at lunch and about a pound at dinner.  This sounds horrific and disgusting, but it was all I consumed (except for a brief period of vile cottage cheese ingestion and the twice monthly eggs.)

The ritual of huge quantity cooking of a few varieties of meat became a regular event in our household.  As you might expect I dove in and did all cooking, most purchasing and took care of most of the collateral damage of storage, clean up and accommodating existing family patterns in my temporary madness. “Family Packs” of meat served just one family member – me.  Mass cooking meant mass clean up and mass storage needs – thank God we had a second refrigerator.  People at Stop & Shop thought we were having large gatherings of meat eaters to our house every week.  While my restaurant costs went down (no booze or dessert), my grocery bill soared.

I also packed a lunch for any time I was ever in a car during mealtime, carefully pre-slicing whatever I brought so I could actually consume it at 72 miles per hour.  As the weekend stocked meat larder ebbed, I would cook carnivore delights several nights a week, rigorously following the stipulated rules, reg’s and  limited to the tight specs of my menu.

a.      Barbequed meats (see the species listed above).

b.      Broiled meats -usually turkey burgers or low-grade on-sale sirloin steaks (usually about 3/8” thick.)  Realize that if you’re going to go for turkey burgers or hamburgers, you need to buy the cardboard variety – those versions with less then 5% fat content and you really must cook turkey burgers a little longer than you think you need to and let them “rest” a little bit longer than your incredibly hungry stomach wants you to simply because eating raw turkey may very well kill you.

c.       Sautéed/pan fried meats.  Typically, I used a new non-stick pan and that usually worked, but if needed I did allow about 1 oz. of olive oil to sauté chicken breasts (obviously, hamburgers required none of that.)  The chicken will take far longer to sauté than you ever thought possible, but consuming “rare” chicken is a good way to spend two or three days getting very familiar with your toilet and bed.

This mode of cooking brought me back in touch with a meat product I had grown up with called “Minute Steaks”.  They are the leatheriest cut of meat imaginable put through a macerating device to perforate it to the level of screening, thus creating easy to chew tiny bits of extremely stringy meat – which do cook in several minutes.

d.      Slow roasted, high sinew meats.  Things like pot roast and pork shoulder are exceptionally low fat, high muscle content meats that need extraordinarily long periods of cooking to be edible, and given the fact that they are neither barbequed nor sautéed, need a fairly robust interjection of flavor to make them palatable or interesting.  With pot roast, the order of the day is tomatoes and onions (fear not, being true to Julia Child they are virtually spices – after cooking you discard them, and the carbohydrates they leave behind are minimal) and for pork shoulder, typical barbeque seasoning (read pepper and salt) are necessary.  There are many great recipes out there (and unfortunately for us middling men these are two of the staples of the diet which do actually require cracking a book and looking at the temperatures, times, procedures, and flavorings that are involved or you’ll end up with a tough (or mealy), tasteless (or inedibly over-spiced) blob of animal flesh to consume.

I also tried to pretend that I could actually consume cottage cheese on a regular basis to provide some “variety”.  Cottage cheese is one of the most hilarious follies ever perpetrated as a food product – right up there with tofu (which thankfully was not on the menu).  Its texture is disgusting, its taste is acrid, if not nauseating, and yet people consume it with a sense of virtuous morality that denies all reality beyond a sense of ethical superiority. Remembering the times I actually ate it, I of think of self-flagellating “celebrants” of a Muslim holiday or those in tropical climates who manage to have themselves nailed to crosses during Easter Week.  I can feel virtuous by mowing the lawn or working on a Habitat site.  If I’m eating from a tiny menu, the food I actually eat should at least be consumed without a gag factor.

In the early freaky food focus of the first month or two of my de-massing, I thought that it would be impossible to stick to this regime unless I planned every aspect of my food supply out in excruciating detail, so I ordered an exquisitely expensive small amount of high-end beef jerky as an emergency food (it does taste unbelievably good but it costs, on a pound for pound basis, far more than filet mignon.)  Its mere presence diffused several panic attacks of food need as it sat in my refrigerator just in case other food options were not open.

The last four months of the Stillman plan essentially took away cottage cheese, any pretense at variety, breakfast, and any multi-meal large scale pre-cooking. Every few days I would buy a typical rota of meat products and endless bottles of lemon-flavored seltzer as my primary drink.  I did purchase more pre-cooked meat bits – rotisseried turkey breast or chicken. I tore off the skin, and Hell’s Agent On Earth (my dog) went even more insanely manic as I tossed those fat shrouds her way. I also drank three to six caffeine free Diet Cokes a day.  Food ceased to be a focus when I’d limited myself to a blindingly boring menu – I neutered the seduction of food by denying enticing variety access into my mouth.

