I ate nothing but Olive Garden for eight weeks. No, I don't have some crazy metabolism, and no, I didn't gain a ton of weight. What did happen, though, was me breaking the record for the person to consume the most meals with Olive Garden's Pasta Pass (over $2,000 worth of food), and somehow lost over 2 pounds in the process. Let me tell you how. But first, let's start at the beginning:
That right there is the work of years and years of terrible eating habits (and bad decisions, yes that is a Scooby Doo tattoo). 220 pounds and basically no energy. Binge meal after binge meal. I knew I had to make a change, and so I did what everyone else does when they hit rock bottom: DIEt and exercise.
I started counting my calories, making better food choices, and took up running after a 13 year hiatus from my Army glory days. And after only 5 months, I lost 70 pounds, and was getting medals from my running adventures:
I was now no longer DIEting, and was simply maintaining my calories. I'd go out to eat, make plenty of meals at home, and make sensible choices, while remaining active. I like to say I was eating healthy-ish.
Fast forward to September 2017, and I get an e-mail from Olive Garden about the upcoming Pasta Pass promotion, an elusive card that gives recipients unlimited Never Ending Pasta Bowls for the entire 8 weeks, with unlimited visits. I had heard of them in the past, and really wanted to have one. Well this year, I lucked out and scored my very own Pasta Pass:
Right from the jump, I knew I wanted to get my money’s worth, but at the same time I was curious if I could avoid weight gain. As I had just recently lost 70 pounds and got rid of dad-bod, I didn't want to throw it all away. I was intrigued if I could indeed eat nothing but Pasta for 8 Weeks, multiple times a day, and evade the inherent pounds we all expect one would pack on under such food madness.
Here is a week by week recap of my 8 Weeks of Pasta journey.
Week 1: Testing the Waters
For the first week, I decided to try a wide variety of options, going through all of the different pasta, sauce, and toppings available. This year, there are seven different pastas available, six different sauces, and five different toppings. A LOT of combinations to say the least.
The very first meal I had was a bowl of Pasta e Fagioli, 3 breadsticks, and half a portion of Fettuccine, Asiago Garlic Alfredo & Crispy Chicken Fritta. Almost immediately after eating all of this, I didn't feel great. I knew right away I had too many breadsticks when combined with the soup and pasta. As my initial goal was to go twice a day for the entire duration, I was thinking “How on Earth am I going to do this for another 111 meals?” I had to re-evaluate my strategy: Skip the soup and breadsticks.
So I continued eating for the rest of the week, trying different pasta, sauce, and topping combinations, working my way through another 13 meals this week, and the fear of not being able to reach my goal suddenly diminished.
Week 2: 50/50 Sauce Week
Since I already went through the sauce options available, I wanted to switch it up and try mixing the sauces, to avoid monotony. There are 15 total sauce combinations available when doing 50/50 splits of Alfredo, Asiago Garlic Alfredo, Creamy Mushroom, Five Cheese Marinara, Traditional Marinara & Traditional Meat Sauce. Here is Spaghetti, Asiago Garlic Alfredo, and Traditional Meat Sauce with Meatballs:
I had 14 combinations like that, and the lonely choice left out? Creamy Mushroom mixed with Traditional Meat Sauce.
Week 3: Dessert Week
As I've always had a sweet tooth, I knew I had to incorporate Dessert Week into this journey. Each meal this week would be the half-sized pasta combination portion, which would allow me extra calories for some desserts. I'd eat half the dessert for lunch, and save half for dinner. This meant I got to eat some Pumpkin Cheesecake, Cookie Butter Cake, Warm Berry Crostata, Seasonal Sicilian Cheesecake, Tiramisu, Lemon Cream Cake, Black Tie Mousse Cake, Warm Apple Crostata, Zeppoli with Raspberry & Chocolate sauces. Then I'll finish the week with all five Dolcini options, including Dark Chocolate w/ Caramel, Amaretto Tiramisu, Strawberry & White Chocolate, Chocolate Mousse, and Limoncello Mousse.
I knew this was going to be an incredible week. And it definitely lived up to that.
Week 4: Stickwich Week
After eating 3 weeks of Pasta, I wanted to change things up drastically and get super creative. I knew Olive Garden offered a couple of breadstick sandwiches, and I wondered if I could expand on that idea and make awesome sandwich creations with the Never Ending Pasta Bowl sauce & topping combinations and using my Pasta Pass in the process. Surprisingly, I didn't have any issues and was able to make some incredible combinations which were irresistible. I became an Italian sandwich artist in no time and realized I had all the tools on the menu to make it happen: Breadsticks (shorter and wider than the normal ones), Alfredo Sauce, Five Cheese Marinara Sauce, Asiago Garlic Alfredo Sauce, Grilled Chicken, Crispy Chicken Fritta & Crispy Shrimp Fritta. I call this, the "Triple Threat Stickwich":
As you can tell from that glorious picture, this was another fun week. And I was able to stay within my calories the entire time, twice a day. I even made a Po' Boy, FTW.
