It’s that day of the year that induces hand-wringing by some (“There’s so much good food and I can’t/shouldn’t eat some/all/any of it!”), enthusiastic and expectant hand-rubbing by others (“Oh yeah, it’s that day to eat whatever I want, ALL DAY LONG. Bring it on!!”), and just a whole lot of headache for others.
Thanksgiving also marks the beginning of the holiday season for those of us in the U.S., and it also often marks a departure from our otherwise normal and balanced eating habits.
“It’s the Holidays!,” you’ll hear people say, “Treat YoSelf,” or “I’ll just have a little this time,” or “I can only get this once a year!” or “C’mon, you can splurge a little, it’s (insert name of holiday gathering, meal or event here).”
Growing up, it was normal to me to have tons of special holiday foods around–fudge from Gramma, cookies from everyone, spice breads, fruit cake (but let’s be honest, I didn’t eat THAT), and a ton of other ‘only get them once a year’ treats.
Holiday meals were rich and heavy. It was the norm to fill your plate, stop for a moment after you’d eaten everything on it, then refill on your favorites. You weren’t done until you were STUFFED. Then maybe you came back later in the day for more, or pie.
It’s probably not a huge shock that I wasn’t a super lean kid, and that in my teens and 20s I continued to put on weight over the holidays. So I’m pretty familiar with the Holiday Weight Gain phenomena!
Then I ‘got fit’ and became a personal trainer. Which meant I leaned out quite a bit, and was responsible for maintaining a physique worthy of being a trainer. My abs were my ‘claim to fame,’ lol, so staying fairly lean was a priority.
Except….except I fell into a certain mindset fallacy that happens to lots of us–the ‘post-diet’ fallacy.
You know the one, the “Now that I’m skinny I can eat whatever I want” fallacy.
The one that causes so many post-diet weight gain rebounds–the one that pretty much keeps the diet and supplement industries in business!!!
Yep, I’d leaned out, ‘gotten abs,’ knew what I was doing, knew all kinds of ‘fat-burning workout tricks,’ and just generally felt invincible because I’d established a maintainable level of exercise: nutrition.
Enter: The Holidays.
Enter: Complete detachment from realistic thinking and behaviors.
For the first 3 years I was a trainer, I engaged in the same pattern of behavior, starting right up on Thanksgiving.
Before Thanksgiving, I maintained my normal eating and exercise habits, right up until that Thanksgiving Dinner–no extra treats, no big breaks from normal routines in the kitchen or gym.
But then…then my old “It’s the holidays!!” mentality would kick in–only it was a little worse than when I was a teen or 20-something. Worse, actually, because I felt ‘skinny,’ which amounted to License to EAT.
Does anyone else hear me there???
I had a big case of ‘I’m ‘X’ size/weight/body fat percentage, so I can eat whatever I want’ thinking.
Which worked out great for me…for about 3 weeks. Then I would start ‘wearing what I was eating,’ because for me it takes about 3 weeks for me to feel/notice weight gain. Um, oops.
Only then I’d be full into Christmas season with all its extra events (parties, dinners, Christmas Markets), so I’d just say “Well, I’ll take care of it after Christmas. It’s the HOLIDAYS after all, it’s not like I’m going to diet until New Year’s!”
Then New Year’s would come and go, and I’d be uncomfortable with my body and feeling shame about my dietary and body composition backslide.
On top of that, it would take me a good 8-12 weeks of hard work and structured eating just to get back to where I’d started on Thanksgiving Day!
Oh my goodness, how many of us have been there?!?
Finally, I just got sick of the whole pattern, so I spent some time examining what I’d done in past years: the thought patterns involved, typical pitfalls, and unhelpful behaviors that were at work.
Because before we can do better, we have to know better. Understanding where my behavior comes from helps me know better to do better!
Here’s what I’m doing to avoid any ridiculous holiday-related mindset fallacies or weight changes–things that might just help you ‘stay in the middle’ for the next few weeks, too 🙂
–> Changing my mind: Trading out the old thoughts for new ones.
There will be no more “I’m ___ size,” or “I worked out so hard this week, so I can eat whatever I want” thinking.
My new mantra: “I’m staying in the middle, so I can stay in the middle.”
–> Dealing with stress more proactively.
