I don't usually feel sorry for my 15-year-old son. His life is pretty bearable. But last week, he started wrestling for his high school team. I'm not a big fan of contact sports and find wrestling brutal to watch. But the coach is a smart and sensible guy, and the kids on the team look out for each other in ways I haven't seen in football or hockey. Plus, team sports, and organized group activities in general, keep teenagers out of trouble. All those practices and games force them to be part of something larger than themselves and not so focused on updating their Facebook statuses.
Then my son came home and announced that he had to lose six pounds in a week to make weight. I tried to be supportive.
"You can do it," I said.
"This is serious, Mom," he said. "I don't think you know how to do this."
Oh, I knew how to do it. I hadn't been a teenage girl for nothing. I was the only girl in the family and my mother and grandmother paid a lot of attention to me. They had strict ideas on how girls should look and behave. No.1 was act ladylike. No. 2 was get good grades and be thin. Figuring out how to do all that without having a nervous breakdown wasn't always easy, but I tried. One summer in high school, I went to tennis camp with some skinny girls. One was famous for having appeared in a Burger King commercial. From these girls, I learned that lunch could consist of Tab, raw carrots and a couple tablespoons of peanut butter. They put vinegar and lemon juice on everything.
Years later, after I had my younger son, a friend who'd had three kids in five years and looked fantastic, told me her secret: Go to bed hungry. I've had friends who were bulimic and anorexic. I know that being hungry can generate its strange weird high. I had all the tools to develop a full-blown eating disorder and I didn't want to hand them to my teenager.
Plus, I knew that if he ate too little, he would be tired and irritable, and we certainly didn't need any more of that in our house. While he was dieting, he would need enough energy to go to school, survive a daily two-hour wrestling practice, do his homework, and not pass out. I told him we would come up with a high protein, low carb, low fat diet, and I would join him because I wanted to lose weight too.
The day after my son said he had to lose weight, I went to a friend's son's bar mitzvah. There were a lot of skinny women there. At the kiddush luncheon after the ceremony, I was standing with a few of them, feeling like the fat girl. Two of the women started talking about the dresses they were wearing. Apparently, they had worn them to their sons' bar mitzvahs. My bar mitzvah dress was five pounds ago; there was no way I could fit into it. Then these women started talking about their wedding dresses. They could still zip them up. My wedding dress was ten pounds ago. Forget about trying to squeeze into that (though there was no real point in trying to since I had absolutely no place to wear it.) I should add that we were all roughly the same age and height. I decided I would tag along with the wrestlers and try to make weight.
Fortunately, my neighbor, who is more sensible than I am, also has a teenage boy who needed to make weight for wrestling. Her son is two years older than mine and her husband wrestled in high school, so she has experience with quick and healthy weight loss. She gave me her son's menu. Breakfast: Scrambled egg whites with a little Parmesan cheese for flavor. Lunch: Tuna fish, an apple, and carrots. Dinner: Broiled salmon, steak, lamb or chicken, with low-fat marinade. raw fruit and veggies. A protein bar before wrestling practice and water, water, all day long.
My son gets lunch at school so he asked me to draw up a list of what he could eat. I wrote down sliced turkey, cottage cheese, peanut butter, boiled eggs, apples, bananas, oranges, celery, carrots, lettuce. I told him to stay clear of nuts and dried fruits. Not that nuts and dried fruit aren't nutritious and delicious, but we both liked them a lot and I knew we weren't capable of eating them in small doses. What about grapes, my son asked? We ate pounds of them every week. I decided to call a nutritionist.
Jen Meister, a certified holistic health counselor and nutritionist in Summit, and the mother of two teenagers, has a blog called Simplecleanandwhole, which offers tips on healthy eating and cooking. She said grapes were fine and recommended eating five small meals a day and drinking at least 64 ounces of water. (Some nutritionists recommend up to 100 ounces of water a day. If all that water is hard to get down, Meister suggests adding fresh juice from a lemon or orange to it.)
Other suggestions: Remove sugar, dairy, white flour and processed foods from your diet, and add in lean meats, all colors of vegetables, beans, legumes, and healthy grains such as brown rice, quinoa, millet and kasha. Substitute almond butter for peanut butter; if you're missing chips and pretzels, have a few almonds, cashews or walnuts. With fruits, she advised eating what's in season: This month, stick with apples, pears, pomegranates, bananas, and oranges. If you're in the mood for a smoothie, use frozen berries, which have the most antioxidants (see recipe below.)
Here were a few more of Meister's suggestions for losing weight and staying healthy:
Shop the periphery of the supermarket, where the meat, fish and produce are. Eat food that will rot. Real food is alive and will eventually die.
Eat food that you can picture in its raw state. "If it came from a plant, eat it," said Meister. "If it was made in a plant, don't." Another grim aphorism: "The whiter the bread, the sooner you'll be dead."
Eat your color, i.e. eat your veggies
Cut out dairy for the first five weeks. Use almond or rice milk.
Cut out white flour.
Cut out high fructose corn syrup and foods that have some form of sugar in the top three ingredients.
Cut out anything that comes in a wrapper.
Cut out juice, soda and energy drinks. Drink water or coconut water instead. Coconut water aids in digestion and contains more potassium than a banana.
Avoid food that has more than five ingredients.
Use a 2:1 ratio for protein and vegetables. If you have a 4-ounce portion of meat, eat 8-ounces of vegetables. Cover your plate with vegetables and grains and place a “fistful” of protein on top.
