Friday, December 9, 2011

Food Friday: Holiday Diets

Quick note to anyone who may be interested: Holidailies, the blog-every-day web community, is back up and running again this year, under new management. It looks like they've gone back to the format before last year's Reddit experiment, and the month starts today.
For the benefit of anyone who's new around here, I should say that through diet and exercise, I lost just about 30 pounds since the start of the year, which has put me at a healthy weight. At this point, I'm more interested in maintaining than in losing additional weight.

All that said, I believe the maxim that "It isn't a diet, it's a live-it." In other words, it's about changing eating habits and eating trends, it's about a lifestyle, not just a quick-fix (or even a slow fix). But whether you're at the point of trying to lose weight or just trying to maintain a healthy weight, the holiday season is a tough time, no doubt about it.

I can't speak for anyone else, but it seemed like the temptations started piling up around mid-October. As soon as the air got a bit cooler and thoughts turned to Halloween, candy and junk food started appearing everywhere. As I would walk around different areas of campus here, I would see candy out in bowls or bags, on offer to everyone, and doughnuts and pastries brought in for this group or that group. In our culture, it seems like we can't hardly think of a nice thing to do for individuals or groups that doesn't involve delicious-but-bad-for-you food. We buy food to bring in, we bake cookies or cakes... it's always about the simple carbs and the sugars.

And it's hard to say no, especially when people have baked something themselves, but even if it's store-bought candy, it can be tough to say no. "I'll just have one," we say, but one piece of candy spikes the blood sugar, which calls out the insulin brigade, which lowers the blood sugar... and makes us want more. That's not even to mention the tacit peer pressure of seeing everyone else reaching for whatever it is, or the way that our will-power gets drawn down each time we resist (studies show) and of course can be weakened by stress, fatigue, or distraction, all of which seem to ramp up just about this time of year, at least for educators like me.

Perhaps it's because of where I am (maintenance), but in some ways this seems like the hardest time to resist temptation. I mean, when you're in weight-loss mode, you've got your goals, you're immersed in your diet and exercise, it's easy (okay, easy-ish) to stay focused. But once you've reached your goals, it's easy to justify "the occasional" bad-for-you food because you know you're at a healthy weight. So what could one [insert food demon here] hurt? But of course, it's never just one, which is why for the last month or so I've found myself 5-10 pounds over my lowest weight of the year.

I suppose I can't really write an entire blog post just about the problem, even if I'm not exactly the role model for resisting temptation.

As these things go, the diet I'm following (the "Slow Carb Diet" outlined in Timothy Ferriss's The 4-Hour Body) is easy to follow--I feel full, I enjoy the meals I'm eating, and there's a cheat day built in. For the first month or two, that was enough, and I followed it well. It's just all these temptations...

So here are some ideas:

1) Plan ahead: know what you're going to eat and when, so you aren't tempted by the bad ideas of others.
2) Convert others to your diet--it's so much easier when you have a like-minded community. If you can get your significant other on the diet, it's so much easier (Lauren is pregnant, though, and doesn't like the Slow Carb meals nearly as well as I do, so I'm on my own--it's okay, I understand). An on-line community of like-minded individuals is the next best thing.
3) Practice saying no. From "No thank you" to "I really appreciate the offer, but I'm on a diet that doesn't allow X," the more you say it, the easier it gets. It can be hard to say no, because a) you want the food and b) the people who offer it are so nice to do so, but as discussed above, decisions to give in to temptation have a tendency to snowball rapidly.
4) If your plan includes a "cheat day," be sure to remind yourself of that fact. "I would like to have X, and I can have X; I just need to wait until Sunday." Of course, that's hard because so often the food that's being offered so freely is right there, right now, and won't be anywhere near you when your cheat day comes around. Refer back to #3.
5) Take time to talk yourself up. Remind yourself of your goals, whether it's weight loss or maintaining the healthy weight you have. Giving your attention to these things before temptation arises makes it easier for you to say no when it does, because you're conscious of where you want to be and what you need to do to get there.
6) Drink lots and lots of water. It's not just that it makes you feel full, although it does. It's not just that it's good for you, though in general it is, because most of us don't drink an optimal amount of water. The thing is that we often mistake our bodies' signals for thirst as signals for hunger.
7) Stay focused and productive. If you're really engaged in doing something, whether that's work or play or whatever, you're less likely to eat. Haven't we all had the experience of getting so wrapped up in something that we forget to eat? And haven't we also had the experience of eating for no other real reason than because we're bored? Look to avoid distracting yourself, look to avoid multitasking (which is often a form of procrastination and distraction), and you're less likely to eat food you don't need.
8) Avoid temptations. If you know that so-and-so always brings in doughnuts on Mondays and leaves them out for everyone in the lounge, stay the heck out of the lounge! Find somewhere else to work or eat or take a break, take a route to the restroom that doesn't take you past there--do what you have to do, but don't put yourself in a situation unnecessarily where you have to exercise willpower. It's not about parading temptations in front of yourself to prove how great your willpower is, it's about getting results, so don't risk sabotaging yourself.

And I'm running out of ideas and I'm running out of time in order to get this in before Friday becomes Saturday, so I'll leave it at that--you're encouraged to offer your own ideas in the comment section, or to make any comments about the ideas I've thrown out there.


  1. I'm working on dropping some baby weight right now, so I'm right there. For some reason Halloween and Thanksgiving weren't that difficult, but Christmas and New Years are always the worst. Especially since we're trying to start doing home made (read: food) gifts instead of store bought... which of course means lots of sampling of lots of batches.

    One thing I HAVE found really helpful: we have dessert every night. I've been on the lookout for "desserty" things that are satisfying in small servings, and that makes it way easier for me to resist eating crappy food during the day.

  2. Congratulations on getting into maintenance mode! I've just started on myfitnesspal with a group of friends, and I hope to be getting back to maintenance mode myself sometime in 2012.

  3. Karen, I'll probably be back on the weight loss train, at least briefly, after the holidays. And ultimately, I'm at peace with that. I lost over 30 pounds, and while I don't want to have to do that again, it's given me the confidence that I can do it again to handle a little seasonal weight gain, if it comes to that.

    Meagan, that's good that you've found something that works for you. My wife is the same way about dessert: she finds it easier to stick to a healthy diet if we can work in some kind of dessert (when she's trying to lose weight, she usually does Weight Watchers, which allows for that). For me, I prefer to pretend dessert doesn't exist, because I find it easier to go without than to moderate. But the important thing for all of us is to find what works for ourselves.