Is anyone else floored that it’s already the Holidays? (In the US “the Holidays” typically means Thanksgiving, Christmas/Hanukkah, and New Year’s Eve, but for me personally it also includes my Grandmother’s birthday, my Dad’s birthday and my Parent’s anniversary – my family really knows how to cram the celebrations together!)
What this means are many many many opportunities to be tempted - by alcohol, sugar, extreme portion sizes, lethargy, etc. And our hard wiring encourages the over consumption and lower energy level. Let’s take a minute to talk about why that is and then I’ll share a strategy that may help you approach all of these tempting situations with more confidence (both during the Holidays and year round.)
So let’s begin with why we might be extra tempted this time of year. Of course part of it is having greater access – there are parties at every turn, special foods, and special meals – which means extra temptation. But beyond that, like all animals, our bodies want more calories to prepare for the leanness that is supposed to come with winter.
The fall (yes, even though it might be snowing in some places already, it is still fall) is the time of year when animals “fatten up” – if you live in New York City, you can easily see this in the extra pudgy squirrels running around right now. For most animals, winter is a time of “leanness”, meaning that there is not access to the same caloric abundance that is available at other times of year. To deal with this, animals are hard wired to pack on the pounds in the late summer/fall to provide energy stores to get them through the winter (In some parts of the world this actually follows a wet season/dry season pattern instead of a winter/summer pattern.)
We are animals. I know it can be easy to forget, but we are in fact animals and are subject to the same hard wiring. But, we are smart animals and have created an environment where we have access to hyper caloric food year round. On first glance this seems like a good thing; no more worrying about not getting calories during the winter, woohoo! Except, this happened very rapidly and we have now disrupted the system. This happened so fast that our hard wiring hasn’t been able to adjust. So now we still have the hard wiring that tells us to go crazy and “eat all the food” to survive the winter but we no longer have the lean time that is supposed to follow and instead we continue to eat. All of this leads to over consumption and ultimately weight gain.
BUT, this is not an excuse to eat everything. It is helpful to understand all of this so that you can better understand part of the why, but again, we are smart animals and once we understand the hard wiring we can better figure out ways to deal with it.
For me, the easiest way to deal with overconsumption, is to realize that every day, multiple times a day I have a choice and 1 less than ideal choice does not have to lead to another. So maybe your day looks like this:
Post dinner drink/dessert/snack
That is, at minimum 7 times during a day that you can chose what to put in your body. But for some reason many people seem to feel that if they make a decision that they might not think is the best, they chuck the rest of the day out the window.
Have you ever had this conversation with yourself? “Well, I woke up in a bad mood so I treated myself to a donut, so today’s already f*cked, I might as well keep eating crap.” But that’s just not true.
Every time you can make a different decision. So you had a donut for breakfast, that does not mean you should have a whole pizza for lunch. As Dr. Kelly Starrett says, make a better decision. And what’s awesome about this is that every day, multiple times a day you have the option to make a better decision.
No single decision has to affect any other; they can stand alone or build on each other. Yes, once you’ve made a less than ideal decision it is easier the next time to make another less than ideal decision, but that is also true of the better choice; it is easier to make a better choice once you’ve already made a better choice. But one less than ideal choice is easier to come back from than 21, or 3 days’ worth of less than ideal choices; the sooner you make a better choice after a less than ideal choice the easier it will be.
One way I remind myself of this power of choice, is to take some time 1 day a week (for me it’s Sunday) to think about how the week before went and how I felt about my decisions; and to think about the week to come and what decisions I might want to make differently and any times that I might already know about that could be tempting. This allows me to check in with myself and recommit every week. Consistently recommitting means that I am less likely to completely fall back to poor eating patterns, so every week I start in a slightly better place than I did the week before. With each passing week I find myself making more “better decisions” than I did the week before.
There will be parties and treats. Enjoy them! They are not “cheats”, they are not “bad” foods, they are foods chosen for reasons other than nutrition, and that’s OK. But the following time (or three) that you have a choice to make, make it based on nutrition. Nutritional health is based on long term decisions, a single less than ideal choice will not ruin everything; but what will is letting that less than ideal decision lead to another and another and another - Make a better decision.
How do you deal with eating around the Holidays?