Intuitive Eating, Weight loss advice

5 Tips to Avoid Gaining Weight on Thanksgiving (or any Holiday)

The holiday season is a mostly wonderful time… but between the fun of getting together with loved ones, having more free time, and being surrounded by holiday decor, there lurks the fear of seemingly inevitable weight gain.

I spent years and years being so afraid of weight gain, and so desperately planning my post-holiday diet, that it was hard to enjoy the holidays at all. Especially Thanksgiving, because the whole day is so focused on food. But now that I’ve learned how to escape that cycle, I want to share some tips to help you stop worrying about your weight this holiday season too, so you can focus on what’s important instead 🙂

1. Eat more (of some things).

Sounds counterintuitive, I know.

But the science is clear: some foods are more satiating than others. Studies have found that if you eat 250 calories of potatoes, for example, you’ll feel more than twice as full as you would from eating 250 calories of cheese1. And as a result, you also eat much less after eating potatoes than after eating cheese.

And you can take advantage of this fact to help you pace yourself during your holiday meals.

If you’re mindful about having a good helping of those satiating foods (think starches & veggies), it’ll balance out the high calorie density, low satiety foods (think meat, cheese, & desserts), and help prevent you from overeating.

So what exactly does that look like? Try having a dish as close as possible to a plant based whole food–maybe mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, a veggie side, or even stuffing–that you eat first or that you serve yourself extra of, to give you that baseline of satiation before going for seconds (or thirds) on everything else.

Another strategy is to have some snacks or appetizers before the big meal. This can help by making sure you don’t go into dinner feeling ravenous and overstuffing yourself before your brain can catch up.

2. Don’t plan to diet beforehand or afterwards.

This is a big one. Almost everyone who has ever dieted plans to diet before and/or after the holidays. But it’s exactly that mindset that leads to overeating and weight gain in the first place.

In fact, studies show that people who are most successful at losing weight in general are the ones who gain the most weight during the holidays2.

Sounds crazy, right?

A few years ago I would have thought so too, but now it makes perfect sense.

First, we know that dieting leads to yo-yo weight gain and loss in the long term. So dieting before the holidays is the perfect way to set yourself up to go into binge mode during the holidays and gain all that weight back… and then some3.

Second, when you go into the holiday season expecting to gain weight, that’s exactly what happens. It’s a very easy self-fulfilling prophecy, because the expectations are all in your mind, and it’s your mind that causes you to overeat. (Your body never asks for that!) When you start eating, you probably have negative emotions about how much weight you’re going to gain. And we know that for people who diet, negative emotions lead to more overeating.

It’s a vicious cycle that leaves you miserable during the holidays, and heavier (and still miserable) afterwards.

So what should you do instead? Ditch the diets, and start eating intuitively instead. (Check out my guide for how to get started.) Your mind and waistline (and probably your loved ones too) will thank you.

My plate of leftovers last Thanksgiving!

3. Plan to make yourself more holiday foods afterwards.

Part of what makes us overeat at holiday meals is that the food is scarce. Maybe it’s even “forbidden” the rest of the year.

If you don’t eat that pecan pie today, you might not get to eat it again until next year.

But the reality is that the only reason holiday food is scarce or forbidden is if YOU decide that you aren’t allowed to have it at other times. And that makes it so much more alluring. After all, there’s a reason they say that the forbidden fruit is sweetest.

And, science shows that people who avoid eating certain foods for dieting purposes end up overeating them later3.

If you don’t allow yourself to have certain foods most of the year, you end up overeating them even more during the holiday season because you know you’ll be deprived of those foods again soon.

This is not your last chance for pecan pie, so you don’t need to eat it like it’s your last time having pecan pie.

So this tip is an easy one: just allow yourself to have your favorite foods. (This is a good anti-weight-gain tip in general, not just for the holidays!) Either make some of your holiday favorites before the season starts to test out some recipes, or schedule a day after the holidays to make or buy those holiday foods you always crave. (And, of course, save leftovers from the holiday meal itself!)

