Oh, no he didn't. Between bites of his olive-oil-drizzled focaccia, a lean, tall communications executive in slim jeans and a Savile Row blazer—let's call him Jason—just ordered the cavatelli. For the table. At a dinner attended by attractive professionals at Maialino, Danny Meyer's trattoria in Manhattan's Gramercy Park, Jason stands out—not simply because he ordered carbs, but because he's done so without hesitation or regret. And now he's the only one eating. "It's a celebration," he says. "What's the big deal?" Each time he lifts his cavatelli-capped fork, it's as if he's raising a middle finger to his body-fat-fixated dinnermates. "I didn't think twice about ordering pasta," the 40-year-old father of two says, later noting that he played two hours of tennis the next day. "I can drop five pounds in a week if I need to."

In our carbophobic, Biggest Loser-fueled culture, the biggest winners are making a show of enjoying their rewards. When a latter-day Patrick Bateman flashes a slice of focaccia rather than an embossed business card, it's to exert his status as a super-fit alpha male. "That's the confidence he has: 'I am so tuned in to my body. I know that I can eat this,'" says fitness and diet expert David Kirsch, whose clientele includes Heidi Klum and Jimmy Fallon, as well as Hollywood and New York CEO and entrepreneur types. What gives the act of carb consumption its power is our universal vilification of all things starch and sugar. They can lead to weight gain, heart disease, and diabetes, and according to 2007 research at the University of Bordeaux, France, refined sugar is more addictive than cocaine. The art of making carb-eating a power move lies in the method. Devouring an entire basket of bread reveals the desperation of an on-edge dieter who's come unhinged. Nervously nibbling a breadstick? The idea is to man up—and own up. "I've seen clients sadly order the salad with a squeeze of lemon, and fish," Kirsch says. "You can have some bread—it's not going to kill you." To minimize the impact of a big carb night, Kirsch offers three tips: Eat protein and greens throughout the day; dial up your metabolism by breaking a sweat for 20 minutes; drink a protein shake before dinner to curb your appetite.

Scott Conant owns Scarpetta restaurants in Beverly Hills and Manhattan's meatpacking district—it's no coincidence the name refers to the piece of bread you use to sop up pasta sauce. His business is carbs, and business is good. At client dinners or closing celebrations, he says, high-powered types "try to outdo each other's splurge by piling it on." There are, says Conant, "a lot of people who are very conscious of their health and weight, but if they do eat pasta, they're gonna go for it."

These people—call them carb masters—aren't apologists for carbs, just wary of absolutes. Even the healthiest bodies require some starches. "If you have a lot of muscle mass, it's amazing how much you can eat without doing damage," says John Kiefer, whose books Carb Back-Loading and The Carb Nite Solution set forth a fat-burning diet that depends on splurges. "If you had a day where you just didn't have a chance to eat a lot or you missed several meals," he says, "then that night it's almost completely safe to splurge almost as much as you want." The key is seeing an opportunity and seizing it—just like with any power play. "The worst thing is eating it and not enjoying it," Kirsch says. "If you're willing to pay, play."

• • •

Fitness and nutrition expert John Kiefer has devised a dietary regimen based on the finding that the occasional carb binge not only won't hurt but will actually help you stay lean and toned. The trick is rigorously policing your carb consumption the rest of the time.

The Game Plan
Carb Back-Loading and The Carb Nite Solution detail diet plans that promote fat-burning through ultra-low-carbohydrate consumption punctuated by carb spikes. They start with a 10-day induction period, during which you limit your carb intake to 30 grams daily—a banana has 25 grams, an apple about 20. After that, you continue on the ultra-low-carb diet but can indulge in carb bacchanals once or several times a week, depending on which plan you follow. "I didn't design it as a lifestyle diet, but a lot of people have adopted it that way," Kiefer says. "After a while they find it easy to stay to that 30 grams or less during the week and then enjoy dinner with friends. Or they can schedule the carb splurge around special occasions."

How it Works
The Carb Nite plan aims to train your body to be incompetent at storing carbs as fat—when systematically deprived of carbs, the body stops releasing the enzymes that trigger fat storage. Then, when you splurge, Kiefer says, your body can't store those carbs as fat, since its metabolic processes are inefficient. Result? You burn off most of the carbs you've consumed as body heat. And there's a lasting benefit: The binge triggers a metabolic surge that keeps you burning fat at a heightened rate for about four days after your splurge.

Tricks of the Trade
Kiefer is very explicit: Make your splurge an evening meal. "The biggest don't is first thing in the morning," he says, "and the biggest do is in the evening, especially if your schedule has you training after work." For best results, do a pre-meal workout composed entirely of resistance training—along with two intense, high-load weight-work sessions a week.

Play Your Carbs Right
How to eat like a confident man
Power Order: Bucatini
Insecure Indulgence: Breadsticks

Power Order: Club sandwich
Insecure Indulgence: Croutons
Power Order: French toast
Insecure Indulgence: Fage yogurt

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Why Hollywood Loves the Alkaline Diet