If you hear a blood curdling scream this week, rest assured that it’s not an extra from The Walking Dead or someone watching a scary movie marathon. That’s me walking near the candy aisle while at the grocery store during this time of year. And like me, many of us with a dieter’s mentality fear the Halloween season with the same kind of dread we do a visit to the dentist or (gulp!) getting on the scale after a weekend of gastronomical debauchery.
But fear not! All Hallows Eve actually has no power over us or our waistlines… Unless we give it said power. And for the record, this is the year we’re taking back Halloween and making it more treat than trick.
For starters, let’s remember we’re talking about a 24-hour period. And guess what? Even if you’re on a diet plan and committed to getting rid of your excess weight, a few pieces of candy eaten in moderation (key word!) is not going to harm you at all—especially if you combine the munching with an extra lap or two around the block (and/or shopping mall if the weather outside is frightful).
As dieters, it’s our denial of foods we love that often leads to excessive bingeing. So if you really want to indulge in some sugary goodness, then choose some well-made candy (meaning it’s full of all-natural ingredients as opposed to a list of additives that would make even a mummy unravel). When I took off over 250 pounds of excess weight over a decade ago, it was through moderation as opposed to starvation or denial. Too often we turn favorite foods into a forbidden fruit that we then become obsessed with eating.
Another tactic that makes Halloween more spook-tacular is focusing on non-food related enjoyment. This is easy given that most people enjoy dressing up. And no, you don’t need a costume party to do so. A lot of workplaces allow employees to dress up for work when Halloween hits on a weekday. Or just throw on a pair of vampire fangs when you’re running your errands to suck up a whole bunch of smiles (if not second glances).
If you need an actual party as an excuse to don a costume, then throw a last minute soirée yourself. Get inventive with the theme: ’80s TV shows? Favorite movie detectives? Inanimate objects? Make October 31st more about the fun than the food. And if you’re throwing the party, you can schedule nutritionally sound games like bobbing for apples or pin the tail on the werewolf.
And believe it or not, actual trick-or-treating can scare away fat itself. Volunteer to go along with a group of neighborhood kids. Or take your own kids to the mall and be willing to make several rounds with them. Kids’ energy is high on Halloween—and not just due to the potential sugar rush. It’s fun to dress up. It’s fun to say “Boo!” And it’s fun to walk and walk and walk. (Remember the rules for even healthier walking: suck that tummy in, pump those arms and maintain a healthy posture.)
Last but not least, go easy on yourself. Even those strange, mythical “I can eat anything I want and not gain weight” creatures (much more unexplainable than zombies if you ask me) will be complaining on November 1st that they overdid it on the candy. The difference between them and us (the ones with a dieter’s mentality) is that they don’t feel compelled to keep eating the candy on the day after Halloween. They did it. They enjoyed it. They regret the extra nibble or two and now they’re moving on, mentally—just like we can do, if we give ourselves that kind of freedom.
Besides, November 1st heralds a whole ‘nother eating holiday’s approach. So it’ll be time to stop thinking about the season of the witch and wondering how we are going to construct a healthy game plan for gobble-gobble day. Although I’m here to tell you that as is the case with Halloween, the only thing to fear is… Well, you know the rest (in peace).
Ever since I was a li’l pumpkin myself, I’ve loved autumn more than any other season. Perhaps because while living in New England as a child, the changing leaves offered a range of beautiful colors. Or maybe it was the crisp Northeast sweater weather (that demanded clothing that hid some of my figure flaws — which I was admittedly concerned about as an extremely overweight kid). Or it could have been that autumn acted as an annual sign that Christmas was on its way. Whichever. Suffice it to say, I consider autumn to be a golden time of year.
