In Austria, there are three basic food groups -- pastry, beer and sausage. And with the exception of one innkeeper, we found no locals we could categorize as "obese." So my personal goal for this year's ski trip was full cultural participation.
I wanted to enjoy a different pastry and a local beer every day without gaining any weight. (Sausage is not my thing.)
Hundreds of years of brewing and baking experience have produced rich, full-bodied beer, and full-flavored, high-fat pastry. There is no "light." It was my intention to savor and appreciate the full fruits of Austrian culinary history.
But, clearly, a strategy was needed. I decided to rely once again on my favorite approach. Eat what you want, but eat only when hungry and stop eating when satisfied, not stuffed.
After a lifetime of dietary restriction, calorie counting and self-denial, I'm finally learning to trust my built-in physiological calorie counter. And it worked again this time.
(True, this does not ensure the best nutritional choices. But for 10 vacation days, it banishes deprivation and keeps me feeling like part of the human race.)
A substantial breakfast was a must before hitting the slopes, and there were plenty of choices at the breakfast bar. Some group members were tempted by the variety of sausages and breakfast meats, butter, cheese, lard and pate.
I indulged daily in the luxury of a soft-boiled egg cooked by someone else, a slice of nut-studded rye bread with fruit jam and a bowl of make-your-own muesli full of oats, dried fruit and six different kinds of seeds. Skim milk and honey drenched the cereal, and real cream smoothed the single cup of very strong coffee that got me out the door.
After a couple of hours of skiing, we'd stop for lunch at a restaurant perched atop the day's highest mountain. With the earth falling away below, and ringed by endless snowcapped peaks, the guys indulged in Austrian classics built on sausage, dumplings, beer and strudel.
But I was still running on breakfast. So I'd have one bite of the strudel du jour and one sip of beer, then drink a little fruit juice and have a seeded roll.
Two more hours of skiing, a warm bath and a change of clothes primed me, first for my daily beer, then for a trip to some local pastry shop. By 4 p.m., I was ready for that intense little cup of coffee and a piece of cake or pastry. Oh, decadence!
Dinner at 7 p.m. came in courses, starting with a salad bar, a cup of hot soup and an appetizer. The dinner plate included a small piece of meat, chicken or fish, a serving of potatoes or noodles and sometimes a vegetable. There was always dessert and usually a glass of wine.
It was at dinner where I did my adjusting for the day.
The soup and salad bar provided my vegetable opportunity for the day, so I always indulged. The appetizer was often a super high-fat treat, which was good, but not as good as the day's pastry, so I'd eat a little and leave it at that. Then I'd eat just enough dinner and dessert to make me feel comfortable.
Dehydration was a constant companion in the Alps, so along with my companions, I drank a lot of plain water.
This American custom seemed to confuse our hosts. Apparently, Europeans now drink lots of bottled mineral water along with their beer and wine, but they don't drink much tap water. Everywhere we went we asked for plain water, and each time we were regarded curiously. But we persisted. Getting an ice cube was even harder, but the least of our worries.
I made it back without gaining a pound, another vacation success story!
Colleen Pierre, a registered dietitian, is the nutrition consultant at the Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center and Vanderhorst & Associates in Baltimore.
Pub Date: 2/25/97