The Secret to Eating Light: There is No Secret

Iknow, it’s mildly hilarious that the woman who brought Gorgonzola twice-baked potatoes to The Humble Gourmand is writing a feature on lightening up after the holidays. But as much as we love rich and creamy foods here, we know when to cut back a little. We can’t emphasize enough that “cutting back” doesn’t mean that your food has to be any less inspired, creative, or delicious.

Most of us experience the proverbial post-holiday button-loosening: we’ve eaten way too much, drank a ton, slept more that we’re used to, and generally have not burned enough calories to counterbalance it all. Though I once read somewhere that the average American only gains a pound over the holidays, I find that figure hard to believe, as everyone I know — myself included — complains about how fat he or she feels when returning home from holiday vacations.

That said, it’s certainly true that most people are overloaded with celebrating, which often brings with it heavy, rich foods, lots of cheese, dessert, handfuls of chips, and bowls of candy, not to mention drinks (alcoholic or otherwise—mulled cider and hot chocolate carry just as many calories as a glass of wine or a light beer). Whatever your reason for feeling gross after the holidays, we’re here to offer a no-nonsense and still delicious approach to January, the detox month.

Let me start by saying that we don’t advocate any sort of crash diet. Though programs such as Atkins, South Beach, and the Zone offer ways to shed pounds quickly, we think cutting small corners here and there add up, and are much less drastic (not to mention an excellent way to pick up healthy habits). Generally speaking, depriving oneself of one’s favorite foods often leads to overindulging later, anyway! Without further ado, here are some suggestions on how to cut corners and detox after the holidays.

  • slowdown. Where are you going with that sandwich or burger? Part of our problem is that we’re always in a hurry and rarely make time for real meals. Most people shove sandwiches in their faces at their desks, and rarely do anything else for lunch during the week. Dinners often consist of similar food-shoveling action in front of the tv. Since when did we hedonists forget about the pleasure of eating? Most of us may not be able to avoid eating lunch at our desks—fine. But most of us can improve how we consume our dinners, and to this I can say: Take it to the table, people. Eat off of a plate. Light a candle. Have a glass of wine. You may discover that this new form of stress relief is far more valuable than zoning out in front of the tv. Take small bites and take time to savor your food. I promise you, you’ll eat a lot less.
  • Cut your portions. We here at The Humble Gourmand encourage healthy eating, but we also encourage enjoying less healthy foods in moderation. Think about you want, and then cut it in half. Savor that portion (see above), and we guarantee you’ll be satisfied with even a small portion.
  • “Fat” is not tantamount to “bad for you.” Substitute saturated fats for healthy ones. Focus less on butter and heavy cream in your recipes. Think about adding more olive oil, avocado and nuts to your diet.
  • Hydrate. That’s right, plain old h2o will do you more good than any fad diet or diet product. Consistently drinking water throughout the day will not only help flush out toxins and generally help you feel better, but also will keep you feeling full, and you’ll be less inclined to binge or snack.
  • Consider using cooking techniques that preserve flavor without adding calories, such as steaming and baking versus frying.
  • It’s all about the F-word: fiber. Foods high in fiber simply keep you feeling full. Eating high fiber foods isn’t necessarily tantamount to choking down a disgusting bran muffin, either—there are plenty of fiber-rich foods out there that are both satisfying and versatile, especially if you enjoy cooking. Even if you don’t love broccoli, you might be surprised to find that some of your other favorite foods are indeed fiber-rich. Be creative.
  • Season your food with things that don’t add calories: fresh herbs, vinegars, salt and pepper, garlic, and other spices. The possibilities are endless.
  • Beware the stealthy empty calories that come in liquid form. Salad dressings and beverages are among some of the worst offenders in this category. Stay away from creamy salad dressings and, if you’re at a restaurant, ask to have them served on the side. Use a third of what you’d normally put on your salad—again, you’ll be surprised by what satisfies you. Avoid soda and all things frappe-cappu-mocha-crazy. Additionally, though it pains us to say this, minimize your alcohol intake, or stick to red wine, as it carries the most health benefits.
  • Get active, but remember that upping your activity level doesn’t require joining that fishbowl of a gym. Consider taking a 15-minute walk around your office neighborhood every day. Find a walking buddy—it helps keep you honest—and stick to a routine for a few weeks. It’s more exercise than you’ll get sitting at your desk, and it certainly adds up.
  • Get generous. Give away all those baked goods and gift baskets you received over the holidays. Although we are the last folks to urge you not to eat some beautiful culinary creation, it’s the last thing you need if you’re trying to cleanse your system—and there are plenty of people out there who need it more than you. Consider donating your leftover wrapped breads, baked goods, canned foods and gift baskets to a food pantry or local soup kitchen.

Above all, as corny and un-sexy as it sounds, moderation will lead you into a more healthy, more delicious 2008, and don’t worry — we’ll be back in February with our Super Bowl/Valentine’s Day edition, butter and pancetta in tow.

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