There’s nothing funny about not eating chocolate. Despite my previous declaration that it’s quite alright to gain weight, at a certain point it goes from insight to insanity. I’d finally reached that point last week when nothing I tried on fit me and I had to face the cold, hard truth – making chocolate means eating chocolate and eating chocolate every day is not a sustainable diet unless all other foods are taken away. Unwilling to relinquish my carnivorous bounty of dead birds, sea life and doe-eyed farm animals, and even more unwilling to give up pasta, I had to reassess this chocolate thing and devise the perfect chocolate diet.
As I’ve said before, dieting is not something I know much about. Dieting has always been one of those things that other people do, like dancing or dying. It just wasn’t me, even if it did sound like fun some days. And I figured it had to be fun, since so many people do it, and so much is written about it. All those diet sodas that have never passed my lips, all those enormous salads bursting with flavorful veggies and dressed in fresh squeezed lemon juice have been as foreign to me as deep-fried tapeworms.
In the presence of a dieter, I’ve been more apt to say pass the truffles and I’ll live vicariously through your cranberry Jello indulgence than mutter anything that could be mistaken for empathy. Just as studying was what other people did to excel while I was committed to juvenile delinquency and found straight A’s came my way as easily as trouble, dieting – and the exercise that went with it – were what other people did to stay in shape while I ate butter by the pound and took a lot of naps because size two was oh so tiring.
Not dieting had its advantages, but it deprived me of so many foods I’d never get to enjoy, like Stevia, a natural sweetener (as if sugar isn’t) that sounds like a hip baby’s name, or exotic plant extracts like Hoodia, which sounds like a religion based on magic (unlike all the others). Would I forever pass by The Holy Ecumenical Church of Hoodiacs, where Orthodox Hoodiasm might change my life? Not if I wouldn’t diet, that was for sure, to gain entry one must Believe.
And all those technologies designed for other people, like Le Whif, plastic inhalers filled with the essence of tomato soup for people who find that literally inhaling their food is just as satisfying as actually eating it. The sad truth was that as long as I lived inside a body fueled by high metabolism, a whole world of dieting would forever remain beyond the old skinny me.
Then one day, there I was, a chocolate addict with no more abs. I had to lose weight, and I had to lose it fast because I could not afford new clothes and the season was warming up. And to make matters worse, I had a blog, and had to write about making chocolates, but one thing I’ve discovered is that there is a direct co-relation between marathon chocolate making sessions and the discomfort of my jeans. To be more precise, if I devote a weekend to making chocolates, by Monday morning all my clothes shrink about an inch in diameter. I think it has something to do with the tempering process. The heat of melting chocolate mixed with the cool temperature of the apartment must make natural fibers tighten. At least, that’s a hypothesis I can live with just as long as I don’t test it.
So once I’d determined it was time to eat less and exercise more if I was to continue gorging on chocolate, I established the following rules:
- I would not rule out any food, especially chocolate. I would continue to eat my favorite foods. How much of these favorite foods and how often I ate them, however, was negotiable;
- I would not eat artificial sweeteners or anything that didn’t exist before I was born. I could go without sugar altogether if I had to, but I would not pretend I was eating sugar when I wasn’t (unless I was hallucinating, which was perfectly acceptable if it tricked me into thinking I really was eating a platter of linguini and finishing up with a box full of chocolates. Reality, after all, is highly over-rated).
- I would not pay to diet. Paying money to eat less food is like depriving yourself of the things that you love in order to go broke. It makes no sense.
Having set these rules, I decided to do the unthinkable. No, not join a gym. That would entail payment and being subjected to people doing sit ups while dressed in scuba-diving suits. I decided I would count the calories I consumed. Counting calories, or cals as we in the know call them, was one of those things I always snickered at. Why count calories, when you can just eat less? But how much less was now a relevant issue, so I downloaded a nifty app for the phone (I know, phones are supposed to just have rotary dials and ring and make annoying busy signals, but now they do everything but have sex for you). This little app, which I like to call Machiavelli because it’s so calculating, is more like a game. It doesn’t just tell me how many calories I’ve eaten, but how many I’ve used up, with such great exercises as “cooking,” “house cleaning,” and my favorite, “eating” (89 calories an hour).
