by Baroness Lotta Hospitality

The Atkins diet fad is over (the good Doctor died and the company went bankrupt). Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers seem to be doing alright (but in the case of Weight Watchers, I haven't seen Fergie on the tube singing their praises in quite some time).

But there's good news! Ladies, Gentlemen, Monkeys and Wombats, I present to you:

The Southwest of the South Beach Diet

Breakfast, of course, is the most important meal of the day. Did you know that coffee contains calories? Especially when you add cream and/or sugar. And for chrissakes who in the Name of All Things Holy drinks black coffee but for detectives. So I implore you, give up the coffee, and choose a clear liquid instead: Vodka. Now, do not yield to the temptation to put an olive or two in the vodka. Olives are fattening. And after all, vodka's a clear liquid, just like water. So logically, vodka doesn't have any calories. Have as much as you like, because the key to a healthy diet, after all, is hydration. What? you say, there's very little water in vodka? Well, darlings, come on, you had to shake it with some ice cubes, did you not?

With your breakfast beverage(s) you're allowed a modest portion of crudité (raw carrot sticks, celery, radishes). Now remember, you're on a diet, so don't yield to the temptation of putting something like Blue Cheese Dip or Ranch Dressing on the crudite. The exception to this is if you happen to have a bottle of the stuff open in the refrigerator. Dip away, then, because the calories you'll burn having started to clean out your refrigerator will more than compensate for a little dressing. Just don't continue and start dipping celery sticks into open jars of orange marmalade. You've cleaned the fridge enough for one day.

Retail outlets provide myriad diet options these days. For lunch, visit the salad bar at the local supermarket. Choose something healthy, in a moderate portion. Upon your arrangement place only a pinch of salt and pepper, and virgin Olive Oil. Now go to the wine store and pick up a bottle of refreshing red. After all, red wine is an anti-oxidant, and very healthy. The French drink wine all day and look at how skinny they are! It's best to wait until getting home before opening your luncheon beverage, however. This writer chose to have the wine store open it for him and was subsequently spotted by a member of the constabulary sipping from the container, whilst motoring home. It cost plenty in legal bills and was the first time the State of Connecticut issued a summons for aggravated Driving While Intoxicated. The defense that it was a '01 Chateau Haut-Brion, while making perfectly good sense to me, seemed to irritate the judge, who was heard to remark something like "what have we here, another damned Paris Hilton?" I found that not a bit amusing, specifically because Ms. Hilton and I share no fashion inclination whatsoever. Besides, she's a skin-and-bones emaciated waif. I, on the other hand, must resort to dieting to keep from having to shop for "fat clothes."

Afternoon Snacks should be taken, again, in moderation. This is where those clever "Slim-Fast" diet shakes come in so handy. Feel free to put the rest of your breakfast beverage into the blender with one can of diet shake, and blend until smooth with crushed ice.

The evening meal should be taken as early as possible. It is not healthy to eat a large meal and go to sleep right away. Always remember that nutrition comes first. Vegetables are an important source of nutrition. French Fries, while considered by most diets as a calorie disaster, are actually not bad. Potatoes contain plenty of minerals and vitamin C. And French Fries are a vehicle for ketchup. And remember, ketchup is a vegetable. Try to keep portions of meat as lean as possible. Within reason. Filet mignon is a great source of lean protein. But watch out for that Bearnaise Sauce, just use a little or before you know it you've got a hunk of bread in your hand and whooops! there goes the sauce-boat. Fish is a very healthy alternative for most people. However, the newspaper told me that the fish being sold fresh in the fish-monger's is full of mercury, so I just buy prepared frozen stuffed clams. Well, they come from the ocean too.

Tips for Beginners

Parties can be a diet minefield. Do you entertain a lot at home? Here's some important information:

The old adage about the calories falling out of a broken cookie is true. It's okay to nibble on one or two pieces of that Pepperidge Farm Hostess Assortment you're arranging all neatly on a cookie plate. Just don't buy a second one and bang it around on the kitchen counter like a, er, friend of mine does before she prepares afternoon tea for the neighborhood gals.

If you've really over-done it and gained about 2 dress sizes, make your next dinner party a buffet. Put the high-calorie items toward the rear (wall) side of the table, and the lo-cal stuff up front. Wear a back brace.

Hors d'oeuvres, when passed by waitstaff, can be very, very tempting. But they're usually very good; you know, caviar, smoked salmon and the like. Line your purse with a zip-lock bag. Bump into one of the servers, knocking the tray and its contents to the floor. Offer to help clean up (while the server goes to look for a dustpan and brush) being careful to load your zip-lock with only the bits that've fallen bottom-first. Eat the hors d'oeuvres later, if coffee and dessert leave you hungry.

Speaking of hungry; remember, it's a social faux pas to pass on food being offered in courses at a formal dinner party. It is, however, alright to ask that you be served "a small portion, please" because you must watch your food intake. Besides, if they serve something that's absolutely divine and you must have a second portion, excuse yourself from the dinner table on the premise of having to powder your nose, then head for the kitchen, raise a carving knife and threaten everyone in there with their lives unless they give you 2 more slices of Beef Wellington.

Finally, remember, vodka is your friend. If you find yourself hungry, mix the vodka with a little seltzer. The bubbles will help fill you up. And should you feel a wee bit tipsy, remember the words of First Lady Betty Ford (long before she went 12-step and started that joint out in Rancho Mirage) at a State dinner where the fine wines and champagne were flowing a bit freely, "Darling, you're not drunk until you're lying on the floor and ya have to hold on!"

Happy Dieting, All!

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