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Going back to bread

I wrote a couple of weeks ago in my "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" column about being scared of bread. Specifically, I have become wary of reintroducing home-made bread, once a staple, into my diet after having lost weight on my Me Minus 10 campaign. If I were to bake bread again for my family, I wondered, would I be able to keep myself from pigging out on the stuff?

Last week I decided to find out. I had planned to make a big batch of chicken soup, and I knew everybody would like to have bread with it. (Soup-and-bread dinners had been, before I started losing weight, a weekly tradition in my family.) So I got out my yeast and my baguette tray and went about baking two lovely loaves.

A week later, one of those loaves still remained, wrapped up in foil and stored out of sight behind the fruit bowls that I keep (filled with fruit) on top of the microwave.

How much bread will you eat with dinner tonight? (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

That never would have happened a year ago. Back then, I'd gorge on bread during that soup meal. The next day, I'd start fantasizing about leftover bread early in the morning, sometimes during yoga class, and by mid-day I'd be tearing into the loaf, chunk by chunk, dipping the bread into a plate of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I shudder to think how many extra calories I was consuming, and in such a mindless way.

But this time I did everything a bit differently. First of all, instead of cutting a whole loaf and piling it in a breadbasket to take to the table, I cut just enough for everyone to have a modest slice or two and had them take that to the table with their soup. (That's a trick I learned from "Mindless Eating" expert Brian Wansink.) If anyone wanted more bread, they'd have to get up from the table and walk to the kitchen to slice more for themselves.

Nobody did.

I also immediately placed the second baguette in foil and wrapped it tight as soon as it was cool enough. Then I stuck it in its hiding place and put it out of my mind.

It worked. Last night my husband made a pot of gumbo, and I plucked that foil-wrapped baguette from behind the fruit bowls and stuck it in the oven. I served it the same way I had the week before. Nobody took seconds, even though the bread was as delectable as it had been when it was fresh. As I had the first night, I savored every morsel of my slice of baguette, then moved on.

Why am I telling you this? Two reasons: First, to inspire you. Had you told me a year ago that I could have home-made bread in the house and actually forget it was there, I would have scoffed at the notion. If I can overcome my strongest food fetish, so can you.

The other reason? It's important for all of us, whether we're watching our weight or not, to maintain a healthy balance in our diets. It's not ideal to eliminate a whole class of food, as I had with bread; learning to enjoy all foods in moderation is key.

I'm happy to have bread back in my life. I'm even happier that it has apparently lost its strange power over me.

A big thank-you to all the readers of The Checkup blog and "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" for the tips they shared about coming to terms with bread. I appreciate your help. Let's revisit this topic: What food holds you most in its thrall? How do you manage that relationship?

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  | October 26, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Me Minus 10, Nutrition and Fitness, Obesity  
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I used to be the same way with homemade bread. (Well, any kind of good bread, really.) But I've gotten better. And I also prefer to have homemade bread on hand for my family. I haven't bought sandwich bread at the supermarket in quite some time now. I haven't tackled baguettes yet, though. Any chance you could share your recipe?

Posted by: michele150 | October 26, 2010 7:47 AM | Report abuse

I use the baguette recipe that's on page 239 of the King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion (2003). This link leads to a PDF of the recipe.

BAGUETTES AND CIABATTA - King Arthur Flour home page
File Format: PDF/Adobe Acrobat - Quick View
The first goal of every budding artisan bread-baker is a crusty, flavorful baguette. Let this recipe be the starting point on a journey that may last for ...

Posted by: Jennifer LaRue Huget | October 26, 2010 9:40 AM | Report abuse

Thanks so much!!!

Posted by: michele150 | October 26, 2010 10:29 AM | Report abuse

Trigger food: bacon. For a long time, I just avoided having any in the house. But a little can create a great flavor base for things like stews and sauces (a/k/a poor man's pancetta). So now I keep it in the freezer -- I can't just take it out and cook up a whole pound, but it's easy to take out the whole frozen hunk and use a sharp knife to cut some off the end.

I also agree with the temptation of fresh-baked bread. I'm more about moist/dense vs. light/dry (think brownies vs. cake), so baguettes never really did it for me -- but the bread my stepdad used to make (half white, half wheat, sweetened with honey) sends me through the roof. The smell, the taste of the dripping slightly-salty butter against the slightly-sweet, earthy bread. . . . Boy, is going to be an early lunch today!

