THE GOCHISO GOURMET: Baby steps to giant leaps


columnist-logo_ryantatsumoto_FINALYes, I know how difficult it is to embrace change. I’m rapidly approaching that age when I’ll soon undergo that metamorphosis into my parents, where habits are carved into stone. And the sun is more likely to shower rain than warmth onto this little orb before those habits are broken. But there’s hope, as I’m still an elderly caterpillar that hasn’t pupated into that crusty old version of me … yet. So I need to make that abrupt course change and rush head first to that better, flexible, tolerant, forgiving, energetic and improved version of me to change the world! Whoa, nelly! We need to walk before we learn to run. Let’s start with baby steps. How about simply trying to get back into those size 31 slacks?

It’s About the Weight … Isn’t it?
Whenever we think about making healthier changes in our lives, I’m willing to bet that the vast majority of us are focused on losing weight.  Many hope to get back to their college or even high school weight, so that their energy is limitless and their clothes fit better. Others hope to regain that metabolism that allowed them to consume vast quantities of every food item known to mankind and simply burn it off with one session of jogging. For starters, if I could simply go back to my physical state at age 40, I’d be a happy camper.

And as I’ve mentioned before, I never focus on that number called weight. It is, after all, simply a number. What really is important is how that number is divided between water, lean, bone and fat. A large number that’s primarily lean, water and bone with very little fat is a lot healthier than a small number that’s mostly water and fat with very little lean and bone. That’s why a Body Mass Index or BMI is only partially useful. It does tell you when you’re underweight, because it’s rare for someone to have a low BMI (less than 18), but still with good lean and bone density. Most people with BMIs less than 18 simply have low lean, fat and bone densities. However, a BMI more than 25 is considered overweight, but if a lot of that weight is in the form of lean, bone and water, that person is probably a lot healthier than someone with a BMI smack dab in the middle of normal at 21.7 if the “normal” person has a higher proportion of fat.

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Personally, my focus is on that other “w” word, waist. Precisely, an expanding waist, which makes it difficult to fit into those work slacks. Nothing takes the steam out of your morning more than having to do that deep inhalation first thing just to secure that front clasp on your trousers, or seeing that buckle “crease” on your belt moving from the middle to the last notch in your belt, and realizing that your belt is simply for decoration as your pants are more than adequately held up by just your waist. Then there’s worrying throughout the day that a sneeze could cause that pants button to be forcefully expelled, thereby blinding a co-worker. I need to start those baby steps ASAP!

One Plus One Does Equal Two
As I’ve mentioned before, losing or increasing your weight simply involves basic mathematics. Consume more than you burn and you’ll gain weight. Burn more than you consume and you’ll lose weight. There is no magical food source to accelerate metabolism no matter what you’ve read on the Internet. You literally can lose weight just consuming lard as long as the calories in the lard are less than the calories you expend.

“So all I need to do to lose weight is eat less?” Well yes, that’s one approach. But since the goal is to keep that excess weight off for good, unless you plan on restricting your intake forever, it usually isn’t something that can be maintained. And with these deprivation diets, you usually lose a lot of weight initially,  but most of that weight is water, so to maintain that loss means continual deprivation plus a constant state of dehydration. And because deprivation diets usually aren’t sustainable, you fall back to usual consumption and simply put the weight right back on. However, during constant trials of deprivation diets, your body does change, besides a weight that drops and increases like a yo-yo. Your body composition changes … for the worse. During the initial stages of weight loss where you lose water weight, most people also lose lean weight or muscle mass which is amplified the more you starve yourself. Then when you fall off the bandwagon and the weight returns, it doesn’t return as lean mass, but more likely fat mass. So while your average “heavy” weight remains the same, your fat mass has actually increased at the expense of lean mass. That’s why simply cutting calories usually doesn’t work, you also have to increase calorie expenditure or exercise.

Will I Have To Run a Marathon?
Not really. The simple goal I give my patients is to reduce daily caloric intake by about 250 calories and increase daily expenditure about 250 calories. That translates to a net loss of 3,500 calories per week, which equates to about one pound of fat, the “weight” you want to lose. It doesn’t really require training for a marathon or century ride to shed the fat, just a little extra time — usually about 30 minutes — to burn those extra 250 calories every day and the willpower to continue that routine. As far as cutting back on the calories, you may even save time as you won’t be spending as much time eating.

But What’s My Personal Excuse?
Plain and simple, it’s a reduction in exercise. As I mentioned last year (in the Feb. 6, 2014 issue of the Nichi Bei Weekly), I’m only getting my cardio done about twice a week, where it used to be at least three times a week spaced evenly throughout the week. Because of my longer commute and early workdays, I get my cardio only on Saturdays and Sundays at best, which means five days of rest … not a good recipe for health.

So to counter the reduction in calorie expenditure, all I have to do is reduce calories consumed right? Technically, yes. But it’s not that simple for me. You see, ever since we did that pop-up dinner about three years ago (Dec. 6, 2012 issue of the Nichi Bei Weekly), I constantly think about food and creating new dishes. There are morning drives to work where I don’t even listen to my music, I simply obsess what type of pizza I’ll create on the weekend or even when I’m on my stationary bike, instead on concentrating on my heart rate and power output, I’m thinking about smoking all-purpose flour for chocolate chip cookies. And you would think three years after our pop-up dinner, the food obsession would fade. If anything, it seems to be worse as I’ve actually blown off cardio sessions just to start prepping my minced luau leaf with coconut on mini taro tartlets with smoked meat or “gluing” pork, lamb and beef parts with transglutaminase. So I do need to get more focused on cardiovascular achievements instead of just culinary achievements … or they do have to at least be in balance.

Just Do It
Nike was right. Don’t spend time thinking about it. Just do it. Start with just an extra 15 minutes of exercise three times a week. Then slowly start increasing the duration and if you’re able to, increase the intensity. The first eventual goal is to get up to 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity exercise with no more than two days of rest between exercise sessions so either 30 minutes per session five times per week or 50 minutes three times a week. And if you reach that initial goal of 150 minutes per week, keep increasing the weekly duration until your cardio sessions are daily. Not only will it help you prevent that dreaded “battle of the bulge”, it’s also been shown to reduce the incidence of diabetes. Plus you’ll probably feel better.

So personally, I know that I have to embrace it and do it! And since I’m on vacation for the next two weeks and not traveling, there’s no excuse for the “no time” thing. Of course I do have to cut back on those Cape Cod Reduced Fat potato chips … dipped in tartar sauce … with sips of Champagne taken in between …

The Gochiso Gourmet is a column on food, wine and healthy eating. Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the Univ. of Hawai‘i and UC San Francisco. He is a clinical pharmacist during the day and a budding chef/recipe developer/wine taster at night. He writes from Kane‘ohe, HI and can be reached at

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