This is now the halfway point, and I'm feeling great so far. Let's take a look at my halfway point stats:
Right on target for my goal of 112 meals and not gaining any weight, as I'm over a pound under my starting weight, and I've consumed exactly half of my goal. I also managed to make it to 18 different Olive Garden restaurants across the state of Florida by this point, just to change things up.
Week 5: Soupendipity & Double Meat
I decided to start executing multiple themes a the week, fearful of growing tired of my own single-themed weeks . I started with Soupendipity. WTF is that you ask? Well, since I've been avoiding the soups, I decided to finally revisit them and use them as a vehicle for dipping the breadsticks in. But since that certainly wasn't going to be enough calories to keep me full, I also ordered some dipping sauce and toppings for my own personal dipping buffet. First up, I revisit my soup from my Day 1 meal, Pasta e Fagioli, this time along with some Asiago Garlic Alfredo & Crispy Chicken Fritta and skipping the pasta:
This was a decent theme, but I got bored with it very quickly. So after trying the remaining three soup options, Chicken & Gnocchi, Zuppa Toscana & Minestrone, I bailed to a different theme after 2 days. And after eating Minestrone, I was ruined for soup for a while anyways.
The second theme during week 5 is Double Meat, where I'll either be requesting double the amount of toppings I would normally get, or combining two different full size toppings of meat. Since I had four Soupendipity meals, I'd need 10 Double Meat meals across the next five days. Here are a couple of my choices. Something as simple as Spaghetti & Meatballs can quickly get obnoxious:
But then again so can an abundance of Italian Sausage on anything:
Around this time, I stumbled on an article about a Pasta Pass-welding pastor who had notched 115 visits/meals back in 2014 using his own Pasta Pass. I was thinking, I'm going to get 112 without even trying, so I reached out to Olive Garden's public relations department to confirm if that record still stood, and they did indeed advise that Alan Martin's record was still standing. I knew I could easily squeeze a few more meals in, as I had a couple more weeks to go still. I found and reached out to Alan, the one and only #PastaPreacher on Facebook, and asked how he felt about me coming up to his hometown in Burlington, NC, a 600+ mile trip each way, so I could have my 116th meal in his presence and break his record. He loved the idea, and the wheels were now in motion.
Week 6: Make Me Shrimpy, You're My Favorite, Cinque Pasti (aka 5 Meals), Gluten-Free(ish) & Tour of Orlando
As you can tell by the amount of themes going on, this is going to be a crazy week. I start off with the "Make Me Shrimpy" theme, as my goal was to lose 2 pounds as this was the first weigh-in thus far where I was above my starting weight of 153 pounds. During this week I'd be ordering lower calorie meals, but spread out across 3 meals a day instead of the prior 2, and selecting the lowest calorie topping — Crispy Shrimp Fritta. Here is one of the examples, a half-sized portion of Rigatoni, Five Cheese Marinara & Crispy Shrimp Fritta, which was a very low 465 calories:
After six Make Me Shrimpy meals, I was back under 153 pounds, at 152.8 precisely! I could now move on to another theme. Next up was "You're My Favorite," where I'd order the half-size portions of my favorite combinations. Here is one example:
I did this theme for two days and seven meals — three visits on one day and four on the other for the first time! So the logical choice for the next theme, is Cinque Pasti (aka 5 Meals). Here is one example during this past- filled day: Fettuccine, Five Cheese Marinara and a lonely Meatball who's missing his brother.
Since I haven't had many of the Gluten-Free Rotini combinations thus far, I decided it was time to make a theme featuring that. And since I just did five meals in one day, the only way to top that is by making six visits in one day. Enter Gluten-Free(ish), aptly named as many of the sauce/topping choices still contain gluten. Here is one of the six: Gluten-Free Rotini, Traditional Meat Sauce & Crispy Shrimp Fritta, which indeed does contain gluten.
On the last day of Week 6, I had to go big or go home. And I couldn't do the latter, as I was getting hungry. I decided to do the "Tour of Orlando," as that is the Olive Garden hub of the world. The first Olive Garden started there, back in 1982, and Darden, the parent company of Olive Garden, has its corporate headquarters there. Plus there are a TON of Olive Gardens in or just outside of the city. So on the 7th day of Week 6, I decided to visit seven Olive Gardens for seven meals in 7 hours.
And after accomplishing my goal of finishing this crazy Orlando tour from 12-7pm, within my calories, where else could I celebrate but Disney World?
Week 7: I ❤ Alfredo, Server's Choice, Veterans Day & Record Breaking Day
I'm starting off week 7 with one of my favorite sauces — Alfredo. I'll spend the next eleven meals and four days on this theme, trying out lots of Alfredo based combinations. Here is one of the eleven combinations, Rigatoni, Asiago Garlic Alfredo & Crispy Shrimp Fritta:
It's now November 10th, five days into Week 7, and it's road trip time! As I mentioned above, I'd be having a record breaking meal with #PastaPreacher Alan Martin, in his hometown of Burlington, NC, which was scheduled for November 12th at 2pm. I threw on my 8 Weeks of Pasta t-shirt...
