Comfort, Pleasure, Joy and Health
To me December has always been one of the most indulgent months of the year. We are immersed in pleasure-seeking activities – shiny decorations, festive parties, gift giving, spreading joy, and lots and lots of delicious, decadent food! For some of us the joy of the holidays is manageably dispersed throughout the month. Yet for others, it is a month of torment - especially around the concept of food.
Your holiday indulging began with Halloween and has stretched through Thanksgiving and into the current holiday season. You might’ve put on some weight or are worried about doing so. Attending family gatherings or holiday parties is getting harder as you try to restrict your consumption leaving you hungry, deprived, and miserable. And to top it all off, you are starting to feel your cravings getting the better of you as you try to fight harder to resist, ultimately giving in and overindulging. Does this sound familiar for you?
We call this the Diet Trap, and the reality is that it’s inevitable when you deprive your body of pleasurable foods and enough calories. Remember, we are programmed to receive pleasure from food, particularly calorie dense foods. This is one of the biggest reasons mainstream dieting is destined to fail, among others:
Takes away rather than adds. When we diet, we are expected to eat less and exercise more. Often what this leaves us is feeling hungry. Over time our body will fight this sensation of hunger, working hard to get sufficient calories to function optimally.
Focuses on the numbers. Most diets emphasize how many calories you consume over what types of foods you are eating. Even if you do manage to lose weight, you will not necessarily be healthy. Foods that clog arteries, raise blood sugars, or elevate cholesterol will continue to do so even in smaller quantities.
Emphasizes the wrong thing. Dieting highlights all the foods you cannot eat or should not have over the numerous options still available to you. Instead of spending the day excited about all of the things you can eat, most dieters spend a lot of time thinking about all of the things they can no longer eat. You know the old “absence makes the heart grow fonder” concept.
Fails to address our biological program to seek satiety. We are programmed to seek calorie dense foods via the dopamine pleasure response system. This served as a survival mechanism for our ancestors because the less time they spent searching for food outdoors, the less likely they were to become victim to a predator. So, they were always on the hunt for calorie dense foods. If we were able to gather all of our calories in one excursion over three, that was the preference. Today, we don't have to work hard to seek out calorie dense foods. In fact, many of us work hard to avoid them, and diets encourage those efforts. One way they do so is by controlling portions, which again often leaves us hungry and deprived.
Relies on willpower which is not unlimited. Ultimately, dieting relies on willpower. It is the only way to get someone to agree to be hungry while denying themselves of pleasurable foods. But the only thing reliable about willpower is that it will crumple at some point.
The good news is that there’s an alternative: becoming a Whole Foodie. Why not indulge in delicious foods that love you right back? Your options are limited only by your imagination, and even when your creativity runs dry, we have an incredible meal planning tool filled with thousands of meal ideas to broaden your choices even more. And the best part is that in choosing a Whole Foods Diet, you no longer need to use willpower to avoid feeling hungry and deprived. Instead, you can enjoy tasty and satiating meals, snacks, and desserts that satisfy your cravings rather than leave you wanting more.
So, this holiday season give yourself and your loved ones the gift of health without compromising pleasure and joy. A few of my favorite holiday strategies to get there include:
ADD, ADD, and then ADD some more. Wherever you can, add fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. You can include these in your favorite dishes or use them as ingredients to create new, delicious, and healthier versions of family favorites.
Do NOT rely on willpower. With your holiday favorites everywhere, this is not the time to convince yourself that steamed broccoli, rice, and beans tastes as good as turkey, mashed potatoes, candied yams, and pecan pie! Make the commitment to either make healthier versions of these classics, including dessert, (some resources for great recipes include wholefoodsmarket.com, forksoverkinves.com, and drmcdougall.com) OR agree to indulge in them only after eating a healthier appetizer or two.
Do your best and embrace any “mishaps” (they are bound to happen) as opportunities to learn and grow.
Health is not only about what we eat, so take time to get moving (this can be anything from the gym, to running, walking, dancing, swimming, skiing, etc); make sure to get your zzz’s (sleep is essential for normal functioning and good decision making); work to reduce your stress (some options include meditation, breathing exercises, yoga, walking, or dancing); and most importantly, make sure you get some of the love you are spreading. It is easy to lose ourselves in our desire to give to others, so make sure to prioritize you by taking a few minutes everyday to do something you enjoy.
Wishing you all a safe, healthy, and happy holiday season!