It’s been a rocky couple of weeks for The Dude Diet. I’m sad to report that sandwich consumption has been high, Dominos has been ordered, and I don’t like to think about the multiple extravaganzas that have taken place at 16 Handles (aka frozen yogurt Mecca) in the past few days. At least the Dude has been exercising regularly.
As disappointing as his recent diet choices have been, I would generally dismiss these indulgences as typical of Logan’s “vacation eating.” However, Logan’s eating has taken on a new breed of intensity of late, which has given me cause for concern. In short, his desire to eat carbs and sugar seems to be at an unnatural high. Between making s’mores on the stovetop in Maine, eating spaghetti Bolognese as a snack, and talking about pizza a disturbing amount (even for him), I began to think that Logan was dealing with some serious cravings that were spiraling out of control.
My suspicions were confirmed last week when, out of the blue, Logan asked me if I thought it was possible to “be hypnotized not to think about food so much.” I told him that, yes, it probably was possible, and asked him what had sparked such an interesting question. Logan responded that he “just can’t stop thinking about food.” He then went on to explain that he wasn’t thinking about all food, “mostly just pizza and meatloaf sandwiches and stuff.” Good to know.
The problem is that Logan isn’t just “thinking about” these unhealthy foods, he’s actually eating them. Because he “needs them.” When stuck in traffic last Sunday, Logan, who was anxious to get home and eat pizza, asked if I thought that Dominos would deliver straight to our car on the highway. The desperation was palpable. When I gently suggested ordering something healthier for dinner, Logan shrieked, “I haven’t had pizza in years!” (In order to respect his feelings, I did not mention the fact that I saw him eating a random slice of pizza a mere two days before.)
Logan’s cravings are no joke. When he craves something, I believe that he actually feels that he must have it. No matter what. However, I can’t stand by idly and let these cravings destroy all of my his hard work and Dude Diet progress. Plus, Logan isn’t the only dude suffering from unhealthy cravings. Based on my observations and the success of Dominos, carbohydrate cravings appear to be an epidemic among the dude community. This is a serious problem that needs to be dealt with immediately if The Dude Diet has any hope of survival.
Dudes, there are several issues associated with refined carbohydrates (aka sugar, white flour, white rice, and any form of modified starch). First and foremost, refined carbs make you fat. I have told you this many times. In fact, one of the Dude Diet’s most important tenets is, “If it’s white think twice.” Eating refined carbs increases your blood sugar, which causes your body to produce more insulin to bring your blood sugar down. In case you didn’t know, insulin is a fat storage hormone, dudes. With higher levels of insulin in your bloodstream, your body converts carbs into fat and stores them as such. In simple terms: deep dish pizza→insulin spike→man boobs.
As you may have experienced, eating large quantities of sugar or other refined carbs gives you an awesome burst of energy. However, this energy is short-lived and the sudden blood sugar spike is hard on your wonderland body. You are guaranteed to crash within a few short hours of eating your refined carb of choice, which has potentially embarrassing and unattractive consequences, such as unintentional dirt naps, decreased ability to control your appetite, and mood swings.
Eating refined carbs ultimately increases your cravings for them, and this vicious and dangerous cycle can have much scarier consequences than man boobs in the long run. Studies show that regularly consuming large quantities of refined carbs can lead to insulin resistance, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, obesity, depression and Alzheimer’s. Not to be an alarmist, but if you don’t stop bingeing on refined carbs and sugar, you could actually die.
For the record, dudes, you can get your carb cravings under control. Obviously, I’m here to help. In order to tackle your burning desire for bread, sugar and pizza dough, you must first understand the potential physical and mental causes of your cravings and how to deal with them. Please review the helpful list below.
What causes your carbohydrate cravings and how to deal with them:
Cause: Carbohydrates release seratonin and endorphins that calm us down and make us happy. You want to feel happy, so you crave carbs.
Fix: Carbohydrates come in non-refined forms that will release the same amounts of “happy” brain chemicals without all the nasty side-effects. Next time you get a sugar craving, please eat a piece of fruit. Or try a whole grain piece of bread with some nut butter. Also, instead of looking to food to make you happy, try distracting yourself with other things that you enjoy, like exercise or watching golf. (Watching golf makes Logan freakishly happy.)
Cause: You may have an imbalance of “bowel flora.” I don’t want to get into the nitty gritty of your potential digestive issues, but yeast overgrowth in the body could be responsible for your carb cravings.
Fix: A good probiotic should help balance the aforementioned flora.
Cause: You’re eating too much salt. You’re body naturally craves sugar to balance it out.
