How ‘Normal People’ Eat: Eclectic Citizen Gabe

Gabriel Szoke, a friend and former co-worker at The News-Sentinel, got his start as a DJ  at our wedding reception 20 years ago. Not too long after that, he brought over several large boxes of comic books for safekeeping and moved to Puerto Rico.

Gabe’s still in Puerto Rico — along with his comic books, which eventually joined him — and though we haven’t seen him much these last 20 years, listening to Eclectic City, his music podcast, has become a Saturday night ritual for us.

Gabe can talk passionately for hours about music, movies, art and any number of other topics. That’s what makes his show so intriguing — the way he weaves wildly different styles of music (usually stuff we’ve never heard before) around thought-provoking themes. I couldn’t remember if he’d ever had anything interesting to say about food, but given that he’s human and he’s gotta eat, I figured he’s given the topic some thought.

Guess what? I was right.

Q. So have you ever been concerned about your weight? If you feel your jeans getting a big snug, what steps do you take?

A. I have been concerned about my weight, but seriously during the past 10 years, when my metabolism started to slow down. I never allow myself to gain TOO much weight, so when I start getting snug in those jeans, I commit to more cardio at the gym.

Q. Do you eat breakfast? If so, what?

A. I always eat breakfast. I have a bowl of cereal each weekday that’s a blend of 3 cereals. Together with the soy milk (Silk) I get about 80 of my daily fiber, 100% of my vitamins, lots of flax seed, and protein. I also drink coffee (again with Silk, not milk) and have a banana.

Q. Have your eating habits changed since living in Puerto Rico?

A. Yes. The PR “diet” consists of a lot of carbs and fatty foods. Rice, beans and fried pork is a standard dish. I ate a lot of that when I first came here nearly 20 years ago. No food co-ops existed then, and now establishments that sell or serve healthy alternatives are much more common. I will eat local food once every few weeks (hard to avoid on holidays), but really I stick with healthier stuff 85% of the time.

Q. What is your biggest weakness, food-wise? How do you deal with it?

A. Chocolate. I’ve also become crazy about chili/lemon-flavored pork rinds lately. Dunno how that happened. I give in to these once or twice a week, as a treat for eating well.

Q. Do you have any “rules” about what you allow yourself to eat for certain meals or at certain times during the day? (For example, I’m guessing you might keep some pretty late hours putting your show together. Do you do a “fourth meal,” in Taco Bell-speak?)

A. Yes, I do. I tend to eat when I’m hungry, not according to a schedule. So the time of day that I eat varies according to my schedule for the day, and perhaps what I did the previous day. I try to balance things according to what’s needed. Late night meals are not fast food. Besides pizza once in a while, late nights are lite, some chicken or fish with veggies or maybe a small portion of pasta. My late night treat is yogurt that I freeze, then partially unthaw. It has the consistency of ice cream and is much healthier.

Q. Do you ever “pig out?” If so, do you worry about it or take any particular steps to atone for it, or just move on?

A. My “pig out” sessions don’t last too long or get too carried away. I can only eat so much before I feel bad. I always keep an eye on physical warning signs that I’ve eaten too little or too much, and I pay them heed.

Q. Do you do anything in particular to get exercise? (You obviously spend a lot of time listening to music; do you dance around while you listen?)

A. No dancing. When I’m actively exercising I visit the gym 2-3 times a week. I do a serious amount of stationary biking, and a lot of weight training. I walk a lot, and when I do walk I power walk. I’ve never been a causal walker, probably from years of delivering newspapers (on foot). When I’m in the malls for instance, I’m power-walking. I get what I want and go, never stroll around. I hate malls. I used to play basketball 2-3 times a week, until I injured my knee. These were full court games back-to-back on concrete, with guys half my age. I did that from age 41-48. It rocked.

I have had a high metabolism since childhood. My parents used to say I seemed as if I could eat anything and not show it. That changed with age. But I’ve also always been physically active, walking, biking, basketball, volleyball, gym. I was never a fan of gyms until I injured my knee and couldn’t “stomach” being inactive.

I was a serious biker from the age of 9-39. I had an Italian racing bike for several years. I was a biking fanatic in many ways. It wasn’t unusual to ride many miles, almost regardless of weather. I am sure that had a lot to do with keeping my weight down during those years. Seems I traded biking for basketball and then the gym.

Q. Anything else you’d like to add?

A. I have belonged to a food co-op or been a steady client of health food stores for nearly 30 years. I think it’s important to balance out the crap advertising for fast food and unhealthy stuff with real information about food and healthy alternatives. Food co-ops offer an environment that fosters healthier eating.

I have taken vitamins on a regular basis since my mid 20s. I think they’ve done a lot to ensure that I’m healthier and make me less prone to quick fixes of fast food, etc.

Oops, I almost forgot: I avoid refined sugar completely and only use brown sugar if possible. But as a sweetener, I use Splenda. ‘

I also stay away from soft drinks for the sugar. Blood sugar drops can cause people to gorge on something else to perk up, which is usually something else with sugar in it. Staying away from sugar helps to avoid that.

A lot of these healthy eating habits stem from a few years of junk-food eating while in college. I earned the nickname “Mr. Natural” for a while as a result. I was famous for eating McDonalds and food from vending machines.

As a result of that, I started seeing premature signs of aging and stress, with some grey hairs by 21 and a near-ulcer at 22. Great inspiration!

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