5 Tips for Limiting Sugar During the Holidays
Ideas and inspiration to help you resist the urge to splurge.
Posted December 21, 2016
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)
- Set goals for the season. Will your goal be to splurge only on Christmas Day or at the Hanukkah party? Only on New Year’s Eve with your sweetie? Or are you planning to go the distance and stay true to your low-sugar diet throughout the season? And if you do decide to take a holiday from your healthy diet, what will your definition of splurge be? You may want to set your heart on very specific indulgences that will really be worth it, as opposed to having a free-for-all. If you establish very clear goals you’re more likely to stick to them than if you try to wing it. Then, once you’ve decided on your goals, tell other people about them so they can support you.
- Bring your own food and/or eat before you go. It can be particularly difficult to stay true to your goals when at a party surrounded by deliciously sugary foods. Arriving with a full or partially full belly can help you resist temptations, and if you bring scrumptious savory foods that you can enjoy, you can take part in the social aspect of eating without having to eat foods you are trying to avoid. Spiced nuts, gourmet olives, smoked salmon pinwheels, deviled eggs, and charcuterie are all excellent alternatives that you can contribute to any holiday party.
- Don't go it alone. It is SO much easier to stick with a key lifestyle change if you have a support network. If you have at least one other person on your side who is also avoiding sugar, you can share your challenges, your recipes, and your successes, making your journey a lot easier and a lot more fun. Having supportive people in your life is especially important if you’re the only one in your household who is living a low-sugar lifestyle and your cupboards are filled with tempting sweet and starchy foods.
- Be a respectful role model. Remember Grandma’s love-infused apple pie? If your goal is to say no, be polite and complimentary. Explain that you love her pie and wish you could have some, but that you have to turn it down for health reasons. A helpful sentence is: “My doctor told me I have to be careful with sugar.” If you practice setting a healthy example, other people in your family may be inspired to change their diet in the future, especially if they notice positive changes in your health.
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!
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