In late August, when my youngest went off to college and I officially became an empty nester, I expected to be sad, but I didn’t expect I could accomplish something that has eluded me for almost a decade: I lost weight. I finally just buckled down, and did the very things we women over 50 know we have to do. I went to barre class as many times a week as I could, I power walked a lot, and I cut myself off from carbs. It worked.
How Can I NOT Gain My Weight Back Over the Holidays?
Thanksgiving is around the corner, and my concerns about this all-around-fabulous American holiday are simply this: how to avoid gaining back the weight I so painstakingly took off? I am not worried about overeating on Thanksgiving Day — I can have willpower for one meal, and frankly, I plan to eat what I want that day. What worries me is the fact that one of my daughters will be home for Thanksgiving break.
For the first time since early September, there will be food in the house. Chips, guacamole, cheese, crackers. These are the foods that have been banished from my pantry and refrigerator; they are not welcome here. But my freshman will have friends over, girls coming and going for a solid week.
Friends over means kitchen dance parties and late-night pizzas on my island, and those truly scary leftover pizza slices waiting for me in the morning. I want to see the kids, and mine especially, but I am frightened of the fattening food – the food that a 19-year-old can eat, but a woman of a certain age best not.
I imagine I am not alone in this state of mind. Anyone whose kids are grown and flown has surely noticed the food shift that happens when the kids are gone. The food bill on the home front goes down, for one. The food in my refrigerator is handpicked by me. Dinner is when and if I am hungry, not necessarily when it’s mealtime.
If I have a late lunch at the university where I teach, my dinner is just a plain egg, perhaps at 8pm. Or dinner is salad, just greens, or dinner is fish or chicken breast, without the usual (in my Armenian American home) bulgur or pilaf. My side dishes, if any, are more vegetables. Sautéed string beans. Roasted eggplant. Dinner might be an acorn squash – the whole thing, and that’s it.
Food shopping is fast and easy; lunch and dinner options are simple. Empty nesting is good! And the side benefit? I can shop for all the “new” clothes I need in my own closet.
When both my girls were in high school, they played varsity sports year round – and when they walked in the door at 6pm, they were starving. Dinner was ready – or almost ready, or ordered from somewhere, depending on my work schedule that day – when they walked in and threw their sports bags down in the hall. They needed a nutritional meal, pronto, and I made sure they got one.
Okay, occasionally I wasn’t even home – imagine that! – and I don’t know what they ate, but I did what we all did — I made sure I fed my daughters a good dinner. Every. Single. Night.
Cooking for two hungry girls involves preparation, and prep involves not just planning, but tasting. Taste this, taste that, and then eat a meal. Do that for four years of high school, and who gains weight? Not the sporty girls.
So how to avoid gaining when my kid comes home from college? I’ve been wracking my brain. I could chew gum. Brush my teeth more. One co-worker likes to snap a rubber band on her wrist when she is tempted to snack.
But then I hit on it. Braces. I’m going to my dentist this week and getting fitted for Invisalign. That, I hear, does the trick.
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Ellen Bakalian is a Classics and Humanities professor at Montclair State University. She is a storyteller, and hard at work on her next book. She is a contributing writer to TheAtlantic.com, and guides HS students through the college essay process. She lives in northern Jersey, but her two daughters are grown & flown, and attend college in other states. You can find her on Facebook (Ellen Bakalian), LinkedIn (Ellen Bakalian, PhD), and Twitter (@esbakalian).