Janet Sheridan: Battling the holiday bulge

My spree started with a handful of candy corn on Halloween and ended with a dip-dripping chip on New Year’s Day.

It’s my sister’s fault.

Many years ago, sitting on the steps of our front porch, slurping root beer floats, Barbara and I decided Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s and our birthdays were free-eating days; we could eat anything we wanted, all day, with no guilt.

We didn’t inform mom.

A day of guilt-free excess seemed too brilliant an idea to discontinue, and we have remained true to our pledge — though we now pursue it with less vigor than when we were young.

My birthday is in early November, so beginning with Halloween, I party: popcorn balls, spiced cider and bite-sized candy bars followed by birthday cake with cream cheese frosting and pecan-praline ice cream; next I enjoy pumpkin pie, pumpkin pie, pumpkin pie before beginning on fudge, frosted sugar cookies and eggnog.

On Jan. 2, I plummet from a sugar high and realize my jeans are too tight — the end result of my feeding frenzy, literally.

From years of experience, I know how to recover.

First, I don’t diet. To ask me to give up the food I love with no reprieve in sight is inhumane. You might as well tell me to duct-tape my mouth closed; I’m as likely to do it.

I’ve read that I should practice “Hara Hachi Bu,” a Japanese saying that means stop eating when 80 percent full. Evidently, it takes 20 minutes for our brains to recognize a satisfied stomach, so we should wait that long before reaching for seconds.

In my experience, if I stop eating for 20 minutes, others will either gobble the food or hide it in the refrigerator. And how do I know when I’m 80 percent full? What physical symptom says, “Hey, old girl, the needle’s at 80; better nap for 20 minutes.”

I can’t take such extreme measures, so here’s what I do instead — I return to reasonable portions.

Experts recommend an entrée be approximately the size of one’s palm. Praises be, I inherited my father’s big hands, and I find lots of wriggle room in “approximately.”

I strive to eat only at mealtime; no snacking allowed.

Because I can’t snack, I’m driven to eat three meals a day whether hungry or not. On occasion, when immersed in a project, I glance at the clock and realize I must eat lunch, because in a half-hour, it will be time for dinner. I seem to think that skipping even one meal will plunge me back into incessant snacking.

I ban dessert.

Except on weekends.

My willpower self-destructs after five days. If I deny myself longer, eventually I throw aside restraint, eat everything in the house that is sweet, and then scrabble through cupboards looking for stray chocolate chips.

Cookie crumbs and checking the rearview mirror go together. More than once, I’ve rolled down the window to answer an officer with caramel fusing my jaws. From January to April, when I’m in recovery, my marriage benefits: Joel is happier when his hands don’t stick to the steering wheel.

If I follow my plan, forgiving myself for wallowing to the dark side on Valentine’s Day, I notice sometime in March that I have worn my jeans all day without twitching about in discomfort — just in time for marshmallow bunnies, chocolate crème eggs and jelly beans.

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