Today, living in Los Angeles, there’s not a lot of autumn to be had. Sure, there are a few maple trees (with changing leaves) in Beverly Hills. And every now and then we get a cooler day that requires a sweatshirt in the morning hours (before the temperature gives out to LA’s warm sunshine by noontime). Thus, one must be creative when it comes to feeling like it’s autumn. Some of you may be familiar with warm-weather-autumn drill: plastic fall-leaf wreath hanging on the door, a mini Styrofoam pumpkin or two lying around the house, an autumn-scented candle burning in the evening (even as the air conditioner blows), etc.
Those who know me won’t be surprised that one of my go-to items for a “hit” of autumn is an edible (well, drinkable) one. For years now, I’ve been addicted (potential 12-step-group-addicted) to Pumpkin Spice Lattes (AKA PSL or, as I refer to them, “fall in a cup”). And as someone who once weighed over 450 pounds, I was risking the encouragement of my past food addiction by ordering an extra large size and drinking down every last autumn-y (read: sugary) drop.
I was not only committed to downing this drink throughout the fall season, but virtually every day of the fall season. Needless to say that even before Thanksgiving, the results of this annual endeavor would start to show themselves in the form of tighter jeans and more pronounced love handles. In other words, my love of fall was adding up (calorie-wise) fast.
Thus, one sad day, I decided I had to abandon my love of “fall in a cup” and simply make do with the plastic wreath. But as usual, the denial of something led to the over-consumption of it. It did not matter that I’d lost over 250 pounds of excess weight over a decade before and had kept it off ever since. When it came to “fall in a cup,” I was going down. Or my weight was going up as it were. As usual, denial led to obsession and obsession led to… Well, let’s just say I feel like I have personally funded many of the more recent coffee places that have opened up in my area.
Then I hit upon an amazing, original, highly innovative idea… To treat these magical and seductive Pumpkin Spice Lattes as a treat (yeah, that’s right — categorize them in an appropriate way). I decided I was going to indulge — but was going to do so in a fashion that wouldn’t harm my psyche or extend my waistline.
So I blew out my autumn-scented candle, hopped over the Styrofoam pumpkins, trotted past my plastic wreath, and marched into my nearest coffee joint, where I ordered up a small Pumpkin Spice Latte.
As I pressed the smaller sippy cup-like lid to my lips, I wondered if I’d get the same autumnal rush that I did from lifting the larger size to my mouth. And, to my surprise, I did. The smallest Pumpkin Spice Latte was just as delicious, just as tasty, just as soothing — and offered just as much “fall in a cup” as its giant predecessor had before it. In fact, I didn’t even suck out the last sip like I usually did with the larger size (as if I were Sandra Bullock’s astronaut character in Gravity, trying to get a last gasp of oxygen in space). Instead, I enjoyed most of the drink, decided I was finished and tossed it.
Of course, the next day, I wanted another one. And here’s where I tried out another innovative tactic. “Sure, Gregg… You can have another one… Next week.” Yeah, that’s right. I acknowledged I wanted it, let myself know when I could have it, and then gave myself several days to anticipate it. And when that “lucky day” rolled around, I got another small one and enjoyed every reasonable ounce.
It turns out what I’d always heard was true: Less is more. And I marvel at this fact as much today (at around 175 pounds) as I did when I weighed over 450 pounds. I guess there will always be lessons we can learn and new adaptations we can make (to the way we consume treats) no matter what end of the scale we find ourselves at. And this is good news. Because it means we can treat ourselves, when appropriate — as long as it’s with portions that are equally appropriate.
Now, one should keep in mind that even the small Pumpkin Spice Latte has a bunch of calories in it (even when made with 2 percent low-fat milk, as I have mine made with). But when these approximately 200-300 calories are consumed just once a week (or even less often), they’re not going to hurt your weight loss or weight maintenance plan one bit. Again, it’s all about moderation. This means not denying one’s self as much as it does not overdoing it. (Win-win for “moderation,” y’all.)
At long last, my love of autumn (and devotion to “fall in a cup”) can be celebrated without worry — even here in hot n’ sunny Los Angeles. And this means whatever food or treat obsessions you have can be handled in the same way. Less is more. But not too much less. Get it?
