The Holidays Are Upon Us–Prepare by Reading this Book!

The Skinny: How to Fit into Your Little Black Dress Forever by Melissa Clark and Robin Aronson, Meredith Books, 2006.

Well, Thankgiving is next week. Kind of crept up on me, to be honest, as I’ve been somewhat consumed with all the other food events in my life going on right now. I don’t even know what my responsibilities are going to be for next Thursday, as my dear mother-in-law will be in charge of the meal and I’ll just do what she tells me to do. It’ll be our first TG here in the new space. Have to tell you, by the way, that this past weekend was the second retreat rehearsal of the year for the Cherry Creek Chorale and also the second one I put together in my beautiful little kitchen, and it again performed flawlessly. So nice and compact! And I still love my stove.

Anyway, most of us know that the holidays are the DANGER SEASON when it comes to eating. We’ve all heard the statistic that the average American gains five pounds during the holidays, and while the number may or may not be accurate the concept certainly is. Some studies show that this weight creep starts sooner than we think, probably around Halloween (that pesky candy), and that the effects can linger for months. As the weather gets colder we get less outdoor exercise, we cuddle up on the couch, and we drink hot chocolate. People start bringing in treats to the office. Neighbors start bringing over those ghastly paper plates covered with colored plastic wrap, holding an assortment of cookies and candy. It’s such a tradition to do this with some people that they don’t even stop to think about whether or not anyone actually needs this stuff. I know I’ve mentioned before that Jim used to work with a man whose wife would make 120 dozen cookies for Christmas each year (that’s 1,440). When I met her I asked what she did with all of them. “Oh,” she said airily, “I take them in to the office and give them away to the neighbors.” At some point this huge cookie-baking extravaganza had become an accepted part of the season and never questioned after that. I can hear some of you saying, “Stop being such a critical killjoy, Debi! Let the woman bake her cookies if she wants to!” Sigh.

Since weight-gain season has already been going on for a couple of weeks, I’m perhaps a little late in posting about today’s book, but you still have time to order a copy and at least skim it before next week. The book never did very well saleswise, which has always puzzled me. The writing is kind of too-cute-for-its-own-good, but when did that ever hurt sales? And one of the co-authors is a well-known food writer, Melissa Clark, who has written cookbooks and restaurant reviews for years and is a staff writer at the New York Times. The only reason I ever knew about the book to begin with was that I happened to notice a mention of it in a newspaper article, probably back in 2007. Somehow it really struck a chord with me, in spite of its cutesiness and rather odd-sounding recipes. (But I just took another look at the recipe section and may make a stab at a few of them after all.) I would say that I lost about 13 pounds after reading it. I mean to tell you, I was on a mission. And I’ve managed to keep things pretty well under control ever since. Right now I’m taking a look back at it because I’m sort of between sizes, pants-wise, and I have several pairs of the smaller ones. I can get into them okay but would like them to be a little looser. Isn’t that a noble reason for losing weight? Hey, whatever works!

The book is actually a French Women Don’t Get Fat for us ordinary Americans who shop at regular grocery stores and don’t go to France several times a year to stock up on fancy Gallic goodies. (Did you know that Mireille Giuliano, the French Woman, gets her prunes in France because they’re, like, so very special? To which I say, “Mireille, puh-leeze!”) Melissa and her friend Robin have a nice vibe, and it’s a plus for the book that their lives are very different. Melissa is single (or at least was when the book was published) and a food professional; Robin is married with kids (she’d had twins not too long before) and has had a varied writing career.

The message of the book boils down to this: Pay attention to what you eat, enjoy it, savor it, and refuse to just munch on something out of boredom or anxiety or habit. Eat three meals a day. And, perhaps most helpful as we head into the holidays:

Rule #4: Don’t eat to please someone else.

Melissa won’t sacrifice her waistline for someone else’s feelings. Sure, if she loves what she’s eating, and if her little black dress is sitting pretty around her belly, she may do some sauce mopping. But on a normal night, even if the food is terrific, at least half of what ends up in front of her goes uneaten (by her, anyway; her date may intercede, or she may take it home). If you’re not a food writer who has a chef inspecting what’s left on the plate, you shouldn’t worry about hurting anyone’s feelings for leaving food uneaten. This is true even if the cook is your best friend, her mom, or her new lover. Eat to please yourself, and to fit into your dress, and not for any other reason. (pp. 32-33 of the hardback edition)

(See what I mean by the cutesiness? But it’s very good advice nonetheless.)

You almost certainly won’t be able to find this book at the library, so go ahead and order it right now. I promise that you’ll find it to be helpful in resisting the siren call of the Great American Pig-Out.

Note: book title and image have affiliate links to Amazon. If you order the book by clicking through from this site I will earn a small commission at no additional cost to you.

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