How do you stay healthy, and even lose weight when you eat for a living? We enlist the help of the Dieticians Association of Australia for three of our food critics.
Callan Boys, National Food and Wine Writer, Good Food
I've always thought the multi-billion dollar weight loss industry was a load of bollocks. Keen to drop a few kegs? Easy. Put down the fried chicken and go for a jog. Eat less, move more, in other words, and spoken like a bloke who has never dieted in his life.
Tipping the scales: Food writer Callan Boys. Photo: Louise Kennerley
Dieting, it turns out, is hard. Spurred by the desire to don a vintage Jaws T-shirt, size M, found in Muswellbrook Vinnies six months ago, I've set about trying to shed a few kilos and become properly fit.
Planet Weight Loss is a confusing and contradictory world. How about a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet combined with a resistance workout? Ah, but no. Low-carb diets lack important antioxidants and can lead to kidney problems, say scientists from Anytown, USA, in a new study. I'm also training for a half-marathon in March and fitness experts say I need carbs to fuel my body. Eat pasta, run faster.
Concepts such as carb cycling, intermittent fasting and cheat days (good or bad?) make weight loss even harder to wrap my head around. Most of the time, I want to say “to heck with it all” and crawl back into bed with sourdough, French cheese and Frasier.
Supermarket zoodles are wet and slimy things and I hate them. Give me bucatini or give me death.
I understand the appeal of highly restrictive diets such as paleo and its hot new cousin “keto” for this reason. Steadfast rules such as no grains, fruit, dairy or booze can make a diet simple to follow because you don't have to kilojoule-count or think too much.
I earn my crust as a full-time food and drink writer, though, and still need to eat crumpets, sample lager and hoover ramen. Restrictive diets aren't an option. Also, I love pies.
No breakfast. I've been on the intermittent fasting train ever since I read that skipping breakfast could aid weight loss. Does it actually? No idea.
Lunch is at Peacock Gardens in Crows Nest for a review. My dining mates and I share spring rolls (561kJ), soft crab omelette (427kJ), sang choy bao (749kJ), duck pancakes (724kJ), rice (854kJ), shantung chicken (598kJ) and fortune cookies (126kJ). One glass each of red (523kJ) and white (502kJ) plus a special “Chinese tea”, which turns out to be cognac (268kJ). It's an excellent meal, which I try to counter later with 40 minutes of resistance-based, high-intensity interval training, or what people fitter than me call HIIT.
The guilt of spring rolls at lunch looms large in the evening. Dinner is two packs of store-bought zucchini noodles (316kJ) and makeshift amatriciana (774kJ). It turns out supermarket zoodles are wet and slimy things and I hate them. Give me bucatini or give me death.
Kilojoules in: 6422
Quiche for breakfast from Bourke Street Bakery. Photo: Rachel Murdolo
Kilojoules out: 11094
I'm on local radio at 8am talking food trends. A1 Canteen (in Sydney's Chippendale) is opposite the studio and I'm compelled to grab one of its grilled mortadella and fried-egg sandwiches (1414kJ) for breakfast. Intermittent fasting, schmasting.
Lunch was supposed to be a healthy pho, but I discover Chinatown Noodle House has opened a slick new outpost near the office and I must know more. Hand-pulled noodles with fried zha jiang sauce and fresh cucumber (1883kJ) are brilliant and I hit the weights for an hour to burn off the carbs.
‘The guilt of spring rolls at lunch lingers.' Photo: Jennifer Soo
Dinner is two chicken thighs (1130kJ) with rosemary, lemon, and garlic plus a fair whack of olive oil (1004kJ) to dress blanched broccolini (259kJ). There's a leftover Christmas pudding in the cupboard I very much want to open but willpower prevails and I pump out a five kilometre run instead. Well done, me.
Kilojoules in: 5690
Kilojoules out: 12108
A colourful plate at Cairo Street Food in Newtown. Photo: Anna Kucera
Bourke Street Bakery supplies the sustenance for my main gym day of the week via a pumpkin and goat's cheese quiche (2012kJ) with shortcrust pastry. I eat it in the car before an hour of cardio-based HIIT and two hours of weight training.
Fitness experts say it's important to provide muscles with post-workout protein so I make a lunch that's probably too much for one person. Two chicken breasts (2176kJ), two cups of broccoli (259kJ) and two potatoes (1456kJ) cooked in leftover wagyu dripping (799kJ) and topped with oregano. I could have just par-boiled the spuds but beef fat is a wonderful thing and it's the weekend, so whatever.
I'm super keen to see The Favourite before it enters the film purgatory between cinema release and streaming service, but the idea of sitting in a movie theatre without popcorn is unfathomable. (Movie popcorn, I'm told, is no good for weight loss.) Instead I scoot over to Newtown's Cairo Takeaway for a lamb kofta plate with cucumber, flatbread, mixed dips and pickles. I calculate the meal to weigh in at 3800kJ and wonder if that's more or less energy than a large popcorn and Pepsi Max.
