Let’s cut to the chase: I’ve pretty much run out of pants that fit me anymore. I’ve had to begin rooting about at the forgotten end of my clothing closet, down where the trousers have a layer of dust crusted on them — and are so out-of-style/baggy that my always-encouraging wife wonders if I’m applying for a job as a clown with the circus…and my equally upbeat daughter informs me she’ll deny knowing me if we’re seen together in public.

I eat for a living. And as far as I’m concerned, the most important qualification for the job is a lively appetite, which I surely have. Especially late at night at home, after another endless day of quarantine, when I search the cupboards, looking for long forgotten treats from Trader Joe’s and almost empty boxes from See’s.

For me, the holiday season was a rough battle of the bulge. It’s the cruelest time of year for dieters, when temptations are all about us. Even in this Year of the Plague, those holiday temptations were easy to find — cookies and cakes and candies and sugary beverages and so much more. I’m not ready to head for the Wide Man’s Store (again). And yet, I may have to — unless I get a grasp, which I rarely do.

But I do have a handful of clever (okay, obvious) tricks I’ve come upon over the years, which keep my gluttony down to a dull roar. They’re so simple — yet deviously difficult to adhere to.

First and foremost is the simple strategy of eating before you eat. No, seriously. If I approach my nightly dinner ravenous, I’ll inhale everything in sight. But if I eat something dumb and dull beforehand — like an apple for the nutritional goodness in it — it slakes my hunger just a tad, a nubbin.

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I’ve heard celery works too, though I find celery largely pointless. Cucumbers are a bit better; carrots aren’t bad. They’re not a lot of fun. But they might keep me from grabbing the last of the peanut butter-chocolate treats in the cabinet. And every little bit helps.

Oh…and I do need to constantly remind myself not to finish everything on my plate. I know we all want to be members of the Clean Plate Club. But the only benefit from a membership is high cholesterol — and a possible trip to the emergency room. And having to shop for new pants. Really…how many pairs of khakis can one man own?

Rumor has it that summer is coming. If I have to buy a larger bathing suit, I’ll plunge into the deep-end of despair. I hate the notion of jumping into the pool — and displacing all the water within.

Merrill Shindler is a Los Angeles-based freelance dining critic. Email mreats@aol.com.

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