I know I sound like the Grinch that Stole Christmas, but most of us feel that way in January, when we have gained that 10 pounds we swore we weren’t going to gain. Usually about this time of year I am trying to tell folks to ease up on the cascade of sweets and treats that come our way through the holiday season. The struggle is real! It’s just so hard to say no to Aunt Jenny’s best pecan pie ever, even though it’s a week before Thanksgiving. Didn’t we tell ourselves ONLY at Thanksgiving dinner? Oh well, just this once….
The struggle is real!
Does it happen to you almost daily from Halloween to New Years Day? We say “just this once” almost daily. We are trying to be conscientious about our weight, but somehow it all just sneaks up on us. We want to be festive, but we also don’t want to feel miserable in January when we step on the scale. In fact, sometimes we just wear baggier clothes and decide to not worry about it until January, when we know we will be paying the price in our health and our self esteem. Is it worth it?
Some people don’t struggle with this…
If you are one of those thin folks that can bake 5 dozen sugar cookies and decorate them, and only eat one a week, then (I honestly want to say “Go away!”) you are blessed with that ability that many of us don’t have. I can make one dozen chocolate chip cookies and have a lot of the batter eaten before the cookies are even baked! So I don’t even try, I don’t even buy flour and sugar. No cookies, no temptation. On top of that, I come from families who have had serious hard times and survived, in other words, in a time of famine, I would be the last one standing…which means I gain weight easily and lose it VERY slowly. As I age, it gets even worse, so I have to be so much more mindful of what I eat!
Our biology doesn’t help!
This season is even more tough because I believe our bodies are saying to us “we are about to go into a starvation time, so eat as much rich food as you can, because we have to make it through the winter!” We would love to say “trust me, we will make it; the stores will be open everyday, even on Christmas day.” But there is some sort of ancient brain that doesn’t trust that part of us. Don’t ask me to explain it, but I’m pretty sure you know what I’m talking about.
So we have the great double jeopardy of craving rich foods, loaded with sugar and fat and salt, while everyone is offering it to us in abundance! In fact, it’s almost anti-social to politely say no (although we are using every bit of willpower in our being to do that!).
See the issue? This is why I tend to write more articles this time of year, because I want you to feel like you have every right to politely say no, and not feel that you have to please everyone else.
Then comes the cookie exchange!
Already this year I have strongly fought against a cookie exchange at an event, when I said “it’s a guaranteed ten pound weight gain!” they all knew I was right and quickly changed the subject…thankfully. Last year someone asked me to give her suggestions on how to lose weight, and it was about this time of year. I said the place to start is to try not to gain weight during the holidays. When she asked how she could do that, I suggested she not do the cookie exchanges….she looked at me like I was a serial murderer! Of course she had to do the cookie exchange! Of course she had to do all the baking for her family. I understand that feeling of wanting to share your love of baking (and eating those baked goods) with others. Luckily, I have trained those around me that if they want homemade cookies, they can bake them themselves! Why am I picking on the cookie exchange so badly? Because I literally gained 10 pounds many years ago when some amazing bakers roped me into a cookie exchange where I came home with 13 dozen cookies! I was lucky I only gained 10 pounds!!! I decided it was just not worth it! Go ahead, have your cookie exchange, I will see you at the gym in January.
“Are we just weak?”
If you put a steak down in front of your dog and told him not to eat it, and he ate it, would he be weak? No, he was just doing what dogs do; they eat foods appropriate to their nature, and as much as they can get! We are humans that have had to scrape and work to get enough food to eat, but now all of a sudden we have a steak in front of us all day, everyday. In fact, billions of dollars are spent making this food so we can’t resist it, and once we start eating it, we just want more and more. In fact, we pour empty calories down our throats with all the drinks that we somehow don’t think we have to count as calories. If you look at the calorie count of the Starbucks drink you just ordered, consider what you could have had instead. In fact, resisting these foods and drinks are an amazing feat in themselves! Success in dieting is paramount to becoming a billionaire! The odds are amazingly against us, and it takes constant work. Crazy, but am I right?
Traditionally our lives were shared with food. Our social occasions, our acts of love were all centered around food and celebration. Food was something that was hard to get, so sharing it was very meaningful. Having enough food was also a means of achieving status. Oddly enough, the heavier a woman was, the more desirable she was, because she obviously didn’t have to struggle to get enough to eat. Skinny peasants ate “peasant food”, which was basically bread and vegetables. The rich ate meat and had plenty of food, so they had more “meat” on their bodies, making them more desirable. Funny how now that we have plenty of food, we desire bodies of the poor peasant women! Funny how having the time and money to eat organic vegetables is considered elitist, where it used to be peasant food. Oh how things have turned around on us! So we still have the desire to be sociable with pleasant, rich food, but it’s not the same food, and we are already suffering from the excess. It’s still important for us to keep that social environment, but we are starting to realize it may be costing us our health.
“How can I be sociable and still not gain weight?”
