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A New Kind of Balance

Once upon a time, I ate chocolate and cake, and ice cream by the pint or a partial dive into a gallon. Purchasing two bags of chocolate chips, one for baking and the other for snacking, was normal. Frito chips and clam dip, deep-fried mozzarella sticks, and Twinkies were just a few of the staples in my food groups. My salivary glands were activated by simply typing these words made of sugar, cheese, and carbs.

Calories, like time, catch up with people (except those lucky people with a type A metabolism), and I was front of the line. Middle age had crept up on me while I had been enjoying the excesses, and all that junk food was padding parts of me that didn’t need it. Rubenesque was not “in.” Cholesterol was the thing to watch. Grown-ups eat vegetables roasted with a drizzle of olive oil, not drowning in salad dressing. It was all about balance; I’d never been balanced.

“You can eat everything you want in small portions,” my doctor advised. “Cut out the bread. Wrap your tuna salad in lettuce leaves,” she suggested with enthusiasm. “Drink a glass of water when you are hungry. Have a bite or two of those rich foods you can’t pass up, but eat it slowly and enjoy the heck out of it. It’s all about moderation and balance.”

Unfortunately, I’d never been balanced. It was a skill I needed to learn. I did try to stay within the guidelines of healthy eating, but I found myself wanting to dip my carrot sticks in caramel and fudge sauce. I decided to try the popular no-carb diet. I ate cheese, meat, and lots of Dr. Atkin’s pretend “chocolate bars.” I whipped heavy cream with sugar substitute and plopped a dollop (larger than the cup) on top of my coffee several times a day. I gloried in bacon and eggs four days a week. The pounds melted away, and for a while, I convinced myself that I felt healthy.

Suddenly, I started craving broccoli, cauliflower, beans–any kind of rabbit food. I could have them on the Atkins Diet but only in small portions. I had to laugh at the irony. So, mother nature stepped in. That balance I never had asserted itself. I thought about the effects of yo-yo dieting, of eating mostly carbs, of eating no carbs. Slowly, I began to eat like a grownup.

No one tells you that managing weight gets harder as you get older. I finally understood what I needed to do, and now, my caloric intake limit had taken a plunge. Yet again, I had to adjust. Was this healthy-eating thing ever going to get easier?

Last week was a real test. My favorite holiday party of the year at a five-star Italian restaurant was approaching. I spent most of the day of the event getting ready. It was one of the few times of the year that my husband donned a suit, and I applied full makeup. My dieting enabled me to get into the dress I had purchased for the party last year and never wore.

My husband and I arrived at the restaurant and found our place at a table. The white lights of a dozen decorated trees radiated Christmas cheer. I checked the individual menu at my place setting. It described the special five-course dinner, and I feared a five-pound gain as I calculated the ginormous caloric dump. My new/old dress began to tighten around my waist without lifting a forkful of food to my mouth.

My anxiety eased when the waiter served the I’ Antipasto: a lovely poached pear, mixed lettuce salad topped with sliced grapes, Pecorino cheese, and a drizzle of lemon dressing. Healthy and light; I ate every bite.

Next came, Course II Primo… a house-made pasta (oh my!) with grilled sausage, roasted tomato, and Tuscan kale. And, more Pecorino cheese–am I in heaven? I ate very slowly. I loaded my fork with a piece of sausage, a thick layer of pasta, and a liberal number of vegetables in one bite. I remembered my doctor’s suggestion and let the forkful sit in my mouth, saturating my taste buds. I wished I could ask for a doggie bag for what I would leave on my plate.

As soon as I was done, it was time for I Secondi: roasted salmon encrusted in whole grain mustard and braised New York strip steak in a Barolo wine reduction. Think protein. Lots of delicious, blood-enriching protein. Yes, it was a good thing that I ate every bite.

I Contorni Scarola e Fagioli (sauteed escarole and cannellini beans) accompanied the beef and fish. Okay, not my favorite. I could save a few calories here, I thought. So why did it taste so darn good?

To fill out the dish was Vegetali Padice Al Forno con Erbe Aromatich e Zenzero: delicious oven-roasted root vegetables with a touch of grated ginger. Oh, so healthy.

I was proud of my restraint. I enjoyed this incredible meal without overindulging. I savored the smell, texture, and presentation, as well as the flavor. I appreciated this savory food without a side of sugar. I decided Italian food was my absolute favorite cuisine.

And finally, the course I’d been waiting for all night–dessert: Salame del Papa–two slices of the most elegant, buttery, dark chocolate concoction laced with crumbled amaretto cookies, raisins, rum, and other bits of goodness served with a spoonful of Zabaglione gelato. Need I say more? I ate every bite and would have licked the plate if I wasn’t in public!


The holidays are over. A lonely, boiled egg, half an English muffin, and a handful of blueberries sit on my breakfast plate. I lightly salt and pepper the yolk. I eat slowly and sip my sugarless coffee. It’s very tasty, I convince myself. I can do this. Three hundred and fifty days to go. Balance? Hmm, it seems awfully lopsided to me!


  1. My hat’s off to you! As a young girl, I was thin and ate anything I wanted. When I’d leaf through my mom’s wedding album, I’d say: “Mom , you were so pretty and…thin!” She knew I was thinking “What Happened?” And without my saying anything more, she’d reply: ” You just wait, Erika, it will happen to you too!”
    She was oh so right! I really respect women who can deny themselves the pleasure of all those delicious foods we devoured when young and without consequences! This piece resonated with me. But, I have no will power.

  2. Oh how I can relate! I have always had a love/hate relationship with food. Mainly I loved to eat it with enthusiasm and hated the results. Unfortunately not much has changed over the years, but like you ,I have tried to eat like a grown up. Maybe one day I will succeed!

  3. Very enjoyable and such a true account of the difficulty facing us non-middle agers when faced with culinary delights.

  4. Always love your stories. I married into an Italian family. So much food at each meal. Lucky as I aged I had to adjust. I think I have been watching what I eat around the time my kids became teenagers and they are now in their 40s. Like you said “ balance”

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