The Best Diets I’ve Accidentally Been On

could it be that my new kettlebell workout is already starting to show?

There’s a lady in the ready-to-wear section of Neiman Marcus who, whenever she sees me, tells me I’ve lost a lot of weight. She’s rarely right, and if she was right every time she saw me, I’d be smaller than a size 0 — I’d be invisible. I’ve been on a new eating and exercising regiment since the beginning of the New Year, but out of fear of being disappointed, I’ve refused to step on the scale to verify her observation.

Though it’s not the case this time, the most effective diets I’ve ever followed have relied on meal replacement programs.

Instead of a traditional lunch or dinner, I had alcohol.

In college I went on the Sonoma diet. I lost five pounds in the first week. I wasn’t really allowed to eat anything, but it told me to drink wine. I was constantly hungry. I was also constantly buzzed and five pounds lighter – how could I complain?

In lieu of two meals of deep fried fish parts, I had one meal of Quidi Vidi beer and one meal of fish and chips. I lost 5 pounds in Newfoundland.

One summer vacation, I spent two weeks in Newfoundland, Canada, where they warned me I’d find love and  fish battered and fried is both its own food group and the only thing on most menus.  In an attempt to mitigate the potentially damaging effects of 2 meals slathered in batter and hot fat, I replaced one of those meals with another Newfoundland specialty — Quidi Vidi beer. I don’t know what my arteries looked like, but I came home several pound lighter.

As a curatorial intern at the Museum of Modern Art, I was commuting from Westchester to midtown Manhattan while trying to be a competitive athlete while trying to earn a small income doing freelance projects. I’d come home late at night too tired to turn on the stove, but not too tired to pour a gin and tonic. My “Intern Diet,” as I called it, resulted in my first significant weight loss regime with lasting results since puberty took away my puppy fat. It also resulted in a small stomach ulcer.

That’s the problem with successful diets – they’re often bad for your health.

Unwrapping Christmas Presents Past: an Inner-Child Grows-Up, but Only Just a Little

It was a snowy Christmas morning when I was 4 and found myself standing in front of a large, me-sized box wrapped calico-style and adorned with a shiny, red, stick-on bow. I had asked for an Easy Bake Oven and given its size, I was sure this box was not my easy Bake Oven. I was somewhere between being tickled pink with anticipation and overwrought with disappointment.

It wasn't my Easy-Bake Oven. It was a lavender bike with a wicker basket and streamers. And it was snowing outside.

As I tore away the paper, I quickly saw I was right: this was not my Easy-Bake Oven. Instead, Santa had given me a lavender bicycle with streamers and a white wicker basket. I looked at the picture on the box then turned to the window.  The snow on the lawn was blinding white and the ice clean-up trucks chugged noisily down my street spraying salt and sand as they went. I was doubtful that this present would produce any immediate gratification. But I had seen enough Christmas movies and heard enough stories from my friends to understand that a bike for Christmas was a big deal. So I followed convention and starting jumping with joy, encouraging Daddy to put it together ASAP so I could ride it around the living room.

“No. You can’t ride the bike in the house. We just refinished the floors.” My mother didn’t realize what lasting effects this command would have.

I didn’t learn how to ride a bike until I was 17 and I never mastered turning. Now, the only bike I ride is a stationary spin one. Meanwhile, despite never having got my Easy Bake Oven (I asked for it every Christmas up until I was 11), I’ve become a bake-o-holic. My parents claim that it’s because I never had an Easy Bake that I’ve become such an able-bodied, all-from-scratch cook — I had to learn how to use a real stove, not one powered by a light bulb. One can never argue with a parent’s logic.

So far, my dinner guests have gotten more use out of my guitar than I have. But it's not too late for me to become the next Jewel

Yet while I can now churn out cakes, cookies and pies like nobody’s business, I’ve never gotten over the Easy-Bake Oven. Determined to prevent Santa from once again confusing “bakeware” with “bicycle,” I started writing elaborate Christmas Wish lists, complete with figures, web links, and product numbers. Each list has reflected whatever stage of my life I had entered — from preteen to early adulthood. A remote controlled plane, Backstreet Boys concert tickets, a watercolor box set, a Play-Station 2 with Guitar Hero, a real guitar, books by my professors, Kate Spade flats — for sure, with each item comes a flood of memories from not only that Christmas, but from that year in my life.

