Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Buffets on a Diet: The Ten Commandments

Since joining Weight Watchers a mere month and a half ago, I have felt that I could stay on it for life. The structure of the program, especially the flexible “weekly points” to dole out how you like (my weekly points about to about 1.5x the amount I get per day), allows you to live a pretty normal life that includes “bad” foods you love. You just have to plan for them.

Now is a good time to admit a bias here: it really bothers me a bit when people seem reluctant to use their weekly points. Those points are there to be spent!! You will still lose weight if you eat them all, and you will be MUCH happier if you can treat yourself while on a diet. I wonder how many of the folks who quit the program after a few months don’t regularly utilize their weekly points? Or didn’t start out using them? I don’t know. I haven’t even been with the program for a few months yet, so I guess my annoyance is premature.

Anyway, back on topic: It took me 6.5 weeks in the program, but I finally manned up and decided to conquer the biggest beast of them all:

The Casino Buffet.

No regular buffet would do here. I was looking for a trial by fire. This particular casino buffet, at Harrah’s in Atlantic City, had all the fixings: Brazillian churrascaria, pasta bar, chinese food, and a whole half of the room dedicated solely to---you guessed it---desserts.

I ate to my heart’s content and managed to stay within my points allowance (although I used up all but five of my weekly points). Had I listened to my hunger signals, I would have been left with even more points. But it’s a buffet, and you couldn’t expect me to be totally good, right?

So, in an effort to facilitate “on program” splurging, I am detailing my strategy below. Weigh-in is on Wednesday, so hopefully I don’t have to follow this post with a sheepish entry about gaining 5 pounds. But even if that happens, my main point here is that it’s possible to stay within your points at a buffet if you plan ahead.

The Jewish Girl’s 10 Buffet Commandments

1. Thou shalt know thine enemy.
Before dinnertime, scope out the scene whenever possible. I’d been to this buffet before so I knew what was going to be there. I was not caught off-guard by the delicious-looking-but-very-high-in-points Brazillian sausage, because I knew it was there. I was able to steel my mind against its wonderfully fatty influence. Although no food is off-limits, the goal was to stretch my points over as wide a variety of food as possible, and foods like sausage just don’t make sense when you can also have alternatives like steak or prime rib, which are leaner and lower in points per ounce.

2. Thou shalt save your weekly points and keep them holy.
If you have enough lead-time on the buffet, you can save almost all of your weekly points for the occasion. Eat during Game Day, but eat light. Leave yourself at least half of your daily points to work with, maybe more.

3. Thou shalt not have any other plates before salad.
The salad bar is your friend, friends. Load that baby up with zero-point value veggies and add some balsamic vinegar for flavor without the points. A big salad is about .5 points. Don’t count it as zero---it’s a lot of food---but be happy that you are satisfying your initial ravenousness with something that won’t kill your food/points/calorie budget.

4. Thou shalt not bow down before the red meat idol.
While salmon is relatively high in points, high-quality buffet staples like crab legs and shrimp are not. Load up your second plate with this seafood. Skip the drawn butter (this broke my heart too) and go with cocktail sauce to dip to save yourself an absolute ton of points.

An added bonus of the seafood plate might be particular to me as a Jewish Girl...but I enjoy feeling like I’m eating my money’s worth at a buffet. This often leads me to focus on the steak and other quality meats, which are okay but are also doing my body a disservice. Seafood is a great value not only in points, but also in price. That stuff is pricey by the pound!

5. Thou shalt not covet the plate of thy neighbor.
This may seem obvious, but it will be difficult to munch on that salad or peel that shrimp when your boyfriend sits down with a plate of other yummies. The goal is to fill up on delicious things that you like that are low in points before you have some of the delicious things you like that are high in points. Do your best to keep your blinders on and focus on the game plan.

6. Thou shalt not eat fatty foods in vain.
Eat them, just don’t allow them to ruin your efforts---and don't bother with them if they're not wonderful. Before walking into the buffet, I knew the points values of almost everything I wanted to eat. I had a specific idea of how many ounces of high-points things I could eat, and I stuck to it. 3 oz of two kinds of steak. 1/4 cup macaroni and cheese. Three plantains. These things were delicious, and I’m glad I ate them. I’m also glad I limited my intake since it allowed me to eat the variety I wanted while still sticking to the plan.

7. Thou shalt honor thy tracker and thy points calculator.
Tracking as you go (or at least before you go for dessert) can help you decide whether it’s worth it to have an extra slice of steak if you know it will cost you a bit of ice cream. When calculating points values, round up in portion size or add two teaspoons of butter to your tracker if you’re eating anything that could even remotely have butter in it. Better to overestimate a bit, since there’s probably hidden fat somewhere.

8. Thou shall not limit thy vegetables to salad.
The Harrah’s buffet has a mongolian grill, which was a great option to add some steamed spinach and other veggies to my plate. When the food is cooked to order, you can specify that you don’t want any oil or sauce, which provides a safe 0-points, filling side dish.

9. Thou shall not bear false witness against thine own love for dessert.
Really, be honest with yourself. Are you SERIOUSLY going to resist the revolving dessert display?

Methinks no.

That’s OKAY. I planned to only eat one dessert (delicious crepes + cherries made to order), but I also planned to totally cave in a moment of weakness and eat an unplanned second dessert (FLAN! They’re always out of flan!! I can’t believe there’s FLAN!). If you plan your dinner right, you’ll stay in the neighborhood of fifteen or twenty points. With enough weekly points left, you can be naughty at the dessert table. So custardly naughty.

If you do manage to resist the dessert tray (I tried bringing along a delicious weight watchers mini bar as a substitute to no avail), then you’ll have an added bonus of having weekly points left to enjoy on another day. Win-win.

10. Thou shall not murder your enjoyment of a delicious meal.
Don’t forget: you saved up your points for this. You planned. Yes, you are indulging. Yes, you are using an obscene amount of points/calories, but you are having a delicious dinner. Even more, you are at a BUFFET. ON A DIET. Keep relishing the fact that you are still losing weight as long as you keep to the game plan. Guilt should be out the window if you’re on the program!

I’m telling you: that knowledge makes the food taste even better.

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