If you're like me, you're still eating Halloween candy. I start my holiday weight gain season in mid-October and I like to keep going through the end of December. I mean, I have to assume that I like it because that's what I always do. First the Halloween candy. Then the fall foods I can't make through most of the year because it's too hot to use the oven. Then the Thanksgiving bacchanalia and the leftovers. Then the cookies and cocoa. Then Christmas. Then something fancy for the New Year. By then, it's impossible not to notice that all my waistbands are tight. Unless someone gives me a muumuu for Christmas, I'm going to be forced to acknowledge, in the midst of my New Year's Day food hangover, that I either need to change or I need to buy bigger clothes.
Bigger clothes it is, then.
The trouble with gaining one pound is that it keeps wanting to stick onto previous pounds. When my clothing size crept up, I chalked it up to inconsistent size charts. When my weight crept up, I compared it to what it was a few months ago, not a few years ago. When I crossed the line from average to overweight to obese, I didn't feel or see it happening. I always felt like the same size, and I never once thought of myself as "A Fat Person." The average American gains about a pound a year, and I can tell you from experience that I can do this in one meal. And keep it. The figures are skewed because heavier people tend to gain more than a pound a year. Almost all of us gain our annual weight over the holidays. It's like a gift. A package of cookies turns into a nice little pair of love handles. Or perhaps some saddlebags or a muffin top.
We're never going to stop, though. Turning down a cookie during the holiday season must be a form of psychosis. It's demented. Who would do that?? Not eating holiday sweets is exactly, exactly like slapping someone in the face. Not eating the holiday sweets is like self-harm. It's like canceling Christmas. It's like spending Thanksgiving locked in a closet. There is absolutely no way we could ever tolerate the feeling of Holiday Food FoMO.
It's okay, though. It's much easier to adjust to weight gain and the perpetual search for clothes that don't pinch than it is to handle The Feels. Those left-out, crushed, disappointed, deprived feels. How can it be the holidays without a tub of butter cookies? (For starters?)
So the question is, how much do I want to gain this year? Am I on track? I should be gaining at least as much this year as I did over each of the last five years. Maybe there's something in my closet from that time period that I can hold up to make sure I'm sticking to the plan. Because if I'm not gaining, I must be missing out on something sweet somewhere.
There actually is a way to over-over-over-indulge and still not gain weight. It takes a certain amount of planning, and that takes self-knowledge, imagination, focus, and awareness. I CAN Eat All the Things and maintain an intentional fitness level! I CAN fit all my favorite yummies into my favorite tummy and still fit into my favorite jeans, too! I can if I plan.
Look, I know myself. I know I have no willpower. I know that because, as I often state, there is no such thing as willpower. What I do have is a lot of self-discipline and about 19 sweet tooths. They co-exist peacefully inside me, because I am a mix of passionate and determined. What I know is that when I'm at a party or meal or gathering, and I see my favorite foods, I will eat them. I will eat them all. There is no decision involved here. So I have to plan around all the times during the year that I am *not* at a special celebration.
I eat well, as a rule. My husband and I eat vast amounts of cruciferous vegetables. For instance, we routinely finish off a head of broccoli or a head of cauliflower between us at dinner. This practice essentially eliminates food cravings. Getting sufficient micronutrients and insoluble fiber makes sweets and processed foods taste yucky. Getting enough sleep and hydration helps regulate appetite, as does strenuous exercise. We also tend to switch to more soup in the fall and winter. When we stay on track for the first nine months of the year, we can only do so much damage to our poor organs in the last three months.
That's not much help, though, to those of us who've spent most of 2016 drinking soda, eating appetizers and restaurant portions, raiding vending machines, and snarfing gas station food. What do we do if we don't like where we are right now, and yet we still can't bear missing out on the holiday saturnalia?
This is what I do. If I know I'm going to a gathering with a lot of food, I eat lightly earlier in the day. This generally involves delaying breakfast by an hour and skipping my afternoon snack. We usually overeat at these occasions to the point that we're still full when we wake up the next day, and the very thought of throwing breakfast down there sounds painful. Skipping a snack and a breakfast, in my case, adds up to 500-600 calories. Tacking that on to the amount I normally eat at dinner is doubling my normal meal. That's as much as I can eat without feeling actual physical pain. Believe me, because I always push that limit.
Learning about the Hunger Scale was really helpful to me. Fortunately, it doesn't involve trying to grab weapons out of a cornucopia and hunt the other invitees down with a crossbow. The Hunger Scale is an estimate of how full or hungry you feel. A "one" would be passing out from hunger, while a "ten" would be full to the point of acute nausea. "It's wafer thin!" Ideally, on a normal day, we'd eat when we're at a three and stop when we hit a five or six. My tendency was to eat until I hit a seven at normal meals, an eight when I went out to dinner, and a nine on holidays. I've been at a ten a few times, and hated myself for it. I try to remind myself now that I really, really don't like the physical feeling of going past a seven. I pull up vivid memories of myself claiming I'll "never do this again," like the time I went to the County Fair, drank 32 ounces of soda and ate about 4 cups of curly fries with a half-cup of ketchup (plus a burrito), and then spent the rest of the night curled up into a ball and moaning. I want to enjoy myself and enjoy the delicious food, not make myself sick. Past Self, can you help me out here and give me a little recall?
Another way I have dealt with my intense drive to pound food down my gullet with a funnel and a plunger is to couple it with my other intense drive. That is for endurance running. I love to run, I love to run up hills, I love to run up hills in the mud. Fall and winter are the best times for running in my climate, and this works out pretty well. When I'm putting in thirty miles a week, I can burn off quite a bit. I can plan a long run either the morning before a party, or the afternoon afterward. It turns out that I have a lot of extra energy and some pretty great athletic performances after massively overindulging. This has not failed to escape my attention! The only problem with this has been that running seems to have switched off at least a few of my sweet tooths. I no longer really enjoy things like donuts or Oreos. I used to eat Nutter Butters during my training runs, but now I can only really handle nuts and unsweetened dried fruit. Oh well. It tends to feel worth it whenever I catch a glimpse of my awesome new thighs.
I've spent at least a year in each of eight clothing sizes. It always felt natural, except for the part when my stretch marks turned red and purple and started itching constantly. I believe and know that I have the power to change my body through my daily habits. I also believe that there are many connections between my daily habits and the amount of pain and illness I experience. Beating chronic pain, fatigue, migraine, and sleep problems means a lot more to me than not being obese anymore, but they all go together. I will probably never stop going crazy over holiday food, but that doesn't have to mean I am fated to be a certain size or to have certain health issues. It's a false dilemma. I choose both wild indulgence and an intentional physical form.