If you’re worried about how many pounds you’ll gain from Thanksgiving dinners, holiday parties, office pitch-ins open bowls of red and green M&Ms and all the Christmas cookies — don’t be. This is an odd statement coming from someone who has a tendency to live and die by a number on the scale, but I’ve learned that the fear of gaining weight usually contributes to gaining weight.
I’ve lost a lot of my waking hours worrying about weight loss, especially these last 3 years. It’s simply not worth it. At this time last year I was running 5 or 6 times a week for an hour or more, doing weights and Nike Training Club and counting every scrap of food I ate to try to avoid the “dreaded holiday pounds.” I was even measuring out teaspoons of condiments to be sure I didn’t consume 11 calories of dijon mustard instead of 10.
Where did that land me? It landed me at holiday parties, pitch-ins and nights out with with friends feeling completely underfed, overworked, mentally exhausted and miserable. Every time, I’d end up eating and drinking and eating more, until I was sick.
At Thanksgiving last year I was so afraid of gaining weight that I woke up and ran 7 miles on the treadmill. I skipped breakfast, went over to my parents house for Thanksgiving and ate a small plate of food. I was determined not to overeat! Once the small plate of food didn’t fill me up, I ate more. Then more. Then I realized I’d overdone it, gave up, became angry with myself: “You always overeat! You’re fat and you’re going to be fat forever because you always overeat! You may as well just keep eating now because you’re already ruined it you stupid idiot!” So, I ate more. I ate all day. Even after I was stuffed, I kept sneaking bites of food when no one was looking. I was full and miserable and wishing I get away to go workout and burn some calories.
Fast forward to this year. Went into Thanksgiving without fear of weight gain, or fear of binge eating and overeating. I woke up on Thanksgiving morning, scheduled some social media posts for work, had breakfast, went to Thanksgiving, ate a reasonable plate of food. Hours later, had a dessert. When I got home, I had a small plate of leftovers and another small dessert. Went to bed not full, miserable or angry — just happy and satisfied from a day full of good food and good people.
The fear of gaining weight drives us to do crazy things and expect crazy things out of ourselves. We expect ourselves to maintain a crazy workout regimen, yet not indulge when presented with a plate of cookies. We expect ourselves to eat sensibly in the presence of the turkey, stuffing, cookies, M&Ms, wine and casseroles we’ve been devoting all our energy and brainpower into “not falling victim to.” We set up unrealistic goals: “I’ll just have half a cookie! I won’t have seconds. I won’t have any of the mac and cheese because I read that has the most calories and fat of any food ever!”
We’ve laid out unrealistic expectations and we’ve exhausted our minds and bodies with thoughts of calories and doing hour-long workouts — and as soon as we’re in the presence of the dreaded food, and we break one of our rules (like eating a whole cookie instead of half), we scold ourselves, call ourselves failures, and end up eating more than we would’ve if we didn’t care so much in the first place.
By giving the fear of gaining weight and the fear of “bad, unhealthy, fattening” food so much focus in our lives, we’re giving it power over us.
Maybe I’m crazy. Maybe I’m the only one that does this. But, this year, I’ve learned to just let go. Let it be. If I want a cookie, I’ll have one and I won’t feel bad. If I want 3 cookies I’ll have three and I won’t feel bad. It may seem crazy at first, but once you release your expectations, start being kind to yourself and start enjoying the foods you love with no guilt whatsoever, you’ll be in control again.
Yesterday, I passed up chocolate cake and ice cream (the dessert I spent my calorie counting days FANTASIZING about) because it honestly just didn’t sound good. I now eat brownies (I’ve found that I don’t even like cake that much!) and ice cream as often as I want, so I passed it up, knowing that I can have it later as soon as it sounds good. I had cheesecake and pumpkin pie instead — so don’t think I skipped dessert!
Stop giving food, calories and a number on the scale so much focus in your life. Instead, this holiday season, focus on all the good things in your life: the friends, the family, the pets, the co-workers, the blessings you encounter everyday, the things that bring joy to your life. If you focus on that, food will take care of itself.
(Also, yes. I did take a Christmas picture with my cat. #crazycatlady)