SEATTLE (Reuters) - Dining with others really is not about the food. It's about the people - and the relationships - around the table. That's true whether the table is bearing celery sticks or a 7-course dinner. Sharing sustenance is a gesture of companionship and generosity.
Holidays push this concept to the max, when rich, calorific avalanches seem to accompany good wishes everywhere you turn. Your co-worker is begging you to try her special cookies. Your buddy is pushing a seasonal splurge of Chocolate Thunder. Your hostess unfurls a buffet that has kept her in the kitchen for a month.
The good news: You can honor these gestures, enjoy the season, and hang on to your healthy ways. How? Like so many things, it starts with your attitude.
The Power of the Positive
So much holiday "dining advice" is negative: what we can't do, shouldn't eat, mustn't drink at all costs. The net result is that we spend our energy and attention on these Don't Wants and - of course - end up thinking of little else.
This year, try something else. Focus on what you want, not on what you want to avoid. You want to: Feel good about yourself - today and after January first. Be kind to your body and general health. Achieve your goals. Celebrate with friends and have fun.
And yet, if you take a woe-is-dieting-me attitude into the season, you will - believe me - fall short on every count. You will have no fun, be no fun and - worse - may even seem judgmental about your non-dieting friends and hosts.
Meanwhile, the self-pity won't help your weight goals one whit.
Party smart. The basics:
Never go to a party hungry.
Eat an apple, a piece of cheese or some nuts and drink a full glass of water before you head out.
Watch your alcohol.
I stopped drinking alcohol at parties a long time ago, when I realized it clouded my thinking and sullied my healthy resolve. It's easy to substitute sparkling water or a soft drink. If you wish, you always can toast your success back home later.
Exercise or take a brisk walk around the block before the event. It will curb your appetite, ease your stress, and clear your head.
It's a dinner at your boss' house. The menu is baked brie in puff pastry, beef Wellington and chocolate mousse. Heart attack on a plate. If you've done your homework and had your pre-party snack, hunger won't be gnawing at your good judgment.
Thus, you can nibble at your food, choosing the healthiest items in small portions, and sort of move the rest around on your plate to make it look like you've done the meal justice.
This is not the moment to announce that you don't eat dead animals - or, for various other reasons, anything else on your plate. It's not fair or kind to rain on anybody else's parade by bringing up your virtuous diet.
Instead, focus on being a charming, upbeat guest. That's what will get you a repeat invitation - not whether you've cleaned your plate! Thank your hostess sincerely for the delicious meal, whether or not you ate much. Mounting a dinner party requires time, effort, and expense. Honor that.
East Side, West Side.
It's easier to navigate the shoals of dieting in restaurants where you have choices. But again, focus on the Wants rather than the Won'ts.
That might sound like, "I'd love the salmon grilled dry, a baked potato, and green salad with oil and vinegar, please." "I'd love a white wine spritzer." Or, I'd love those wonderful mixed berries with whipped cream on the side, please." And "Why don't you pass this basket of rolls down where the others can enjoy them?" is a whole lot more palatable than "No, no, a thousand times, no!"
Convey that you are embracing life's pleasures - not robbing yourself of them. Sometimes it's most gracious to avoid the word "no" altogether.
When declining something, try: "I think I'll pass on that tonight, thanks." By your statement, you have not passed any judgment on the indulgence or the indulgers. It's just that you choose not to partake tonight. (Your tablemates don't need to know that the very thought of it makes you queasy."
All Around the Town
Once the season is in full swing, you won't be able to walk 20 feet without encountering a tray of cookies, a bowl of candy, or other tempting treats.
A simple, sincere "Oh, they look lovely, but I'll pass for now" should suffice. If someone absolutely insists you try Aunt Gert's fruitcake, graciously accept a small slice "for later" and discard it when you're gone.
You don't have to choose between your healthy habits and good manners this season - or any time. Keep your spirit sparkling, your conversation warm and generous - and your opinions on yours and everyone else's diets to yourself. That should give you plenty to chew on!
(Edited by Paul Casciato)