• Pushy relatives pushing food: Oh, they mean well

    It’s common for people to dread the holidays, because of all the boundary violations that come with the season. I don't mean relatives who say things like "I'm going to let you go to the grocery store for me," as if you've been begging. I mean the unwanted food being pressed on us by well-meaning relatives. 

    Except, some of us suspect, they don’t really mean well. They’re really trying to sabotage us … maybe because …

    • they couldn’t handle it if we were to succeed at losing some weight
    • they’re afraid we’re changing too much, and they don’t want us to get too far away from the family
    • they need company in their own overeating or weight class

    Or may they’re not trying to sabotage us. Maybe they’re just trying to make sure we still love them, and they don’t recognize love when it comes at them in the form of hugs and kisses and gift-wrapped Uggs. They only see love if it looks like eating their food until you can't stand any more, right?

    Tcha! NO. While it’s true there are many badly behaved relatives in this world, and the holidays can provoke even the best-behaved, other people’s experiments with our boundaries are never the main problem.

    The problem - and this is actually good news - is us. Specifically, our failure to say No and mean it. Not to others, but to ourselves. If Aunt Hazel’s self-respect is riding on how many of her red-and-green sprinkled cookies you eat, she’s gonna make you multiple offers. And if you’re wobbly about what and how much you’ll be eating this holiday, she will unerringly sense this, and sweeten her deal until you take it.

    I have witnessed this over and over: a firm boundary does not get tested more than once. And by firm I don’t mean enforced with anger or belligerence. I just mean unambiguous. No one’s confused what No means, including you. If you say No, and mean it, Hazel will find another way to feel good, guaranteed.

    But last week we talked about how one or two holiday meals are not a disaster, unless we don’t go back to normal the next day. It’s when we say, Oh NOW I’ve blown it, screw it, it doesn’t matter, I guess Grandma was right when she said I’ll always be fat, and we continue our bingey way until April, except for a short break around January 1. That's the disaster: Not the holiday, but the post-holiday boundary breakdown.

    So watch out for that "screw it" thinking, because it’s very pervasive and very sneaky, and its undoing requires a bit of grit on your part.

    And keep this in mind: A boundary is not a diet. You might actually decide to eat a cookie to please the lady. Cookie eating is an act you are free to decriminalize any time you want to. We’re just talking about a few days out of the year.

    Unless we’re not. Unless we’re talking about most days out of the year. If the real problem is that we don’t have boundaries and guidelines that we practice 90% of the time, then it’s no good flipping out on Hazel.

    She’s not the problem.

  • Keeping the feast

    I’m writing today from Boston’s Logan airport, where I have had the gift of more than 26 extra unexpected hours before my flight.* So imagine me composing this week’s note with breaks for doing my workout in the corner by the windows. Airport hobo’s exercise game is strong.

    (*In the end, 38 from Boston to SFO.)

    So anyway, last week I said we’d talk about the holidays, and how to get through them without regrets. Standard advice involves, as you know, savvy tips like “eat a small healthy meal prior to the party.” (It worked so well for Scarlett O’Hara!) Or “get some protein.” (Yes, people write tips like this. You should eat protein, of course. But as a year-round thing - not special just for the holidays.) 

    My least favorite caution is “Remember the reason for the season.” That is to say, theology, not presents, parties or feasting.

    I think that’s wrong. The season is actually the reason for the season - at least in the northern hemisphere, where long before Jesus, latkes and Martha Stewart, people honored the return of the sun because it meant their chances of survival had just dramatically improved. 

    This is the same reason I am rubbed the wrong way by the psychology-of-eating, get-to-the-bottom, take-care-of-the-real-need idea. And the very popular maxims that “food isn’t your friend” and “food ain’t love.” 

    BUT! IT IS. What is giving your most precious resource to someone else to enable them to survive, if not love and care in their purest form? Food totally is love. We’re wired up with that idea. And we can’t just shake it off with a little meditative raisin-tasting, because the humans for whom survival = food = love = sharing = even better odds of survival survived to become us.

    The celebration of survival is no longer a conscious aspect of the season, obviously.For many, health is more threatened by surplus “food” than by starvation. Feasting is cheap. If you eat out a lot, feast-level eating is the norm.

    But before feasting was cheap, when people had to save and plan and prep for the holidays, when your king bankrupted you and your whole dukedom if he wanted to come down for the weekend, feasts were held - food was eaten, drinks drunk, games played, dances danced, hijinks, I think we can assume, ensued - and THEN IT WAS OVER.

    And nobody ever had to worry about holiday weight gain. 

  • Halloween survival guide

    You know that scary-movie cliché where the plucky heroes consult the paranormal expert? She's eccentric, but she says she knows how to avoid disaster. (Plus, what else have that got?) Well, that's me today. 

    A lot of my clients - and a good chunk of the adult population in every country where Halloween is celebrated - struggle with Halloween candy. It's unbelievably cheap, and it's available by the ton. If your struggle to avoid the stuff hasn't already begun, it's likely start by tonight. The will-I-won't-I could continue through tomorrow at work, where trick-or-treat leftovers hang around for weeks as everyone tries to get temptation away from them and put it near you.

    Last year, we got five kids. There is still 2016 candy around here somewhere, because it was our first Halloween in a new neighborhood and I overbought. "Never knowingly under-catered!" Nigella Lawson said that, and I live by it.

