By Mark Nelson
Face it. The deck is stacked against your waistline during the holidays. And there are scientific reasons for that. But the good news is, knowing why you crave those delicious holiday cookies can help you resist them. So what’s behind the cravings?
It starts with serotonin.
Serotonin, which is produced by your brain, is the “feel-good” hormone. When your brain produces enough of it, serotonin can help you feel calm, confident, and relaxed. Several factors encourage its production. A primary driver is sunlight. In the bright days of spring and summer, sunshine stimulates your brain to produce plenty of serotonin. But during the short days of fall and winter, your brain needs extra stimulation to produce enough serotonin. Now here’s the bad news, and you can probably guess what it is.
It’s not enough that grandma’s decadent holiday calorie-bombs are insanely delicious. No. At this time of year, your impulses drive you to attack holiday desserts like a brain-dead cookie monster just to get your serotonin fix.
Does this mean we’re hardwired to add holiday heft?
Not necessarily. That’s because you can spur serotonin production in other ways. For example, did you know exercise supports serotonin production? It’s true.
When you look at the big picture, most of the steps you can take to avoid gaining weight happen in your head, not your stomach. That’s why you can think your way out of weight gain, regardless of how your brain encourages you to be bad around fattening foods.
Here are 10 tips for helping you manage your inner Cookie Monster.
- Treat yourself. Ever notice how denying yourself something only makes you want it more? According to researchers, dieters who were told not to even think about chocolate ate twice as many candies as people who weren’t. The solution? Have a taste instead of eating the whole treat—or make smart substitutions. Instead of Fritos®, have some edamame. Or trade a bowl of ice cream for an ice milk fudge bar.
- Think 25 minutes into the future. It takes 12 minutes for a thin person’s brain to register that he or she has eaten. But it can take 25 minutes for an overweight person to know this. So set a timer, have a sensible meal, and know that 25 minutes after your first bite, you’ll feel a lot less hungry.
- Skip the dip and gravy. Gravy is made of flour, salt, turkey fat, and broth. Do you really need all that? And dip? It’s just a lot of goo. You’re better off nibbling on fresh veggies. Besides, skipping these temptations will help you leave room for a little dessert.
- Flip your script. So you slipped and ate two of Grandma’s killer chocolate chunk cookies. Rather than say, “I blew my diet, so why not just keep eating?” take a breath. Smile and say, “No big deal. I can stop now and still feel good about myself.”
- Sleep to avoid holiday stress. You know the holidays are hectic. So give yourself a chance to heal. Studies show that when you’re sleep-deprived, the stress hormone cortisol is released at a higher level. This can help you feel hungry even when you’re full. And who needs that?
- Say no to the ‘nog. Eggnog, that is. An 8-ounce serving contains 343 fatty, high-carb calories. And that’s without the rum. Think about how long it’d take to burn off all those calories, and saying no to the ‘nog gets easy.
- Walk and talk. It’s harder to fill your mouth with sweets and carbs when you’re talking. Well, OK, a little harder. But it’s worth it, because you’ll be the life of the party. And that can help keep you from eating everything on the buffet.
- Work out. Bet you didn’t see that one coming. Sure, it’s a crazy time of year. But if you think of your workout as an essential way to stay grounded, you’ll do it. And here’s a hint that will give you more time to fit in your workout.
- Shop online. With all you have to do, stay home instead. Eat healthy things you have in the fridge instead of grabbing fast food or sweets. Put on holiday music (if you must), and save your energy for a good sweat-soaked workout.
- Try tag-team weight control. See if you and a friend can look out for each other. If one of you begins to blow your diet, a little friendly peer pressure can help you step back from the cookie. If you don’t want to burden a friend with this job, try a RISK-FREE 30-Day Team Beachbody® Club VIP Pass. Team Beachbody Club members reach their health and fitness goals 3 times faster than people who don’t join, partly because online peer support helps them keep going with their diet and exercise programs.
Remember that a holiday is just a day. You don’t really want to undo weeks of sensible eating with a day of crazed eating, do you? And remember, even if you give in for 24 hours, it’s not the end of the world. Just take a breath and think when you’re within striking distance of holiday goodies. Trying these helpful tips can help you keep your inner Cookie Monster under control. Happy holidays!