Fix: STOP EATING SO MUCH SALT. I’ve warned you about your sodium intake, dudes. Not only will eating less salt decrease your sugar cravings, you will also retain less water. It’s quite surprising how quickly you’ll stop looking like an oompa loompa when you decrease the amount of sodium in your diet.
Cause: You’re stressed. When you are fatigued, depressed, or under chronic stress, your body craves quick sources of energy.
Fix: Relax. Do activities that calm you. Reach out to a friend, family member or roommate for support. (It takes a village, dudes.) Do not call Dominos. They can’t help you.
Cause: You are literally a sugar “addict.” Some studies have shown that a diet high in refined sugar stimulates the dopamine pathway, which is the pleasure-sensing area of the brain. Over time, the brain will crave more of the things that light up that pathway (in Logan’s case: Pizza! Candy! Italian subs!). Overeating becomes a learned behavior that is incredibly difficult to break.
Fix: This isn’t an easy fix, dudes. You’re going to have to start cutting refined sugar out of your diet. You could go cold turkey, but you may want to wean yourself for safety reasons. It will be unpleasant (withdrawal always is), but in as little to 48-72 hours, your cravings will be noticeably less intense as your blood sugar levels balance out. Please warn your loved ones.
Cause: You like the taste of sugar. You really like it. Always have, always will. You crave it because it’s delicious and that is that.
Fix: Stop being an idiot. We all like sugar. And pizza. But you can’t live exclusively on refined carbs. This is a fact. (Did you not read the paragraph where I said that eating too much sugar could kill you?)
Sadly, I fear that Logan’s cravings are a result of all of the aforementioned causes. He likes to feel happy, his digestive health is questionable, he eats way too much sodium, he’s been stressed about moving and starting a new job, and at this point, he’s definitely a full-blown sugar addict. It may take a while to implement the “fixes” discussed above, so the sooner we get to work the better. I’ve been brainstorming meals that would fulfill Logan’s cravings in a healthy way, while slowly weaning him off of refined carbs, and I figured that Skinny Chicken Parm Burgers with Grilled Vegetables would be a good place to start.
I can’t say enough amazing things about these burgers. Considering the epic nature of these bad boys, the fact that they’re wonderland-body friendly is pretty mind-blowing, Skinny Chicken Parm burgers are guaranteed to fulfill your carb cravings and chicken parm fantasies without padding your waistline or spiking your blood sugar. Based on this feat, I’m practically a wizard.
Let’s talk chicken burgers, dudes. The minced chicken breast patties are packed with diced red bell peppers, garlic, oregano, and grated Parmesan cheese to give you the all the Italian flava you crave. Unlike most poultry burgers, they don’t contain mass quantities of breadcrumbs (you definitely don’t need those unnecessary calories and carbs), and they are still incredibly juicy thanks to the diced bell peppers, which magically release their juice into the meat keeping it deliciously moist. Cooked in the smallest splash of olive oil, these chicken burgers are low in fat and calories and packed with protein. Dude Diet trifecta.
These burgers then get slathered in a hearty fire roasted tomato sauce and topped with melted low-fat mozzarella cheese. Please sacrifice the approximately 7 minutes that it will take you to make the tomato sauce. It’s much lower in sodium and sugar than your average store-bought marinara sauce, and it’s totally worth it for the sweet and smoky flavor. Do it, dudes.
I also snuck more than a full serving of vegetables in there because God knows you all need the vitamins and anti-oxidants. Plus, grilled eggplant, zucchini and squash add unbeatable texture and heartiness to these chicken parm burgers. Trust me, you’ll dig it.
I made my chicken parm burgers on organic whole-wheat burger buns because feeding them to Logan without a bun seemed unnecessarily harsh. Whole wheat buns have significantly less sugar and more fiber than your average white bun or sub roll, but you could definitely go bun-less if you’re further along in controlling your carb cravings.
Dudes, please stay calm when you see the length of the ingredient list for this recipe. You most likely have many of the ingredients in your kitchen, and with a little bit of organization, these burgers are shockingly simple to execute. You should know by now that I would never give you a recipe that wasn’t 100% idiot-proof because I want you to succeed. (I also dislike complaints.) Go forth and conquer your cravings, dudes. I believe in you.
Skinny Chicken Parm Burgers with Grilled Vegetables: (Serves 4)
For the vegetables:
½ large zucchini, sliced into ½ inch planks
1 small (or ½ large) summer squash, sliced into ½ inch planks
½ eggplant, sliced into ¾-inch rounds
2 tablespoons olive oil
For the fire roasted tomato sauce: (Yes, you may use store bought marinara sauce if you must.)
