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Throw Your Beads, Not Your Diet

(As published on TheTownDish.com, March, 2011)

What better excuse to add some extra love to our love handles than a holiday named for doing just that? Yes, Fat Tuesday is soon approaching, and the appropriately named holiday is causing many of us to dive head-first off the wagon and forget all of our healthier New Year's resolutions. After all, who could resist a day dedicated to fried, sugary, Cajun goodies?

Fat Tuesday can lead to Chunky Wednesday, Super-Fat Thursday, and I-Can't-Fit-Into-My-Pants Friday. So, when Mardi Gras finally rolls around, here are a few tips to savor the food and the day without suffering the consequences the rest of the week:
Party planning

Before starting your celebration, plan what you are going to eat and stick to the plan. Starting out the night without an agenda could lead to dieter's rationalization: "I'll just have one slice and run an extra 30 minutes tomorrow morning." Next thing you know, the entire King Cake is gone and you might as well have planned to run a marathon.

If you know you're likely to crave some treats, the last thing you want to do is try to completely deprive yourself. Instead, plan your meal to include a couple of higher-calorie foods or a couple of alcoholic beverages. Accommodating your diet to include a few indulgences lets you stay in control, stick to your diet, and continue on to a healthier, happier you.
Not big, just easy

Foods typically eaten in the Big Easy are extremely rich and filling, but that doesn't mean your recipes can't be just as simple, just as delicious, and with a lot less calories. Try these takes on Mardi Gras classics:

Etoufée
French for "smothered," etoufée is a butter-laden dish made with seafood, white rice and a roux-based sauce. Try substituting for different ingredients to lower the calories while keeping the taste. For example, use margarine instead of butter. Also try using low-calorie ingredients such as chicken broth, a variety of vegetables, brown rice and shrimp.

Jambalaya
Instead of using ham or kielbasa to make this customary Cajun dish, opt for a healthier alternative -- lean meats, such as skinless chicken breasts and turkey sausage, and plenty of vegetables. Don't forget to add the heat - studies have shown that spicy foods can add flavor to your dish and boost your metabolism.

King Cake
King Cake is a Mardi Gras must-have, but a dieter's worst enemy. The circular cake is frosted and sprinkled with multi-colored sugar and candied fruits, packing in anywhere from 350 to 450 calories a slice. This year, try making King Cake with a sugar substitute, egg whites and whole-wheat flour.

Celebrating Fat Tuesday doesn't have to mean ending your diet. Just plan ahead, adjust your diet to include your party plans, and cook smarter and healthier. Following these steps will guarantee that when Ash Wednesday rolls around, you'll feel good about the choices that you've made and you'll be one day closer to reaching your weight-loss goals.

Learn how you can diet without really dieting at "The Undiet Diet: Developing a healthy relationship with food," a free event held at the Chester County Book Company on March 16. Call 610-738-2300 to register, or for more information.

Last Updated: 9/7/2012