Ho Ho Ho! Uh Oh…
The holiday season is upon us and we are being bombarded by deliciously addictive sugary foods. Yum.
How can you say no to Grandma’s luscious, love-infused apple pie? Your uncle’s homemade egg nog? Your cousin’s world-famous candied yams that she made especially for you? And if your coworker leaves a beautiful tray of festive Italian Christmas cookies in the break room and nobody sees you eat one, does it really count?
Why not just give in for the whole season? You can go back to healthy eating in January, right?
The Price of Indulgence (or the Science of Splurging)
Eating too much sugar can permanently damage your metabolism. The more often you indulge, the more insulin-resistant you can become. You can’t get your carbohydrate tolerance back; once it’s gone, it’s gone. The more sweets you eat over the course of your lifetime, the more likely it is that you’ll gradually lose your ability to process even healthier whole food sources of carbohydrates, like fruits and vegetables. While some people are more susceptible to this process than others, we are all at risk.
More than 50% of Americans are already insulin-resistant, pre-diabetic, or diabetic. This means there’s more than a 50/50 chance that you, and most of the people you love, are in the same sugary boat. And it’s not just obesity or type 2 diabetes waiting for you down the road; insulin resistance is the single most powerful risk factor, by far, for the health problems we all fear the most, including cancer, heart attacks, and dementia (read my article in Psychology Today about how insulin resistance causes Alzheimer’s: "Preventing Alzheimer’s Disease Is Easier Than You Think").
THAT’s why it’s worth trying to limit how many sweet treats you eat this winter. Avoiding sugars and other refined carbohydrates is the single most important thing you can do for your health, regardless of how old you are, how much you weigh, how much you exercise, or whether or not you already have any medical or psychiatric problems.
Practice Makes…Less Imperfect
It’s not easy to stick to healthy goals during the holidays. All any of us can do is our best…it’s not about perfection, it’s about practicing making healthy choices as often as possible, and not judging ourselves or anyone else about which sweet treat may somehow find its way into one’s body. [Hey, how did that cookie get in there?]
So, in honor of bread-stuffed birds, gingerbread men, and figgy pudding:
Five Tips for Limiting Sugar During the Holidays (and all year-round)
You're human, not perfect. Don’t beat yourself up if you go astray. Sugar is addictive. You spent much of your life enjoying sugary foods and you love them. You’re trying not to eat them, yet you are constantly bombarded with advertisements, social messages, and convenient sugary foods and drinks everywhere you go. It’s only natural that you’re going to be tempted. Do the best you can as often as you can. The key is to get back up on the horse and return to your low-sugar lifestyle as soon as possible. You have made a commitment to your health. Don’t let the occasional human moment derail you. With practice, it gets easier and easier to resist unhealthy foods, partly because you’ll find it take s a few days of sheer willpower to get back on that horse, and you’ll get tired of the struggle. It’s a lot easier to just stay on the horse than to keep climbing back up there.
I hope that you or someone you love will find these tips and tools useful. Remember, don’t focus on what you’re giving up when you give up sugar—focus on what you’re getting in return! The peace of mind that comes with knowing that how you’re eating now actually goes a long way towards protecting your physical and mental health.
Happy Healthy Holidays, everyone!
For low-carb gift ideas and helpful tools to keep you on track, please see the full-length version of this post “20 Tips for Staying Low-Carb Healthy,” originally published on DiagnosisDiet.com
If you are struggling with the challenges that special diets can pose for holiday gatherings, I recommend reading "Dealing With Dietary Differences During the Holidays."
Menke, A., Casagrande, S., Geiss, L., & Cowie, C. C. (2015). Prevalence of and Trends in Diabetes Among Adults in the United States, 1988-2012. JAMA, 314(10),1021-1029. http://http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=2434682