My "fix" is two-part. For day-to-day stuff, I substitute a variety of homemade muffins that I make with stuff like oat bran and flax seed, with lots of bananas or pumpkins for flavor + nutrition. Those satisfy the craving in a little healthier way and don't require a big slab of butter -- added bonus that they're a lot faster and easier to make. Then, when I just need to have a "real" bread with melty butter, I use a "health bread" recipe from a James Beard cookbook, with lots of oats and wheat flour and a little molasses. It's like my stepdad's bread, but more intense in the areas that I like (even more earthy, a little sweeter, a little denser/moister, etc.). And I figure maybe all of the oatmeal will offset some of the saturated fat in the butter. :-)

Posted by: laura33 | October 26, 2010 11:02 AM | Report abuse

Bread is more of a problem than weight gain. Wheat is something we weren't designed to ingest - ever. It's toxic to your system. You'll never see a human munching on wheat in a field - nor successfully down a tablespoon of flour. Our ancestors invented grain processing 10,000 years ago to avoid starvation, but our genetics haven't caught up or changed enough. Look at the animals that do eat wheat - completely different digestive system altogether. Flour is toxic - it must be cooked in order to be ingested. Our ability to eat bread is more of a testament to the robustness of our digestive systems, rather than the stupid idea that we are "eating healthy" by eating whole grain wheat... The reality is, many of us digest toxins like wheat every day and we don't die - due to millions of years of evolution - our systems are quite robust. But when you eliminate grains from your diet, and give your body a few months to acclimate to the fact that you aren't posiening yourself regularly, you'll be surprised at how you feel... such to the point when you do eat wheat again, you will immediately recognize how bad it makes you feel - rather than just thinking that "feeling" is normal. It's not...

Our food distribution system in this country is designed to feed 350 million people - your organs don't care about any of that - they expect to eat as you were designed to eat - protein, fruits and vegetables... Anything that requires processing (and yes cooking is processing) is something you probably weren't designed to ingest. Processed foods benefit our society, but our evolution doesn't care about society.

Recognize wheat for what it is - goat food - and you may not be so tempted to put it on your plate...

Posted by: mockymock | October 26, 2010 1:30 PM | Report abuse

I cut out everything white from my meals --bread, pasta, potatoes, rice, salt, sugar, cheese. Subsist mostly on salads, veggies, fruit, yogurt and chicken. With the help of a treadmill I've lost 25 pounds since July 1, aiming for at least 20 more by New Years. It's not hard to do -- just don't eat anything white.

Posted by: Baltimore11 | October 26, 2010 2:19 PM | Report abuse

Has anybody considered excercising self-restraint in the effort to lead a healthy lifestyle? Forget diets, etc... if you find that the end results of excess are intolerable, cut down on excess and impulse eating...
Maybe it's just me, but becoming a slave to daytime soaps is roughly equivalent to becoming a slave to a sedentary food-crazed lifestyle... just think about what you do/eat...

Posted by: celticsax | October 26, 2010 3:27 PM | Report abuse

My biggest temptation is cookies, so, in recent years, I have been making a big batch of dough, then baking only a dozen or so at a time and freezing the rest. (We have five children, so a dozen is not as much for us as it is for most households!) This works really well. When I want cookies, I slice off small batches, instead of baking an entire recipe of dough and bingeing on the huge stack of cookies. The process has helped our children to understand moderation and helped me to practice moderation. It also enables me to serve fresh cookies for guests or deliver fresh cookies to friends in need--without the work and time of making a whole new batch of dough every time.

My favorite baguette recipe is from French Women Don't Get Fat--really easy and delicious. It's a great book, too--a great perspective on loving food but enjoying it responsibly.

Posted by: GrainofSalt1 | October 26, 2010 3:39 PM | Report abuse

I am living in France for a year, the land of the baguette. Since I've been here my husband and I have consumed many,many baguettes. We are losing weight. Why? Because our sedentary habits have changed. We are joggers, but only do that about 2 times a week. We walk everywhere and climb the 100 steps to our apartment several times a day. We still eat lots of bread (a baguette a day), but we burn off the calories with physical exercise. We also see very few overweight French people compared to America. We do see people walking and bicycling everywhere. It seems to work for them.

Posted by: MoGo55 | October 26, 2010 4:48 PM | Report abuse

We can all use more fiber and whole wheat and whole grain bread is great, as long as it isn't sweetened with high fructose corn syrup. They are trying to slip that poison in everything.

Whole wheat bread is good for sandwiches and toast in the morning with peanut butter, another good source of fiber. Add honey and/or fruit jam if you have a sweet tooth. Stay away from white bread if you can.

Posted by: alance | October 26, 2010 7:37 PM | Report abuse


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