Saturday, December 11, 2010

Eating Healthfully Over the Holidays

Many people I meet assume that I must have the healthiest diet since I only eat vegan foods.  It’s true that I eat, on average, much healthier than the average American, simply because I am eating a lot more fruits and vegetables, and no meat or dairy.  However!  There are many vegan treats that are packed with sugar, salt margarine, oil and other unhealthy but vegan ingredients, and just like the average person has to make an effort to go easy on chips and ice cream, so do many of us vegans. 

The holidays are a special challenge because – for non-vegans and vegans alike – there is a universally accepted excuse that “Oh, it’s the holidays … this is when I get to splurge and not feel guilty!”  So, just like everyone else, I find myself having to be aware when I am using that excuse to make unhealthy choices that will make me feel sick, sluggish and fat in the morning. 

But what do you do if you know you are making that excuse, yet can’t seem to stop yourself anyway?  I have found that, if I do one little thing, it keeps me from eating thousands of calories over the season that would otherwise cause me grief in the New Year.  In fact, this one little thing that I do is something that you can do all year long to help yourself from making food decisions you’ll later regret.  Here it is:

When you are craving something and are about to reach for it or buy it, simply:  Stop, breathe and be mindful. 

Here is what it looks like in action:  Last night, my husband and I went out for our Friday night Date Night.  We ate Thai food, which is saltier and oilier than I regularly eat, but oh so yummy!  When we were done, I was quite full, yet found myself asking my husband to stop at the store so I could get some Coconut Bliss vegan ice cream.  (Notice how when you eat something very salty, you immediately crave something sugary, and vice versa.  This is why we like to drink sugary Coke with our salty Doritos.)  As we were driving to the store, I mentally stopped and I breathed, two or three deep breaths.  These deep breaths helped me to calm down, and focus on my breath, rather than on racing to the store to get food.  Then, when I was calmer, I asked myself (mindfully), “Sarah, are you hungry?”  The answer was an obvious “no.”  But that didn’t stop me from wanting my Coconut Bliss!  So I then asked, “What do you really want?  What is it about Coconut Bliss that you feel you must have?”  I had to think about that.  My answer was, “Well, I really want something sweet!  And I don’t mean an apple!”  So I realized that, if I just wanted something sweet, many other things would do.  Some days an apple might work, but not last night.  I ended up drinking two sips of a Stevia soda, and felt absolutely fine!  No need for Coconut Bliss, and approximately 1,800 calories saved.  (Yes, I would have eaten the whole pint!) 

I know this won’t always work in every situation; sometimes you may decide to splurge anyway.  But by stopping, breathing and being mindful, you’re far more likely to back away from eating food you’ll wish you’d never eaten, and if you do eat it, you’ll be eating it more mindfully, and therefore much more likely to eat less of it.

So, go!  Enjoy the holidays!  But be mindful of what you’re eating along the way, and you’ll start the New Year in a much happier – and healthier – state of mind.

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