Flash in the Pan: Healthy holiday eating begins with massaged kale

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Year after year, in survey after survey, the most popular New Year’s resolutions relate to diet, exercise and weight loss. It’s probably no coincidence that we make these resolutions after the damage is done, at the end of holidays.

Resolving to turn the ship around is a healthy response to the feeling of waking up fat, hungover and generally disgusted with oneself. But it would make a lot more sense to make our diet-related resolutions before we come unglued. Losing weight is a lot harder than avoiding weight gain, and chances of success are higher.

So, now is the time to craft a plan, so you can arrive at the holiday battlefields prepared with some belly-defense strategies that will work. You want to enjoy yourself, obviously. You even want to stuff your face. And with the right set of holiday resolutions you can.

Here are some tips to help you navigate the treacherous temptations of the holiday food table. And if you are happy with the effectiveness of these holiday resolutions, you may want to re-up on Jan. 1.

1. Treat your stomach space like the most valuable of real estate, like Victorians treated virginity. Don’t just give it away to the first tray of hors d’oeuvres that floats by. It’s easy to surrender to gluttony and slip into eating mode, filling your belly with whatever is within arm’s reach. Just don’t. If there is nothing good to eat then don’t eat. Take a breather. Something more worthy of your belly will be around soon enough.

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 supposedly cause weight gain. But the most recent evidence (not to mention the anecdotal experiences of vocal breakfast-skippers) suggests that response is rare. In any case, during the holidays you already know you are going to eat more later in the day, so skipping breakfast to compensate in advance for the gluttony to come just makes sense. You won’t starve, and after the gluttony it sometimes feels like a relief to not eat, allowing your belly to sort itself out and get some rest.

3. Up the activity. I don’t mean to imply that you can exercise away the excess. In theory you could, but unless you become an endurance athlete, your workouts probably won’t compensate for the level of gluttony typical of holidays fare. But exercise is always good for you, and will help you build some discipline that you can put to work at the holiday trough. And if you’re skipping breakfast, you do have that time slot available….

4. Pre-party with green plant fiber. I’m old enough to remember the T-shirts that advised “Arrive stoned.” While that resolution involves a different plant, its wisdom applies to the holiday party. If you show up with a contented belly buzz, you won’t be that guy crowding the food table. You will be prepared to control yourself, better able to adhere to the first resolution.

Arriving at a lavish buffet with green fiber in your belly has other benefits too. It’s a good digestive aid that will help move along all the custard puffs, pumpkin pie 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. 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 chewy flavor of a mustard family plant to the crispy water of lettuce, the reasons to make this salad are many.

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

Massaged Kale Salad

In this recipe, you use your hands to knead salt and lime juice into the kale leaves. This action breaks the cell walls, leaving the kale soft, pliable, and easier to eat than unmassaged kale. The effect of massage is similar to that of coking. The kale even shrinks under massage, as it does when cooked. My kale of choice is the long and narrow-leafed Lacinato kale, AKA Dino kale, black kale, and Tuscan kale. Curly green kale is a good second choice.

Serves 4

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, sliced thinly
1 cup sweet onion, sliced thinly
1 clove garlic, pressed (garlic lovers can multiply as necessary)
3/4 cup olive oil
1 cup grated Parmesan or crumbled feta
1 cup pitted olives
1 beet, preferably golden, shredded finely
1 medium carrot, shredded finely

Place the kale, lime and salt in a large mixing bowl. Squeeze 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. Alternatively, reserve the shredded orange roots as a garnish on top.

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