But in 2010, I couldn’t be bothered writing a list. Surely, after 25 years my parents knew I was easy enough to please that as long as it wasn’t a bicycle, I would be happy. My mother cursed me as she roamed the mall and racked her brain.

“Look, why don’t you just get me a cookbook or something.”

“You don’t need another cookbook.”

It was nothing short of a miracle that, come Christmas morning, there were presents waiting for me under the tree. My mother handed me an armful of crudely wrapped items with a look of both pride and concern on her face. “I don’t know why I bought you these,” she said. “But I figured we’ll need them later.”

I felt like I was 4 again as I shook the boxes. The sound of liquid sloshing around had me stymied. As I ripped away the paper and bows I was surprised to see a set of martini glasses, a bottle of Tanqueray, a bottle of Rose’s Lime Juice, and a copy of “Vintage Cocktails,” a book featuring recipes from Pegu Club, my favorite cocktail lounge in New York.

“Now, just remember, when you make things out of this recipe book you’ll not only get fat, you’ll get drunk,” Mum said as she cracked open the gin.”Go easy.”

I guess that’s why she neglected to give me a drink shaker.

Unlike the lavender bike, it didn't take me long to put these Christmas presents to use... despite the missing cocktail shaker

 

Driving Home for the Holidays? How a Highway Pitstop can keeps those Holiday Pounds in Check…maybe

It’s the final week before Christmas. People are grabbing their kids and packing up their hybrids to head home for the holidays. We all know what that means: “From Atlantic to Pacific, gee the traffic is terrific!”

After hours slogging along the interstate in bumper-to-bumper traffic, rest area visits are a given. One thing I learned while making my way around the eastern seaboard this week is that a pitstop on I-95 can not only revive the spirits, it can change your life.

Freshen up. Refuel. Grab a latte. Check your weight. Receive an inspirational message from the Virgin Mary.

Wait, what?

For 25cents, get your weight, lucky lotto numbers, and an inspirational message from the Virgin Mary

Have you ever noticed that, in addition to food and gas, highway service plazas always have a pay-for-your-weight scale in the bathrooms? Considering that TCBY, Cinnabon, Burger King, and McDonald’s account for the majority of the food vendors at these interstate pitstops, I thought the scales might be the federal government’s feeble attempt to curb the obesity problem in America. Want a double-whopper with extra cheese and a super-sized fries to eat en route to grandmother’s 4-course holiday feast? Why don’t you check your BMI first?

Over the years, I’ve frequented many a highway rest area, but never before had I seen a coin-operated scale like the one in the Clara Barton Service Plaza on I-95 South.  Sitting in the entrance way to the ladies bathroom was a bilingual machine with a technicolor image of the Virgin of Guadalupe plastered front and center. There was a scale in the men’s room too, but it was plain vanilla white with “Get Your Exact Weight!” scrawled on it in purple. Was someone trying to send the ladies on I-95 a message about ideal femininity? Thin, pious, and virginal?

For a quarter, you can get your “exacto peso,” an inspirational message, and today’s lucky lotto numbers. Being an intrigued sucker, I dropped in the change from my grande awake tea latte. Considering it’s the post-Thanksgiving, pre-New Years Resolution 30-day all-you-can-eat challenge, this was probably not the best idea for my ego. None the less, I proceeded. And what did the Scale of the Virgin tell me? That I gained 6 pounds in 2 days.

I guess it’s a good thing I opted NOT to order the venti gingerbread latte with whipped cream.

always a sucker for fortune tellers, there goes my latte change

Obviously, 6 pounds in 2 days is impossible, but being a typical female, I couldn’t help but frantically assess my eating/exercising regime over the last 48 hours. After all, the machine claimed to give me my exact weight up to 500 pounds! But, Kathleen, let’s be sensible.

Consider it: my sweatshirt easily weighed  5oz, that extra-long scarf was an additional 3oz, my sneakers were worth half a pound… my wallet – a long, quilted thing with a heavy zipper, metal embellishments and $5 worth of nickles– clocked in at a pound… and my car keys, I can’t forget my carkeys… together, my accessories surely accounted for about 3 of the 6 pounds. There’s a reason why I generally refuse to stand on a scale wearing anything but my birthday suit.