1 teaspoon olive oil
3 tablespoons minced yellow onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 14.5-ounce can diced fire roasted tomatoes (I like Muir Glen)
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon dried oregano
1/8 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
For the chicken burgers:
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/3 cup finely diced red bell pepper (about half a medium pepper)
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon dried oregano
Fresh ground pepper to taste
1½ tablespoon olive oil
4 whole wheat or multigrain burger buns
4 oz fresh part-skim mozzarella, sliced into 4 rounds (Yes, you can also use shredded mozzarella)
Preparing your Skinny Chicken Parm Burgers with Spinach and Grilled Vegetables:
-Start by grilling your vegetables. In a large bowl, toss your sliced zucchini, squash, and eggplant with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Place your vegetables on a grill or grill pan over medium heat. Cook the zucchini and summer squash for about 4 minutes on each side or until tender. The eggplant rounds will need a little extra love. Grill them for about 8 minutes on each side. Place the grilled vegetables on a plate and set aside until ready to use.
-Moving on to the fire roasted tomato sauce. Heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in a medium saucepan. When hot, add the onions and garlic. Saute for 2-3 minutes until the onions soften and the garlic becomes fragrant.
-Now it’s time to make your burgers. Finely mince your chicken breasts using a food processor (or a meat grinder if you happen to have one lying around…). If you’re using a food processor, cut the breasts into 1-inch cubes and pulse it a few times. If you don’t have a food processor, use a sharp knife to mince the chicken. It’s pretty easy, plus you’ll get a little arm workout in.
-In a large bowl, combine minced chicken, diced red bell pepper, minced garlic, Parmesan cheese, salt, oregano and fresh ground pepper. I suggest doing this with your hands. (Kinda gross, but kinda fun.) Form the chicken mixture into four evenly sized patties, approximately 1-inch in thickness.
-Carefully place each chicken parm burger on a bun.
- ½ large zucchini, sliced into ½ inch planks
- 1 small (or ½ large) summer squash, sliced into ½ inch planks
- ½ eggplant, sliced into ¾-inch rounds
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- White pepper
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 3 tablespoons minced yellow onion
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 14.5-ounce can diced fire roasted tomatoes (I like Muir Glen)
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/8 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, minced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/3 cup finely diced red bell pepper (about half a medium pepper)
- 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- Fresh ground pepper to taste
- 1½ tablespoon olive oil
- 4 whole wheat or multigrain buns
- 4 oz fresh part-skim mozzarella, sliced into 4 rounds (Yes, you can also use shredded mozzarella)
- Start by grilling your vegetables. In a large bowl, toss your sliced zucchini, squash, and eggplant with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Place your vegetables on a grill or grill pan over medium heat. Cook the zucchini and summer squash for about 4 minutes on each side or until tender. The eggplant rounds will need a little extra love. Grill them for about 8 minutes on each side. Place the grilled vegetables on a plate and set aside until ready to use.
- Moving on to the fire roasted tomato sauce. Heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in a medium saucepan. When hot, add the onions and garlic. Saute for 2-3 minutes until the onions soften and the garlic becomes fragrant. Add the diced fire roasted tomatoes, salt, oregano, and red pepper flakes. Let the sauce simmer for about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly. Pour the sauce into a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Return the sauce to the saucepan and keep warm until ready to use.
- Now it’s time to make your burgers. Finely mince your chicken breasts using a food processor (or a meat grinder if you happen to have one lying around…). If you’re using a food processor, cut the breasts into 1-inch cubes and pulse it a few times. If you don’t have a food processor, use a sharp knife to mince the chicken. It’s pretty easy, plus you’ll get a little arm workout in.
- In a large bowl, combine minced chicken, diced red bell pepper, minced garlic, Parmesan cheese, salt, oregano and fresh ground pepper. I suggest doing this with your hands. (Kinda gross, but kinda fun.) Form the chicken mixture into four evenly sized patties, approximately 1-inch in thickness.
- To cook your burgers, heat 1½ tablespoons olive oil in a large non-stick pan over medium heat. When hot, add the burgers and cook for 5-6 minutes on each side or until cooked through.
- Remove your burgers from the pan and place them in a baking dish. Top each burger with fire roasted tomato sauce and 1 ounce of part-skim mozzarella. Place the baking dish under the broiler for about 3 minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbling.
- If you want toasted buns, now would be the time to toast those bad boys.
- Carefully place each chicken parm burger on a bun and top with grilled vegetables.