New Year’s Day

2 Jan

Another January and another detox.

Another vow to eat clean and live well.

We buy into the New Year, new you stuff. Who doesn’t like to play spa and health nut?

We read this article years ago and it never fails to motivate:

No booze, no fish and chips from the Globe cafeteria, no cookies on deadline. Oh, and two litres of water a day.

“As a trainer, I can ease you into it. You’re not going on a diet,” she says. “I’m going to change the way you eat. You’ll be eating clean.”

The Globe And Mail
Sat May 25 2002
Byline: Tralee Pearce

It has long been my theory that I could have a bod like Jennifer Aniston if I had her Hollywood salary. You can keep the Malibu mansion and wardrobe to die for. Hell, you can keep Brad Pitt. My first indulgence would be a full-time food coach.

Imagine never carelessly eating four pieces of morning toast with too much butter. Never munching straight out of the fridge. Always having a tasty, virtuous option at your fingertips. That’s the life for me.

The stars have learned that food is a powerful myth-building tool. When we hear about their personal fortitude, their strict no-sugar, high-protein dedication, we are overcome with admiration. But unlike you and me, the stars have more than will power at their disposal. Most, like Oprah Winfrey and Kate Winslet, have the resources to employ the latest version of the personal chef — a food coach.

In the past few issues of the new maintenance-obsessed US Weekly, I’ve learned that Gwyneth Paltrow has had macrobiotic chef Nadine Barner prepare her dairy-free, grain-based meals for the past two years. Denise Richards (Charlie Sheen’s latest squeeze) brings her Zone-trademarked meals with her to magazine shoots. Ever wonder why Madonna and other stars who presumably don’t need to carry a wallet, makeup or anything lug around monster Hermès Birkin bags? It’s their lunch in there, man.

Lucky for us mere mortals, the food-coach concept is beginning to trickle down, giving other mass diet plans a run for their money. When I heard about Toronto personal trainer Kathy Magilton’s Sweet Potato Catering, I could’t wait to treat myself. Magilton began the food side of her business on a small scale three years ago, when she worked at the Boulevard Club as a fitness instructor. Friends and clients were clamouring for help beyond her suggestions for healthy meals and snacks. Now that she’s a certified personal trainer, the demand for healthy meals-to-go has grown.

“People are so busy these days, they want to eat healthy, but they don’t have the time,” says Magilton, who takes orders every Wednesday for Sunday- evening delivery. “It’s not just for movie stars any more.”

We meet at my house to plan. Magilton is a slender brunette with possibly the shiniest hair and clearest skin I have ever seen. This bodes well. I worry that she’s going to rifle through my cupboards and start shaking a finger at me. But she stays on the couch and cheerfully quizzes me about my health. She’s up- front about not being a nutritionist and if I had been hypoglycemic, for instance, would have suggested I consult one.

She tailors a Monday-to-Friday program for me to lose a few pounds, based on a good mix of protein, carbs and fat. And she suggests at least two sugar-free days, which shouldn’t be too hard, considering most of her recipes are sugar- free.

Aside from a few snack foods that she asks me to buy, I will be eating only what my superchef makes for me. No booze, no fish and chips from the Globe cafeteria, no cookies on deadline. Oh, and two litres of water a day.

“As a trainer, I can ease you into it. You’re not going on a diet,” she says. “I’m going to change the way you eat. You’ll be eating clean.”

Looking at her Sweet Potato menu, I already feel healthier. I like the sound of vegetarian chili, chickpea curry and . . . lasagna. Lasagna?

“Yup. It’s made with tofu and low-fat cheese and whole-wheat pasta.”

I ask Magilton what to do about a French restaurant reservation I have the next evening. The only thing that’s low-fat on Brasserie Aix’s menu is the ink.

“Just be careful,” she warns gently. “Don’t eat too much bread. Order something as lean as you can. No dessert. Restrict your drinking.”

