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  • Writer's pictureJulian Molteno

A CHRISTMAS DIETARY STRATEGY STORY . . . or, Julian having a rant!

Please, sir, I want some more.” It’s that time of year again: Christmas and New Year. A time of celebration and of relaxation, a time to switch off, put our feet up, drop our guard, and take it easy. As the end of the year approaches, we start to slow down and relax, our TV screens are filled with enticing images — tables laden with food, and bottles of bubbly, happy people, shopping and laughing. General gay abandon. We are invited to office parties, with free booze and three-course meals, and round to our neighbours’ for mince pies and mulled wine. We’ve worked hard all year; it’s been stressful and busy. It’s time to breathe out . . . and enjoy ourselves! ——————————————————— When I used to diet for bodybuilding competitions, I enjoyed reading as an escape from the reality of being hungry all the time. I learned pretty early on, however, never to choose a Dickens novel as my reading matter. Charles Dickens captured the zeitgeist of many aspects of Victorian life, none more than their relationship with food and drink. Having lived through lean times, Dickens equated food and drink with abundance, a feeling made evident in nearly every story he wrote. We only have to read the following excerpt from A Christmas Carol, to get an idea of how enthused Dickens (and his readership) was with this culinary fascination: “Heaped up on the floor, to form a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, great joints of meat, sucking-pigs, long wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes, and seething bowls of punch, that made the chamber dim with their delicious steam.” The reason Victorians were so obsessed with this colourful imagery of the feast was precisely because it was so seldom available to them. In fact their dietary status quo was normally the exact opposite, it was one of great privation. In A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens goes to great lengths to show how deeply hunger pervades every aspect of Victorian life: “Hunger. It was prevalent everywhere. Hunger was pushed out of the tall houses, in the wretched clothing that hung upon poles and lines; Hunger was patched into them with straw and rag and wood and paper; Hunger was repeated in every fragment of the small modicum of firewood that the man sawed off; Hunger stared down from the smokeless chimneys, and stared up from the filthy street that had no offal, among its refuse, of anything to eat. Hunger was the inscription on the baker's shelves, written in every small loaf of his scanty stock of bad bread; at the sausage-shop, in every dead-dog preparation that was offered for sale. Hunger rattled its dry bones among the roasting chestnuts in the turned cylinder; Hunger was shred into atomics in every farthing porringer of husky chips of potato, fried with some reluctant drops of oil.” Fast forward to the twenty-first century and we are still mesmerised by the promise of excessive food and drink — the only difference now is that for most of us in the Western World, that mountain of grub is available 24/7!! And, to really crank it up to the next level, we now eat mostly processed food, adding sodium and sugar and preservatives to everything. At least in Dickensian England the food was organic! So how do we get through this “Festive Season” without becoming one of Dickens’s most well-known characters — EBENEZER SCROOGE!!! 

There are two aspects to consider when devising a Christmas eating plan — what we expect of ourselves, and what other people expect of us. The first can be dealt with relatively easily — eat as much of the “good” food as you want and eat as little of the “bad” as you can manage. What you consider to be either “good” or “bad” is a matter for you to address. More tricky, however, is what people (especially your host!) expect of you. They have gone to a great deal of trouble and expense to provide this (usually) outrageous pile of food, and they jolly well expect you to mange tout!!! And jolly well expect you not to. Firstly, let’s get one thing straight — stuffing ourselves with this huge variety of calorie-laden food and alcohol — is not actually enjoyable! Or healthy. And possibly, not even morally acceptable, considering how many people in the world are having to go without. Sitting on the sofa, stuffed to the gills, hardly able to breathe, is not my idea of a Happy Christmas. Furthermore, despite what the vast majority of people seem to think about tackling this feast — Hoovering it all up is not actually compulsory! As the beautiful Nancy Reagan urged us to do, during her anti-drugs campaign in the 1980’s, Just Say No! 

People always want you to join them in an activity that they seem to feel slightly guilty about. I have lost count of how many times I have been urged to: Have a drink! Eat some pizza! (Snort some coke!) And when you decline they are miffed. You are a right rotter and a stick-in-the-mud. While Christmas Day is the focus of “The Holidays”, if it were just this one day, it would not be such a big deal, you could succumb to this one bad day, and most likely get away with it. No need to have a Christmas Strategy. The reason we need a strategy is because in reality, it’s more like a fortnight of endless scoffing and guzzling. This is where the danger lies. Day after day after day. Those left-overs aren’t going to eat themselves you know. The very fact that I am even writing about a Christmas dietary strategy will make all my immediate family, and many of my friends (and clients), roll their eyes and shake their heads — boring Julian. It is seen by them as Scrooge-like, anti-fun and rather glum, something restrictive, pinched and mean. But it’s not! I love Christmas and am planning on having a lovely Christmas meal, with lots of good, healthy, and tasty food. Enjoying the happiness of the day; opening the presents, spending the day with people I love. I can’t wait. I guess what I’m trying to say is this: enjoy yourself, have a happy, relaxed time. Eat some nice food and have a drink or two . . . but — have a bit of control, do all those things in moderation, and you will have the best of both worlds — a happy, fulfilling day, without the accompanying hangover, heartburn and guilt. Bah! Humbug! 

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