It’s tough, I know! It’s easier for me, because people know I am a “health freak”, and they can make fun of me to make themselves feel better. I have no problem with that. They feel even better when I break down and have that piece of pecan pie at the Christmas dinner, or that cream cheese dip at the holiday party. Believe me, it’s just as much of a struggle for me as for anyone else; I fail a LOT! I have strong convictions, know how to stick with them, and really don’t care what other people think (in fact I am quite happy to be different), yet I still eat that piece of pecan pie or that cream cheese dip! So without being armed with those things, it can be even more of a struggle. That’s why I want so badly to help you get through this time of year without hitting January in a miserable state.
Where do we start? I think we have to start with a mindset that we may fail, but we will keep trying. Having a plan can help. Many of us decide we will only have those treats on the days of celebration themselves. Allowing a dessert at a couple events won’t make you gain those ten pounds. It’s the “exceptions” that trip us up: the office party, the dinner with friends, the church social, even a treat for ourselves while we are shopping (that’s mine!). It spirals into nearly everyday, and it almost seems to take on a life of its own!
What are some strategies for getting through those social events and not eat the foods we have decided to avoid? First of all, remember the social occasion is there for the social aspect of the people, not the food. Remember, it’s the people that are being celebrated, that’s why they have been invited. If you feel people want you to eat their food, fill up a plate of vegetables, then walk around and talk to people. Your plate is full, so you are obviously eating. If they ask you if you have tried one of the desserts, all you have to say is how good it looks, and maybe you will check it out later. You don’t need to say you have no intention of getting close to it, because you will want to eat it. If you are at a party where you don’t know anyone, or there are newcomers, make it a goal to ask three different people some questions to get to know them. Find out three things about each one of these new people. I have a friend that tried this last year and it worked great. She met new people and enjoyed herself much more than if she would have bellied up the the smorgasbord and regretted the day.
Family occasions are for family. I’m so sorry if your family causes you stress and emotional trauma. My suggestion is to avoid them as much as possible. Or at least make an appointment to see a psychologist afterwards, and have that booked ahead of time. I know someone who goes on vacation away from her family during the holidays because they are so judgmental, and she finally decided she didn’t need that. I know someone else goes on a fasting retreat for Christmas as a present to herself. Sometimes we really need to do what best supports our physical and emotional health, and it won’t always be the socially approved thing to do, but it may be the best thing to do.
Are you really showing love?
Ok, now I am going to be brutally honest, so skip this if you don’t want to admit this to yourself. If you would never hand peanuts to someone who has a peanut allergy, or alcohol to an alcoholic, why on God’s green earth would you hand cookies to someone whose health is suffering because of their weight? Why would you even stand at the dessert table and tell someone who has been dieting all year (and you know it), and insist that they try these desserts? What kind of unkind person are you? Why would you convince someone who struggles with their weight that they should join the cookie exchange? That they should bake cookies for the church event, or anything that is a struggle for them? Shame on you! Seriously, you think you are sharing yummy things with them, but what are you honestly doing? Making sure they fail, so you feel better about yourself? Don’t do it! If someone is struggling at the dessert table, walk up to them and engage them in conversation about themselves, then talk about how great the salad was and that you are thinking about asking for seconds! Please, please do NOT be the cause of their downfall! They can do that on their own, thank you!
Some of you know that I recently went to a conference that was basically for food addicts, and it was fascinating. I’ve learned so much lately about what triggers us as humans who struggle, and I see so many well meaning people inadvertently being very cruel to others. This is why I bring this up. If someone is struggling, please help them, don’t cause them more pain. Please think about what you are doing this holiday season and why.
Here are some other thoughts. Probably 3/4 of our population is either overweight or struggling with diabetes or pre-diabetes. Chances are that many of the folks you just put a tray of cookies in front of are being physically harmed by your actions. How many kids are overweight, but we still give them candy at Halloween and every other holiday during the year? Is that really necessary? Is that really love? Please rethink this! For the sake of the health of those around you, show kindness and openness, and understanding…not judgment and criticism!
Ok, off my soapbox for now, but you may hear this again.
However, if you do want to make holiday cookies, how about healthier options, such as the Ramaze balls, or chocolate Peanut Butter No Bake Bars from the GirlsGoneKale.com website? Find some healthier options, but remember, just because they are healthier doesn’t mean you should eat more of them!
So how do we make it through those social events without spending two months bingeing on “holiday treats”? Spend time with the ones that are good to you, love yourself enough to take care of yourself, and seek support from those that will honestly support you. Honestly, that’s the best way to do it. Otherwise, you will need to plan to keep trying as hard as you can, and forgive yourself if you fail, but keep trying and never give up. You are human, you are a wonderful person, even if you gain ten pounds this holiday season. I just know you would rather not.
Imagine weighing yourself in January and only have gained one pound? Maybe along the way you met some new people and found a few things out about them, perhaps you avoided that ugly confrontation this year, maybe you figured out how to make it less stressful, maybe someone bailed you out when you were checking out that pecan pie, and they told you you must have lost weight this year…just imagine what success means to you.
Have a great holiday season, but please make it a healthy one! What would you give to keep your health?
As always, if you know someone that could benefit from this article, feel free to share it with them. If you need help getting through this holiday eating season, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or find me on my facebook page. If you aren’t signed up for emails, please sign up!