If you view every weight loss program as the enemy that deprives you of the food you love, Dr. Michael Fenster wants to show you that you can love food that’s good for you and doesn’t pile on the calories.
“Our attitude affects the state of our body,” says Fenster, an interventional cardiologist who combines his medical training with a lifelong interest in food and cooking. “Depression affects the immune system. So you can eat food that makes you happy, or you can deprive yourself—and then it becomes a vicious cycle, because you get angry and depressed.”
Leading a “grassroots gourmet” movement of developing a delicious, fresh and healthful menu, “Dr. Mike” has created recipes he shares on his blog at WhatsCookingWithDoc.com. He’s written a book as well—Eating Well, Living Better: The Grassroots Gourmet Guide to Good Health and Great Food.
“We’re finding that the modern U.S. diet is about the worst thing on the planet you can eat,” Fenster notes. “You’ll do better with the French diet, which is higher in fat. The traditional Eskimo diet is full of animal fats and proteins and zero vegetables and fruits, but even they do better than we do because they’re not eating the processed junk.”
As a foodie and someone who has battled the bulge himself, Fenster is on a mission to help people truly enjoy their meals. He says you may have to make a few shifts in your habits:
1. Buy fresh.
Try farmers’ markets; food eaten when it’s as fresh as possible is grown close to home. Take advantage of summertime, when more fruits and vegetables are likely to be available in your area. Blueberries freeze well, according to Fenster, so purchase them in the summer and you can have local blueberries year-round.
“Strawberries shipped from South America in the winter were picked when they were unripe,” Fenster says. “They will never ripen, so they’ll never taste really good.”
2. Buy organic.
“By law, food that’s labeled ‘organic’ means it has no added color,” says Dr. Mike. “So you can evaluate the organic carrot better—the more vibrant the orange color, the more carotenoids it has in it.” Without the organic label, that rich orange could come from artificial coloring.
3. More quality, less junk.
Yes, there will have to be some cutting-back—less sugar, fewer processed foods, portion control. But that doesn’t mean giving up everything.
“There has been so much misinformation about what is healthy and what isn’t,” says Fenster. “You can eat butter. You can enjoy steak. “Pay more attention to the quality of the food and the portion. We’ve tended to ignore quality as we regard only the calories and then ask to supersize that. Buy from the local butcher and the farmer’s market, not the mega drive-through.”
4. Plan for hunger.
It’s key to be proactive instead of reactive. Stylists tend to skip lunch, so when you leave work you’re famished. You head for the first drive-through you see. Maybe you choose a chicken breast because you believe it’s better for you or has the fewest calories. But there’s high-fructose corn syrup in the bun, you’re not sure what’s in that chicken and the condiments contain sugar and other undesirable ingredients.
First of all, don’t skip lunch.
“If you’re going to have a busy day at work, make that a juicing day,” Fenster suggests. Blend organic fruits and vegetables—Fenster recommends going heavier on the veggies than the fruits.
“Juicing is nature’s meal replacement,” he says. “Bring in a quart and take sips all day. It packs you full of energy when you’re on your feet and is so much better for you than energy drinks like Red Bull and Mountain Dew.”
To plan ahead for your week’s dinners, make the most of every meal you cook.
“The secret to excellent food is using leftovers!” Fenster declares. “Take some leftover chicken and vegetable bits, throw it into a pot with water, lemon and peppercorns, let it simmer for a couple of hours and strain off the liquid. You’ve just made healthful stock out of leftovers, and you can freeze it! Restaurants do that to save money, and you can do it to control what goes into the food—and, more important, what doesn’t go in, like additives.”
5. Be flexible.
“Life gets in the way,” Fenster says. Maybe a client calls you at the last minute, or you can’t resist that birthday cake a staffer brought in.
“Go with the 80/20 rule,” Fenster advises. “If you can stick to your plan 80 percent of the time, you’ll do fine. You can’t do the opposite, a 20/80, and take just one day a week to eat well and go for a walk, but you also can’t hold yourself to 100 percent. You might eat a pint of ice cream. Just dust yourself off, and keep going. Don’t throw in the towel. You have a lifetime in front of you to get it right. If you just quit, you won’t have anything in front of you.”
For Dr. Mike, the bottom line is that there’s no reason to starve yourself or eat things you don’t like. Food should be a source of pleasure.
“I love to eat fresh, delicious food,” Fenster says.
Try these two recipes and find more at WhatsCookingWithDoc.com
Dr. Mike’s Ancient Grain No Knead Bread
2/3 cup warm water
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons yeast
1½ cups emmer wheat flour
5 cups einka (or einkorn) wheat flour
1½ teaspoons salt
¼ cup olive oil
11/3 cup cold water
Check the temperature requirements for your yeast. Pour the warm water at a yeast-blooming appropriate temperature into a small bowl and dissolve the honey. Add the yeast and set aside. While the yeast is blooming, combine all the remaining ingredients in a large bowl. After 5 minutes, make sure that the yeast has started blooming. Add the yeast to the mixture, and mix well with a wooden spoon or fingers. The dough will be rather moist and sticky. Seal the top with cling wrap to prevent the dough from drying out, and allow it to rise at room temperature for 45 to 60 minutes. Making sure the dough is sealed, place in the refrigerator for 12 to 36 hours.
To bake the dough, remove from the refrigerator and allow about an hour for it to reach room temperature. On a lightly floured surface, form the dough into 1 or 2 boules. Cover and allow to rise for another 1 to 2 hours. Preheat oven to 475°F. Ideally, place a small baking dish with water in the oven, and preheat a pizza stone or other ceramic to bake the bread upon. Lightly score the top of the bread with 3 slashes and bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Turn the oven temperature down to 425°F and bake another 15 to 20 minutes. The loaves are done when they sound hollow and the internal temperature has reached 165° Fahrenheit. Remove and allow to cool for several minutes and enjoy.
People are always asking; “Hey Doc, on your program for metabolic health; if I can’t eat modern wheat, junk food, fast food and you minimize fried and processed foods, what kind of food can I eat?”
How about this: Pasture-raised, grass-fed beef thinly sliced, seasoned and seared. Pile that on a fresh heirloom tomato and frisée lettuce. Sit that atop some slices of my ancient grains no knead bread. Finish it with some organic English red fox Leicester cheese and caramelized pears.