Nichole Battle, 38, has everything: a beautiful 3-year-old daughter, an architect husband who will do the dishes, an interesting job as a project manager for a nonprofit company and a coming trip to China to complete her executive MBA program at Loyola College.
She also has a sweet tooth and 35 pounds she wants to lose by August, when she leaves for the Far East.
"I can't go over there fat," she said.
Battle is far from fat, but she doesn't always eat as healthfully as she could. And she would enjoy having more energy and being closer to the weight she was when she had time to exercise regularly.
"If I work out," she said, "I lose weight. I belong to Lynne Brick, but I'm just giving them money." With her job, family and school on the weekends, there's barely time to walk Logan the dog, let alone go to a club to exercise in the morning.
I went with Robin Spence, a registered dietitian at Union Memorial Hospital and the voice of authority in our monthly Make Over My Meal series, to meet with Battle at her downtown rowhouse. She had just gotten home after picking up her daughter, Kayla, from day care. She and her husband are renovating their three-story house, as if they didn't have enough to do.
Battle was frank about her love affair with good food. She had a specific "before" meal she wanted us to make over - a rib-eye steak cooked in butter - but she had several nutrition questions jotted down on a yellow legal pad she wanted to address first.
"I eat a lot of veggies and fruits," she said. "I just have a thing about sweets. I grew up with a baker, my grandmother."
She takes her lunch to work, but doughnuts and other treats at work can be a problem.
"Carry things like carrot sticks," Spence said, "to sort of cut it off at the pass."
In most cases, Battle eats well. She often shops at Whole Foods and Trader Joe's, buying fresh and organic foods when they are available. On the other hand, time is usually of the essence.
"What dictates shopping for me," she said, "is milk. If Kayla runs out of milk in the morning, there's hell to pay."
Her breakfast is often Eggo whole-grain waffles with fruit. Spence approved of them as a fast breakfast; but Battle also loves King Syrup, which she heats in the microwave to make it go farther. Just 1 ounce provides her with about 80 calories, which would take her roughly 10 minutes of jogging to work off.
"How can I wean myself off sweets?" she asked Spence.
Battle is convinced that she can't just have one of something. Once she gets started, she said, "I have to eat it till it's gone."
Spence had several suggestions. "You don't have to give sweets up. You just have to give up overeating."
One of the best ways to wean yourself, she said, is to let a longer time elapse between treats. "You know you can have them, but you need to set limits. The longer you can go without, the better."
She also suggested substituting some expensive, exotic fruit for chocolate so that it seems as if she's having a special treat. Not an apple. "If you go spend $1.29 on an apricot that's only available two weeks a year, it might work."
Then she presented Battle with the First Bite Theory of Eating. The first bite of anything always tastes the best, it's been argued, because of "taste fatigue."
"The idea," Spence said, "is that you don't have to keep eating because it's never going to taste as good as that first bite. So you might as well cut your losses."
When Battle didn't look convinced, the nutritionist brought out the Last Bite Theory of Eating. Whether you have one doughnut or three, there's still always the last bite. You'll still always want more. So you might as well cut your losses and stop after a reasonable amount.
Our nutritionist tried to talk Battle out of her 35-pound weight-loss goal. It would be reachable, she said, only with a "shakes-and-bars" diet. To lose that much weight by her trip in August, Battle would have to shed 2 pounds a week and stick to a 1,000-calorie-a day diet.
"You will be miserable," Spence told her, "and there's a huge likelihood of your gaining it all back with a vengeance."
Instead, Spence did the math, given Battle's height and weight, and suggested a 1,700-calorie- a-day diet, which would lead to a weight loss of 1/2 to 1 pound a week.
One of the most important strategies would be to eat only the intended portion. Battle often finished up what her daughter left, or nibbled on leftovers as she cleaned the kitchen after dinner. (Get your husband to do the cleanup, Spence said.) Battle does own a food scale, which would help make portion control accurate.
Because Battle likes vegetables, Spence told her she wouldn't have to make drastic changes. The before-and-after meals were a good example.
One of Battle's favorite dinners when she needs a treat is a rib-eye steak cooked in butter. When she has it, she serves it with pasta and a vegetable like carrots or broccoli. Dessert might be ice cream. (There was a pint of Baskin-Robbins in the freezer.)