Or best of all, go all out with intuitive eating and just eat what you want when you want it. No scheduling necessary. That’s how I’ve lost weight and maintained it–it just works.

With this tip, you’ll go into your holiday meals knowing that the pecan pie really isn’t that rare–and if you know there’s more where that came from, you’ll feel much less of an urge to overeat it.

(Can you guess that I really love pecan pie? 😉 )

4. Treat it like any other meal.

Try changing your expectations going into your holiday meals. If you don’t treat them like a big daunting event where you’re expected to overeat, you’ll be less likely to overeat.

Like the last tip, this is also about reducing the scarcity of the food: the goal is to get rid of that feeling that the Thanksgiving food (or other holiday food) is a limited resource. Don’t treat the food like it’s the special part of the day. That’s not what makes a holiday a holiday.

It’s the loved ones, the focus on what you’re thankful for, or even just a day off from work that makes it a holiday.

If you want to create something special and rewarding in your day, in place of focusing on the meal, you could also try treating yourself to some self care: is there a book you’ve been wanting to read, a videogame you’ve been dying to play, or some bubble bath you’ve been wanting to try? Treat yourself or set aside some time for yourself during the day to make it feel special.

5. Shift your focus.

Changing your mindset is so powerful. Mindset makes us overeat in the first place, and mindset can be the reason we stop.

This holiday season, try shifting your focus. Instead of thinking about how food will affect you and your body, focus on who you’re sharing that food with. Focus on why you’re there eating a holiday meal in the first place.

And, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, try replacing guilt, shame, and fear with gratitude. Gratitude that you have food to eat, loved ones to eat it with, and a body that allows you to enjoy the holidays. Maybe your body doesn’t look exactly how you want it to (yet), but try to appreciate it for what it allows you to do.

After all, practicing gratitude has been shown again and again to make people happier4, and even to improve their body image5.


And with that, I wish you all a very happy holiday season. I hope that these tips can help you enjoy it even more. ❤

References

  1. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Peter_Petocz/publication/15701207_A_Satiety_Index_of_common_foods/links/00b495189da413c16d000000/A-Satiety-Index-of-common-foods.pdf
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4137466/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16261600
  4. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0272735810000450
  5. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1740144517302991
Intuitive Eating, Weight loss advice

How to Avoid Weight Gain While on Vacation (Or Eating Out at Restaurants)

A few weeks ago, I was on vacation in San Diego: aka a vegan foodie’s paradise. It was a great opportunity to be challenged and grow in my intuitive eating, and more importantly, to learn some insights to share with you!

For years and years, going on vacation meant a constant cycle of binge eating at restaurants, feeling guilty about it, trying to eat less at the next meal, failing, packing in as much cardio as possible… rinse and repeat.

Followed, of course, by the post-vacation constant, failed dieting attempts.

My last few vacations since getting the hang of intuitive eating, however, have been a world of difference.

(Don’t know what I’m talking about? Check out my guide on intuitive eating.)

This last vacation was an especially tricky case, because I was set on making a guide & video to the best vegan restaurants in San Diego… all over the course of a week! And I wanted to try as many dishes as humanly possible for it. (Luckily I collaborated with some of the restaurants, like Kindred in these photos, so I didn’t spend alllll the money.)

In the past, this would have spelled disaster: trying so many things would have meant cleaning my plate for every. single. dish.

But this time, I went with my gut, quite literally. And it went wonderfully. No binge eating, no guilt, no restriction… and all my clothes fit the same when I got home.

So here are 5 tips I’ve picked up along the way: how to make sure you’re eating just as much as you need (no more, no less!) while eating out at restaurants, being on vacation, or having any other big change in your usual diet!

