If there’s one common theme I hear from the individuals with whom I work, it’s the struggle around all the Christmasy treats that explode this time of year. Everywhere we go there are cookies and cute snowman wrapped chocolates, and they can be especially hard to avoid if you work at a place where you have to walk past them everyday. Heck, just knowing they’re down the hall from you can make it difficult. What is it about sweets that takes over our brains?!
Your Brain on Sweets
You have to understand that desserts, and even foods like chips, are highly stimulating to your brain’s pleasure centers. This means that despite your best intentions, or even being full from your meal, your brain tells you to eat these things. It actually knows the impact that that cookie will induce before you take a bite, which is why even just looking at or thinking about chocolate can make you start drooling. It’s a powerful mechanism, and can be difficult for the person who typically reaches for sweets for pleasure and comfort. Add to that that Christmas cookies can hit some of us with the nostalgia bug, which doesn’t help. But not all is lost.
To Eat or not to Eat
So what do we do? Do we indulge and give into every plate of cookies because it’s Christmas time and our brain tells us we should? Or do we avoid them like the plague, taking alternative routes to the bathroom to avoid walking past them? Neither. And let me preface this with saying, most people think that because I’m a dietitian I don’t ever get cravings or eat dessert, and it’s just not true. I used to binge on Christmas cookies for many years so I get it. But overtime, I changed how I approached all food, especially sweet stuff, and it’s made a world of difference. Here’s what’s worked for me and for many with whom I’ve worked:
1. It’s all in the approach
Anytime I’d see a dessert in the past, it was automatic “no, no, no” or “I can’t,” but then when I would finally give in I’d eat a dozen cookies in one sitting. When I realized that always saying no wasn’t helping me I changed my approach . I began allowing myself to have one or two of my favorite cookies, or some of whatever I really wanted, and enjoyed every friggen’ bite, guilt free. Now, do I do this everywhere that serves cookies? Nope. But creating allowance for something I really want makes it easier to say no other times I’m tempted.
2. Eat what you LOVE
If you take a bite and think, meh, it’s okay, don’t eat it! I can’t tell you how many times someone has said to me, “I didn’t really like it, but I just ate it because it was there.” Not worth it, friends. If you’re going for dessert, go for something that you absolutely love. Don’t settle for the Snickerdoodle when you want a brownie.
I was craving chocolate a little while ago and grabbed some sugar free ice cream that my husband had bought. I ended up eating almost the whole pint and then kept searching for more because I was so unsatisfied! Compare this to when I had a small piece of cheesecake and it instantly hit the spot. Go for a little of the gold, friends. When you settle for the, meh, you’ll just continue to snack.
3. Balance it out
I’m SO going to sound like a dietitian here, and I’m sorry. But here’s the thing; this works. I do it, my clients do it, and we all feel so much better, but it’s so dang cliche. Here it is: veggies and protein. Do you know what happens when I start out my night with spinach and artichoke dip and chips? I eat and eat and then I feel like I have a brick in my stomach. Know what happens when I start with veggies, fruit, some protein, and then have some spinach and artichoke dip? I eat a lot less, feel a whole lot better, and still ended up eating what I really wanted. It’s not that you can’t have the stuff you love but when you can balance it out you still feel satisfied but do your body so many favors.
4. Don’t wait till hunger takes over
What happens when you sit down to a meal feeling starved? Right. Biology takes over and you chow. What happens when you sit down to a meal hungry? A lot less food. So what happens when you’re starving and you show up to a party that has an endless amount of various goodies? Right again! If you’re headed to a party and feeling some big hungries, have a snack, like a KIND bar, a couple hard boiled eggs, or even half a sandwich. And please don’t skip lunch because you’re saving up. I promise you that won’t go well.
5. Walk away and grab a drink
You know what happens if I stand near the food at a party? I keep eating. Am I hungry? Nope. But it’s there and food has these magical powers that can suck you in, so I walk away. If you’re at a party, go grab a glass of wine or a beer (or water) and mingle. Aside from the obvious, another reason we tend to keep eating is because we see other people eating and there’s this oral fixation thing where we just want to have something in our mouths. Also, people tend to eat when they’re nervous or uncomfortable so sipping on a drink while you’re catching up with friends, or making awkward conversation, will preoccupy you.
I know this all sounds easier said than done, but I wouldn’t share it if I didn’t believe in it whole heartedly. If there’s one last thing to add it’s this: try for better, not best. We tend to jump ship when there’s too much to think about or change so just tread lightly.
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