05 August 2008

The Venice Diet

Ladies, you read it here first – the next diet book sensation! It’s The Venice Diet. Easy to follow and the pounds just melt away. You look in the mirror one day and 20 of them have disappeared, leaving you with nothing in your closet that fits anymore.

Here are the basics of the diet:

Set aside a limited amount of money to live on for an extended period of time – let’s say a year – and then prepare a very tight budget, making the grocery and restaurant allotments particularly restrictive. You must not stray from your budget, so plan on cooking at home regularly. Junk foods and those cholestrol-ridden eggs you adore will just be too costly for such a Spartan spending limit as yours. Restaurant dinners should rarely even be considered, unless someone else is picking up the tab. However, inexpensive snacks and accompanying beverages you encounter throughout the day may be enjoyed with real gusto. More on what to eat in a moment.

Next, move far away from whatever is annoying you – the nowhere job, the negligent boyfriend, the irritating political situation, whatever – preferably to a city that’s interesting and beautiful enough to distract constantly. Somewhere in Italy is probably best. I would suggest a place where the only thing more attractive than the view is the men. (It’s very helpful if the city fathers have showcased each one of them in his own little boat or else behind a bar where the wine and the lighting are both good. But I’m afraid there are few cities that fulfill this important requirement of the diet – perhaps only one, really.)

Be sure you choose a city where tempting, healthy foods like gorgeous fruits and vegetables and super-fresh fish are cheap and readily available. Also, the wines offered in bars and shops must be both very good and low-priced. If the local bread is overpriced yet tastes a lot like dry cotton encased in cardboard, you’re really in luck. But be careful! – bad bread can often be sold right next to addictively good cookies. (NOTE: You may test this hypothesis, but not too often.)

If your new city has no cars but lots of steep bridges, and if everything must be reached on foot, so much the better. If you can find a walk-up apartment in a tourist area (i.e., one that’s a long way from any kind of supermarket, cheese shop, or bakery), sign the lease immediately.

It’s best if you don’t have to go to a job while on the diet. Thus, you will have plenty of time to wander around all day and all evening, barely cognizant of the near-constant calorie-burning that is occurring. Feel free, however, to do anything that satisfies you creatively and intellectually as often as possible. This will enhance the general sense of well-being that is so critical to the full success of this diet. Be sure to wear yourself out completely everyday so that you will easily fall into a deep, restful sleep every night.

While on the diet, you may find that you actually enjoy yoga or Pilates or some such activity for its own sake, especially if no one is pestering you about it and you don’t have to jam it into the fifteen minutes between the end of a tiring workday and the beginning of a boring worknight. I would suggest turning on some kind of soothing New Age-y music while you make coffee in the morning, thus notifying your body that warm-up, stretching, and exercise are coming up next on the day’s agenda. Remarkable how quickly this becomes a pleasant habit rather than a tiresome pain in the… well, you know.

Now here’s the second best part of the diet: the food. You can eat whatever tempts you. Yes, that’s right. Eat anything you like! The best things will be right in front of you, cheap enough for your budget, and quick and easy to prepare – tempting fruits, great salads of fresh produce and a variety of beans, lean cutlets of meats, filets of fish, and veggies to grill. But you can also sample the beautiful cheeses, the tasty salami, prosciutto, and other cold cuts, the big, yummy walnuts, the emerald green, made-this-minute pesto sauce, the really great tuna in rich, fragrant olive oil, the fresh, whole milk yogurt with seductive European granola and special honeys, risotto and pasta and gnocchi, pizza, gelato, pastries, biscotti, your favorite cioccolata, soft, hazelnut-studded Italian nougat, delightful seasonal sweets, whatever!

Too good to be true? Well, I grant you, some attention must be paid to quality of your foods and especially to your portion sizes. Notice that I said you can eat “whatever tempts you,” NOT “as much as you want of whatever tempts you.” Duh! This isn’t The Magical Diet!

There is only one small catch in all this, but it’s very simple and palatable. In fact, it’s the best part, the foundation of and the secret to The Venice Diet. You cannot eliminate this important step of the program! You must stop whatever you are doing quite often (and always when you bump into friends on the street) and drink a small amount of good Italian red wine – no substitutes! And if it is offered, you should permit a man to pay for this wine, if only to be polite and respectful of the local culture. “When in Rome (or wherever)…”

Also, you must get in the habit of regularly visiting your local wine vendor, who will fill up your one-liter bottle with good “plonk” (so named for the sound it makes when it hits the tabletop) for only about three bucks. Keep this stock on your kitchen counter, and have a small glass of it whenever you are puttering around the house, and especially right before you begin cooking your meals. No, I’m not kidding. The sense of fullness and satisfaction provided by the volume and flavor of the wine makes it easier to quell hunger with much smaller portions on your plate. In short, if you begin a meal already half-satisfied, you will crave less food and your calorie intake will drop. And then – Eccola! – the pounds will drop. (And let’s not forget the well-known health benefits of the red wine itself! Your heart will thank you when you’re very, very old but still spry.)

Think it won’t work? Think I’m nuts? Well, it worked for me. And I only figured it out after the fact.