1. Eat slower.

Your body has learned the approximate mapping between the volume of food you put in your stomach, and the amount of energy that volume usually results in. If you’re used to eating less calorie-dense food, like vegetables and grains, this is an especially important one. With salad or bread, for example, you might need to eat ~5 cups of it to get 500 calories. With the types of food you tend to get at restaurants or while on vacation, though, you could easily get 1000 or 1500 calories with 5 cups of food.

Now, I am DEFINITELY not advocating you count your calories. (Repeat: do not count your calories!) Rather, try some strategies to be more mindful of your hunger and satiety signals. Try eating slower to give your body a chance to catch up, start digesting a little bit, and realize that you gave it more calories per volume than it expected. For me, this is as simple as having appetizers first, then letting myself digest for the ~15 minutes it takes for the food to come.

Don’t think this would help? There are studies showing that eating slower actually reduces the amount of food and calories that you eat!1

2. Get appetizers.

To piggyback on the last tip, if you’re really hungry when you get to the restaurant, ordering appetizers (to share, especially!) can be surprisingly helpful for preventing overeating. Paradoxically, getting appetizers ends up making me eat LESS because I’m not ravenously hungry when it’s time to start on my entree. And not feeling as hungry to start with will help you pace yourself and be more mindful of when you’re satiated.

3. Plan to take home leftovers.

Unless you’re sure you’ll need to eat all the food to be satiated (which is totally reasonable, I usually finish a whole entree), go in with the mindset that you’ll take some food home.

This is NOT the same idea as the tip I’ve seen circulating in the dieting world, saying “put half your entree in a leftovers box when you get it to stop yourself from eating it all.” This is simply aimed at preventing you from going in with a “clean your plate” mentality… if you end up wanting to eat it all because you’re not full yet, you should absolutely go for it!

Bae sneakily pulled out the camera while I was eating 😛

4. Don’t force yourself to eat your next meal.

This is the most important tip so far, because it’s an example of how intuitive eating works beyond the level of an individual meal: your body’s ability to regulate your intake (so you eat what you need) operates over days, weeks, even months (thanks, hunger hormones!). It may sound weird, but hear me out.

Not forcing myself to eat at prescribed times has been huge for me. In the past I subscribed too heavily to society’s “3 meals a day” norm, and it got in the way of me listening to my body.

When I eat at a restaurant, I usually eat way more calories in a meal than I would at home, simply because my body is so used to eating a large volume of food. AND THAT’S OKAY! (Tip #1 can help, but probably won’t completely prevent it.)

Once you’re used to eating intuitively, you can trust your body to know what to do with those extra calories.

This tip helped me the most. My first day in San Diego, I ate a ton of incredible food at this brunch. I was still full around 5pm, 5 hours later. But my family wanted to make dinner together.

So naturally, I joined in. I was still mostly full, but I ate quite a bit anyway–because I had pretty much shut off communication with my hunger signals by choosing to eat when I wasn’t hungry in the first place. After feeling sick and overstuffed (on veggies, beans and rice, no less), I realized that eating dinner was not staying true to my body’s signals: it was telling me “I’m good, thanks”, but I ate dinner because I felt like I should.

No one can tell us when we should or shouldn’t eat. Only our bodies know that!

I redoubled my dedication to listening to my hunger, and it worked beautifully over the rest of the trip. How it usually worked was one day I’d do a big breakfast and dinner, with no lunch. (I’m like a snake when it comes to restaurant meals: I stock up, then feel full and satiated for like 8 hours. 😛 )

Then the next day, I wouldn’t feel hunger signals all morning because of the leftover energy from that big dinner. Then I’d get hungry around lunch, eat a big lunch, and feel full the rest of the day. Then repeated that two day pattern.

It was the usual 3 meal routine, just with double the meal size, spread over 2 days. And I felt great. No ravenous hunger, no feeling overstuffed, just eating when hungry & stopping when satisfied. I didn’t have to think about food at all in terms of what or when to eat, I just focused on enjoying myself. The bonus was I could spend less time finding food & more time at the beach!

