Help me avoid the holiday pitfall!
April 3, 2012 10:48 AM   Subscribe

What are strategies that I can implement to avoid constantly unhealthy food choice while visiting family

It's Passover season which means that I'll be visiting with family for 4 days. Our days are not too busy-we got to services down the block and then come home to eat lunch. After that-we just hang out.
There are some decent food choice (salad, chicken, fruit..etc) but my downfall is always the abundance of cakes and cookies that are around. I'm a big fan of cakes/cookies but I generally do not buy or bake these items as they are too tempting. The problem is that whenever I go home-there are so many cakes/cookie treats around (i.e. a chocolate cake sitting on the kitchen table where everyone sits around talking) that it's become impossible for me to avoid eating it! There is so much food that it's hard get a perception of what I'm actually eating (but I know that some of these cookies may have hundreds of calories as the main ingredients are sugar, margarine, and eggs). I always gain weight and feel sluggish and tired after these visits.

So what are some mental strategies that I can implement for a situation where we are all hanging out inside the house with no set activities and there are lots and lots of tempting cakes and cookies around? I really want to go in this year with a concrete plan!

Note: I cannot bring any healthy versions of cookies or cakes. Since it is Passover-I can't cook in my kitchen.
posted by duddes02 to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
When you're about to reach for something, stop and drink some water. See if it keeps you busy enough and/or full enough to distract you.

You could also do what we do here in our office kitchen when someone brings treats in. Someone always puts a couple of plastic knives out to encourage people to cut cookies/doughnuts/etc in halves or quarters rather than take a whole one.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:52 AM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Similar to what Lyn Never suggests, I drink hot tea - unsweetened and with no milk - whenever I feel the need to taste something but don't actually want or need to eat something. The fact that it's hot is important - then you have to sip it.
posted by asphericalcow at 10:55 AM on April 3, 2012

I am going to give you some terrible advice, but the reality is I am you and I live for cake. What I do is eat less of one thing so I can eat more of another. In other words, I eat minimal dinner so I can allow myself more cake. I tell myself I don't have cake every day, and it's okay. Also, stay as low carb as you can bear for the main meal.
posted by Dragonness at 10:58 AM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Agree with Lyn Never - while it is about calories in the long run, it's also about portion control and not depriving yourself.

Have ONE cookie.
Have a SMALL piece of cake.

I'd rather do the above, and have a wee bit of self-control and sweetness than feel miserable while everyone around me is celebrating the holiday.

Oh, and keep moving, keep talking, keep busy.
If you're standing or sitting next to the trough, you're more likely to eat from it :)
posted by THAT William Mize at 11:04 AM on April 3, 2012

Keep fruit-flavored LifeSavers on you and pop one every so often.

I find that if I start on the treats early in the day, it's a recipe for an all-day calamity. Wait till late in the day and have a cookie then.
posted by Currer Belfry at 11:06 AM on April 3, 2012

I also recommend trying an attitude thing. Try not to think of it as "I'm only allowing myself ONE cookie" because then you'll feel more resentful of your diet and you are more likely to end up thinking "Stuff it!" and eating the lot.

Think of it as treating yourself to that cookie which you are going to really enjoy and make the most of!

Don't deny yourself, Treat yourself!
posted by Wysawyg at 11:08 AM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Meh, it's just four days. Lose a fee pounds before going and then enjoy the sweets while there. Moderation in all things, including moderation.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:11 AM on April 3, 2012 [9 favorites]

Don't demonize the cakes or the cookies or whatever. Choose to eat the amount that makes you feel delighted and nourished and well, whatever amount that is. Agree with Dragoness (except that I don't think it's terrible advice) that maybe this is a time to choose to get most of your nourishment from cake; three or four days of choosing less nutrient-dense eating isn't going to be a big deal in your overall health.

Or you could choose to enjoy small amounts in conjunction with fruits/vegetables/proteins/whole grains. The thing is that it's a choice. It's your choice. You can choose what you want to eat and what you don't want to eat. The mythology of "Oh, I couldn't resist it!" is a pretty toxic one for many people. You don't have to "resist" anything; what you have to do is make choices that work for you, that make you feel nourished and well and happy, and those choices can include some cake or no cake or lots of cake and none of those choices are objectively better or worse than others.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:14 AM on April 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

It sounds stupid, but it really helps me if I can't see the treats; you can't put the stuff away in a cupboard or something, but can you choose a seat where you won't be constantly looking at or smelling the delicious noms?
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 11:15 AM on April 3, 2012

Two things that help me:

1) Track your food intake. Write down what you eat, including an estimate of the calories. I find it easier to resist mindlessly eating junk food that I don't actually want if I know I'm going to be accountable for it later, even if only to myself. I've actually thought, "I'm not going to eat this giant cupcake because then I'll have to write down that I ate an extra thousand calories today, and I don't want to write that down."

