Oh, holiday treats. The holidays can be tricky for many of us, because food is tricky for many of us. Society screws with our heads like that. From Thanksgiving to Christmas, there’s usually a lot more food around, especially when it comes to desserts. Everyone seems to be quite worried about the holiday weight gain because of it.
Nowadays, we’re all trying to figure out how to be balanced. To moderate. What even is balance? That’s a huge conversation – too big to talk about in this measly post. All we can do is figure it out as we go along.
A lot of people have asked me to write a post about how I handle all of the sweets around the holidays. Some people might not have this problem if they’re not dessert fans, but we all know that I have a huge sweet tooth and a baking obsession. A lot of the ATL community is the same. (Love you guys!) I admit, all of the desserts can be overwhelming. Should you YOLO it and just go for everything with no restrictions? Should you limit yourself to just a little bit? To a “normal” portion? Do you pick one dessert and eat the whole thing, or go for a bite of each? So many questions. Too many choices.
The first thing I want to say is that there is no right way to eat. I can explain to you how I personally think about things, but there is no “correct” strategy. What works best for me might not be what works best for you. We are all very different, and there’s not always a black and white answer, especially when it comes to that thing we call “balance.” While I know that stresses a lot of people out, it’s actually a good thing. It means no matter what you decide, you’re not wrong.
I think a large part of the problem is that many of us overthink it. This post is actually a little difficult for me to write, and I’m happy about that. It’s difficult for me to write because I have to really think hard about whether I have any “strategies” when it comes to moderating, which means I’m at a point where I don’t really worry about it anymore.
What you need to make sure you’re doing, not just during the holiday season but all year long, is eating enough healthy food each and every day OVERALL. Eat a filling breakfast. A filling lunch. A filling dinner. Healthy snacks when you are hungry. A big reason why many people have a hard time around desserts is because they haven’t eaten enough in general. That means the hunger monster is growling, and suddenly you feel like you need to eat an entire cake to be satisfied. You feel like you can’t stop. If you’ve eaten enough during the day, then you should be able to feel satisfied after you eat your dessert of choice.
I don’t believe in restricting at any time of year, but I especially don’t believe in restricting during the holiday season. It’s about celebrating! Food is a part of the holidays because of our culture. If you want a cookie, just eat it. If you want a slice of pie, do it. Why not? On the other hand, if you don’t want it, then don’t eat it. Just do what you want. Stressing about it is going to make everything worse. Your body metabolizes food differently based on your emotional state when you eat. For example, studies have shown that people who are stressed when they’re eating an unhealthy food, usually because they feel guilty for eating it, are likely to put on weight from that food. On the other hand, someone else could eat the same exact dessert but feel happy and grateful about it, and they won’t put on any weight. Psych professors at UCLA love that study, and so do I.
It honestly makes me mad when I read articles telling people to just have a bite of their Christmas dessert, to make sure they take a small slice, to share it with the person next to them, and so on. Can we stop with sneakily encouraging restrictive mindsets? IT’S CHRISTMAS. Just eat your dessert if you want it! Hell, take two. We all know I’m going to. You’re not going to permanently gain 50 pounds from eating more on one day than you normally do. It’s just not going to happen. Be realistic.
Let’s get back to the issue of what to do when it’s not just one day, but every day throughout the season. Based on the studies I’ve read and the research I’ve done, I do not believe it is safe for anyone to be eating a lot of sugar every single day. Not because of anything relating to weight (although yes, you’ll pack on the pounds if you eat loads of sugar every day), but because sugar negatively impacts the brain and also messes up digestion. If you have a habit of eating cookies every day, you’re probs gonna end up with a neurodegenerative brain disease. Just sayin’.
Because of that, I don’t go out of my way to eat cake and brownies and ice cream and cookies every day. I only have them when I want them, which usually ends up being a few times a week at this time of year. If you want to know my “strategy,” it’s this: I go about my daily life and eat healthy meals. If something comes up where it’s a special occasion and I want to eat dessert, if I’m with a friend and she happens to want to bake and so do I, if I’m out and spot a fancy dessert I can eat and I want it, I’ll have it. Yay. Done. Then the next day, I go back to my regular routine.
I have food intolerances, so I do have to turn down some things I’m offered unless I want to get violently ill. However, I wouldn’t be eating gluten, dairy, or soy even if I wasn’t intolerant to them, because I don’t believe they’re healthy (unless it’s grass-fed dairy) for anybody – intolerant or not. Because my desserts are made with high-quality ingredients, I don’t really feel like I have any reason to feel guilty anyways. Sadly, my “desserts” are healthier than most people’s daily breakfasts.
If you want the cookie, have it. If you need to eat a whole box every single day, there’s probably something else going on that you should address. I’m about to say something radical. I know not everyone will agree with this, but if you eat 10 cookies in one night, then whatever. It was one time. It’s a problem when it’s a pattern, but I don’t think it’s really a huge deal if you’re laughing your butt off with your girlfriend having a good time watching Christmas movies and you end up blowing through a box of cookies together. It’s all in good fun. It’s not happening all the time, and it’s not coming from a bad place. And if you’re eating a gluten-free, dairy-free, paleo dessert, then you really shouldn’t be concerned.
I know I eat more food during the holidays than I do at other times of the year, and I am fine with that. There are more celebrations during this time of year! And when food is a part of celebrating, then why not? I know that most of the time I’m eating as healthy as I can, and I’m not eating a chocolate cake every single day. I think that when you try to make each of your meals healthy and you just go ahead and have a sweet treat when you want it, then you’ll naturally find balance. Balance is different for everyone. It’s not a set number. We’re not focusing on “cheat meals” (don’t even get me started on that phrase…). We’re just livin’ life. Food is a part of that, and we shouldn’t be scared of it.
If you’re turning down dessert, make sure it’s because you actually don’t want it. There’s nothing wrong with not wanting dessert. But if there’s a voice in your head saying “I can’t have that because ….” then I think there’s a different problem. In that case, that negative self-talk and restrictive mindset need to be worked through. I honestly think many people who get stressed about desserts during the holidays are anxious because its forces them to realize that they do have unhealthy thought patterns and an unhealthy relationship with food. Instead of blaming the holiday treats and trying to wiggle your way out of facing the truth, I encourage you to be honest with yourself and work on that relationship with food. You can do it. The holiday season is just another season in the year. Breathe.
My answer to how I “handle” holiday treats is that I don’t “handle” anything. I’ll eat it when I want it. In the meantime, I’ll continue to eat my veggies, meats, and healthy fats at each of my meals. I might eat more this month than I usually do, but I also might not. I’m not counting. IT’S CHRISTMAS! I’m going to enjoy it. If I want to eat three pieces of cake at Christmas dinner, then you bet I’m going to do it. After all, Christmas only comes around once a year!