You’re at a party and you see a table filled with some of your favorite foods: potato chips with sour-cream dip; charcuterie heaped high next to pieces of crusty baguette; and a steaming tray of macaroni drunk with melted cheddar cheese. Nearby is the dessert table where you see dense chocolate cake topped with fresh whipped cream; peppermint bark and still warm ginger snaps; a ten-layer coconut cream layer cake. Do you:
a) walk on by clutching the celery sticks you brought from home for dear life
b) grab whatever you can as fast as you can and shove it down at warp speed
c) enjoy a reasonable portion of the food in front of you without a shred of guilt.
I vote for c: a choice informed by moderation and pleasure, not gluttony or denial. It’s totally do-able, but first you need to come to terms with what it means to eat treats.
For many of us, treats are triggers. In other words, if you eat one cookie, you’ll eat a dozen. When I first began my journey to lose weight a few years ago, there were some foods that held me in such thrall, I literally could not go near them. My list included triple cream cheeses, crusty bread of any kind, charcuterie (especially salami), cookies (any kind), cakes (ditto), Doritos, and olives. If two bites were good, twenty were better. I couldn’t eat just a little of these foods so rather than go to town, stuff myself, then feel the inevitable guilt, misery and anger, I cut them out of my life -- for a while anyway. Until I could gain some distance, examine what my relationship was with these foods, and discover what lay underneath my insatiable desire.
I learned a lot.
In the course of researching and writing “Ravenous,” I learned I could be happy with 6 olives; that dark chocolate is better for me than cookies because it’s satisfying and I don’t binge on it; that salami no longer drives me to distraction; and that it’s smarter for me to buy only a very small wedge of that creamy cheese so I don’t tempt fate.
In other words, I don’t deny myself trigger foods – I manage them. I couldn’t do this a few years ago, but I can now. Things can change. And so can people. The key to managing trigger foods is to first, know what they are, and then be honest about your relationship with them. If you know eating one potato chip leads to eating 100, choose another course. If you really can eat a cup of macaroni and cheese and not go back for more, then go for it. With practice and time, your relationship with trigger foods can change.
But until then, there are some practical strategies you can use during this next month of holidays that can help you enjoy treats, and even your trigger foods, without eating everything in sight.
Don’t arrive hungry. This is probably the single best proactive step you can take. I always eat a little bit before I go to parties, usually some protein. If I arrive a little hungry but not starved, I make much wiser food choices.
Be selective. In other words, be choosy about what you put in your mouth. If you’re at a party and you see tables filled with food, take a good look at all that’s available before you put food on your plate. The little hot dogs in pastry dough may seem yummy, but if what you really love is that fancy cheese and crusty bread, nix the dogs and go for the cheese.
Slow down. This is common advice for a good reason. It takes your body about 20 minutes to register satisfaction. If you eat slowly, you will eat less and be satisfied, not stuffed.
Easy on the alcohol. Not only is alcohol filled with calories, it also lowers inhibition. If you start with a few drinks, you might not only end up with a hangover, you might also eat more than you want.
Food is not something to be afraid of -- it’s something to be embraced and enjoyed -- especially this time of year. Special foods like yule logs, eggnog, or potato latkes make us happy because they are a tradition, linking our past with our present. So enjoy! And remember, sometimes memories can be just as nourishing and delicious, as food itself.
Dayna Macy is the author of “Ravenous: A Food Lover’s Journey from Obsession to Freedom.” For more info, please visit www.daynamacy.com.
Do you avoid trigger foods? If so, which ones? If not, how do you eat them in moderation?
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