How Did I Lose 15 Pounds Writing a Cookbook?

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Last week I thought I was dying.

No really: it was Craig’s birthday and I took him out to Soto where we ordered the tasting menu (this is after taking him to a taping of The Daily Show.) The food started to come–a tiny amuse bouche, then a bowl of miso soup–and after the soup, I felt utterly full. Like I couldn’t have been fuller and there were ten more courses on their way. I asked the waitress if we could cancel my tasting menu and if I could just pay for the two courses I already ate and she said “No; the chef’s already preparing your whole meal.”

I got through the meal (Craig ate most of my food) and when I got home, let’s just say it wasn’t pretty. I was sick. (This was a stomach bug, nothing to do with the food at Soto.)

I was sick but that’s not when I thought I was dying. I thought I was dying when, the next morning, I decided to step on to the scale. I hadn’t weighed myself since the year before when I went through my annual “I’m going to join a gym and change my life and get buff” phase. At that point, I’d weighed 168.

When I stepped on the scale the day after Craig’s birthday, it said I weighed 153.

“Craig!” I yelled.

“I’m right here,” he answered.

“Weigh yourself and see if you weigh what you normally weigh or if the scale’s broken.”

Craig stepped on the scale and, to my surprise, he weighed exactly the same. I told him I’d lost 15 pounds.

He looked at me and said: “You have lost weight.” This was corroborated by several other people–Lizzie the photographer, Craig’s cousin Katie, Susan Powter–and, looking at myself in the mirror, I saw it too.

Two questions immediately arose: (1) how did this happen? and (2) was I dying?

Because I was so sick, I was convinced the answer to #2 was “yes” for several days. Then I got better and now I’ve had some time to reflect on the answer to #1. How did I lose 15 pounds over the past year? More importantly, how did I lose 15 pounds while WRITING A COOKBOOK!?

Strangely enough, I think the key to the answer is that I was writing a cookbook.

Let me explain. Having a project of this scope, a book where I travel the country and cook with 50 of the best chefs all over, has caused me a certain amount of stress. There are chef bookings to worry about, chef cancellations to worry about, there’s the scheduling and the travel planning (airplane tickets and car rentals and who we’re going to crash with) as well as the actual book-related work, the essay writing and recipe writing and the recipe testing and the recipe re-testing. Having something so huge to grapple with (and it’s all due on April 15th) has consumed me to the point that I’m expending a lot of energy working on it. I think being so busy and so stressed has certainly contributed to the weight loss (plus there’s lots of running all around.)

The other factor, I think, is a survival skill that Lizzie and I learned early on: portion control.

Cooking with all of these chefs, there’s lots of rich, decadent food for us to taste. A chef will prepare a big beautiful plate of something fried or something fatty and Lizzie and I will take bites and “oooh” and “ahhh” and then we’ll have a choice: do we keep eating? Or do we stop and explain that we’d love to finish but we have another chef to cook with that day and we have to save room? We often choose the latter.

And this survival strategy has spilled over into my normal day-to-day life. Now, if I order a burger for dinner, and it’s a big fat juicy burger covered with cheese and bacon and grilled onions? I’ll take a few bites and maybe eat half. I’ll eat a handful of French fries. But I won’t finish.

It wasn’t even a conscious effort, it’s just this new awareness of knowing when enough is enough. I don’t eat until I feel sick, I eat until I’m just sated. And somehow that led me to lose 15 pounds.

What’s the moral, then? If you’re trying to lose weight: keep very busy! The more active you are, the less likely you are to veg out on the couch with a bag of Doritos. This doesn’t even mean going to the gym; it just means fill your life up with projects and activity that keeps you busy. That’s theory #1.

And theory #2 is portion control. It’s not news, that’s for sure, but you don’t have to finish everything on your plate. Eat just until you feel sated and then stop.

Of course, there’s theory #3 which is that I’m dying. If that’s the case, please disregard this entire essay and know that, when I die, I bequeath my blog to David Lebovitz and that I’d like my ashes to be used in a dessert at El Bulli.

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