Tag Archive for #plannedindulgences

How I f-ed up over the holidays…and how I won’t anymore.

HHHY FB cover

 Tomorrow’s Thanksgiving.



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:  Arrogance.

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!

scheduling for the win!


–> 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.



To get more tips, mindset tweaks, and done-for-you workouts to keep you ‘in the middle’ and happy, sign up for my weekly email newsletter here:
A new tip, technique and workout goes out every Friday!





Why, yes, I will have some cake! The Case for Planned Indulgences


Break the Obesess/Binge Cycle for Good:  The Case for Planned Indulgences


I love cake.

No, I don’t just love cake–I FREAKING love cake.



AND I live in Germany, currently, where bakeries are as prevalent as churches in the ‘Bible Belt’ of the United States (I’ve lived there, too).  

Yes, THAT many bakeries.


If you’ve never had German cake, you are missing out, and, NO, “German Chocolate Cake” is not German.  Black Forest Cake…kind of.  Barely.  But I digress.


Cake is definitely my nutritional ‘achilles heel,’ and I used to struggle each time we went into the bakery (conveniently attached to the exit of both of our two supermarkets), which was at least three times a week–for fresh bread and Brezeln for the kids.


I’d stand there, in front of the bakery case, all but wringing my hands in a ‘do I or don’t I?’ and ‘how much have I eaten today–can I afford it?’ and ‘what are my goals–will it knock me off course?’ desperate inner struggle.


WAY too much mental anguish and mental energy was involved in a simple ‘get some bread’ scenario.


It was exhausting to always have this fight with myself, and I started to dread going to the store for anything.  When my kids began to add to the unpleasantness of the situation by begging for goodies every single visit, I knew something had to change.


“I’m a former elementary teacher, and I understand behavior modification,” I thought.  “I’ll find a way to construct boundaries, create realistic expectations and extinguish this unwanted behavior!”


Little did I know I was creating the same positive structure for myself, not just for my children. (It’s funny the things we will do so easily in order to help others that we won’t often readily do for ourselves!)


Out of this need to reduce my children’s begging and establish routine and reasonable expectations was born: TREAT FRIDAY.


Fridays became the hallowed day of the week.  The kids were allowed to choose ONE treat from the bakery case–ANY treat they wanted, but only on Fridays.  The rest of the week was for scoping out what was in the case, planning what one would have on Friday.


I decided I’d join them in their Friday indulgences; I’d worked hard all week, what was one piece of cake?  Same rules applied to me as did to them–ANYTHING I wanted in the bakery, I could have, but only on Friday afternoon.



A gorgeous thing happened as a result of adopting this approach.



Actually, a couple of gorgeous things happened.  One, the kids stopped harassing me in the bakery throughout the week on our normal grocery shopping visits.


Instead, they were happily doing ‘recon’ on the bakery cases in town, plotting their Friday conquest.  (Did I mention they were 6 and 3 when we started this?  You can imagine how much easier this made shopping in general.  WAY less stressful.)


But the even more gorgeous result was that my hand-wringing/’do I or don’t I’ mental struggles vanished.

knew when I could expect my treat, that it was allowed–even encouraged, that I could enjoy it with no remorse or guilt.  ENJOY it.  I gave myself permission to enjoy it because I would only choose what I really wanted and it would be enough, rather that taking whatever was available, shoveling it down in my car or kitchen, then feeling ashamed afterwards (leftover birthday cake or bake sale creations had been such terrible sources of temptation/binge/shame in the past).  I ate slowly, sitting at a table, using a fork, really tasting and enjoying each bite.  



No hiding, no sneaking, no rushing, no stress.  Just enjoyment.


The verdict on treat Friday:  Win-Win.



Treat Friday became such a successful strategy for my family, that it made me wonder why it was such a success for us.


I decided to examine the concept, the psychology of the situation more closely, because, heck, if it was working for me AND my kids, it might just help many of the clients I had who experience(d) issues with sugary treats and even binge eating.



The phenomena at work:  Forbidden Fruit and the Slot Machine 


Quick–don’t think of pink elephants.  Don’t!  Not at all, not even for a second–do not think of PINK ELEPHANTS.



I bet all you can see in your mind are pink elephants right now.

This is psychology of the forbidden fruit, in a very simplistic example, that by making something forbidden we make give it value and focus.  Our minds want to have freedom, we cringe at restrictions being put on us, and so even arbitrary ones, like the pink elephant, become a struggle and a drain on our mental energy.  This is also why ‘diets’, in the restrictive sense, are only temporary and don’t work for long.

“Ever notice that the more you say you can’t have it, the more you want it? That’s called deprivation focus, and we get intense cravings of it, not just because it’s tasty, but because we are creating desire for it in our mind by dwelling on it.”


