Healthy Restaurant Eating

By The Restaurant Dieter

Tag: travel

Why exotic locales are hell on your diet

Going on vacation is hell on a diet, period. This is doubly true in a country where one has to be careful about what he eats and drinks — say Mexico, China and Cuba.

Two of the three above landed The Restaurant Dieter on an antibiotic. For the Mexico trip some years back, I thought those fears about the water were overblown. So I ate lots of produce washed in the local stuff and consumed water and ice cubes with abandon. I brushed my teeth with the bottled water the hotel provided and figured that was enough. Until it wasn’t.

For China in fall 2015, I followed the U.S. Department of State’s advice on eating abroad and returned without incident. But my diet was lacking in satisfying, uncooked and low fat fruits and vegetables. I came home heavier than I’d been in quite awhile.

Earlier this month, in Cuba, I took a Pepto Bismol before every meal and tried to strike a balance. At the start, I skipped the healthful vegetables and ate meat-and-carb-laden meals: pork, chicken, lobster, black beans and rice; and ropa vieja, the shredded beef that is the national dish.



But I missed raw vegetables and gradually added them back in as the week went on. The result? Cipro again.

The problem, of course, is that while the water in many countries is perfectly safe for those used to drinking it, there may be pathogens that our bodies cannot tolerate.



Of course, complaining about dieting in Cuba misses the point. Cuba’s economy is reeling from the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and a U.S. embargo that was strengthened in the 1990s. During that period, our guide said food was so hard to come by that every Cuban lost 25 percent of his body weight.

Although the Cuban state provides a guaranteed allocation of food for every person in need, it’s meager. The state-run ration store we visited had mostly empty shelves, and the extras were expensive. A can of beans cost 56 cents — in a country where the average wage is $20 a month. Cubans are pinning all their hopes for a stronger economy on President Obama’s visit and a subsequent thaw in U.S.-Cuban relations, but nothing is certain.

It makes you realize how much of a privilege it is to be eating from the cream of Cuba’s burgeoning restaurant scene and dieting at all.

A 60-cent can of beans is expensive on a $20 a month salary

A 60-cent can of beans is expensive on a $20 a month salary

Travel makes it hard for Weight Watchers

Nothing upsets Weight Watchers progress like travel does. In October, The Restaurant Dieter returned from 21 days in China, close to 10 pounds shy of his all-time-high weight. It’s more muscle this time around, but it was still too close for comfort. Literally. The pants were too tight.

Travel makes eating right and dieting hard

Travel makes eating right and dieting hard

He started the current holiday at The Lodge at Sea Island, a luxury golf resort where the staff was so obsequious that it almost hurt. Breakfast was a winner: 3 egg omelet with spinach and shrimp. By leaving the hash browns, he started yesterday off right.

Now he’s at the Lodge on Little St. Simons Island, off the Georgia coast, with friends for a long weekend. The private island is owned by former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. This annual weekend is the kind of holiday that could be all about the activity and recreation — or about the food. This one is both. There are all kinds of activities from which to choose: biking, hiking, kayaking, fishing, bird watching.

But the whole group of about 30 gets together over meals. What comes out of the kitchen is invariably good. This morning it was vegetable frittata, fresh biscuits, butter and jam, creamy cheesy grits, bacon, fruit. A normal breakfast is a single egg, a slice of low-fat cheese and two pieces of dry, whole wheat toast. When you’re traveling on holiday, things just add up.

It’s not that I haven’t tried. Yesterday, before arriving on the island, I made the car stop at the local market. I bought apples, clementines, walnuts, humus, shredded wheat and a couple of packages of baby carrots. Yesterday before dinner, I had some carrots and humus in the hope of reducing consumption once things started rolling. But then, once among the crowd, I engaged with the cheese platter, had the pretzels with hot mustard and then at dinner, ate a couple of pieces of the crusty raisin walnut loaf, two-and-a-half crab cakes, cous cous and roasted cauliflower. I tasted but left most of the too-sweet caramel ice cream.

But still, by the time I went to bed, heartburn — from eating late, from eating rich, from eating too much. Ugh.

Lunch is likely to be a shrimp boil at the beach. Most years, we bike to the beach for this event. But it was rainy yesterday, and the road is likely to be full of rainy potholes. The shuttle it is. Weenie.

Dieting aboard the Queen Mary 2 is nearly impossible

Scones with clotted cream and jam in Bath, England; we started eating them before we even got on the ship

For a chunk of June, healthy eating disappeared for this Weight Watchers member. Once aboard the floating luxury hotel that is the Queen Mary 2, all diets were escorted quickly to the gang plank and marched off the end into the Atlantic Ocean.

And the passengers cheered: “Bring us tea with sandwiches, pastries and scones with clotted cream and jam!”

The Restaurant Dieter’s Spouse had wanted to do an Atlantic Ocean crossing for some time. Note the choice of words. A cruise is a trip on which one sails from port to port, getting off for day trips. In fact, the QM2 has some cruises on its schedule.

