VIOLA - Please tell me that you’ve been eating like a bear that just woke from a long hibernation, that it’s not just me who begins eating crappy food the first week in December and doesn’t stop until January. As soon as I start thinking ‘holidays,’ my whole psychology changes. I go deep into a scarcity—or maybe a celebration—mode.
Worst are the cravings for foods I normally avoid: sweets, fats, and crunchy, simple, salty carbs. On recent days, I’ve polished off a pound of shrimp with cocktail sauce, an assortment of wee fudge brownie nuggets, and easily a dozen deviled eggs. I don’t even like deviled eggs!
Circling the buffet tables at friends' parties has become an event for me. I have a system. Keep moving to the right, hold a saucer in your right hand. Have a holiday-themed napkin tucked underneath to wipe away any telltale crumbs. Grab from the table with your left hand. Make eye contact with everyone you encounter while chit-chatting. Partygoers are bound to be focusing on your eyes, leaving your left hand free to do as it wishes. When you say, “Oh, fine. I’m fine,” casually saunter on your way around the table, while slipping that delicious stuffed olive down your gullet.
The shrimp frenzy is a new one for me. It came on fast, as if I grew flippers and started clapping and barking. Maybe it’s because I’ve committed to keeping the heat down near sixty in my house. Or maybe that I just returned from a vacation by the sea. It could also be a selenium or B12 deficiency.
I toss down the shrimp, throwing my head back like a seal. First, I dip them in a tiny amount of cocktail sauce (like that bit of vegetable matter justifies eating a pound at a time) and down the hatch they go. I especially like that I don't even have to mess up a plate: I take one from the bag, dip it in the bottle of sauce, and toss it into my mouth. No mess. The bonus was finding cocktail sauce in a plastic bottle. A squeeze of my left hand brings the red sauce bubbling to the top, then onto the shrimp in my right hand. Are you thinking I’d get sick from eating a whole pound of shrimp? I didn’t.
On the healthy side, I’ve become obsessed with guacamole. Everyone knows that avocados are one of nature’s most nutrient-dense foods, boasting a whopping 20 different vitamins and minerals. I picture all those good nutrients celebrating like it’s 2019 in my gut. It feels good.
The downside of my guacamole craze is that I enjoy a crisp, fat-fried, salty chip to use as a shovel to scoop it up. Oh, and a third of an avocado has nearly 80 calories! Still, I prefer to regard my obsession with avocados as healthy. Whatever it takes to get through January.
I understand the evolutionary reason for starting to eat more when the weather gets colder. Calories consumed help keep us warm. In Ely, Minnesota, I once participated in a dog sledding adventure. The highlight of the workshop was sleeping on the ice in tents. Some participants chose to sleep under the stars. It was the dead of winter and well below zero.
Once we unhooked the dogs and took care of their needs, we scavenged the shoreline forest for dead wood and dragged it into a gigantic pile that we hoped would burn through the evening. Afterward, we had dinner. It was common to add hunks of butter to hot chocolate, and before climbing into our sleeping bags the leaders had us do jumping jacks and eat a huge chocolate bar. The idea was that the fat, exercise, and calories would help raise our bodies' thermostats.
The eating frenzy continued in the morning. Breakfast was a half-pound of bacon per person with a good six eggs. Once again, a stick of butter was passed around—so we could saw off slabs as big as Arctic ice floes to melt into our coffee. Mm, mm ... not good!
Seeing as it’s now January, it’s time for me to put the brakes on this outrageous appetite of mine. I’m not living in the frozen outback of Ely. I’m not burning thousands of calories a day. And I’m not eating my meals while shivering in a tent on the ice. I’m eating in my home, which, even at my frugal 60 degrees, is far from freezing. So, next time I hear those shrimp calling me from the fridge, I’ll go for a walk instead.