Holidays and food are intertwined in our culture. How do you enjoy the love, connection, and celebration of the holidays without bingeing or eating sugar?
We use food – and sugar in particular – to express love, both to others and ourselves. It’s a glue that connects us with our families, particularly when the food involves celebration: birthdays, holidays, graduations, and anniversaries. Abstaining from sugar can feel like a lack of love, can make you feel deprived, and can make you feel like an outsider.
We all want to belong. This need to feel loved can persuade us to go along with the crowd, to do things that hurt ourselves. On a simple, practical level, this can mean eating sugar – even though it makes us feel like crap. This was true for me. For years, I succombed to sugar during the holidays because I wanted to be like everyone else. I wanted to feel the love of the holidays – and I didn’t know how to feel this love without eating my grandma’s apple pie or my aunt’s sugar cookies.
Sugar is not love – even though it can feel like it. You can separate the sugar from the love – and have a joyful holiday while staying with your sugar free diet:
1. Question your thinking. You are not your mind, your thoughts. Detach from what it says: you do not have to obey, listen, or feel trapped by its ramblings. When my mind’s critical, telling me I’m pathetic because I can’t eat sugar, or offers sly suggestions: You’re feeling so good, it won’t hurt to have one bite of pie, I label it as such. Not helpful, I tell myself, sometimes even out loud. This mantra silences that voice and enables me to see those crazy thoughts for what they are: crazy.
Observe; pause, then react. Give yourself time and space to question your thinking.
2. Give what you want to receive. Love has a rebound effect. As you give love, you feel beloved yourself. We can be so focused on our own wants and needs, that we miss out on the very thing that we desire from others. Instead of focusing on what you do or don’t get from your family, friends, spouse, or children this holiday season, give the love you seek. A few years ago, when money was tight, I gave handwritten letters to friends and family for Christmas. I shared how grateful I was to have them in my life; I shared what I loved about them. I felt more love and holiday spirit that year than every other Christmas combined. Funny, I didn’t crave or eat any sugar that Christmas, either.
3. Be proactive. If you’re trying to abstain from your Aunt Flo’s famous pumpkin pie, figure out your plan before you’re sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner. Will you bring a healthy snack that you can eat instead, such as a baked apple with cinnamon? Will you talk to Aunt Flo beforehand so that she understands your not eating her pie is not a personal attack? Other ideas: seek out an ally. Ask your spouse, mom, or sibling for support. Say to them, “I’m trying to stay away from sugar this holiday. Can you help me if I’m feeling tempted?” Other ways to help yourself: rehearse what you’ll say to well-meaning relatives who try and persuade you to have “Just one bite.” Bring a dish that you can eat, so even if there aren’t many healthy options at the table, you won’t be too hungry. Or eat a light meal beforehand so you don’t show up starving: a slippery road to temptation.
4. Find the essence of what you want. What’s driving your need for ice cream, cake, and candy? How does eating sugar with loved ones make you feel? The answers to these questions hold the key to easing your desire for sugar. After all, if we don’t want it in the first place, it’s much easier to say, “No.”
I felt lonely during much of my childhood. But when I was with my large, loving extended family, I felt as if belonged. It’s no wonder that I craved the sweets that I had during these times together: they were my favorite childhood memories, times when I felt secure and loved. It’s taken me a long time to figure out how to create those feelings of belonging without indulging in the sugar: the essence of what I want, the need underneath the crazy sugar binging. Here are creative ways that I create belonging without sugar: I go to mass on Christmas Eve with my favorite aunt. I do arts and crafts with my children and nieces and nephews instead of cookie baking. I go Christmas shopping with my mom and sister-in-law. I host a potluck with friends, with carols, games and plenty of non-sugary healthy foods. These examples create a lush, celebratory holiday feel, and intimate connection: what I wanted in the cookies in the first place.
5. Seek accountability. Be kind to yourself: find support. We spend so much time toughing it out on our own, trying to do it all ourselves. But we aren’t meant to live this way. Find a partner, a friend, your walking buddy, or even a counselor who can provide support. Share your intention with loved ones so that they can help keep you on track. Otherwise, it’s too easy to bargain with yourself, to falter because “one piece of pie won’t hurt.” I have a coach that I speak with every week. She keeps me accountable to my goals and breaks through my stinking thinking when I’m trying to justify eating crappy food. My children know about my sugar abstinence, and will remind me if I try and tiptoe into the granola. One option? Get accountability by joining our free forums.
6. Be prepared. I guarantee that if you don’t keep your home stocked with healthy eating options, you will eat sugar. Plan ahead so that you don’t eat junk just because you’re famished and you don’t have anything healthy to eat. Here’s how I do it: I cook a bunch of food on Sundays, and then eat them throughout the week. I make a huge tossed salad with a variety of raw veggies. I bake a bunch of sweet potatoes and winter squash in the oven. I cook up a pot of black beans that I can add to salads all week long. I grill some fish, bison and chicken to have for easy protein options. I keep my fruit bowl stashed with bananas and apples to eat with almonds for a quick snack. My freezer always has bags of frozen veggies that I can use to make a quick stir fry in a pinch. I roast whatever veggies are in season (right now I’m doing a mix of eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash, onions and potatoes) in a big batch, and then add them to my meals. While it may sound like a lot of work, these steps take very little time. My planning is the difference between eating processed junk or healthy, whole foods when life is hectic.
7. Take food with you. If you spend a lot of time in your car or away from home, take food with you. This is another example of how preparation can keep you on track. If I’m going to be gone for an hour or so, I always take a piece of fruit, some almonds and a bottle of water. For longer trips, I pack an insulated lunch box with fruit, nuts, cooked veggies, some protein, and several bottles of water. These steps can keep you from grabbing a Coke and fries at the food court, because when you’re hungry, you’ll have healthy food to eat.
8. Rest. “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” Physiologically, a lack of sleep can make us crave sugar, because we’re looking for a way to boost our energy. This is why solid sleep is so important. But fatigue also erodes our willpower. Structure goes out the window: we skip meals because we don’t feel like cooking; we avoid the gym because we’re too tired to work out. We grab junk on the go instead of sitting down to real food. Pencil in rest. Schedule downtime, transitions, and margin for yourself: a space between activities. Give yourself a cushion – is it realistic to accomplish 10 errands today or 3? – so that you’re not pushing yourself too hard. This gives you room for the entropy that accompanies daily life (missing keys, a broken printer; a sick child) without grabbing a candy bar for stress relief.
For more help in kicking your sugar habit, look for resources at our sister site, www.sugaraddictionbook.com. For further reading, explore how to avoid holiday weight gain and stress: two things that share the same root.