One of the chief breakthroughs after the first month or so of this wacky regime was realizing that I could actually go to restaurants for lunch and/or dinner several times a week and order exactly what I wanted.  My family did get very tired of going to the same six or seven restaurants for months and months and excluding whole categories (Italian, Chinese, Japanese, etc.)  And, as only a devout Boomer restaurant patron can, I aggressively, although jovially, reminded the waitperson that I would be requiring many refills of the water glass (and perhaps it would be best if he/she brought a carafe.)

Celebratory dinners out made for awkward moments –such as the double order of “Minced Black Angus Beef Brochette” (hamburger) (sans, of course, the raspberry lentil coulis and fennel finished oat risotto) I ordered for my 26th Wedding Anniversary dinner with my wife at a pretentiously pricey restaurant – not exactly a jolly tableau for her (I was only 7 weeks in, and she had yet to de-mass).

I found that there was almost always a delicatessen nearby that has grilled skinless chicken breast for sandwiches.  I just needed to go in and order two or three of those (sans carbs, of course).  They looked at me in a strange way, but they weighed it, I paid, and I was done (this was a perfect lunch, but I had to make sure they supplied plastic forks and knives)

I never pretended that anything that McDonald’s offers is worth eating if you remove the bun, or that anything deep fat fried is acceptable if you simply remove the outer layer of its deep fat frying.  Ultimately, I realized that very little that is “processed” is worth eating (I’m really not sure what holds together macerated bits of meat by-product, but it can’t be good.)

I found out that steak houses were my friend.  The interesting thing is that even though I ordered the largest most expensive cut of meat, without appetizers, desserts, and drinks my bill was typically lower than any other adult’s at the table. . .

Truth be told, the regimes I employed were extremely manageable because they dealt with what was available, not what had to be created.  The golden rule is to give the same attention to food prep you had while obliviously bloated.  If you like to cook, cook.  But most of us like to heat and eat – or buy and gulp.  Just edit the menu of ingredients as needed and chill.  Over focus always leads to anxiety and unmet expectations.

Even though I consistently worked out four or five days a week and ate exactly the same basic quantity and types of foods (my only carbs being the twice monthly communion at church), the de-massing, as I knew it would, slowed down. Based on my web research, the only health caveats presented about diving into ketosis on the Stillman diet had to do with the duration of time that you locked yourself into its restrictions, so before I dove in I set a hard stop for this regime at six months.  I knew that with advent of spring, I would bridge to normalcy.

After a half century of living with myself, I knew I could not weigh myself for the first three months of this plan.  Instead, I took joy in the secondary realities of looser clothes, ever moving belt connection, and changing visage.  The level of disappointment a deluded dieter encounters when things don’t live up to his expectations on the scale is excruciating. Weight in pounds is totally arbitrary.  It’s a number that accelerates the manic/depressive nature of we who have been repeatedly betrayed by our flesh.

After three months of the extreme Stillman regime, I realized that I had to have some gauge, so I did in fact weigh myself and it was exactly as I sensed it would be – I’d lost perhaps half of the total bulk I’d destined for oblivion.  I realized that I needed to weigh myself every month after that to validate the diminution of my food options.

The true inanity of pound perception came home to me during this grinding winter when I remembered a certain Star Trek alien who repeatedly referred to humanoids as “ugly bags of mostly water”.  This allusion has a simple message – when you lose weight you do not lose fat cells.  Fat cells are like sponges.  They absorb unneeded calories and swell up (each individual cell much like your inner thighs), and these cells give up their stored material to give you energy without losing their lives.

Rather than think you’ve cut any strands off the mop of your body, you’ve really wrung it out so it has lost unwanted contents – but the mop is always sitting there, waiting for immersion into the pail.  Although we convince ourselves that when we drop pounds we are executing in-house liposuction, much of what we lose is liquid.  So I chose to focus on the reduced distention of my body bag and not its weight.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Yecca permalink
    April 11, 2017 9:49 pm

    I think you could have done this diet a little better… Using only quality organic/grass fed/free range/wild caught meats. On these meats, the fats are clean and your body uses them as energy, thus not getting stored into your body. Eating these fats is actually necessary for this to work really well.
    Also diet coke is even worse than regular coke, this has to have set you back during this process.

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