Did you hear about the new diet – eat all you want, or just eat protein, or just eat noodles, or just eat ice cream? Did you hear about the new drug coming out for obesity? Did you hear about the Fast Diet, Paleo Diet, the Ornish Diet, the Fat-Busters diet? Did you hear about HCG? How about this exercise program that you work out for five minutes a day and get ripped (off). There is this new gym membership? Hey this place sends you meals, no cooking. Weight watchers has a special! Hear about that new weight loss surgery?
Every New Year, and for many other occasions, people look for the diet, the work-out, or the drug that will help them lose weight when they miss the one thing that does work: cooking. Yes, learning to cook, not re-heat, but cook, is the one factor that is consistent among my weight loss surgery patients who lose weight and keep it off.
There is no diet that will keep your weight off forever. What works, is a change in what you eat and how much you eat. What works is when you take control of your food source, and make simple changes that will sustain you over time. The best way to do that is to cook. Not let your spouse cook for you (that hasn’t worked), or your mom, or your favorite restaurant. What works is when you cook.
You like food: learn to love it
We have a food problem in America, we have traded good quality food for lots of cheap food. Go to many restaurants and look at the calorie count of the food that you are given. Most meals have well over 1000 calories, which is far too many for your body to use. People think value means more, and because they are getting more they think it tastes good. But most of it, simply tastes bland or is over-salted, under-seasoned, too fat, or too sweet.
Have you ever taken a ripe peach off a tree and bitten it? Do you remember that burst of flavor as the peach juice flowed down your chin? Did you ever get a honey-crisp apple from the tree and take a bit and sense that great combination of sweet and sour? Fresh fruit, at its source, too good to pass up- and often unobtainable in a supermarket. Most fruits are picked before they ripen, so when you buy the peach that feels ripe, it is often mealy, without flavor.
But learning to taste is the first step in learning good/great food. So the place to start is at your supermarket – or better yet, at a great food store that celebrates good food. Every city has them, Larry’s in Seattle, AJ’s in Phoenix, Whole Foods, Sprouts, Trader Joe’s. Better yet go to your local “farmer’s market,” and see the food that is there.
Did you see that advertisement for a fresh lobster on a grill that costs you less than 20 bucks? If you think that is good lobster, or fresh lobster, or tasty lobster I have a bridge to sell you. Go to a market that has fresh, live lobster and see how much they are charging you, and ask them if you could get one for the price that chain restaurant sells theirs for — you can’t. Learn to cook a lobster (yes you do have to kill this rather brainless creature to do it, but it will be a quick and merciful death and better than they would get in mother nature and they will taste good). Then do a taste test — eat your lobster, and go to the chain and eat theirs. Funny thing, the one you cook will taste sweet, a hint of ocean, with meat that doesn’t need butter to chew it. The chain lobster- once you try yours, you won’t want to waste your time.
That is the point. Once you learn to cook really great food, you won’t want to eat someone else’s cooking.
What I tell my teenage patients
Every year teenagers come to my office wanting weight loss surgery. These morbidly obese young adults have the self-image of a terminal cancer patient. They are often depressed, think about their weight often, and socially outcast in schools where a their fellow students have not yet developed empathy, and care more what a person looks like than what they are made of.
I tell these kids that I want them to learn to cook. That before I would operate on them, they have to learn to cook some great food, that everyone will love. They have to learn to be food snobs. They have to be the ones that everyone wants to have at the party because their food is so good.
Once they bring my photos of what they have cooked, and their recipes of food they have perfected to their taste – then we will operate on them. I see them monthly so every month we go through their progress, and it is fun to see these kids turn into adults about food:
“Hey Dr. Simpson, did you know that they grow shrimp here in Arizona, and it is so sweet. I made up this recipe for curried shrimp, and here, I brought some.” (I love it when they bring great food).
“Doc did you ever cook with saffron? Wicked, but don’t over do it.”
“Loved your recipe for lamb, but I changed it a bit.”
In my weight loss surgery practice I spend more time teaching my patients to cook then I do operating on them. But there is cooking and there is eating, so hand-in-hand with the cooking is learning to eat smaller portions, of great tasting food.
