Shepherd’s Pie, With Substitutions (A Weight Loss Tale)

It’s been about a year since I started following the slow-carb diet in Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Body. Although I haven’t supplemented the diet with the drugs, workouts, or ice baths, that Ferriss talks about in the book, I’ve been diligent about the foods to avoid, and I’ve seen results: 20 lbs over a year, without adding any exercise to my routine.

It’s not magic. I lost the majority of that during the first few months, and I’ve basically just been keeping weight off for the rest of the time. Even without weight loss, though, the body re-shaping has proceeded; I’ve continued to lose inches of fat, slowly, but consistently.

At the one-year mark I decided to add in regular exercise to see what would happen (though not the workouts from the book). Having figured out how to be committed to something like a diet for a year, it has been fairly easy to commit to an exercise routine. Again, it’s not magic; more like inertia. I figured out how to forget to stop.

The hardest part hasn’t been cravings, or finding things to eat when we’re out (I’ve just gotten really, really good at cobbling meals together at restaurants); the hardest part is that I often cook two separate meals for dinner. One meal is whatever I’m going to be eating, which has at times been as simple as eggs, with spinach and a can of beans; the other meal is for Emily and the kids, and might contain interesting things like rice or potatoes. Often, I’ll cook a protein for both groups, and a vegetable side, and just substitute beans or lentils for whatever starchy, carby thing they’re going to eat. Sometimes it’s been hard to miss out on old dishes I used to eat, and I’ve been looking for substitutes. Spaghetti squash, for instance, though not a real substitute for spaghetti, can give you something to twirl on a fork with a spaghetti sauce.

I’ve also noticed that lentils can be cooked, flavoured, and mashed down to a consistency and density that isn’t too far off from mashed potatoes, so tonight I thought I would try doing a shepherd’s pie with a mashed lentil substitution. I’ve been wondering for a while if this could work.

I cooked potatoes for Emily and the kids, and lentils for me (in a chicken stock, with butter) and then browned some onions, and cooked some carrots, celery, ground turkey, and peas together in a single pot. I layered the turkey mix in two separate casserole dishes, then mashed the potatoes and lentils. The lentils needed a little more chicken stock added after cooking to make the mash really effective (and some salt and pepper to taste), but in the end the lentil layer worked great.


I covered the casseroles with foil, then baked them in the oven at 350 for about twenty minutes. The lentils even bound together, and to the turkey mixture, in the same way the potatoes did. I was very, very pleased with the result.

(Okay, so it’s not shepherd’s pie. In fact, as soon as I didn’t use lamb it wasn’t going to be shepherd’s pie. I don’t know what a person who raises turkeys is called, but it was a slow-carb version of a That-Person Pie.)

I have no reason to stop eating the way I do (a recent physical basically said I was fine, though I should exercise more, which I’m doing), and I have a new experiment going on (the exercise routines), and I’d like to see where it all ends up. Maybe someday I’ll fit into the suit I wore to my high school graduation.

Shawn's High School Graduation

(This picture makes me laugh, because clearly I ate that guy. And he was all ears and Adam’s apple.)

Strange Side Effects of the Slow Carb, 4-Hour Body Diet

So, I’ve been doing this thing, this program, this diet, this idea, this whatever for a month and some change. Over the course of that time, I’ve lost 13 pounds, and including the ten weeks I was just adding protein shakes in the morning, I’ve lost 18 pounds. That’s great. That’s what I was hoping would happen.

But I’ve also had two unexpected things happen. First, I never nap anymore. I used to want to take naps all the time. I don’t know why I don’t nap anymore, beyond just not feeling tired. Maybe a steady diet of eggs, spinach, beans, and chicken just doesn’t turn your body into a hibernator. I noticed today (it’s Cheat Day) that I DO want to nap. Oh god, I’ve wanted to nap all day. More flour and sugar makes me sleepy? Maybe.

Second, I don’t have dandruff anymore. (Hi there. I used to be a flaky mess.) This was totally out of the blue, Selson or otherwise. I don’t want to claim that the Slow Carb Diet is a dandruff cure, but hell, I think the Slow Carb Diet might be a dandruff cure.

That’s kind of amazing. It makes me want to go get a haircut, just so I can sit there and not have the stylist try to sell me a special shampoo. That was a pretty regular, and mortifying, thing. But apart from buying those special shampoos, what else was there to do? I don’t know.

Maybe spinach held my answer all along. Or maybe it’s the eggs. Or the lack of flour or sugar. I don’t know. It’s not like I’d ever really even looked into why I might have that problem. But this is a crazy random happenstance, and I have to attribute it to something that’s changed, and the only thing I can think of that changed was what I’m eating.

I’m fearlessly wearing a black t-shirt right now.