2) Plan in advance what you're going to eat. Are there particular treats you love that are only available during this holiday? Treats you don't much care about? Decide ahead of time that you're going to have one of Grandma's special cookies and a slice of your favorite chocolate cake. Look forward to those, and really savor them. But remind yourself of what you really do enjoy. I've realized, for example, that I don't actually like fruity desserts. It's easier not to eat a slice of cherry pie when I can remind myself that I don't really want cherry pie, at least not nearly as much as I want the special cinnamon buns that my family only makes on big holidays. I can look forward to eating the treats that really are special treats because I can't get them any time I want, and I don't feel deprived when I turn down or avoid crap food that I know I don't much enjoy anyway.
posted by decathecting at 11:23 AM on April 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

I seem to recall recent research suggesting that people eat less of a treat if they visualize themselves eating it and enjoying it first. Apparently that contributes to producing a feeling of satiety more quickly. You might give it a try. I don't have time to Google the reference but I seem to recall it might have been an article by Tara Parker-Pope in the New York Times.
posted by brianogilvie at 11:23 AM on April 3, 2012

1) Chew spearmint or peppermint gum if you want sweets to taste bad.

2) If you do splurge, please don't beat yourself up over it. Holidays are meant to be a holiday from dieting. 4 days isn't enough time to create irreversible damage. Resolve to work it off once you get back home.
posted by Lettuce_Leaves at 11:38 AM on April 3, 2012

Sidehevil's advice is great. If you are trying to cut back on the unstructured time that leaves you in a situation where you're uncomfortable about food, you can try bringing some kind of low-key activity to share. I say "try," because despite the efforts of my siblings and me, our parents have resisted the introduction of virtually any activity to holiday gatherings. The only hit--but it was a big one--has been bringing old pictures to share and talking about them. Can you maybe bring some old photos or ask other people to bring theirs?
posted by corey flood at 11:47 AM on April 3, 2012

If it's just the little bit of weight gain and fatigue afterwards, why not spend your spare time over the four days getting in some extra exercise, going for leisurely walks, maybe taking a relative along for a nice chat?

Healthy eating is not just about food; there should also be a healthy attitude towards food, and I'm not sure this level of worry over holiday food is healthy. I would make Brandon Blatcher's plan -- moderation in moderation -- the plan.

From somebody who never used to get fat but who now has to mind the intake like everybody else, but who is totally not understanding this, and getting a little whiff of 'bad relationship with food' -- possibly? -- I mean, this is not complicated; you eat a bit less before, a bit less after, and enjoy the cake if you happen to find cake delicious, and it sounds like you do.
posted by kmennie at 11:49 AM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Here's the New York Times article that brianogilvie mentioned, about imagining treats before you eat them. It's not by Parker-Pope (I had thought it was as well, for some reason) and it's a delightful little read about one man's experience trying the "Imagination Diet." Dude lost over 10 pounds in a month but kind of goes a little wacky at the end, seeing baked goods wherever he goes. I think part of this can be chalked up to a writer's imagination and the desire for a good story, but thinking about food all the time can make you a little loopy.

Here is a link to the article in Science.

Basically, the results show that by imagining or visualizing things like eating we become habituated to them. Your desire to eat the thing decreases if you imagine eating it and enjoying it, probably because some of the effects of eating have already occurred in your brain (like the release of dopamine).

You have to imagine the food in question (so thinking about eating and enjoying cheese when you're trying not to eat that chocolate cake won't work) and you have to go through the visualization multiple times -- I think they did it 5 times in the experiment -- in order for it to work, and like with everything, it doesn't work for everyone, but it's worth a try.

I'd suggest that you not beat yourself up about this whole thing too much. Four days of eating nothing but chocolate cake won't kill you, and that's not even what is going to happen. Being kind to yourself is actually really important for your health.
posted by k8lin at 11:52 AM on April 3, 2012

I forgot to add to that last sentence that being kind to yourself is important for your health, and, as that article explains, actually will help you eat fewer treats.
posted by k8lin at 11:55 AM on April 3, 2012

Response by poster: Thank you for the comments!

