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posted: 3/19/2017 7:30 AM

Turning a lifestyle upside-down

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  • Correspondent Dave Gathman of Elgin, middle, gets some cooking tips from members of the Food Revolution Club at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire. Gathman is finding the dietary changes in Fittest Loser particularly challenging.

      Correspondent Dave Gathman of Elgin, middle, gets some cooking tips from members of the Food Revolution Club at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire. Gathman is finding the dietary changes in Fittest Loser particularly challenging.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

By Dave Gathman
Daily Herald Correspondent

When my editors asked whether I wanted to go through the Fittest Loser dieting and exercise regimes in addition to writing stories about it, I naively had little hesitation about committing to the exercising part.

But the nutrition program advocated by Push Fitness owner Josh Steckler was a higher mountain to climb.

And frankly it seemed a bit far-out to me, being so different from the government and heart association and dairy association food pyramids I had heard about since I was in fifth-grade health class.

Over six decades I had never dieted or even counted calories and nutrients. I'm a picky, eccentric eater who loves meat and milk and soda pop and bread and candy and salt.

I have called popcorn "the staff of life." But to see what the diet -- er, "nutritional regime" -- could do, I agreed to try it, perhaps in some watered-down form, for at least a few weeks.

The main pillars of the eating program are:

• Eat a protein, a fat and a carbohydrate with every meal.

• Eat five meals a day, with lots of water.

• Eat no more than one starch (that includes bread) and one dairy item (a half glass of milk is one dairy item, though cheese counts as a fat) per day.

• Avoid processed foods (is this America?) and sugar and pretty much any drink except water or smoothies.

• Eat "organic" and whole foods as much as possible.

From the beginning, I decided that I wouldn't even try to follow some parts of the regime. I wasn't going to eat only organic foods, and I made only minimal effort to avoid processed foods.

I'm scared of developing an intolerance to milk, butter and cheese, as my wife Patty has in the last couple years. So I decided to continue drinking two half-glasses of milk.

Because I had suffered agonizing kidney stones, I would continue to drink cranberry juice once a day.

And if I went cold turkey on the pop I sipped all day, I would get an intense caffeine-withdrawal headache. So I decided to drink one can of Diet Mountain Dew a day to begin with, then tail that off to half a can and finally none.

I would continue to eat Shedd's Spread instead of butter and put that artificial, sugar-laden ketchup on my beef and pork. I wouldn't try to eliminate salt and sodium.

Finally, when going to a movie theater (which, as a former movie critic I do about three times a week) I would still eat popcorn.

But I manned up and prepared to do five meals a day and the three food groups at each meal and … gulp … to turn my back on the pop-sipping and the candy and the cranberry sauce. I would even give up bread and buns and rolls, since I wanted to save my lone daily starch allotment for half a baked potato at dinner.

I had planned to start on Tuesday, Feb. 21, one day after the four Fittest Loser contestants. But on Tuesday morning I figured out that I didn't have all the supplies I would need. I went to Jewel and Target, spent a three weeks' budget on foods and returned with more stuff than we could fit into our refrigerator and cabinets. The kitchen counters filled up with cans of nuts, trays of berries, bags of fruit.

Later I would realize much of this buying had been wasted.

Two pounds of large carrots? I'll never eat that big a thing that I barely even like; I should have bought baby carrots for use as snacks.

Four kinds of yogurt, which I've never eaten before? We're only supposed to eat one dairy item a day, max, and I don't want to waste that on yogurt.

Plain oatmeal? If I can only eat one "starch" per day, I'll save that for a half-potato or breakfast cereal, thank you.

A bag of pistachios? I tried them for the first time in my life and yecch!

Flaxseed with blueberries? What would I put that on?

Fat-free chocolate powder? That would count as a carb, and I would have little trouble finding more than enough carbs.

Finally armed for this scary new way of life, I woke up on Thursday, Feb. 23, prepared to reluctantly eat peanuts, cashews and cheddar cheese for breakfast, and to begin sucking up plain water all morning instead of Mountain Dew.

• Dave Gathman is a Daily Herald correspondent. He is undergoing the same physical workouts and nutritional counseling as the Fittest Loser contestants as he writes about their journey.

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