Why all choice is difficult

Choice is a watchword at the Duke Diet and Fitness Center. We can choose whether or not we want to exercise, what we want to do, and how much and how hard we work. It is not at all like the Biggest Loser. We are encouraged of course to give new activities a go, and to push ourselves if we really want to lose weight, but there is no Jillian Michaels to make us cry. “Choose something you like to do” advise the fitness instructors, “and mix it up a little. You are more likely to stick to your exercise plan if you pick activities you enjoy”. I hate sweating and move like a drunken weeble on land, so I prefer to work out in the water. I’ve lost 12 pounds in 3 weeks this way.

The dieticians are big on choice too. They provide us with menus at the beginning of our stay and, following a talk on calories and nutrition, ask us to make our menu selections for each meal across our four week program. Our job is to balance protein and starch and to use fruit and vegetables to put together appealing plates that will make us feel full and happy, within a calorie limit we have chosen, based on advice from the nutritionists. There is no Gillian McKeith with her unattractive grains. “We are not food police” says Lisa “You have chosen to come here for a reason and what you choose to do while you are here is your business”. Fat and dairy are treated like frankincense and myrrh–a dab on special occasions.

Filling in the menus is hard work. We can pick and choose between prepared foods or make up our own meals. Will I have chicken satay, edamame and carrot salad or make my own sandwich with hard boiled egg, low fat mayonnaise and whole wheat bread with some lettuce and tomato? The idea is to help us understand the calorific worth and volume of different foods and to help us work out the mix of food groups that satisfies. The aim is also to equip us to think about and plan what we are going to eat in advance, rather than taking whatever comes. Of course, the fact that we have chosen what we will eat prevents us accusing the staff of starving us, or complaining that we don’t like what’s on offer and should have a chip sandwich instead.

Some people find the choosing very difficult, either because they eat or will try only a very limited range of foods, or because they are so unused to asking themselves what they really want that they find it hard to identify a preference. I have neither of these problems. Others feel miserable when they don’t like what they chose two or three weeks ago, and when they see what looks like a more delicious plate piled high for someone else. I will admit that I have had a pang or two of this sort. The food service staff aren’t allowed to “just throw a sweet potato on there” or “swap the carrots for the corn” or give in to us when we plead ” I made a mistake and missed the dessert when I handed in my menu” It is helpful to note that the disappointment is only fleeting and that no-one ever died of this kind of deprivation. I haven’t even felt hungry all the time I’ve been here.

At first, when I filled in my menus, I thought I would find it hardest to forego potatoes and so I requested this serving of starch every chance I got. In fact, the center chops up its baked potatoes into two or even threes and so the portion isn’t much of a perk. The thing I miss most is bread. I almost wept with happiness the day I had a jalapeno corn muffin with my vegetable chili for lunch and the slice of toast I had the other morning was breakfast bliss.

The center recommends that we plan and shop for a week’s meals at once, making it less likely that we give in to a whim or eat badly when we are hungry, lonely, angry or tired. Those who let the cupboard get very nearly bare are more vulnerable to slip ups than those who have a fridge and larder stocked with Duke-approved supplies.

In the pool, we leave the choice of music to the instructors, who each have their own selections on their iphones. They must scan the class and work out the average age before they press play, for the music always seems to strike a chord with the people in the pool. I hear a lot of the music of the 70s and 80s–Abba, Elton John and Earth Wind and Fire. I joined some oldies for an afternoon class earlier this we where we ranged from the Rolling Stones to the Beach Boys and back. When I pass the step class, it is usually Beyonce or Bieber. For Flex and Stretch last week we all sang along to Frank Sinatra. We had the soundtrack to O Brother Where Art Thou for lap swimming yesterday ( I did a mile and a half) because one of the bigger men was brave enough to make a request of the Loretta-Lynn loving lifeguard.

Jalapeño Cornbread Muffins

Servings: 10

Serving Size: 1 muffin


1 cup all purpose flour

½ cup whole wheat flour

½ cup yellow cornmeal (whole grain)

1 tablespoon + ¾ teaspoon baking powder

1 Tablespoon honey

1 cup skim milk

1 large egg plus 1 egg white

3 Tablespoon butter, softened

2½ Tablespoon grated cheddar cheese

2½ Tablespoon chopped green onion

1½ Tablespoon chopped jalapeño


Combine flour, cornmeal and baking powder in a large mixing bowl. In a

separate bowl, whisk the milk, eggs, and butter. With a wooden spoon,

stir the wet ingredients into the dry until most of the lumps are dissolved.

Don’t over-mix. Mix in the grated cheddar, scallions and jalapenos and

allow the mixture to sit at room temperature for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 10 individual

muffin tins (or use paper muffin cups). Pour equal amounts of batter into

the cups (about

cup batter per cup). Bake 30-35 minutes or until a

toothpick comes out clean.

Nutrition Analysis per Serving:

Calories: 150

Fat: 5 g

Carbohydrate: 22 g

Protein: 5 g

Sodium: 190 mg

1.5 S, 1 F

Recipe courtesy the Duke Diet and Fitness center cookbook

About Liz Barron

US Peace Corps Volunteer in Armenia. Permanent address in Washington DC. Deep roots in Northern Ireland and persistent Belfast accent. Blogger,cook, mother, grandma, Scrabble-player and enthusiastic world traveler.
This entry was posted in Cooking with the Crone, diet, Exercise, fat, Fat Camp, food, overweight and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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