I was 53 when I realized that my life's passion was ruining my life. What was particularly unfortunate was that my life's passion was also my job. I've been a full-time food writer since age 30, working for the past 20 years as a restaurant critic for the International Herald Tribune in Paris. I adore every aspect of food, from shopping and cooking to entertaining and dining out. I feel I have the best job in the world, in the world's best city.
Since the age of 23, my other passion has been jogging. In my 30s and 40s, running was the perfect companion to my eating job, and everything seemed to balance out just fine. But suddenly, in my 50s, it was as if my hour-long runs weren't counting at all. I tried running longer and more often, but the numbers on the scale soared and my spirits sagged. I knew I couldn't very well quit food, but would I have to quit my job?
Exasperated, I let a friend talk me into a week at the Golden Door spa, north of San Diego. I'm no spa hopper, but there was one thing about this decadent week that appealed to me: For seven days, no chef would present me with a "bonus" tasting of duck confit, a third or fourth chocolate dessert, a final sip of eau-de-vie.
At the Golden Door, I began to form habits that would soon be etched into my daily routine. Each day I had the luxury of spending hours exercising: strenuous sunrise mountain hikes, grueling workouts on every kind of machine, designed to strengthen every body part, stretch classes, back-care and posture classes, aqua aerobics, body sculpting and toning. I felt as if I were in a fitness supermarket, filling up my shopping cart.
I lost 6 1/2 pounds during that week and returned to Paris with new determination. Within two months I was feeling 35, not 53, and had lost a total of 18 pounds. Within six months I'd lost 30 pounds. My body is now firmer and more taut than it was when I was in my 30s. I, a woman of endless energy, have even more to spare.
Most of this I accomplished with nothing more complicated than jogging (30 minutes a day) and strength training (35 minutes with free weights, three times a week). Building muscle helps me be a better runner. And since muscle burns more calories than fat does, weight training helps me stay slim. (It also strengthens bones to guard against osteoporosis.)
But another part of my transformation had to do with my eating patterns. When I came home from the spa, I sat down and worked out a very livable dining regimen.
In restaurants, I eat normally, ordering the foods I crave mostfish and poultry and very little meatwhich, fortunately, are those that are best for me. Although I never count calories, I've cut back on my portion sizes, and I'm more aware of the protein-fat-carbohydrate balance in my daily diet. (I aim for roughly 15 to 20 percent protein, 15 to 20 percent fat and 60 to 65 percent carbohydrates.) And I drink wine in moderation.
There have been some awkward moments. One chef who knew me couldn't resist showing off a new dish, a creamy mussel soup. When the waiter set it down, he must have heard me sigh. His response was, "Nobody feels sorry for Patricia Wells." So I ate itjust not the whole thing! I no longer make excuses when I don't clean my plate. When the waiter asks if I didn't like it, I just smile and say, "It was delicious."
Most important, I've given up nothing I really love, and I still splurge sometimes. If I couldn't eat the occasional slab of foie gras, I simply wouldn't have made it this far.
Since my spa epiphany, I've also changed the way I eat at home. I cut as much fat from my diet as possible. I eat low-fat yogurt and cheeses, lots of raw vegetables, lean protein and whole-grain crackers. And I make sure to down at least 10 glasses of water a day. I've retooled favorite recipes and found that many taste just as good with one less tablespoon of fat. And my new recipes like three-grain soup and lemon-rosemary chicken won't tip any high-fat scales.
What I love most about these dishes is that they neither look nor taste like deprivation food. In fact, I often serve an entire meal of "spa" cuisine to my guests without saying a word, and I get raves all around.
Text and recipes by Patricia Wells, author of the forthcoming The Paris Cookbook. She's now working with her trainer on a new book called Conversations with Mike: A Recipe for a Lifetime of Fitness.