I got rid of my paunch and muffin tops in less than four weeks. I have a six-pack now. I’m telling you because apparently it’s not cool to keep showing people—even if they do say they want to see. How I got visible abs hinged on some minor and cost-effective tweaks to my eating, drinking, and grocery shopping habits that you may find to be game changers, should you want to get your body together for your health and/or summer vanity.
First, I’d like to share two related things about me that you might be able to empathize with: I’ve been trying to get in shape for years and never managed it; and eating delicious food is my favorite thing to do. That second fact might not sound very special but, when you start hanging out with hard-bodied gym rats, they often reveal that they primarily view food as fuel. Being a wanton and indiscriminate flavor slut, I’d already sort of made peace with the idea that I’d just never look and feel like they do. The quality of life trade off would simply be too great. But, at the time of this writing, I sort of do look like them and I don’t feel deprived on the food front. Here’s what I learned this time around.
Make your kitchen a place of abundance.
In the past, a concerted effort to get in shape began with me listing all the things I would be saying goodbye to. That same effort always came to a calamitous end because I constantly obsessed over that long list and, in a weak moment, fell off the wagon. Hard. This time though, I changed my mindset and made a conscious effort to replace all the things that I knew would derail my plans with foods that actually taste good to me and were going to help me reach my goal.
Crucially, I made sure I had everything I needed to make those foods on hand at all times. For me, they resulted in often low-carb concoctions like the breakfast stack I borrowed from a keto blog. I went to bed dreaming about it and woke up raring to make and eat it. I focused on inexpensive food I loved and made sure I had everything to create meals out of them.
The one early slip up I did make happened when a Nor’Easter sapped my will to go to the grocery store on the way home from the gym. From the bottom of a “share size” bag of caramel M&Ms, I committed to—from that point on—always having the ingredients for at least three meals in my apartment. I also bought some storage containers to tote around foods when I suspected I’d be away from my apartment during breakfast, lunch, and dinner time. These emergency foods included boiled eggs, mixed nuts, and full meals comprised of lean protein and vegetables. While protein snacks and bars are often within easy reach, the amount of sugar and carbs they pack can contribute to the slowing down or even reversal of weight loss. As my trainer’s recommendation, I swore all them off.
Revisit cooking spray.
For twenty years, I’ve been putting non-stick cooking spray in the same category as SnackWells and Olestra: part of short-sighted attempt by the food industry to help people eat less-fat that figuratively—and in the case of Olestra—literally backfired. When my trainer told me to cut oil in the last two weeks of the program, I picked up a can in the store and looked at the nutrition label. Zero carbs, zero calories, zero fat and, from what I could glean from a little googling, zero stories that blame it for bouts of anal leakage. In lieu of the olive oil I’d been using with reckless abandon, I started using a non-stick Canola oil spray to broil salmon fillets, sear chicken thighs, and make vegetable stir-fries, barely noticing a difference in taste.
I did the math and figured out that I’d been consuming as much as 300 calories per day in olive oil alone. That’s 2,800 calorie saves per week. I’ve since stopped being profligate with olive oil—it was almost doubling the fat content of the breakfast stack I mentioned above—and use it to dress food, not cook it with.
Carry hot sauce.
Beyonce does it. Hillary claims to do it. And if—like Hillary's opponent in the 2016 election—ketchup is your go-to condiment, you should too. The nutrition label describes a serving of Heinz ketchup as a tablespoon full. Ha! Please. I’d easily splooge around five times that—about a third of a cup—on a lumberjack breakfast at my favorite diner. Turns out that this amount of ketchup contains more than 18 grams of sugar (about 4.5 teaspoons full).
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As with cooking spray, reading the nutrition facts on a bottle of hot sauce will have you thinking you’re dealing with antimatter—a serving of this stuff has only trace amounts of everything except sodium. Even then, a tablespoon of tabasco sauce will only get you 35 mg of sodium—about 1 percent of the RDA. When you’re resigned to eating steamed broccoli and grilled chicken breast in the run up to looking as non-puffy as possible, hot sauce—with its usual negligible calorie, carb, fat, and sodium count—is a godsend.
By now you should be aware that the eight eight-ounce glasses of water per day recommendation was pulled out of an unattributed asshole at some unspecified point in the 20th Century. It’s just one of those things that became “true” by a process of repetition. While there is no scientific consensus on who much water a person should drink in a day, fascinating research has gone into its multifaceted effects on weight loss and body composition—the ratio of fat to lean mass that make up a person.
See, the average American gets around 400 cal of their daily food energy, not from solid food, but from liquids. According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 37 percent of those liquid calories are from sugar sweetened drinks. For that average person, simply replacing those calorie containing drinks with water means 2800 fewer calories per week which again, is the same amount of calories in 41 lbs of body fat over a year.
A study published in the journal Obesity found that overweight adults who chugged back 17 oz of water half an hour before eating for 12 weeks lost 3 lbs. While the water is signaling satiety faster, another way it’s helping you shed fat by increasing your metabolic rate. A 2007 study from Germany found that drinking about the same amount of water increased participants’ rate of metabolism by an average of 24 percent for an hour after chugging it down.
If you have easy and unfettered access to a bathroom all day, make a conscious effort to drink as much as you comfortably can. Another way that water became a game changer for me is that I reached for a can of a carbonated and flavored variety whenever I felt like a guilt free treat. After awhile I realized that what I mostly like about cola, root beer, and even actual beer is its refreshing coldness and fizzyness.
Bathe your food.
The most recent clean eating hack I discovered was a method of cooking lean meat and fish that didn’t result in food that felt like a punishment. It’s called sous-vide (French for “under vacuum”) and it entails placing a food item—along with seasonings or marinades—into a plastic bag which you then vacuum seal and submerge into a constant temperature water bath.
One of the main benefits of cooking sous vide is that overcooking is a near impossibility. You set the temperature of the water at the temperature at which you want your food, return after the recommended amount of time has elapsed, and voila. Another benefit was that it made the chicken breasts I’d been previously rubberizing in a skillet succulent and flavorful every time. Being vacuum sealed, the juices were largely retained in the meat.
A lower cost sous-vide option is a sort of tubular contraption that consists of a controller, heating element, and water circulating pump and it’s incredibly easy to use. It clips on the side of a large pot that you likely already own, and they start at around $60 bucks on Amazon. Along with the vacuum sealer and bags, the entire cost was around $100 but given that it made eating healthy something I look forward to, it’s worth every penny.
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