Hank sat slumped on my black leather office couch, his back to a foggy bay view on a January morning.
When he let me see how disgusted he was, the beer-belly joviality he conveys when standing became the angry look of a man who felt cheated of a birthright. Greying hair peeked from under his Irish tweed cap as he stared at me.
“Look. It was just a heart attack, ok, and the three stents made me good as new. My family needs to get off my back. Imagine trying to guilt-trip me into believing that my grandson needs me. He’s got plenty of relatives.”
I waited for the emotional hurricane to pass.
“How many Christmas cookies made a good night? I asked.” His petite wife loved to bake with her twin granddaughters.
“They’re tiny. I really don’t count. Why spoil the fun?”
As I thought, Hank had no idea of the danger he was in. His binge cheese eating and beer drinking were enough to roll out a 10-pound weight gain, as I remembered from the last year’s binging.
“Hank, you are hurting your chances for a healthy year. Do you want to do that?”
“I’m not dumb. Of course, I don’t want another heart attack, but a cookie is a cookie. It’s tiny.” He looked impatiently righteous, so I backed off.
“I have some pointers for you. Take them or leave them, but it can’t hurt to listen. They may help you enjoy cookies for many more years." He sat attentively, but there were no guarantees of his ability to stay in control over the holidays, and I knew it.
Deep winter eating can be a disaster for everyone. Cold indoor weather can produce a craving for rich food lacking fiber, so it leaves us hungry. As soon as we think of feeding our cold weather hunger, we are deluged with the temptation to throw away our righteous judgment.
For example, with movies or football games, we eat as much as 1,000 extra calories, but what do we do to fight this binge bubble? The key is to make a plan. Here are a few tips many clients find useful:
1. Wait until 11 a.m. to eat. Many of us eat more meals than our body can process, so it stores energy as fat. If we give our bodies a chance to burn up what we just consumed, we can better maintain weight and still get optimal nutrition.
2. Drink a meal of water. If you eat a salad and drink cold or hot water, you will feel fuller than you might think and can save some calories for the parties. A meal a day of salad and water is both healthy and refreshing for a body that must have vitamins and minerals and remain hydrated.
3. When you feed others or eat at a restaurant, begin the meal with a salad of bright colors and interesting tastes. Add apples, pears, nuts or carrots, colorful pieces to please your eye and your health.
4. Make green vegetables with minimal butter the main portion of your holiday meal. Help yourself to ham and roast beef, but rely on salad and warm green vegetables to fill up your insides and please your brain before leaving room for one serving of dessert.
I looked at Hank and smiled. He had nearly fallen asleep from my suggestions. “Hank, what do you think?” He pursed his lips and relaxed them.
“Doctor Judith, I know you are right, and you say it so nicely that I can listen to you."
"Tell me three vegetables and fruits you like.” I had to persevere for his health.
“Green beans, green beans and green beans, but only with butter.” He looked over to see if he got me to smile, and he did.
“How about we meet in two weeks, and you can tell me how many pounds of green beans you have in store for the midnight snack catastrophe?" He smiled. I felt a bit of relief.
To Consider: How can you plan for deep winter binging? Is it worth it? Why?
To Explore: The internet has many sites with recipes for healthy winter snacking.
ED. NOTE: Dr. Coche practices clinical psychology in Stone Harbor and Philadelphia. She invites responses through her website, www.cochercenter.com.