The Weight is Over – Week 59: When Comfort and Joy = Food and Drink

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This time last year I was just a few shaky, baby-step weeks into my new health-and-fitness journey with Matthew R. Lister at Align Private Training. I wasn’t convinced it would work. I just knew I needed some serious help.

Today, I’m down 35 pounds and just as many inches (11 around my middle … OMG!). doni-on-ostrava-sidewalk-cropped

Maybe from where you are, it looks as if I’ve had nothing but success, that the weight has effortlessly melted away in no time. Au Contraire! It’s taken me more than a year of extremely hard physical and mental work, and many ups and downs along the way. For example, I felt way up after my return from Europe last month when I actually lost weight. Yahoo for me!

Doni eating out in Florence, Italy.

Doni eating at Tratorria Gargani in Florence, Italy.

But the last few weeks during the holidays have been difficult for me to stay completely on program. Although I never missed a workout at Align, I wavered and gave in to some off-program food and drink. For the first time since I started this fitness journey 12 months ago I actually gained two pounds. Boo hoo for me!

Matthew talks a lot about the importance of not just resisting temptations, but removing temptations from our environment. He says the more times we have to encounter and withstand temptation, the more our willpower weakens, and the more we are at a greater risk for eventually giving in.

Those crazy weeks before, during and after Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are forbidden food and drink land mines. About eight times out of 10 this holiday season I avoided those land mines and stayed on the straight and narrow path of “clean” eating. But those two times out of 10 were my undoing. The proof was in the scale last week.

The thing is, I knew better than to get upset about it, because I knew exactly what had caused it. In fact, it might have been more dangerous in the long run for me if I hadn’t gained weight, because I could have taken that to mean that I could fall back and eat anything I wanted. I knew better. I know better.

Matthew says it’s simple: There are consequences to everything we eat and drink.

All December I tested myself – perhaps foolishly – by preparing the same foods I always make during the holidays: Cookies, eggnog, English toffee, challah and caramel corn. I’ll give myself points for not drinking eggnog. And I’ll give myself more points for not succumbing to caramel corn, English toffee, challah, a delectable-looking baby-shower chocolate cupcake, some dinner-party tiramisu or even the popovers I made to accompany the prime rib (which turned out perfectly, btw, thanks to Randy Plummer).

But I must subtract points for giving into some holiday cookies. And I’ll subtract more points for having some wine, beer and cocktails, and yet more points for having some baked Alaska I prepared for Christmas Eve. (But it was spectacular, if I do say so myself.)

As Matthew said to me way back in July, when I boasted that I should get credit for not having even one s’more on my birthday camping trip, he’s more interested in hearing what I did eat, rather than what I didn’t.

Granted, this advice comes from a guy who doesn’t even like sweets. That fact was all too obvious a few days before Christmas when he walked through the room frowning, holding a red-gift-wrapped shallow rectangular box. He shook it a little and said, “Hmm, I wonder what this is?”

The four of us Aligners who were on the floor doing hamstring stretches craned our necks to see, and almost shouted in dumbfounded unison: “It’s See’s candy!”

Matthew looked genuinely perplexed. “How could you know that?”

Come on! Who did he think he was dealing with? We four on the floor had a good laugh about that. But then he said something that sobered us up in a hurry: Matthew said he’d never eaten a piece of See’s candy. It turned out that our wise and wonderful personal trainer – our inspirational coach and nutritional confidant – was a See’s candy virgin.

Matthew R. Lister, a See's Candy virgin.

Matthew R. Lister, a See’s Candy virgin.

Our minds blown, that was our cue to tell him not only which pieces to choose, but what they looked like. We wanted his first time to be both pleasurable and memorable.

See's butterscotch square. Photo from

Doni’s favorite See’s butterscotch square. Photo from

I suggested my favorite See’s candy, a butterscotch square. It’s somewhat square, covered in milk chocolate. It has a little series of wavy lines on top that make it immediately recognizable (to me). If I were (forced) to eat just one piece of candy from a box of See’s, the butterscotch square would be my choice every time. Actually, I’m not really a butterscotch fan (wonder of wonders, one thing I don’t like), so calling it a butterscotch square is inaccurate. Personally, I think butterscotch squares taste more like penuche. But here’s how See’s website describes it: A delicious center of firm brown sugar, vanilla and heavy cream is covered in milk chocolate to create this signature See’s candy.

