Sunday, April 12, 2009
Let Them Eat Cake: A Dieter's Journey While on Vacation
Many of you are wondering why I haven’t posted in the past few weeks. Some may even be wondering whether I am off the grid because I have completely abandoned the diet.
Fear not, friends. The Elzer Family is safe – I hope.
This is a word that may as well signal the onslaught of overeating.
For me and countless others, vacation ranks up there with all-time gluttonous behavior. Sure, it’s a time to relax, enjoy and just let your self go.
But unless your vacation includes a visit to a fat farm, it may as well be like a license to over eat and over drink.
I don’t know about you, but when I go on vacation I bring an unbridled appetite to every meal and a nearly insatiable thirst to every bar.
Vacationing is like eating on steroids.
Picture all the food you can imagine at a buffet AND Thanksgiving AND a Luau and then cram all that eating into the course of one week.
In previous years when we would board a cruise ship, trust me, the chef was relieved when the Elzers disembarked.
So when we took off on a Family Vacation to Lake Tahoe last week, I was a bit apprehensive about how this was going to affect our diet.
After all, I believe a good deal of our success these past several months is anchored in our regimen: we pretty much cook for ourselves.
But when you go on vacation, you have very little control over how food is prepared. Does the chef cook with butter? How much oil? What size are the portions? What kind of rich sauces do they pour over the food? Will the menu be so filled with temptations that we will fall apart like a house of cards?
About a year ago, we joined a fantastic vacation club that gives us access to spectacular homes all over the world. On our previous trips to New York, Laguna Beach and Hawaii, we pretty much ate like starved savages. This time out, we were going to continue to cook on vacation like we did at home.
Except for one tiny hurdle.
I was especially nervous because the first night of our time away was Amy’s birthday. More than a month ago she threw down the pre-cheat gauntlet. She said she wanted to enjoy a piece of birthday cake on our first night of vacation.
I remember thinking we were gonna be colossally screwed.
Cake is like a Lay’s Potato Chip. You can’t have just one bite – or one slice.
But how could I say no to my wife’s birthday celebration?
I sided with Marie Antoinette and shrugged.
“Let them eat cake.”
Now originally, I am sure Amy was thinking “give me the richest, most decadent cake you can find.” Yes, she had more than earned it. But then something wonderful happened. In the weeks that followed, I watched as Amy began searching thru every diet cake recipe she could find.
She even severely burned herself experimenting with the flourless, sugarless chocolate cake.
I should say here and now it tasted pretty damned good - especially when I snuck a fork full after Amy dropped it and it splattered all over the kitchen floor. Perhaps it was the kitchen dirt that added texture and flavor cuz it just didn’t taste as good the second time she made the recipe and it didn’t fall on the floor.
And the non-fat cheesecake was also pretty satisfying and tasty considering most everything in it was allegedly fat-free.
So, as Amy was packing the car for our time away, I saw the springform pan for the cake she planned to bake for herself and I simultaneously smiled and frowned.
I arranged a surprise for Amy – a real birthday cake.
Never before have I been so conflicted over a frickin’ cake.
I agonized over the purchase and I knew by bringing this monster of custard and whip cream into our world, it could lead to disastrous consequences.
Being the gambling man, I just hoped that we were strong enough to enjoy the celebration and move on like normal people.
When we arrived at our home away from home, we had brought a lot of perishable food with us in a cooler. The first thing we did when we got to the house was place those items in the fridge. As soon as the Subzero door was opened, the gig was up. The cake was discovered.
From that point on, the kids went into nearly fanatical excitement and anticipation over what is really just well constructed flour, eggs, sugar and cream.
I had become the agent provocateur among us.
What had I done? Why couldn’t I just let Amy make her guilt free dessert? Why? Why? Why?
I wish I could answer those questions honestly, but I am not sure I know the answer myself.
I guess the only logical response is that deep down inside, I wanted the real deal crème de la whipped cream. It was a vacation after all, and normally, I pack a suitcase full of wine and we eat out nearly every night to the point of excess.
Maybe Amy’s pre-cheat had turned into my attempt at sabotage.
When it came down to dessert time, Amy thrust the cake knife into my heart. Since I brought this evil into our home, she wanted me to divvy up the servings. Whatever I decided, she and the kids would live with.
This cake thing was turning into my own personal hell.
I doled out respectable pieces of the cake – which for the people that need to know - was a white cake with a custard filling stuffed with strawberries and frosted with whipped cream. Yes, we prefer whipped cream to butter cream and please don’t even get me started on this frosting debate which is actually legendary in our lives.
Anyway, the pieces were not too large, nor too small. Like the three little bears, the pieces were just right.
Racked with insane guilt, I took the tiniest sliver of slivers and confirmed the obvious. The cake rocked like few cakes before.
This sad fact triggered the inevitable.
“I want another piece, Daddy,” was the thrust of what I heard for the better part of the remainder of the night.
One member of the family actually started to take the cake to their room and threatened to eat what was left. Then this person backtracked and decided it needed to be immediately put into the garbage disposal.
A fine idea except for one simple fact.
I quickly explained that we were in Lake Tahoe and I really didn’t think the disposal would handle the load. To me, the cake would clog its little septic system arteries like a cardiac patient gorging on a diet of rendered fat.
As one too many members of the family started to freak out about the outcome of the cake, I erupted. “Enough obsessing with the cake! OK?”
I decided we would give the cake to our concierge – the woman who was so helpful in arranging for its purchase. So the next day, while we were on a day trip, we begged her to enter the house and remove the cake before we returned.
Now, truth be told, after the kids and my mother in law had gone to bed, I was genuinely tempted to ask Amy whether she wanted a second piece of cake. But I just bit my tongue on that one.
For the rest of the trip, The Elzers were exceptionally good at sticking to the program. Amy and I even managed to enjoy a date night out that remained pretty faithful to our diet despite the chef’s best attempts to prepare food his way instead of ours.
Perhaps the biggest surprise for me during our time away was my commitment to work out at the gym literally every day. Hannah even joined in on the treadmill a few days.
But with all the good – and there is plenty of good in our lives - I really have no idea whether we are moving in the right direction.
It has been three weeks since the kids have stepped on a scale. It’s been two weeks for Amy and it will be two weeks for me later this week.
I know that cake aside, everyone has been as good as they possibly can be. But the kids have been getting antsy with the food choices and this change is hardest on them. And Amy, too, has been getting a bit bored.
The other night after watching a few things I didn’t quite like as extra ounces were put onto plates, I asked whether the diet was too hard as we entered the 11th week.
I was reassured that the resolve was strong but there is no question that with each passing day, it remains harder and harder to stay focused.
The program is no longer a novelty -- it’s truly a life change.
If I have any doubts or apprehension about our progress, it’s really because I have no idea how any of us have done in these last several weeks.
And isn’t that ironic? After years of hating the scale, I know now I need the needle to keep us focused.
To me that realization is like relying on an arch enemy to save your life.
So my nemesis is now my partner in this journey. And that is a completely new way of thinking for me. I still hate climbing on board that damned thing, but after several weeks of knowing but not knowing, I just need a definitive answer telling me where we really stand.
Steve Elzer, 2009