Sugar, Sugar Everywhere…

peppermintHave you noticed the holiday refrain in our culture? “As soon as the holidays are over, I’m going on a DIET!” (Usually said while reaching for another [insert dessert item here]). I’ve always been fascinated by this mindset/behavior. It seems to be the same every year, so it isn’t as if it sneaks up on us. The holidays, replete with cookies, candies, cakes, and rich meals, are a free ticket to overindulge to our own detriment. And we know we’re doing it!

Really, it is not so surprising. Research indicates that sugar is a highly addictive substance and can induce binging, cravings, and withdrawal, as well as other behaviors associated with addictive substances (Avena, Rada, & Hoebel, 2007). And, apparently, there is now Sugar Rehab. (I am not making this up!) Because sugar comes in so many forms, it is easy to add insult to injury. A little wine with that cheesecake? Perhaps some champagne with the chocolate fondue? You get my point, right?

So, how does one navigate this terrain? Believe me, I love a good chocolate chip cookie (cake, wine, chocolate, whatever!) as much as the next person, so you’ll get no “holier than thou” from me. I, too, will need to practice what I’m about to preach here. While I do have what’s been described as “iron will,” I do still need to enter into the season with intention (and forgive myself some dietary transgressions along the way).

So, if you’re interested, here’s my plan:

  • First, I am working to make sure that I have plenty of really good, healthy options in my fridge. This helps to ensure that when I am home, I will choose from the delicious, nutritious food that I already have on hand (like the yummy raw kale salad with lemon tahini dressing that I’ve been gobbling up, or the vegetable beef soup that I cooked up in the crockpot). Because we tend to busily run between school plays, concerts, shopping, and holiday gatherings, I find that coming home exhausted is generally a perfect setup for a sugar binge, which will happen to me for sure if I don’t have good food ready to go. I mean, does anyone else come in the door after a whirlwind day and go right for the stash of chocolate, or is it just me?
  • Next, I am making sure to consume foods that are rich in probiotics (like Kombucha or lacto-fermented kraut) to help keep my gut and immune system in top form. Taking a good probiotic is helpful too. I am currently doing both. I don’t know if there is any scientific basis to this or not, but when I am consistent with eating foods rich in probiotics, I seem to crave sweets less. This is a win-win, no?
  • For me, getting enough sleep is critical. When I am sleep deprived, I crave sweets and other not-so-healthy carbs (think Classic Lay’s…yes, they are my Kryptonite). Of course, each of us is unique. If you have awareness about your own body and how it feels when in optimum condition, you’ll be better able to resist those urges to overindulge, especially when sleep deprivation clouds your judgment.
  • I am also being mindful of my stress level. Now, being mindful of my stress level and keeping it in check don’t always mean the same thing, but I am allowing myself more wiggle room. And if I am just not up to something, then it comes off the list of things to do (Do I really need to run that errand TODAY?). Again, when I’m feeling overwhelmed, I tend to go right for the sweets and/or a(nother) glass of wine. So, setting myself up for success here means that I recognize when the only thing keeping me going is the sugar high. That’s not a place I want to find myself.
  • To help keep the stress in check and keep myself moving, even if just a little, I am bundling myself up and making myself walk the half mile or so to and from work each day. I resist this commitment to myself and try to come up with reasons why I should drive every day–especially when my weather app tells me that it is 10 degrees outside–but I know that I’ll feel better if I get at least this small amount of movement in my day. I’m always glad that I did, even as my toes are thawing.
  • Lastly, but definitely not least importantly, I plan to do a dietary reset as soon as the holidays are over. This is not license to go overboard. For me, it will actually help to keep me on track.  Realistically, I would not attempt a cleanse during the holidays–it would just end up with me feeling really deprived—which will probably backfire. Instead, I plan to do a Whole30 or maybe a 21 Day Sugar Detox to begin the new year. Knowing that I will be doing this will keep me from going too far overboard because I know how horrible the first few days of the detox will be if I have been eating too much sugar and simple carbs. While these are my reset cleanses of choice, there are myriad options out there, so if these don’t resonate for you, check out the 10 Day Detox Diet by Dr. Mark Hyman, author of the Blood Sugar Solution or perhaps a guided cleanse with Cydney Smith, local health and lifestyle coach at Spirited Nutrition. Of course, choosing a reset that feels right to you is fairly critical to your success, otherwise you’re unlikely to stick with it. If you’re interested in some additional resources, check out this post by Dr. Mark Hyman.

Whatever you do this holiday season, may your life be filled with peace and joy, and may 2015 be your best year yet!

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