Saturday, December 18, 2010

New Year’s resolutions and the Lennard diet.

With the holiday season rapidly approaching, I thought I would talk to you about New Year's resolutions.

Last year in December, I got somewhat annoyed by some colleagues who were whining about their New Year’s resolutions and how they were so not looking forward at all to their umpteenth attempt to lose weight, drink less or save more money in the bank. This led me to observe that the reason that most people fail in realising their resolutions is because they always pick stuff like giving up smoking or drinking while they don’t want to, losing an unrealistic amount of weight or no longer eating candy or fatty food things they like.

In general, they pick things that make you feel miserable.

Being the editor of the department newsletter, I instantly smelled an interesting story in their misery and decided to draft an article about the most original New Year’s resolutions in our department. As you might have guessed, the bulk load of the replies I received involved giving up eating, drinking or pleasure altogether. I did however receive 3 interesting and original ideas that I deemed worthy of publication.

The first one that was both original and (probably) manageable, came from one of my Italian colleagues. He stated that the parents of his Japanese girlfriend had invited him over to Japan, in order to meet him and show him their beautiful country. As a result of this, and because he wanted to be polite, he had decided to learn how to speak Japanese, or at least get the basics down so he could say things like ‘Thank you’, ‘enjoy your meal’ and express other basic pleasantries. I often saw him walking around the office with a Japanese phrase book under his arm during his breaks or watched him mimic Japanese phrases that he was listening to on his iPod. Unfortunately, he left the company in June, before he went to Japan and before he could confidently report on the progress of his resolution. I guess we’ll never hear the end of that story, because besides leaving the company, he also left Ireland and moved to France.

The second New Year’s resolution was even more original and, in fact, was so original that I had never heard anyone come up with it before. This colleague of mine, a German girl, was pretty annoyed by the fact that water in Ireland is free. That’s right, you can leave your tap running 24 hours a day here on the Emerald Isle and it will not cost you a penny. This colleague stated that it was stupid that people here in the rich west would get free water while people in poor countries in Asia and Africa more often than not don’t have any drinking water at all. She therefore decided that she would set an amount she used to pay every month for her water bill in Germany and donate that to a charity that specialises in building wells in Africa in order to provide people with clean drinking water. She kept her promise and donated money to her chosen charity every month until she, too, left the company and moved back to Germany and her waterbills in October. A very original resolution for sure.

The third and final person whose New Year’s resolutions I published, was me. Not because I thought that I was so much more original than the others (though I was) but because apart from the two above, mine was the only one that did not involve quiting, giving up or cutting down on the pleasures of life. My first resolution was to visit 5 countries I had never visited before. I had an awesome time pursueing this resolution and even though I only got to 4 new countries, I am not sorry for failing this one. I had an awesome year when it comes to travelling and, in case you were taking notes, my new countries were Slovakia, Austria, Hong Kong and Australia. I will take this year’s fifth country over to next year.

My second resolution, as you might have guessed, involved my favorite pub, The Woolshed. I eat there 3 or 4 times a week. Not because I am too lazy to cook, but because I am there around diner time anyway from Friday to Monday, I really like the food and, well, with the prices of groceries here in Dublin being as high as they are, eating in a pub is only 1 or 2 euros more expensive than cooking your own food. Somewhere around Christmas, one of the bar staff joked that I had probably eaten every pizza on the menu. This stuck in my mind and I came up with the idea of eating everything on the menu over the next year. Now this may not sound like a very daunting task if you’re thinking of your average pub menu, but let me walk you through the Woolshed menu.

The Woolshed menu contains 54 items. I won’t bore you with a complete listing of everything on it, but there are 10 different pizzas, 12 items listed as ‘starters/snacks/beerfood’ (among these are chicken wings, sausages, spring rolls, chicken goujons and fries) 4 different snack platters (that, as you may have guessed, mainly consist of increasingly bigger combinations of the aforementioned snacks and beerfood) 9 sandwiches (including wraps), 7 main courses, a bunch of different hamburgers, some assorted ‘others’, 4 deserts and 3 salads.

