Seasons by the Sea: Recipe for Success in 2018

Losing weight is the top resolution of Americans every year
A fruit crisp, this one featuring peaches and apples, can be lightened up with less sugar and fat and still taste delicious. Laura Donnelly

It’s now 2018 and chances are almost half of you made New Year’s resolutions on Sunday. Of that number, half of you resolved to lose weight this year. Losing weight is the top resolution of Americans every year, more than the vague promise of “self-improvement,” being more financially responsible, quitting smoking, doing more exciting things, spending more time with family and friends, and coming dead last at 6.5 percent, getting more exercise, which is too bad because if you were truly committed to more exercise, you’d be more successful at your number one resolution.

The statistics of success rates are dismal, so dismal the National Institute of Health has given this a name: “false hope syndrome.” The failure rate is 92 percent. If you are in your 20s or 30s, you will likely be 37.8 percent successful, according to the Statistic Brain Research Institute. If you are over 50, your success rate is 16.3 percent. Interestingly, the percentage of people who feel they were successful in meeting their goals is the same as the failure rate, exactly 92 percent. Delusional people!

Rather than focus on these disheartening numbers, why not learn from the 8 percent who succeed? Here’s how.

Be passionate about your commitment. Be specific, make a plan, budget for it, and have friends and family hold you accountable. Nothing like public humiliation to help melt those pounds away. Other helpful methods are kind of obvious: Don’t deprive yourself of your occasional splurge foods, eat more filling foods like eggs, soups, legumes, and other vegetables, cook for yourself, compromise, and don’t let slipups become a backslide. Things that won’t help you: chewing gum, diet sodas, and eating the same stuff all the time.

If you choose to diet, are you going to follow a plan? I have railed against high-protein diets for years and still feel strongly against them. Atkins, Dukan, and the Ketogenic diets do work for a short time, then the weight comes back. Men, in particular, love these diets because they are high in meat and low in many vegetables and most fruits. I have written in the past about the DASH diet (Dietary Approach to Stopping Hypertension), and this is the safest and sanest diet, according to the Mayo Clinic, National Institute of Health, U.S. News, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, and more. I lost close to 20 pounds four years ago and have never gained it back. Should I lose more? Yup. Baby steps, people, baby steps.

Cooking for yourself is an enormously helpful step toward losing weight because you have complete control over your meal. One of the reasons restaurant food is so delicious is because it can be loaded with fat and salt.

I am not going to suggest steamed salmon with a wedge of lemon, that is just cruel deprivation. Personally, I eat a lot of brown rice, big salads with lots of stuff in them, lean proteins like fish and eggs, lentils and black beans, yogurt, and my favorite super food, Japanese sweet potatoes. These are so darned good, they’re like cake! You can find them at Provisions in Sag Harbor, and I have seen them occasionally at the I.G.A. in Amagansett.

When it comes to salads, I add little bits of semi-naughty things, homemade croutons, a bit of Parmesan cheese, some toasted pecans or pine nuts, crumbled bacon, and dried fruit. When I make a pasta dish, the sauce is all vegetables. If I’m making meatballs, I use “zoodles,” the spiraled zucchini pasta, all the rage of 2017. These are compromises without sacrifice.

Do you like cheese? Research the fat content and you may be pleasantly surprised. Feta and goat cheese are lower in fat than that triple cream blob of St. Andre. Camembert is somewhat virtuous and Parmesan has so much flavor, you never need a lot. Even some of the lower fat cheeses like skim mozzarella are not bad on a pizza, or lower fat Boursin on crackers or folded into an omelette. 

I am fond of all types of Asian food and have found that many Thai, Chinese, Korean, and Indian recipes are perfect for dieting because they are so varied, vegetable-centric, and flavorful. Chicken marinated in cumin-spiced yogurt then grilled, yogurt raita with cucumber and mint, mango chutney, yellow lentil dal — that doesn’t sound so boring, does it? Of course, to get started on this kind of cooking you have to have a good number of spices, pastes, etc. Once you do, you can make anything. 

When you have leftover brown rice, you can make a big bowl of fried rice for dinner. Make a slurry with sesame oil, chili paste, fresh ginger and garlic, hoisin, and soy sauce. Fry the rice (for about four cups of rice you only need about two tablespoons of oil) until it starts to shrink and lose moisture. Add some leftover or fresh vegetables (peas and arugula are my go-to), scramble an egg into it, add the slurry, and fry some more. For those who like pork fried rice, I have found that a dab of bacon fat adds that rich flavor. Again, compromise but no sacrifice.

Vegetable purees are a seemingly rich side dish but don’t have to be. Puree peas with watercress and add a tiny bit of butter. Cauliflower with onions and sautéed apples with a pinch of curry are perfect with duck or pork. I have even made mashed potatoes with caramelized onions and chicken stock and it was a hit.

I do not have the willpower or desire to eat food without flavor and excitement. I always have plenty of lemons, fresh garlic, chili flakes, ginger, and good Parmesan cheese to add to everything.

It’s not easy to lose weight, but it’s doable. You should set realistic goals. For instance, I only lost about one to two pounds per week on the DASH diet, but I was never bored, hungry, or felt deprived. And I have maintained the weight loss and stayed mindful of what’s good for me. I have even learned how to master kale salad (the other omnipresent menu item of 2017). Don’t use that curly stuff, it’s nasty. Use the lacinato kale (also known as dinosaur or black kale), shred it, massage it with lemon juice and olive oil, add garlic, chopped dried apricots, Marcona almonds, and some Parmesan cheese. Voila, flavor bomb. You’re welcome.

So remember to set small goals (like start by saying you’ll lose seven pounds), budget for your goals (join a gym or Gurney’s to swim), keep a journal, and make yourself accountable to your friends and family. Nothing like shame and guilt to keep you motivated. This way, you can be in that 8 percent of successful resolution makers.

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Vitello tonnato, an Italian dish traditionally of veal and tuna, loses little of its luxuriousness when made instead with turkey. Laura Donnelly