Two schooners were downed with the My Australia lunch. Photo: Steve Baccon
Later that night, I eat pudding alone (2377kJ).
Kilojoules in: 12,879
Kilojoules out: 17,682
Accredited Practising Dietitian Melanie McGrice. Photo: Supplied
The day begins with an hour of resistance training and my first-ever protein smoothie. I have been dubious on protein shakes, smoothies and powders since they started appearing with increased frequency in health food stores a few years ago. Are they any different to those predatory post-science “wellness” products such as detox tea and charcoal water? I don't know.
My supermarket-bought salted-caramel whole protein breakfast smoothie has 30 grams of protein and 1182 kilojoules. It costs $4.15. A free-range chook egg has 13 grams of protein and you can buy 18 for $9. In the smoothie's defense, it is delicious. This probably has a lot to do with the 26.8 grams of sugar per serving.
Sarah Blasko has partnered with the Ochota Barrels wine legends for a My Australia lunch at The Unicorn. The menu is inspired by the singer-songwriter's school days and it's a lunch that makes me very bloody full. The kitchen sends out an egg finger-sanger topped with salmon roe and avruga, a rabbit party-pie, pork sausage roll, skin-on charcoal chook, coleslaw, rice salad, house-made wagon wheels (I eat two) and Cherry Ripe ice-cream.
Throw in two schooners and a chardonnay and the Fitbit app estimates lunch is 7200kJ. I regret nothing. I also hit the pavement for a 15-kilometre run in the evening and eat two rissoles (1100kJ) and a tomato (92kJ) for dinner.
Kilojoules in: 9574
Kilojoules out: 22,259
I skip breakfast. Three leftover rissoles and a cucumber-tomato-feta salad total 2123 kilojoules for lunch. I'm feeling spritely until a public relations company delivers fist-sized cream cakes to the office around 3pm. I figure each cake contains at least 795 kilojoules and more sugar than I care to think about, but I'm going to the gym later so one is OK, right?
It's two hours of weights after work and a trip to the grocer to collect the week's lunch supplies. If I don't make healthy lunches in advance, it will be fried noodles at my desk. Dinner is basically what lunch will be for the week: chicken breast (1088kJ) doused in Old Bay, and broccolini (259kJ) sharpened with salt and lemon. I hit the pudding once more, this time with ice-cream (3492kJ).
I'm a big fan of Fitbit for tracking my movements and kilojoules. Logging each meal and snack in the app has made me more mindful of what I'm putting in my body each day.
Life's too short to count kilojoules when you're at a great restaurant, though. “Excuse me waiter, can you ask chef how much olive oil was used to dress these beans? And what do you reckon this bread roll weighs?” No one wants to be that person. I'm finding the key to long-term weight loss is a diet – or rather, a way of eating – that works with, and not against, your favourite foods and lifestyle. Food should be enjoyable and never something to fear.
Kilojoules in: 7757
Kilojoules out: 14,372
What the dietitian says
Based on my conversation with Melanie McGrice, I will be flipping my diet on its head. Watching interviews with super ripped celebrities such as Chris Pratt and Zac Efron had me thinking I should be eating only broccoli and chicken to properly bulk up. (Efron even reported drinking blended chicken breast to consume enough protein for his Baywatch biceps.) Turns out I only need around 20-25g of protein post-workout and one chicken breast has 54g of of the essential nutrient. “You also want to have that protein within half-an-hour of the workout to replace lost glycogen and help with muscle recovery,” says McGrice.
I need to eat more carbohydrates to fuel my marathon training and high-intensity gym sessions. About 50 per cent carbs, 30 per cent fat, and 20 per cent protein. Until now, I've been cutting carbs as much as possible unless eating out for a review or devil-may-care Sunday lunch. More fruit is great because I can burn straight through it with exercise, plus whole carbs such as brown rice, oats, sweet potato and lentils. Meanwhile, I should keep the sort of refined carbohydrates found in pastries, white pasta and processed food to a minimum. I always thought the concept of “wholefoods” was marketing nonsense but now I'm starting to see has serious merit.
Porridge is a much better pre-workout breakfast idea than a quiche. If I'm looking to burn fat, then just a banana before an early gym session is fine.
Protein shakes can be beneficial after a workout, but I should be careful the kilojoule content isn't higher than the amount of energy I've just burned in the gym. “They're not always the best idea,” says McGrice.
I shouldn't keep pudding, ice-cream or other temptations in the house. “I can't trust myself with those foods in the house either,” says McGrice. “If I'm craving something badly enough to actually walk down the street and buy then I know that I deserve it.”
I should also be be careful with UberEats and other delivery services. McGrice says she has had many clients “really struggle” with temptations now that they're only a phone tap away.
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.