Kitchen Intuition: A cheap, easy weight loss secret

Authored By aliceodea

This is such a good secret that I even forgot about it for a while and needed a reminder. And when it came recently, the prompt was timely, for here we are, poised between the good intentions at the root of our New Year’s resolutions and Lenten sacrifices-and the realities we face as we pull our summer togs out for the season.

I haven’t had to spend much time worrying about my weight in the years since I fundamentally changed the way I eat. There was a year when I gradually cut out overly processed foods and shifted more toward mostly plant-based and home-cooked foods in an effort to improve my health. It wasn’t long before I started losing weight, and to my surprise, I was easily losing a pound a week, without feeling at all deprived. I even enjoyed wine with dinner most evenings, along with a bit of dark chocolate for dessert. Eventually, I settled in a place where my health metrics were good and I felt comfortable in my body.

Fast-forward six years to this past winter, and for the first time since I’d changed the food, I started putting on weight, even though I felt like I was still eating the usual fare. And though this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing (fluctuations in weight can be quite natural, and many different body types are very beautiful), I don’t have much in the way of a clothing budget, so I’d like to generally stay a size that feels comfortable when I’m wearing the clothes I’ve already got. I needed to figure out how to get my weight stabilized, and I wanted to do so without drastic changes in my regimen.


The Blue Zones solution in 90 seconds

Then, earlier this month, the video at right popped up in my Facebook feed, thanks to the folks at Blue Zones. And suddenly, I remembered a conversation I’d had with a friend over lunch, right after I’d lost all that weight. She and I hadn’t talked in a while and she was eager to find out how I’d managed to slim down, and I distinctly remember telling her that I was eating a lot of beans-a vast oversimplification of my experience, but also a nice encapsulation of a year in which I had emptied my pantry of convenience foods and replaced them with provisions that might have turned up in my grandmother’s kitchen cabinet.

Cal Peternell, “Twelve Recipes”

“Good canned organic beans of many types are inexpensive enough and widely available. Still, quality dried beans, when soaked overnight and cooked to creamy tenderness, can be very much better. So good, in fact, that you may just want to eat them plain from a bowl with two glugs of your best olive oil and a sprinkle of salt, and when you do, you will have joined the club that in Tuscany they call ‘mangiafagioli,’ or the bean eaters.”

And there was the nudge I needed. Beans had long been a routine staple in my diet, but somehow in the past year or so, I’d managed to drift away from eating them regularly. Except for the occasional chili or chickpea snack, I wasn’t cooking with beans all that often. I realized that maybe I had stumbled upon a reason for my winter weight gain. Beans are a great source of low-fat protein, and if I wasn’t eating them as much anymore, what had replaced them in my diet? Perhaps some fattier protein sources such as meats, cheeses, nuts and butters-which are all good things, but they need to be consumed in moderation.

Beans, on the other hand, are cheap, easy to prepare and come in so many varieties that they can keep meals interesting, either as a main dish or a side. They’re filling and very satisfying, and it’s really hard to eat too many of them. As a source of protein, they’re one of the best deals in food. With this in mind, starting a few weeks ago, I made a conscious effort to eat beans more often. I didn’t give up anything, but just tried to dial back the fats while increasing plant-based proteins. And my results were practically instant: I was down a pound within a week, without making any other changes in my routine.

It’s been a delicious few weeks. As Cal Peternell (a chef at Chez Panisse) points out in the sidebar, beans can be simple fare, prepared without fuss. Or they can be dressed up into something fancy. They freeze well, so it’s easy to cook ahead, and dishes can be easily scaled up or down. Pictured up top is a simple prep I enjoyed this past week-a quickly cooked corn tortilla (just masa and water, carefully mashed flat in a hot skillet with my hand), topped with black beans, salsa, hot sauce and a dollop of yogurt.

Alice O’Dea has lived in Chattanooga for over 20 years, but was raised among the mucks and dairy farms in rural western New York. She didn’t really learn to cook until midlife. When she’s not puttering around in the kitchen, she enjoys running, cycling, traveling, photography and trying to get food to grow in the backyard of her Highland Park home. You can email her with questions, suggestions or comments at [email protected]. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not or its employees.