Last week, I was enjoying a successful post-fishing lunch at Puckett's Grocery in Leipers Fork, TN. Perhaps I should clarify…I was indulging in Southern comfort food: fried catfish, mac n' cheese, mashed potatoes, turnip greens, drop biscuits, and an ice cold Yazoo Pale Ale. Delicious — yes. Healthy — no way. Sure, maybe I went a bit overboard, but I was simply trying to help a friend celebrate. After all, he had just reeled in a 9-lb bass.
It's a known fact that Southerners enjoy our traditions. From afternoons spent fishing, to a day on the farm, or to an evening bonfire sipping moonshine with friends — Southern culture is alive and proud.
Yet, whenever I discuss my love of Southern food to strangers (anyone not from the South!), I typically get the following response: u201CSouthern food is so unhealthy.u201D
Sure, they've got a point. We are pretty liberal with our use of butter, cheese, cream, salt, and oils — or as I like to say — adding a little u2018love' to our meals.
But, not all Southern food is u201Cbad.u201D In fact, we pioneered the organic, home-grown movement before it became fashionable among foodies. My 102-year-old grandmother would have laughed at words and phrases like u201Csustainably raised,u201D u201Cfarm-to-plate,u201D or u201Clocavore.u201D
With that said, I do acknowledge my indulgent Southern meal is not something one should eat every day. In fact, I try to limit such meals to special occasions.
As a food and lifestyle writer, I hold myself accountable for providing wholesome, health-conscious meal ideas and recipes to my readers. That being said, I'll be the first to admit that I'm no dietician, medical doctor, or licensed trainer. However, I do know what works when it comes to eating healthy and losing weight — partially from personal experience, and partially from speaking with others.
Playing sports throughout my life allowed me to always enjoy a high level of physical fitness. That was, of course, until college came along. I blame most of my weight gain on my penchant for drinking Sierra Nevada Pale Ale — not to mention my weekly trips to Weaver D's in Athens, Georgia. Looking back, I'm embarrassed that I let myself gain so much weight.
Nevertheless, by reincorporating exercise and healthy eating into my lifestyle, I was able to get back into fighting weight in less than a year, eventually getting to the point where I now enjoy competing regularly in marathons.
After witnessing my results, friends of mine would ask, u201CHow did you do it?u201D u201CIt's not rocket science,u201D I would tell them. u201CIt all boils down (pun intended) to exercising and eating the right kinds of foods — and all in moderation.u201D
I always knew I could put my plan into a simple format for others to use. Thus, I began sketching out the following ideas for a book proposal last year. Several friends kept asking for the information and have since been successful in dropping 30, 40, and even 50 pounds to reach the weight of their dreams.
So, what's the moral of my story?
You can have your fried chicken and eat it too! Just keep in mind that moderation is the key if you are trying to lose weight or maintain your current figure, not to mention vigorous exercise several times a week.
The following guidelines are a mere foundation for simple, healthy living. Of course, I've supplied some of my favorite recipes to help you reach your goals. For those of you looking to renew that New Year's resolution — here's your chance. Become your best!
The NO, LOW, GO Diet
Philosophy: Don't starve your body; eat the right kinds of foods to keep your metabolism constantly working in your favor. Don't consume more than you burn. Don't be afraid to indulge every so often. Your success is determined by YOU.
NO — avoid these foods whenever possible, especially when trying to lose weight.
Fast Food Soft Drinks Processed Foods Fried Foods White Starches (Breads, Potatoes, Pasta, Rice) Cream-Based Soups (Chowders, Bisques) Mayonnaise Mayo or Cream-Based Salad Dressings (Ranch, Creamy Italian, Creamy Caesar, Blue Cheese)
LOW — consume these in moderation.
Alcohol Dairy Carbs (try to source from Whole Grains) Salad Dressing (Oil, Vinegar, Italian, Low-Fat Dressings served on the side) Whole Grains (Pasta, Brown Rice, Breads, Quinoa) Sweet Potatoes Oatmeal (Stick to minimally processed forms) Kosher Salt Fruit Juices Yogurt, Low-Sugar or Greek Sport Drinks (Gatorade, Powerade, vitaminwater) Unsalted Butter Sour Cream Frozen Health Foods (Lean Cuisines, Frozen Organic Meals) Appetizers at Restaurants (Start with a salad instead) Desserts (Chocolate, Cakes, Ice Cream)
GO — fill up on as much of these foods as possible.
Water (at least 8 glasses per day) Lean Protein (Chicken, Turkey Breasts, Pork, Seafood, Lean Red Meat) Vegetables Fruits (especially Blackberries, Blueberries, Cranberries, and Strawberries) Beans (Black Beans, Kidney Beans, Pinto Beans) Hummus Almonds Salads Vegetable or Low-Fat Broth-Based Soups Eggs Olive Oil
Guidelines and Meal Ideas
BREAKFAST is the most important meal of the day. It gives your body the chance to start your metabolism (fat burning furnace) first thing in the morning. The problem is that most people skip breakfast, thinking they've reduced their overall caloric intake for the day. What happens? Your metabolism doesn't start. You overeat at lunch or from snacking because you feel entitled. Instead — eat breakfast! I'm not talking about cereals, bagels, or pastries. The worst thing you can do is start your day off with sugar and carbs. This spikes your blood sugar, which shuts down your metabolism, only to cause a mid-morning crash which will likely lead to overeating later in the day. In my opinion, eggs are your best friend in the morning. Full of protein, and virtually without carbs, you want to focus your efforts on eating eggs as much as possible for breakfast. Forget the cholesterol scares of the 1980s — eating the whole egg, not just the whites, has actually been shown to improve u201Cgoodu201D cholesterol levels.1–3 eggs each morning is a simple and easy breakfast. Vary your preparation method: scrambled, fried, poached, hard boiled, or even as a simple omelet with diced veggies and low-fat cheese so that you don't get stuck in a routine. Here's my AoM guide to making better eggs. If you can't cook, or don't think you have time, invest in a microwaveable egg poacher. It turns out a decent poached egg in under a minute — without any added fat.
Meal Option 1 1–3 Eggs (Scrambled, Fried, Hard Boiled, Veggie Omelets)
Option 2 Non-Fat Greek Yogurt (Higher in protein and low in sugar) Granola (Bear Naked Peak Protein) Fruit (Apples, Mixed Berries — Blueberries, Strawberries, Raspberries)
Option 3 Hummus Fruits and Vegetables
Option 4 Better Breakfast Sandwich (Serves 1)
Place the sandwich thins into a toaster. Meanwhile, in a nonstick pan over medium-high heat, fry egg (no oil or butter needed) for 3–4 minutes, or until egg reaches your desired preference. Season egg with salt and pepper. Next, add egg to toasted sandwich slice and top with ham and cheese. Add mustard (if desired) and top with the remaining slice of bread. Serve.