For success with New Year’s food resolutions, start early

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Jules via Wikimedia Commons

Historians believe the first New Year’s resolutions were to pay debts and return borrowed objects. These days, the most popular ones have been to eat better, exercise more and, ultimately, lose weight. Alas, New Year’s Day is a poor time to make these promises.

Resolving to eat better after gorging over the holidays makes sense. And while it’s easier to find the resolve after you’ve hit bottom, you can avoid that problem altogether if you fend off the extra pounds at the start, which means that diet-related resolutions would be a lot more effective if made early. Say, this afternoon. Before tonight’s holiday party. Because an army of hosts, caterers and event planners are plotting to fatten you up. You need to be prepared to defend yourself at all times.

The best part is, you don’t have to sacrifice too much holiday gluttony. You just need to glutton-ize responsibly. So here are some tips to help you develop a system to navigate holiday temptations.

1) Treat your stomach like the most valuable piece of real estate on Earth. Don’t just give away that space to the first platter on the first table you walk by. It’s easy to surrender to gluttony and slip into devour mode and just eat, eat, eat to the point where you’re totally bloated by the time you find the good stuff, at which point you have no choice but to continue eating. Take your time to get the lay of the land. Something more worthy will be around soon enough, and you’ll be glad you waited.

2) Wait until lunchtime to eat breakfast, especially the day after a pig-out. Some people worry that skipping breakfast leads to more eating later in the day to compensate, which can actually cause weight gain.

I understand the reasoning behind that idea, but the most recent evidence — not to mention the anecdotal experiences of actual breakfast skippers — suggests that skipping breakfast does not, in fact, usually lead to weight gain. In any case, during the holidays you know you were already going to eat more later in the day, so think of it as skipping breakfast to compensate in advance for the gluttony that you will be committing. You won’t starve, and amid the holiday feasting it may actually feel like a relief to pause and give your belly a chance to sort itself out and get some rest.

3) Up the activity. Not to imply that you can exercise away the excess. In theory you could, but unless you become an endurance athlete for the month of December, any workouts you sneak in probably won’t compensate for the level of indulgence typical of holiday fare. But exercise is always good for you, and if you’re skipping breakfast, you do have the morning time slot available.

4) Pre-party with green plant fiber. If you show up with a contented belly, you won’t be that guy salivating at the food table. You will be prepared to control yourself and better adhere to the first resolution.

Arriving at a lavish buffet with green fiber in your belly has other benefits, too. Green plant fiber is a good digestive aid that will help move along all the custard puffs, pumpkin pies and cookies.

A bowl or two of the following massaged kale salad will put a good base layer in your belly, taking the edge off your hunger, so you can control yourself when you arrive. The recent E. coli outbreak is certainly a good reason to avoid romaine, but kale has a lot more to offer anyway. If you are looking to maximize fiber per forkful, or just prefer the hearty flavor of a mustard family plant to the crispy water of lettuce, there are many reasons to make this salad.

Be warned, like many salads, this one isn’t exactly low on calories. But the calories come from fat, which, like fiber, satiates the belly and takes the edge off of hunger. Calories from salad are more nutritious than calories from cake.

Massaged kale salad

Vegan Feast Catering via Wikimedia Commons

This is a hands-on recipe. You have to literally grab at the kale leaves and rub them with salt and lime juice, which breaks the cell walls, leaving the kale soft, pliable and easier to eat than non-massaged kale. The effects of massage are similar to those of cooking. The kale shrinks and becomes more tender.

My kale of choice is the long and narrow-leafed lacinato kale, aka dinosaur kale, black kale or Tuscan kale. Curly green kale is a good second choice.

Serves four

3 bunches kale, stems removed, chopped crosswise to about 1/2 inch slices (about 8 cups)
2 limes, juiced
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup green cabbage, thinly sliced
1 cup sweet onion, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, pressed (garlic lovers can multiply as necessary)
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup grated Parmesan or crumbled feta
1 cup pitted olives

Optional: 1 golden beet and 1 medium carrot, shredded finely

Place the kale, lime and salt in a large mixing bowl. Squeeze and knead handfuls of kale as hard as you can, over and over, for about a minute. Add the rest of the ingredients, toss together and serve. If using the optional orange roots, mix in or use as a garnish on top.