- National food and wine writer Callan Boys' health diary: 'I want to say 'to heck with it all' and crawl back into bed with sourdough, French cheese and Frasier'
- Melbourne reviewer Gemima Cody's health diary: 'I love my work, but I really don't want to die'
I've always been described as "big boned", "Rubenesque", and "ye olde bar wenchy". Combined with exercise, I've tried everything from the fruit diet, the liver-cleansing diet, and the Atkins diet. Last year, I even tried those expensive pills that block half the fat you metabolise. I won't tell you what happens when you mistime swallowing one of these things – there, history must draw its mortifying veil.
And so, another year, another attempt. With an aim of burning more calories than I consume as part of a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet, in theory, I'd be a dress size smaller by the next Good Food Guide Awards. Of course, that doesn't take into consideration my actual job as national editor of the Guide. My core responsibility is eating the most interesting things on the menu to report on – no room for calorie counting in my job, if you want to do it right. At the moment, my schedule is two or three nights out a week but as Eating Season (yes, it has a name) ramps up, that becomes four or five meals. At least. Plus a lot of time in airports, on planes and far, far away from a regular, healthy routine.
Knowing I have bootcamp tonight, I drink a green smoothie (a 636kJ festival of green vegetables, berries, banana and mint) slowly then walk 4.2 kilometres to work. Because it's the beginning of a new work year, I'm trying to dress beyond shorts, tees and sneakers. My Not Sneakers tear my feet to shreds, but I burn a tasty 1736 kilojoules* in the process.
By 10am, I'm starting to panic about lunch, which I want to eat immediately. I torched 13,259 kilojoules yesterday and I haven't fuelled my body properly today. By the time lunch pulls around I am clawing at my desk. I get out my 1724 kilojoule salad (half a chicken breast, green leaves, capsicum, almonds, olives, dates, red onion, cucumber with a splash of chardonnay vinegar to stave away suicidal thoughts) and wish I had a thick slice of bread with cold salted butter on it. By 2pm, I'm so hungry I'm dizzy. The only thing that's vaguely healthy in Nine's cafeteria is a banana.
I am now dreading training tonight because I haven't eaten enough. Someone hands me a protein bar (1125kJ) and I scarf it quicker than you can say "what's actually in this?" I feel a lot better. I walk to bootcamp, train for 58 minutes (6757kJ) and hobble home (6531kJ) where, being too tired to cook for myself, I eat four boiled eggs and a peach (5427kJ). "Ah," I think. "Just like Gandhi"
I blew up my Nutribullet this morning. And no, it wasn't a purposeful accident.
Kilojoules in: 5213
Kilojoules out: 14,276
I creak out of bed at 6.30am and walk to the pool. I had about six hours' sleep after staying up to prep my lunches for the next few days, and organise my gear (life would be easier if I hadn't made that stupid commitment to get dressed properly for work). It's slow going at first, and I want to gurgle to the bottom of the pool, but I manage 1.7 kilometres (1443kJ).
I have breakfast: a plate of scrambled eggs, bacon and mushrooms with a cold brew coffee (1180kJ). I'm still massively full at noon, which is a vast improvement on yesterday. I have the same salad as yesterday, only today I've just about run out of chicken so it's only 1105 kilojoules. I don't know whether that's a good thing or not. I do know I'm super grumpy today, and snapping at anyone within frowning distance. I listen to soothing whale sounds through headphones at my desk.
I get home from work really late, lose the will to eat, and manage a banana and the last quarter of that weird protein bar left over from yesterday. I need to up my calorie intake, but it's so challenging to know how to do this in a healthy, responsible manner. I'm really not keen on a diet of eggs alone. I am not Steve McQueen.
Kilojoules in: 2979
Kilojoules out: 13,067
Bootcamp this morning means a ride on my bike in the dark and drizzle (238kJ). On the calorie front, riding doesn't seem to be as effective as walking the same distance, according to my Fitbit. I do a double session, burn 1582kJ and feel like my soul has slipped out from under my skin. I think this is what the SAS call disassociation.
I roll very slowly to work feeling like a sea snail at low tide. I have a soy cappuccino (661kJ) and mix myself a protein shake (393kJ calories). I really enjoy the feeling of control I get with of making my own food – something that doesn't happen when I eat out.
To be honest, half the time I'm not sure how many calories go into a degustation dinner, but I read once that the deg at Per Se (a New York-based fine diner) is around 10,460 kilojoules. That's double my current allowance for an entire day.