The Truth About Great Food
Did you ever taste salmon from Alaska? If you develop your taste you can tell the difference between farm-raised salmon and wild salmon. In fact, you can tell the difference between a king salmon and a silver salmon (silver are more meaty, kings are more fatty). If you get really good you can tell the difference between a salmon caught by the Yukon River and one caught by the Copper River (I prefer the Yukon King salmon). Eat wild salmon, and you will never wish to have farm-raised again. It just tastes better.
Four Alaskans walked into a famous Italian Restaurant in San Francisco. The waiter told us that they just got in a troll-caught king salmon and were offering it. We all looked up and one said, “this isn’t trolling season, its probably farmed.” The waiter assured her it wasn’t. We made the offer, ” Bring a fillet as an appetizer, we will try it and tell you if it is farm raised. If it is fresh we will buy it, if it is farm raised you buy it.” When the salmon fillet came we all looked at each other- the color was a bit off. Simultaneous bites led to four people in unison stating “Farm.” The waiter went back to the cook, who admitted it was a farm salmon.
Learn to cook great food, learn to develop your taste, and you will never be fooled by a poor imitation again.
England has the same problem, if you ask Simon Mujumdar whose book, “Eat My Globe” is a must read: but in England you can get a pork pie, or you can get a great pork pie, and Simon finds the great ones. When we were in England we had some lovely food, although I must admit the fish and chips we found (after carefully asking the foodies) were probably my favorite. Great food can be disguised as simple food, and often is. And simple food is often cooked and made poorly – but you can change that, for you.
One Meal a Month
Learn to cook one great dish a month. Something new, that you may like, but that you can learn easily. Perfect it for yourself. While you make it figure out what your portion size should be so that this meal doesn’t become your Waterloo of weight loss.
What never works is if people start eating things that they think are healthy but that they don’t like.
But Dr. Simpson, aren’t there some overweight chefs?
Yes there are. In fact, we have had a number in our practice. It is fun, but often we find a few keys to help them lose their weight as I go through their menu plans, and their food/beverage logs. Giving up soda, stop munching throughout the day and have some real meals, and limit the wine. For a while there was a program about “Fat Chefs” and some of the celebrity chefs could use my surgical help (and a few of them have had it).
Still, we do weight loss surgery on a number of chefs – and we do it in a way that they still get to enjoy the better foods. But for them the lifestyle changes are much easier.
Learn to Cook
Learning to cook can be intimidating, but we can make it easy.
First buy a Sous Vide water-oven. Yes, you have probably heard of that fancy French cooking method. It is simple to use, easy, and you won’t over cook things. Why Sous Vide? Because we want to get you away from your traditional cooking methods and into something new and different.
You are probably looking at that egg and saying- how do I cook that perfect egg? It is simple. Set the Sous Vide water oven to 149 degrees F, put the egg in, take it out in 70 minutes.
Get some great cookbooks. Every celebrity chef has a cookbook, and sometimes they even have good recipes (I have a few hundred cookbooks). Shameless plug: My own is coming out in a few months, and will be available on E-book ahead of time. You can get some of my simple and delicious recipes online, and some even show video demonstrations.
Go do it – learn to cook, perfect recipes- reduce portion size. You want to lose weight this year- start here. It is simple, fun, and easy. Trust me- I do this for a living.
Dr. Terry Simpson
Dr. Terry Simpson received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Chicago where he spent several years in the Kovler Viral Oncology laboratories doing genetic engineering. He found he liked people more than petri dishes, and received his MD. Dr. Simpson, then became a renowned weight loss surgeon, and a leading advocate of culinary medicine. The first surgeon to become certified in Culinary Medicine, he advocates teaching people to improve their health through their food. On the other side of the world, he has been a leading advocate of changing health care to make it more "relationship based," and his efforts awarded his team the Malcom Baldrige award for healthcare in 2011 for the NUKA system of care in Alaska. A frequent contributor to media outlets discussing health related topics and advances in medicine, he is also a proud dad, husband, author, cook, and surgeon “in that order.” For media inquiries, please visit www.terrysimpson.com.