I've got this theory: The most successful dieters know how to cheat.
It's not like they're constantly breaking the rules. But the only way to embrace a diet, to make it part of your life rather than some draconian edict imposed by your unrealistic inner nag, is to carve out space between the rules where you can be yourself.
Where you can eat.
In the Weight Watchers universe I inhabit, fruits and vegetables can be consumed without penalty. But according to the “BLT rule,” just about anything else you put in your mouth – every “bite, lick or taste” – costs you a point.
It's a good rule. Keeps you honest. Still, I can't resist trying to “customize it” just a bit.
The way I see it, if I lick batter off a spoon or taste something decadent, I'm guilty of a BLT infraction. That's fat and calories that shouldn't be overlooked, not to mention a potential slip-up that could lead to an all-out binge.
But if I come up with a snack made up of ingredients that fall below the 1-point threshold – a calculation that typically requires less than 3 carbs and 1 gram of fat, with at least some fiber and protein -- then it costs me nothing, even if there's a couple of hundred calories involved.
In my rule book, that's not so much a treat as a tool designed to keep me on course. I don't even have to record it in my food log (though I almost always do). It's my way of taking control of -- and responsibility for – my diet.
1. Apple-berry bake. Fill each apple half with blueberries, a blackberry or 1 diced walnut half and 4 dried cranberries. Drizzle the juice of one grapefruit half over top. Sprinkle with cinnamon and bake. If you like, top with 1 tablespoon Fat Free Cool Whip.
2. Celery sticks with low-fat spicy peanut dipping sauce. There are so many great low-cal sauces in the world besides salsa, and so many crunchy things to dunk in them besides chips. For this sauce, mix 2 teaspoons of PB2 powder (15 calories, .5 grams fat, available in the natural foods section at most larger grocery stores) with 1 tablespoon water. Thin with Buffalo sauce (5 calories, 0 fat) to taste.
3. Two stuffed dates. Tuck a dab of cream cheese and one walnut half inside.
4. Broccoli drizzled with salsa con queso. One tablespoon of this cheesy sauce has just 20 calories and no fat.
5. Cauliflower buffalo wings. Chop a head of cauliflower into bite-size pieces and coat with a mixture of 1/3 cup flour, 2 teaspoons garlic powder and 2/3 cup water. Put on a cookie sheet and bake 20 minutes at 450 degrees.
Meanwhile, combine ¾ cup Buffalo wing sauce or your favorite hot sauce with ½ tablespoon olive oil. Drizzle over cauliflower and bake an extra 5 minutes.
6. Grape dessert. Mix 1 cup purple grapes with ½ tablespoon uncooked rolled oats and 2 tablespoons fat free Cool Whip.
7. Stuffed mushroom caps. Fill with chopped spinach and salsa con queso, then bake at 400 degrees until bubbly.
8. Banana split. Cut a banana lengthwise, then cut those slices in half. Place vertically in dessert dish and top with up to 2 tablespoons each of fat free strawberry Greek yogurt, chocolate Fiber One cereal and fat free Cool Whip.
9. Cucumber boats. Cut a mini English cucumber in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Mix two chopped boiled egg whites with 1 tablespoon each of drained water-based tuna, water chestnuts, and your favorite gourmet mustard. Spoon mixture into cucumber halves.
10. Chinese shoestring soup. This recipe from Lisa Lillien, author of the “Hungry Girl” diet books and website, uses 4 cups fat-free broth, 3 medium scallions (I prefer diced onion), 1 small diced zucchini, 1 small carrot, ½ red pepper and 1 teaspoon low-sodium soy sauce. Cut the red pepper into ribbons and use a veggie peeler to make thin strips of carrot. Just 32 calories per cup.