The Silver Palate was my first cookbook. I’d always been interested in cooking, but not since seventh-grade home economics had I been so inspired. The aroma of dishes like chicken marbella and hot pepper ratatouille filled my kitchen and fed my body and soul. I was cooking soul food — by my definition, food that comes from the best part of oneself, prepared with love and shared with family and friends.
My fondness for food grew alongside my skill as a home chef, and as we do in love, I cooked with reckless abandon — choosing recipes by taste, season or my mood du jour. I had fun and felt satisfied physically and emotionally.
My creative call was answered in the market and in the kitchen, and as I set a beautiful table. I enjoyed a warm, peaceful relationship with food, with nary a thought about fat or carb grams — that is, until the health and fitness craze took hold of the American psyche.
The idea of cooking light fed the health frenzy. It was out with real foods like butter and cream and in with low-fat, low-taste, fake ingredients, and that’s when my diet daze began. I trimmed the fat, starting with my signature cream of watercress and broccoli soup. Instead of butter, I opted for the newly anointed olive oil; I substituted low-fat milk for heavy cream. My once decadent and delicious soup became weak, limp and watery.
As I slurped the runny, pureed disaster, I wondered if Mother Nature had pulled a dirty trick, providing 10,000 taste buds designed for us to enjoy mouth-watering food that is sure to kill us or, even worse, leave us too fat for fashion.
I had a few things to reconcile. As a nutritionist, I knew a lot of facts about healthy foods. As a wannabe chef I liked to surround ingredients with butter and wrap them in bacon. And as a fashionista I wanted to fit into cute clothes. Who better to unravel what seemed to be a dietary dilemma?
Turns out you can trust Mother Nature! After living through decades of food fads and health hype, I found that the answer lies somewhere in the middle. It’s all about balance. So here’s my theory:
Have a love affair
… with food. If you aren’t head-over-heels in love with a recipe or ingredient, take a pass. Select only standout dishes prepared with real food, not fake and processed substitutions. Choose three or four bites of great food over 10 bites of mediocre food. Great food satisfies you, so you don’t have to eat as much.
Choose to taste
Rock your recipes and your taste buds with strong, vibrant flavors and spices that put an end to bland, boring dishes. Get creative; let cilantro fill in for parsley and morels for button mushrooms. Again, quality versus quantity applies.
Use pleasure as a weapon
Experience pleasure when eating to guarantee a greater metabolic return. That means siting at a table with a plate and eating slowly, which allows your stomach to register fullness so you’ll stop before overeating.
Rethink portions. Appetizers, soups and salads can begin a meal, or be the meal.
Sweets love you back
Mark the close of a meal with a sweet to cut down on grazing between mealtimes. Try a piece of dark chocolate, a cappuccino or a few bites of dessert. You’ll be surprised at how indulging in a small dose of regular treats curbs your cravings.
Cut down on emotional calories
In order to lighten up, lighten up. Don’t beat yourself up over dietary dogma. Replace criticism of yourself with curiosity about food and the way your body enjoys and uses it.
These tips will put you on a path to natural, healthy and pleasurable weight management!
Read more in my book, The French Twist: 12 Secrets of Decadent Dining and Natural Weight Management.