As for the other 3? Well, those were just a lie. “Exact Peso,” my ass.

Due up next up on the little screen  was my inspirational message. I half expected a note that said “Find enlightenment… go eat a bar of soap, fatty.” Or “Gluttony is a sin. Find redemption through the FRUIT of the earth,” or “Many a martyr found salvation through self-denial. Consider a self-denial of food your path.”

Instead I got “Adore A Dios Sobre Todo.”

I translated it as: “Love God Above All… Particularly, Above All Carbohydrates.”

Love God Above All... Particularly Above All Carbohydrates

Friday Night Winter Coat Woes: To Check or Not to Check?

“Enjoy the chilly weather,” a friend said in a text message. “Sometimes it seems I’m the only one who enjoys it!”

“Not so! I love the cold! It saves me blush step when I’m ‘putting on my face!'” I enthusiastically typed in reply.

Getting ready for a summer night on the town has its appeal, particularly in the lack of clothes required...

The late sunset, the empowering “good-bye” to layers, wool tights, and a multi-moisturizer makeup regime — certainly, going out on sultry summer nights has its appeal. But as any girl who has found her foundation dripping down her face and sweat stains stretching to her waist knows, getting ready for a carefree (read: humid and blistering) summer night is no carefree task. The onset of the winter chill is a surprising relief.

“Scarf appropriate” earrings must be considered (you don’t want your chandeliers snagging your cashmere), but otherwise, winter nights on the town are reasonably low maintenance. When things turn frosty, I can use a hairdryer without the extra 2 coats of antiperspirant. I can look to sensible, rugged flat boots for almost all evening occasions. And thanks to movement-friendly leggings with figure-flattering sweater dresses, I can transition from day into night with a mere swipe of red lipstick.

The catch? That whole “coat problem.”

Hats stay on heads and scarves swirl around necks as parts of an ensemble. Gloves slip into pockets and earmuffs into purses. But those long, inflated, element-proof outerwear garments don’t fade into the background so easily.

If you’re lucky to find a lounge with a coat check, problem solved. At most, all you need to worry about is a dollar tip at the end of the night. But make your way to the typical crowded bar, and things get more complicated.

Hats and scarves become part of an ensemble, while mittens and earmuffs dissapear into purses.

I walked into the dimly-lit Keats on 2nd Avenue and took a quick survey of the throbbing alleyway of pint glasses, rosy cheeks, and navy sweaters. “Are there coat hooks anywhere?” my friend asked. Apparently, somewhere at the back of the pub there were small brass hooks triple hung with peacoats and ski jackets. Was there room for her black wool coat among the sea of like-styled black wool coats? Didn’t look like it.

Sometimes, hooks are strategically pinned under mahogany bar tops. Supply is usually scarce. If you happen to find yourself at a bar with back-rest enhanced bar stools, you’re in luck – a built-in coat hanger at your seat. Find yourself at a bar sans the aforementioned amenities and your MacGyver instincts have to kick-in.

This many accessories does pose a challenge at the local Public House

I stood at the bar, with a pint of Blue Moon in one hand, my knee-length quilted mauve Burberry in the other, backless stool in front of me, and awkwardly attempted to find a solution. “You could hang it on your knee when you sit down” was one suggestion. Okay, here goes. Before I could take a sip from the glass, my coat was in a heap on the sticky floor.

Why don’t you sit on it? That seemed like a good plan until I wiggled onto the coat-draped bar stool, watching the head on my ale teeter-totter close to lip of the glass. It was then I hooked my heel on the coat’s pocket instead of the stool’s support rut.

The rip was audible and the footprint insoluble. Mild panic.

As I slipped off the stool, my butt sent my coat tumbling to the floor again. To add insult to injury, while on the ground, it had picked up the powdery remnants of a bowl of peanuts. The 5 second rule is a lie. I still had a full pint in my hand. It was too early to retire. I picked up the coat, examined the stool, and proceeded to re-drape my now wounded outerwear. Sigh. The damage had already been done, the least I could do was finish my drink and make sure I had a place to rest my feet.

