by Barbara Berkeley, MD
The period that begins just before Thanksgiving and ends on January 1st is without doubt the most challenging part of a maintainer's year.
Here are some thoughts and guidelines I've found to be successful.
First, and most importantly, make it your priority to "maintain, not gain".
Hopefully, you are already staying at stable weight by following successful and consistently applied maintenance rules. If so, these most likely include eating a diet that greatly avoids sugars, foods made with flour, grains, potatoes, pasta and other starches. It also probably revolves around frequent weighing and frequent reversal of small regains. THESE RULES MUST REMAIN IN PLAY OVER THE HOLIDAYS.
Please be sure that you are weighing yourself daily, first thing in the morning, before eating or dressing. The biggest key to success in tempting times is recognition of slip ups with deployment of an immediate plan for weight reversal.
So make sure you know what to do to reverse weight once it climbs by a couple of pounds. Here's what I do personally: I will use protein shakes (calories not to exceed 170 and carbs 20 grams or less) or bars (same calories and carbs) during a reversal day....usually three of these. For dinner, I have a nice size serving of fish or poultry along with vegetables, a large salad and a piece of fruit. I make sure to cut out my usual extras (a Skinny Cow ice cream, extra fruit, nuts, larger portions, etc...) I will do this for a couple of days along-- with extra exercise--- until weight normalizes. Each person can determine his or her own reversal plan, but it won't work unless you substantially cut calories.
Stay on high alert for potential carb addiction
While drugs and carbs are two very different things, there is a definite comparison to be found in the ability of carbs to blot out reason and take over our behavior. As I tell my patients, carbs are like aliens that get control of the Starship Enterprise. Suddenly you find yourself flying to a distant galaxy that you never intended to visit....and generally you're a prisoner there.
Remember that there is a reason that food companies grow rich on making cookies, cakes, muffins, candies and other treats. "Bet you can't eat just one!" is not only Lay's Potato Chip's old tagline. It's also an ironic statement of fact.
If you are someone who gains weight easily, you probably make excess insulin when you eat carbs. This makes you hungry and turns a lot of those carbs into fat, storing them in already plump fat cells. People with this profile are often powerfully attracted to insulin-stimulating foods, which also have been shown to activate pleasure centers in the brain. This leads to a quasi-addictive state. And the holidays are the Super Bowl of addictive carbs.
Many of my patients tell me that they are approaching the holidays with the idea that they will "treat" themselves to certain things. I discourage this. Is that you talking or is that your carb pleasure center planning a coup? Looking forward to food as a reward is the first step in giving yourself permission to be overwhelmed, and this tacit permission often starts weeks before the holidays as the maintainer imagines that slice of pie or those Christmas cookies.
The trick is to try to use the holidays to practice a different approach to food. Work on seeing food less as a direct reward and more as an opportunity to socialize and evoke the holiday feeling. Enjoy the holidays by putting the smells and warmth into scented, low calorie beverages, by perfuming your home, and by wearing the toasty winter clothes that now fit you. If you are bound and determined to play with a carb or two, be very aware of the slippery slope that awaits. Have a plan for getting away from the food (give all left overs away immediately after a party, for example) and remain self aware at all times. Set daily goals for weight and remain committed to seeing them through.
Be tough, not moderate
This is still one of my favorite rules, and it applies especially to the holiday season. The reason that moderation doesn't work as an eating plan is that we live in such an immoderate food world. What would appear to be moderation is not. And perhaps more importantly, our bodies have changed over the past 20 -30 years. We are much less tolerant of the American diet than we used to be, so moderation strategies no longer work for most of us. To be successful longterm, we have to divorce ourselves from the American way of carbing. That takes a tough effort, but eventually leads to an easier relationship with food and with ourselves. Believe me! There is no better time to practice this permanent way of life than during the holidays.
It's a gift.