If you take the 54 items on the menu and divide that by, say, 3 times a week that I eat there, you would assume that I would have finished my project somewhere in May. Ofcourse, it was never that easy. Some things I like so much that I have eaten them many times(pizzas come to mind). Other items were less likely to get picked on a regular basis (salads for example).If I had simply worked down the menu from item 1 to item 54, I would have encountered big dishes at points where I was not very hungry and small dishes at times that I felt that I could eat a cow and then some. So I had to pick my way through the menu, picking dishes I felt like eating at the time, while keeping an eye on the menu to ensure progress throughout the year and to make sure that I did not finish off certain categories while other categories were left untouched. To that end, I printed out the menu and put it on the wall above my desk in my bedroom. Another issue that I had to guard, was that certain items are simply to big to eat on your own. I would have to organise friends to help me eat them in order to mark them off the list. The nachos platter for example, is too big to eat on your own. And even though the menu states that the Chili nachos platter feeds 1-2 people, you can easily feed 3 adults with it. Fortunately, my sister and brother in law dropped by for my birthday and I was able to convince them to order the chili nachos to share, which was not too difficult because my sister loves those nachos. The Big Platter posed the biggest challenge. Marked on the menu as being enough for 3-5 people, this is the biggest dish on the menu and I knew I had to organise well to get this monster pile of fried food out of the way. I was thinking of a reason to invite people and celebrate something, so I could order the item and mark it off the list. As it turned out, it did not take any organising at all. On a random Saturday in early summer, I found myself surrounded by 4 friends (coincidentally all the people I had planned to invite for eating this) who were all hungry but could not quite decide on what to order. A Wile E. Coyote-style lightbulb appeared above my head and I suggested we order the Big Platter so that we would all have enough to eat without anyone having to decide on a particular dish. My plan was happily accepted by all and so I got to mark the dish I had expected to be the biggest problem in the project off the list without any effort.

As summer progressed and the World Cup started, my visits increased (though some people will say that that was not really possible) and I found myself going steadily through the menu. But during the World Cup, I found myself faced with a sub-challenge emerging on the side. Because of the World Cup festivities, special theme food that was not on the menu was sold during the matches. For a second I thought about ignoring the theme food and focussing on the regular menu, but quickly discarded this idea and went for the special items too. So apart from working through the 54 item regular menu, I also worked my way through Argentinian meat pasties, Danish Hotdogs, a Brazilian snack that sort of looked like a Scotch egg but tasted completely different and 2 or 3 other items which I don’t really remember at the moment. Oh yeah, I also ate an off-the-menu chili dog on Superbowl night and a really nice chicken curry that was not on the menu but available for a couple of weeks after me and another regular had suggested they put curry on the menu. After the World Cup finished on July 11, I went back to my day to day business and the regular menu. I had by then decided that I wanted to be finished before I went to Australia. With the arrival of September, and only 2 weeks to go until my trip to Australia, I stepped up a gear and had dinner at the Woolshed 5 days a week. With 1 week to go, I decided to go for a final push and finish the project. I had already decided to ‘save’ a pizza until the end so that it would be the last item I marked off the list. On Friday 10 September, I came up with the plan to get rid of all deserts in one go, and instead of a normal dinner, I ordered all deserts and asked for them to be served on 1 big plate. This led to jealous peaks from onlookers (mainly women, I must add) and one cheery ‘You pig’ from a laughing Kiwi bartender.

So there I was, standing at the bar, on Saturday 11 September, with my final menu item on a plate in front of me. I had ordered a Margarita pizza with Parma ham and mushrooms to finish off the project. When I took the final bite of the final slice of pizza, I felt both proud of my achievement of finishing this marathon food project and somewhat weird because there was now, literally, nothing left for me to eat. I ate it all. My declaration that I had done it, and eaten everything on the menu, got me some applause from assorted regulars and some quizzical looks from passers by, but I could now set off for Australia knowing that even if the menu was changed during my absence, the project was safely done and dusted.

I still eat at The Woolshed 3 or 4 times a week and will probably continue to do so for the foreseeable future. And even though it may not mean much to anyone, I am still quite proud of the achievement.

So to round off this story, we come full circle to the start where I was discussing people trying to lose weight. Loads of people try to lose weight by either starving themselves or by subjecting themselves to ridiculous exercise programmes that, deep down, they know they won’t be able to keep up with. As a result of not being able to achieve the projected weight loss or failing to put in many hours of excercise, people get demotivated and the New Years resolution collapses like a house of cards. Your mission is a failure, please try again next year.

The funny thing is, that there is a much easier way. To my surprise, over the last 18 months, I have lost a whopping 29 pounds in weight. Mind you, this was a year and a half in which my diet consisted mainly of things like chicken wings, pizza, hamburgers and other things generally considered to be fattening or unhealthy. On top of that, I washed it all down with about 30 pints of lager a week.

In those 18 months, not once did I feel over-excercised, miserable or demotivated because I could not meet my goals. The secret is that if you don’t have any goals, you can not fail to meet them either. Just check your weight once every 2 or 3 months and be happy with any weight you may have lost.

Interested? Here is what you do in 6 easy steps. I have called it The Lennard Diet ©

- Eat whatever you want and feel like, and eat it whenever you want it.

- Drink whatever you want, but be careful with sugarry soft drinks

- Go to the gym once or twice a week and exercise for about an hour or 75 minutes

- Check your weight once every 2 or 3 months. Weighing yourself every day or week is useless and only works demotivating.

- If you are going somewhere that is less than a 20 minute walk- WALK! You’ll be amazed how much additional exercise you get if you walk to the off license or convenience store down the street rather than taking the car to pick up a bottle of wine or a pack of cigarettes.

- Enjoy life

And with that, I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.



(Note from the editor: uploading pictures is not working at the moment, sorry about that)

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