Josh Hillis totally nails holiday eating mindset. I love this email so much!!!
When someone talks about how much they were able to restrict their eating on Thanksgiving:
It's the most heartbreaking thing I can imagine in a person's relationship to food and their body.
It's a profound misunderstanding about how long term (more than 5 year) weight loss and weight maintenance works.
Don't be that person.
You can have it so much better. You can have both a more effective weight loss journey and a more enjoyable Thanksgiving.
Someone who is able to both lose weight and maintain it for a lifetime has mastered one foundational skill: Picking their battles.
Because they pick their battles, they are able to get weight loss results at opportune times, and maintain in inopportune times.
People Who Fail At Weight Loss Do This:
People who fail at weight loss always get it in reverse — they miss the opportunities to mindfully and intentionally enjoy more food with friends and family. Instead, they eat more mindlessly at times when it doesn't really add much enjoyment to their lives:
When it's date night, they restrict.
When it's candy in the bowl at work, they eat it mindlessly.
When it's Thanksgiving with their family, they restrict.
When they are watching TV, they snack mindlessly.
People Who Succeed At Weight Loss Do This:
In the flipside, someone who is successful at maintaining weight loss forever, knows that it's the mindful eating with people they love that makes a difference:
When it's date night, they enjoy it and have a glass of wine, maybe even desert if they feel like it.
When it's candy in the bowl at work, they skip it, because really.
When it's Thanksgiving with their family, eat and be with their family, and eat their favorite pumpkin pie that grandma makes once per year.
When they are watching TV, they skip the snacks and just watch TV, because you can't watch TV and enjoy food at the same time.
It's About Picking Your Battles
Thanksgiving Day is not the day to restrict. It's not even a day to work on food skills in a really big way. If you want to work on a food skill, pick ONE of these:
Eat slowly. Eating slowly is cool because you get to enjoy your food more, and people typically eat less total food when they eat it slowly. The combination of eating less calories AND enjoying it more works for special occasions.
Eat mindfully. Take each bite and enjoy the five senses experience of it: Look at the food. Take a second to taste each bite. Notice how the food feels in your mouth. Listen to biting into something crunchy. Eat like you are on a cooking show, and you want to get every bit of enjoyment from the food as you can. Research shows that the more you experience the food, the better you remember the food, the less you end up being hungry or snacking later. Again, less total calories AND more enjoyment.
It's Not About Thanksgiving Day
It's about November and December.
People fail because they eat all of the Christmas cookies that show up in the office. People fail because they give up after Thanksgiving and say "I'll start again in the new year." People fail because they have three holiday parties per week through all of December, and they drink at all of them.
People are successful when they choose. They eat more than normal on Thanksgiving and really enjoy it with their family. The next day, they go back to skills like eating just enough, portion sizing meals, eating 3-4 meals per day and no snacks.
One day doesn't matter. A week or two, or a month, totally matters.
What If You Do Want to Loosen Up for All of The Holidays?
That's an option also. GASP! What!?!?!? That's crazy talk!
It's true. You can actually dial it back.
Lets say you are working on seven food skills right now:
Eating 3-4 meals per day (no snacks)
Eating without screens
Eating just enough
Eating mostly whole foods
Real life treats
Boosting veggie intake
You could dial that back to two food skills for December:
Eating 3-4 meals per day (no snacks)
Boosting veggie intake
You wouldn't be putting nearly as much energy into food skills as you were maybe the last few months (where you were losing weight consistently).
Instead, you dial it back to just two. There's a huge difference between staying in the game with two food skills, and saying "Eff it! I'm starting again in January!"
Maybe with two skills you maintain the weight you've lost. Maybe you even continue to lose weight. But you don't have to put as much energy towards it.
This ability to stay in the game at a lower level is another lifetime weight loss mastery skill.
The Biggest Predictor of Weight Loss Failure is Black and White Thinking
We know that the biggest predictor of weight loss failure is black and white thinking (a, b, c, d, e, f). That's thinking things like:
I'm off my diet.
I ate something that wasn't clean.
I blew it, so I'll start again (next week, next month, next year).
I ate something bad.
I ruined everything.
It's normal to have those thoughts. We've been conditioned by diet culture to think those thoughts. I repeat it's ok to have those thoughts.
But you don't have to act on them.
The AND Method
Weight loss mastery is often about having those thoughts, and practicing your food skills anyway.
A really simple skill for working through black and white food thoughts is the AND Method:
"I'm having the thought that __________ [insert black and white food thought] AND what I'm going to do is ___________ [insert food skill you are going to practice]."
"I'm having the thought that 'I'm off my diet' AND I'm going to boost my veggie intake at the next meal.
