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It just isn’t the holidays without indulgence

woman with holiday treats

by Karina Bland, The Arizona Republic

I am just polishing off the last of my kid’s Halloween candy when press releases start filling my e-mail inbox with answers to what apparently is the most distressing predicament of the holiday season: How can we possibly make it through to the new year without gaining a gazillion pounds?

I lick the chocolate off my fingers and roll my eyes.

Reports of holiday weight gain are grossly exaggerated, with the media sometime suggesting gains of 7 to 10 pounds between Thanksgiving and Christmas, sending my Weight Watchers sisters into hyperventilation and our point-counting apps into overdrive.

But the studies show, and I know from my own experience, that the average weight gain over the holidays really is just a pound or two, barely enough to make my underwear snug.

Sure, I could bring a healthy dish to a holiday party, as the experts suggest, but let’s be honest: It’s hard to get as merry over hummus and carrot sticks as bacon-wrapped asparagus spears, or even better, onion dip and Ruffles.

MORE: A dozen delicious dips for the holidays

Eating low-fat, low-calorie foods on the day of a party to keep from overindulging once I arrive sounds logical — but it’s no fun. Sidling up to the buffet table like a pig at a trough? Now that sounds fun.

And I could take just one bite of that extraordinary looking shrimp-stuffed poblano chile, so I won’t feel deprived, but if I did, I’d likely stop at Jack in the Box on the way home for tacos.

Even calculating how many miles I would need to put in on the treadmill in order to burn enough calories to compensate for what I am planning to eat would mean walking from Tempe to cousin Shantel’s house in Anthem for Thanksgiving dinner.

No. To all of it. I click “delete” for all the holiday eating tips before they have a chance to bum my candy-corn-induced high, and I call Shantel to find out what I should bring this year. I hope it involves something indulgent.

 French macarons and hot chocolate

I used to worry whether I would come out on the other end of the holidays twice my normal size.

I was a food Scrooge, counting calories out loud at the work potluck, turning down beautifully-baked desserts that people went to a lot of trouble to make, and raising my eyebrows at platters of cheesy sausage-stuffed mushrooms at cocktail parties.

And then, over the years, I realized how much I was missing.

Food is a big part of what makes the holiday, particularly the dishes that are synonymous with the season. Like the classic green-bean casserole made with cream of mushroom soup, milk, soy sauce and crunchy fried onions. I love everything about it — its gooey texture, crunchy topping and appallingly high sodium content.

Star brownies caramelized sugar on top - Photo by Valeria Aksakova

In my family, we call the casserole “Aunt Vickie’s green beans,” because she was the first to bring them to our house. She got the recipe from her mother, who got it from a Campbell’s soup can.

And that single dish at my family gatherings feeds us emotionally, fuels conversations and draws us together. There is never any left.

After Thanksgiving comes cookie baking with Mary Jo (six kinds in one afternoon), neighborhood potlucks, open houses, my crab bisque and Karen’s sausage-and-bean soup on Christmas Eve, with warm crunchy bread and chilled butter, a gingerbread house and its people-shaped occupants, and then another turkey dinner, green-bean casserole, and, oh, Mom’s pumpkin pie.

I am not going to beat myself up or feel guilty about every cookie, every dollop of mashed potatoes, every flute of champagne. The holidays are stressful enough.

Eggnog? Sure. Piece of pavlova? Yes, please. Peanut-butter cookie with a Hershey’s kiss in the middle? Absolutely. (Can I get a cold glass of milk with that?)

MORE: 8 absolutely amazing apple pies

I don’t mean I’ll eat an entire cherry pie in one sitting. But I am going to have a slice, not just a sliver, and maybe even a scoop of ice cream on top. I may load up my Chinet plate, but it is with foods I won’t eat again until this time next year.

And I will eat with pleasure and just enjoy.

And after the holidays, if I overdid it, I’ll dig out my January pants (they’re a size bigger) and renew my resolution to lose weight.

Which I’ll keep until Super Bowl Sunday’s 12-layer bean dip and spicy honey-barbecue wings, and the day the first Girl Scout shows up at my door selling cookies in February.

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