The Gutless Gourmet

Leaner and Meaner

The holidays are behind us, but on many people they’ve left the signs of second helpings. David Leite anticipated 10 to 15 pounds of damage—so how in hell did he actually lose weight?

I know what you’re thinking:

Ha! Leite hasn’t followed up his pathetic attempt at Biggest Loser-dom because he shoveled food in his mouth during the holidays and is desperately trying to lose what he gained.

Well, you’re partly right.

But I didn’t shovel in food, I used a backhoe. Despite my best efforts, starting Dec. 23 when company arrived, I grazed nearly round the clock. The elaborate menus I planned for everyone, and the pared-down versions I wanted to make for myself, proved too much. I spent four days in the kitchen practically nonstop. First, the slips were small, passing unnoticed by everyone except the most hardened dieter: a shrimp from the tagliatelle with leeks and shrimp tucked under my Lean Cuisine, a surreptitious bite of crackling goose skin when I was in the kitchen carving, a handful of sweet-and-spicy nuts shoved into my pocket.

But it was downhill from there. My Points Tracker lay abandoned on the closet floor as I became jacked up on carbs. Second helpings of mashed potatoes were piled on top of corn and followed by honker-sized pieces of Snowflake Cake, which, by the way, I didn’t love, despite how beautiful it came out. But what I couldn’t put down were the cashew caramel cracker bars. These things ought to be on any list of highly dangerous substances that include crack, heroin, and huff. Or at the very least they should be governed by the FDA, because I had that same instantaneous dependency James Frey writes about in his fictitious nonfiction account of drug addiction in A Million Little Pieces. It got so bad that late Christmas night, under the pretense of heartburn, I snuck down to the kitchen and demolished the entire tin of caramel bars, eating over the sink, caveman-like. Even the cats, who were hoping for a dropped morsel, walked away disgusted.

But where you schadenfreude-filled pessimists are wrong—and, yes, I’m deriving great pleasure in telling you this—is that on Jan. 6 I went to Weight Watchers and discovered I had lost two-tenths of a pound. One-tenth more than my goal. Sure, what I lost clocks in at less than a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder—minus the bun and toppings. Sure, most of you could walk in the bathroom, take a whiz, and come out that much lighter. Sure, the loose change in your pocket probably weighs more. But what those of you who don’t have food issues don’t get is that the true success here isn’t the infinitesimal loss, but rather the lack of the gargantuan gain that could have happened, that usually has happened each year for as long as I can remember.

Traditionally, the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s has been a personal “Twilight Zone.” Upon smelling roasting turkey and sage stuffing, I’d cross over into a parallel universe where eating had no consequence. After days of leftovers and tryptophan-induced lethargy, I could look in the mirror, stare at the double chin perched comfortable on its budding offspring—a triple chin—and see nothing but great hair, good teeth, and a 32-inch waist. I’d eat and eat and eat and never notice a difference. In that five-week period, I had the opposite problem of anorexics: I never saw myself as fat. And I never consider my behaviors unusual. So what if I took a magazine and a bowl of Christmas M&Ms to bed and fell asleep? The next morning I’d just wash the red-and-green dye from my face, change the sheets, and refill the bowl. But inevitably the door to that dimension would close, and on Jan. 2 I’d be slapped upside the head with the reality of my actions. The damage would be anywhere from 10 to 15 pounds. Call me crazy, but I just didn’t want to go through it again.

I’ll admit it. I’ve gone so far as to weigh all my pants and shirts to find which is the lightest. Until I’m allowed to weigh in naked, I don’t see any other choice.Of course, the question remains: With all that eating, how did I lose the weight? I’m not sure. But I think it has something to do with my girls. (I’m fully aware this sounds like a cheesy Vegas act: “Introducing David and his Gamine Girls!” That’s what happens from being the only guy in the room.) The girls are group of women who attend the 10:30 Weight Watchers meeting and who I knew would whup my ass if I didn’t come back lighter. While I was gorging, they were in my head like a Prada/Vuitton/H&M-clad Greek chorus urging me to stop. There’s Susan, who dispenses her homemade low-fat muffins as generously as she dispenses advice; Barbara, the former opera star, who emails her menu to me every day; Norma, who, though she’s a woman of a certain age, always flirts; and, of course, our leader, Emily, who would understand if I gained weight but who wouldn’t hesitate to bitch-slap me across Broadway if pitied myself for it. Somehow through the insanity of December, I held them close, and I managed to eat less than I have in years.

So, then, why did I wait so long to write this coda? There are a few reasons, but mostly I wanted to make sure I was losing fat and my two-tenths of a pound loss wasn’t the result of a particularly fiber-filled meal the day before or the fortuitous choice of lighter-weight khakis. (And, yes, I’ll admit it. I’ve gone so far as to weigh all my pants and shirts to find which is the lightest. Until I’m allowed to weigh in naked, I don’t see any other choice.) I returned to Weight Watchers on Jan. 13: another 1.4 pounds down. The holidays were finally over.

In the end, though, what feels good isn’t that my once-snug Brooks Brothers blazer now just hangs on me or that I had to buy another pair of jeans because the ones I bought in December don’t fit anymore. It’s the fact that for first time in a decade I didn’t have to make some hollow New Year’s resolution about losing weight. I didn’t feel compelled to guzzle Optifast for three weeks or to pony up the $1,500 for a gym membership that would get used seven times, as it did in 2002, costing me $214.28 a workout. This time, the holidays didn’t register on my weight radar. They were what they were always supposed to be: warm days filled with unabashed commercialism, disappointment, and arguments.

Oh, one last thing. To the 33 percent of readers who said I’d be despondent after the holidays, I give the bird, and I don’t mean the roasted kind. The 66 percent who said I’d be thrilled are invited to my place for drinks and canapés.


TMN Contributing Writer David Leite has stated a little too emphatically that he is not a food snob. (But we have it on good authority that while other people have moldering hot dog buns and withering mesclun in their fridge, he has been know to harbor lobes of foie gras, exotic mushrooms, and bottles of champagne.) He’s quick to note that he loves plain ole mac and cheese, but he was overseen recently pish-toshing at the waitress until the chef agreed to drizzle it with truffle oil. He’s not above a McDonald’s Filet-o-Fish, though. He’s also the publisher of the James Beard Award-winning website, Leite’s Culinaria, and the author of the upcoming cookbook The New Portuguese Table: Exciting Flavors From Europe’s Western Coast. More by David Leite