Tis the Most Tempting Time of the Year
Gingerbread. Fruit cake. Ham. Egg Nog. There’s something about holiday food that makes it so delectable that we only partake once a year.
Oh wait – we know what that something is. It’s the delicious combination of sugar and fat. Don’t get me wrong, I have the biggest sweet tooth of anybody I know, but I think we can all admit that staying trim through the holiday season isn’t easy.
For those dieting or consistently struggling with weight issues, the holidays are less a joyous romp through culinary delights and is much more an exercise in dedication and torture. But does it need to be?
This isn’t “muscle confusion” or some patent-pending technology
Here is where I first start pawning my pseudo-fitness-guru BS off on you and you get to scoff. Just hear me out for a second though:
There are tons of words and phrases that I use in my noggin to describe ideas that I have. To outsiders it probably makes me sound like a snake oil salesman.
Let me be clear though:This isn’t “muscle confusion” or some patent-pending technology – this is an idea I refer to as “simple swaps“. So what are simple swaps?
Simple swaps are in no way a proprietary idea, but I like to give things names and labels whenever it seems appropriate to. In this case, simple swaps are just a name I’ve given to a basic dieting concept.
So the question becomes, “How does it work, and how does it end with me being able to enjoy my favorite holiday treats?”
Explaining Simple Swaps
As the name implies, simple swaps is the idea of making easy changes in your diet. This is done by swapping certain foods or drinks for healthier, lower calorie options.
A simple swap is something as simple as opting to drink water with your dinner instead of a beer.
Now I know that this isn’t a fresh or unheard of concept. In my personal life, though, the concept of simple swaps has always worked out way better when I make it specific.
The hardest part for me has always been making that swap on the spot.When I already have the wonderful, fatty food right in front of me I try to find every reason not to swap it out. Who wants to convince themselves to grab a side of fruit when the french fries are just an arm’s length away?
Like all great things in life, simple swaps have a few rules and guidelines that make them much easier to stick with. Here are the rules I stick with.
The Art of the Simple Swap
Rule 1: Decide on 3 “always” swaps ahead of time.
I’ll give you one guess as to why we pick 3.
Okay, here’s a hint: How many meals do you eat a day?
That’s right, we pick 3 so that we can assign one swap to each of the three meals of the day. That doesn’t mean that this is strictly the rule you must follow, but it helps simplify things.
What has worked for me is first evaluating what I eat on a day-to-day basis and finding the unhealthy foods or drinks I consume. I find that I enjoy these “bad” things at different parts of the day, so I pick out 3 that I could live without.
Spread the Pain
For me the three simple swaps I have generally gone to in my times of need are the jelly on my breakfast toast, the chips I eat at lunch, and the soda I have with dinner.
I try to spread out the swaps so it doesn’t feel like I am torturing myself entirely during one meal. I’ve found that if I feel “deprived” for one meal then I turn right around and pig out in my next meal because I’ve “earned” it.
Spreading the “changes” throughout the day makes them much more digestible (get it?). It allows you to enjoy tasty foods without going overboard in either direction.
Take a minute to evaluate what you eat on a day-to-day basis. Find the things that you could definitely do without and think about what you could replace that drink or food with. The whole point of picking these ahead of time is to take the thought process out of it.
If you wait until you’re at the drive-thru window to decide what you’re swapping, you’re more likely to punk out. What do I mean by punk out?
I mean you will suddenly decide that instead of swapping a cheeseburger for a salad, switching from a large fries to a medium is just as good.
For those of you just starting with dieting and exercise, maybe that is just as good for you. Baby steps are still progress. But if you want to get serious about your diet, plan ahead to fight the excuses and temptations.
While we’re on the topic of how to fight the temptations…
Rule 2: Make the swaps reasonable.
Like all things in life, we have to be reasonable. What I mean here is don’t make a swap that you know you won’t be able to stick to.
If you absolutely cannot have your morning Eggos without a glass of chocolate milk then don’t make that your swap choice.
Remember, this isn’t about torturing ourselves, this is about being realistic and reasonable with ourselves. Find swaps that may be tough but are more than manageable.
Don’t strive for tiny, marginal upgrades, go for big, significant ones
Being reasonable has a second meaning. It also means knowing that what we are swapping out the food or drink with is something healthier and something more accessible.
