Friday, January 8, 2016

TRYING TO BREAK THE ANNUAL HOLIDAY WEIGHT-GAIN TRADITION



The day after Thanksgiving, my cousin decided he was going to start a serious weight-loss program. My first thought was, “Dieting during the holidays? Is he crazy? Why not wait until New Year’s Day, and join the zillions of other people who also will be dieting?”

But I figured he wanted to avoid what the experts refer to as the average annual 5-lb. holiday weight-gain.  I know from experience exactly what they are talking about. For years, I gained those five pounds every holiday season, often with a few extra thrown in for good measure.

One year, however, which I still refer to as my record-breaking December, I weighed myself on New Year’s Eve and was shocked to see a 9-lb. weight gain. I’m not sure why I was so surprised. I mean, there actually had been a few clues that should have warned me in advance. For example, the front pockets on my jeans had been sticking out like elephant ears because I couldn’t squeeze my hands into them to tuck them in. I’d also noticed that when I filled the bathtub to its usual level for a relaxing soak, it overflowed when I sat in it.

In my defense, I really did try to eat wisely during the holiday season that year. In fact, in preparation for my annual “season’s eatings,” I even read articles with titles such as, “How to Walk, Not Roll, Away From the Buffet Table,” and “Carrot Sticks…Not Just for Santa’s Reindeer!”

The articles gave plenty of calorie-saving advice for the holiday weight-conscious. They advised, for example, to stand at the salad end of the buffet table rather than the dessert end, to avoid temptation, and to sip plain club-soda with a twist of lemon instead of chugging eggnog. There also were several paragraphs devoted to the “instead of” eating method: Eat a cracker instead of a dinner roll. Eat one cookie instead of a slice of cake. Suck on a small piece of candy cane instead of reaching for the fudge and chocolates.

I was pretty sure the person who’d written those suggestions had just landed here from Jupiter. After all, if I were the type of person who could eat “just one” of anything, I wouldn’t have been reading diet tips in the first place.

Back then, the only way anyone ever would have seen me with only one cracker or cookie would have been if I were suffering from nausea or I’d already eaten a four-course meal before attending the party. And as far as drinking club soda, well, I might have considered it if something a little more palatable had been added to it…like chocolate syrup and a couple scoops of ice cream.
 
Actually, I did start off that holiday season pretty well.  At the first party, I emerged from the buffet line with only a slice of lean roast beef, a small serving of rice and some salad on my plate. And I washed it down with plain, bottled water. Then, after my meal digested, I still was so hungry, I returned to the buffet line and ate four slices of cherry cake, three sugar cookies, a cupcake with pretzel antlers on it, a handful of cashews and a cup of hot cocoa topped with about 45 mini marshmallows.

The next party I attended didn’t even offer any nutritious food. It was an all-dessert party. When I entered the room and saw the wall-to-wall sweets, I thought I had died and gone to sugar heaven. Many of the treats were such unique delicacies, I felt I just had to try them: mashed-potato candy, stained-glass cookies, dump cake and peanut-butter balls. By the time I left, I could feel cavities popping out in my teeth, zits popping out on my face, and buttons popping off my slacks.

Then, a couple nights before Christmas that year, I suffered a bad stomachache. Unfortunately, it was due to my own cooking. I wanted to make a two-layer white cake with chocolate frosting to have on hand for any guests that might drop by. I searched online for a good – and easy – recipe, but couldn’t find any that didn’t require whipping egg whites until stiff. I knew from past experience that I was physically incapable of making egg whites stiff…even if I sprayed them with starch. The only thing that usually got stiff whenever I tried whipping them was my upper back.

Finally, I found a recipe that called for unbeaten egg whites.

The finished cake looked picture-perfect. The outside was golden and puffy, and a toothpick inserted into the center of it to test its doneness came out clean.

All I can say is thank goodness I decided to sample the cake before I frosted it. The texture of it was like modeling clay. And for some reason, it tasted like bread – very chewy, doughy bread.

As I tried to get the ball of cake unstuck from the roof of my mouth, my husband came out to the kitchen and cut a slice of the cake for himself. I remained silent as I watched him take a big bite of it, mainly because I couldn’t open my mouth to protest.

His eyes widened and his lips tightened. “I need a napkin,” he said, but it came out sounding more like, “Uh neb a nabbin,” because his teeth were stuck together.

I handed him a napkin and he promptly spit the cake into it. The action was accompanied by a variety of “pah-tooie!” sounds. Needless to say, I began to strongly suspect I probably shouldn’t serve the cake to guests…not unless I wanted them to risk getting an intestinal blockage.
 
So I gave up on the cake idea and searched the Internet until I found a recipe for sugar cookies that looked simple enough to follow…even for someone  as oven-challenged as I was.

The cookies, unlike the cake, turned out great – tasty, not too hard, not too soft. In fact, they were so good, I ate seven of them right after they came out of the oven.  And later that night, I decided to taste the cake again, just in case it magically had turned moist and fluffy while sitting on the counter.

It still was the consistency of a giant wad of gum. Nevertheless, and for reasons I still can’t comprehend, I ate two pieces. They sank like bricks in my stomach.

Now that I think about it, maybe my record-breaking 9-lb. holiday weight-gain that year actually wasn’t due to overindulgence.  Maybe the cake hardened into a big lump of concrete somewhere in my intestinal tract.
 
                                                                
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