Yes, I do have trouble with moderation. It's usually all or nothing and I think it would be great practice for focus on what I really enjoy (mm, chocolate chip cookies) versus what I don't even like (I too, really do not enjoy baked good with fruit).
posted by duddes02 at 11:57 AM on April 3, 2012

I too run into trouble with holiday foods. Thanksgiving is my weakness. I have a few strategies:

1. I determine a few healthy and lower calorie foods that I can enjoy in large quantities. If I'm full of fresh veggies and fruit, I won't be hungry for more than a reasonable portion of treats.

2. I pick out my favorites and don't eat the other cookies, cakes, etc. Mashed potatoes aren't really that exciting to me, so I just don't eat them. Just because it's tradition (or on the table), doesn't necessarily mean you have to eat it.

3. Once I've eaten a reasonable portion (full, but not stuffed), I brush my teeth or chew gum. Eating a mint or hard candy also signals to me that I'm done eating. Drinking tea or coffee will also allow you to do something with your hands when you're tempted to pick at food.

4. Move more than usual. If you're staying at a hotel, use the gym or pool. If you're staying with family, take yourself for a walk or a run. Maybe it would be a chance to invite a family member along for some one-on-one conversation? If not, then enjoy the time away with your own thoughts. You can also go and play with the kids or pets. Is there a dog that needs to be walked? Even if you're not burning tons of calories, you're moving and staying away from the dinner table.
posted by annaramma at 11:59 AM on April 3, 2012

Best answer: I'm going to disagree with a few people here on the best approach to this. I am like you, an all or nothing type of person. I cannot just eat a cookie or just one tiny piece of cake, unless the food is going to be safely out of reach by the time I finish the first bit. Once I have had a little bit of something I love, it exponentially increases the chances that I am going to eat more and more of it, whereas if I turn it down completely or eat a healthier option, I get positive reinforcement for myself from that and it's easier for me to continue to persevere.

It may not be the healthiest relationship with food, but I know myself, and that's how I am. If I need to not eat something, I need to not eat any of it.

I would definitely use the gum chewing strategy and also try to be putting the food that's sitting out away as much as possible. Also, bring your own treats that are a healthier alternative (we use brownies made with egg beaters and applesauce) and something you really enjoy, so you have a great option to turn to when you get hungry.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 12:11 PM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

What about bringing some appealing fruit specifically to keep out in the same way that your family leaves cake out? You can slice and slowly eat an apple or pear or section a mandarin orange (or grapefruit! supreming a grapefruit takes a while) or seed a pomegranate (if you can find decent ones at this time of year) while talking instead of eating cake.
posted by needs more cowbell at 12:18 PM on April 3, 2012

Sugar-free Spearmint Lifesavers.

Literally lifesavers. You *can* crack them and chew them down fast if you really want to, but it's best if you just suck on each one for five-ten minutes. I always have one in my pocket any more; they taste really good, make everything else taste gross, won't rot your teeth (I guess), and are only 6 calories a pop. The only downside is that they seem to only come in the little tiny bags of individually-wrapped rings.
posted by carsonb at 12:20 PM on April 3, 2012

Can you do a post-lunch afternoon family walk or activity? You could do it on your own, but if you enlist family company then it's a "together" sort of thing and you run less risk of offending someone. You won burn a ton of calories, but that isn't the point; the point is to get you away from the food for an hour or two. Just a walk around the neighbourhood would help remove you from the temptation.

A caveat is that I don't know anything about passover traditions so if there's some reason you need to stay inside, then I guess that won't work.
posted by marylynn at 1:23 PM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am a bit all or nothing about desserts too. But I find it is relatively easy to delay eating them until late in the day. I can refuse cake at afternoon tea if I know I'll have some after dinner. And if you delay long enough, there just isn't much time left in the day, or space left in your stomach, to over-indulge. So I recommend combining a couple of the suggestions above.

Use the day to scope out all the treats on offer and decide what you really like the look of most. Plan to have two or three treats (or two or three helpings of your favourite treat!) in the evening. Knowing that's coming will hopefully not let you feel deprived. And delaying making a choice means you won't be all full of cake and then have to stuff yourself further when Aunt Martha arrives with her delicious chocolate truffles that you weren't expecting.

Then really savour your treats in the evening after dinner. (As late as possible). Then brush your teeth and call it done. You can have more tomorrow!
posted by lollusc at 5:36 PM on April 3, 2012

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