Stress has provoked some pretty strong emotional eating and drinking reactions in the past, so I recognize that I need to head the feelings of ‘dis-stress’ off at the pass.
This means I’ll be writing in my gratitude journal daily, taking short ‘time outs’ when I need them, and using Brendon Burchard’s Productivity Planner to keep my priorities straight. If it’s not a priority, it’s not getting stressed over!
If you’re curious, you can get your own copy at: http://www.highperformanceacademy.com/HPA-1pageproductivity.pdf
And the YouTube video that expands on the principle: How Millionaires Schedule Their Day
–> Practicing mindfulness techniques, especially around food.
I’m committed to continuing to recognize and monitor my hunger cues, cravings, thirst and satiation (feeling satisfied and full) as I’ve been doing ALL YEAR LONG. Just because “It’s the Holidays!” doesn’t mean I have a ‘License to EAT,” LOL.
I’m also committed to recognizing when I’m tired, and respecting my need to chill, sleep more, lighten up on the workouts, or take a walk instead of self-medicating with caffeine, more food or drinks.
–> Planning my Indulgences.
Using a practice I call “Planned Indulgences,” I’ve found a method for enjoying treat foods on my own terms.
Basically, I know all-or-nothing approaches to treats and treat foods–especially your favorites!–leads to a ‘restrict and binge’ behavior when willpower gets low or your attention isn’t as focused on what you’re eating.
As in, when you get ‘caught up in the moment’ at the end of the day or at a special event.
Plus, when you spend so much time and energy fixating on what ‘you can’t have,’ you’re taking energy away from noticing all the other amazing things going on around you, which means less enjoyment of the season or special events. And isn’t the whole point to enjoy ourselves–to be relaxed and appreciative of the specialness of the season?
- So when I look at my schedule for the week, I identify any special events going on.
- I choose what treats I’ll be enjoying that week–keeping the number reasonable.
- I set an expectation for myself, and then all I have to do is follow through and enjoy my planned indulgence.
- No fixating, no stress, no guilt, just enjoyment of the treat AND, moreover, then occasion!
–> Practice my ‘Minimum Effective Dose’ approach to eating rich and/or holiday foods.
When it comes to taking drugs/medications, the general opinion is to use the smallest amount to get the effect you seek.
Meaning, if 200mg of Ibuprofen alleviates your pain, there’s no need to take 600mg. You’re always looking to use the ‘minimum effective dose.’
Same goes for treat foods!
While I definitely use my Planned Indulgence method to have some of the tasty stuff, I also implement my Minimum Effective Dose (MED) approach to enjoying those treat foods.
Meaning, why eat a half a pie when a single piece will satisfy the desire to indulge?
It’s overkill, it causes tummy ache, and all too often a sense of regret or even shame. In other words, it’s so not worth it.
Figure out what your MEDs are for your favorite treat foods (which requires being mindful when eating and some ‘guess and testing’), and you’ll be on your way to enjoying the treat foods you like best in a way that’s agreeable with both your palate and ‘staying in the middle.’
–> Remembering, and reminding myself, what the true nature and purpose of the holidays and their celebrations are really all about.
It can be easy to get caught up in the ‘enjoy holiday foods’ part of the season, and some of us can really get fixated on those foods as being the center of an event. Understandable, since the turkey dinner with all the fixings is what Thanksgiving features as it’s main event!
For a really nice change of family Thanksgiving traditions, check out:
Rather than fixate on ‘getting my fix’ of that certain food, I’m focusing on what I’ll really treasure and remember about each holiday and festivity: the sights, the sounds, the smells, the PEOPLE.
I’ll be stopping to take it all in, to make memories, to take pictures, give hugs, be in the moment.
We don’t get any guarantees about where we’ll be or who’ll still be with us next year, so it’s worth taking that moment in and appreciating all we DO have in the here and now.
By reflecting on past motivations, mindsets and choices, I’m able to create a new, more agreeable experience for my present–and you can , too.
If how you’ve navigated the holiday food waters hasn’t been agreeable with you in the past, try a few of my tips:
- Trade out the old thought pattern for new, helpful ones
- Deal with stress more proactively
- Practice mindfulness techniques, especially around food.
- Plan your indulgences
- Remember your treat food MEDs
- Remember the true essence of the holidays
And stay in the middle to stay in the middle–happily.
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