February 25, 2024 | Rome, Italy

March-ing orders

By |2018-03-21T19:04:49+01:00March 7th, 2015|"Suzanne's Taste"|
March is for mirrors.

hy is it that mirrors become so fascinating at this time of year? It’s not just women who start looking at themselves but also hibernating males — the same ones who have spent the winter in toasty living rooms watching soccer, rugby and downhill racers with plates of chips and beers as companions. Or chips and nachos, as the U.S. habit of NFL-watching apparently requires.

Then that mirror shows up. Everything.

Which can be much too much as you look at the new line of summer bathing suits and filmy cover-ups, or the skinny jeans into which men are poured, or travel agency posters showing distant islands with white beaches where you dream of sitting with a Mojito. Well, okay, lying — nude or otherwise.

Funny, the word, March. Named after the Roman god of war, Mars, March began the Roman New Year. It augured an early spring — at least in terms of pronunciation. March, marche in French, means “Walk!” Fast, if possible.

Not a bad idea when passing your favorite gelato shop or bakery or when you have a sudden urge for enchiladas. It’s not that you can’t eat these things when moving toward the itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny bikini season. But it’s moderation — smaller portions, more fruits and vegetables, lots of water — that will take you down a size. A very old and very spry Italian friend of mine drinks six glasses of water each morning. He is wiry, tough and in great health.

I mention this because I’m sort of bored with gyms and classes and Pilates and yoga and the myriad ways of trimming one’s contours. I esteem the practices and know they work. I have no argument with those who can’t live without them. I love exercise, but I’m lucky to have a “click” —like Paul Newman’s Brick character in “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof,” a little sound that tells you when enough is enough (his was about drinking).

I eat to a point and then stop. I’m suddenly aware that one more bite will leave me with a too-full feeling and obliterate the lovely meal I just finished. I don’t know how you learn to listen for a “click,” but I do know a few components: eating slowly, tasting each bite, and having an dining partner who fascinates you with scintillating subjects as you’re savoring the food.

I believe you can train your body to say basta. Or maybe it’s your mind. Great meals often end with lively conversation about food. By focusing on your next delightful meal you might find yourself more able to close out the present one without exaggerating.

I have my own tricks. For example, I have a friend who always wants his food hot. That means eating faster because no food except soup stays hot for very long. A rare steak that’s been grilled isn’t as good after it’s cooled. One way to handle that is smaller portions. Serve what you’re offering steaming hot but make sure whatever stays behind also stays as hot as possible.

Also, don’t eat more than you planned, and plan small. If chocolate mousses had the same calorie content as a normal balanced meal you could eat 14 of them a day. If you burn more calories than you eat, you lose weight. It’s that simple. No, I’m not advocating a dessert diet. But if you play the arithmetic of your calories right you can always have a small chocolate mousse or the dessert of your choice.

But back to marche! The best thing you can do for your body is to take French marching orders literally. Walk, walk and walk some more. My research into food, weight loss and body slimming (or building) has produced one easy health lesson: Walk 30 minutes every day, avoid elevators (unless the building has 40 stories and your office is on the top!), eat fewer calories than you burn, and treasure your appetite as much as you treasure your slimmer self or that delightful partner across your table.

Eating (I detest the word “snack”) between regular meal hours only dulls your appetite for lunch or dinner. I am bereft when my appetite doesn’t sit down with me a tavola. I hate nothing more than not being hungry for my spaghetti alle vongole, my lovely spinach, onion and pine nut salad, my grilled fish, or a perfectly ripe golden mango.

Or my chocolate mousse.

About the Author:

Suzanne Dunaway, a longtime major magazine writer and artist, is the author and illustrator of "Rome, At Home, The Spirit of La Cucina Romana in Your Own Kitchen" (Broadway Books) and "No Need To Knead, Handmade Italian Breads in 90 Minutes" (Hyperion). She taught cooking for 15 years privately and at cooking schools in Los Angeles, and now maintains a personal website and a blog. She divides her time between southern France and Italy.