If you’ve been meaning to improve your diet but haven’t actually done anything about it, Serena Wolf is going to give you the nudge you need. The Harvard-educated, Le Cordon Bleu-trained food blogger just released The Dude Diet: Clean(ish) Food for People Who Like to Eat Dirty. The cookbook includes 125 of guys’ favorite eats transformed into healthier, balanced meals. There’s no major cooking equipment required and recipes are simplified so even the most culinary-challenged individuals can pull them off. Paired with luscious photography by Matt Armendariz, The Dude Diet recipes will get you excited about home cooking.
We spoke to Wolf about what The Dude Diet involves, how alcohol sabotages weight loss, and what to do when faced with food-related peer pressure.
Crave: Did something happen in your life that inspired you to write a book specifically for men and their eating habits?
Serena Wolf: The Dude Diet was inspired by my boyfriend who I had just moved in with. He loves food more than anybody I’d ever encountered. You’d get a contact high from watching him eat cheesesteak. I always figured he ate some healthy food on his own time. Once I moved in with him, I started to realize that, no, that wasn’t happening. It was primarily meat, cheese, and white bread. I was legitimately concerned for his health. I had grown rather attached to him at that point and I wanted to keep him around past, like, 35.
For such a well-educated guy, he could not identify a healthy meal or snack to save his life. What I realized was he was nutritionally confused. I started cooking these meals for him that were basically revamped versions of his favorite foods, everything from lasagna to chicken fingers. Even though they weren’t necessarily low-calorie or low-fat or Paleo, I felt better about the fact that I was working some more nutrition into his diet.
So I wrote one post on the blog which I thought would be a one-off, cathartic post about his “health journey” and posted a recipe. The response to that post was so hilarious and overwhelming. I made it a full column and wrote regular Dude Diet posts that tackled different areas of nutritional confusion with a really hearty, healthy recipe, and that’s what spawned the idea for the book. My target audience was dudes who really love food and wanted to start eating more healthily but had this grim view of health food, and therefore weren’t willing to make changes.
Would you say that cooking at home is a major component of eating healthier since you can’t control how the food is prepared when you’re eating out?
One-hundred percent. Cooking for yourself is the cornerstone of both weight loss and a healthy lifestyle. It’s the only way you can be sure what’s going into your food and be able to better control the quality of the ingredients and the portions that you’re eating.
Are there any calorie or carb limits for The Dude Diet? Or is the focus just on eating healthier?
There are no nutritionals included in the book or on the blog. I know that counting those macros works for some people, but this is more of a lifestyle that targets people looking to make a basic, fundamental change in their overall well-being. It’s about eating whole foods and being more mindful of what you’re eating.
Respecting serving sizes is a huge thing that people struggle with. Most Americans have portion distortion because we’re fed such giant meals in restaurants and we’ve sort of gotten used to eating that way. My recommendation is to try to follow the serving sizes and let your body adjust. Once you overcome your portion distortion and eat more slowly, you’ll start to feel full much more quickly. The Dude Diet is not rocket science, but it’s just paying a little bit more attention to what you’re putting in your body.
When some of us hear “diet”, we think “flavorless”. How did you incorporate flavor without increasing the fat or caloric content?
Flavor has always been, and will always be, my number one priority. I’m all about building that with spices, fresh produce, quality ingredients. Like, full-fat cheese: a little bit goes a long way. If it’s a good quality sharp cheddar, you’re going to be able to taste that even if you only use a tiny bit of it. Also, it has to do with techniques that mimic the flavors and textures of the things you love. Oven-frying is a big one. There’s chicken fingers, taquitos, chicken parm, jalapeño poppers—all those things that are traditionally deep-fried, there are recipes for those in the book.
How does alcohol fit into The Dude Diet? Guys seem to have trouble giving up their drinks.
Beer is basically a food group in guys’ diets, so I’m not about to tell people that they have to stop drinking. Portion control is crucial. If you’re going to have a beer or two, by all means, have a 200-calorie IPA. But if you’re planning on drinking at a higher volume, you have to drink light beer.
There’s a whole chapter on cocktails in the book along with guidelines like eliminating sugary mixers and figuring out that lighter booze has fewer congeners—which are what give you such bad hangovers—than darker booze. It’s also about controlling your hangovers so you’re not late-night eating or self-medicating with deep-dish pizza the morning after, staying hydrated, and being mindful of the fact that when you’re in restaurants, they’re not giving you a serving size, they’re giving you one-and-a-half.
If you’re focused on slimming down, eliminate drinks during the work week. Cutting out those beers on the couch or a couple of glasses of wine with dinner go a long way. If you want to keep those in your life, make sure you’re not having more than two drinks a night—and that’s a lot. It’s all about balance. I do strongly believe in moderating late-night eating and hangovers by being more mindful of the booze that you’re consuming.
How do you feel about variety? Should some meals be “standardized” during the week so you don’t have to make too many decisions? Or is it better to keep changing it up?
If you’re somebody that thrives on routine, sure, pick your favorite Dude Diet meals and keep them heavy in the rotation. But for the most part, I think mixing it up makes it less likely that you’ll feel deprived. Anything you’re having a craving for can typically be made more healthfully. With this book, I tried to provide building blocks so that you can use a portion of a recipe a million different ways. If you know a way to make a perfect, juicy chicken breast, then you can use that in a burrito bowl, in a salad, for fajitas, or eaten on its own with your favorite side dish. It’s about learning basic, healthy cooking techniques and then filling in the gaps based on what you’re craving.
Is anything off-limits or do you take an “everything in moderation” approach?
The Dude Diet is 100 percent about moderation. Absolutely nothing is off-limits. There are a handful of things that I target like processed carbohydrates, refined grains and sugars, and booze, that you should be doing your best to limit, but you can still have them.
I do suggest employing a “No-Calorie Sunday” approach. It doesn’t have to be on a Sunday. It’s basically a cheat day. If you have a favorite deep-dish pizza or cheesesteak spot where you’re going to go and watch a game with your friends and you want to go in on a platter of buffalo wings, more power to you, but try to limit that kind of eating to one day a week. If you fall off the wagon at lunch, just get right back on at dinner.
When it comes to food, men might be more vulnerable than women to peer pressure. Do you have any suggestions for when they’re out with their friends?
It would be a ridiculous concept for a guy to go watch a game with friends and be limited to eating the carrots and celery off the wings platter. That’s never going to happen. It’s isolating. The Dude Diet recipes are targeted toward man-friendly hangouts. If you have friends over and you make buffalo chicken fingers and skirt steak quesadillas and jalapeño poppers, nobody’s going to think twice about the fact that they’re healthy. People are still going to be really pumped when you bring out that tray of nachos. They’re not going to be asking questions about what exactly went into those. They taste just as good.
When you’re out with friends, that’s where the portion control element really comes in. Try to employ some common sense. If you’re sweating or feeling nauseous, don’t pop a Zantac and keep eating. Rein it in a little bit.