Smarter, Faster, Stronger (Or at least Smarter)
I know, you may have been thinking “Great, I’m gonna swap out the fries I eat at lunch time and have potato chips instead”. To that I say Nice try. Don’t strive for tiny, marginal upgrades, go for big, significant ones based off of your health goals.
If you’re trying to get more fruits and veggies in your diet, swap those fries for celery sticks. If you are trying to lower the amount of sugar that you’re taking in, maybe swap out your daily PB&J for a PB.
One thing to keep in mind is that the swap has to matter. Make the swap beneficial enough that it is actually worth the effort. At the same time, don’t go overboard with outlandish promises. Here’s an example:
Reasonable: “I will have my daily ham and cheese sandwich without cheese from now on“.
Not So Reasonable: “I will stop eating altogether and sustain myself through photosynthesis”.
That example may be a bit extreme, but you catch my drift. We aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel, we are just trying to refine it.
While swapping for something healthier is going to make you feel great, there is a certain amount of logic that is required. In essence, you need to know that the swap you are making is readily available. You cannot decide to do away with your nightly bowl of ice cream in favor of a cup of Greek yogurt if you know in your heart of hearts that you are rarely in a situation where Greek yogurt is around.
If you make the swaps unreasonable or unavailable, you are sabotaging yourself right out of the gate.
It becomes all too easy to start telling yourself “Well, I said I would swap the potato chips for celery stick, and I don’t see any celery sticks around, so…”.
Simple swaps take a certain amount of planning and reason on your part. If you plan on succeeding then plan ahead to be realistic with your choices.
Rule 3: Treat yo’self
The fun of simple swaps is that they are relatively easy in comparison to a complete overhaul of our diet. Another benefit is they allow us to keep enjoying the foods we love while still being mindful of our diet. As I’ve stated earlier, the key to success is to be adaptable.
Being adaptable means not beating yourself up if you break rank and forgo a swap here or there. Everyone needs a break from time-to-time, so come to grips with that now. Prepare for roadblocks so you know how to navigate them as opposed to letting them bring you to a full-stop.
Another thing I like about simple swaps is that they are mixed into my daily routine. I personally have never been receptive to having designated cheat days. I have one cheat meal, which turns into a cheat day, then a cheat week, and so on. Before you know it, I’m back to square one.
With simple swaps I can stay on track without feeling like I need to cut loose from my routine too often. Simple swaps help make me more adaptable because they are adaptable by definition.
For example, I said earlier that I swap out the chips at my lunch with something healthier. Sometimes this is celery and sometimes its a few pretzels. Both reasonable options, and both significant upgrades. But let’s say that today I happened to stumble across some salty and savory Sour Cream and Cheddar chips and I simply cannot do without. End of the world? Not so much.
So what do I do? I adapt!
If I’ve decided that I am definitely having my chips today, I find another swap to be made. Maybe I get rid of a sugary drink that I was going to have. Or maybe I decide to take the cheese and mayo out of sandwich I’m eating.
Or maybe, just maybe, I do both.
The key is that I made the make-up swap proactively. Here’s another example:
Maybe tonight is my friend’s birthday and I know we’ll be having cake. I’ll make an extra swap or two earlier in the day to make room. Note: Unless if it’s carrot cake, because then the carrot cake is being swapped out for a real cake. The cake that may have thrown off my whole diet groove has already been handled hours in advance. Simple.
By being proactive and adaptable, we can have our cake and eat it too.
A Few Last Tips
One of the things I recommend is when making spontaneous swaps, try doing them earlier in the day. The reason for this is that you may otherwise start procrastinating your swaps.
You don’t want to tell yourself that you can have the goodies now and that you’ll make a swap later tonight or tomorrow. Once you get into this habit, you’ll have a list of 25 swaps that have piled up that you are definitely “doing tomorrow”. Get the hard part over with early in the day so you can rest easy.
I also cannot reiterate adaptability enough. Being adaptable may very well be the most important part of simple swaps, as it helps build a sense of consistency in your habit. It is you showing yourself that you can stick with the idea. It is also a good exercise in showing yourself that you are aware that there are other swaps that can be made. Evaluate what you eat constantly, rotate foods in and out of your diet as you see fit.
So when should you start? Right now!
Maybe start with one or two simple swaps just to test out the theory and then add more over time. Build a tolerance and habit for the idea so that by the time the office Christmas cookies are being handed out you can have one without feeling like you are headed to the Naughty List.