I hope you had a nice Holiday! I love the holidays – fun times with friends and family, lots of good food to eat! But it can also be a highway to days of overindulgence! Even if I’ve done a great job of eating high quality meals, I find that just the sheer quantity of treats laying around can make it difficult for me to not go overboard while waiting for guests, cleaning up etc. Snack, snack, snack! What’s one more, right? But a day or two of overeating doesn’t need to turn into weeks of crappy eating.
One of the things I hear most often from my clients is that they struggle with stopping once they’ve started on a poor eating cycle (bingeing, emotional eating etc). If you’re eating sugar, you’ll crave more sugar and on and on it goes. Today I’m sharing with you some of the things I recommend to my clients when they are trying to get out of the cycle. Those who follow these recommendations closely, do very well!
Here’s how you pull yourself up by the bootstraps and get back on track (or at least out of the dark holes of emotional eating, binge-eating, brain fog, self loathing and depression):
1. Get rid of the most troublesome foods. That’s right. If your Aunt Mary’s frosted sugar cookies are impossible for you to resist (and just one or two isn’t enough), freeze them, give them away or throw them out. Maybe do a combination of all three. This is especially important if you are the type who will keep going back for more until they are gone. I know you’re panicking a little at the idea of throwing them out – you’re thinking, but “Aunt Mary spent time and effort making these, it’s really crappy to throw them out!” or you’re thinking “It’s a waste of money to throw out food!”. Aunt Mary doesn’t need to know the remainder got thrown out. And it doesn’t mean you don’t appreciate them. As far as it being a waste of money, I know that guilty feeling all too well. Food is crazy expensive today (I can’t even share how much I spend at the grocery store some weeks, it’s obscene) and yes there are people starving all over the world – we are fortunate to be able to afford a luxury like cookies. But the cost to your physical and emotional health if you finish a whole batch of cookies is greater than what is wasted by tossing them. Sugar and refined flour are virtually devoid of nutrients other than calories – so it’s highly unlikely that eating them will benefit you in any way. If it seems too much to throw them all out, wrap one or two individually and store them in the freezer for a special treat on another day. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying sweets occasionally but plowing through a couple dozen over a few days gives us a major emotional hangover, spike blood sugar which will make us store fat and upset the balance of our gut flora (which can cause digestive and skin problems and increase the chance that we’ll get sick). Remember: You’re not a bad person for throwing out food that will harm your health.
2. Start the day with a big glass of warm water with lemon and apple cider vinegar. Mix 1 to 3 tsp of Unfiltered Apple Cider Vinegar (I like Braggs Organic) and 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice (from a lemon, not from a bottle) into a 16 – 20 oz glass of warm water and drink it all before eating or drinking anything else. Go easy on the apple cider vinegar if you’re not used to drinking it – the taste can be pretty off putting at first! If you just can’t deal with the taste, add 1 tsp of pure maple syrup or raw honey and stir. Drink this every day if you can. While we sleep, our digestive system slows down and drinking this tonic first thing helps to wake everything up. The lemon juice is good for stimulating bile production in the liver, the apple cider vinegar supports healthy blood sugar and slows gastric emptying, water of course is hydrating and the warm temperature of the water can help stimulate peristalsis. All of these things are good for preventing constipation which happens sometimes when we eat weird stuff or too much! Another thing that is great about this drink is that the sharp flavor, while a little jarring at first, is palate cleansing and can help kill your cravings for sweet or rich food. A Tip: If you decide to drink this daily, consider using a straw to protect the enamel on your teeth from the acid in the lemon.
3. Have a plan of attack when it comes to food. So we all know how it goes, when we’re super hungry we’ll eat just about anything, even if we resolved at breakfast was to eat nothing but plants for the rest of the day! Walk into the kitchen starving after a long day and if there’s any Easter /Halloween candy, Pumpkin Pie etc left you know you’ll be eating that first (and probably also second and third). Instead, plan out specifically what you’ll eat ahead of time and make it as easily accessible as possible. Pick up some frozen vegetables or pre-washed salad greens or diced vegetables. Grab a can of tuna or beans or even a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken (fast protein during high temptation, I wouldn’t recommend those chickens for your regular meal rotation). Grab an avocado, microwave a sweet potato or cook some quinoa (takes 12-15 minutes tops!) and serve with a drizzle of good olive oil and a vinegar of your choice. If you know what you’re going to eat and you have to do minimal work to prepare it, you will be less tempted by the junk when meal time rolls around. Same goes for avoiding temptation at work, social events etc. It’s all about preparation and planning! There’s nothing wrong with deciding to indulge sometimes and not follow a plan but when you’re trying to get off the smack that holidays are fraught with having a firm idea of what you want to eat is the difference between getting back on track or gaining 15 pounds and wondering how it happened. Remember: Have a plan to keep temptation in check.
