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Coupling

Test kitchen

A dieting declaration tries the cook's patience.

By M.E. Malone
October 10, 2010

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It’s been more than nine months, and my husband is sticking to his New Year’s resolution: He’s on a diet. It’s a good thing. I care about his health. I’d like him to keep up with our two sons on the ski slopes. I’d like him to be able to haul wood into the house for as long as possible.

But as with so many things in a marriage, his quest to slim down quickly became a shared adventure. As top chef in the family, I now had to juggle the calorie and carb needs and preferences of the very active teenage boy still at home and the husband who’s trying to slim down. Fish or meat loaf? Pasta primavera or carbonara?

Plus, because my husband’s an organized guy with little tolerance for the inexact, he tracks the calorie count of every snack, every beverage, and every meal, right down to the fruit garnish. I started using measuring spoons instead of the palm of my hand. And a kitchen scale. And, bless you, calorie-counting apps.

We’ve never been a fast-food family. I cook most of our meals. No deep-frying. Not much in the way of cream-based sauces. Plenty of fresh veggies and salads, too, grace the table. These steps, coupled with the genes of a trim father and morning exercise, have worked for me. But not for my man. Over the course of more than 20 years as husband and wife, the gap between his body mass index and mine became a chasm.

He did make some efforts to lose a few pounds along the way, including trying a personal trainer. And I stopped offering second helpings. But too often I found my sweet successes soured by a saboteur – my spouse. After a full day’s work, there I would be at the stove, perfecting a sauce using nothing more caloric than chicken broth. He would return home after a stop at the dry cleaner with a large can of cashews, now half-empty. No amount of calories saved in the sauce was going to make up for that tub o’ nuts. I got mad.

Then I got complacent. I justified my laissez-faire attitude. “He has to want to lose the extra weight.” “I can’t do it for him.” A friend with a similar BMI imbalance in her marriage vehemently disagreed. “You are the one who will end up taking care of him,” she said. Better to cook for someone on a diet now than for someone with diabetes later, she argued.

While I heard her words, I did little more than try to trim a few calorie-busters from the weekly shopping list. I stopped buying his favorite Cape Cod potato chips and cut way back on the Boar’s Head bacon. Turkey tacos replaced their more authentic but fattier cousins. Vegetarian entrees appeared on the dinner table once a week.

But in January, he asked me to step it up, and I agreed. I’ve written professionally about healthy eating habits and diet dos and don’ts, so I know a thing or two about fit foods, and I threw myself into the project. More whole grains, no sugar in the coffee, leafy salads at lunch and dinner. Still, I knew it wasn’t my stomach adjusting to a 500-calorie-per-day deficit and in search of something more substantive than carrot sticks at 5 o’clock in the afternoon.

Over the course of 2010, his resolve has not waned and his heft has dwindled by almost a pound a week. He exercises regularly and feels more energetic. He makes salads to accompany his lunch and rarely has dessert. He needed my help to get started, but he’s managing most of it now with a little moral support and an occasional reminder to use just a tablespoon of vinaigrette on the greens. When I need a break from the heat of the kitchen or dread a run to Stop & Shop for dinner fare, he suggests we go out for sushi instead of, say, Italian. Though I may prefer to try a new restaurant (preferably one with homemade bread, a Caesar salad awash in freshly grated Parm, and some ridiculously chocolatey dessert), I nod in agreement to raw fish, and off we go.

Even if I don’t need to shed pounds right now, I know our new way of eating is good for me, too. Research shows credible links between low-calorie diets and a longer shelf life for most of us. I guess this means we’ll both stay fit enough to haul the wood.

M.E. Malone is a freelance writer in Milton. Send comments to coupling@globe.com. Story ideas: Send yours to coupling@globe.com. Please note: We do not respond to ideas we will not pursue.

  • October 10, 2010 cover
  • The Green Issue