My friends are often puzzled by, and admire at the same time, what they call my “restraint”. Those who visit me, know that my apartment is routinely full of good chocolate, and often (depending on how recently I’ve made it, and who’s visited since then) also full of really good chocolate, cream or white chocoalte fudge (fudge deserves its own post eventually!). I generously wave at it all and offer people tea with it, but I do not normally eat much of it myself. If you assume that it is because I do not like it, or because I force myself to not touch it, you’d be wrong on either count. I love chocolate. I adore fudge. And I certainly do not deprive myself of it, or anything else I want to eat.
A conversation I have had with friend of mine, Hanne, while wrapping a bunch of homemade chocolate marzipans in foil for this holiday season, has reminded me of something I had planned to write about for a long time. One day some months ago, she and I were talking about weight management and all the new programs out there which promise to teach you how to do it (for a load of money), and she has told me of a guy that summarized the French way of thinking about food to her. He’d said, “a small portion of something yummy every day, that makes you happy every day, instead of keeping something away from yourself and then overeat when you finally allow yourself to eat it.”
This comment fits in very well with my personal philosophy about weight maintenance and eating. What a lot of people forget (or never find out in the first place – to quote another friend of mine “I used to not even like food…”), is that food should be a pleasure. It is one of the simplest and most rewarding (and potentially health-giving) things one can engage in – though, of course, like with anything, done to excess or wrongly, it is also potentially harmful. But this is neither here nor there.
So how does one balance a slow metabolism with a desire for an attractive figure and good health? It can’t really be fully covered in a single post, nor in a few (but I plan to try). However, there is good guideline advice which has always and will always be true, and a lot of which I have, amusingly enough, read on the back of a box that contained a (very nice crayfish and rocket) salad purchased at a Pret A Manger at some point during my travels throughout the UK.
The advice consisted of a series of answers given by women around France, Italy and Spain regarding how they stayed beautiful. The general gist of the answers was as per the statement above – that they ate fresh food, avoided starving themselves or over-eating, and made sure to make time to enjoy the food. Sounds easy? Well, perhaps it is, but to put this in action requires a re-adjustment of thinking about what “food” is (and what isn’t actually “food”).
There are two things which must happen in order to eat right without feeling miserably deprived. One, education is a good thing. If you know exactly where the dividing line between “this is healthy food and won’t make me gain weight” and “this is something which is not good for me, but I love eating it” lies (and it does not always lie where the glam magazines may tell you, by the way – but this deserves another post or many), then you can eat “food” daily, and treat yourself to whatever it is you love (chocolate, in my case) when you want it. Two, the attitude must be adjusted so that those things that you want to eat but know you shouldn’t indulge in, are no longer something you consider sustenance, though not so that you would deny something you really like to yourself forever.
The solution, for me, has been to make sure I always have a lot of good chocolate on hand at home. Yes, you’ve read that right. When push comes to shove, (very) good quality milk chocolate is my favourite sweet, and there are days when I just want some. But what I realised, is that having it at home for the day when I want some works a miracle – suddenly, the days when I crave chocolate are less. I have a little foil-wrapped bar of it on my nightstand. It’s been there for weeks. It’s mine. It’s for me. I can have it any day I want, and that knowledge in itself is like… chocolate. So some days I look at it, even pick it up and look at it, and then decide that I’ll just have it another day, and put it back on its little saucer. And so it stays there – and well, chocolate, notoriously, does not go bad for a very long time.
The moral of the story is simple. To maintain a healthy weight, good skin and a good figure (and by that I don’t mean something like the starved footballers wives’ people see in tabloids – I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to look like that!), one should, of course, eat sensibly (and that does not mean consuming large amounts of tasteless cellulose with a fat-free dressing, gods and little green apples forbid!). A nice 40 minute-to-an-hour-long walk a few days a week won’t hurt either – or it has not hurt my very lazy self any so far. But it does not mean you should exclude things you love from your life, or spend it in the gym (that’s no life!).
Buy fresh vegetables. Buy legumes and grains. Eat meat. Eat good dairy and fish and eggs. Eat gorgeously and enjoy the food that is good for you in smug self-satisfaction that you are doing your body a favour. And if, after a large meal of lentil salad with grilled chicken, or a steak with butter and greens, or a slab of honey-ginger glazed salmon with a pile of stir-fried vegetables, you still want that slice of cake, or a bite of chocolate – have it. But trust me, if you eat well enough, you are likely to be pretty full after your meal, and not crave the sweets nearly as much – and if you have those at home, right there in front of your nose (or in your cookie jar or your freezer, whatever your poison), you may just decide that you are full and don’t really want to eat it (whatever it is) right this moment. Or don’t want all of it, and just eat half.
And that for today, yet again, it – or half of it – can really stay where it is.