...and hit the road:
I stopped over at Olive Garden locations in Georgia and South Carolina and then met up with an old Army buddy once I arrived in North Carolina, at Olive Garden of course, for an impromptu reunion. My theme for today was Server's Choice, so I let the server pick my meal for me. And to my surprise, they did a great job, as I enjoyed their selections. Here is 1 of 3 from today:
I crashed at my friends place for the night, and in the morning, took off for my hotel.
It's now Veterans Day, and as a Veteran, this will be the first day I don't use my Pasta Pass. I'm sitting pretty at 115 meals right now, so I just need to hold off and wait until tomorrow to surpass Alan's record. But don't worry, I'll still be eating Olive Garden today, off the free Veterans Day menu.
Okay, it's now time for the record breaking meal! I met up with Alan at 2pm on Sunday, November 12th, where we shared a lunch for my 116th meal:
Never bring a knife to a noodle fight against a combat veteran, Alan. I came out victorious, and claimed title to the throne:
Week 8: Add-Ons, 50/50 Pasta, Ready for Spaghetti, Double² On the Rocks, Pre-game & The Last Supper
This would be a good time to cue Europe’s “The Final Countdown,” as we’re in the home stretch of this journey. I started the week off with something I’ve been meaning to do since the beginning: Add-Ons. I have three meals during this single-day theme, which include 1) adding Sauteed Shrimp to Whole Grain Linguine with Five Cheese Marinara, 2) adding Parmesan Pesto sauce to Fettuccine, Asiago Garlic Alfredo, and Crispy Chicken Fritta, and 3) adding Broccoli to Fettuccine, Alfredo, and Grilled Chicken. Here is a picture of my Parmesan Pesto Add-On:
Up next is 50/50 Pasta. Since I have already done combinations of multiple sauces and multiple toppings, I had to try multiple pastas. I mixed Rigatoni/Whole Grain Linguini, Cavatappi/Rigatoni & Angel Hair/Fettuccine.
Ready for Spaghetti is up next, a theme that spans three days and nine meals. Every meal is a unique combination featuring Spaghetti as the pasta of choice.
By this time, my story has somehow made it into the Wall Street Journal, along with fellow Pasta Extremist, Alan Martin:
Next up is Double², On the Rocks. This consists of getting two different sauces and two different toppings on my pasta combination. Here is Fettuccine, Alfredo/Traditional Meat Sauce & Crispy Chicken Fritta/Crispy Shrimp Fritta.
Okay, after 8 Weeks of Pasta, the last day is finally here. I started the day with the theme “Pre-Game,” as I’ll have salad a couple of times to save calories for “The Final Dinner.” I do a couple of salads throughout the day, opting to add-in Crispy Shrimp Fritta, Crispy Chicken Fritta & Grilled Chicken, on each visit. Here is the Famous House Salad, with Crispy Chicken Fritta:
While it was good, it’s certainly not what I go to Olive Garden for, but it served it’s purpose to hold me over until 5:30 PM tonight.
Okay, it’s now time for The Last Supper. Day 56 of the 8 Weeks of Pasta journey. I planned on having my final dinner at the International Drive - Orlando location many weeks ago, as it’s the original Olive Garden from 1982 (it has been rebuilt, however). It’s also one of the nicest. My wife and I arrive with our kiddos, and wait for family and guests to arrive:
We ended up having a party of 11, and were given the one of the private rooms, as I gave them the heads up that something special was about to happen. We all sit down, discuss our options, order our drinks, and the server asks if we’d like any appetizers. Now, I haven’t ordered ANY up until this point across the 8 Weeks of Pasta journey, so I felt it was time.
“Yes, we will take them all.”
After a few minutes of hilarious clarification and confusion, we indeed order one of every appetizer, which includes Meatball Stuffed Pizza Fritta, Parmesan Zucchini Bites, Dip Duo [Spinach-Artichoke Dip & Five Italian Cheese Fonduta], Sampler 1 (Parmesan Crusted Zucchini, Calamari, Stuffed Mushrooms (with clams), Sampler 2 (Fried Mozzarella, Lasagna Fritta, Toasted Beef and Pork Ravioli), Spicy Calabrian Chicken, Garlic Mussels Marinara, Chicken & Cheese Piadina, Classic Shrimp Scampi Fritta, Spicy Shrimp Scampi Fritta & Chicken Alfredo Flatbread. It was quite the spread:
Had to also grab some dessert, by ordering a catered-size Pumpkin Cheesecake:
Because, why not.
After a fantastic final dinner, it was time to pay:
I ended the 8 Weeks of Pasta journey with $2,164.89 in savings, 140 unique meals/visits, 36 Olive Gardens visited across five states,133,382 calories consumed, and lost 2.2 pounds along the way, as I started at 153 and ended at 150.8. My Fitbit activity across the 56 days averages out to 45 minutes a day, which includes normal daily activity as well. Not a bad journey at all.
Now that the Never Ending Pasta Pass promotion is over, I’m sure you are wondering what I’m going to eat next…
Well that’s easy: Leftovers. Here is my 1st lunch, on the commemorative plate I was given for beating the record:
Can I turn 8 Weeks of Pasta into 16? Challenge Accepted.