Another way to think of it is naturally occurring intermittent fasting. Without the whole forcing-yourself-to-eat-in-a-prescribed-time-window part.

I don’t recommend forcing yourself to eat like this, at all. Some people do better eating more frequent meals, whereas I tend to prefer the snake-type eating style.

The main lesson from this tip is you may have to throw your usual eating routines out the window, and fly without the autopilot of habit: rely more on your hunger and fullness signals instead!

A shot from our favorite beach activity: boogie boarding!

5. Go easy on yourself.

If you do overeat til you’re sick, just dust yourself off, move on, and try again. Vacationing and eating at restaurants is about relaxing and enjoying your life (and your loved ones), not feeling bad about yourself! You may be tired of hearing it, but self compassion is an absolutely KEY part of intuitive eating.

Maybe you’re working on getting the hang of intuitive eating, maybe it’s your first time trying to do it while on vacation. Maybe you’re an old pro and it was just difficult this time. (Newsflash, no one’s perfect!)

That’s okay. If you gain weight, it’s not the end of the world. Feeling guilty can only make the situation worse, but self compassion can prevent and reverse it. Work on loving yourself where you are and the rest will follow!

* * * * *

I hope these tips can help you the next time you find yourself thrown out of your eating routine with the fun of restaurants and vacation. And most of all, I hope you enjoy yourself!

 

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References:

  1. https://www.nature.com/articles/nrendo.2010.41
Food & Exercise Diaries

Day 58 and 59 (1/21-22) of Back to High Carb Intuitive Eating

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Day 58 – 1/21

On Saturday, I had a memory conference in San Francisco with my lab which involved being out from 6am to midnight–it was so fun, but also a tad hectic. The food situation was iffy enough given I was out that long without access to a fridge or microwave, but to add to that, the wisdom tooth pain I’d been having for days intensified to frightening levels (I could hardly sleep the night before!). I survived on plain bagels, and various combinations of bananas and oats.

And perhaps more importantly, I survived on ibuprofen–I took a whole day’s dose of ibuprofen in the first 6 hours of the conference just to be able to focus!

1-22-17-122
Packed a bunch of these 2 ingredient banana oat cookies

Exercise: walked 3.5 miles

Breakfast:

  • Raw banana oats
  • Coldbrew coffee with soymilk

Lunch:

  • 2 sourdough bagels
  • Coffee

Dinner:

  • 2 banana oat cookies
  • Beer and a white wine cooler

Day 59- 1/22

The wisdom tooth pain got so bad I couldn’t sleep, and when I woke up I knew it was an emergency because I was feverish, my entire cheek was swollen, and it hurt to swallow. I got incredibly lucky that the dentist right next to my apartment was kind enough to see me on a Sunday, especially considering I wasn’t even a patient yet.

It turns out I had a bone-eating infection caused by the wisdom tooth growing in. Delightful.

He messed around with the area and put some topical antibiotics on, and thankfully I was able to wait til I got back to my car to scream/sob from pain–I felt so dramatic, but the pain was probably the worst I’ve felt in my life… at least 3x as bad as when I broke and sprained my ankle in September.

To make a long story short, thank God for vicodin and antibiotics.

1-22-17-068

Exercise: walked 3 miles

Breakfast:

  • Blueberry banana smoothie
  • Bagel with tofutti
  • Coldbrew coffee with soymilk

Lunch:

  • Half a bagel with tofutti, superfood patty
  • 2 banana oat cookies

Dinner:

  • Lentil veggie curry with basmati rice
  • Apple with pb2

Check out my Instagram for more photos!