And this is why the cake at the bakery was such an issue for me and my kids.

The ‘slot machine,’ intermittent rewards phenomenon was also at play–not knowing when the cake ‘pay out’ was going to happen, so we were struggling with the question of ‘will we get it this time’ every single time we went grocery shopping.  Will I hit ‘WILD’ on this pull?!?

Those two phenomena together can be a potent formula for some massive bingeing.

Why ‘Planned Indulgences’ Works:

1.  It takes the ‘forbidden fruit’ feeling out of the scenario.  You are much less likely to focus and fixate on something when it is no longer forbidden.  When you give yourself permission to have something, it removes a huge load of stress from the situation.

When it’s a reasonable amount–a piece of cake, not a whole cake–it removes a huge load of guilt or remorse from the situation.

2.  It creates a timeframe for when you get to have your treat.  When we go on a diet, or restrict our food intake in some manner, we often wonder when we’ll be able to have that coveted goodie again.  Weeks?  Months?  Will I cave/crack at that next birthday party?  Business lunch?  Social event?

Planning when you get to have it eliminates that shaky feeling of wondering when you’ll get it again, and stressing about certain social scenarios.

You know when to expect your treat, you’re in charge of designating the time/date/location, and that is comforting.  Known, self-determined events usually are 🙂

3.  YOU determine your treat.  YOU determine when you’ll have it.  YOU determine the location.  It’s chosen, intentional, and preplanned.  No one is imposing their will on you, your fate is self-determined.  That is a powerful thing.

I choose Fridays because it’s like a mini-celebration of another work and school week completed, and because my willpower is lower on Friday afternoon.  I choose cake because that’s my favorite goodie.  I set out to enjoy a reasonable portion of something I like, when I want it, and I do so with some of my favorite people.  We usually have some pretty decent conversations then, too 🙂

It’s pleasant, satisfying, relaxed and it’s ENOUGH.

4.  It’s a treat, not a cheat, and not a binge.  A Planned Indulgence is a predetermined, portion-specific treat.  It’s a piece of cake vs. a whole cake, for example.  It’s not a whole day of indulging, it’s one event.

I look at it as getting the ‘minimum effective dose’ of a treat source–enough to satisfy you, not so much that you feel guilty, sick or unwell after eating it.

5.  It’s flexible.  If I see a birthday party coming up that week, I’ll probably shift my planned indulgence to that day rather than the usual Friday.  Or for that week, I’ll simply have two planned indulgences.

The key is in the preplanning:  I set an intention, and I stick to that intention.  Some weeks I don’t even feel like having a treat on Friday, so I’ll push it to Saturday, or–gasp!–skip it altogether for the week.

The timing is flexible but intentional.



How can you make Planned Indulgences work for you?


1.  Identify your favorite treats.  We all have our favorites.

2.  Identify where this treat can or will be found.  Restaurant, store, bakery….

3.  Identify what a reasonable portion of this treat really is.  Remember, we want a normal-sized portion of the treat food–this is a treat, not a binge or a ‘cheat.’  Think: minimum effective dose.

4.  Determine when you want to enjoy this treat.  Determine who you’d like to enjoy this with.  We’re social creatures, and we enjoy shared experiences. My cake is a whole lot tastier when I’m sharing the occasion with my kids or friends.

5.  Be realistic about your schedule needs, and work with them.

When an office party or birthday party or some other social and food-oriented function comes up, adjust accordingly.  Try to set your intention before arriving at the event.

Most of us know what to expect from a certain event or venue, in terms of what foods will be available, and setting the intention beforehand takes the stress of on-the-spot decisions out of the equation.

For example, I know for darn sure I’m eating a slice of birthday cake at any grown-up birthday party I attend.  And my friends can BAKE!

The 'Three Day Cake' because it takes three days to make--and it's THAT good.

The ‘Three Day Cake’ because it takes three days to make–and it’s THAT good.


I also know if I’m going to an office party-type event, I’m likely to skip the store-bought stuff and will save my indulgence for something I will REALLY enjoy.

No random nibbling, because I’ve set my intention ahead of time.  Hence, the ‘planned’ in planned indulgences!

So like I’ve said, I love cake.  I’m a personal trainer, group fitness instructor, and health coach who loves cake.


My current, Planned Indugence-practicing physique.

The way in which I’ve made keeping cake, something I enjoy, a harmonious part of my lifestyle is through implementing the Planned Indulgence approach.

It’s all about being intentional about your life, enjoying your life, and staying away from unhealthy thought patterns (deprive-binge) by creating positive mindsets and helpful practices.

If you’ve been struggling with obsessive thoughts regarding certain foods, you might want to give planned indulgences a try–it could take a load off your mind, and your waistline, for life.