Thanksgiving challenge results! (Affected by my foray into food porn?)

Dr. Jen Kerns

Dr. Jen Kerns

A week ago I talked briefly about the weight gain that we (especially the “we” that are already overweight) risk during the holiday season from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day, and outlined a few different studies of methods that might help mitigate holiday weight gain. I challenged you to pay attention to your weight and try not to gain any over the week of Thanksgiving… and I never suggest that people do something I wouldn’t do myself, so I bravely posted my own weight last Saturday morning: 144.2 pounds. (Only one brave soul took me up on my challenge to publicly post their weight here along with me — my mother in-law June Marvel! Kudos, Grandma June!)

I can tell you that I had more problems with sugar cravings than usual this week, and not just on Thanksgiving Day. I believe it started the day before when I started looking at cookie recipes. You see, one of my oldest and dearest friends whom I’ve known since 7th grade, Nicole Armstrong, and I co-host a holiday cookie exchange party every December in which we invite our girlfriends and family to bake (or buy) several dozen cookies and bring them together to create a huge beautiful display of sugary holiday wonderment, with the intention of taking a few of each kind home to get a huge variety (and often eat quite a few at the party, too). So, the day before Thanksgiving I was perusing recipes, trying to decide what I am going to make for the party. And one of the strategies I’ve adopted in my own weight maintenance armamentarium is the avoidance of what I like to call “food porn.” Visual or olfactory food cues are a powerful trigger for cravings in our primitive brains, and one of the ways I’ve set myself up for weight management success is by essentially eliminating my previous habits of perusing through beautiful food-centric magazines or cookbooks, browsing Pinterest-worthy food blogs, and watching cooking shows on the Food Network. It wasn’t until I actually stepped upside of my own head to observe how often I was engaging in food-related mental activities that I realized I was sabotaging my own efforts with shocking regularity: these kinds of enticing visual food cues (including photos and videos) have been shown in clinical research to stimulate craving just as much as real food exposure does, and to actually increase the likelihood and amount of food intake. Meaning, just seeing photos or videos of high calorie foods makes a human more likely to overeat.

So. I made the mistake of perusing a cookie cookbook the day before Thanksgiving, and I am here to tell you that the struggle is real: I have been craving sweets like crazy ever since! I planned to eat a healthy low fat lunch at work on Thanksgiving Day and had my fat free vegetable soup along with some marinated tofu from Trader Joe’s, but I was feeling so many food urges that I ended up having a couple of small slices of turkey with gravy and some zucchini and carrots that were brought in as part of the catered lunch to treat the residents who were working on the holiday with me. I DID manage to refrain from eating the stuffing, mashed potatoes, and pie that was also sitting there, knowing that in a few hours I’d let myself have whatever sweets I felt like having when we got to our friends’ house for their lovely Thanksgiving gathering. I made my second mistake of the week on arrival to Lynn and Dick’s house: I started drinking. I caught one glimpse of my favorite Chandon sparkling rosé and immediately gave in to the urge to have some, which lowered my resolve and made it that much easier for me to snack on tortilla chips and shrimp dip, to go for seconds of the sugary sweet potatoes at dinner, and to partake of both some apple crisp AND some pecan pie for dessert. With whipped cream of course. By the time we arrived home, I felt hella heartburn and a racing pulse bounding in my chest — my body reminding me that eating and drinking that way are NOT doing my health any favors. (Apparently my primitive brain rules over my body, no matter how many times this happens!)

Though the plan was to return to my no-sugar way of eating on Friday, I was still in the throes of the sugar affair and ended up eating most of a bar of dark chocolate and some leftover chocolate cake with whipped cream (after a healthy dinner of salmon and asparagus). When I weighed myself before bed last night, the scale read 147 pounds. By the time I weighed in this morning, though, it was back down to 144.4 pounds. So, today — exactly one week after I posted my Thanksgiving weight maintenance challenge — my weight was 0.2 pounds higher. Does that make me a failure? Technically, I suppose so, since I am not at or below my weight from last Saturday. But I don’t really think a 0.2 pound difference is clinically meaningful in the grand scheme of things – after all, just hydration status or whether or not you’ve had your “morning constitutional” can move the scale by several pounds. Just look at how I lost 2.6 pounds overnight! And I refuse to beat myself up for overeating on Thanksgiving. I ate healthfully (for the most part) the rest of the week and I planned to let myself enjoy whatever I wanted on Thanksgiving, so I am deciding to be satisfied with my 0.2 pound weight gain.

Now, let’s see whether I manage to maintain through the next 5 weeks of the holiday season! Our family Thanksgiving is actually happening tomorrow since I’ve been working through the real holiday, so my brother and sister in-law will come to our house and we’ll have another feast… then, Graham’s 3rd birthday is next week and there will be cupcakes and pizza to celebrate at his party next weekend, followed by my cookie exchange party the weekend thereafter… it’ll essentially be a nonstop sugar-and-flour extravaganza until the end of December. I want to enjoy these events and not feel so restricted that I can’t enjoy a cupcake with my son or share in the joy of some homemade egg nog and Christmas cookies, but I also want to try hard to attend to my weight and keep from gaining significantly. I hope I can do it, because last year I gained 10 pounds by January 1 when I let myself eat whatever I wanted. Stay tuned….

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