The Money Diet, week 17: the 27-fat-gram sandwich setback

Several days ago, I was in my kitchen, mid-morning, feeling peckish when I suddenly remembered there was a breakfast sandwich in the freezer. And I just figured, "Well, I'll eat it. What's the harm?"

But as the microwave seconds ticked away, I made the mistake of looking at the nutritional information on the box and did a double take. Apparently, there was a lot of harm in that breakfast sandwich. My little tiny meal -- one of those copycat Egg McMuffin sandwiches, only with sausage instead of ham -- had 27 grams of fat, including three grams of trans fat, which is infamous for being the worst type of fat.

You could throw it away, a little voice said.

I can't throw it away. I spent $1.49 on that thing.

(Actually, I don't remember what I spent on it, but it wasn't much.)

What I was thinking when I took the first bite of that sandwich? I know I was hungry, but not that hungry. I knew it was bad for me. And yet, instead of dropping the sandwich in the garbage can, all I could think was, "Well, I don't want to waste food."

I'm not sure what goes on inside my brain when it comes to food. I often compliment my daughters for not finishing a snack. I've always admired that if they have an ice cream cone or a brownie or well, anything, they stop when they're full. So kudos to them for throwing away food. But me? No, way. Can't throw food away. Mustn't do that.

And while a psychologist could probably have a field day with the way I think, I consulted a nutritionist instead.

In the course of my work writing for AOL Small Business, I had been contacted by Corinne Kantor, DTR (Dietetic Technician Registered), a nutritionist in Rancho Santa Margarita, California, who has just started a business called The Food Cop. She had dropped me a line at a time when I was looking for startup businesses to profile. I wasn't sure if hers was what my editors were looking for, but I immediately thought, "Hmmm, I should interview her for The Money Diet."

Of course, if you've never read this column, you might be thinking, "The Money Diet...? What the heck is that?" So a little explanation is in order. Since January 1, 2010, in an effort to lose weight, I've been adding up how much cash I'm saving when I don't eat junk food and snacks. In general, this diet has been fairly successful. I'm sure there are much faster, more efficient ways to lose weight, but so far, I've lost 21 pounds.

Well, 19 pounds. I gained two pounds this week.

I'm sure it wasn't just the breakfast sandwich (well, actually I ate almost two of those sandwiches this week, since I finished the one that my oldest daughter didn't finish). If I'm going to be honest, I also consumed most of a bag of Doritos. Kroger sent me some coupons in the mail, including one offering a free bag of Doritos, which is a little like a neighborhood bar sending a note to a recovering alcoholic and letting them know that if he comes back, the drinks will be on the house.

Wanting to put an end to my downhill slide, several days after the 27-gram fat incident, I called The Food Cop. I know some people disparage the organizations that tell us that movie popcorn is bad for us or that fast food is even worse for us by calling them "the food police," but, you know, I could use some food police right about now.

"So let me tell you what I had for breakfast and lunch," I suggested at one point in my conversation with Kantor, "and you can tell me where I went wrong. For breakfast, I had leftovers from last night's dinner -- some pasta that Red Baron makes. And for lunch, um...spaghetti."

What can I say? I'm not very creative or skilled when it comes to fixing meals, and to make matters worse, my wife's been out of town. I've been cooking all the family meals for almost a week.

"Well, your big problem is that you need more variety in your diet," said Kantor generously. "You know, when I make pasta, the last few minutes, when the water is already hot, I'll put some frozen vegetables in the pot. They'll cook really quickly, and they're all mixed in, and you don't have to use another pot, so there are fewer dishes to do. And by doing that, that's going to add a lot of nutrition."

I made a mental note: vegetables with my pasta.

Then I asked what she had eaten for breakfast.

"For breakfast," Kantor said, "I had soy bacon with a whole wheat English muffin, and I had some applesauce, and for my drink, I had a lite cran-apple juice."

I made another mental note: Find out what this soy bacon thing is. (OK, in case anyone's wondering, I do actually know what soy bacon is.)

Anyway, that's the sort of response I had assumed was coming since, judging from Kantor's photo on her website, she doesn't have a weight problem (although interestingly enough, she learned some time ago, thanks to genetics, that she's a borderline diabetic, which is how she started studying nutrition).

To get some idea of what I could do to modify my diet, I asked Kantor for some relatively inexpensive, healthy snacks I could eat, and this is what she suggested:
  • Water-packed tuna, mixed with fat-free or low-fat mayonnaise on whole grain, low-sodium crackers.
  • Low-fat or fat-free cheese on whole grain, low-sodium crackers.
  • Celery and apple slices with natural peanut butter ("It's fat," conceded Kantor, "but it's also a protein. It's healthy fat.")
  • Low-fat or non-fat yogurt with fruit mixed in.
She also offered a tip for canned fruit. As we probably all know, it often comes packed in syrup. Even the light syrup isn't great for us. So Kantor suggests washing the syrup off the fruit before eating it.

I know myself well enough that I probably won't go buying celery and apple slices, but I like her other ideas, and I think I'm going to emulate her breakfast at least once this week. I'm not too discouraged. Everyone's entitled to have a bad spell when they're trying to get into shape, and about two months ago, I had a lousy week, followed by a couple of very good weight-loss weeks. So maybe I need to occasionally have a lousy week of dieting to get me motivated to try harder. (I hope that's what happened anyway.)

Usually about now, I add up what money I saved by avoiding snacks and junk food, but this was enough of a bad week that I'm just going to skip it.

But as always, I'll post my weight.

My weight when I began: 264
My weight last week: 243
My weight this week: 245

And I'm going to try mightily to remember what Corinne "The Food Cop" Kantor told me. "When you go into the grocery store, remember that the healthy foods are mostly around the perimeter. That's where you'll find the fresh produce, the fruits, the vegetables, dairy products and fresh breads." Kantor, added a warning: "Of course, the bakery is around the perimeter of the store, too." Guess I'll try to avoid that. Fruit and yogurt, here I come!

Geoff Williams is a frequent contributor to WalletPop. He is also the co-author of the book Living Well with Bad Credit.
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