"I'm having the theoguht that 'I ate something that wasn't clean,' AND I'm going to eat slowly for the rest of the day."
"I'm having the thought that 'I blew it, so I'll start again after new years,' AND I'm going to eat 3-4 meals, no snacks, for the rest of the day."
"I'm having the thought that 'I ate something bad,' AND I'm going to add in a real life treat."
"I'm having the thought that 'I ruined everything,' AND I'm going to boost my protein intake at the next meal."
This is based on a concept of fusion and defusion, from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (g, h, i, j, k, l). Fusion is essentially the state of being bullied by our thoughts. Instead, we take the perspective that it's normal to have these thoughts, and we can still take actions in line with our values in goals.
People Talk About Moderation Like It's Impossible
Moderation is simple. It just means practicing some of the skills and not all of them.
It's ok to practice some sometimes. It's ok to practice most of them other times.
If you can practice some of the skills, all of the time, you will win at weight loss. The person who gets the most practice wins. And the people who practice a little sometimes and a lot sometimes get more practice than people who practice all of them and then quit.
Remember, it's ok to have the "black and white diet thoughts," but you don't have to act on them.
Whoever gets the most practice (cumulative, not all at once) is the most successful with weight loss.
Thanksgiving is The Best Time To Practice Life Long Weight Loss Mastery:
Here is your four step plan for lifetime weight loss mastery:
On Thanksgiving Day, practice 1 or 0 of the skills.
After Thanksgiving Day, and in December, practice 1-3 food skills
Notice when you have black and white food thoughts. Practice your food skills anyway.
Black and white food relationship:
(a) Palascha, A., van Kleef, E., & van Trijp, H. C. (2015). How does thinking in Black and White terms relate to eating behavior and weight regain?. Journal of health psychology, 20(5), 638-648.
(b) Blomquist, K. K., & Grilo, C. M. (2011). Predictive significance of changes in dietary restraint in obese patients with binge eating disorder during treatment. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 44(6), 515-523.
(c) Sairanen, E., Lappalainen, R., Lapveteläinen, A., Tolvanen, A., & Karhunen, L. (2014). Flexibility in weight management. Eating behaviors, 15(2), 218-224.
(d) Byrne, S. M., Cooper, Z., & Fairburn, C. G. (2004). Psychological predictors of weight regain in obesity. Behaviour research and therapy, 42(11), 1341-1356.
(e) Meule, A., Westenhöfer, J., & Kübler, A. (2011). Food cravings mediate the relationship between rigid, but not flexible control of eating behavior and dieting success. Appetite, 57(3), 582-584.
(f) Smith, C. F., Williamson, D. A., Bray, G. A., & Ryan, D. H. (1999). Flexible vs. Rigid dieting strategies: relationship with adverse behavioral outcomes. Appetite, 32(3), 295-305.
(g) Hayes, S. C., Levin, M. E., Plumb-Vilardaga, J., Villatte, J. L., & Pistorello, J. (2013). Acceptance and commitment therapy and contextual behavioral science: Examining the progress of a distinctive model of behavioral and cognitive therapy. Behavior therapy, 44(2), 180-198.
(h) Kishita, N., Muto, T., Ohtsuki, T., & Barnes-Holmes, D. (2014). Measuring the effect of cognitive defusion using the Implicit Relational Assessment Procedure: An experimental analysis with a highly socially anxious sample. Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science, 3(1), 8-15.
(i) Forman, E. M., Butryn, M. L., Juarascio, A. S., Bradley, L. E., Lowe, M. R., Herbert, J. D., & Shaw, J. A. (2013). The mind your health project: a randomized controlled trial of an innovative behavioral treatment for obesity. Obesity, 21(6), 1119-1126.
(j) Forman, E. M., Butryn, M. L., Manasse, S. M., Crosby, R. D., Goldstein, S. P., Wyckoff, E. P., & Thomas, J. G. (2016). Acceptance‐based versus standard behavioral treatment for obesity: Results from the mind your health randomized controlled trial. Obesity, 24(10), 2050-2056.
(k) Harris, R. The happiness trap: how to stop struggling and start living. 2008. Trumpeter, Boston.
(l) Harris, R. (2009). ACT made simple. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.
About the Author
Josh Hillis is the Chief People Officer for One by One Nutrition, Author of Fat Loss Happens on Monday, and Nutrition Habits Coaching Expert for Strength Matters Magazine
The only thing I disagree with him on is that I find it totally possible to watch TV and enjoy food at the same time. LOL But that's me.
All of the usual holiday restriction tips ruin the experience for people. Eating raw vegetables, skinless turkey, and a protein bar "dessert" while everyone else indulges is a real bummer. I find that an all out "free day" "cheat day" "now's my chance" "get out of my way" mindset wrecks it too. This isn't your last chance to eat ever. It's good to remember that.
