I had a moment yesterday: a plate of cookies left over from a holiday party or a shake loaded with protein and superfoods for breakfast. I craved the sugar so badly, since that’s how it works when you indulge in foods you don’t normally eat. After a few minutes of debate, I ate one half of a snickerdoodle and made a shake. A small compromise in a week when I have been doing everything “wrong” when it comes to eating.
I have had cookies for breakfast on several occasions, snuck in more than a little pasta, lapsed on dairy (which I am intolerant to), and consumed too much alcohol. Egg nog in my coffee, not enough water, and coffee all day long.
True to form, my stomach hurts. I feel bloated and groggy, a little anxious. I imagine weight piling on before my eyes. I feel myself back on the slippery slope of too much sugar and simple carbs that can easily become a new/old hobby. I engaged in the talking-points I tell myself every year around this time: “Oh well, it’s the holidays.” “I’m running later so I can have this cookie now.” Or: “I’ll detox from sugar in January.”
I did some research today, and the consensus is out: from November to January people gain an average of five pounds. Sometimes it feels like more. Most people tend to despair first and then resolve to “lose it and 5 more” once they sip the last bit of New Year’s champagne.
But five pounds doesn’t include the other “stuff” that comes up. When you eat clean the majority of the time and let yourself indulge, most of us feel symptoms beyond the physical. Sometimes these feelings are harder to make peace with than a tighter waist line. After all, you’ve been focused all year on learning how to eat so you feel and look your best. It’s hard to now allow yourself to eat outside of this frame of reference without an enormous amount of guilt.
Depression. Anxiety. Guilt. Euphoria. Restlessness. Symptoms present in different ways to different people. The cleaner you eat and the more you veer away from the new norm, whether it be a diet plan you found last month or one you’ve been tweaking since August, you will feel ‘off.‘ You may be prepared for your reactions or you may be surprised by them. Either way, you may need some strategies to stay merry and feel good in your clothes and your mind through January 2nd.
Trust me, I’ve felt them all. I have put together a list of 5 Tips to Combat Holiday Weight Syndrome that have helped me work through and come to the other side of negative weight emotions. I hope they come in handy for you as well.
1. You are more empowered than you think.
All the work you’ve done this year to food detective yourself, to create a new habit, to eliminate a food that used to give you trouble, the knowledge you’ve gained about your body’s signals: all of these are powerful steps towards self-empowerment. Just because you are doing things you know you shouldn’t do for three weeks of the year does not mean all the work has been for nothing. You are on your way towards empowering yourself even more about the food you put in your body, rather than being controlled by it. One or two cookies or glasses of egg nog will never take away from this process.
2. Indulging this time of year does not mean you have lost control.
As survivors of the “dieting epidemic,” a cycle most of us have confronted in our lives, we may have PTSD about “failing.” In the world of traditional nutrition, there are so many “dont’s” that they practically beg us to “mess up.” What about the dos? Instead of thinking about food to take away, find substitutes that give you nourishment and joy.
But if you do enjoy this “contraband” food as a treat, at a party when you want something rich and delicious, it does not mean you are doomed to fail. Eat it, enjoy it, and notice how you feel. And find the control again when you are ready to re-apply your newfound food knowledge. You are more powerful than you believe you are.
3. Food can mean much more than just nutrition.
Food equals nourishment, comfort, joy, sensuality. It can conjure up wonderful holiday memories or provide a moment of peace in an otherwise stressful day. I found myself eating candy canes while in traffic the other day, stirring one into my coffee at Starbucks. Something about the taste of peppermint calms me down and gives me a surge of holiday spirit when I feel slightly bah-hum-buggy. Instead of punishing yourself when you eat more sugar than you should, do a quick self-check to see why else you may have eaten that cookie. Ditch the guilt and savor the moment. One or two cookies does not automatically mean weight gain, especially if that cookie gave you joy.
4. Trust the process.
Are you 100% awesome at anything in your life? I know I am not. Eating for your body can’t be figured out overnight. When people target a certain scale number for a specific event, I try to counsel them away from a deadline. With a deadline comes a goal, but it also adds stress. It can be hard to ditch the time-driven narrative of your life, but it can enhance your quality of life when you do. Trust your body’s signals, the knowledge you are gaining, that your body will lose weight and find equilibrium on its own timing when you give it the right tools. You will live a for a long time – and life revolves around much more than a number on a scale. The process of getting there also can be enjoyable, and your ideal weight will come as you trust and listen.
5. Self-care can help you lose the weight.
As a consummate night owl, it took me a long time to listen (to my old trainer, to research, to teachers, etc), but sleep, nutrition and exercise are the “holy trinity” of optimum wellness. This includes your ideal weight. When you sleep, your body restores itself. Cells regenerate, the brain rests, muscles replenish, your nervous system heals. By short-changing ourselves of sleep every night, it will catch up to us. It will increase insulin resistance, raise cortisol, muddy the brain, make us susceptible to illness, and slow down weight loss. I recommend eating a cookie and getting 8 hours sleep any day over drinking a greens drink and only allowing 5 hours of shut eye.
Practicing self-care and being more gentle with ourselves and our busy schedules will do more towards achieving an ideal weight than any deprivation diet can. Schedule time for yourself to restore and rest, and be forgiving of the few extra pounds you may carry. They will go, in time, when you sleep and exercise and eat well, in equal parts.
I hope these five tips have helped you feel more in control of the holiday “bulge.” Know you are not alone in being tempted by sweets and rich foods, and that it’s okay to enjoy them. You are smart, you are beautiful, and you will get back to your fighting shape. Allow the missteps and get back on track when you are ready to. Enjoy each one of those pieces of fudge, savoring the flavors and the memories they invoke. Get some sleep this holiday season feeling empowered with all you have learned this year about your body’s biomechanics and best nutrition.
I believe that 2017 will be year of wellness, health and your best self, those temporary five pounds or not. I look forward to helping and encouraging you along the way. Happy Holidays!