Everything in moderation

Balance. Variety. Moderation.

Finally, I met a nutritionist.Prof. Luchi Callanta is her name. Guesting on The Sweet Life, she said we can enjoy everything  — that bag of chips, those fried peanuts, ice cream, meat, rice, bread (yes, rice and bread!), chocolate, chicharon bulaklak, lechon — all you can think of. It is okay, provided that you don’t have as much as you want of all that you can think of. There has to be (and these are the key words) balance, variety and moderation.

Think of all three in one breath when you think of food. Think of that last one, especially when your fingers begin to touch the bottom of  the bag of chips, and when you are tempted to wolf down every nugget in that bag of chocolates.

I’ve been through diet phases myself — three-day liquid diets (you are starved and your skin looks it), absolutely no-meat diets (you morph into a little monster because you are frustrated as well as deprived), no carbs (the most difficult for me because I just love rice and bread; makes you feel sluggish too, so it really is no good), the no-dessert-other-than-fresh fruits diet (which works out just fine until the day you snap and find yourself in the kitchen, at midnight, frying Double Oreos or Presto Peanut Butter Creams in salted butter and wolfing down six of them with full cream milk like there was no tomorrow).

And finally, its very strange counterpart — the all-dessert or all-junk food (basically all-one-thing) diet. Believe it or not, my Lola Carmen was a perpetrator of that (it was severe and I suspect she invented it because I have never come across anything like it in print). She believed that if you just ate one thing, not mixing it with any other, you could have as much of it as you want, and guiltlessly at that, because you absolutely will not gain weight. In hindsight, maybe it was her love of sweets and the desire for something so forbidden (she was diabetic) that made her preach that to us, her grandchildren. Of course we followed it. Lola said it would work if we took it seriously, and I would eat ice cream or hot caramel sundaes from McDonald’s as often as I wanted, the whole day through, while my cousin Johanna snacked on Jack & Jill potato chips that a suitor of my sister Caren gave to her in bulk. Those she would eat with mayonnaise.

By the time we realized Lola was not right on this one, our bellies were much rounder than our appetites and we had to slave away the excess pounds in the gym or dance and sweat along to step aerobics, guided of course by perky, fully-made-up instructors clad in shiny tights and leotards, hollering out instructions from the VHS player, their tsunami-style bangs and cobra hairstyles withstanding the full-hour high-impact workout. How did they manage that and why did I not find that ridiculous at all back then? My cousin Johanna always points out it probably was because we had the same hairstyle to begin with. Creepy.

Anyway, back to the wisdom of the nutritionist. It sounds so sensible doesn’t it? So doable, too. I have been thinking about that, replaying it many times in my mind in the hope that it will really become a habit, a lifestyle. I have been trying to eat less meat since the year started and I feel good about that, but it feels even better knowing that I do not have to completely eliminate it from my diet.

Every day I pop into my mouth one piece from a big box of chocolates that we got as a Christmas gift. It is wonderful, the way it melts in my mouth and I like the excitement of tasting the dusting of cocoa powder first, and then the decadence of velvety chocolate next. It is a beautiful ritual I look forward to every day, usually before I shower; I open the fridge and I take one, just one. The brand is Truffettes and they were not available locally until recently; then I heard they could be found at the second floor of the Shangri-La Mall and also at the second floor of SM Mall of Asia. I used to ask friends to bring the chocolates back home for me, which was hard because they melt so easily, but now I know where to go when my supply runs out. Of course, a chocoholic like me can never be totally at peace with having just one piece but because I know I am only allowing myself just one, I savor it even more. Tomorrow is another day, I tell myself when the urge is so strong, and I can always have my fair share then.

I attended a food tasting a few nights ago, together with close friends, and it again reminded me: Balance. Variety. Moderation.  There were over 25 different dishes and it was an exercise in restraint (where none seemed to exist at that particular moment, that particular gathering) not to take more than one spoonful of the really delicious ones. But I managed, and except for those with ingredients I really do not like (uni, for instance), I was able to enjoy all that was laid out before us. And being a foodie, I totally loved the experience. I was full but I was not so stuffed that I could no longer think of food. That should be the way to feel after every meal, I think. To be fully satisfied but not so much that it makes you feel awful and sluggish afterwards.

And I guess that will be my little mantra when it comes to eating and indulging this year: to bend a little so I don’t break. Sensible eating will allow me to indulge in all the flavors I want, guiltlessly.

I know for sure that I can enjoy Juliana’s full cream milk, ice cream, the Alaska condensed milk that we make into caramel that we so love at home by slowly heating the whole tin in a water-filled pan for three to four hours, cookies and desserts and meat with rice as long as I don’t consume them in super-generous amounts, the way I do my Del Monte fiber-enriched unsweetened pineapple juice. That I take with all my meals and it helps me stay fit. Keeps me full longer, too. When I am craving food with empty calories, I take a serving of that, very cold, with lots of ice, and immediately I am satisfied.

And guess what I am having for merienda later? Buttered wheat toast with kesong puti from Cavite (a pasalubong from Wilma when we tape Mondays and Tuesdays) smothered generously on top with Toastbox Hainanese Kaya with Honey and Coconut Jam Nonya Kaya with Pandan, both gifts from Scho, our good friend based in Singapore. It is the most delicious coconut spread I have ever tasted.  Ever. No kidding. I remember taking my first bite of it a couple of days ago and my first thought was, “Lord, oh Lord, where can I buy some more when we finish off the contents of both bottles?” I checked the label for clues — a website hopefully, or even just a phone number — before turning it upside down. Bingo. It is from Bread Talk. Of course I know Bread Talk. Richard brings me pasalubong from there all the time. I am happy to know that I know exactly where to run when I need some more.