The weeks before and during the holiday season is a time when sweet and carby treats are everywhere. Do any of the following sound like you:
- Does seeing sweets spur cravings for you?
- Do you have a hard time avoiding eating carby treats, especially this time of year?
- Does indulging in these treats throw you off track – for days, weeks or even months – from your healthy eating efforts?
If any of these describes you, then stay tuned, because today we are going to talk about how to avoid overeating sweet and carby treats even when they’re all around you, how to quiet carb cravings that are starting to get the better of you, and how to get back on track when you’ve gone off-roading in carb-land, so you can get through the holiday season with your health (and waistline) intact!
Set Your Intention
Getting through the holidays with your health and waistline intact will be much more likely to happen if you set your intention now on how you’re going to achieve that goal. Deciding ahead of time how you will approach the holidays will help you tremendously with the choices that you make for the coming weeks. And the path you choose to get there is entirely up to you – here are 3 ways to approach the holidays to keep from straying too far afield:
- Allow yourself to indulge in some treats, no matter what they are, but limit the quantity.
- Buy ready-made or make your own healthier versions of tasty treats to enjoy during the holidays, to help minimize negative consequences to your health.
- Stay 100% on-plan through the holidays, to avoid triggering off-plan eating and binges and possible total derailment, thus maintaining all the health improvements you’ve made so far and coming out of the holiday season unscathed.
How easy or difficult each of these paths will be for you, and which one is right for you, depends on several factors, so be aware of those factors, and choose your path accordingly. For example:
Carbs Are Addictive
For many people, carbs – especially in the form of flour products and sweeteners – are very addictive, and can trigger wicked cravings and a loss of control.
If this is you, and you know that having even a small amount of carby treats will make you go 90 miles an hour off road into the wilderness of carb indulging for days or weeks or even months to come, then avoiding paths #1 and #2 and going for #3 is the best way for you to keep from going seriously off-plan and doing damage to your progress and your health.
We’ll talk in just a minute about tips to make each path more doable and manageable.
Make or Buy Your Own
If you know that there is simply no way that you can avoid having some carby treats during the holidays, but you are up for buying or making your own healthier versions, and you will be in environments that will be supportive of that, then go with path #2. Happily, there are lots of healthier options available to buy ready-made these days – such as Simple Mills brand cookies and baking mixes – making option #2 much more doable than ever before.
And if you’re into making your own, even better! Be sure to check out my recipe collection, as several of my recipes are healthy redux of holiday classics, such as my Best Ever Pumpkin Pie, delicious Chocolate Cake, rich & creamy Chocolate Mousse, and Molasses Spice Cookies. Then you’ll be armed with lots of tasty options to make and enjoy through the holiday season!
Work With Reality
For many people, the reality is that #1 is the only feasible option, for whatever reason.
It might be because you just won’t have the time, energy, desire, or opportunity to make or buy your own healthier goodies, or because the healthier options are too expensive or difficult to buy or make, or the environments you’ll be in for much of the holiday season won’t be supportive of path #2 or #3.
Or it could be that you’re fairly new to lower carb nutrient dense (Paleo) eating, and not cemented enough in those new habits for them to stick through the stresses of the holidays.
Or, if you look ahead, you have a feeling it’ll just be too darn difficult for you to muscle through several weeks of either #2 or #3. Yes, it’s good for you to make some effort, but willpower is just like a muscle, and if you overtax it, it will get worn out and fail you. And the holidays tend to be plenty taxing enough, so it’s better to set reasonable, attainable goals and use your willpower to hit those, rather than set unreasonably high expectations for yourself and then go completely off-road and into the junk-carb hinterlands, possibly never to be seen in low-carb, healthy-eating land again. (Because addictive, junky high-carb foods can do that to a person!)
So, it’s perfectly ok to accept the reality that is yours for you right now, and work with it – choose path #1, and simply focus on limiting the quantity of off-plan foods you indulge in through the holidays.
For those of you for whom carbs aren’t necessarily so addictive, but the typical carby holiday treats contain ingredients that cause you enough damage to make avoiding them necessary to maintain good health, path #1 will not work well for you, and you’ll need to go with path #2 or #3.
If either #1 or #2 is your chosen path, then be sure to have a plan to get right back on track with your healthy eating immediately after the holiday season ends, and know that you’ll need some weeks (and maybe even months) of repair time afterwards, to recover from those off-plan indulgences and get back to feeling as good as you did before the holidays began.
