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A food critic finds motivation to stay on the weight-loss wagon for the long haul

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Over the last few months, I went from the worst shape of my life to the best while continuing to eat like a food critic. Don't punch me in the face; instead, read how I did it in part seven of this series: There have been a few defiant (mostly ice cream-related) bumps in the road since I started my grand unfatting project with Jamie Atlas over at Bonza Bodies. But for the most part, I spent the summer metamorphosing from lumpy Laura to svelte, sexy Laura at a rather regular pace. As fall hit, I stayed on track, losing weight slower but maintaining my momentum. Things are good, I thought. I'll never be fat again.

Cue the effing Christmas music, it's the holiday season. Things have changed.

"Candy season starts on Halloween and runs through Mother's Day," my grandma says. "No use starting a diet in those months." Candy I can more or less resist. But the spiked punch? The cranberry pudding? The sticky toffee? The foie gras? My fat pants fit again just thinking about it.

In Jamie's fantasy perfect world, the re-feed day of the plan would be all we'd need to get through the holidays. We'd all plan our re-feed days to coincide with a particularly delectable holiday feast, getting in a short, intense workout and then savoring every second of our binge. Hell, his plan allows for one of those re-feed days a week -- so as long as we plan right and eat protein and vegetables the rest of the time, in theory we should have no problem surviving.

Unfortunately, that theory ignores this reality: The holidays are a super-festive time when we all get to come together overeating and drinking other peoples' food and alcohol for free. Also, it's eggnog season. And holiday pastry season. And family season, which even drives my mother to drink...when she spends the rest of the year smugly skipping the sauce.

Between my eating-out schedule and my lineup of holiday cheer-promoting events, I'm still on the weight-loss wagon -- if you consider dragging along behind the wagon while holding on with just one pinky being "on."

Luckily, I already went through something similar to the holiday season during this summer's wedding season, when buffets and open bars consumed my weekends for months on end. At risk of losing people -- myself included -- with a sports analogy, I came to kind of compare the whole weight loss thing to baseball. Ideally, you want to be rounding bases and moving forward. But sometimes it's about staying on base for one more batter -- you just don't want to get thrown out. I might be sliding in the dirt, getting scraped up and bruised in order not to get picked off, but I'll still obey a few hard and fast rules to make sure I'm safe. After all, if I can just stay alive until January, New Year's resolution season should be good motivation to come back on the plan strong. Those rules: 1. Never skimp on the high protein breakfast or the water I'm going on seven months of the high protein breakfast mandate, and I could count on one hand how many times I've cheated on this part of the plan. If you never skip breakfast, you're going to eat at least one third of your meals right. So amp up your eggs with hot sauce, dig into last night's roast or take yourself out for a fancy steak and eggs, but don't let yourself succumb to eating leftover pie or Christmas cookies for breakfast. Water's important because it keeps all the excess you're no doubt consuming moving through the body. 2. Don't ever cheat before your re-feed workout. Remember how I said the re-feed workout became the key to my plan? Yeah, it's not only because it was, for a time, the only physical activity I could stand. It's also a major mental component to succeeding in the grim face of reality adversity. Usually you're doing the re-feed workout right before you go out and feast, right? And normally, unless you're on some kind of schedule that allows you to gorge and siesta midday, that workout and feast aren't happening until night, no? So if you don't cheat until after your re-feed workout, you'll be in line with the plan for at least two-thirds of the day. Yeah, 66 percent might be a D, but at least you're not failing out of school any more. Still need a re-feed workout? Jamie Atlas demonstrated one via video a couple of weeks ago.

3. Prioritize. Some meals are worth it. Some aren't. White truffle dinner? I will stuff myself until I fear ripping my pants when I bend over, and I will enjoy every single bite. The grocery store cupcakes on the dessert buffet at the white elephant gift exchange? Every time I eat one of those sad little lumps of dry cake and over-sugared frosting made of things I can't pronounce, I spend the rest of the night feeling vaguely unsettled, enveloped in that same queasiness that I get when I consume airplane food, except that instead of being trapped quietly in row 27, I'm trapped in a room full of people making small talk. That potential for misery is more than enough to make me skip the cupcake. You know what your white truffle dinner is -- and you know what your grocery store cupcake is. Think of the cornucopia of food available to you in terms of that spectrum, and you'll at least avoid stuffing your face with stuff that sucks the life out of you. 4. Opt for wine or hard alcohol -- neat or on the rocks -- at the holiday parties. Unless you have a ridiculously awesome company that's throwing its holiday fete in one of the town's swankiest cocktail bars, beer halls or restaurants with a cool wine list, the alcoholic beverage choices at your annual office get-together probably kind of suck. Likewise for your neighborhood cookie swaps, potlucks and ugly sweater parties. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that the majority of the parties you attend this season will be providing a generic line-up of beers, liquors with mixers, and the cheapest bottle of red and white available. I get that you want to get your tipsy on, but with those options, does it really matter what you drink? Go with the Jamie-approved choices of red wine or hard alcohol, neat. Whiskey on the rocks will do the trick quicker, anyway. Then when you're out at some cool venue having your holiday me-time, you can enjoy a festive cocktail and do less damage because you haven't been on a sugary drink bender for weeks on end.

5. Aim for a B for the week. "Win the week" is one of Jamie's little tricks for getting new clients on board with his food plan without having to go cold turkey. Eat his way four out of seven days, he urges, and then ramp it up from there. Because I'm eating out -- at a minimum -- three nights a week, "four out of seven days" doesn't really do it for me. Also, it sets me up for for buying into the thought, "Well, this day is shot, might as well go for that dessert a la mode and finish my night with some sort of drink that includes cream." So instead, I aim for the B. If I can eat right 80 percent of the time or more, I feel okay about the way things are going. And watch, it's not that hard: You eat 21 meals a week. Eating 16.8 of those right gets you a B. If you do the high protein breakfast and don't cheat before you re-feed, you're already eating 14 meals a week in a way that makes Jamie happy -- which means you just have to spend two or three nights choosing meat and vegetables and one glass of red wine, leaving you four nights a week to, uh, party.

Following the plan? The step-by-step:

- Step one: turning the corner with a high protein breakfast

- Step two: cutting the trash

- Step three: getting a handle on the booze

- Step four: the short workout key

- Step five: eat more like a food critic

- Step six: surviving a multi-course feast plus a re-feed workout video

Watch for the next installment of Bar Belle next Monday.

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