November 1 is one of my favourite days of the year. At least in Canada, there’s nothing between now and Christmas, which means my Christmas obsession is less frowned upon. It also means Christmas music is semi-acceptable, anything and everything that can be red or green should be (festive socks, anyone?), and that it’s time for me to start digging out the Christmas decorations.
I noticed a few posts around the blogosphere lately talking about how to approach the holidays. With a few months of paleo-esque eating under my belt and about 23 years of experience doing what doesn’t work, I think it’s time to share my strategy for special occasion dining and my thoughts on how to approach the most wonderful time of the year!
Just like you can be sure your Aunt Edna’s going to make an inappropriate comment about why you’re still single, the holidays guarantee one thing: there will be goodies. Cakes, butter tarts, candies, pies, eggnog, hot chocolate, loaves, cookies–name it and it shall appear.
Chances are, you’re going to be facing some of your favourite treats and this time of the year is the only time you’ll see ‘em. While there are plenty of advocates for aiming for perfectionism and avoiding all things tempting–we’ve all heard the advice to snack on an apple or a bowl of soup before heading to a holiday party–I’m going to advocate something different. As someone who’s had the soup, the apple, and a plate of cookies anyways, I can tell you–it doesn’t matter if you’re “full”–if your favourite thing is in front of you (and it’s not really “food” so much as delicious foodlike stuff), you’re going to find room for it.
For years I aimed for perfectionism when it came to holiday dinners. I’d eat white meat turkey, no gravy. I’d skip my mom’s delicious candied sweet potatoes in favour of eating a huge “ceasar salad” (romaine with reduced fat dressing)that I’d fix for myself—and of course receive looks for eating (and I get it – why would I fill my belly with boring old salad when I could be eating all kinds of once a year dishes?). During the meal, I’d have no problem holding it together.
After, it was all bets off. I’d volunteer to put things away so that I could eat more turkey—the good dark meat that I really love. I’d leave some sweet potatoes in the dish so I could eat a few. I’d lick the spoon after I finished putting the mashed potatoes into a Tupperware. It was like since none of these were on a plate, none of these counted.
I’ve mentioned this phenomenon before—and I call it “sneaking” because Geneen Roth writes exquisitely about this kind of eating without eating. FYI, if you’re like me and you catch yourself nibbling on things as you put them away, prepare them, pass through the kitchen, etc., you’re not alone. But also FYI: you are eating that food. And if you’re eating it, why not just sit down and own your decision?
This year, I’d challenge you to eat what you really want—in full view of your family, friends, and yourself.
The worst part of the “sneaking” isn’t the food itself. If you’re like me, you’ve obviously been doing okay with your weight regardless of whatever weird behaviors you’ve had with food. The worst part is by far the damage you’re doing to your self esteem. When you sneak that food that you’ve told yourself you “can’t” have, you’re reinforcing that it’s something you shouldn’t be doing. If you’re doing something you shouldn’t be doing, you’re going to feel bad. There’s no way to win here—except going in with a different mindset.
On that note, I encourage you to stick to your guns when it comes to eating well during the holidays. By no means should being gentler with yourself mean eating cookies for breakfast lunch and dinner—but it does mean that eating a cookie should be a treat. If it’s not a treat, why would you do it? If you don’t actually want it and want the world to know that you’re gonna eat it, could you skip it? Is it really feeding you in a way you’d like to be fed?
I know that there’s a lot going on in this post but I thought it was worth posting. I found this handy chart on the Whole 9 site yesterday. I like how it forces you to slow down before you eat something that you know is “off track”. I like how it doesn’t refer to these kinds of eats as “cheats” or make them seem like “bad” foods and it makes the decision to eat something that isn’t moving you towards health one that you totally own and do because you genuinely want to.
At Thanksgiving dinner this year, instead of snarfing my normal ceasar salad white turkey combo, I ate intuitively and added a tasty but totally whole food treat into the mix. Leaving the ceasar salad (and all its funky fat) out of the mix left more room on my plate and in my belly for the brussel sprouts, squash, cranberries, and bacon with maple syrup dish I threw together for the whole family to enjoy. I had some of my mom’s sweet potatoes, skipped the gravy on the turkey (she tosses flour in to thicken it up), and I served up some pumpkin pie and chose to skip the crust. I had some candy corn to round things out.
Verdict? It worked for me! This Thanksgiving was one of the first holidays I didn’t binge. Guess what? I’m the same awesome Cheryl I was a month ago—if not more so! I haven’t “let myself go” but I’ve let myself be—there’s a big difference!
I’m looking forward to all the festivities this year. I can remember obsessing about what I would or wouldn’t eat at parties and often I’d go out, come home, and binge. I’d let the food take away from the fun. It’s supposed to be about the company, the family, the friends, the fun–the food is just a bonus. Keep it that way.
If you take one thing away from this, please take this advice that a friend of mine mentioned in one of his talks earlier this month. It’s not so much about what you do between Christmas and New Year’s—it’s the New Year’s to Christmas stretch (the rest of the year) that matters. Make most of your choices move you towards health (because food that you eat either makes you healthier or it moves you away from health–there’s no “neutral” or “sideways”) and you’ll be golden.
This post about your Christmas eats on Naturally Engineered’s blog echoed this:
“One day out of the year is not going to break you, it’s a lifetime of chronically bad eating which wrecks our metabolisms or makes us sick. So, if you’re having trouble coming up with paleo recipes or trying to afford all of the food you’re buying for your holiday dinner, don’t worry about it. Do what you can, and make do with the rest.”
Amen to that.
This post is just a jumping point and luckily we have 53 days of festive time for me to keep writing. I’ve got a whole lot of thoughts on on “paleo-ifying” your favourite treats. Hint: while I think almond flour is pretty awesome—and I’ve made some pretty tasty treats that don’t call for flour of any sort—a cookie is still a cookie, candy is still candy, and a treat is still a treat!
On that note, I’ll leave you with this.