Better Than Before: Thinner for (Holiday) Dinner

holiday dinnerNext week brings us Passover and Easter. And just these two holidays alone can spell diet disaster. If you’ve ever eaten matzoh, you know that it stays in your system for all eight days, unable to find a way out! And matzoh balls can sometimes weigh as much as a Mack truck. An Easter brunch menu offers similar regimen wreckers as Thanksgiving fare, plus the obligatory chocolate eggs. And we haven’t even gotten to the rest of the barbecues and feasts found on Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Memorial weekend, July 4, and at June weddings, to name just a few. So what are we to do if our intent is to still be able to fit into a bathing suit this summer?

Since there doesn’t seem to be any end to opportunities to pile on the pounds, I asked Jacqueline B. Marcus, a Nutrition Consultant and Owner of Jacqueline B. Marcus and Associates Food and Nutrition Consulting in Highland Park, Illinois, if it’s possible to be Better Than Before weight-wise in spite of it all. Happily, Jacqueline devotes an entire chapter to healthy weight management in her new book, Culinary Nutrition: The Science and Practice of Healthy Cooking.

“Yes,” she began, “you can end the nonsense and regain control, if you simply stop, look and listen.” By that she means to stop the negative self-talk about your body and willpower, to take a hard look at yourself in the mirror and the numbers on your scale, and then to listen carefully to her advice to achieve and maintain your “true weight,” no matter what the temptations.

If you are invited to dinner, first up is to call ahead and ask your host: “What’s cooking?” If the answer is a collection of calorically-challenged courses, propose to augment the repast with BYO. Offer to bring a favorite dish to share the cost of a holiday meal. (You don’t have to mention that it is –horrors!—healthy.) If you happen to have a green thumb in cooking rather than gardening, there is no rule against buying something rather than risk poisoning your friends.

Of course, not all (or that many) social occasions will lend themselves to a non-insulting offer to bring your own food to someone else’s dinner party – or even an inoffensive query as to the menu. So Jacqueline suggests that if friendship or propriety trumps your diet concerns, eat a little lean protein or veggies beforehand to lessen your hunger.

Jacqueline also shares some general suggestions for keeping up with your weight management program any time of year. “Think Clean, Lean, Attractive, Simple, Small and Yummy.” In other words C.L.A.S.S.Y! “Choose small servings of simply prepared food without fat or skin and leave sauces on the side. Large, over-dressed portions are always no-no’s.”

Focus on selecting delicious lean proteins, brightly colored vegetables, fiber-rich whole grains, wholesome legumes and flavorful fruit. “Healthy food prepared with care can be enormously satisfying. Nix the extra fats and sugars from fried appetizers, snacks and sweetened drinks. If tempted, make do with just a nibble or sip.”

I always like to make half my plate just salad and vegetables. (It helps, of course, that I actually like salads and vegetables.) On the other hand, the Lawyer’s worst nightmares usually start with a dish filled with Swiss chard. He therefore might disagree with Jacqueline’s prescription for delightful dieting. (But don’t go by him for health advice. He likes Cronuts.) “Nothing beats the color, crunch and aroma of garden-fresh vegetables,” Jacqueline continues. “If steamed or lightly dressed, you can pile non-starchy vegetables like D-L-G’s (deep-leafy greens) pretty high on your plate for lots of vitamins, minerals and fiber. Then add some lean protein and wholesome grains or legumes.” (Check out The Dukan Diet at www.dukandiet.com for great recipes, meals and diet recommendations.)

It is also important to practice what Jacqueline refers to as tradeoffs. “Want that starchy side? Forget the breadbasket. Dreaming of dessert? Skip the appetizer. Love those creamy sauces? Just dribble over protein-rich foods or steamed vegetables. Fried foods your temptation? Save those fat calories for something delicious and nutritious—like velvety nonfat yogurt or ricotta cheese.” (Sounds great to me; but cue the eye rolling by The Lawyer and his ilk.)

Water, not mixed drinks, should be your beverage of choice. “Mixed drinks may add a wallop of calories!” (Boo!) “If you must imbibe, stick with lower calorie and alcohol options, such as light wine or beer. And, of course, always exercise control.”

Speaking of exercise, “try the free track at the mall, park district or gym,” she suggests. “And while you’re there, use the stairs, too. It takes a lot of exercise time to balance any indiscretions. Body fat below the waist is particularly stubborn.” (Sigh!)

Furthermore, it’s important to maintain records. “By doing so, you commit on paper or screen (like on a smartphone) and then confront what you see or do. Record your biggest obstacles and greatest successes. Write positive affirmations and prominently place them where they will motivate you: Your bathroom mirror, the scale, fridge or closet.  Keep a weight loss chart so that you can monitor the way down.”

Practicing positive self-talk is essential. “Ditch the negativism. Dieting is hard, but there are no excuses for “I can’t”, “won’t”, “should have” or “would have.” Also, remove the words “failure”, “cheat” and “loser” from your vocabulary. “No dieter is perfect all of the time. Just focus on your successes one day at a time and get back in charge ASAP.”

It’s also fine to reward yourself along the way or when you reach your “true weight” and maintain it. “Just do it without food. Buy yourself a new pair of all-purpose athletic shoes for your new commitment to walk ‘30 in 30’ –30 minutes of daily walking for 30 days, or a jump rope to burn more calories, or even light weights to tone your muscles. (A new outfit also works, as do Louboutin pumps. Trust me!)

It’s easier if you don’t attempt to do it alone. “Reach out and connect with someone who knows how challenging it is to lose weight and keep it off. They can be your dieting or exercise buddy. “Just make sure that they’re really your pal throughout the ‘thick and thin’ of weight loss and weight maintenance.”

Finally, focus on your intent to be a Better Than Before you. “Downsize! Raid your pantry and part with the oversized packages of foods and beverages high in sugars, refined carbohydrates and sodium. Likewise, raid your closet and discard any too big, old clothes,” Jacqueline concludes. “When you think smaller and take baby steps in the process, you’ll celebrate each little accomplishment along the way.”

And when it comes to seconds on matzoh balls, remember the chorus of that ancient Passover song. Dayenu! (Enough!)

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