A couple of very effective options for how to reset and heal after the holidays are over:
- Follow my CleanKeto way of eating for anywhere from a few days, to several weeks or months, to a lifetime (a cyclical CleanKeto lifestyle is my personal favorite)
- Do my e-course Dr. Emily’s 10-Day Detox once, several times, or even quarterly, for a deeply healing, cleansing reset
At the start of the new year is a great time to do either of these, or do both, one followed by the other, for a powerful reset that will have you feeling amazing and starting your new year off right!
Plan To Succeed
The next step, after setting your intention and choosing your path, is planning. Whichever path you’ve chosen, here are some tips to help improve your chances of success:
Drink More Water
Getting enough plain filtered water is essential for good health, and can be surprisingly helpful for moderating your appetite and quelling cravings for off-plan foods. Oftentimes, what we feel as hunger signals are actually thirst signals, so when you start thinking about food – especially off-plan food – have a glass of water (with electrolytes!) first. How much water is enough? Check out my infographic on this important topic for the answer!
Don’t Get Hungry
This is super important for success!
Before venturing out into any environment where you might encounter off-plan foods (in other words, pretty much everywhere!), eat something healthy and satisfying, ideally something that contains quality protein and healthy fat for satiety.
In this instance, hunger is your enemy – your body is programmed for survival, and hunger can easily override all your best intentions and plans. Don’t let it! Always eat before you leave home, and also be sure to always have some healthy options on hand with you, no matter where you’re going, such as:
- Macadamia nuts
- Macadamia nut butter
- Cooked bacon strips
- Coconut chips (unsweetened)
- Dark chocolate
- Pull-tab canned seafood and a fork
- An avocado and a spoon
- Pork rinds
- Collagen powder (to add to beverages – the protein is satisfying)
- A mug and ready-made bone broth (aseptic container = no refrigeration needed until opened)
- A mug and bone broth powder (if you’ll have access to hot water to add to it)
- Cheese (if you’re having dairy)
- Low carb grain-free “granola” (ex. Granolo)
- Kind Bar minis (choose the <4g carbs/bar varieties)
If you can take a small cooler with you, then some additional options are:
- Hard boiled eggs
- Cold cuts (ham, turkey, chicken slices)
- Guacamole and veggies for dipping (celery or jicama sticks, or slices of mild turnip or radish, for instance)
- Fat bombs
Eat More Protein
Our need for protein is generally much higher than we might think, especially as we age, and it is very satisfying (filling), so focusing on good quality protein foods, always but especially for the holidays, is a great strategy for success in minimizing intake of damaging high-carb foods.
As a rule, protein need is based on your size and activity level rather than being a percentage of your total calories, and you want to aim for:
- 6 grams of protein per pound of body weight if you are sedentary (little to no daily exercise)
- 7 grams of protein per pound of body weight if you are somewhat active (15-60 minutes of mild to moderate exercise daily)
- 8 grams of protein per pound of body weight if you are very active (60+ minutes of mild to moderate exercise daily, and/or any amount of strenuous exercise weekly, such as weightlifting, running, climbing, mountain biking, HIIT, Tabata, etc.)
As an example, if you weight 150 pounds and do 30 minutes of walking or yoga or leisurely bicycling or similar most days, then you should be having around 105 grams of protein per day.
What does that look like on your plate?
Animal protein tends to average around 7 grams of protein per ounce, so for our example above, 105 grams of protein would be roughly 15 ounces of animal protein per day, which you want to have ideally split between 2-3 meals. For instance:
- Black coffee with 1 scoop of collagen powder (9g)
- 3 large eggs (21g)
- 4 strips of bacon (24g)
- Cup of bone broth with 1 scoop of collagen powder (19g)
- 4oz tilapia filet (30g)
Note that most plant proteins (from legumes and grains) convert in our bodies into usable protein at a rate of 20-80% (vs. 98-100% for animal proteins), so you’ll need to consume 20-50% more plant proteins to fulfill your protein needs.
Eat More Nutrient-Dense, Fiber-Rich Foods
The nutrients and the fiber in foods both help us feel more full, decreasing the quantity of food needed for satiety. Nutrients and fiber have lots of other benefits, too – nutrients improve bodily functions, increase energy, and boost immunity, and fiber helps clear toxins from our bodies, and helps balance our hormones.
All these benefits mean that eating more nutritious and fibrous* foods is great for your overall health, and can also be very helpful for filling you up with good stuff while simultaneously minimizing your appetite and desire for carby treats.
*Avoid fibrous foods if they cause you digestive distress, for instance if you have IBS, Crohn’s, etc.
The most nutrient dense low carb vegetables are your best bets, such as those in my post The Top 20 CleanKeto Superfoods, and in my infographic Beautiful Brassicas. For additional tips on improving your nutrient intake to help stave off carb cravings, check out my post 5 Easy Ways To Boost Your Nutrition.
