Matt Madeiro

once ate nine pieces of stinky tofu. Just ask Mark Powers.

A Foodie’s Guide to Staying Fit

Let’s get one thing straight: Texas loves hamburgers.

Mid-conversation, in fact, about the best damn burger I’ve uncovered in this state, I caught myself leading with something like this: “Don’t get me wrong. Hubcap makes a solid, traditional burger. But I stack it up to the one at Hubbell and Hudson—wagyu beef and the toasted English muffin for a bun—and it just doesn’t compare. That muffin adds the perfect element of crunch and ties the whole package together.”

I might have also used the word complexity with a completely straight face.

That’s right.

I’m a foodie. A pretty annoying one, in fact.

And I have the unenviable task of convincing you to become one too — or to take a few key ideas, at least, from what that fancy pants label even means.

Here’s a promise: your waistline won’t regret it.

Let’s Get This Out of the Way

There is no magic trick to losing weight.

There are no cheats. There are no shortcuts. There are no quick fixes, overnight successes, and super food supplements that will take the fat off your thighs and send it scuttling somewhere else.

Your body doesn’t work like that.

Your body does, however, take kindly to the next few ideas. They’re good ones. This trio is the big reason I’ve gone from a size 34 to a size 29 in waist over the last few years of tweaking, experimenting, and still stuffing my face with incredibly smile-inducing food.

Here they are:

  1. I don’t eat crap.
  2. Sometimes, I don’t even eat.
  3. Sometimes, I break rules #1 and #2.

Let’s tackle each in turn.

I Don’t Eat Crap

I can’t remember the last time I had a Poptart. Or chicken wings. Or cheap pizza. Or a soft drink. Or a slice of that thick chocolate cake someone inevitably carries into the office. The list goes on from there.

What can I say? I don’t eat that stuff.

Okay, sure, that’s not entirely accurate — I don’t eat it often. And when I do, here’s the difference: I’m notoriously picky.

I do have pizza on occasion — just not of the delivery variety. I do have cake sometimes — but never from a grocery store bakery. My rampant foodie-ism, for all of the negativity that label might bring, has done me a tremendous favor.

I make it count.

I don’t eat cheap cookies. I don’t settle for frozen pizzas. If I want a slice of pie (Italian or otherwise), I will find the best damn pie in my area and dive in with gusto. I’ll eat slowly, make embarrassing noises while I chew, and flaunt dorkiness throughout the entire process, but here’s the twist: I’ll be enjoying myself like you wouldn’t believe.

I won’t be beating myself up. I won’t let the guilt strike deep into my heart the minute I bring that fork to my lips. Why? Because I know I don’t do it that often. And I know that when I do reach for something unhealthy, it’s typically going to prove a life-altering experience.

I don’t eat crap, in other words, unless I know it’s worth it. That indulgence has to be worth the empty calories, worth the way it’ll sit in my stomach, and worth the effort of tracking it down in the first place.

You could call me a junk food snob, frankly, and I wouldn’t fight the label. It’s a pretty comfortable place to be. Given that 90% of my meals offer fresh vegetables, meat, and fruit (Paleo, by another name), I’m pretty happy to stomp my foot and throw a big fit about that remaining ten percent.

I make it count.

I want you to do this too.

For the next week, in fact, try this on for size:

  1. Pick a piece of crap that you know you’re going to eat. Maybe you eat pizza two times a week. Maybe you blow through snack packs on a daily basis. Whatever flavor of indulgence you lean toward, pick something.
  2. Remember that you can still eat this thing. But here’s the catch: you only get to do it once this week, and you’re going to have to work for it.
  3. Do your research. If you’re craving a slice of cake, comb the archives of Yelp and food blogs until you find a local joint that offers the best in town.
  4. Eat that cake. Enjoy it. Savor every bite, knowing that your lone indulgence for the week was so very worth it.

Having done this, realize a few more things:

  1. The cheap stuff can’t compare. It might win out on price, but for flavor—for experience—it just doesn’t stack up.
  2. Even when you make it count, crap is crap. It’s not good for you. But hey! That’s okay. Knowing this, and knowing that you don’t eat it often, why would you settle for something cheap, mass-produced, and chock-full of industrial ‘flavors’?

This is a dramatically different approach to the way we usually handle indulgences: with guilt, regret, and an eye on the scale, watching for those six extra pounds we just know will pop up overnight. That’s one way to handle it, sure. But I’d call it the absolute worst way to treat something that can bring us joy, and I’d argue that focusing on quality over quantity has as much place in your diet as it does anywhere else.

Sometimes, I Don’t Even Eat

Most days, I don’t eat breakfast. After a huge lunch, I’ll often skip dinner. And some days—less frequently, now, but maybe once or twice a month—I’ll finish my dinner one evening and not eat again until evening rolls around the following day.

I haven’t died. (Surprise!)