Once I got started on my app, there was no stopping me. I started by measuring everything I ate, another one of those loony things I thought only anorexic supermodels or chemists with OCD bothered to do, but once I realized that dumping the half and half into the coffee pot used up half of my daily calories before I’d even gotten out of bed, I began measuring a mere but sufficient two tablespoons into the two cup pot and saved myself about five hundred calorie points I could use toward chocolate. And if I walked around the block a few times I gained more calorie points, enough for a chocolate truffle.
While jogging up a hundred and eighty steps the other day I found myself on the path to Starbucks, when I punched in “Caramel Macchiato” only to discover I would have to speed walk to Oregon if I wanted one of those, so I changed my route and went back home for a glass of lemon scented water. And when I bit into a store-bought chocolate only to discover it contained fewer cocoa solids than my kitchen floor, I spit it out because I’ll be damned if I’d waste my calorie points on imitation chocolate.
I spent a week walking, hiking, cleaning and tying myself into knots in front of the television set while some barely dressed blonde with the personality of a Valley Girl and the physique of a wrestler assured me I was doing a great job and urging me to “feel the burn” (an expression that completely baffles me, she’d might as well have encouraged me to “enjoy the suffering” and put me in a virtual head lock).
I gorged myself on seaweed and sardines and rye crisps and rice cakes and a few chocolates every day, getting some weird thrill out of winning the game with Machievelli the Calculating App by racking up the exercise points faster than my “cal” penalties. And whenever I found myself with a few hundred extra cals to spare, say after spending two hours reorganizing my closet, I spent them on a plate of pasta or a couple of small chocolates. By the end of the week, having cleaned, cooked, hiked, climbed, felt the burn and eaten my way to more exercise points than any human before me, or so it seemed as I lay on the floor hyperventilating and calling for chocolate, I’d lost three pounds and was a size smaller and ready to head back in the kitchen to turn out a platter or two of saffron fans and get started on a new idea for something with green tea and vanilla.
I’d missed making my chocolates. Once I realized that making chocolate means gaining weight, I wanted to give up. I wanted to stop making chocolates and start making sorbet. I wanted to drop the blog and declare chocolate making should be left to the pros, the chocolatiers who stand on their feet all day and run around like ping pong balls burning up their calories while licking their chocolate-coated fingers clean and popping creamy truffles like salted nuts at a sleazy bar.
But if I gave up making chocolates, I’d be left with nothing but seaweed. I’d never learn how to airbrush my molds, much less master caramels. No, abandoning my chocolate obsession just so I could continue to diet was clearly self-defeating. I needed a better solution, a new approach that would enable me to continue melting my chocolate and my waist. I pondered my problem with a disc of dark couverture melting on my tongue.
Supposing the problem wasn’t the chocolate, but was instead my thoughts? What if the problem wasn’t that I made too much chocolate, but that I thought too much about it? After all, before I began making chocolate, I didn’t sit around thinking about chocolate. But now that I was making it and writing about it, it was natural to think about it, indeed, it was quite necessary that I think about it. But in thinking about it, I began to think about the taste, and thinking about the taste, instead of savoring my own imagination, I perceived a new need. A need for more and more, when enough is really enough.
I continued to ponder, the chocolate now melted and its taste lingering in my mind like the finish of a marvelous wine. If I could cut the cream in my coffee, I could cut the cream in my ganache. If I could be happy with a small bowl of pasta in place of a platter, then I could be happy eating fewer of my chocolates. And if I could run up 180 steps for one chocolate, I could run up them twice for two. Each chocolate that I made and ate was a treasure and a testament. A testament to good living, not to be eaten lightly.
Now that I knew the calorie count, now that I knew the cost, my chocolates became all the more valued. I began to eat them with more attention, with greater joy, and with far more respect. That which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger it is said. My chocolates wouldn’t kill me, just as long as I didn’t kill them. We made a truce. I would make them slowly, and eat them even more slowly. And in turn, my chocolates would be kind to me. Because let’s face it, there must always be room for an occasional platter of pasta.