I eat a handful of tamari almonds (761kJ) and a mid-morning snack of carrot sticks (105kJ). In salad-related news, I just broke the cardinal rule of never eating an egg at your desk (see also, any type of tinned fish, and microwaving raw mince). But it was sliced and hidden among a whole lot of other green things. Anyway, bless those eggs for filling me up. I mix myself a late afternoon protein shake because I'm now frightened I've shot my metabolism with all those high-impact, low-calorie days.
I meet a friend for dinner. We start with martinis (669kJ) then head into the restaurant for tempura whiting and cuttlefish, wagyu beef and octopus off the robata, nigiri sushi to finish, and a bottle of pinot gris to see us through. I take a wild guess at 8000 kilojoules for the lot.
Kilojoules in: 12,226
Kilojoules out: 11,694
I blew up my Nutribullet this morning. And no, it wasn't a purposeful accident. I didn't attach the cup properly to the base, which I realised as I heard a sickening grinding-whirring sound. The good news is I really upped my steps as I sprinted in fear from my kitchen. The bad news is I had to throw out the entire blender and spend the morning cleaning blackberries and spinach off the walls.
I then run to host a cooking demonstration. I grab a banana and drink a cold brew coffee (444kJ, all in). It's obviously not my day, because I also forget my lunch and have to stop by for a pho on the way home. I eat a couple of rice paper rolls (2565kJ) too, because I am ravenous. My intention today is to swim. But I'm a ball of soreness and fatigue. Instead, I walk everywhere to at least get my steps up. It turns out I'm still at a deficit by dinner from all the walking, despite stopping in at the pub to meet a pal for a couple of whiskeys (293 kilojoules a serve – basically a diet drink, right?) before I head out to do a restaurant review.
Once again, I have no idea how many calories I ingest, but since it was nearly all fish (Balmain bugs! A whole flounder!), salad and greens with a roast nectarine and sheep's milk yoghurt to finish, I'm guessing it couldn't have been more than 5021 kilojoules, even with all the butter (my butter tolerance is powerful. I'm pretty sure at the busiest point in the year I average a stick a day). Stopped by for a couple more diet whiskeys on the way home (on foot).
Kilojoules in: 10,238
Kilojoules out: 14,523
Got trolled on Instagram this morning by some fitspo psycho for posting a video of me practicing jump squats with a friend in the park. Sigh. You're damned if you stay chubby and do nothing, and you're damned if you try to shift a few kegs and get fit. People suck.
I try out my replacement K-mart bullet blender. Weirdly, it is far less terrifying than its predecessor. I have a kale, banana and blackberry smoothie (1038kJ) and head across town for an interview. I'm already behind the eight ball because I couldn't walk or ride this morning and I'm eating out tonight. I suck it up and have my lunch anyway – a chickpea and sweet potato salad with lots of green vegetables (1473kJ). Later in the afternoon, a handful of popcorn (251kJ), because I need to feel like my entire life isn't a lesson in extremes.
After work, I walk to Andrew Boy Charlton Pool to throw an arm over before dinner. I'm convinced each pool in Sydney has its own vibe and aggression levels. ABC is beautiful, set right on the water, and the people that swim there are fearless. Getting an accidental foot or fist in the face isn't unusual. The end result is you swim a lot faster. I burn 2050 kilojoules.
Dinner, Greek tonight, is another lesson in guess work. It's interesting to note that when you're not eating rafts of bread with your food, just how rich and salty everything else is. Three cold Greek beers, some meze, a spinach and feta pie and a stuffed capsicum later, I take a stab at 6276 kilojoules. Ah, the puzzle of the Elusive Restaurant Calorie: will I ever solve you?
Kilojoules in: 9037
Kilojoules out: 14,217
What the dietitian says
The most effective diet for your body type and exercise schedule is a low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet.
At breakfast time, a high-carb drink such as a green smoothie with red berries and mint is very nutritious, but carbohydrates stimulate hunger. Protein stops hunger pangs so make sure to also eat some boiled eggs, or some dairy such as a yoghurt. You could even put some milk in your smoothie.
The more routine in your diet, the better it works. Rather than chopping and changing with a complicated meal plan that's hard to keep track of, it's better to keep things simple and manageable, when so many other factors in your life are wildly complicated and difficult to control.
When it comes to dining out in restaurants, the best way to try and offset the effects is to put together a day's meal plan that is very low calorie (for breakfast, porridge or poached eggs; snacks like fresh fruit, yoghurt, nuts; protein and salad for lunch). This is a good insurance policy when you can't control what you're putting in your body in a restaurant.
Schedule a quarterly check in with a local dietitian, GP, trainer, rather than doing it all by yourself over the course of a year. Most people achieve 90 day goals much easier than 12 month goals.
Continue keeping a food diary, if your able to. Most people give up on this, but it's very effective.
Melanie McGrice is an 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.