The Holiday Minefield

I’ve written on this topic before but I wanted to add some more nuance as we head toward Thanksgiving and various other gluttony-based holiday events. I’ve written in the past about the need to plan ahead, to plan for cheating, to plan for failure, etc. But I wanted to talk more specifically about how to do that for the holidays, how I do it in general, and how I’m doing it now with my specific workout/eating regimen.

Thanksgiving is next week. It feels like the whole year flew by in no time, and here we are: at the Judgment Day of eating plans. You stand before the Throne and a fiery seraph glares down at you, asking, “Will you eat plain turkey breast and enter the Kingdom of Heaven? Or will you partake of your mother’s hand-crafted Dutch Apple Pie and fall forever?” The holidays, for any of us eating specifically for whatever reason, are a treacherous gauntlet of guilt, gluttony, and starvation. But it doesn’t have to be. In fact, if you’re eating on a plan and you’ve done as I’ve said before, it really shouldn’t be. You can enjoy yourself and jettison the guilt. Here’s how I do it.

I wrote on this topic last year (3 Strategies for Holiday Eating) but I wanted to dig into it a little bit more this year and talk about what I’m doing differently. Let’s call this the 4th Strategy: Prioritizing. Like with cheating in general, you have to plan for it. You have to say to yourself, “This isn’t a test: I’m not a failure if I eat of program this one day. So I’ll decide to eat off program and return to it soon after.” You’ve taken control of your eating, now. It isn’t a failure or a stumble: it’s a decision you have control over.

Good. But something that occurs to me these days, after so long of eating in a specific way, is that feeling like I’ve failed and turned into a cow are not the only concerns here. I also just don’t want to feel completely stuffed and disgusting all day long, right? But at the same time, I obviously have a history of poor self-control – whatever I may say about endomorphic bodies and the failure of the fitness industry, control is still part of my obesity. So what I do is this:

  1. Pick what I’m going to eat. It’s a mistake to treat the table like a buffet. You know what’s probably going to be there, so decide up front what to take. I know exactly what I want to make Thanksgiving what I want it to be: I need mashed potatoes, a croissant, giblet gravy, and cranberry jelly (not the nasty actual-cranberries cranberry sauce). The other half dozen things on the table? I can skip right over. And you should skip right over them… There’s this weird sense during a holiday meal that you have to load up your plate with everything, and more than once. But again: this isn’t a buffet. Treat it like a dinner.
  2. Decide how much. So much of America’s weight problem is habit. We have a habit, probably an echo of the depression for some of us whose parents or grandparents lived through it, of cleaning our plates and eating everything in sight. A scarcity mentality. Now in an age of plenty that leads us to mindless grazing: we used to eat everything to make sure we didn’t go hungry, and now we eat everything because it’s just there. Don’t eat food just because it’s around. Make a choice about how much you’re going to eat. 1 plate? 2? It’s really arbitrary, but set a limit that sounds reasonable and you’ll avoid a major pitfall of holiday eating: over-consuming because the food exists and is out.
  3. Decide how long. This ties into “how much” but “how long” is an important consideration. Thanksgiving inexplicably begins at like 2 in the afternoon for some of us. Sometimes it’s because football is on later and we have to get dinner out of the way, or because we’ve been cooking since 7 AM and it’s time to eat while it’s all hot. This tends to make eating an all-day event where you just eat and eat and eat because there’s so much food and so much time. It’s even worse if there are appetizers and finger-foods laid out to “hold you over” until the Great Gorge. Even after the day itself is over, you have… leftovers. For days and days, Thanksgiving lingers in our refrigerators and in our bellies. Set a limit. Make this day normal like every other meal instead of a gluttony Olympics. 2 hours or 3 hours consuming things? Again, the limit is arbitrary, but setting a limit is important. You can still indulge – if you’ve been eating clean up until now, any of this in an indulgence – but you don’t have to destroy yourself.

With my current bulking program (my coach said something about me needing to be 30 lbs heavier to be competitive at my height), I have a little more latitude when it comes to eating. But I can’t let myself imagine that this is a free pass to stuff my face over the holidays. I want to gain, yes, but I don’t want to gain fat (which for us former fatties is always a secret fear, no matter how fit we get). I’ve had to starting thinking about food differently: even holiday food.

Or at least I’ve started to think about food differently. Right now I can limit things much more carefully than I used to be able to, but I’m still not where I need to be in order to embody what I want. A true competitor’s attitude about food is “if it isn’t going to help me, even on a holiday, it probably should stay away from my mouth.” But that’s a pretty rarefied place to be and I’m still working on getting there. In the mean time, these strategies will help!

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