With the holidays around the corner, you can be rest assured sumptuous meals, abundant alcohol and sub-optimal food choices will abound. You may experience challenges not only in the quantity of the food you may consume and the frequency at which it is eaten, but combined with the prevalence of delicious, irresistible treats and the emotional context of the situation can make for a challenging situation.
It might be important to note that feasting is an inherent part of history and culture. Every society throughout history has had some form of ritual feasts. One need to look no further than the feasts tied to our world’s major religions, like Ramadan, Jewish Feast Days, and Christian feasts like Epiphany and its accompanying Fat Tuesday. Furthermore, the word ‘feast’ shares common roots with words including ‘festival’ and ‘festive’.
There is even some scientific evidence supporting an occasional feast. Like intermittent fasting, an occasional feast appears to have some positive effect on metabolic function. Many of these benefits are tied directly to the fact that the hormone leptin increases with an over-intake of food.
The effects of a leptin boost due to an occasional feast include:
- Increased satiety (satisfaction) after eating a meal
- Lowered hunger levels for much longer than immediately after the feast, due to decreased ghrelin (your hunger hormone).
- Overall adherence to eating to satiety in day-to-day living.
Not only are feasts physically beneficial, there are likely psychologically helpful as well. There is immense pleasure and satisfaction derived from sitting amongst loved ones or like-minded friends, and both savoring and devouring a delicious platter of Paleo-friendly foods that will nourish and strengthen both body and mind..
There are many reasons why someone may eat more when they are alone, but when sharing a feast with friends, true pleasure is derived from the food itself because it’s enriched with lovely company, too.
That fills a void food simply can’t. That cultural tie to food no coincidence. Maybe ancient man knew about the concept of wellbeing and how it is intrinsically tied to health (and lack of illness) long before we did…
Of course, the holidays include celebrating those things in your life that are more important (especially on an emotional level) than avoiding sugar or worrying excessively about food choices. On the other hand, maybe your indulgences were a little less serendipitous and you find yourself waking up post-celebration feeling less than optimal or filled with guilt and regret.
Fasting is also something that human beings have practiced throughout history, often out of circumstance rather than choice. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors were probably expert fasters, indulging in feasts in times of plenty, and then facing long periods of scarcity in between. With this in mind, it makes sense that your body could perform well under the harsh conditions of feast and famine.
Recovering from your feast need not be daunting with a few simple strategies
No matter what your indulgence looked like, whether over-eating Paleo friendly foods or veering off the Paleo path, be sure that your kitchen, pantry and freezer are there to support you. Stock up on all the Paleo staples ensuring healthy and delicious food just waiting to make its way onto your plate. Throw away any non-Paleo food that may. be left, or if this is not an option, put it somewhere out of sight.
Think big picture.
A few indulgent meals with some less-than-optimal choices over the course of a year, or a lifetime, is miniscule.
Your regular habits determine 99% of your health, not the occasional indulgence. This is especially important if you find yourself wracked with feelings of guilt or shame around what you chose to eat. Focus on the big picture so you can move on productively.
You cannot change anything you have already eaten, and beating yourself up over it just keeps you stuck in the past, with that food, instead of moving on to be present with a meal that is actually nutritious and identifies with your goals. Take a deep breath, let go of the need to punish yourself, and get ready to move on.
Choose your next meal.
If fasting is part of your lifestyle, this is a time to implement this strategy. This does not need to be an extended fast. A skipped meal or compressed eating window might just do the trick.
The successes of many cultures’ rests on their traditions. Many of those focus around feasting, followed by periods of fasting. Even if there’s not much of a physiological benefit other than reducing your calorie intake to balance the overindulgence, the psychological boost you will get from not eating will stave off the potential guilt of abandoning your Paleo guidelines. Although I do not support or encourage support guilting or shaming around any food choices, it does happen. Fasting can be a powerful antidote.
Alternately, wait until your body signals it needs nourishment. The next time you feel hungry, eat as much as you are hungry for. Be honest with yourself and pay attention to your needs. Trying to fill your stomach up with cucumbers, drinking coffee as an appetite suppressant or forcing yourself to fast will not be supportive of your recovery. Give yourself permission to eat normally, and get back to healthy eating habits right away.
When you do feel the desire to eat cook yourself the most delicious Paleo meal you can. Even if you feel like this is no time for treating yourself, you might discover that when your behaviour mirrors the way you want to feel, the feelings follow by themselves. Refusing to punish yourself helps you get past any lingering guilt, move on without the emotional rollercoaster. This is also the best way to remind yourself of one of the many reasons you love your Paleo lifestyle. Pete’s Paleo bacon anyone?
Move your body.
Get out to a field or track and do some wind sprints. Hop in the weight room and lift like a maniac. Jump into a vigorous game of pickup basketball. Do anything to get your heart rate up and have fun. If you feel you have energy to burn, out in a workout and use your extra glycogen from your feast to your advantage!
Doing a light workout can also be extremely beneficial and help you mentally re-set. If, however, you find yourself exercising to ‘burn calories’, you are punishing yourself with an act of futility. This is especially true if you are feeling unwell. Pushing yourself through a high-intensity interval session and throwing up on the floor of the gym is not an auspicious way to re-start your Paleo journey! Instead, try a long walk, a bike ride, or whatever else you feel up to at the moment.
What to eat.
If you are choosing Paleo-friendly foods without guilt, judgment, or restriction, you are on the right path and choosing to nourish your body irregardless of whether it is with a steak or a smoothie.
- If you feel bloated or uncomfortably full, but you are still feeling hungry try eating something cooked or lightly steamed with a relatively low volume. Cooked vegetables are also gentler on the stomach than raw. Sipping on bone broth works really well here too.
- Some people find that sugar cravings disappear when they eat some healthy Paleo carbs, like a sweet potato. Other people have more success with a high-fat, low-carb meal. Only you can know which type you are.
- Resist the urge to nibble at dried fruit or Paleo treats.
- If you want something sweet, eat it with a meal, not as a snack.
- If you feel nauseated or sick, it is advisable to wait to eat until you feel better. Drink some water or tea, take a nap or do something to take your mind off food, and let the hunger come when it comes.
When it comes to recovering after a non-Paleo adventure, the most important thing to do is to move on. This is by no means an encouragement to go out (or stay in) and over-eat all the time.
At times of celebration, there is often an air of guilt from many people, especially those who try to stay healthy. It is during these festivities that it is important to remember feasting is not always bad. In reality it can provide some wonderful joy, connection and pleasure one partakes occasionally and moves on effectively.