Hello best life seekers!
It’s that time of year again. Thanksgiving. Christmas. New Year. Otherwise known as the time of rampant gorging and blown diets. Are you dreading them or already anticipating the pies, cookies, partying and general feasting this time of year brings?
If you’ve started a healthy way of eating and fear throwing it all to the wind in the face of so much temptation, here are some tips and strategies for emerging after the gauntlet of Thanksgiving-Christmas-New Year free of shame, and possibly free of those extra pounds which make for impossible New Year’s resolutions and expensive gym memberships.
Holiday Treats & Temptations
Who doesn’t love the tryptophan-induced bliss of turkey at Thanksgiving? Whether or not you hate getting together with relatives, we all tend to love Thanksgiving feasts and have our favorite dishes. My family usually lays out a bar of food and a counter or two of pies, cakes and cookies. Christmas isn’t so extravagant other than for again the pies, cakes and cookies. Likely yours is the same.
As if that wasn’t enough, there are the company parties to keep you full. And the seasonal specials, from pumpkin spice lattes to tins of flavored popcorn to catalogue Yule cakes. If you’ve got kids or office mates, candy and treats will be everywhere.
We all know the drill.
It really starts in Halloween and doesn’t let up until Easter. That’s half a year of dodging and avoiding treat after treat. This time of the year is the worst though, the grand gorger of them all. There’s probably enough food made to feed the entire world three times over. And enough stress to induce stress eating on top of it!
Holidays are times of celebrating, cherishing family and friends, reaffirming connections and looking back over the past year. Hiding out in a hole away from the party won’t work. Besides, the advertisers own your TV channels.
What to do?
Tricks & Tips
Turtling until January is a bad game plan. While it might save you some stress, hassle and extra pounds it probably won’t make you happy. Here are some strategies and tactics to keep temptation in check… or at least from losing control altogether.
#1- Mental Game
Whether you have started eating healthy or are just trying to slim down to a smaller size, know why you’re doing what you’re doing and how you will feel when you achieve these things. Feel the pride and happiness of eating well and savor that. This will put you in the right frame of mind in the face of so much temptation. Without it, you’ll capitulate pretty quickly.
Write down your health goals, how they make you feel, how you want to feel, why you’re undertaking them. Why are you so invested and what do you have to lose by turning your back on these healthy goals or habits? Without a good mental game, it’s hard to withstand any challenge.
#2 – Game the System
Trying to withstand the onslaught of so much temptation may be a loser’s game. My will-power is pretty legendary but I melt before a good chocolate chip cookie every time. It’s my kryptonite. Avoidance really doesn’t work because we are literally surrounded by commercials, pushy colleagues and less than sympathetic relatives that tell us one little treat won’t hurt us. For me it’s not the one little treat but the second and third that the first bite induces. Like chips, once you start you can’t stop.
To game the system, employ these crafty strategies.
Never Host the Party
This rule is sacrosanct. When you host a party you are never fully in charge of the menu. Not during the holidays. People always bring extras and leave them behind. Guess what will be cluttering your fridge and counter spaces and filling your tummy for who knows how long? And it’s not like your guests will be bringing carrot sticks.
Don’t host. Ever. Not during the holidays. You can sample the goodies without taking them home with you. Be a total mooch who then goes home to a clean kitchen and temptation-free counter.
Be a Control Freak
If you can’t get away from hosting holiday dinners or parties, try to control the menu while understanding that your guests will bring all the foods made to bust you. If you’re hosting you can prepare healthier versions of things like yams or crane berry sauce. You can also foist leftovers off on your guests. Have extra containers and baggies ready, as well as excuses like you don’t have the fridge space or you’ll be out of town and it will go bad. While I think the truth – I’m trying to eat healthier for health reasons – is more constructive, I understand that desperate times sometimes call for desperate measures.
Mix It Up
I’m lucky enough to have a number of friends and relatives who enjoy eating healthy and who also have a counter-culture streak. Several times we have designed our own holiday dinners, ditching the turkey and cranberry sauce.
One of the most memorable Thanksgiving was with some friends. We did Asian-giving instead. I made a few Japanese dishs, another friend made an Indian curry, and another prepared Korean bibimbap. Lots of delicious food with no sugar to be found anywhere. There might have been sake and wine. The leftovers, few that they were, were delicious and healthy.
Another year, a friend and were I alone in the city for Thanksgiving. We bought two Cornish hens instead of turkey and made a few healthy but delicious vegetable dishes – seasoned green beans and skins-on, garlic mashed potatoes. With one bottle of wine for our beverage.
Last year my cousins and I did Mexi-giving with enchiladas and bean dips. This year is MENA-giving (Middle East/North Africa), which includes of whole food dishes by its very nature. We’ll have a fanatic time cooking together, enjoy delicious food and not have eater’s remorse afterward.
