‘Tis the season for temptation. You know what I’m talking about. It starts with Halloween, the remains of which continue to tantalize me at home (in the form of a giant bowl of leftover candy) and at work, where a new bag of sweets has shown up every day this week, obviously cast off by colleagues struggling with their own willpower. Then, we’ve got Thanksgiving, the ultimate food holiday of the year, and right after, all of the holiday parties and special occasions that surround Christmas, Hanukah and New Years.
We all know the struggle ahead of us — it’s a tradition right up there with carol-singing and tinsel-hanging. But the answer isn’t to swear off any and all treats this holiday, because you know how that will end up: with you emptying a tin of Grandma’s cookies and a pint of eggnog in one sitting (and I speak from experience).
But if we go into the holidays prepared, we have a better chance of enjoying the special foods we love without completely undoing all the progress we’ve made toward our weight loss goals. Here’s my hard-earned advice for surviving the season.
Eat what you love, leave what you like. I think one of the problems we have as we struggle with our weight is knowing what an indulgence really is. I know what you’re thinking: Don’t overeaters indulge all the time? But think about it: Is polishing off a half-dozen Krispy Kremes, knowing that you’ll end up embroiled in a total guilt-fest, really a treat? I used to think so until I realized that I was overeating for all kinds of reasons: depression, fear, loneliness. So the first place to start when you’re approaching this holiday season is to really think about those foods you love. Like isn’t good enough. Think love. Think can’t live without. Think the foods I would run off to Paris with (if foods could run). For instance, with this Halloween candy business: I’ve weeded through my son’s haul (and the extra zillion pounds my husband bought just in case the entire city of Nashville showed up in costume at our doorstep), and found a few of my “loves”: Butterfingers. Sure, I like Tootsie Rolls, Baby Ruths, M&Ms. But Butterfingers … well, I’m drooling at the mere thought of them. Now, there was a time when I would eat anything in the candy category, even those orangeish, marshmallowy circus peanuts, just because. But now, I’m totally devoted to my loves; the likes get left behind. Or, rather, they’re going to a dentist who’s sending leftover Halloween sweets to the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. (If anyone deserves a treat, it’s those guys.)
Make a plan. I suggest writing down your “loves” to keep you focused. My list would include the butter cookies we’ve been making in my family for over 40 years, and the creamy chocolate fudge I’ve loved since I was a kid. Then, put a limit on your treats—say, one a day—and choose only from the “loves” on your list. That way, you don’t waste your quota on something that isn’t your favorite, that isn’t a true indulgence. I can tell you, that one cookie or square of fudge is so much more precious than it would be if I could eat the whole batch.
One of my grandmother’s specialties—she had a few—were cream puffs, homemade tufts of pastry with vanilla custard in the middle. Hers were tiny, just two bites big, and she made only enough for each of us to have one. “One is all you need,” she always said. And she was right. Two perfect bites of food made by hand, out of love. What could be more precious, more indulgent, than that?