Don't say fu** it just yet

When I was younger and struggling with my weight the holidays were, as far as food goes, not fun. For years Thanksgiving kicked off my self-destructive eating cycle.  

That first big meal flipped the "fu** it" switch it my head and I didn't slow down until after the New Year.  I rationalized that since I was "cheating", nothing really mattered and I might as well keep indulging. 

If you have experienced this, you know that feeling of stepping off into the void of uncontrolled eating and self-loathing. And I envied people who weren't doing the same.

I've also been the person who only eats protein and some salad during the holidays.  News flash, that also sucks. 

One of the scariest things for me was to go to a family event and eat until I was full, not absolutely stuffed and uncomfortable.  And then after....just eating a normal meal next time I was hungry.  That was terrifying.  It went against every feeling I had of wanting to either self-destruct or totally restrict.

At a time of year when there is a lot of stress and social pressure, I don't expect anyone to be eating spinach and chicken breast at a Christmas party.  That's no fun. 

For anyone who isn't phased by the holidays, well done.  There are tons of people out there though that cannot seem to make it work in a healthy way.

Why are we doing this?

I'm not convinced that obstaining from any form of "off plan" food is healthier, sustainable or reasonable.  Whenever I talk to people who have trouble finding a balance with their nutrition and still having some fun. completely giving up all alcohol, desserts and fun food like pizza results in a nutritional backlash.  Inevitably these people swing hard in the other direction, almost defiantly opposing the idea that they have to be 100% strict.

I agree, it doesn't work.

The weekend is a microcosm of the holidays.  It represents a window of time where you aren't in your normal routine and this makes staying on track harder.  There isn't the same kind of structure you get with your work week to help plan your meals, you have pressure from friends and family to go out to eat and drink alcohol and of course, you want to relax after a week of hard work.

Similarly, going on strict plans like "no carbs" usually result in....get ready for it...eating lots of carbs!  After a period of restriction, most of us end up indulging in the thing we are so desperately avoiding.

It's not really about a particular food itself.  It has more to do with the fear of never being able to have "X" again.  It's the fear that restriction makes you miss out on things in life and you'd be having more fun if those things were included.  Inevitably, when you tell someone they can't have something, they'll want it even more.  And given enough time, they will indulge in the thing they're restricting.

Some sanity

My suggestion for those who struggle with getting on track after a party or holiday meal, just try to make your next meal or snack something from your normal routine.  It won't feel fun, exciting or like it even matters.  What it does though, is break that cycle.  In interrupts your lack of control; in fact it hands the control back to you.

There will always be more opportunities for off-plan foods.  You can't indulge in each opportunity and have any semblance of a healthy relationship with food.  You also can't avoid whole groups of foods forever and have a healthy food relationship either.

You, as a sane, rational and responsible adult, need to decide which opportunities are worth loosening up the reins on.  It doesn't mean eating until you feel sick or drinking until you pass out on your neighbor's lawn.  

This would be like never taking a day off and then the very first time you decide to take the weekend off or go on vacation, you never return to work.  So you stay jobless until all your money runs out and then decide to "get back on track", get a job and continue to work every single day until you cave, take time off and never go back to that job either.  This is what people do with food.  Just like repeating that cycle with your work is destructive, so is the cycle with food.

Only in this case, our short term consequences with food don't result in having no money like leaving your job would.  Instead, we have to come to terms with the emotions and mental state that our relationship with food reinforces. It's not as immediately destructive but it will absolutely lower your quality of life.

You take a vacation from work at a time designated by you (not from pressure from society) and for a duration designated by you.  It doesn't result in a loss of your job, finances or friends.  In fact, it enhances your quality of life.  Having a meal during the holidays that isn't your typical choice is absolutely fine and can enhance your quality of life by bringing you closer to other people and allowing you to relax a bit.  But just like a vacation, it can't last forever and you can't take them all the time without it impacting your life.

One meal isn't that important

Deciding to eat a cookie that a co-worker brings in to work and then eating your normal lunch is NOT the same as eating that cookie then throwing your lunch in the trash and ordering pizza instead.  A cookie might be 300 calories, the change in food choices from letting that cookie derail you could be thousands of calories.

Stop telling yourself that it has to be all or nothing.  Stop telling yourself that nothing matters because you "already cheated". OK, take that vacation from work and never come back.  See what happens.  Or, never take a day off and see what happens.  Neither are pretty.

Part of this really is on you. You have to make a choice first to stay on plan or have an off-plan meal.  Both are totally acceptable in the finite sense.  But what each choice results in long-term is what really matters.  That's the decision so many people struggle with.

As I said before, next time you have something off-plan, just make your next meal a normal meal.  Don't even think about anything else, don't entertain another option.  Your fears and anxiety might be telling you to say "fu** it  but that's just because you're afraid of something self-imposed. Whether you eat a salad or a burger in one meal doesn't really matter.  How you let that choice affect everything that comes after is the bigger picture.

Realistic expectations

Dr. Ben House made a statement that it's pretty darn impressive if you make it through the holiday season and complete all your workouts, keep getting stronger and don't gain any weight from the annual "cookie storm". Do that and you're crushing it.

Most people tend to gain weight and lose muscle over time.  Simply getting stronger, putting on some muscle and not gaining body fat is wildly outside the norm.  Note I didn't say anything about six pack abs or 20 inch arms.

Your ability to go out on a Friday night and still stay on track overall with your goals is normal, healthy and sustainable.  Expanding that into being able to enjoy some select meals and treats during the holiday season and not gaining a bunch of body fat is just as normal, healthy and sustainable.