Food as a Last Pleasure

Tips for enjoying the abundance of the season without going overboard.

With its rich meals, show-stopping baked goods and overflowing buffets, many see the holidays as a looming weight-loss threat, one that must be beaten back with ever more green smoothies, protein bars and willpower. Food as fuel, right?

However, denying yourself the tastes, smells and textures of the season is a recipe for failure, says Lia Huber, recipe developer; food writer and author of the new food memoir “Nourished: A Memoir of Food, Faith and Enduring Love”; and founder of Nourish Evolution, an online program to help people learn to cook vegetables and enjoy real seasonal food.

“There is a natural rhythm to life,” Huber states. “Most of the time, we are living in moderation.” But then there are times of celebration, when, as it has been for thousands of years, it’s time to pull out all the culinary stops and share something special and memorable with friends and family.

Huber found a quote from Sally Schneider in “The Art of Low-Calorie Cooking” from 1990 that describes perfectly why denying yourself the simple pleasures real food affords can lead to boomerang bingeing: “Most of the bleak ‘diet’ regimes address only the physical side of eating, ignoring the other hungers that good food satisfies: hungers for the connection it can forge to friends and nature, for its sensual beauty, its colors, aromas, flavors and textures; for the cultural and historical meaning it expresses; and, most important, for comfort and well-being.”

The key, Huber explains, is being strategic about your celebrating and squeezing every bit of pleasure out of the bites you do have. Here are her tips for enjoying your food this holiday season without going overboard:

Choose a few indulgences

What are you most looking forward to eating this holiday season? Is it those potato latkes or rugelach? Tamales and Mom’s Christmas cookies? If it’s the cookies you want, then by all means, indulge, Huber says. But do so mindfully, being present with the taste and the sensations and memories they bring up for you, rather than multitasking and gulping them down by the handful at your desk at work. Make sure they’re the real deal, not some store-bought version that tastes nothing like what you remember. Feel no shame in your game, just pleasure.

Remember that saying yes to a treat should mean saying no to something else

If chocolate Yule log is what you want that week, there are plenty of things that are far less memorable to cut from your diet, like those store-bought rolls on the buffet, the crackers with your chili, or that glass of wine or sugary latte. Scan the food at gatherings and zero in on only those things your heart really desires … and that’s not everything.

Make vegetables the star of more of your meals

Shift your focus from “What can’t I eat?” to “What foods can I enjoy at the peak of their season right now?” It’s unlikely that well-seasoned vegetables will be your diet downfall, so fill your plate with braised winter greens, spiced squash or roasted cauliflower, and edge out the more decadent choices to a few bites. Bring your favorite vegetable dish to gatherings if you’re not sure what will be offered.

Browse your local farmer’s market

Each week find two peak-of-the-season vegetables that look good to you, find recipes for them online (you can find many on Huber’s website), and prep and chop on the weekend so they’re ready to go when you’re busy during the week. If you have a quickie meal plan in place, you’ll be less tempted by takeout and feel less deprived, which will help you make better choices throughout the week.

Use leftovers to your advantage

Huber encourages her clients to cook slightly more of these vegetables than they would typically eat at a meal and to use them in quick-to-throw-together meals in the following days. For example, you can fold asparagus or roasted broccoli into a pasta dish, blend roasted carrots into carrot hummus for lunch, or put greens and frozen veggies into a healthy fried rice or layered tortilla casserole with a bit of cheese for flavor. Use the carcass from your leftover holiday turkey to make a soup broth and add in leftover vegetables and protein for meals in the busy weeks back at work.

Feed your senses

Just as important as the taste of food is your experience of it. Cook food that fills your house with the wonderful smells of the season, such as cinnamon-roasted apples or rosemary and oregano root vegetables. Feel the warmth of a hot cup of chai tea in your hand, and savor a steaming bowl of soup when you’re feeling low. Huber recalls her words to one client who was taking a cocktail of garlic, ginger and chili capsules during cold season: “I said, ‘Why don’t you just make a big pot of soup?’” Then you get the full experience, “with the steam coming up from the chicken, the smell of the soup simmering on the stove, the warmth of the cup in your hand, and that feeling of being heated by the garlic and ginger and chili.”

Huber remarks, “One of the things I love about real food is the sense of nourishment it brings beyond just our bodies.”

In an era of superfood powders and pills, Huber asserts we often forget that real foods such as fruits and vegetables have healing, nourishing powers that come from their unique combination of phytochemicals—many with benefits we’re not even fully aware of yet. “All plant-based foods are superfoods,” she says.

Cooking a wider variety of vegetables, experimenting with spices and figuring out the veggie dishes you want to load up on are great ways to make those celebratory meals and gatherings in December seem less burdensome and that parade of sugary treats less tempting.

Changing your tastes “is not something that happens overnight,” reflects Huber. But if you practice cooking seasonal vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and reasonable portions of protein again and again, “your horizons widen, your flavor profiles expand and it becomes enjoyable to mound delicious vegetables on your plate. That’s what you start to crave.”

Photo credit: Wavebreakmedia Ltd, Thinkstock; bhofack2, Thinkstock; Peacefulwarrior93, Thinkstock