Diane suggested Matthew select her favorite, the Bordeaux. It’s probably the largest piece in the box, rounded, with little chocolate sprinkles. It resembles the butterscotch square in taste and texture, but it’s creamier. Here’s See’s definitionOne of our most requested candies, See’s Milk Bordeaux™ is a heavenly blend of creamy brown sugar covered in milk chocolate and decorated with chocolate.

See's Bordeaux candy. Photo by

Diane’s favorite See’s Bordeaux candy. Photo by

Matthew went for Diane’s suggestion, selected a Bordeaux and took a nibble.

“Oh man, it’s sweet!”

Oh, you poor, poor man. 

What a strange workout session that day: Matthew putting us through the usual grueling paces of weights and exercises, while, between our tortured planks and single-arm weighted rows and wall-sits, we four discussed See’s candy, something we hadn’t eaten for more than a year. It was a conversational tease of virtual See’s.

Speaking of See’s, my absolute favorites are its butterscotch lollipops, which I happen to know are a mere 80 calories; practically a diet food (which I ate while I was on — and failed at — Weight Watchers). The thing is, they’re gateway lollipops to more fattening, high-carb things, like butterscotch squares, which are gateways to English toffee, which are gateways to eggnog with brandy. And so it goes.

I’m not alone. At Align, this week after Christmas, there were many conversations about holiday foods and temptations, and the giving into of many temptations. It was a holiday food confessional.

Forgive me, Matthew, for I have sinned. I have eaten …

One friend who battles her weight confessed that she suffered such a blue, blue Christmas that she bit the entire roof off a gingerbread house, Godzilla-style, and ate the whole thing.


Photo illustration by Joe Domke.

Munch! Crunch! Take that! 

My friend’s gingerbread-house destruction was just one example of why many people fall off the nutritional wagon during the holidays. It’s the time of year when we feel society’s pressure to have Facebook-picture-perfect holidays in the face of our ordinary, unspectacular and even disappointing realities. It’s the time of year when there are so many unrealistic, sometimes painful expectations surrounding human relationships and material gifts that we sometimes wish for a Daktari tranquilizer and a time capsule that we could crawl into and only awaken after the holidays are all over.

That’s why, for many of us, excess holiday eating really isn’t as much about the lure of  irresistibly tasty, guilty pleasures, but more about the stress and angst that beckons us to return to the old familiar habits of finding comfort and joy (food and drink) during sometimes uncomfortable and joyless times.

But thank goodness, after January 1, the worst of the holidays will be behind us. We can get back on program, and back to 100-percent clean eating, drinking and regular workouts.

We’ve got this!

… Until Valentine’s Day.

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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27 Responses

  1. Randall R Smith Randall R Smith says:


    Your words are repeated here for emphasis and an expression of grateful recognition. “It’s the time of year when there are so many unrealistic, sometimes painful expectations surrounding human relationships and material gifts that we sometimes wish for a Daktari tranquilizer …”  

    Although far from my training as an anesthesiologist, I concur completely with your analysis that a big part of the Holiday over eating and drinking is not simply the availability of high calorie food and beverage.  There is a secret yet powerful yearning to be something which is temporarily impossible, to be in a real world rather than a fairy tale.  Food becomes a weapon of defense against mind numbing assaults of memory, guilt, fatigue, physical space crowding, disappointment, noise, confusion, even failure.   Our serious obesity epidemic is not simply overeating. We need more of what follows and less cash registers and improvised merriment.
    “There is a love of wild nature in everybody, an ancient mother-love showing itself whether recognized or no, and however covered by cares and duties”    John Muir

    • So true, Randy. Basically, when those blue feelings arise, the recipe is simple: Get outside, seek nature. I know it works. Thanks for the reminder. Happy holidays to you, my friend. xodoin’

  2. Craig managed to get through December without eating ANY sweets – he eats dates instead. I was not so steadfast. Indeed — working full-time during the Christmas shipping rush and playing with the three grand babies, who joined our household in November, have added up to missed miles and more than a few extra calories. The jeans are tight — but still zipable.  Yesterday,  I managed a quick (for me) five mile run and I feel like I am headed back on the right track.