Start a new tradition with your family or friends. You don’t need a plethora of dishes to enjoy the holidays, just each other. Make it memorable by creating a new theme and building healthy food around it. Focus on dishes, not dessert.
Bring an Amazing Dish
Healthy food can be amazingly delicious. Most people ruin dieting or eating smart by cooking the most tasteless and bland food imaginable.
If you want to eat healthy, bring healthy dishes to dinner parties or work. Make them so tasty people ask for the recipe and for you to bring it to every party in the future. Have something you feel good about eating and which nurtures your body in a sea of sugar and processed food.
Don’t forget the drinks. Sparkling water spritzed with actual juice or fruit can be simple, delicious and beautiful – and a nice alternative to sodas or calorie-heavy alcoholic drinks. If nothing else, try apple cider over soda or try mulled wine for a rich and heady beverage.
Get creative. You’ll have fun and eat well – and maybe get a few converts to your crusade.
#3 – Enlist Support
If you and your family have health issues, being honest about them with others can be very helpful. Explain about your kidney disease or your kid’s diabetes and how you need support right now, not leniency or encouragement to cheat “just this once”. Remind others that the holiday season is long and that you’ve already cheated enough and now need to focus on making your body and the bodies of ailing family members healthy again.
Our culture of food is not a healthy one. It just isn’t. And we have horrible health statistics linked to diabetes, kidney disease, cancer and autoimmune disease to back that up. These are diet-linked illnesses. You don’t see these numbers in Asia or Southern Europe or Mediterranean countries whose cultures elevate healthy foods.
Have conversations about what you’re going through and your health goals. People can be really sympathetic and want to help if asked in a skillful way. Don’t expect to sway everyone but be forthright. It’s your body and your health on the line. What they do with theirs is up to them. Have the strength to stand up for yourself and forge your own path.
#4 – Control the Cravings
In my article on Reasons Why Your Diet Failed, I outlined top causes of falling off the wagon. One of the biggest reasons is due to our food addictions. Unfortunately few people take this idea of food addiction seriously.
We are a nation of addicts, plain and simple. Sugar and refined carbs are our crack. 62% of the American diet is processed food, of which these two ingredients figure prominently. Over half of the American diet can be bought at your local 7-Eleven.
Most people recognize at some level that we have a diet problem but they blame overeating. No, we have an addiction problem that causes us to overeat. If it was an overeating problem we would be double-fisting apples and tomatoes as easily as we do the donuts and Oreos. Our processed foods come loaded with sugar and pallantants that actively stimulates our urge to eat by 20%+. Food manufacturers put these ingredients in food to fatten livestock and they put them in our food to get us to eat and buy more to their profit and our detriment (read The Dorito Effect). And because we’re eating junk, our bodies still crave nutrition and tell us to keep eating to find it on top of our addiction urge.
We are addicted and few of us stand up to confront that issue. You don’t have a willpower issue at Thanksgiving dinner, you have an addiction problem. Stop beating yourself up over that urge to eat the cookie and realize the addiction makes you reach for it. Then start learning to manage your addiction as an addiction. You won’t get free any other way.
Unfortunately nothing in our society sets us up to succeed. Most people are oblivious which means problem-solving on your own. But take heart, thanks to social-media and the Internet, support and ideas are everywhere. Educate yourself, learn coping mechanisms and strategies, and put them into action to stay healthy.
#5 – Cook
We’re forgetting how to cook and relying instead on boxed meals, meals in bags, canned and pre-made meals. These are food products, not real food. Read the ingredients. If your idea of cooking is zapping it in the microwave, I can guess your health problems.
As mentioned, over half of the American diet can be bought at 7-Eleven. Stop zapping your meals or opening a ready to go package this holiday season. By whole, fresh ingredients and prepare them into dishes. The results will be healthful and satisfying. We eat to nourish our bodies with vitamins and minerals and other healthful ingredients that make our body, mind and spirit function, not to simply load them with energy.
This holiday season, learn the art of cooking and appreciating wholesome food.
Avoiding the Holi-daze
For the next couple of months treats and temptations will dazzle us nonstop. It’s a tradition heavy on the quantity and low on the quality. While I personally love this time of year, I also actively gear up to avoid the worst of the insanity and excess.
Hopefully these tips and strategies will help you do the same. I would sincerely encourage you to learn how to cook and prepare whole food meals. Even if you splurge on the pumpkin pie or sugar cookies, at least a base of nutritious food will help inoculate your system to some extent. Making these meals is the best way to stay healthy, cherish others and yourself in a time meant to give thanks, celebrate our religious heritages no matter the tradition, and reaffirm connections with friends, family and neighbors.
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