    So I'll buy differently this year. And here are the other things I like to do to manage any phantom-limb bingey impulses that might be triggered by decades of Halloween associations:

    1. For people of all ages, Halloween is something to look forward to. If you like to celebrate with candy corn, why not do so in moderation? Give yourself permission to eat some specific type and amount of treat, and stick to it, so there’s no screw-it moment. No need to say Well, I’ve had 3 Kit Kats so I might as well eat all the Jolly Ranchers and the rest of this crap, because now I've really blown it and I'll be really good tomorrow… You haven't blown it. You made a decision, like a grownup. 

    2. You could also just say No to the fun-size* lab-grown kid candy altogether, and let yourself have something you enjoy even more. For me, there aren’t enough Mars bars in the world to equal a really good piece of chocolate. My personal plan is to make Lindsey Shere's Very Rich Chocolate Mousse** and have a ceremonial serving tonight. In or out of costume; undecided at this moment.

    3. Finally, whatever happens, remind yourself it doesn’t mean anythingabout what happens next. Maybe you eat something you regret. Maybe you eat alot of something regrettable, despite taking precautions. Put regrets behind you instead of letting them keep you prisoner in a vicious cycle of bingeing and dieting until after Valentine’s Day. Fall down, get up and make a choice you won’t regret the very next time you eat, and keep doing that.

    Halloween is just the beginning of the festive season. It’s also the feast day that involves the least family obligation, making it less actually tricky than the holidays that don't explicitly involve trick-or-treating. 

    * Many have remarked that tininess in sweets does not actually equal fun. Often true!
    ** Chez Panisse Desserts, p. 242, "for the unregenerate chocolate lover" <- me; LMK if you would like me to send you a copy.

  • Weekends are for transformation

    We could meet here...

    Just a quick note before I head off to Santa Fe tomorrow for a little hot springs retreat at Ten Thousand Waves, probably the most luscious Japanese spa outside Japan. Picture soaking in an outdoor cedar tub, steam rising from the water, snow falling gently on the piñon pines overhead, while hummingbirds fly inches away. 

    Nothing is more restorative and transformative than a weekend away in a beautiful place. So here's what I've begun doing, and it's a crazy thing, but why not? Life is full of crazy; we might as well grab us some of the good crazy: 

    I am now offering the life-changing magic of my Body of Knowledge program in concentrated form: a luxurious weekend of total habit transformation and riotous fun and a complete body-mind-weight-and-eating reset. A superextravaganza gala combination of metamorphosis and revolution and delight and the ABSOLUTE END of bingeing and overeating and all those bad forms of crazy.

    And there are two ways to do this: you come to me in Boston, which will afford us luxury accommodations and stupendous dining experiences in one of North America's most historic (and bijou-sized) settings. Or we meet someplace even more amazing, like Ten Thousand Waves. (There are other ravishing places, too. You could choose.)

    As I say, it's a bit crazy. But so is bingeing in secret for days on end, decade after decade. You don't have to do that, and I can save you a lot of time by showing you exactly how. In a weekend.

  • Should you have a cheat day? 5 reasons you're better off without one

    So, lots of people swear by their cheat days. And if you are cool with swinging back and forth between extremes, maybe having a regular cheat day will work for you, too.

    But if you don't like that crazy pinball feeling, here are five reasons to skip the cheat day:

    1. Cheat days set up the dynamic of restriction and rebellion

    Instead, how about this: You’re in charge. You make the rules. You don’t like ‘em? Change ‘em. 

    Humans have a legitimate need for rebellion - we have to assert our sovereignty in this world! But there is never a need to rebel against ourselves.

    2. Related: Cheat days have kind of a childish flavor

    Naughty, naughty! Ooooh, watch me break the rules. 

    Instead: Don’t have any naughty or forbidden foods. That’s just going to activate thechildish parts of you that waits to play when the cat’s away. 

    Rather, just acknowledge that some foods are more delicious than others, and some foods are less healthy than others, and we need to put limits on our consumption of those delicious unhealthy foods. But we don’t have to go wild and high-drama when we eat them.

    3. A cheat day is the same as a full binge, for a lot of people. Gotta get it all in before tomorrow!

    Instead: There is no tomorrow. There’s no need for a fresh start, tomorrow, Monday morning, or January 1. I suggest you give yourself a fresh start at every single meal. 

    Including snacks. Another meal, another chance to give yourself what you need, without hitting unhealthy limits.

    Also, every time you binge, it just reinforces the habit of bingeing. So ... let's not.

    4. Cheat days tend to take place on a schedule, such as every Wednesday or Saturday

    And what if your sister doesn’t want to get married on a Wednesday? Oh, yes, people can actually get wound up about that kind of thing. You've overheard them say these things, too. 

    Instead: When you’re in charge of deciding what to eat every time you eat, you can make choices that are more liberal or less lenient - without violating your own agreements. 

    5. Cheat days have a way of putting you 3 steps back

    In the same way that extreme restriction leads to a weight gain backlash, extreme overeating usually leads to … WEIGHT GAIN. 

    A once-in-a-while feast is known to goose the metabolism. (Maybe. If some other things are in place. It’s a complicated system.) 

    But a weekly binge without compensating restriction is something the body responds to in the form of extra weight. A twice-weekly binge: forget it. You’re gonna be overfed, The End.

    Instead: Consider throwing out all “rules” for what you’re “allowed” to eat, and replacing the rules with some guidelines that include delicious food you were taught to think of as “bad.” Allow yourself to eat anything you want, in a quantity and at a frequency that feels good to you.

Stop bingeing and overeating. Immediately.

Download now: 5 Books That Will Change the Way You Eat.