For regular readers you'll know that I'm always on about changing our reward association with overeating and working on making the same reward association with healthy food choices.
A favourite example of mine is; picture this, you're at the office and the boss walks in with a box of donuts and says, "you're all doing a great job and I wanted to show my appreciation". The boss presents the donuts. How do feel?
You may be thinking, "hey great! I love donuts". Mmm..
Same scenario, boss says the same thing, but has a plate of broccoli. Are you feeling that?
No? Not feeling the little green trees?
How about a plate of oranges and bananas? Some feeling for this but not as much as for the donuts?
There you have it. That's what reward association does. Reward association makes you feel compelled to do things that you perceive will be rewarding in some way. The stronger the reward association the more intense the reward seeking will be.
One little snafu is that some of that which we associate reward with can also get out of hand cause negative outcomes. Like scarfing down 1000 calories from donuts that nobody needs.
And so it goes for Christmas dinners. Personally I've been getting better every year. I don't do three or four plates anymore, plus buns, plus desert.
Years ago when I cut down to 2.5 plates and desert I felt like I had accomplished a lot. I was only consuming 1500 calories more than I needed instead of around twice that. (3500 calories in a pound of fat in case you wondering about the scale impact of so much overeating)
Cutting down to two plates I felt physically much more comfortable. Not so much of a bloat-on. I also had less of the post Christmas overeating guilt-on. Another bonus is I didn't have to think about all the extra cardio I'd have to do to repent my indulgence.
Exercising to compensate for excessive eating is not a healthy exercise or eating strategy.
This year I thought about how good I would feel emotionally and physically if I didn't overeat. I knew that whenever I eat healthy I feel good about it. I didn't always feel this way. Years ago I scoffed at the idea. I looked forward to the stuffed gut. Having to loosen your belt was a sign of success. At that time I didn't bother to think about why I believed this. It was just something you did. It was tradition.
Then I had to go and become a cycling coach in 1987, which involves among other things, learning about proper nutrition. I learned that I didn't really know how to eat. Sure, sure, I was an expert at the selecting, chewing, and swallowing, but was pretty clueless when it came to understanding my actual nutritional needs.
I really liked a lot of crap food that wasn't that great for me.
Being a bit slow it took me years to gradually change my eating habits so that my eating reflected what healthy reconditions are.
As I ate healthy more consistently I grew further from wanting unhealthy foods but still found myself feeling rewarded by overeating. Yes you can eat too much healthy food. Calories are calories.
Over time this changed too. As overeating became less frequent each time I did dive into calorie bomb meals I was more attune to the after affects. I was getting used to what it felt like to eat satisfying healthy meals. I didn't feel bloated or lethargic. There is no brick in the gut. I slept better. I didn't have to deal with feeling remorseful for overeating. I actually felt pretty damn good. Better than I knew I could.
Over time I had developed a new reward association with eating healthy to the point of instead of looking forward to overeating at holiday meals I started to regreat these meals in advance. I regretted feeling obliged to fulfill the custom of overeating. I really wanted to eat healthy but there was social pressure to overeat as well as my own pressure because some of the old reward seeking was still there. I knew the food would certainly taste good and that I could make excuses to keep eating.
Afterwards I'd feel not so good. When you eat healthy most of the time your digestive system gets used to high fibre low fat foods. When you suddenly burden your GI tract with high fat low fibre traditional foods in large volumes, you get constipated. You feel like crap, literally.
So this Christmas I felt compelled not to overeat because I didn't want to deal with the uncomfortable aftermath. I felt incentive to eat what I need because I knew this would feel more satisfying.
This year was different because I had done enough work on my thoughts, feelings, and eating habits that it all came together and was easy.. And oh so satisfying.
Christmas dinner with family was great. That value did not change. The food still tasted great and I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the company and good times. I didn't feel the need for extra food being a prerequisite for enjoying Christmas with my family.
The Christmas dinners two days in a row were the best I'd had because there was no underlying food drama. I think I have it better than many though. Eating healthy at Christmas dinner doesn't always go over well. I've had friends tell me that when they try the same thing they get questioned by family and friends.. "Are you sick? Don't you like the food? Are you on some kind of diet?" Many are ostracized for not overeating. There is societal pressure to be thin for some but there is more social pressure to overeat and if you don't comply someone will point it out to you.
The things that enabled me to feel completely satisfied without overeating at Christmas dinners (or whatever dinners for those who don't say Christmas), were:
Completing a long path to adopting an appreciation and sense of reward from healthy eating while at the same time unlearning my previous reward connection with overeating.
Having family that is happy I'm there no matter how much I eat.
This didn't happen overnight so don't expect instant results if you try the same. If you hang in there though change will come. You'll adapt. After a while wanting to eat healthy will feel good instead of being misinterpreted as feeling restrictive. Ironically if you think about it, chronically overeating is restrictive. We restrict ourselves to only overeating and are not open to healthy options, perhaps even offended by the idea of eating healthy because eating unhealthy is so practiced, so naturalized, that eating healthy is perceived as interfering with the status quo.
I really had a great Christmas this year and eating healthy made it even better.