Peasant Eating Strategy for Holiday Gluttons

I’m a fitness buff with zero resistance to holiday desserts. At every family dinner and hotel buffet I eat every dessert on display. I see feasting as part of the natural cycle, like the change of seasons, and I’m not one to tamper with nature.

Unfortunately, this philosophy loads me down with an extra 10,000 or so calories during the extended Thanksgiving weekend and the 8-day Christmas Eve-New Year’s Day winterlude. That’s about 3 pounds of body fat — almost an inch to my waistline.

Fortunately, the 3-week period leading up to the Winter Solstice offers the ideal window for pre-neutralizing the inevitable nutritional disaster in the making. My strategy is to balance each anticipated day of overindulgence with three days of disciplined eating. I don’t call it dieting because that term has come to connote privation and failure. Dieting is doomed to fail because diets ignore the natural rhythms that govern the human animal. Our urge to eat doesn’t stay flat but varies with the seasons. The urge to join in holiday feasting is a biological imperative that diets typically ignore.

My strategy is based on the fact that my craving for rich and sweet foods is inversely proportional to my body’s need for their calories. Or to look at it more constructively, the healthier I eat the more I enjoy healthful foods. If you had a big rich meal three hours ago you’re not going to want an apple for a snack. You crave something at least as calorie-dense as your last meal. That tendency, of course, is the slippery slope to obesity and an early heart attack. On the other hand, if you had a healthy meal, you will enjoy an apple. And once you’ve had an apple, your next meal or snack will be healthful as well. Healthy eating scales down your body’s caloric expectations while scaling up its efficiency.

So during my 3-week period of disciplined eating leading up to the Winter Solstice, I consciously eat foods that are progressively less rich and sweet. Instead of bacon and eggs with buttered toast and jam, I progress down to whole wheat toast with peanut butter and jam. Then I progress down to whole wheat toast topped with beans, salsa and fresh greens. Instead of pastries, I have fruit, tomatoes or carrots. Instead of ice cream, I have Greek yogurt. Instead of beef, I have mackerel or tuna. I think of it as the Peasant Regression. As you regress down the ladder toward simple foods, your body quickly gets back in tune with its natural needs. Instead of craving the pampered glutton’s fleeting pleasure of feeling sated with sugar and fat, you crave foods that let you tap the abundant calories generated by the burning of excess fat. It’s a magical trade-off.

And when those holiday feasts roll around — as they should — you’re ready to out-feast everyone at the groaning board secure in the knowledge that you’ve pre-lost 10,000 calories and are enjoying the guilt-free right of all creatures to stuff their faces just because everyone else is.