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

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 Candyblog.net

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

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 Candyblog.net

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

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 A News Cafe in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain holds a Bachelor's Degree in journalism from CSU, Chico. She's 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's been featured and quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, L.A. Times, Slate. Bloomberg News and on CNN, KQED and KPFA. She lives in Redding, California.

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