Bestselling author Mireille Guiliano on how to wine and dine your way through the holidays — the French way!
I love Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday of all. After all, what’s not to like—the food, the colors, the camaraderie, the story and values, the traditions — and, of course, the parade?
As we are entering the tempting year-end holiday season with parties, buffets and family celebrations, one goal, it seems to me, is to maximize the pleasures and minimize the guilt. It is all a question of balance, equilibrium…of being bien dans sa peau. French women typically think about good things to eat, and about pleasure, always pleasure. And many Americans typically worry about bad things to eat. That’s not a good holiday mood enhancer.
Oscar Wilde, who often dined in Paris, once said that “the only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.” Well, to an extent. Eating is a sensual pleasure, and the holidays are full of temptations that appeal to and reward our five senses. For me, the key to enjoying all the wining and dining during the holiday season is eating with your head and maintaining a balance — not by the day, but by the week. Indulgences are fine if balanced with compensations. It’s a no-brainer to eat lightly the day before and after Thanksgiving. Then so what if you eat a big slice of pumpkin pie during the big feast?
Here are some other tips on how to manage the season’s treats and indulgences:
1) The 50% solution: it’s a mental approach anyone can learn, since portion control is more an art than a discipline. One way to control your intake is to ask yourself if you can be content with eating half of what’s being offered. You can put this approach into play in a variety of ways, from splitting a dessert with a dining partner to counting the number of pieces of bread you eat. (I’m particularly vulnerable when it comes to the latter.) So eat half. Then ask yourself whether you are content. If so, continuing is a conscious indulgence — or at least, not mindless consumption.
2) Eat slowly. Contentment with most foods, in terms of taste rewards, is to be found in the first few bites. After that, another psychological phenomenon kicks in: that of literally filling ourselves, a natural impulse. Eating on autopilot is all too common; it takes roughly 20 minutes for your brain to tell your stomach you don’t need any more. So make sure to eat with your head. Put your knife and fork down within bites, join the conversation, think about what you are eating. Slow down and focus. If this does not work, try chopsticks (I’m only half kidding.)
3) Control your fluids. Drink plenty of water (as water or decaffeinated, sugarless beverages…and no artificial sweeteners, please). Among the many benefits of being well-hydrated is that you won’t be as hungry, physically or psychologically. Watch your alcohol intake, too. Don’t drink on an empty stomach. And while you can probably absorb and enjoy an extra glass with a big holiday meal, watch out toward the end of the meal, when accumulated alcohol can wreak havoc on your mental moderation and approach.
4) Plan ahead. Again, think of your food and drink intake over a few days or a week, and balance it out. Don’t skip any meals or you’ll find yourself overeating at the next seating. But do balance a large intake with a small one. Certainly know what the full menu is going to be at a holiday feast, and make a conscious decision in advance on what you will skip or go lightly on, so you can indulge in what you really will enjoy most.
5) Add sleep and movement to your holiday menu. I write “movement” rather than “exercise” because it is a huge mistake to think you can exercise away extra calories. That notion is at the core of yo-yo diet problems. You need a consistent calorie burning routine balanced against your calorie intake, not a one-day miracle. (And remember: the older you get the less you need, so don’t think you can or should eat today like you did when you were a young adult.) Especially during this year-end period of extended, sedentary meals, be sure to get in a 20-minute walk before and/or after a long meal. I always recommend taking the stairs — even several floors if you are in a high-rise. And get the right amount of sleep, as in six to eight hours a night. Remember, if you’re sleep-deprived, your body will tell you to eat more and will store more fat. So, enjoy a good night’s sleep.
The French phrase for the holiday season is les fêtes de fin année — and here fêtes refers to both feasts and festivals. So eat, drink, be merry — and get ready to enjoy this festive time of the year!