Food & Exercise Diaries

Day 56 and 57 (1/19-20) of Back to High Carb Intuitive Eating

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Day 56 – 1/19

Tuesdays and Thursdays have been tough for me this quarter–I have class, meetings, and TAing from 9:30am-6:30pm in buildings 2 miles apart, and only really have time for one lunch break during which I can’t fit that much food in me. So I’ve been getting a bit shaky/hungry from all the activity and bike commuting by the time I have to teach at 5. I need to think of some good snacks to keep in both my labs that are preferably homemade, require no prep after the fact, and are totally nonperishable!

In the meantime, I’ve been surviving on higher calorie coffees, date rolls, and clif bars.  😛

Exercise: biked 30 mins, walked 7 miles

Breakfast:

  • Pumpkin banana raw oats
  • Coldbrew coffee with soymilk

Lunch:

  • 4 red potatoes with chili lime seasoning
  • Soy mocha
  • Date roll
  • Half a clif bar

Dinner:

  • Lentil veggie curry and basmati rice
  • Apple with PB2

Day 57- 1/20

Had another great run: 4.5 miles this time! I needed to go to sleep ridiculously early (like 9:30pm)–which is a difficult feat for me–so I could wake up at 5am for a conference the next day. Thankfully the running made it much easier to pass out that early. Yet another bonus of exercise!

Another day, another sketchy looking oatmeal concoction…

Exercise: ran 4.5 miles, walked 5 miles

Breakfast:

  • Chocolate banana pb2 raw oats
  • Coldbrew coffee with soymilk

Lunch:

  • 2 red potatoes with chili lime seasoning
  • Puerh tea
  • Apple
  • Half a clif bar
  • Handful of crackers

Dinner:

  • Lentil veggie curry with basmati rice
  • 3.5 banana oat cookies
  • Mini japanese sweet potato

Check out my Instagram for more photos!

Food & Exercise Diaries

Day 54 and 55 (1/17-18) of Back to High Carb Intuitive Eating

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Day 54 – 1/17

I realized this morning that I haven’t weighed myself in ages. And I’m really happy about it–I think that part of intuitive eating involves letting go of that scale obsession along with any food obsessions. But I realized I haven’t given you guys a way to know what my body progress has been like!

I’ll do a weigh-in and progress shots for my final wrap up post, but here’s just a little update for those of you that are curious as to whether or not I’m blowing up like a balloon.   😛 I took a waist measurement this morning, and I’m down to about 24.3″–I was 25″ at the beginning of this experiment. I don’t have much smaller to get in that department without encroaching on organs, so I’m pretty psyched about seeing that much progress!

Exercise: biked 1 hour, walked 4.5 miles

Breakfast:

  • Pumpkin banana raw oats
  • Coldbrew coffee with soymilk

Lunch:

  • 4 red potatoes with chili lime seasoning
  • Puerh tea

Dinner:

  • Lentil veggie curry and basmati rice
  • Half a mini japanese sweet potato

Day 55- 1/18

My Wednesday lab meetings always entail free food of some kind, because our lab manager is always so kind as to bring us breakfast things. My favorite is the fresh baked ciabatta from a local store… I love Wednesday lab meetings.   😀

Pumpkin banana oats, which admittedly look a bit questionable without pretty toppings
Pumpkin banana oats, which admittedly looks a bit questionable without pretty toppings

Exercise: biked 30 minutes, walked 4 miles

Breakfast:

  • Pumpkin banana raw oats
  • Coldbrew coffee with soymilk

Lunch:

  • Half a loaf of ciabatta
  • 2 red potatoes with chili lime seasoning
  • Black tea

Dinner:

  • Lentil veggie curry with basmati rice
  • Apple with lots of maple PB2

Check out my Instagram for more photos!

Food & Exercise Diaries

Day 52 and 53 (1/15-16) of Back to High Carb Intuitive Eating

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Day 52 – 1/15

I was about to say “Sunday was a lazy day,” but then I saw that I somehow walked 6 miles. I guess walking Maia and a feverish bout of apartment cleaning are to thank for that.