But this was a voyage on an ocean liner. It crossed the 7.8 million square mile body of water in seven days. We  boarded at Southhampton, England, and disembarked a week later after passing the Statue of Liberty on our way to New York City.

The QM2 never stops, leaving plenty of time for on-board activities. These include reading, exercising, playing board games or shuffleboard, watching movies, listening to live music or a lecture, dancing, competing at trivia and napping to the sound of the waves.

Oh, did I mention eating? Yes, that, too.

In fact, food was available all day. And much of it was excellent, whether in the second-class dining room or at the buffet. Cunard, which operates the QM2 and other ships, prides itself in the quality of its high-end cooking and celebrated chefs.

To secure a stateroom with chaise lounges on the balcony, we booked for what is essentially second class. That meant we took our meals in the fairly intimate Princess Grill. Third class dined in the cavernous Britannia Restaurant, with two assigned seatings every night. For those with the big bucks, there was the Queens Grill. Everyone was welcome to partake in the Kings Court buffet, which was fairly well mobbed during lunch and dinner.

The QM2 is notable for its partnership with the health spa, Canyon Ranch, which we’ve visited both in Tucson and The Berkshires. The exercise and spa facilities were branded Canyon Ranch, and a Canyon Ranch balanced meal was on the menus at both lunch and dinner. They provided enough information to accurately assess how many Weight Watchers points were in a meal.

But did I order the CR selection? Hell no I didn’t. You think I’m nuts?

There was one night when the Princess Grill menu offered chateaubriand and grilled lobster tails. Pasha, our ever-diligent waiter, suggested that both could be combined into a really nice surf-and-turf. But he brought them out as separate plates, so I wound up with the steak plus two meaty lobster tails. Of course we ate them both.

The menu offered rich selections such as gratin dauphinoise potatoes, baked Alaska and duck a l’orange, some of it dramatically finished at the table. It was possible to have both a dessert and a cheese course. The servers didn’t stint: the latter might include 2-3 ounces each of five different cheeses.

The servings on the cheese plate were huge

Tea was every day at 3 or 3:30 p.m. — barely after lunch. It included little finger sandwiches with cucumber, egg salad or shrimp salad, but also pastries and scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam. In the Queens Grill Lounge, where first and second classes took their tea, the scones came out hot, soft and fresh in the hands of white-gloved waiters.

If the regular dining room or the buffet didn’t tempt, there was a grill on the top deck serving burgers and a pub a few decks below that offered fish-and-chips, cottage pie and bangers-and-mash every day. After a night out, walking back to the stateroom could involve passing through the buffet, where the late snack might include sandwiches, Chinese food, prepared salads, pizza, pasta and cakes and pies. The Commodore Club, where we stopped for a drink nearly every day before dinner, had a 12 page menu with no food. Whew! But even then, waiters came by with pate or brie-and-grapes on crackers or battered shrimp and chicken bites.

For breakfast in particular, I tried to be good, at least after I started ordering a vegetable omelet, made using cooking spray instead of butter. It took a couple of days of British-style scrambled eggs first, however. I didn’t know then that their soft, fluffy texture comes from using cream, whole milk or creme fraiche in the preparation.

One day, I badly needed a large salad, which wasn’t on the menu. Pasha merely asked the kitchen to double one of the salads on the menu, put the dressing on the side and add a grilled chicken breast and hard-cooked egg.

But that was one day in an otherwise wild-ass food orgy. I went to the gym every day and ate right the week I returned. I managed to weigh in only 1 pound over my typical 207 pounds.

And that felt good. Not nearly as good, mind you, as the food coma that comes right after tea, but good.

Canyon Ranch Day 3: A photographic record

This man will be 54 in 4 months. He did weight training today.

Canyon Ranch Day 3: Hiking with Iman

On nearly every trip to Canyon Ranch, the fitness resort, we’ve encountered a celebrity. I’ve taken an aerobics class with Sweet Baby James Taylor and gossiped with actor-playwright Harvey Fierstein. The Restaurant Dieter’s spouse took a boot camp class with the pop star Pink. She kicked his ass.

After the first day, we thought this might be a celebrity-free visit when my spouse noticed a tall black woman, big eyeglasses, reading quietly at dinner. It looked to be the supermodel Iman, wife of rock star David Bowie. As frequent visitors to New York, we know the rules on celebrities: No pictures and for heavens sake, pretend you don’t recognize them.

Today, however, the supposed Iman was on our hike in the Catalina Mountains. The woman pretty much kept to herself and was silent on the bus ride to the trail head

So halfway through, when the group stopped to snack, she sat alone a couple of yards away. I kept a respectful distance.

The conversation at Canyon Ranch often turns to healthy living and eating. So while we consumed our fruit crisp (no sugar), hard-cooked egg, cheese and trail mix (unsalted), we gabbed about eating.