Eat More Healthy Fats
A reasonable amount of healthy fats can help a lot with curbing carb cravings, since healthy fats help fill you up and help you absorb fat-soluble nutrients, both of which contribute to satiety.
You do need to be careful with quantity, though, especially when you are eating carby foods (carbs + fat = increased body fat), particularly if you easily put on excess body fat, since too much dietary fat will tend to get stored as more body fat, and hinder you from burning off excess body fat. So use healthy fats in your cooking, and add some to your meals, but be moderate with it.
And In Spite Of All That…
What if you do all of the above, or as much as you’re able, and you’re still having carb cravings and/or indulgences that are sabotaging your efforts to stay on your chosen path, whether it’s #1, #2 or #3?
Well then here are some additional tools to help you get back on track when you’ve started to go off the rails.
This is an amino acid that we get from our diets, but not usually enough. And when we are deficient – as many people are – taking L-Glutamine as a supplement has a powerful anti-carb-craving effect for most people. (It also has the added benefit of helping to heal leaky gut, which most of us have to some extent these days, and which exacerbates both carb cravings and food reactivity.) And if you have carb cravings, then you almost certainly have an L-Glutamine deficiency.
The recommended dose for L-Glutamine is 500-1,500mg, up to 3 times per day. You can take it as needed for intermittent carb cravings – most people feel a reduction in cravings within 10-30 minutes – or, if you tend to suffer from carb cravings a lot of the time, then you can take it every day, long term. Many people find that once they’ve taken L-Glutamine daily for a couple of months, their carb cravings diminish considerably and often go away completely!
White Kidney Bean Extract
This is a “use in case of emergencies” type of supplement. What White Kidney Bean Extract does is it blocks the digestion and absorption of carbohydrates. So if you just know that you are about to go into a situation where you are going to eat all the carbs, and there’s just no stopping you, then you can take White Kidney Bean Extract beforehand, and it will keep you from digesting those carbs. They’ll mostly just run right through you, limiting the damage carbs do.
However, as you can imagine, this comes with consequences… White Kidney Bean Extract can cause gas, bloating, cramping, and diarrhea, to name the most common side effects. So just know that if you decide to take it, you might be in for some discomfort for up to several hours afterwards. So use it very judiciously, and only very occasionally.
If you end up having an unplanned carb feast and want to mitigate some of the damage after the fact, you have some options. Here are my 2 favorites:
Kang Ning Wan
This is a classic Chinese herbal formula which is fabulous for settling the digestion and quelling adverse reactions to foods (which includes eating too many carbs and then having more carb cravings as a result). And for many, it also has the added benefit of keeping carb cravings away for hours or days afterwards.
This formula can be taken on a regular basis as a digestive tonic – great if you tend to have a lot of food reactivity – and it can also be used as to calm adverse reactions when taken within a few hours after consuming something less than ideal. The recommended dose is typically 2-4 tablets at a time, up to 3 times per day.
Make sure to source this and all Chinese herbs carefully, since many are contaminated with heavy metals and other toxins. For this reason, I only use Blue Poppy, since they test every batch of their herbs for impurities.
If you have something really unhealthy and you are ready to wipe your system totally clean as a result, then charcoal is the perfect choice. Charcoal is used in hospitals to treat poisoning, as it is very effective at adsorbing toxins and removing them the body.
However, it has consequences, namely, it cleans up everything in your system, not just the bad stuff. So any other foods (and their nutrients) that you consumed recently, and any medications or supplements, too, will be erased. And, charcoal causes constipation for many people, and when you do poop again afterwards, your poo will likely be black. Don’t be alarmed! That’s just the charcoal. It’s black, and it makes your poo black.
Given these consequences, like with White Kidney Bean Extract, use charcoal judiciously and only very occasionally.
Ok, you’ve got your tools now for handling the holidays! You’re going to set your intentions, and choose your path, and then plan ahead for navigating your way on that path through the holiday season. You’ve got your tips and tricks for staying on track:
- Drink more water (with electrolytes)
- Don’t get hungry
- Eat more protein
- Eat more nutrient-dense fiber-rich foods
- Eat more healthy fat (in moderation)
And you’ve got your guardrails for staying on track if you feeling like you’re about to go off-plan:
- White Kidney Bean Extract
And then there are your helpers for getting back on track if you’ve started to go off into the carb-wilderness:
- Kang Ning Wan
I’d love to hear from you what your plans are for your successful navigation through the holidays:
- Which path are you going to take, 1, 2 or 3?
- Which tips for staying on track sound like they’ll work the best for you?
Do you have any other tricks up your sleeve that have worked for you that you’d like to share with others on this path?
And until next time, eat well, be well, and enjoy. 😊