Twas the Day Before Thanksgiving and All through the Whole Foods

…the villagers were stirring, kids, significant others, and in-laws in tow. There was a feast to prepare and a table to set, flights to be made and cars for roadtrips to be packed.

I’d never seen it before — a supermarket suffering from a hand basket and shopping cart shortage. People stood dumbfounded. Where did they all go?! Where am I supposed to put by butternut squash? Some wives were stalking departing shoppers, helping them unload their groceries in hopes of scoring a vessel for their groceries. Others were in foot races, running to grab the first cart returned to the corral.

Meanwhile, husbands sat in the driver seats of minivans praying a parking spot would come vacant, pretending they didn’t know “that woman” who was about to bat another over the head with her Michael Kors handbag.

A timeless Thanksgiving tradition -- over crowded grocery stores and shopping cart ralleys

Inside, the aisles were packed, but the shoppers unphased. Everyone was on a mission. The line for the organic turkeys swirled around the store. Family teams were passing bags of cranberries like they were footballs and tossing turnips like fastpitch softballs.  It was a controlled chaos, except for the occasional fight over an un-cracked frozen pie crust.

The shopping cart shortage was easily explained. There seemed to be a two per family distribution — one for the children, one for the turkey and trimmings. The children looked terrified. Their eyes bugged, their little hands gripped tightly around the cart’s mesh. They looked at their parents as if they were total strangers. Are these  people diving for the last bag of stuffing mix the same people that read me Winnie the Pooh stories with the funny voices?

The problem with pre-Thanksgiving shopping is that entire families head out to the grocery store. Grandparents are told to stay with the cart — usually deposited in the middle of the aisle — and watch the children, while parents try to double team on the whipped cream and produce.

Having been involved with team sports my whole life, I know that you’re only as strong as  your weakest player.  Bringing along idle shoppers who are told to sit and stay won’t help you get those frozen peas to the dinner table… not to mention the fouls they cause to members of other teams. I was nearly launched headlong into the stack of oranges when an unmonitored toddler cut me off at a corner. Where was that kid’s leash?!

At the end of the day, I give my fellow shoppers credit. No one really lost their cool, and I appreciated the woman who helped me load the Land Rover and chirped a “Happy Thanksgiving!” as she toted away my shopping cart.

“Good luck in there!” I hollared back.

She was going to need it.

It's a race to the checkout line. Watch out ladies, those handbags double as weapons!

Meet Me in the Meat Market

luuuurve in the produce department... so that's how guacamole is made...

I’ve always believed that supermarkets are the best place to play the pick-up game. Bars and clubs are unoriginal, expected, and often bothersome. But a flirtation in the oil and vinegar aisle, on the other hand, is surprisingly refreshing and thoroughly endearing.

You can gather more reconnaissance on a stroll past the cereals than during a 5-minute speed date. How a person moves through the produce section is extremely revealing, and a quick survey of a person’s shopping cart items easily helps you determine compatibility. Plus, there are few conversation starters as effective as a mutual interest in wild sockeye salmon recipes.

Yes, Whole Foods is the new OkCupid.

Today, I found an admirer while stocking on my Stoneyfield Farms maple-vanilla yogurt. There were smiles and waves before we went our separate ways, crossing paths and waving again in front of the wheels of parmigano regiano and the shelves packed with tea. Finally, as I waited in line for my iced latte, I felt a tug at my shopping basket. Before I could turn around, a white fluffy blanket hit my face.

I’ve had some pretty forward advances in my time, but no one’s ever thrown their bedding at me before… at least, not in public. He was pretty serious.

It was then his mother apologized. “He just turned 3. And I thought the twos were terrible!”

“I think I’m a little old for you, tyke,” I said as I handed the toddler back his blankie.

Okay, so it wasn’t the 6′, blue-eyed, dark-haired, wedding-band-less 30-something who smiled at me when I crashed into him while reaching for a head of radicchio, but this toddler dug me. And attention from a cute boy, even if he’s in a diaper, should never fail to flatter.

Next week my local Whole Foods is having a sale on t-bone steaks. I’m telling ya, it’s gonna be the new single’s night…