When I was reviewing in my 20s people used to say, “How do you stay so thin?” Then I turned 30 and they said, “I would be REALLY fat if I did your job”. Do you see the difference? I did.
Gemima Cody, Melbourne Chief Reviewer, Good Food. Photo: Simon Schluter
Here's the thing. I love my work, but I really don't want to die and I do want to keep my own pants. I generally work 9.30am to 5pm in the office then go to restaurants until 9pm or 10pm – it's essentially Olympic-level carb loading combined with a desk job combined with no consistent routine.
My January plan, like most people's, was to cut carbs and shred. Then my first assignment was eating about two dozen sandwiches in search of Melbourne's hottest new things. The struggle, while being the foremost of First World problems, is definitely real. So can someone like me (and people who travel for work or schmooze all the time, or hell, just want to eat out a lot) balance the load?
Hating carbs is all the rage, but I'm always shady on protein or fat-heavy fixes like paleo or the keto craze. It seems they're designed to freak your body out, so if you do slip and swallow a baguette, does it double the damage? Can you even be a bit keto? Should I be going high protein when I already get pounded with the stuff at restaurants? Is there any exercise in the world that could help? Surely there's a way.
I'm told I have completed an ‘arms' day. Gross.
A few notes from the field: I don't think my kilojoule calculations are correct. I think Fitbit overestimates how much you burn by walking versus any other activity. I've been credited with less calories burnt in days where I have cycled across city covering serious distance with heart pounding, than in a day when I leisurely strolled about. I covered ground while strolling, sure, but my heart rate never got up. Hmm. Weren't these started as pedometers? (Also, grating carrots really throws out your step count.)
While I know I'm lucky, all the side effects noted in the Supersize Me doco are the same if you are eating at three-hat restaurants. Your body doesn't care how you got that much fat and sugar in you or how nicely it was plated. You will get depressed, listless, you won't sleep. And like Supersize Me, you aren't meant to eat like that daily and few people could or would. But it's interesting that only junk food ever gets blamed or nominated to come with health warnings as per cigarette packets.
Here's my week. Wins, losses and draws.
It's 6.45am and my partner's brother has come over to train us both. Ben believes weight training is the only way to burn calories while I'm deskbound. Even then, he's not optimistic given my input. Anyway, I do bench presses, rows and barbell shoulder presses, which I'm told means I have completed an “arms” day. Gross.
I grew up on a farm where exercise just happened. Since living in the city, I've always preferred incidental exercise (cycling, walking) and Bikram yoga (downside: the founder has been MeToo-ed and I'm not sure if I was getting thinner, or dehydrated?)
Ben makes us promise we'll all send pictures of everything we're about to eat as a mindfulness exercise. LOL. He doesn't know what he's in for. Breakfast is a latte and a slice of this low-carb protein bread my partner buys for $18. It's 10 grams of fat a slice! For lunch I eat leftover chorizo tomato soup made with “everything from the crisper drawer”. Mid-afternoon I eat an apple and feel smug. Then some licorice.
Tomatoes and basil salad is on the brunch-at-home menu. Photo: Jennifer Soo
When I get home I launch an assault on the cheese, slap myself and make righteous dinner of half a grilled chicken breast (lots of lemon and herbs) and a salad of corn, avocado, green beans with feta. One-and-a-half glasses of wine.
Kilojoules in: 6610
Souvlaki from Tiba's. Photo: Rebecca Hallas
It's a restaurant day, so I eat a banana and drink a (large) coffee. Note here: I get told to eat breakfast, but my body, left to its own devices, likes to eat like a snake. I'm not a regular snacker. I rarely crave sugar (but think about cheese and pasta a LOT), and I have two weeks where I can't get enough food, then two weeks when I'm not that interested. Forcing down breakfast seems like pointless calories. Should I bother?
I ride three kilometres to work, then two kilometres to the restaurant, order one glass of pet nat, and the whole menu. This is raw fish, raw beef, two salads, a steak and salmon with peperonata and a few croutons. Not bad. After work I cycle to Coburg (12 kilometres) and hit Tiba's on Sydney Road, go vego with dips, salad and falafel and limit to one quarter pita from the fat stack. Tiba's generosity is difficult to battle.