A few glasses of red wine, a generous serving of magret de canard and creamy mashed potatoes, and a taste (okay, half) of my friend’s crème brûlée later, I’m ready for food rehab. I can’t do this alone.

Sunday evening, Magilton appears at my door, picnic cooler at her hip. She measures my week out in blue-lidded Ziploc containers: low-fat muffins, fruit salads, bean salads, three kinds of soup, eggplant rolls, curried cauliflower, ratatouille.

The bill? $123. How many times have I spent that on a fridge full of groceries, only to have the neglected veggies wilt and my Sunday soup go uneaten after Tuesday, and then spent $50 more on take-out Chinese and pizza?

I gaze at my fridge full of healthy towers and a spreadsheet detailing when I’m to eat every last morsel. I have outsourced my eating habits. Magilton has done the math. I want to taste it all, but I am instantly aware of behaving myself. It’s as if Magilton dropped off a food conscience too.

Monday morning, I’m psyched for breakfast. Unlike other diets I’ve been on, in which forbidden foods taunt me as I eat my umpteenth can of water-packed tuna, this diet celebrates variety, amplified by the factor of surprise. Instead of dry toast, I get a low-fat banana muffin with peanut butter. And my fruit salad — I only have three days worth, since it won’t keep well — makes me feel like I’m at a beach resort, finally able to relax and eat properly. It’s so good I feel compelled to share, offering my boyfriend his own square container, vowing to make my own in two days. I even give him some of the orange-yogurt sauce.

“I don’t think I can eat it all,” he confesses after digging in. This reflects a tenet of Magilton’s: Fill up on the good stuff. You can eat more than you think you can.

As I haul my four containers, plus snacks and fruit to the office with me, I feel like a construction worker heading out for a double shift. Lunch is spicy chili and moist cornbread. The snack is a handful of almonds, fruit and a small piece of cheese. This is not an auspicious day to begin, however, because at 6 p.m. I have a reception to attend. Do I eat first or wait? I’m not hungry, so I lug my dinner to the art gallery where the reception is being held. By the time I get home at 9, I am ravenous, since I have managed to resist the canapés and wine. I pop my mushroom soup in the microwave and inhale my bean salad at the counter while I wait. With my coat still on. Inelegant, yes, but I made it through my first day.

The rest of the week unfolds smoothly. I feel low on my sugar-free days, I think because I hate coffee without sugar and my body’s dying for caffeine. But those little Ziploc containers, symbols of my commitment, inspire me to forge ahead.

Some of the dishes are austere and clearly good for me. The curried cauliflower, for example, would be much greasier and gooier at an Indian restaurant. This is not the point. It is a reasonable facsimile of the dish. And I am allowed to eat it.

Wednesday morning, I try to replicate the fruit salad, proud of my half-hour of labour and intense mess. My boyfriend is convinced mine can’t be as good as Magilton’s. “Will it have strawberries? Cantaloupe? Pineapple?” When he’s sure it’s got everything, he asks, “But will we eat it from the same containers?”

He has a point. Part of the appeal of eating custom-made food is that portion control baffles me. The containers are reassuring.

I save my hefty piece of lasagna for Thursday. Since one of Magilton’s goals is to shift my eating patterns, she urges me to prepare for stress triggers, and Thursday, my busiest day at work, is a doozie. I make sure to bring lots of snacks as well as my lunch and dinner. The lasagna is gloppy, messy and divine, and so filling that at the end of the day, I still have my dinner to take home (which will delight the diet spectator, who has been eyeing my stash all week). But before I do, I have my one allowed treat, a glass of wine with co-workers.

The next day, I head to the cafeteria for a bottle of water. “Have you been on holiday? I haven’t seen you all week,” the chipper cashier asks. God, I’m the office caf-pig, I think, as I turn beet red. I bet they have a pool going on how much I can horf daily. A chocolate bar and a bag of chips in the same day!