At one point, the group was talking about the obscene sodium levels in restaurant food.

Suddenly, a deep and accented voice boomed into the conversation from over my shoulder. It was the same distinctive voice I’d heard on TV from the Somali-born model. This was Inman.

She said never found it necessary to read food labels until she came to the United States, where so much of the available food is processed. She agreed it was awful how much fat and sodium are in restaurant food. She was incredulous that people have criticized Michelle Obama for advocating on behalf of efforts to combat childhood obesity.

And why not? She and Bowie have an 12-year-old daughter.

Here’s The Restaurant Dieter and his husband on the hike. Iman asked me to take her picture with her cellphone, but I respected her privacy and did not take one with mine.It’s followed by a couple of pictures from what I ordered at lunch in the dining room: BBQ chicken sandwich with jicama salad and macaroon and chocolate chip cookie for dessert.

Canyon Ranch: Day 3: Breakfast before the hike

Vegetable omelet, chicken sausage, bagel with almond butter. Really good.

Canyon Ranch, Day 1: They don’t starve you. Honest.

Places like Canyon Ranch used to be called fat farms. But they really do not starve you or serve you tofu everything.

Some visual proof. I had the pot roast.

Canyon Ranch, Day 1: A good day, especially considering what came before

Today is my first day at Canyon Ranch, the fitness resort in Tucson, Arizona. It went OK. It was a little less action packed than normal for a visit here. I was so worn out from a couple days of work travel, eating poorly, lack of exercise and a minor car accident. My normal get-up-and-go CR experience turned into lunch, a loooong nap and then a massage I hadn’t earned.

So I just did an hour of weights, which felt good. I also did the body fat test today and came in at 19% fat, still in the acceptable range for men, on 206 pounds. Here’s a pic from Day One. Tomorrow I start with a 5 mile hike

Hotel Breakfast Math: It Never Adds Up In Your Favor

This was $18 plus tax and tip? You’re kidding.

Eating breakfast on the road is an exercise in what a long-ago presidential candidate once called “fuzzy math.” No matter how you try to assemble a healthy breakfast, it’s 20 bucks. And because Americans are value conscious, we want to get our $20 worth.

As much as I’ve traveled, I’m still naive enough to see if I can assemble my normal breakfast from the menu for a tab that’s smaller than the buffet. Oatmeal ($8), fruit ($6), tea ($3), one egg and four egg whites (not even listed). So that’s at least $17 before the eggs and the buffet is….$18.

Which means facing the buffet, which invariably holds, in ranked order of danger: made-to-order omelets loaded with meats and cheeses, fried potatoes, bagels the size of your foot with full-fat cream cheese, French toast, pancakes or waffles in a pool of butter and syrup, bacon, sausage — what the heck, both if possible.

I’m going to copy this blog post to the Marriott Hotels & Resorts, which operates the hotel in Portland, Ore., where we’re staying, in the hope that someone will respond to this question: Why are realistic a la carte prices on the menu out of the question at hotels?

I suspect an honest answer would be: “High margins on breakfasts allow us to keep the room rates down, which is what you’re thinking about instead of breakfast when you book. And given that most visitors will eat lunch and dinner elsewhere, it’s the only place a hotel can score a few bucks.”

I can only think of one hotel stay where the breakfast gouge didn’t happen. Dallas’ Aloft hotel had no restaurant at all, just a food shop where cold items such as yogurt, cereal, muffins and bagels, danish, whole fruit could be purchased. A grill offered egg sandwiches on an English muffin with the usual meat and cheese fixings. The choices were limited, but on the other hand, breakfast was less than $6 a day.

Other options can be found, but they’re a pain.  Sometimes it’s possible to walk to a Starbucks, or there may be a diner in the area. But that means more bother than riding down on the elevator, so the $20 hotel buffet is what you’re stuck with.

Unless you want to fall victim to that “well I paid for it” rationalization that invites overeating, one simply has to accept that traveling and eating breakfast usually means wasting money and fending off temptation.

Today I limited myself to a vegetable and egg white omelet, an English muffin with 3/4 ounce of peanut butter and pineapple and cantaloupe.  I figure it was about 1/2 cup of egg whites, for about 55 calories about a teaspoon of oil (despite my plea for none — 40 calories and5 grams of fat), plus 3/4 ounce of peanut butter or 2 tablespoons for 190 calories and 16 grams of fat. On my Weight Watchers points, both the fruit and vegetables or free, so they don’t count.

I wasted a ton of money, obviously, but carried out a banana for a post workout boost. And I showed good judgment, given what the rest of the day holds:  tonight is dinner at Beast, a Portland restaurant whose chef was recently featured on the Bravo TV show, Top Chef Masters, with foodie TRD spouse’s equally foodie brother and wife. The place has no menu from which to choose. The menu, all six courses, is what there is to eat, like it or not.

Should be interesting.