Whittle Away That Waistline

After weeks of indulging, it’s time to reel in your appetite—and your waistline. Here’s some not-too-hard-to-swallow advice for getting in a less-is-more mindset.

2009 is just 48 hours away, and we all know what that means: It’s time to step away from the holiday buffet, and give your body—and blood stream—a tune-up.

Of course, it’s never as easy as it sounds. After dipping into every sugar, fat and alcohol vat in town, you can count on a few days of withdrawal and cravings. So, along with adopting the count-to-10 rule to stave off cravings, you should make every effort to consume as much water and green tea as you can stomach. (Marinate your organs, but don’t drown them.) Both are great detoxifying fluids, and the green tea will help speed up your metabolism while the water suppresses your appetite.

Then, when you’re good and hydrated and feeling ready for the next step, add a little bit of cardio into your day. And no, I don’t mean taking a leisurely stroll around the block with the kids and the dog. Challenge your spouse to a game of singles tennis, hop on your kids’ bike, hit the gym or a punching bag, for that matter—just work out something other than your thumbs and your jaw.

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Dwayne Wimmer, owner of Vertex Fitness Personal Fitness Training Studio in Bryn Mawr (vertexfit.com), recommends starting with a half-hour of cardio exercise two days a week. Then build up to a routine where your cardio training and complementary exercises (moderate to intense) fall into a thrice-weekly schedule (on nonconsecutive days). Taking it slow and adopting a realistic regimen will afford you enough recovery time to retain your strength and will better enable you to stick with your routine for the long term.

“Yes, the New Year starts now,” says Wimmer. “But you’re not going to get in shape or change your eating habits overnight. You have to set realistic goals that you can meet. Be patient. Start off slow. After six months, you’ll be in much better shape than you were in ’08.”

Of course, cutting down on calories is crucial to this long-term picture. But it’s never a good idea to go cold turkey. And, if you’ve had the good fortune of a few days away from the office, jumping back into work will surely mean a revival of stress. You’re probably not going to relish the thought of giving up that glass of wine or chocolate martini, but a little self-imposed prohibition is one of the quickest ways to shed some pounds—and clean out the cobwebs. Just for the heck of it, I didn’t drop a touch of alcohol for the first three weeks last January, and I easily dropped 5 pounds by the end of the month. It’s a worthy experiment.

Another way to reduce your waistline is to rid your home of temptation. That means making care packages for your kitchen-challenged friends and torturing your co-workers with bundles of leftovers. Sure, they’ll all put up a fight and complain for several hours after they’ve downed the final hunk of baked brie smothered in spicy-sweet nuts or the last of Aunt Bettie’s savory turkey tettrazini (one of the most ingenious uses of leftovers on the planet, when done right), but it’ll be gone in a day and you won’t feel guilty from heaping food in the trash. (I’m wholly against wasting food, but I too just chucked about four servings of leftover seafood linguine because it’s now 5-plus days old.)

Instead of starvation, think moderation. Make a list of all the foods you lust after, and divvy them up into healthy and not-so-healthy columns. You can even take it one step further and separate items into protein and carbs so you can get a better feel for whether your diet is or isn’t balanced.

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Another idea is to swap your typical dinner fare with a hefty—but not calorie-laden—salad. Certainly, you can do this at lunch, but dinner is the worst time to put on the feedbag—and the blinders—because dishes are less likely to be burned off.

Keep drinking that water and tea, and try eating more frequent, but smaller, meals. Just be sure your snacks or pared-down meals have a good balance of carbohydrates, fats and proteins to satisfy your appetite and your energy requirements.

Most importantly, don’t tell yourself you’re on a diet, otherwise you’ll be fantasizing about caramel sundaes and piping-hot truffle frites. You can still indulge, but maybe not for a few weeks, and not more than once a week.

If you’re not confident about making the right choices, Wimmer recommends getting your hands on a copy of Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook (available on amazon.com). It’s worth the read for all who want to better control what they’re putting in their bodies.

And don’t forget to stay away from processed foods and to give your restaurant-dining budget a break for a month. There’s a much higher chance of overeating and drinking in a lively eatery with an expansive menu than in your own home.
Of course, if you’re going out, you might want to head over to one of Iron Hill Brewery‘s outposts for some non-rabbit fare—a well-timed press release regarding Iron Hill’s new 600-calories-and-under dishes popped into my view while I was writing this. Here’s a glimpse:

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• Black pepper-crusted Ahi tuna, served over a lentil salad with spinach, grape tomatoes, shallots and port wine vinaigrette = 521 calories.
• Grilled Angus top sirloin with garlic-roasted fingerling potatoes, asparagus, a grilled portobello mushroom cap and cabernet demiglace = 462 calories.
• Herb-baked North Atlantic Pollack, served with white rice, asparagus, vine-ripened tomatoes and extra virgin olive oil = 431 calories.
• Grilled chicken breast with white rice, grilled vegetables and roasted tomato vinaigrette = 542 calories.

Now, if they could only cut the calories in their beer …

P.S. I Love Cooking

There are great recipes in some of the national cooking ’zines, so as soon as you snap out of that eggnog haze, you’ll have plenty of good reading—and cooking—to do.

Happy (light) eating!

Our Best of the Main Line Elimination Ballot is open through February 22!