Chocolate pumpkin baked oatmeal with pb2
Chocolate pumpkin baked oatmeal with pb2

Exercise: walked 6 miles

Breakfast:

  • Pumpkin chocolate chip oat pancake
  • Coldbrew coffee with soymilk

Lunch:

  • 1.5 red potatoes with hummus
  • Pumpkin baked oats with Pb2

Dinner:

  • Red kidney bean curry
  • 4 mini bagels

Day 53- 1/16

Ever since I managed to complete my 5K training program this past May, it’s been a goal of mine to run a 10k. But because I got Maia, I couldn’t run on a treadmill anymore without feeling guilty–leaving her sad and alone so I can exercise without her when she wants to exercise all the time just seems too mean! So I had to start back up from 1.5 or 2 miles and learn how to run outside, because as any former treadmill runner will tell you, it’s a lot harder. (And running with a dog who wants to sniff everything and doesn’t understand that stopping in front of me results in tripping makes it much, much more complicated.)

I finally got back up to 3 miles a few weeks ago, and ran 3.5 a few days ago–my 10K goal was starting to look much more realistic. Today I made it my goal to run 4 miles, which would have been a (difficult) record for me. In keeping with my recent goal of being more positive, I decided that I WAS going to do it, that I just have to believe it.

And I ran FIVE miles!! If you’d asked me a year ago if I’d ever be able to run 5 miles, I probably would have laughed and said “in my dreams.” At that point, even a mile was incredibly exciting.

I thought it would take at least 6-10 more weeks for me to be able to run 6 miles (aka 10K), but who knows, maybe that’ll just be next weekend’s run.


Exercise: ran 5 miles, walked 4 miles

Breakfast:

  • Pumpkin chocolate chip oat pancake with Pb2
  • Coldbrew coffee with soymilk

Lunch:

  • Red potato fries made with 3 medium potatoes, and hummus
  • Half a mini japanese sweet potato
  • Puerh tea

Dinner:

  • Red kidney bean curry with basmati rice
  • Banana with the extra rice
  • Apple with Pb2

Check out my Instagram for more photos!

Food & Exercise Diaries

Day 50 and 51 (1/13-14) of Back to High Carb Intuitive Eating

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Day 50 – 1/13

Another day, another event involving beer. Such is grad student life! This time I went with a stout to try to get into more “real” (and cheaper) beers… since they didn’t have lambic or other super fruity beers.   😛

I went for a run beforehand, and followed that up with a mango blueberry smoothie despite it being so cold out. I realized it was a bit too thick after pouring it out of the blender–when I went to pour it back into the blender, it fell as a single glob of icy fruit and caused an enormous splash that got the whole counter, my face, the walls, even the CEILING!

Never thought I’d find myself scrubbing blueberry drops off the ceiling.

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Exercise: ran 2.5 miles, walked 3 miles, biked 30 mins

Breakfast:

  • Chocolate Pb2 banana toasts
  • Coldbrew coffee with soymilk

Lunch:

  • 2 red potatoes with barbecue sauce
  • Mini japanese sweet potato
  • Grapes
  • 2 date rolls

Dinner:

  • Blueberry mango smoothie
  • Red potato with hummus

Late night:

  • Obsidian stout (beer)
  • 10 crackers

Day 51- 1/14

I’m starting to feel a major decline in appetite–in fact I didn’t even notice that’d I’d forgotten to eat lunch until Maia’s dinnertime rolled around at 4pm. I suppose my 9am pancake was pretty magically satiating. It is just oatmeal in pancake form anyway!

1-14-17-157

Exercise: walked 5 miles

Breakfast:

  • Pumpkin oat pancake with banana and maple-cocoa sauce
  • Coldbrew coffee with soymilk

Lunch:

  • 1.5 red potatoes with barbecue sauce

Dinner:

  • Bit of red bean curry
  • Small japanese sweet potato

Check out my Instagram for more photos!