I love the idea of only focusing on one or two things, like slowing down while you eat. That is totally doable in any situation and it makes a big difference.
Any thoughts on Josh's email or your own experiences with family gatherings, parties, and holiday food? Has the way you approach it changed? What's the plan this year?
Major nodding the whole way through! So true!! My approach to the festive season has evolved over the years - towards the moderation thinking that Josh describes. I used to see it as a 'free for all' time of year and definitely thought I would 'make up for it all' in January. But then when I was in the depths of my ED, I did distance myself from the fun and hence, from my loved ones - because I was so terrified of all of the random social meals and not being in control - so sad. The last couple of years, I have realised that there is a middle ground! Lo and behold! I have enjoyed fun foods and big meals... but not overeaten in a ridiculous way... because I don't want to feel sick and I want to be hungry for the next social and special meal. I usually feel like I want to eat more veggies and drink less alcohol in January... but it's not a total overhaul or 'detox' ERGH! I hate that word. It is more just a natural rolling back into the regular/ non-festive eating patterns.
Great post and very timely. Little funny as I clearly recall skipping enjoyable meal years ago to hit the treat box later home! I remembrer as it ruined my night and I thougth how silly it was to be that silly
There were so many excellent points in that post! I love the focus on moderation over black and white thinking. I also love the gentle reminders he gives again and again that restriction is not the answer.
However, I wish that it wasn't all centered on weight loss. I get that Josh's business is centered on weight loss, so that is the target audience...but I still would have loved for it to read "people who succeed at having a positive relationship with food do this" or something along those lines. I especially felt uncomfortable reading the "People Who Fail At Weight Loss Do This" section. Many people "fail" at weight loss because they don't need to lose weight. They take plenty of opportunities to mindfully and intentionally enjoy more food with friends and family, yet they still do not lose weight. And that's totally okay. They did not fail.
Excellent points, Tonya! I agree. The whole thing is geared toward weight loss coaching clients, so not completely appropriate for eating disorder recovery or people not wanting to lose weight.
Speaking for myself, when weight loss was my purpose in life (which is sad) and I struggled mightily with it, I would do the "fail" behaviors, the all-or-nothing approach, the black and white thinking, the starting over. Both weight loss and food peace look like the moderation behaviors to me, which is why it clicked so hard. Socializing, eating what I like, not hurting myself, not aiming for perfection, practicing some of my happy eating skills and behaviors all the time instead of doing all of them perfectly for short stretches and then giving up.
That email was epic. I wanted to share it in my Facebook newsfeed, but like Tonya, I kind of cringed at the weight loss focus. I totally get that it's geared towards weight loss clients though and for what it is, it's fantastic!
Back when I was a professional dieter, I dieted for the holidays. I wish I was joking when I say that but I'm not. I'd literally diet right up until whatever "food event" was about to happen then totally gorge for the extent of the holiday. Sometimes I was able to control it to just one day but often it turned into multiple days of being overstuffed. This was especially true at Christmas when I'd diet up until Christmas Eve and then free for all from Christmas Eve until New Years day. It felt so awful. And I'd always gain more than I'd lost leading up to the holiday so I'd just right back into dieting afterwards. All that way of eating ever did for me was solidify damaging black and white thinking.
Now I'm so much better about it. I don't diet because an event involving food is happening. Nor do I go to any extremes after events. In some combination of Skwigg's eating thoughts and Intuitive Eating, I've come to trust that over eating is okay, hunger always comes back and that one meal doesn't change anything - these are things that I never trusted before. So now I can sit down and enjoy maybe a few too many of my mom's special Christmas cookies because I know I don't get them again until next year. But I can be selective about it and just eat the ones that are really worth it. And I can continue on the next day without feeling like I have to launch into some super restrictive diet - I just have to let my body get back on track.
I know people who totally let loose with food over the holidays and use the New Year as their fix and I'm so glad to no longer be one of them.
Great email. I really like his "The AND" Method and I'm thinking how helpful that could be for all sorts of black and white thinking, not just around food.
It's funny. I never realised it but my eating isn't really effected by the holiday season anymore. I may have a bit more wine than usual, some Christmas pudding, or some shortbread (seasonal foods I won't normally eat) but that's about it. My family gathering is a fairly relaxed potluck style dinner, with lots of salads coz its generaly warm here on Christmas Day in Aus.
The one thing I can overdo it on is Gift Hamper goodies (we seem to always end up with a lot of food gifts) which seem to hang around until mid January. And I'll admit, there have been times when my husband and I have re-gifted things to get them out of the house because we can't stand the sight of any more sweets! So perhaps my eating is still a little effected by the holiday cheer. lol :)