    I love Dr. Smith’s John Muir quote — I’m looking forward to getting out on our trails with my granddaughters.

    • Wow, Erin, that a 5-mile run is a “quick” run is incredible. Remember where you started? You inspire me! (And as long as you can get the jeans officially zipped, they still officially fit.)

      Have fun with the grandbabies, and yes, let’s take Randy’s John Muir prescription to deal with what ails us.

      (Craig’s date-only holiday sweets? He rocks!)

  3. Avatar Eleanor says:

    Oh, Doni – one again I am blown away by your amazing ability to paint pictures with words (and pictures.)

    And so much more.   That we ‘should’ be celebrating in all the best traditional ways out there in the world (not that I really want to, in real life)  but can make up for not doing so by eating or drinking something ‘traditional’ (that I probably don’t really like in real life either.)

    So many more thoughts you bring to mind, but enough!    I love every single sentence that you write!

    Happy New Year to everyone.   In real life!

  4. Avatar Marilyn Traugott says:

    I think Kryptonite was really a See’s Scotch Mallow. 🙂

    • Well, yes, I would say that the Scotch Mallow is pretty tempting, too. Here’s my question for you: Do you bite it vertically, probably as was intended, or as I do, horizontally to remove the marshmallow cap from its base?

      • Avatar Marilyn Traugott says:

        Can’t say I ever deconstructed a Scotch Mallow as you described because I like the mix of the three flavors. It’s best to keep them off my radar so as to not bite them at all.

  5. Avatar cody says:

    someone brought into the office a Whitman’s Sampler box, and the thing is HUGE!  It is 3 inches tall, at least 2 feet long and 18″ deep.  There is probably 4 pounds of chocolates in there.  I ate one piece, and it was ok – but not something that I really care for too much.

    • I know of this Whitman’s Sampler box you describe, and believe it or not, it’s not a temptation for me. Same with the Brach’s chocolates. I just don’t think the quality matches See’s. I guess if I’m going to fall off the wagon over a piece of chocolate, it better be good!

  6. Avatar denise says:

    At least we’ve changed in a big way, right? The consciousness is here, forever. Bags of various sugars & flour, tubs of sour cream that are just not in my shopping cart feel like foreign visitors. We don’t speak that language anymore!

    While I didn’t go ape, I allowed some tradition into my system. It seems like it takes only a little to throw me off, I’ve become so much in tune with my body.

    Christmas night this year I felt so stuffed and uncomfortable (a condition I rarely allow) that it helped me realize why choosing better pays off. Scale and measuring tape aside, the way clean eats feels is Nirvana.

    Happy New Year!



    • It’s true that those ingredients in my shopping basket are foreigners. And I also agree that when we do eat those foreign foods, I feel so much worse than I did before. And you’re right, again, when you say that clean eating feels so good!

      Here’s to clean eating so we feel awesome. 🙂

  7. Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

    I have never lived close to a See’s candy store; so when I was in a city where there was one, I indulged in a Rum Nougat or three or four or more.  Then I discovered Butterscotch Squares, and it was difficult to know which was my favorite.  Like Diane, my husband’s favorite is Bordeaux.  I don’t remember the occasion – perhaps it was my husband’s June birthday – I brought home a two-pound box of mixed Bordeaux and Butterscotch Squares for him, and a one-pound box of Rum Nougat and Butterscotch Squares for me (after all, I couldn’t let him indulge alone).  After a couple of weeks of doling the morsels out one at a time after dinner, I needed to clean off the kitchen island for whatever reason, and the boxes of See’s went into the cupboard.  Out of sight, out of mind definitely works because I needed something from the cupboard a couple of days ago, and unbelievably, there  were the two boxes of See’s, six months later.

    • The fact that you could have two boxes of See’s candy in your cupboards  since June is proof that you don’t have a problem in this area. Good for you! (Rum nougat? No thanks. 😉

      • Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

        You must be – or were – a cream center fan, as is my husband.  I like the chewiness of nougat.

  8. AJ AJ says:

    Well, I have the PERFECT recipe for control during the Holidays: have oral surgery five days before Christmas.  Works every time!  Fortunately for me,  I love bullion and tomato soup. I can have Sees in the house for years (I was married to a Sees-a-holic) and not find it tempting….however,  sourdough, dressing and potatoes are in serious jeopardy around me. …all of which were availabe and doable inSPITE of surgery!  I guess we all have our Kryptonite!