My metabolism hasn’t imploded. Starvation mode, that grim phantom bound to follow any poor soul who goes six whole hours without food, hasn’t slowed my gait.

Here’s what happened instead: I lost weight. A pretty decent amount of it, in fact, for all the tremendous effort it takes to sleep an additional 30 minutes in the morning, not stress about my morning meal, and drink a few cups of coffee at work until lunch time rolls around.

Skipping breakfast—intermittent fasting, by another name—won’t magically melt the fat. If you’ve ever looked into fasting, you can be forgiven for thinking it a cure-all for all of our weight-related woes. But while it does help regulate our caloric intake, I think fasting does one better.

It simplifies your relationship with food.

You’ll realize that you don’t always have to eat.

You’ll realize how often we ignore our stomachs — eating three, four, six times daily even if our body isn’t asking for food.

You’ll realize that children have wisdom beyond their years. Remember when we used to eat light in anticipation of bigger meals? Remember when we used to play outside for hours, our next meal the absolute last thing on our minds? Remember when we used to actually save room for dessert?

Want to try it for yourself? It’s not too difficult. Skip breakfast on occasion. If a meal rolls around and you find that you’re not hungry, do the unthinkable and don’t eat until you are. You can be perfectly happy and healthy without doing either one of these, sure, but I will say this: a willingness to listen to your body (and to compensate for bigger meals) can go a very long way to trimming your waist.

That’s how I eat obscene things and still lose—at the very least, maintain—my weight. That’s how I can throw caution to the winds one evening, eat an entire bucket of movie theater popcorn (and, uh, some densely caloric liquids), and be right back to where I was just a day or two later.

Despite this, brows tend to wrinkle by the dozen when I mention that I’m skipping lunch. They tend to rocket up towards the atmosphere when I mention why: because I like to break all the rules.

Sometimes, I Break Rules #1 and #2

Let me tell you about my burger.

Last Wednesday, I coerced Jessie Spielvogel and Carissa Ara into checking out a local bar with me. I’m not much of a bar hopper, sure, but this (hipster) fine establishment had a fun twist: each day of the week, their kitchen opened up and let a local food truck come in to serve food.

Bernie’s Burger Bus had been scheduled for that day. When I saw the menu, I knew why.

This is what I ate.

Several sexy burgers and baskets of fries

I ate an entire “Drama Club” burger: a house-made pimento cheese stuffed burger with apple-wood smoked bacon, tipsy onions, and bourbon mustard on a fresh-baked pretzel bun.

I also had half of the Exchange Student (strangest sentence on this blog, I think), a fresh ground blend of Australian lamb and apple-wood smoked bacon topped with a chimichurri sauce, roasted garlic aioli, arugula, and oven dried tomatoes on a fresh baked ciabatta bun.

And then I had fries. Fries, my friends, laden with maple horseradish aioli.

Let’s be clear, here.

This was not a reasonably-sized meal.

This was not my typical definition of healthy.

But this was the second best hamburger I’ve had in the state of Texas. I won’t bore you with excessively poetic descriptions of hamburger patties, but I will say this: breaking the rules has rarely felt—rarely tasted—so incredibly good.

Come the end of the meal, I’d fallen quiet. The salty kick of the sandwich still lingered on my tongue, and I’m sure I looked lost in thought as I nearly melted back into my chair.

You might say I was experiencing a revelation.

Let’s just call it a reminder. This is why I do it.

This is why I don’t eat crap (unless it’s really, really good). This is why I skip a meal, sometimes, when I know I have a huge one coming down the pipes. This is why I’ve scrutinized both my diet and my attitude towards food ceaselessly for the last two years.

This is why I care about what I eat.

Being a foodie, for me, isn’t about turning up my nose to what the ‘normal’ people eat. It isn’t about insisting on raw organic fair trade vanilla chai lattes (soy milk, extra anti-nutrients) whenever I curl my mustache at my favorite coffee shop.

It’s about making each dish count. It’s about respecting every flavor and flicker of color dressing my plate. It’s about respecting myself, too, and wanting to put only the best in my body whenever I sit down to eat. Yes, this includes junk food.

It’s about living well, too, and being kind to yourself every step of the way. No one is perfect. No diet is—or even needs to be—forever strict. If that occasional indulgence keeps you happy, healthy, and sane, why wouldn’t you embrace it? Why wouldn’t you try and make it count just as much as every day you’re given?

I want you to give this a try.

Just to recap, here’s the big takeaway from all this:

For right now, at least, let’s start with this. Repeat after me: “I vow to care about what I eat.” (Want to tweet it? Click that link right there and let everyone know where you stand.)

And don’t be afraid to call yourself a foodie, now, when you pass on the dollar-a-dozen donuts sitting in your break room. You’re better than that. Your indulgence, whatever form it may take, is too. Your sweet tooth might rebel, but your waistline will forever thank you.

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