Dieting in middle age a reality for many

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The decisive moment arrived during what should have been a simple act — putting on my socks.

As a young man my abdomen was limber and taut as a cheetah’s. By age 50, however, that fit fulcrum had become a bloated, rusty hinge that left my hands and feet, literally, distant relatives. After one too many tortured attempts to get dressed in the morning I decided it was time to diet.

The options seemed endless and the outcome preordained: Bloomberg Business Week reported that Americans spend $40-billion annually on diet programs and products, and a 2008 Colorado State University study found that of 50 million dieters nationwide only five percent sustained their weight loss.

Popular culture and the food industry also stack, and stack, the chips against defensible eating habits. Thomas Aquinas enumerated six ways to commit the sin of gluttony, including forente — or “eating wildly.” Today, forente supports an emergent sub-genre of food TV programming. I admit to watching the spectacle of man versus food and turning my thumb down in delight as our charming host is out-pigged by his pig-out challenge.

My wife, Flora, as usual, saved me from despair. We will diet together, she said. A regimen based on a point value system proved to be a good match for her analytical and ordered mind. I sought a program that placed dieting in the broader context of health and nutrition. Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s book Eat to Live met all of my requirements. To date, I am down 20 pounds and holding.

I still enjoy cooking and expect to prepare satisfying meals. Early in the process I tried to conceive of modifying my diet as a game. How can I combine fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds into dishes that please a palate used to rich, highly seasoned preparations? It turned out that a plant-based diet stimulated my imagination and introduced me to combinations and ingredients that I overlooked as an animal protein and dairy fiend. That said, I am still chasing a leafy green substitute for a toasted bagel topped with crunchy peanut butter and bacon.

Here is a recipe from the revised Eat to Live: The Amazing Nutrient-Rich Program for Fast and Sustained Weight Loss that represents Dr. Fuhrman’s central thesis, health equals nutrition divided by calories. Spinach, along with other dark green leafy vegetables like kale and watercress, caps the nutrient dense food pyramid.

Tomato Bisque

(serves six)

3 cups carrot juice

1 ½ pounds tomatoes, chopped, or 1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, no-salt

added or low sodium (San Marzano variety preferred)

½ cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped

2 celery stalks, chopped

1 small onion, chopped

1 large shallot, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 small bay leaf

Pinch saffron (optional)

1 teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled

2 tablespoons Dr. Fuhrman’s MatoZest or other no-salt seasoning

½ cup raw cashews

¼ cup fresh basil

5 ounces baby spinach

In a large saucepan, combine all ingredients except the cashews, basil, and spinach. Simmer for 30 minutes. Discard bay leaf. Remove 2 cups of the vegetables with a slotted spoon and set aside. Puree the remaining soup and cashews in a food processor or high-powered blend until smooth. Return the reserved vegetables to the pot. Stir in the basil and spinach and let the spinach wilt.