How to Manage Holiday Food Cravings
Has anyone else noticed that we full on entered holiday season as soon as December 1 hit? (If you haven’t noticed, please go ahead and turn on the radio or step into any store!)
I always think that food and health culture this time of year is so fascinating.
We’re first encouraged to enjoy and overindulge in sweets and drinks in December … only to be overwhelmed by ads January 1 about “burning off” all those holiday calories and detoxing all the “terrible foods” we ate.
Have you ever paused to think about how limiting this way of thinking is?
Looking at food as ‘all or nothing’ perpetuates a negative relationship to it, because it makes us feel like some foods are ‘good’ while others are ‘bad’.
In reality, food is so much more than calories and nutrients. Our relationship with food is embedded in our culture, memories and relationships - we often seek out food both for comfort and celebration. These factors are especially pronounced this time of year - so when you feel like you ‘shouldn’t’ be having (fill in the blank) foods (because its high in sugar, fat, etc) - you end up feeling guilty when you have them.
Have you ever considered that there's a way that you can enjoy the foods you want and love, but in a way that makes you feel good (without making your stomach hurt)?
The key to finding this balance is to ask yourself WHY you’re craving certain foods.
Understanding your motives can help you identify if there are factors driving your choices or if you truly want to be indulging (and if so, please enjoy!!)
Read on to learn why cravings are higher this time of year and some suggestions on how to manage them.
1. Eating sugar (+ simple carbs) makes you want more
The first thing to understand is that foods higher in carbs and sugar tend to drive more cravings. The more you eat sweets, bagels and pasta you eat, the more you’re going to crave those foods.
Simple carbs like sweets and refined grains (pasta, bread, white rice) are rapidly digested, which causes blood sugar levels to drastically rise and then rapidly fall.
Cravings are often triggered by imbalanced blood sugar levels, which is why eating simple carbs can cause even more cravings and make it feel like we’re stuck in a cycle.
If you feel like you’ve been eating a lot of carbs (and that’s all you want), use it as a signal that you’re body is really craving a clean and satiating meal. Try this citrus brassica salad paired with sweet potato and wild salmon or chicken breast.
2. Social Pressure
Sometimes the pressure to eat comes from other people.
When I was younger, my grandma would give me so much grief about not completely clearing my plate, when I actually was just done eating. Oh the Jewish guilt I endured! “What?? You don’t love me? … There are starving children all over the world who would kill for that meal!” … and so on.
This was the dialogue around food that I learned growing up, and and as I got older I realized that this was reflective of her own issues around love and food. My grandma was a holocaust survivor - she grew up in Nazi Germany and escaped solo when she was 18. Most of her family and community members were abused and starved in the camps and she spent her formative years alone, poor and hungry (off course she had issues around food and love!). Out of pure kindness, she did everything in her power to make sure we felt like we were well taken care of.
As I got older I began to understand this connection and realized that - while this was a devastating part of her past, it was also her own story and not something that I need to carry.
If you are feeling more pressured to eat and drink more than you want to - recognized that these food and drink ‘pushers’ are often projecting their own stories onto you. Let it be theirs and I’m completely confident that you can find a way to politely decline.
3. Our emotions
The holidays can be a really emotional time for a lot of us - the mix of family, in-laws (and maybe their politics), shorter days, travel and harsher climates can be huge stressors.
The added stress of the holidays combined with the feel good effects of certain (seasonal) foods - is a recipe for food cravings.
Sugar, carbs, fat, salt, gluten and dairy trigger the release of feel good chemicals like endorphins and dopamine (the neurotransmitter that helps us feel pleasure and reinforces habits). This makes our brain feel good and helps us feel happy and comforted. The problem is that this ‘feel good’ effect is temporary - and the hit of dopamine or rush of endorphins only last as long as as the food does.
It can be helpful to ask yourself if your hunger is physical or emotional? If emotions are driving your cravings, realize that there will never be enough treats to satiate them.
If this resonates with you in particular, give yourself permission to be a little more kind and sensitive. Consciously built in more ‘you’ time in and create the time and space for you to show up for yourself in whatever way you need.
I promise - identifying and tending to your needs is a much more satisfying practice than that helps you feel full, nourished and uplifted in every way possible.
Interested in learning even more about sugar cravings?