Halloween is really scary when it comes to tempting treats. It's also the beginning of the downward spiral -- when the healthy habits of summer devolve into the comfort food and sweets craving season. I don't think there's one definitive reason why our cravings and eating habits turn the corner this time of year, but rather a perfect storm of triggers may be at play.
If you believe that we still carry instinctual habits from our earlier ancestors, winter was when food was scarce and the fall marked the season of the harvest. This was the time of year our ancestors chowed down for the feasts before the famine. If you don't buy that reason in and of itself, then think about the how the change of seasons affects our eating habits and cravings. This is the time of year when we spend more time inside, meaning more time to make trips to the fridge or pantry, sometimes just because we're bored or lonely. The cooler weather also beckons us to the stove where we do more cooking. For people who are affected emotionally by the longer nights, it's awfully tempting to bake some feel-good-hate-yourself-later comfort foods! I think we can all agree that that sugar is addictive. It releases serotonin, our feel good hormone and endorphins that make us feel relaxed. Like an addictive drug, the more of it we eat, the more of it we crave.
Perhaps if we validate the reasons we're craving certain fattening foods, realize it's not a personal shortcoming or weakness of will, then allow ourselves just enough of the good stuff so we don't feel deprived, maybe we'll have an easier time getting thru the fall and winter months.
Here's a few strategies to get the season off to a happy start this Halloween and the hopefully the rest of the party season:
1) If you're going to a bash or taking you your little goblins out from some T-O-T'ing, get yourself a great workout first. Don't get too crazy or you risk having even more cravings, but sweaty enough to get your endorphins flowing. A tough yoga class, a moderate-intensity jog or circuit workout that gives you a good cardio kick would work. If you're a believer in fueling your body first with a pre-workout snack, it can help rev your metabolism. Some people like to go at it on an empty stomach. There is no definitive research saying one is better than the other. Do what works best for you to keep your cravings in check. Either way, be sure to power down a good portion of protein and slow-digesting, fiber-rich carbs within an hour or two after finishing. You'll feel less like scarfing down everything you see at the party or in your kid's goodie basket if don't starve yourself.
2) Are you just thirsty? Sometimes we crave starchy or high-carb foods when we're thirsty. So keep yourself well hydrated all day. When it's chilly out, we don't always realize that we're dehydrated. Before you reach for something like bread, pasta or rice, drink a small- to medium-size glass of water.
3) Keeping active is key. Dance and play games if you're at a party. Walk as far as you can with your trick or treaters. Try not to sit on the couch with the candy bowl in between you and the TV! The more you move, the less likely you are to eat mindlessly.
4) Exercise your food options. This is the season of the harvest. Be sure to keep all kinds of veggies and fruits around. You want your food to be nutrient dense. When we eat foods that have been bleached of their nutrients, we feel hungry again shortly after eating them -- or never feel satiated in the first place. Try eating more raw food if you don't already. Raw food takes longer to digest so it can help stave off hunger, plus not all of it gets absorbed so it may also help keep some pounds off.
5) Watch out for over-starching! The one diet tip my mom taught me was thanks to her being a diabetic. Avoid eating two starches in the same meal. This is the downfall of being from New York and loving Italian food! Bread and pasta at the same seating is asking for trouble. It's not good for your blood sugar and no bueno for your waistline. Adding a glass of wine to the picture? Now there's a sugar fest. See tip #2 and try spacing it out with water. If you simply must have all three, then be sure everything else in the meal is dense with fill-you-up nutrients. The wine will tell you, "It's ok, have a second helping. Hmm... and what's that on the dessert tray?" Yeah, it's a slippery slope. But you'll hit the gym hard the next day, right?
6) Hungover from sugar or booze? Your head may be spinning, but as soon as possible, you're legs should be, too. You gotta move and sweat to help metabolize the gunk out of your body. We all know it's hard to motivate after a night of partying, so have your gym bag and athletic shoes next to your bed, in between you and the Advil.
7) If you're a true believer, go ahead and give your system a mini-reset break. I'm aligned with the vast majority of dietitians, so I'm not a believer in fasting or what some people call "cleansing." It's just a crash diet and has nothing to do with "detoxifying" your body. If you have a properly working digestive system, it cleans itself out on it's own. That is part of its job description. That said, I do understand why some people feel like fasting does something. My grandmother did it once a month for ritualistic reasons, and the man I live with is a chronic cleanse-a-holic after he goes on a binge fest. If you feel like a day or two of juicing, or a day of fasting will help you kick your cravings, then go for it, but don't do it for weight loss. I always suggest eating egg whites, too, if you're going to do it for more than a day, to feed your muscles. And the best bet for juicing is to actually pulverize the fruit, rather than have it separated from the skin and pulp. Also, be smart by checking with your doctor beforehand.
8) Get your zzz's. We're already more tired when the nights get longer, so go with the flow. If you have insomnia, seek help. Research has shown that lack of sleep contributes to weight gain and obesity. When you get proper sleep, however, hunger hormones balance out in your favor. Even just five days of insufficient sleep can contribute to weight gain according to a recent inpatient study. Why? Because we tend to overeat when we're awake too long, thanks to the hunger hormones getting out of whack. Ah, yes. My college years.
9) Food is fun this time of year! Deprivation is not the solution. Learning mindful eating behaviors is the secret and it takes some practice.
If all these tricks fail this Halloween, hire professional help! This is the perfect season to buy sessions with a personal trainer, registered dietician or health coach to help you with behavior modification. Now's the time to get a jump on healthier lifestyle habits for the upcoming holiday season and beyond. If you're on a budget, the good news is you can work remotely with a professional online or over the phone.
If you have other strategies to add to my list please post your comments below!
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