When I was in the thick of my sugar addiction, it wasn’t unusual for me to consume, say, an entire tray of chocolate-covered strawberries at once, or half a tube of raw cookie dough during a walk home at the end of the day. But hands-down, the craziest episode I ever had fell during the holidays.
Raise your hand if this time of year gets tricky for you, food-wise…
You’re not alone. It’s tricky for me, too. And for many, many other women who struggle with the abundance of cake, cookies, wine, stuffing, turkey, cheese and crackers. When I’m introducing myself at talks, and sometimes, when I’m letting a client know there’s no WAY I’m going to judge them, I like to tell them about the time I went to a holiday Christmas party during college…
15 pieces of cake.
I still remember the one I liked best. It was marzipan, with a raspberry ribbon.
Naturally, I didn’t eat them all at once. That would be over the top! Instead, I had about seven or eight over the course of a couple of hours. Then I undid the snap at the top of my skirt and lay down on a couch, moaning. Then I got up and had seven or eight more.
To me, this illustrates how easily food can get out of hand during the holidays. You’re probably not worried about eating 15 pieces of cake (or maybe you are), but you probably are concerned about over-grazing at the office party, falling prey to the Christmas cookies in the break room, or overdosing on stuffing and mulled cider at Thanksgiving.
If I had my 20-year-old self as a client today, and she was willing to hear what I had to say (which I wasn’t at 20), here are the tips I’d offer her in order to prevent holiday “overindulgence”.
1. NO FASTING.
In my case, I had hardly eaten before the holiday party. I’d known I was heading to a serious feast that night and wanted to be able to “go to town”. So it seemed reasonable to me to skip breakfast, eat a very small lunch, and then have whatever I wanted at the party. (I did this kind of thing a lot). The problem is, if you go without food all day, your blood sugar drops drastically. As soon as you start eating again – and this is particularly true if you’re eating something sugary or carby (including alcohol), your blood sugar will immediately spike. This kind of roller-coaster sets us up for cravings and binge eating. It’s also way easier to overeat when you’re starving than when you’re mildly hungry. My suggestion: if you’re headed for a food-heavy event in the evening, ditch the restrict-then-binge mentality, and balance your blood sugar with a moderate and protein-dense breakfast and lunch.
2. ANTICIPATE TRIGGERS.
From an emotional standpoint, we often overindulge when we’re upset. In my particular situation, at that time in my life I was constantly beating myself up. I was attending a pressure-cooker college filled with wealthy, brilliant, and attractive people, and perpetually felt inferior (although I wasn’t aware of it at the time). The party I went to was filled with this type of crew. And don’t even let me get started on the dysfunction and stress that was going on at home, which always seemed to get worse during the holidays. In short, it was a perfect storm. But I was too checked-out to see how my shame, fear, and anger was constantly whipping me into a frenzy of sugar bingeing.
My suggestion: doing the deeper emotional work is crucial to breaking the cycle for good, but even making shorter-term plans around your emotional comfort can go a long way towards reducing emotional eating. That means taking a look at your calendar NOW and blocking off time for self-care and relaxation in the midst of the holiday frenzy. It also means knowing what and who your triggers are.
In other words, create a plan of attack, in advance. Think you might get emotionally rattled watching your whippet-thin sister-in-law take her third helping of mashed potatoes? Plan to step outside for a few minutes to breathe and get grounded. Think Aunt Rhonda might give you grief about being single? Plan to sit at the other end of the table, and figure out now what you might say to shut her down (hint: directness plus humor is often a winning combination). A little planning can go a loooong way. Trust me.
3. THE POWER OF CHOICE.
Oh hey…don’t forget, since you’re an adult, you get to choose how you spend the holidays! If you find it’s just a whirlwind of lines, credit cards, and family drama, it’s time to take matters into your own hands and create some of your own rituals that feel supportive. When brainstorming what this might look like, consider how to indulge all your senses, not just your tastebuds! This might look like attending a special holiday concert with your favorite person, baking some healthy and decadent treats (search my blog to find ’em), taking a stroll around town to check out lights and sip cider, or using scented candles, a fire, or potpourri to infuse the scents of the season into your environment. Doesn’t that sound lovely? (Now you know what I’ll be doing this holiday season ;)).