I resist weighing myself, because I have felt full all week, and I did have that glass of wine. But on Saturday morning, I take the big step. Six pounds gone. My pants feel looser. Even if it’s 50-per-cent water loss, that’s still three pounds. I start doing the math: At $123 a week, if keep my diet coach for a year, that’s $6,396. Egads.

I don’t think I’ll hurt Magilton’s business when I say that I’ve amended my celeb envy. Thanks to her, I have learned a few tricks of the low-fat, low- sugar trade. (My previous efforts at cooking a week’s worth of meals began and ended with a large pot of chili and a batch of muffins bashed together on a Sunday afternoon.) If I feel I’m slipping, I’ll book another week. If I have a tough work schedule ahead, I’ll order five lunches.

Even if I haven’t ordered a bite, Magilton still offers gentle e-mail encouragement. When she drops by the next week with my small order — the minimum is $40 — she glances at a low-fat muffin recipe I’m about to make, offering tips on making it even lower in fat.

For me, getting in touch with my inner Jennifer was like taking a vacation from myself. I didn’t have to think about what to eat, or decide which convenience food is the lesser evil.

But until my budget allows, I’m content knowing I’ve learned a few new habits. And I have my food coach on speed dial ready to pull me back from the brink.

Now, all I need is a Birkin bag to lug all that food around.

Kathy Magilton’s secrets


1 tablespoon olive oil

1 onion, diced

3 stalks celery, diced

2 large carrots, diced

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 package texturized soy protein, crumbled

1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes

1 19-ounce can mixed beans

1 19-ounce can lentils

1 12-ounce can corn

1 14-ounce can sliced mushrooms

1 tablespoon each dried cumin and coriander

Chili powder and cayenne to taste

Heat oil in large pot, sauté onion, celery and carrots until soft. Add garlic and sauté 2 minutes more. Add crumbled texturized soy protein, sauté 1 more minute. Add canned vegetables and beans. Simmer for 30 minutes. Add spices and simmer 15 more minutes. 6 servings


4 sheets thawed phyllo pastry


½ package

low-fat extra-firm tofu, shredded

1 carrot, shredded

1 large zucchini, shredded

150 grams low-fat cheddar cheese, shredded

½ bunch fresh baby spinach, washed, dried and chopped

1 teaspoon each dried coriander, sea salt, celery seed

1 tablespoon butter, melted

Sesame seeds

Combine tofu, carrot, zucchini, cheese, spinach and seasonings.

Stack 4 sheets of phyllo and cut into 6 even squares. Spoon 2 to 3 tablespoons filling into each square. Fold corner to corner and turn over end flaps, sealing with a dab of water.

Place bundleson non-stick or lightly sprayed baking sheet. Using a pastry brush, brush on melted butter and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake at 425 for 25 minutes. Makes 2 servings of 3 bundles each.


1 cup vegetable stock

2 cups water

2 large or 3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed

Pinch of tumeric and sea salt (optional)

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

1 teaspoon olive oil

¼ cup evaporated skim milk

Bring water, stock and sweet potatoes to a boil, add turmeric and sea salt if needed. Boil until sweet potatoes are soft. Cool. Purée soup. Stir in evaporated skim milk. Sauté thinly sliced onions in olive oil until crisp. Sprinkle on top of each serving of soup. Serves 3 to 4.

A day in the life of a dieter

The following is a typical day’s menu provided by Sweet Potato Catering. The items marked with an asterisk are pre-prepared and delivered.


Low-fat banana muffin with 1 teaspoon natural peanut butter*

Fruit salad with orange-yogurt sauce*

1 cup of coffee or tea

2 glasses water


¼ cup cottage cheese with chopped tomatoes and cucumbers

2 glasses of water


Sweet potato bisque*

Bean salad*

2 glasses of water


Hard-boiled egg

Veggies with hummus

2 glasses of water


Tofu lasagna*

Green salad

2 glasses of water


1 piece of fruit

1 teaspoon natural peanut or almond butter

1 glass of water


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