I will tell you a secret: I am a complete hedonist. Without a healthy dose of narcism to leaven the lump, I would wax fat and happy in gastronomical bliss at my dining room table.
This may come as a surprise to a lot of people who know me primarily in the role of shouting, sweating fitness instructor. This will not surprise those people who grew up with me and watched me regularly put away 6 Soft Tacos in a sitting. My students often don’t see me gauging the remnants of a bottle of wine against the remnants of my novel. The goal is to get it to “come out even,” as one of my ancestors put it.
As a hedonist in sheep’s clothing, I can give you very good tips on how to overcome your inner hedonist. If you’re of a more Puritanical bent fitness-wise, then I can help you to reach out to your loved ones who are a little more like me and a little less like you.
First, hedonists, find a method of moving your body that you enjoy. There are very effective exercise programs out there. But if you hate doing it and you quit after 4 weeks of classes, then they are actually very ineffective, if you really think about it. I will get out of bed early in the morning on a Saturday to dance. I will not get out of bed early on any morning to skip rope, do sit ups, or do anything that does not involve really great music. But that’s me. My hair stylist loathes dancing and she loves the Rocky Balboa-type workout. To each their own. For those of us who live in climates where nasty weather adds an extra 15-20 minutes to dressing and commute time, finding what Chalene Johnson calls your “soul mate workout” is even more vital. I will certainly not wander out into a blizzard to plod away on a treadmill or stationary bike like a hapless hamster on its wheel. I have ventured out in many blizzards to get my booty-shakin’ on at Zumba. This shawty needs to get low, low, low, low. The trick is to find a workout that is fun and attracts such fun people that you forget you are working out.
Next, find delicious, flavorful foods you can enjoy while keeping in mind you’re going for “quality not quantity.” For those of you to whom “No Pain, No Gain” is a way of life, these tips are just in time for the holidays and can help you reach out to your friends and family who could maybe use a little more health in their lives. The trick is not to replace unhealthy habits with misery and deprivation. This will not work on a hedonist, I guarantee you. Also, you must come to the table with pure motives. The object is not to change or correct someone’s lifestyle, but merely to present some alternatives that they may not have considered.
Something that I love (and there are only 16 shopping days until Christmas!) is the gift basket. Fill the basket with chocolate. What hedonist doesn’t like chocolate? But! Introduce your hedonist to the “good stuff.” Milk chocolate is really milk and sugar with a touch of rancid cocoa thrown in. It’s not really chocolate. Have you heard the old adage that if you order a steak well-done at a restaurant you will likely get the very worst, oldest cut because it will be cooked to the point where you can’t tell it’s garbage? Such is the case with milk chocolate. It is so adulterated you won’t be able to tell how good or bad the chocolate is, so why should a company splurge on the quality stuff when they can save a few bucks and just add a bit more sugar?
My very favorite chocolate is the Lindt 90% dark chocolate bar. There are plenty of fancier, organic brands (Dagoba and Green & Black are expensive, chalky brands popular with raw foodists but I dislike the chocolate very much). For its silky “mouth feel” and taste, I think Lindt is the best. They produce 60% dark chocolate on up to 99%. They also have some very nice dark truffles and dark chocolate bars with accents of chili (fantastic with a good Zinfandel), sea salt, and roasted almonds.
Speaking of nuts, those are a great addition to your gourmet basket. I’m not talking Planter’s Mixed Nuts. Like anything with oil (including chocolate), nuts can become stale and rancid. So fresh is best. If nuts are roasted, it is very easy to hide poor quality. Raw nuts in their shell or a vacuum sealed container are a great way to go. My favorite nuts are Spanish Marcona almonds. I take a chance and buy these roasted with sea salt and rosemary. But there are fresh pecans, brazil nuts, hazelnuts and macadamias to be had. The more the merrier!
Other fantastic additions are fancy olives, crackers, cheeses, breads, olive and nut oils and balsamic vinegars. Husband and I recently tasted several oils and balsamic vinegars. I am dreaming of the chocolate balsamic vinegar we sampled — I can imagine it with a roasted beet and strawberry salad. My inner hedonist rejoices!
Artisanal stores are a great place to get many of those items. Whole Foods and Trader Joes are also great resources. You can add a nice bottle of wine to round out the foodie experience. Wine doesn’t have to be expensive to be enjoyable. Typically, people who enjoy very rich, strongly flavored foods will prefer wines like Syrahs (aka Shiraz if you’re working with an Australian wine), Cabernets, Merlots or Chardonnays. People with milder palates will prefer a Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, or crisp Pinot Gris.
Finally, round out your gourmet gift basket with a fancy bento box. These make taking your lunch to work fun and they range in styles from cutesy to sophisticated. Every hedonist prefers doing things that delight his or her senses. Brown bagging a lunch = boring beyond words. Fancy little boxes = stimulating to the senses. Studies show that people who bring their own food consume healthier meals than people who dine out or rely on the vending machine.
If this sounds like too much trouble, you can always just order a nice basket of superior fruit from Harry and David. I grew up loathing fruit because I was familiar only with bland, out of season, mealy Red Delicious apples growing up. I’m so thankful I broadened my fruit horizons!
Does any of this seem miserable? Delighting in discovering fun movement and succulent, indulgent foods? Once a hedonist discovers pleasure in quality foods, I sincerely hope they will have a hard time returning to flavorless Wonderbread or sliced American Cheese or canned soups. And although I have absolutely no data to back this up, I believe that the cause of most overeating is boredom and lack of sensory stimulation. Our American diet is actually quite bland (notice how most Americans recoil when offered pungent, stinking cheeses or strongly flavored meat from the nasty bits of the animal). We keep eating and eating that cardboard pizza waiting for our pleasure sensors to fire and it never happens. So we eat more and compensate with punishing diets and exercise programs. I say, enjoy intensely flavorful foods — really enjoy them. Sit down and think how you would describe a food if you were a critic. Wax poetic. Many people claim to enjoy eating but they distract themselves from the process by watching TV or working while they hastily shovel in mouthfuls of food. Hedonists of the world, unite with me and savor your meal. And choose foods worth savoring!