Peanut Butter in the Fridge: How I Lost 10 lbs Last Month Without Exercise

*Begin Troy McClure Voice*

Hi, I’m Backpacking Dad. You may remember me from such Twitter rants as “We Are Yelling About Soap!”, “We Are Yelling About Ham!”, and “People Who Keep Peanut Butter in the Fridge Are the Devil!”

*End Troy McClure Voice*

I spent my late 20’s putting on weight. I topped out, I think, at 245 lbs in early 2007, just before Erin was born. Being skinny as a kid, and all through high school (Thank you, smoking…), it bothered me a lot to see what I’d grown into. So, when Erin was born I decided I was going to get skinny again.

I had no idea how to go about it, but I went with the “Eat nothing; exercise constantly” method. I had a couple of pieces of fruit for breakfast, some raw beans for lunch, and something for dinner that would keep my total caloric intake for the day around 1000 kcal. Then I biked everywhere. I went on two- and three-hour long bike rides every few days.

Did it work? Well, of course it worked. I dropped 10 lbs every month for three months as I kept up this pretty consistent starve-pedal model. I started in June of 2007, and by Halloween I was 199 lbs. I saw the other side of 200 for the first time since my wedding. I was happy. I was starving, but I was happy.

A bruised heel acquired through bad shoes, fencing, and walking everywhere for a few weeks during the fall ended my obsessive exercising. And, as effective as the Zero-Food diet was, I couldn’t keep it up indefinitely. I started gaining weight again about six months after I’d started losing it.

It crept back up slowly, and I tried to fend it off with gym memberships, the milk-salad diet, skipping two meals a day, eating earlier, eating later. None of it worked to really lose anything, and I kept gaining. Between January 2008 and January 2011 I went from 205 lbs to 240 lbs. In June 2011, four years after I’d resolved to drop the weight, I was 242 lbs.

That was depressing.

I decided to try again, and to try something like the opposite approach to the one that worked really well, really quickly, really briefly last time: I was going to do everything very, very slowly.

I heard Tim Ferris, author of The 4-Hour Body, on The Nerdist in early June as I was catching up to that podcast. Although I’d heard of the book, I mostly wrote it off as another fad diet. And maybe it is. But one thing Ferris said in the interview that stuck with me was that something as simple as having 30 g of protein in the morning, preferably within 30 minutes of waking up, could have an effect on weight, no matter what else your diet consisted of.

I tried it. Starting in June, I had a protein shake every morning, within 30 minutes of waking up, and ate whatever the hell I wanted for the rest of the day. I told myself that I would do this for 10 weeks, with no other difference in my life, and if I could do that, and it worked, then I’d buy Tim’s book and find out what else he had to say.

Over the next ten weeks I wobbled all over the scale, in part because of summer trips and rich vacation foods, but by the end of the 10 weeks I was down 5 lbs. I wasn’t eating any less (in fact, I had been eating a lot more over the summer), but I’d lost a little weight.

So in early September I bought The 4-Hour Body and read the weight loss sections of the book (there are other parts of Ferris’ total life philosophy in there, but I skipped them), then started on his slow-carb (not no-carb), cheat day, no fruit, no dairy diet.

I bought a counter-top griddle, and every morning I’ve had an omelet or three egss. I buy the big box of baby spinach at the grocery store, and add spinach to the omelets. I buy lots of beans. I make grilled chicken, steak, roast pork…I’ve had to come up with some creative ways to get through lunch, since it’s the least prepared meal in my repertoire, but I’ve been consistent: protein, some kind of vegetable, some kind of legume.

No sugar.

One tip Tim has is, if you are hungry late at night, instead of snacking on something terrible like chips or crackers, get used to just having a tablespoon of almond butter. I don’t like almond butter, so I substituted peanut butter for that. But when I bought the giant jar of Jif and opened it to take a spoonful, I noticed that it actually had added sugar. All peanut butter has sugar, I guess, but the organic, peanuts-and-salt-only stuff doesn’t have any added. I had to go buy a jar of organic peanut butter.

And then I had to stick it in the fridge. Now I’m peanut-butter-in-the-fridge guy. Dammit.

But, I’m also this, after a month of this diet:


I’m down 10 lbs in one month, with no exercise at all except for some squats and inclined chest presses on Cheat Day (Cheat Day is also the most awesome thing I’ve ever seen). And I’m never, ever hungry.

I don’t know what will happen if I look down in three or four months and I see that I’m back down to 199. Will I stop? Will I consider the diet a success, but a tool, and go back to eating like everybody else does? I don’t know.

I do know this: I’m going to give the diet part of this program ten weeks, just like I did the protein shake part. After ten weeks, I’ll add in the limited exercise Ferris talks about in his book, and I’ll just see what happens. This is a long, slow, process, and I’m okay with that.

Let’s see what happens.

(Editor’s Note: This post is not sponsored. I left out links to the book on purpose because I didn’t want it to look like I was shilling. Buy the book, or don’t; I’m not selling it, or the diet here. I just wanted to brag for a minute.)