(Feel free to insert your own seasonal “horn of plenty” reference here.)
Photo Source: People Food
Recently I’ve been reminded of a disturbing trend in the billion dollar diet industry—albeit one that has been pervasive for years. I refer to it as the “Light Switch Mentality” that’s being sold by many organizations, programs, books and so-called experts who proclaim that to lose excess weight, you (we) should be on a diet. But this kind of thinking often leads to the opposite of being on… Being off.
Certainly being on or off has become part of the dieting vernacular. But in my humble opinion, it’s a way of thinking that can potentially lead to more weight gain than weight loss. In fact, it’s while many of us with a dieter’s mentality are on our diets that we’re focused on when we plan on going off. It’s a mindset we’ve been sold as the way to success, when in reality, it can be the way to put on extra pounds.
As someone who started gaining excess weight around first grade, and whose parents immediately took me to a doctor who put me on a strict diet (yes, even at a very young age), I can attest to the fact that the on/off cycle contributed to my continuing to gain weight throughout my youth. Sure, I would take off a few pounds (when I was on). But then I would gain even more weight back (when I was off). By the time I graduated from college, I was clocking in at over 450 pounds. And this was after years and years of constant dieting—the very thing that was supposed to be helping me was actually doing more harm than good.
Thankfully, I was able to remove myself from this cycle after my home electronic scale started reading “ERR” (its internal code for error, since it was not programmed to register any weight above 400 pounds). It’s when I stopped thinking of “dieting” (and being on and off of one) and started embracing healthy eating that I began to make some real headway. Within a year’s time I had dropped most of my excess weight. And sure, I yo-yoed up and down the scale for a couple years after that. I was, after all, recovering from a lifetime of “on and off” behavior. But once I nailed it (reaching a healthy weight for my height and body frame), I’ve stayed at this weight for well over a decade.
But this is where I quickly bring up that damned light switch thinking again. Because many people who see my before pictures want to know my secret to losing over 250 pounds of excess weight without any kind of surgery or medication. They’re not too thrilled when I tell them the secrets are eating less, moving more, getting plenty of sleep and drinking enough water (AKA common sense). And they sometimes go onto register abject horror when I tell them I have to keep all of these mandates in mind even today (otherwise right back up the scale I’d go).
Successfully losing excess weight has nothing to do with a light switch. There’s never a time that we should be on or off. If we’re prone to gaining weight or if we choose to lose excess weight to benefit our mental and physical health, then it’s going to take some work. This doesn’t mean food plans can’t be extremely helpful. But whether we choose to have a salad for lunch or even if we opt to have some ice cream for dessert, we’ve got to always think about portion size and ingredient content (yes, even when it comes to the salad).
This doesn’t have to mean we are always on and never off. Instead, we can adopt new mindsets and start living life as healthy minded individuals. You know—like those those fantastical types who can eat half a donut and then declare they’re full. (Yes, even I’m dumbfounded by this kind of behavior to this day.) But what these people know that we do not, is that they can have another donut (or whatever) in due time. But those of us on the endless on/off cycle of dieting often think, “I will be on my diet tomorrow (or Monday or come January 1st),” so I better have eighteen donuts today.
On. Off. Not always helpful.
Healthy thinking. A move in the right direction.
And healthy thinking can include well made (meaning clean ingredient) treats that can be easily and moderately worked into our eating plans—whether we’re taking off excess pounds or simply maintaining a healthy body weight.
Although somewhat baffling, this can be triumphant news if we allow it to be. Thinking less of on and off can mean reduced shame and self-punishment (also part of many dieting cycles, mentally speaking). Fact is, you are beautiful at your current weight (inside and out). If you choose to get healthier and drop some of the excess weight, then do so in a fashion that embraces all that life has to offer and try leaving the on/off Light Switch Mentality behind.
At the risk of an eye roll or two, what do you have to lose?