Kilojoules out: 12,213
Kilojoules in: 5648
So sometimes I sabotage myself. Sometimes, I get sabotaged. Doing my sandwich story, someone at the restaurant recognises me and does something I can't help but hate. “How about some wine?” the waiter asks. I decline. Two glasses show up anyway (I slip mine to my friend). Then comes an extra sandwich, and two martinis. I don't drink this either. My friend does and has a thrilling afternoon. All up I eat just over a whole sandwich (they're beasts, though) and tonight I review.
I missed training this morning too, so I try to get my incidental exercise up by not taking PT between stories and clock 15 kilometres getting to dinner in 34 degrees. Is sweating weight loss? It feels like it. Does it balance out a spritz,a bottle of wine between three, a buttery fish, a mayo-ed croquette, more fried protein, three veg dishes doused in nut creams (see, I swear the overcompensating veg dishes are fattier than regular meat sometimes), salad and spoons from two desserts?
Kilojoules out: 13,150 (really, Fitbit?)
Kilojoules in: I estimate 10,204
Day off. And look, I have better weeks than this, but I might as well air all the shames of half living in restaurants. Things just go off in your fridge if you're never home, so when you are, you're not prepared. Shopping to cook one meal is expensive and wasteful. Today, friends come for brunch, so we get the gear for scrambled eggs, toast, avocado and bacon and a big tomato and basil salad.
It's sizzling hot. Being alive is exercise. Our basement is the only reprieve from the heat so we do Saturday admin, then, sigh, order spaghetti, delivered. I Netflix and do not chill. No booze, though. I'll count that as a win.
Kilojoules out: 8209 (and that's just for being alive and sweating)
Kilojoules in: 7531
Training day. Ben's really been enjoying my 27 pics from a single meal versus his selection of portion-controlled wraps (“wrap life” is his new self-created diet plan, in which he reasons “you can only fit so much in a wrap”.) I am a slug. I manage 45 minutes of lame lifts with just the plain 20-kilogram barbell. I roll around a bit doing stretches.
Then we move an air conditioner (incidentals!) and drive to the coast for my review. Sadly it becomes clear right away that this restaurant won't make the grade, but it's too late: here comes half the menu and a date for me with an extra restaurant this week. We pick at the dishes and drive home.
I walk a few blocks, and make a smoked-trout coleslaw with a soft-boiled egg. You win some, you lose some. This week I'll definitely gain some.
Kilojoules out: 10,250.8
Kilojoules in: 5857.6 (big food, but I picked at it)
What the dietitian says
I eat too much protein at some restaurant meals and I ask if I should save it up just eating veg the other days. No. You can't store protein and need it every day, but I should consider getting it from non-meat sources.
I get a gold star for fobbing off most of the oversized, and over-salted restaurant portions onto my boyfriend (he doesn't agree). Cutting portions is a legit strategy for anyone who likes or has to eat out a lot.
The empty fridge dilemma is something I have to deal with – stock the pantry with longer life things, find late-night grocers. In truth, I mostly do this, and to combat waste, if I am cooking at home I get friends over so it's worth doing one big shop for one dinner.
Breakfast: a large latte and a banana is definitely breakfast. For me. Breakfast is encouraged to kick start metabolism and to prevent gorging later, but if I know I'm going big either way, no point loading up on top.
Melanie McGrice says I need to eat more fruit. Just like my mum. And that's the take-home in general. I need to get my nutrients; from whole foods is best. Not too much, but also in a tasty way that won't make eating out of restaurants sad.
Mental health: sure I could lose any wine at home, never eat cheese out of work. But all work, no play isn't a recipe for a happy, balanced relationship with food.
Feedback from Melanie McGrice, accredited practising dietitian and spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia.
*All kilojoules expended calculated according to Fitbit, which all the critics wore for this five-day challenge.