Body Positive: Crunchy Cauliflower Couscous Salad
September 1, 2015
I’m pissed. Just downright, straight-up peeved. I’ve been working out with an inspired consistency for the last six months. I go running two to three times a week, have a weight lifting program that focuses on strengthening my arms, shoulders, and chest. I stopped buying monthly train passes and ride my bike around Berlin instead. I’m probably the fittest I’ve ever been. But for all of that, I didn’t see the kind of results I’d been hoping for – until this detox.
I’m in the third week of my month-long detox. I’m not eating white carbs, refined sugar, or alcohol. I allow myself one cheat per week in each category, and I’m not a real stick-in-the mud about what constitutes a carb or whether I can’t eat ketchup because it’s packed with sugar.
But the thing that’s making me so mad is that it’s working. In the shortest amount of time, I’ve lost the weight six months of running couldn’t shake. Was it really that easy?
I feel conflicted about this for a few reasons. One, I’ve strongly opposed dieting for as long as I can remember. I love food, and I love eating – and anything that placed a restriction on my enjoyment felt like a lifestyle that wasn’t worth it. I could get behind eating smaller portions or trying to stop eating once I felt full – but to actually cut things out? The idea made me balk.
Two, I find the positive reinforcement about my weight loss both pleasurable and problematic. I enjoy hearing heartfelt compliments about my appearance (from people I know, not people on the street; that I never enjoy), but it makes me wonder – did I not look good before? Do I only look pretty when I’m thin?
What was most important to me during this detox is that I never felt a sense of deprivation – that I never felt hungry. And so far, I have not. I eat oats with yogurt and fresh fruit for breakfast. I try to eat heartier lunches – omelets stuffed with mushrooms, fresh tomatoes, and goat cheese, stir-fried vegetables (without the rice), spicy baked chicken or pork chops. I’ve made so many different kinds of salad for dinner – with sweet potato and feta, pomegranate, grapefruit, pork belly, different lettuces and greens. I eat fruit and vegetable snacks, with quark and homemade jam for dessert. So no, I have not gone hungry.
It’s been hard not to order a beer at a beer garden or share an evening drink with friends. But I think in Berlin, especially, the tendency is to overdrink. When I drink, I don’t drink too much, but I drink too often, sometimes when I don’t even care. In my mind, drinking is associated with so many nice activities: relaxing in a sunny park, dinners out, social events, a reward after a tough day. I especially wanted to break these associations, to remind myself that all these things are still nice even without a drink in hand. And that took less time than I’d expected, too.
So there have definitely been positives that have come out of my detox experiment. I’ve pushed myself to be more creative with my cooking so I don’t feel deprived of food, taste, or the joy of working in my kitchen. I’ve broken my social = alcohol association. And I’ve lost weight. Not a ton, but enough to make me feel like myself again. For nearly two years, I’ve felt like one of those pills you throw in the bathtub that slowly expands into a spongy shape in the hot water. It’s why I started running in the first place – to be healthy, of course, but also to stop the slow sprawl of my ageing metabolism.
A month is a manageable amount of time. You can give up lots of things for a month and be just fine. But I wonder what will happen when this month ends. I’m truly surprised by how well my detox has worked – and worried that I’ll feel driven to continue. Is hyper awareness a legitimate watch against becoming obsessed?
I think the trick is to take the positive and incorporate it into my lifestyle, not replace my lifestyle with permanent detox. Eating pasta for dinner three nights in a row didn’t improve the quality of my life, nor did drinking at every opportunity. When this month ends, I’ll need to figure out a way to discern between what I really, really want, and what I’m just consuming because it’s there. What I don’t want is to feel strength in deprivation. I want to feel empowered because I know I’m getting the most I can out of life – eating when it brings me joy, saying yes to what I really want. No skinny is worth missing out on that.
Crunchy Cauliflower Couscous Salad
Grain-based salads are one of my go-to meals when I don’t know what to make. When you’re cutting grains out of your diet, you’ve got to improvise. Pulsed cauliflower florets not only resemble couscous, they’re soft enough in flavor to act as a canvas for the other ingredients, just like bulgur would.
1 small head of cauliflower
1 cup quartered cherry tomatoes
1 green pepper, diced
1 red onion, cut into rings
½ cup crumbled feta
2 tbsp. chopped, fresh basil
1 tbsp. chopped, fresh parsley
½ lb. (250 g) chicken breast
1 tsp. sumac (opt.)
2 ½ tbsp. lemon juice
2 tbsp. olive oil
¼ tsp. black pepper
½ tsp. salt
Finely chop cauliflower or break it up in a food processor until it resembles couscous. (I’d recommend lightly pulsing it in the food processor – if I had space in my little kitchen to have a food processor, I would have done that, too.)
Toss cauliflower with cherry tomatoes, green pepper, red onion, feta, basil, and parsley.
Season chicken breast with salt, pepper, and sumac (opt.), then cook in a skillet with a little olive oil over high heat until cooked all the way through and browned on the outsides. Remove from heat and slice into bite-sized pieces. Add to salad.
Whisk lemon juice, olive oil, black pepper, and salt together in a small bowl. Add to salad.
Toss well and serve.