When an email went around to the Dr. Oz The Good Life staff late last year asking who was going to start the Day-Off Diet — the smart eating plan that debuted in the Jan/Feb issue that's on stands now — during the first week in January, I went back and forth on it. It was the holidays. "Day Off" was appealing, but "Diet"? Nah, didn't want to think about it.
But on about January 3, I was thinking about it. For a month before they were published, the pictures of the food for the story hung on the art department's wall, right near my desk. The meals looked amazing. I knew the recipes wouldn't be complicated. And in that email were the tantalizing words that our corporate cafeteria would be serving some of the dishes that week (yep, 100 percent spoiled).
So basically, I thought, "Why not?" For a week, I'd either follow the recipes or, as it's happened more often frequently, follow the ultra-simple guidelines in the article (3 meals, 2 snacks a day; protein at each meal, fruit at breakfast, 2 servings of complex carbs a day; lots and lots of yummy vegetables) and put together meals on my own. But as often happens with eating plans, I discovered a lot more than a few new recipes:
1. Don't like the breakfasts? Borrow from lunch.
They're pretty close in calories, and a salad can be super-refreshing as a morning meal, especially if you've just worked out. (It helps replenish water you've sweated out, too.) Just watch portion size if you have lunch for breakfast. (You'll want to eat about 100 calories less so you can have that piece of fruit, too.) Sounds weird until you try it. You may never go back to typical breakfast food.
2. Being healthy is easier if you keep a paring knife in your desk drawer.
Want to cut some cucumbers up with your snack? Slice up some extra tomato over lunch? Those plastic office knives literally don't cut it. I have a Kuhn Rikon — it has a cover so you don't poke yourself when you're rooting around in your drawer for an eraser.
3. Photographing my meals gives me stress — but it also gets me slightly better meals.
If I hadn't been taking pictures, I never would have added a little tomato on top of the salmon wraps or made sure I had lots of different colors in my salads as opposed to the one or two that I'm used to. That little extra touch didn't take a lot of time but added a little flavor boost, and honestly, a little extra specialness to the meal. When everything wasn't just plopped into a container or onto a plate, it felt like a meal, not just a "sad desk lunch." That said, note that everything I've eaten tastes far better than it photographs:
4. Yikes. I eat from a takeout container a lot.
Like, a lot a lot. Note to self.
5. Snacks are worth a thought ahead of time.
I have some olives handy, and some carrots, and some nuts. They're tasty and satisfying. But I'm going to make the effort to mix olives with some cucumbers and lemon juice next week. Boosting its look and making it that much more special makes me feel like I'm living, savoring, and enjoying, not just existing.
6. It's far more fun to be disciplined than I ever thought it would be.
When you can have any lousy snack whenever you want it, you don't get that planning-savoring-living process. It just gets consumed. Having a special snack twice a day and meaningfully healthy meals makes you look forward to them and savor them in a whole different way. One nice snack that you thoughtfully prepare, look forward to, and then mindfully enjoy can be way more delicious than an endless parade of junk food. The French say that "hunger is the best sauce," but I wonder if looking forward to one special thing isn't one of the secret ingredients, too.
7. Oh, and it's nice to feel a little lighter already.
Who knew it was possible to feel so good after only one week?