4. Get some movement. I know you don’t feel like it but I urge you to get some form of movement, exercise or activity as soon as possible after overindulgence. It is well documented that exercise releases endorphins that result in a mood boost (so important for our morale after eating poorly) and getting blood circulating will give you more energy and move things along in your digestive tract. I don’t even care about the fact that it burns calories – that’s not nearly as important as getting ourselves feeling better after we over do it (so that we don’t do it again out of feeling like crap).
In addition to chocolate and potato chips, I also ate cake and rolls on Sunday both made with wheat flour, something that I very rarely do because it is both a food I’m physically and emotionally sensitive to. Because of that, on Monday I felt puffy, achy, foggy brained and irritable. The last thing I wanted to do was exercise, but I knew if I didn’t, it would mean I was less likely to get back on track quickly. 2 days of overeating would surely turn into a week of it. I’ve worked too hard on my emotional eating to let old habits sneak back in. So, despite majorly not feeling like it, I rolled out my yoga mat and did some exercises. I started slow and probably didn’t go as hard as I normally would but that’s not the point – the point is I did something good for my body when I really didn’t want to and that will pay off in a multitude of ways. Remember: You don’t have to go hard or long, it’s not about the calorie burn today – it’s about being gentle, supportive and nourishing yourself. Roll on your foam roller, do a few yoga asanas, go for a short walk. Just do something!
5. Avoid extreme measures. I understand the feeling of wanting to fix something right away but doing extreme stuff (like drinking only juice for 12 days, eating only 500 calories a day and taking hormone drops for 3 weeks out of every month etc) isn’t the healthiest thing you can do for yourself, both emotionally and physically. Extremes usually bring on more extremes and if you ever want to be able to just relax around food, it’s really important to learn to practice responding in moderation.
Think about the body like a balance scale. One one side we have over indulgence or bingeing, on the other we have dieting, restriction or extremes like over-exercising. If you go to either extreme, the body is going to try to bring you into equilibrium (or balance) because the body works best when it’s getting a certain amount of nutrition. Too much and we’re putting a lot of stress on every system in the body to process the food properly, too little and the body may not have enough energy to do all the things that keep our body running properly. The more you fall onto one side of the scale, the harder the body will need to work to get back to balance. That’s why extreme diets almost always bring on a bout of overeating. That feeling of deprivation and urgency to have a “cheat meal” is ultimately the body saying “hey, I need more energy than this!” just for it to do its job.
When I was going through the worst of my eating issues – the ones full of binge-ing and dieting yo yos, every binge period would result in a point where I’d go “starting tomorrow, I’m only going to eat 800 calories a day until I’ve undone all the damage I did this time!” but my attempts to restrict so severely would be short lived and actually resulted in more binge-ing, weight gain and restriction cycles. It was exhausting and frustrating and far too much of my energy was spent thinking about what I could or couldn’t eat at the moment. If you respond to overindulgence (which is an extreme in itself) with another type of extreme you are setting up yourself for a continuous cycle of ups and downs. This is stressful on the body and stressful to your emotional well being. Remember: Responding in moderation to help keep your body and mind balanced.
6. It’s not that big a deal. Look, right now your pants may feel tight and you might feel as though you’ve gone up a size overnight. Whether you took in 1000 too many calories this weekend or 10,000 too many calories, in the scheme of things, try to remember it really isn’t a huge deal. So what! So your weight may temporarily go up for a few days or weeks – it does not make you less loveable or valuable. Your weight/size does not equal your worth. And honestly, much of that weight gain is temporary – water retention from salty foods and the actual physical presence of food before you poop it out! Stay away from the scale for a bit and wear clothes that are comfortable and make you feel cute while you recover.
Also, if you respond to the overindulgence with a “oh well” attitude, instead of “oh shit” you will be more likely to treat yourself well with proper nutrition and care. Beating yourself up or berating yourself is the surest way to make sure you continue doing the behaviour that made you feel so bad to begin with. Respond to overeating with kindness and caring for your body as you would for someone you love who wasn’t feeling well and you will mitigate your physical and emotional symptoms (bloat, sluggishness, depression) and reinforce better actions the next time you are confronted with a similar situation. You’ll be able to remember that an extra cookie didn’t lead to a 3 week meltdown and be able to enjoy it for what it is (just a freaking cookie). There is no diet in the world that one cookie will derail all your goals. It is with this more relaxed attitude, kindness and desire to treat ourselves with love through good nutrition that we begin to heal some of the emotional wounds that can go along with overindulgence. Remember: A 2 – 3 lb weight gain from overindulgence and often temporary. Reinforce that it’s not a big deal by taking care of yourself in a loving way and avoid the scale for good measure.