’Tis the time of year when we’re bombarded with sweets and sugary treats EVERYWHERE. Work parties, family gatherings, everywhere we look. Christmas cookies, candies and junk will be thrown in our faces. It’s socially acceptable to stuff our faces and binge on everything under the sun because “everyone’s doing it.”
Over the last month I’ve been interviewed by several publications, all wondering the same thing: How do you deal with setbacks during the holiday season? It seems as though everyone has the “we’re going to overdo it no matter what” mindset. Why do we think that way? I’ve found this mindset to be rather unsettling.
Overindulging during the holiday season is “just the way it is” just as much as we’re “destined” to get Type 2 diabetes or be obese simply because it’s “in the genes.”
That said, I also acknowledge that staying on track during the holiday season isn’t super easy either. I get it. I really do. The stuffing. The mashed potatoes. The festive holiday drinks. The Santa cookies. The homemade fudge. With an overabundance of highly addictive comfort foods, potentially uncomfortable social situations, annoying family members, gathering after gathering, party after party, feast after feast... The holidays provide a series of conditions where emotional and mindless eating thrive. If ever we needed an excuse to stumble from our healthy eating regimen, the holidays are it. The holidays are a perfect storm.
Going into the holidays with the “we’re going to overdo it no matter what” mindset is like knowing the burner on the stove is hot, but touching it anyway, fully aware that you’re going to have to deal with the damage and endure the healing process later. Why not just stay away from the burner? Why not jump start on those New Year’s resolutions and embrace healthy NOW? The reality is, most people who overindulge during the holiday season end up feeling guilty, filled with regret and gut rot. The good news is, It doesn’t need to be this way.
I can also tell you it’s taken years for me personally to find an unbreakable system for staying in control of my choices and not giving in to what my inner sugar addict wants.
Here are my tried-and-true strategies for staying ahead of holiday cravings:
1. Don’t “save” calories. An ol’ strategy (scam) that’s become common practice—and only sets you up for failure—is to “save up” for the evening feast. It looks something like this: You know there will be a big dinner, so you cut back on your eating during the day in an attempt to “save” your hunger and calories for the overindulgences of the evening. You skimp on your meals, you might even skip lunch, or even fast for the entire day. You know what’s happening next: You enter the door of your gathering completely ravished with one mission and one mission alone: FOOD.
Instead of focusing on things that holidays are made for—like meaningful conversation, warm fireplaces and Christmas carols—your conversations are absent as you bolt straight for the appetizers, and find yourself wolfing down everything in sight—even if it doesn’t taste all that great. You feel out of control, gluttonous, and ashamed.
You leave the gathering feeling stuffed, bloated, and angry at yourself for overdoing it. The reality is that your compulsiveness for “all of the things” is a direct result of your low blood sugar levels. When you deprive your body of nutrition the hours or day leading up to the holiday meal, your blood sugar levels are low as you enter the gathering. Your attempt to “save up” backfired, causing your blood sugar to plummet to the ground, making you desperate for anything and everything by the time you got to your party. It’s important for you to get your balanced meals and snacks in on all days, but especially days when you know you’ll be around food temptations. Not skipping meals or snacks will empower you. You’ll have a better handle on portion control since you won’t have the urge to stuff your face as fast as you can, and you’ll be a happier because of it. Do yourself a favor and keep your blood sugar levels balanced as you head into your dinner by sticking to your “PFC every three” (even more closely than normal) balanced eating regimen—eating meals AND snacks consisting of protein, healthy fat and nutritious carbs all day long. You may even eat an extra snack right before you head out the door to ensure that you aren’t starving the second you arrive.
2. Load your plate with healthy fat. Not just at your meals and snacks BEFORE your planned holiday feast, but when you grab a plate for appetizers or your meal, inspect the options for your healthy fat and proteins. Carbs are plentiful, so those will likely make their way onto your plate without even trying. Proteins typically make their way into the main dish, be it ham, turkey or roast beef. Remember, carbs aren’t all bad, but they all turn into sugar in your body, which is going to set you up for wanting more and more. Keep your focus on healthy fats like nuts, seeds, butter, olive oil, olives, avocado, coconut oil, heavy cream, and/or cheese. Healthy fat will not only keep you full, but will also help offset the spiking of your blood sugars, which those carbs absolutely will do. (That’s why when you eat a high-carb meal, like most holiday meals, you feel lethargic and crave sugar like crazy shortly after. The carbs spike your blood sugars. Anything that goes up must come down! So when your blood sugar crashes, you crash. The cycle then repeats because you’ll be in need (craving) those sugars all over again.) Healthy fats are usually few and far between (unless it’s margarine or some other fake buttery spread...that somehow always seems to make an appearance). Make it a priority to look for healthy fats, like real butter, or if you hit the lottery, there’ll be sliced avocado or guacamole. They’ll help fuel your brain so you can make better choices and keep your cravings in check by balancing your blood sugars.
3. Bring a PFC-balanced dish to share. Bringing a healthy, balanced option is a great step to ensuring your own success. This way you can walk into the party confidently knowing you have at least one option that will make you feel great and keep you on track. For my favorite real food recipe ideas, download my Holiday Recipe Guide by clicking the button below.
4. Make a plan and tell someone. As you make your holiday plan of attack, consider your personal limits and set realistic expectations for yourself. Then, voice your plan. Whether it’s a family member, a close friend, or your dietitian coach, research has shown time and time again that accountability works. We all do better when we have a partner in crime (er, in this case, strength!) supporting us. Decide who your person will be and tell them your plan to stay in control when the going gets tough throughout the holiday season (such as “I’ll have a PFC-balanced snack before heading out the door every evening” or “I’m not going back for seconds.”). And remember that you have the opportunity to start fresh at every meal and snack. Just because you get off track at one meal doesn’t mean you have to have a bad day, or week. Pick yourself up and start over! The journey to health is exactly that, a journey. Making lifestyle changes is about learning how to deal with the ups and downs along the way, and not getting into an unhealthy rut that lasts longer than it should.
5. Stay equipped. Behold my secret weapon and lifesaver: Glutamine. This is what I take for preventing AND busting sugar cravings. Glutamine saves me from giving in to every sweet, sugary temptation we’re bombarded with. Here is how it works: L-Glutamine is a pre-cursor for your brain chemicals (called neurotransmitters) that help you resist sugar. When you take this supplement, it actually helps your body create neurotransmitters that prevent you from craving sugar. It can immediately deflate a sugar craving. Sound too good to be true? I used to think that, and many of our clients used to think that, too, but all it takes is trying it once to experience the amazing benefits for yourself. I personally take two capsules before each meal, and three during times like the holidays where I know I’ll need extra support. When you feel a craving coming on, you can open one up and pour the powder on your tongue. It’ll zap your craving instantly, and you’ll feel more confident having it in your artillery.
Just remember, the holidays aren’t a battle that you must fight through. It is a time to be around those you love, cherish some moments together, and also cherish yourself. You are stronger than the sugar temptations around you. With these extra tips and tricks (seriously, the L-Glutamine is a life-saver!) you will cruise through the holiday season with ease and you’ll be able to embrace the new year with confidence...and maybe while wearing some new skinny jeans!