What if we get the munchies? I asked. "You can have one cookie, not ten," she said. If you're really craving something sweet and crunchy, spread peanut butter or almond butter on apples and rice cakes. Substitute your craving for sugar with protein: Make a whole wheat wrap with hummus and turkey, or dig into some cottage and fruit.
And so we began. I queried my friends for tips. Marina suggested the website, choosemyplate.gov. Janice sent a recipe for "cream" of vegetable soup. Lynne, who lost 20 pounds last year, sent recipes for lime garlic chicken and broiled fish from the book The Mediterranean Prescription.
Sunday night, I made baked sweet potatoes, took skinless, boneless chicken thighs out of the freezer, covered them with Emeril's chicken rub and a teaspoon of olive oil, and broiled them for 40 minutes. It made for a good, plain supper. Later that night, my son complained that he was hungry. That was the dark side of dieting, I said. Your body doesn't want to do it.
Monday night, I made flank steak, broiled Brussels sprouts and steamed broccoli. My older son came home cheerful. He had lost a couple of pounds. How did he know? Apparently the kids weighed themselves three times during practice, before, during and after. That sounded obsessive but at least they were doing it in a public place with adult supervision. "The assistant coach told me good start but keep going," my son said. "But no more salt. No caffeine or carbonated beverages, no Gatorade or energy drinks, they're all carbs and sugar." I mentioned the recentNew York Times story about Diana Nyad, the Olympic swimmer who had once lost 29 pounds while swimming for 40 hours. "I saw it," my son said. "And a) that's incredibly unhealthy and b) superhuman."
Tuesday night, my son said he had had chicken fajitas without the fajitas for lunch. I made "cream" of vegetable soup. My friend Janice had gotten the recipe from Angie Comiteau, one of the owners of the Bar Method in Summit. The soup was outrageously good. I made it with the leftover steamed broccoli and raw carrots. Both my kids had seconds. There was not enough for my husband. I should have doubled the recipe.
Wednesday night, I made broiled sea bass and garlic lime chicken. Both were outstanding. My older son bit into the chicken and looked at me. "Are you sure this isn't fattening?" he asked. "Do you promise I'll lose the weight by Saturday?"
Yes, I promised. "We'll taper off towards the end of the week. Thursday, we'll have a small dinner and Friday night, we'll basically fast." My son looked alarmed - my latent eating disorder was rearing its ugly head. "We'll have a small dinner, nothing big," I added. "Steamed vegetables and almond butter or something."
Thursday, my son asked me to help him get through the night without snacking. "Don't go into the kitchen," I said. "Visualize yourself getting on the scale Saturday morning and liking the result."
"That's not really doing it for me," he said.
"Okay, then have some gum and think how happy you'll be when this is over."
"The season isn't over until February," he said.
Friday afternoon, I picked him up at school. When he got in the car, he said, "Coach said I really don't have to lose so much weight."
"He said because it's JV, it's not as strict as varsity, they'll just line me up against someone who looks like they're in my weight class. I had a cupcake in advisory this morning."
What had happened to the fun he was having dieting with Mom?
That night, I put a frozen pizza in the oven for my younger son, left my older son to fend for himself and went out for dinner with my husband. We went to Moonshine on Main. At first, I ordered the beet salad without goat cheese. But the salad frissee, with bacon lardons, blue cheese and poached egg, beckoned. "It has blue cheese," the waitress said warily. "I want it," I said. A few minutes later, I tucked into my husband's truffled gnocchi and meatballs.
Saturday morning, my son left for wrestling practice. He had lost two and a half pounds. I had dropped two. I wiggled into my dress, barely. Now I just need a wrestling match to wear it to.
Angie's "Cream" of Vegetable Soup:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion (I used one cup, which was an entire onion)
4 cups vegetable broth
1 1/2 lb. vegetables, chopped. Use any combo of veggies - cauliflower, broccoli, asparagus, bell peppers, spinach, etc. (Angie uses one whole head of cauliflower & an orange pepper; I used three cups of steamed broccoli and a handful of raw carrots)
16 oz. silken tofu (I didn't use this)
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
Salt & pepper
Grated parmesan on top (I didn't use this)
1. Heat oil, add onion for 5 minutes
2. Add broth, bring to simmer. add vegetables and cook until tender (about 25 minutes for my combo above)
3. Add tofu & vinegar in batches transfer to a blender and puree. Season with salt & pepper. If you have an immersion blender, even easier!
Jen Meister's Flax Seed and Almond Butter Smoothie
4-6 ounces water
1/2 cup coconut water
1 cup of frozen banana, mango, pineapple, strawberries or blueberries
Lynne's Garlic Lime Chicken (adapted from Mediterranean Prescription.)
3 tablespoons lime
4 to 5 cloves of garlic finely minced or pressed
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of pepper
Mix and pour over 1 lb to 1.5 lbs of boneless skinless chicken breasts
Marinate for at least one hour or all day. Then grill or use a grill pan about 5 minutes a side or until done on grill. (I broiled for five to six minutes on each side.)
Lynne's Broiled Fish (adapted form Mediterranean Prescription)
This recipe works for Branzino, striped sea bass, black sea bass, red snapper and Orata
2 pounds fish, cleaned, scaled, fins removed
4 Tablespoons of olive oil (divided)
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
Juice of 1 lemon
1 large garlic clove finely minced (press if short on time)
Preheat broiler (or grill)
Lightly coat entire fish with 1 T of olive oil. Broil fish for 6 to 7 minutes a side. In separate bowl mix remaining oil, salt, pepper and lemon juice and garlic. Take fish out of oven, spoon sauce over it and cook for 1 more minute on a rack that is not immediately under broiler.