I don’t totally mean to be a buzz kill, but we need to talk about over-indulging. Yes, I know, it’s right smack dab in the holiday season, which is exactly why we need to be talking about it. The time between Halloween and New Year’s Day is a very challenging time indeed—a time when bellies are full and health habits go to die. It’s the time of the year when people say, “To heck with it! I’ll get back on track in January.” But that attitude ensures that the cycle of yo-yo dieting will continue, and no one really wants to live like that.
A problem of pollution
It’s important to identify the problem if you’re going to be successful. You might think the problem is your willpower, but I would argue that it’s just a matter of increased environmental pollution and pressure (Holiday celebrations galore). Scientist Brian Wansink would say that most of our food-related decisions are unconscious and in response to environmental cues. If candy is lying out in plain sight, you’ll eat more of it than if it’s hidden away in a co-workers drawer. Out of sight, out of mind. Just the simple act of putting food away is a barrier that results in less calories eaten. So the problem with the holiday season is that there’s an increase in food cues, which is to say that the environment is polluted. It’s important to understand that the brain is wired for pleasure. We shouldn’t be surprised that the primitive parts of our brains cause us to seek out high-fat, high-sugar, hyper-palatable foods. At one time, this was advantageous for survival. But now, instead of the relative risk of food scarcity, we have the opposite problem of food abundance. And this isn’t just any food. This is food that has been engineered to be high-calorie and highly rewarding. Brownies, cookies, cakes—they all provide an intensely pleasurable experience and the brain remembers that for next time (hence the bad habits)
The frontal lobe
Again, we shouldn’t be surprised that our brains drive us to eat junk food. Armed with that information, the next logical question is: how do we change our response? The answer is simple, but the practice requires effort. First, decide that you want to do it. At some point you have to become so frustrated that you are motivated to change. But then we must maintain that motivation and commitment to change. Crowd out the junk food with natural, whole foods that are low in sugar and low in calories. Apply the 80/20 rule. 80% real food and 20% reserved for your favorites.
The problem with portions
The problem is not the problem you think. It’s not the gluten, it’s not the grains, and to some extent, it’s not even about the junk food. The problem is the amount. It’s the calories and the fact that most Americans are just eating too much of everything. Each person’s body is designed to run on a certain amount of energy (calories). When we consume too many calories, this puts a metabolic stress on the body which ultimately leads to chronic disease and inflammation. It seems so old-fashioned and unpopular to say, but the primary issue to target for weight loss is the calories and portions.
And here we are full-circle, right smack dab in the middle of the holiday season. How about you try something new this year? How about you say NO to dieting and instead make the decision to indulge less—as in less amount and less often? Bulk up on vegetables, roasted or raw, perhaps. Make a ¼ of your plate a lean protein and then reserve the other ¼ of your plate for your favorite starchy foods or desserts? And remember, it’s just one meal! Practice Mindful Eating and focus on enjoying the company of friends and family.
Health goals? Don’t wait until January! We have a variety of programs and services to help you reach your goals.