In Defense of Cheating, Sort of…

To Nog Or Not To Nog… What a stupid question.

The holidays can be hell for a variety of reasons, perhaps most for what they can do to your well laid plans to eat well. In the past three weeks I’ve personally been victimized by Dunkin’s Egg Nog Latte, requests by co-workers and family to make my famous buttermilk-coconut pie, and a bowl of festive mints by my desk at work. The holidays are synonymous with two things: spending and eating. In light of this I know people, and know of plenty more, that set out each winter to avoid ALL sweets, treats, and indulgences. That said, however, I know of very few that succeed. So what’s to do?

Well. Sometimes… you just have to cheat.

Many critics of low-carb eating patterns point to a shiny, well intentioned word: Moderation. Adherents to low-carb eating are depriving themselves, they say, and should instead eat anything their heart desires, so long as it is in moderation. In the 60’s the USDA, in their ill-designed Food Pyramid, suggested that some foods could be easily and safely incorporated into your diet, so long as they were consumed in moderation. To this day, “experts” receiving corporate subsidies continue to tell us that sugary treats are perfectly safe and healthy, so long as they’re enjoyed in this moderate state. A big problem presents itself though: The Food Pyramid, then, and the experts now make little, if any, indication of just what exactly “moderation” means in this context. What, for example, is a moderate amount of ice cream? Or pretzels? Or gummy worms? The USDA and the experts on the take of snack and soda companies have been resistant to define it. “Moderation,” in their view, must be some sort of magical, ambiguous state of enlightenment, the sort of destination you’ll know only by suddenly realizing you’re already there. 

In a manner of thinking, though, it makes sense that the USDA wouldn’t prescribe what exactly a moderate amount is given that a plethora of variables like metabolism, activity levels, and genetic factors exist….all great reasons the federal government shouldn’t be in the business of dietary advice in the first place. But the Food Pyramid DID suggest such a state exists, it just never defined it. Short of this definition, or even some solid guidance, the majority of Americans committed to define it for themselves. Obesity rates have exploded in the time since.

But anyway… back to the afore mentioned critics and their fight for treats and sweets in moderation. Let me be clear: I agree, whole heartedly, in the notion that indulging every now and then is healthy and even necessary. In fact, the only people I know that have sustained weight loss over multiple years are those that indulge every once in a while. I say that to point out that I do not agree with a zealous, zero tolerance policy against sugary snacks. The problem is that no real definition of “moderate eating” exists to guide us. So yes, by all means, drink some egg nog, eat pie, drink and be merry. I do believe, though, that moderation IS necessary, but if the government and the experts haven’t given us a rigorous example of what moderation is, then the only recourse we have is to define it for ourselves. How do we do that? Well, I have some thoughts, so I’m glad you asked. 

“Moderation,” in their view, must be some sort of magical, ambiguous state of enlightenment, the sort of destination you’ll know only by suddenly realizing you’re already there. 

Some nuance is important here so, first, I think it’s important to consider all eating choices through the lens of how they effect any weight loss goals you have, which is pretty easy to do on a low-carb diet. Ask yourself also “How much will this choice set me back? Am I comfortable accepting this setback? Am I willing to work hard to overcome this setback in the next several days? We all have different goals and a universal definition of moderation just wouldn’t be able to account for this. It’s safe to say that “the occasional treat won’t hurt you.” Just how occasional is “too occasional” should be a personal, goal driven question. 

To that end, take a long game approach to cheats. Very frequently I’ve willed myself to avoid someone’s store bought cookies at work in “trade” for getting a fancier, hand made dessert at Disney World that weekend. Sustaining weight loss through “cheat management” can help you plan around parties, cook outs, every day events, and the like. The hard truth is that you won’t be able to cheat as often as you’d like, otherwise it wouldn’t be cheating. Somewhere you’ll have to make some tough choices. 

Also consider finding indulgences that are low carb and not stocked full of sugar. I’m talking here about things like lobster tail, an expensive whiskey, a filet mignon. These are are all foods we can use to treat ourselves that won’t derail our progress. A baked sweet potato heavy on butter and ground cinnamon also comes to mind. You CAN use food as part of your celebrations and rewards but you DON’T have to equate high reward with high carb.

Finally, if you do decide to have some pie, or egg nog, or bread, or all of the above… enjoy it. Take your time eating and don’t rush. My personal preference are homemade and/or bakery made sweets as opposed to mass produced stuff…but go with what you love. And do not, whatever you do, let anyone shame you or guilt you for your choices. Pick your spots, eat your treats, enjoy the hell out of them…and then get back to work.

Anyway, i’ve gotta run…I’ve got some buttermilk coconut pies that need to come out of the oven. 

Happy Holidays!