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Monday, October 4, 2010

My Life as a Food Critic: Fat and Fairness

Posted by Patrick Alan Coleman on Mon, Oct 4, 2010 at 11:25 AM

On the Road to Fastsville
  • On the Road to Fastsville
After lasts week’s post on anonymity, I received a couple requests from Portland’s pro eaters to talk about the health costs involved in eating for a living. I'm happy to oblige because, for me, the concern of packing on the weight was far more intense than that of keeping a low profile. There’s a simple reason for that: I’m intensely vain and self-conscious. Also, I’m lazy. Combine those factors with a job that requires you eat several restaurant meals a week, often packed with fat, and you’ve got a recipe for anxiety. I'll give you all the gory details, after the jump.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that this job might cause problems for my waistline. While I did have leeway to pick the restaurants I reviewed, it was also imperative I review newer places in order for my column to remain relevant. So, right out of the gate, and in quick succession, I found myself reviewing Wayne’s Chicago Red Hots and Pine State Biscuits. Being new to the game, I wasn’t really moderating how much of the meal I was eating. I was far too concerned with getting it right than over-eating. Looking back at the sheer amount of fatty food I ate during just those two reviews makes me cringe.

Within the first six months of the gig, I was the heaviest I’d ever been in my life, passing 200 pounds. I felt terrible, and I hated the way I looked. In fact, it was only after I’d gotten back on track that Kitty admitted to me I’d begun to develop rolls of back fat. All together now: Eeeeuuuugghhh!

But weight gain was only half the problem. Not only was I hurting myself by eating and not exercising, there was additional risk in that, as a part-time employee, I wasn’t eligible for health insurance and unable to afford it. Obviously something had to be done.

But here was my conundrum: On the job, I had to eat enough to feel that I’d given the restaurant a fair shake. To that end, I’d increased the number of visits I’d make to a restaurant to a minimum of three, often paying for the third dinner out of my own pocket to keep my section on budget. Sometimes I’d add a fourth visit if I felt the restaurant wasn’t doing well—the idea being that if I were going to write a bad review, I wanted to be double sure the place wasn't measuring up. This meant more and more food going into my belly. As I ballooned, it was clear I had to take action. Maybe I’m just slow, but when I finally developed a plan of action, it was stupidly obvious.

There is no secret to weight loss. Unless you have other disease processes present, pretty much all you have to do is burn more calories than you consume. The first step of the plan to keep myself healthy was simply to leave food on my plate. As I grew more confident, I found I didn’t need to eat an entire entree in order to get the idea of what was going on, and the leftovers where often helpful in sparking the memory when writing a review.

The second part of my plan was to start moving. Kitty and I began a training plan called Couch to 5K and stated hitting the track three times a week. Before long, and unbelievably considering my sedentary lifestyle, I was running three miles three times a week, eventually competing in a couple local races. Reading the book Born to Run was also integral in keeping me on the road, and soon I was just as obsessive about trail running as I was about good food. And that, my friends, is kind of a perfect combination. Soon my work-out regime included swimming, weight-training, as well as running. At my peak, I was doing seven-mile runs from my house to the top of Mt. Tabor and back. I dropped about 25 pounds and felt amazing.

Unfortunately, I over-trained and developed runner’s knee, a depressing (and painful) set-back, which has put me on the sidelines and off the trails for several months. Then swimming got boring, and weight training seemed pointless, and here I am at the end of my life as a food critic, slowly gaining weight and generally feeling shitty. But things are getting better. I’ve started running again, barefoot. It’s infrequent, but it feels good and I’ve had no knee pain. I figure that, and not having to eat out three times a week, will put me back on track as I enter my new career.

At any rate, any professional eater can tell you the struggle with the body is just about constant. After 30 months of restaurant reviews, consistently eating three to four butter drenched dinners every week, I can honestly say: I’m not as fat as I could be, but not as thin as I’d like. And I guess that aint bad.

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