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The Skinny on the Hamburger Helper Diet
by Mitch Chase


I've been on a diet for the last two weeks. With my family on a three-week vacation to South America, I thought it would be an excellent opportunity to lose weight because I'm now in complete control of what goes into my stomach.

I checked out several diets on the Internet — low carb, protein power plan, Scarsdale, Atkins, Pritikin, Suzanne Somers Somersizing, etc. — and many seem to have a common thread running through them: repetitive menus. Although the diet gurus give lots of complicated and sometimes scary explanations on how their diets work, repetition is certainly an active ingredient. As anyone who has survived on military field rations for more than a day or two can attest, when you get tired of a certain food, you eat less of it — or none of it at all.

While the cabbage soup diet may or may not induce ketosis — the state in which your body burns fat because it doesn't have sufficient glucose for energy needs — it's a sure bet to cure your appetite for cabbage soup for years to come.

Something similar happened to me during my undergraduate years at the University of Southwestern Louisiana (now unfortunately called Louisiana-Lafayette, or La.-La. for short). I survived for weeks on end on a diet of instant macaroni and cheese. Being of limited resources, I'd buy store brands of the stuff for as little as 12 cents a box. With the addition of a little margarine and water, a box would keep me going for a day, especially if the diet was augmented (as it frequently was) with several draughts of what the Germans sometimes refer to as "liquid bread."

But for years afterwards, I shunned the dish, although now I'm fond of it again — in strictly limited amounts.

So in choosing a diet, I wanted to make sure I didn't zero in on a food item that I really like because I didn't want to ruin it for me in the future. Thus, a pork chop diet was immediately rejected, regardless of the dietary attributes of "the other white meat." (This also would have eliminated the watermelon diet from contention except I've had an uneasy feeling about that diet plan ever since Liberace's publicist blamed the famed entertainer's massive weight loss on that diet days before his death from AIDS.)

I opted for Hamburger Helper.

Now there's nothing wrong with Hamburger Helper. I've enjoyed an occasional plate of the stuff since it first appeared on supermarket shelves in the early 1970s. It's similar to the casseroles my mom made when I was a child and they call stuff like that "comfort food" now. Still, the product is not high on my culinary can't-do-without list, so I was willing to take the risk.

But I really didn't figure I would get tired of it — General Mills puts out more than 50 varieties of the stuff.

I lasted less than a week. After 10 consecutive meals of such culinary wonders as Italian Spaghetti, Potatoes Stroganoff and Cheddar Cheese Melt, I realized I had vastly exceeded my yearly quota for the stuff.

So I took the weekend off — feasting on eggs, beefsteak and pork roast — before resuming the diet challenge Monday. I knew I needed something less bland than Hamburger Helper so I cooked up a large pot of chili.

I figured it would last me a week — and it did. The only problem was, I got tired of chili faster than I faded on Hamburger Helper. By the time Friday rolled around there was plenty of it left, much to the delight of the family dogs, who polished it off for me.

Another weekend off was in order, but before I splurged, I checked the scales. What a gyp! I was the same weight as when I started. All that suffering for naught.

But I'm not quitting. Today I'm starting phase three: Slim Fast. It's an ideal choice. Three cans a day and the pounds will melt away. And there's no cooking involved, so I won't have to tidy up the kitchen again before the wife gets home.

Even better, if you get tired of Slim Fast, who cares?

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Alabama resident Mitch Chase is a copy editor and columnist for The Decatur Daily. Prior to coming to Decatur, he worked 13 years as a writer/editor for The Daily Journal in Caracas, Venezuela, where he was twice decorated by Venezuelan presidents for journalistic excellence. He also was a correspondent for foreign publications ranging from Baseball America to The Times of London. He is a 1978 graduate of the University of Southwestern Louisiana in English-journalism.

Also of interest on this witty man's resume are these fascinating facts. He's been a deckhand/tankerman/boilerman on tow boats plying the Lower Mississippi River and Intracoastal Waterway. In 1995-1996, he participated in an ill-fated Caribbean shipping venture, losing his life’s savings in the process.

A former managing editor of the Houma (La.) Daily Courier, Chase is married to the former Maritza Peñalver of Caracas. They have two children, Dixie Lee, 14, and Roy, 12.

Chase is active in the Boy Scouts and his hobbies include woodworking and gardening. He is currently trying his hand at fiction and is seeking a literary agent.

For more Mitch Chase columns, visit this site: The Decatur Daily.

A fan already? Here's where to e-mail Mitch: mchase@decaturdaily.

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