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My father was a little boy in Italy during World War II. He saw Germans come and go, GIs come and go and seems to remember only funny stories, often with a theme of being hungry.
He tells one story about one of his friends, a cute little boy at the time, who went to church to "pray" where a wedding was going on and hung on for the wedding party. Though uninvited, the older women thought he was so cute they fed him treats and other food from their party. Of course, when his mother and father found out how he scammed his way into a meal, he got schiaffi (an old-fashioned Italian beatin') from his mother, father, aunt and uncle.
These days, we have lots of paisani who share holidays with us, men and women who grew up with my father and my aunt during those days of hunger. Our Christmas meal is an excess of calamari, baccala, spaghetti with clams, salmon, stuffed shrimp, cannoli, pies — you get the idea.
Some of our paisani these days are rather large. One such woman said to my dad some holiday long ago, "Alex, I just don't know how you stay so thin. I diet all the time and look at me. I don't eat and I still gain weight."
My father, who started jogging and has always been in good shape said with a teasing smile, "Do you remember during the war, when we were kids."
"Of course," she said.
"Do you remember ever seeing any fat people back then?" he asked.
"Well, no. Of course not. There just wasn't anything to eat."
It's a story I have told before. But I'm not convinced that our overweight problem has to do with having an abbondanza of food. When I was a little kid, there was more than enough food, but people weren't so heavy. There was only one "fat kid" in my class, for example, and he wasn't that fat. Everyone ate breakfast, lunch and dinner at the proper times, sitting down with their families to eat together. People rarely ate between meals, turning down snacks by saying "no thank you. I don't want to ruin my appetite." I don't think I have heard that expression once in the last 20 years.
Sitting down to meals seems far less important to people nowadays, and constant nibbling seems even more constant. The food industry has adapted by making packaged foods high in starch, fat and salt-a quick fix that is the enemy of a healthy body.
My friend Marcus Knight, the success coach and motivational speaker, once told me, "Everyone likes the idea of getting healthy. But when it comes to getting off the couch and exercising, the desire to be healthy is less strong than the momentary desire to snack and stay comfy on the couch. Getting healthy, eating right, takes a plan, written down."
It's time to write down our New Year's resolutions, but Marcus tells me that the hardest time to keep the resolution is after the third week in January. So eat your fried calamari and your extra cannoli on Christmas, but get ready to stick to your resolutions.