When I stopped growing up only to start growing out, the holidays became synonymous with dieting.
I’d tell myself, “No pie — it’s fattening.”
“No stuffing — goes straight to the thighs.”
“No mashed potatoes and gravy — coats my insides.”
“Rolls, butter and jam? I’ll look like Jabba the Hutt.”
I’d promise myself I would live by the relish tray. Carrots. Celery. Three bites of turkey. Then I could sail through the holidays with a svelte bikini-ready body — just like the models.
Of course my resolve melted away with the first whiff of roasting turkey and bubbling gravy.
I’d pile my plate high, and then add cranberry sauce and a couple of rolls to the salad plate. For dessert, not only would I sneak a slice of pumpkin, I’d add pecan and apple pie — all topped with whipped cream. Now careening out of control, I’d inhale as much chocolate as I could find.
A chaos of calories.
Then the guilt would set in.
That night, I would lay awake rubbing my distended tummy and berating myself.
“How could you do that?”
“So much for the beach next summer. You’ll never be able to get in a bathing suit.”
“Does the word loser come to mind — and not a loser of weight, that’s for sure.”
To get to sleep, I’d promise myself to start the most radical diet I could find in the morning.
The Scarsdale diet? The Hollywood diet? The grapefruit only diet? I tried them all.
It might have worked for a little, but then I’d stuff myself with a pint of ice cream.
Yep: The classic yo-yo dieter.
With a side serving of stress and self-loathing.
And whatever weight I lost always came creeping back.
Turns out, I’m not alone.
Researchers will tell you — diets don’t work, at least not long term.
So what’s a girl to do?
Baylor University researchers found successful dieters added healthy foods to their diet they actually like, with occasional treats thrown in.
In comparison, I dieted by only eating foods that were “good” for me, even if I hated them. Like that grapefruit: Once in a while it’s OK, but every day, all day?
Even watermelon all day, every day made me go crazy — and I love watermelon!
I once had a high-fiber diet that had me eating a mix of bran, wheat germ, slivered almonds and raisins for each meal.
Tasted like a mouthful of sawdust.
Guess how long I stayed on that diet. Yeah, not long.
The Baylor researchers found out it’s all about self-control.
“Low self-control individuals tend to set themselves up for a harder pathway to success by focusing on avoiding the very foods they find most tempting,” said the research.
In comparison, successful dieters removed unhealthy foods from their diet they did not like, while focusing on adding healthy foods they did like.
For me, I finally found success when I just stopped dieting.
I started making delicious veggie dishes like spanakopitta, stir-fry, Thai curries and roasted root vegetables.
I found that as I added delicious and savory veggie dishes, I had fewer and fewer cravings for sugar.
Now if I choose to have a dessert, I don’t beat myself up over it. But I don’t overdo either — a scoop of ice cream rather than a bowl. I’ve even come to feel hung over if I have too much sugar, so I easily avoid it now.
On top of that, I focus on eating when I’m hungry and stopping when I’m full.
Registered dietitian Evelyn Tribole calls this intuitive eating.
Tribole has coached Hollywood actors and professional athletes on nutrition.
She tells her clients to eat anything, but only eat when hungry and stop when full.
“If you’re following dieting rules and feeling unsatisfied, chances are you’re constantly thinking about food,” said Tribole in an article for Eating Well.
“When you eat intuitively, you pay attention to whether a meal was enjoyable and whether it sustained you for the next few hours,” she said.
And that’s what I’ve most enjoyed about going cold turkey on dieting — I no longer think about food all day, every day.
So this holiday season, I’m going to enjoy that luscious food. I’ll just make sure I’m really hungry for what’s on my plate.
Spicy Greens and Sweet Cheese in a Greek Savory Pie
By Nancy Harmon Jenkins
From the New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook
2-1/2 pounds fresh greens, well washed (spinach, mustard, chard, etc.)
1 medium onion, minced
12 to 18 scallions, both white and green parts, finely sliced
2 tablespoons plus 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup finely minced dill
1/2 cup finely minced flat-leaf parsley
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2 large eggs
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 cup Greek mizirthra, or ricotta or small-curd cottage cheese
1 tablespoon freshly grated Parmigianino reggiano cheese
1 tablespoons plain dry bread crumbs
1 package frozen commercial filo pastry
Make the filling first, placing the greens in a large pot over medium heat. Cover the pot and steam the greens in the water clinging to their leaves for about 15 minutes or until they are very tender. Uncover and stir the greens down periodically.
When the greens are done, drain them in a colander over a bowl and save the liquid, you can add it later to a vegetable stock or sauce. Chop the greens rather coarsely — you should have at least 2 cups of chopped greens — and turn them into a mixing bowl.
Gently sauté the onion and scallions in 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-low heat, until the vegetables are very soft but not brown — about 10 to 15 minutes. Add to the greens along with all the other ingredients, one at a time, stirring after each addition. Set the filling aside and prepare the pastry.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
To make a 10-inch pie:
You will need 12 or more sheets of filo, 6 for the bottom and sides of a 10-inch straight-sided spring form pan with olive oil.
Working quickly, remove a sheet of filo, smooth it on the work counter and brush or spray quickly and lightly with oil. Set the filo in the bottom of the pan with the excess dough draping up and over the sides. Continue with 5 more sheets of filo, spraying or painting each lightly with oil and stacking them one on top of the other, each sheet crosswise to the one below. Use a light hand with the oil — overdoing it will make the pie greasy.
When the 6 layers are in place, turn the filling into the pie casing, smoothing it out on all sides.
Repeat the process of oiling and layering 6 more sheets of filo to make a top for the filling, again setting the sheets crosswise to each other. When the top layers are in place, trim away the excess pastry, leaving about 1-1/2 inches extending beyond the rim of the pan. Spray or brush this extension lightly with water, then roll it in, folding the top and bottom layers together to form a rim around the edge of the pie. Use the remaining oil to spray or brush over the top of the pie. Slide the pie into the preheated over and bake for about 40 minutes or until the top is golden and crisp.