Thursday, November 25, 2021

Holiday Food for Thought

One of the big challenges in staying healthy, particularly for those of us who struggle with eating, is when the outside world "pivots" on us after we've established good habits under a certain set of conditions. By this I mean anything from a prolonged change in the weather to an injury or medical condition that might keep us from getting our steps.

I started Noom in May. Living in Minnesota I've had the "fair weather" treatment up to now, literally. The days throughout the summer are long. Going for a run or walk at 8:30pm still has plenty of natural light and there's plenty of warmth for generating a good sweat. Also, in doing the math for me, there are fewer celebratory occasions and close-quartered social eating situations during those months.

Enter the winter plunge. The days have gotten significantly shorter with twilight around 5pm. It's mostly dark when I get out of bed and mostly dark when I head home from work. The temperature hovers around freezing. Both the darkness and cold add to mental "inertia" to venturing out for a walk or a run and can lead to more sedentary times and lower overall calorie burn.

Since Halloween, festive foods have also been in ample supply. Multiple work days have people bringing in treats, likely their way of getting them out of their houses. Bakery items seem to taste better in the cooler weather with a hot coffee. Likewise, coffee seems to taste better with peppermint mocha or pumpkin spice creamer.  

Additionally, at least in the case of my family, there's a whirlwind of get togethers, birthdays and the obvious holidays all with ample caloric cheer. There's no blame to be passed here, but I have the wherewithal to know that I overindulge in social situations featuring a "spread".

Thus, there's an activity slowdown and a consumption increase, i.e., weight to be gained! While I try not to despair, the reduced vitamin D production (less sun) could also amplify downtrodden feelings. I am largely writing this as an acknowledgement of the situation and immediate challenges. So, what can be done? This seems like a hill of opportunity for working on forming stronger habits that can overcome the cold weather, plan building for navigating the pies, candies and cookie trays of the season and even finding some perspective.

Sticking to the basics will be the most important. As far as celebratory feasting goes, the social situations are still just a couple of instances per week. This leaves most of the week for the things that work AND some mindful preparation. One thing I attempted at a recent gathering was to control what was available to me. I brought both a veggie tray and a fruit tray. Now the outcome was not as magical as I had hoped, there was a taco dip that was just too tempting. Still, there was some effort made now just to work on the "while there" piece. 

I'm not sure how it is for others, but I really do struggle when there's food out. There's even a feeling of mental anguish trying to resist taking another chip or cheese slice. I don't know what its source is inside me. I hate it and I am filled with profound envy of those who can just "take or leave" food. It would almost feel better to not even get to that tempted state of craving. All I can imagine is it's that feeling the alcoholic or drug addict gets. Resistance is tried, but resistance is often futile. Once indulging, there's a mindlessness that goes with the consumption, an escape as the craving is satiated. Unchecked, however, satisfaction is only obtained when the misery of fullness exceeds the pleasure of the eating.

This really seems to be brain chemistry at work. The "I need" is beyond a thought, it's more primal than that. Some receptors somewhere need a connection/stimulation. If only there was more of an "as needed" supplement that could stifle the craving. Maybe there is, but I'm going to be a lazy writer and not really look. Also, I have a number of the tools to help already in place and the willingness to work with them. 

Some ideas might be to:

  • Save on the Calorie budget throughout the rest of the day, eating modestly; saving the bulk of the intake for the meal and pie.
  • Drink plenty of water and hit any veggie/low Calorie density foods hard thereby creating some fullness with good stuff (green foods for your Noomers)
  • Bring or find other activities to help keep away any appetizers prior to dinner as well as after
  • Mindfully sit with the urges and wait for them to pass. Maybe even mention/talk about them (note: select your talking partner carefully and avoid social pressure to eat or shaming about why you can't just "take or leave" food)
  • Silly random thought: Maybe wear something slightly tighter, leading to a little pre-emptive discomfort/fullness sensation?
  • Slow down the eating pace, letting your brain's "full" indicator better keep pace with your consumption
  • Shorten your stay with your family. Sure, you love them, but they also love you and want you to be healthy and happy. If having to step away from the event sooner than later helps in that, they'll ultimately understand. They'll also get to "call dibs" on more of the left overs, a win-win of sorts
Ultimately, be kind to yourself and realize that each holiday is just a day. Perhaps we agree to mindfully indulge and keep on our path for the days surrounding the holidays. Beyond that, let's navigate the winter as best we can as well. Let's stay mindful and keep working towards that long range goal of feeling good and staying healthy. Deal?

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