Setting up a routine that helps you notice “extra food”

One of the cool things about a day in which you have an established meal template – that is, a set of meals that you always plan to eat on that day of the week – is that it’s much easier at the end of the day to know whether you had anything “extra.”

On Mondays, for instance, I usually have three eggs with spinach and spicy refried beans for breakfast, an 8-ounce bag of cashews for lunch and 2-4 ounces of cheese – sometimes with 4 ounces of red wine – for dinner.

It's weird to think that in some respects, at least, I'm starting to eat like my dad.

It’s weird to think that in some respects, at least, I’m starting to eat like my dad.

One recent Monday I splurged a bit and added a big bowl of mixed berries and an apple to my lunch, then had a tablespoon of peanut butter for an afternoon snack. I wasn’t overly concerned about it or feeling guilty or anything — it was fruit and peanut butter, not cookies and candy — but I was very much aware that this was “extra food.”

That’s a huge difference from the days when I just mindlessly ate all day long. Or even after I lost weight, when I’d still have to watch (and make sure I documented) those  sporadic bursts of mindless eating.

I still do that sometimes. But it almost never happens on a Monday. I look forward to that big bag of cashews the way I once looked forward to a quarter-pound with cheese “value meal.” If I ate a bunch of other crap on Mondays, then I’d feel compelled to abandon my cashews treat. Besides, I like how much “in control” I feel on Mondays.

After studying my dad’s eating habits pretty closely the last few years, trying to glean how he avoids weight gain, I’d say having a basic meal routine is one of his key secrets. He tends to eat the same thing for breakfast and lunch most days, and when my parents eat dinner out at a restaurant, he tends to order the same thing most of the time – usually chicken.

He even eats the same “big meal” every week at his Rotary Club’s buffet lunch. Green beans, fish and mashed potatoes, if memory serves, sometimes with a piece of pie.

It may sound boring – and it does to me, frankly, because while I look forward to my Monday routine, I wouldn’t want every day to be Monday – but he’s very much aware if he deviates from his routine.  (The only time that happens, as far as I can tell, is during Sunday dinners or on holidays or other special celebrations.)

If you”re interested, the 2011 interview I did with my dad on his eating habits can be found here:  “How ‘Normal’ People Eat: The Captain Chicken Interview.”

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