  9. Avatar Barbara Stone says:

    Butterscotch squares are my favorite, too! I had my share of homemade cookies last week….I mean there were so many of them! But what really got me were the gluten free cupcakes that my brother got “just for me”…I ate FIVE  of them!

    Anyway, that’s all water under the bridge and  I was able to get right back on my diet when I got home on Sunday. And next year is a new one!

  10. Avatar Karen Calanchini says:


    I have read your article three times. Why?

    Because our daughter sent us 6 quart size zip lock bags of various sweets, all home made and delicious   We are two elderly folks , not sweet eaters, but everything is so delicious.  I am slowly sharing, and wondering how we are going to  honor her time and effort in the making of it all.

    She even sent fresh raspberry sauce made from her home grown berries. This I  can use easily. Buckeye Balls, adorned popcorn, various pretzel concoctions , peppermint  bark, and so much more have me frazzled.

    I will continue to share, but am running out of willing friends.  Just looking at my supply of delicious  sweets has me craving broccoli,  cauliflower,  Brussel sprouts,  carrots and more greens.

    • Oh, Karen, I understand that dilemma. Your daughter gave you those sweets. But I’ll be that she wants you to be healthy, too.

      Just yesterday I had two things in my refrigerator that I’d made, all wrapped up pretty: a pumpkin spice pie (homemade crust, of course), and a bottle of eggnog. The thought flitted through my mind to cut a piece of pie –  just one – and maybe I could somehow consider it a snack – a VERY high-carb snack … and maybe then I could eat less at lunch to balance it out.

      I know myself enough to know that that one slice wouldn’t be just one slice.

      So I texted a neighbor who has a family with kids, and asked if they wanted the pie and eggnog, but I’d understand if they didn’t. He said sure!

      It felt so good to give the gifts of foods I’d made – like your daughter’s  – to people who don’t have those food issues (well, not obviously, at least). They appreciated it. And I felt liberated to have let them go.

      This is a very long-winded way of saying that you can give them away. And, I hate to say this, but if you can’t find a place – a mission, a church, an office, a family, an elderly, single, skinny guy  – to re-gift them, I think the best thing for you is to start the new year by throwing it away. Ouch. I know.

      And maybe you can have a conversation with your daughter – who sounds like a creative cook – and tell her how much you love her and her treats, but you’d love some healthy treats, like spiced nuts, or dried fruits, or healthy hot-cereal mixes as options. (I make and give away homemade croutons for salads and soups, which aren’t too horribly sinful.) Your comment is also sobering for me, because I am guilty of making the very things for gifts that I cannot – should not – eat. My resolution for this year is to consider not making for others foods I know are unhealthy for me.  That’s a hard one.

      A happy, healthy New Year to you and yours, Karen.

  11. Avatar Joanne Lobeski Snyder says:

    Wonderful article Doni.  The difference between you now, and you on another diet program is that your metabolism is faster, you have more muscle mass from working out and your body can more easily handle a few treats.  If you remember from WW, women used to use the restroom before weigh in, not eat anything that day, and in some cases…(this is probably a rumor) plan on donating blood before weight-in.   The program you are on will allow you to eat like a slender person, not like a woman whose body is fasting and waiting for the stupid diet to be over so she can eat as much as her slender friends do.


    • You are right on all counts, Joanne! I’ve got this. It’s a whole new body and a whole new mindset. I won’t beat myself up for eating treats, but I have to realize that those treats have consequences, whether by weight gain, or puffiness and just feeling crappy.

      Thanks for your wise observations. 🙂 xod

    • Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

      “Stupid diet” describes virtually all dumb weight-loss plans – something to be on for a time then be off.  Nope, not for Doni nor all the Align people.  Proper nutrition and exercise are the only answers to success.

  12. Avatar Ginny says:

    My son gave me a 1# box of See’s.  I must have devoured at least half in two days.  Then in discussed with myself, I froze the rest.  Those are still in the freezer, thank goodness!  Maybe I will give those to my son.  Let him gain weight rather than me!

    So I know the temptation of See’s!

    Blessings for a Good New Year!  I have heard it is good to go off the diet living once in a while.  But only do one time a month!  ;o)

    Love you for your courage and stick-to-it-ness!