The Gutless Gourmet

Weighing in About the Holidays

The holidays pose awful temptations for people watching their weight—especially if they’re gourmet cooks with families to entertain.

There’s only one thing I really want for Christmas this year: a stiff case of narcolepsy. I want to go to sleep tonight and wake up fully rested on January second. It’s not because I’m not cheered by the tree in the lobby of my building, or the menorah on Broadway, or even by the glut of tourists along Fifth Avenue (although I could have done without that couple wearing matching Santa Claus hats at the Van Gogh exhibit at the Met last Saturday). I’m neither glum, depressed, yearning for a lover, nor wanting to dump one. The only thing I want to dump from my life at the moment is, sadly, food.

See, earlier this year, I weighed a whopping 278.4 pounds. I’m sure if auteur Morgan Spurlock had seen me, I would’ve ended up on the DVD case of Super Size Me.

I wasn’t always this huge. For most of my adult life, I shuttled between 185 and 188 pounds, a comfortable weight for a man of six feet. But in 2001 I became an accidental food writer, after unexpected kidney surgery and a suicidal economy forced me out of advertising. That’s when I started eating my way through as much of the world as possible, and I packed on 90 pounds. Out of desperation and fear for my health, I joined Weight Watchers this past May.

Considering my momentum, getting through the holidays should be a cinch; after all, I aced Thanksgiving, eating moderately and still losing 7.4 pounds in two weeks. I’ve dropped more than 27 pounds so far—enough of a loss to force me to buy new clothes for the first time in two years. A trip to Tar-jay netted me a shearling coat, a sweater, jeans, and a brown velvet blazer, one that finally didn’t flare out in the chest because of my moobs, or “man boobs.” When I was looking in the mirror, contemplating buying it, a woman said, unbidden, “It looks good on you.”


She nodded.

“Does it make me look fat?”

“Absolutely not! It’s sharp.” I went back to the dressing room and stared at myself in the mirror. It was the first time I could remember someone saying anything positive about my looks in a long time.

But apparently fate didn’t give a damn about my looks or my weight loss. Besides the regular holiday-party invitations, my PalmPilot is crammed with enough events to blow my Weight Watcher points from now until April. So, Bridget Jones, move over. You’re not the only lard-ass with a full calendar and weight issues.

Dec. 16. Alan’s birthday. What does he want for a present? A Goose Dinner with stuffing, Celery-root Gratin, roasted asparagus with Parmigiano-Reggiano, and something so chocolaty it could fling him into a sugar coma. Plus, the day before, a bunch of us are celebrating at Forsythia, a new restaurant in New Milford, CT.

Let’s put this in perspective: One-twelfth of a 9-inch cake with icing is 12 points; I’m allowed 30 points a day. I can easily knock back one-quarter of a cake—with two tall glasses of milk—in one sitting. Total points: 44. If I give in, I’ll already be in the red after just one dessert.

Dec. 20-21. Visit Mom and Dad. This should be a breeze. My mother, who by dint of age and a size-twelve wardrobe, has missed her opportunity to pull an Angelina Jolie in the forest of some third-world country and instead turned her goodwill ambassadorial aspirations on me. A lifetime member of Weight Watchers, she already has the freezer stuffed with Lean Cuisines. Taped to the fridge door is my exercise schedule, personally created by her. In case that isn’t motivation enough, inside the fridge is a small plastic pig that grunts when the door opens. Happy holidays, kid.

Dec. 23-24. Christmas at the Connecticut house with Alan, Diane, Christopher, Megan, and Michael. Since this is the first time the family has visited for the holiday, there will be plenty of hot chocolate (7 points), homemade cookies (two tiny ones, 3 points), cakes (don’t ask), candies (ditto), and gallons of Coca-Cola (64 servings at 2 points each). Are you getting my drift?

We’re also making stockings for friends, which contain homemade Lemoncello, chocolate-caramel crackers, lemon curd, blueberry preserves, and sweet-and-spicy nuts. Try doing all that without nibbling. Luckily, I get 35 bonus points per week. Oh, joy.

Dec. 25. Christmas. Breakfast for the adults is oyster stew. (Don’t ask; It’s a family tradition.) For the kids, Deep-Dish Brioche French Toast. The only dinner the kids will brook on Christmas is ham, corn, and sweet potatoes. I refuse to buy anything canned or boxed, so it’ll be a spiral ham with a butter-bourbon-brown sugar glaze, roasted-garlic mashed potatoes with Swanson chicken broth for me, sweet-potato pie, creamed corn, something green to stuff into the kids, and a Snowflake Cake.

Marginalia: When you’re sitting on this side of the caloric fence, munching on air-popped popcorn and Weight Watchers One-Point Mini Bars in a desperate attempt to stave off bingeing, you wonder whoever began this idea of stuffing ourselves on Christmas. It used to be that holidays were the only time people ate well. (Think about Tiny Tim and that huge goose.) The rest of the year, people barely subsisted. But today we live in such a gluttonous society, where every day we can stuff ourselves as if it were Christmas, that it makes the actual day that much less special. Oh, hell, maybe that’s the low blood sugar talking.

Dec. 26-29. Nothing, no one, nada. The idea of a purifying fast and a high colonic sounds good. With this much free time on my hands, the thin among you might think: What a good time for exercise. And you’re right: Exercise is part of the Weight Watchers program, and my doctor has told me that with a cholesterol level nearing 300, I’d better do something fast. But you spend 30 minutes doing high-intensity aerobics only to discover you’ve earned a lousy 6 points, then tell me how motivated you feel. That’s not even enough to trade in for a Filet-O-Fish without tartar sauce. Or one of those horrible-tasting low-cal heroes from Subway. No, for the time being, my butt is stuck to the chair watching Christmas in Connecticut and It’s a Wonderful Life.

Dec. 31. Dinner with Kevin and Manny. This would seem like a no-brainer and a huge points saver: Kevin is vegetarian. But because of his indefatigable bent for anything ‘50s, the menu includes rosemary cashews, Lipton Onion Dip, a cheese fondue, Stilton Pinwheels, Gougères (minus the bacon for Kevin), and, for dessert, a chocolate fondue.

Jan. 1. I won’t be stepping on the scale today. In fact, I’ve already asked Alan to hide it from me for the entire holiday season. I’m sure I’ll be gnawing at the doorjamb by now, anxious about my weight, but I’ll refuse to look. I’ll have to trust the points, believe in the points, honor the points. My only New Year’s resolution is to weigh less than I did on Dec. 16, my last weigh-in. I’ll gladly take a one-tenth-of-a-pound loss.

Jan 6. First weigh-in of the New Year. After nearly three weeks of battling calories and fighting off dishes like Wonder Woman using her silver bracelets to fend off bullets, I’ll have to go to my local Weight Watchers meeting and stand facing the scale. I’ll wear the same clothes I’ve worn the past month, although they’re getting loose: a thin shirt and khakis, but no underwear or T-shirt (they weigh about three-tenths of a pound), no shoes, no belt, no wallet, no glasses, no ring, no watch. I’ll have removed the lint from my belly button and the wax from my ears. I won’t have eaten or drunk anything that morning. I’ll exhale deeply (I haven’t been able to determine how much a full breath weighs, but I’m sure it’s something), and I’ll step up. I’ll look at Nevett, my favorite Weight Watchers receptionist, my eyes bulging from holding my breath, as she scribbles in my membership book. Then I’ll look at the computerized sticker that will tell me how much I’ve lost or gained.


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