A food writer's recipe for weight loss

When I was about eight years old, I was at a family picnic. I overheard a great aunt tell my mum that when I hit my teens, I would "shoot up like a beanpole". She was wrong.

I have mostly accepted my weight as part of who I am. But early in 2016, something changed. I was not feeling great. I was staring down the barrel of my 50th birthday.

I decided I needed to do something. But it would be complicated. I write about food as part of my profession. I have friends and colleagues who are food journalists and others who are chefs. Working and playing with them means that eating new and interesting things is more than just sport; it is my job.

And I love my job.

The thing about being way overweight is it makes losing weight pretty easy, especially at first.

When I have decided I needed to, I have been able to drop 10kg or 15kg without trying too hard.

The problem is that keeping the weight off is even more work than taking it off. I can stay focused long enough to lose it, only to learn that reprieve is not part of the reward.

When I decided to get on the scale in April 2016, I suspected what it would say and I was correct: I had exceeded the capacity of the scale.

When I went to a gym that had a bigger scale, I was up roughly 25kg from about four years earlier.

It was disappointing. Still, by that point, I had already established a plan.

For exercise, I would walk. I was already a slave to my step tracker. I had a daily goal of 10,000 steps - so I decided I wanted to end the year with at least 3.66 million steps. Because it was late April and I had not been strict, I would have to average more than 10,000 the rest of the way.

Now I needed a food plan. A doctor once told me he had a simple rule for weight loss: If it tastes good, spit it out. I never went back to that doctor.

I remembered a friend once had some success with a diet in which he did not let himself eat after 8pm. That time did not work for my lifestyle, so I modified it. Whenever I ate for the last time in the evening, I would not eat again for 12 hours.

It worked almost immediately. Soon I had lost enough to register on my home scale again. I felt compelled to start the 12-hour timer as early as possible because the earlier I was done eating one day, the earlier I could have breakfast the next.

This created two consequences that worked in my favour. First, I stopped snacking at night.

Second, to keep my mind off the snacks I was not eating, I walked.

For the most part, I ate what I wanted, just less of it. And I was spending a lot of time writing, which left me little time to cook.

Dinner was often a simple salad at the keyboard. If I could not be bothered to assemble vegetables, I had a bowl of cereal. I pretty much cut out pasta and rice.

Soon, my clothes started hanging off me to the point that I had to replace them.

The first person to say anything to me about it was the clerk at my butcher shop."You're looking good," she said. "You losing weight?" I was down almost 30kg at that point. And just before Christmas, I passed 3.66 million steps.

As 2017 was starting, I had no reason for anything but unmitigated optimism. I knew I wanted to drop at least 25kg more. Since I hit my step goal in 2016, I decided to aim for four million in 2017, which meant roughly an extra 1,000 steps a day.

No big deal. A bigger deal was that my responsibility for the cookbook I was working on shifted. We were mostly done with writing and I needed to test recipes. That meant a lot of cooking.

It also meant I was eating later. I work on books in addition to my editing job at the paper, so I would not start cooking until 7pm and often finished after 10. That became dinnertime. I put my 12-hour rule on hiatus, convinced that this was short-term and that I would be fine in a month or two.

The problem is, good habits die easily. Once the testing was done, I did not fall back into those fasts. I had not gained any weight, but I had not lost any. Then I got another gig.

I needed to test 60 desserts for an Italian cookbook in less than 30 days. My policy was to taste everything as soon as possible - part of the job - and find someone else to eat what was left. The guards at my building came to expect me to show up at midnight with something sweet for them.

I was nervous and increased my weigh-ins from once a week to three or four times.

At the end of the month, I was up 3kg and I considered that a victory, under the circumstances.

After finishing that job, I did not get on the scale for about a week, just to give myself a bit of a mental vacation. When I weighed in after that, I was up another 3kg.

All of a sudden, it was October, I was up 6kg and I was not happy about it. I did not gain any more the rest of the year, though, and I did hit my goal of four million steps.

The cookbook work I had done over the year was undeniably a factor in derailing my weight loss.

Was it worth it? I do not have to be happy about the side effect, but I can still say that I think so.

I did work I am proud of.

I have never been thin and I am never going to be. As it stands now, I would like to drop 30kg.

I have more projects on the radar, but I know losing weight does not have to be complicated. Eat thoughtfully, avoid eating mindlessly, get the cookies out of the house as soon as possible - and take a break once in a while and walk.

That was my recipe for success before, so I go into 2018 with a sense of optimism. Again.


• The writer is a multi-platform editor at The Washington Post.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 07, 2018, with the headline 'A food writer's recipe for weight loss'. Print Edition | Subscribe