While I love peppermint mochas as much as the next woman, I've never been all that into Christmas. (I know.) I adore decorating the tree, but that's the extent of my Christmas joy. Between the stress of trying to select the perfect gifts for everyone I love and being just a tiny bit bitter that Santa Claus and his spiel overshadow my mid-December birthday, I've always preferred food-focused Thanksgiving over Christmas. Unlike Buddy the Elf, I don't serve up plates of sugary sweets on the regular. I don't even look forward to eating sweets, TBH. (Although that gave me a good idea: What if I ate like Buddy for a day? *Shudders*)
My partner, on the other hand, loves Christmas so much that he listens to carols while working out. Our twin 2-year-old sons are following in their father's footsteps, constantly asking to read winter stories and singing their garbled version of "Jingle Bells" all year long.
The other night, while watching Elf for the umpteenth time with the family and trying to ignore my craving for chocolate, I had an idea. Nutritionists are always saying that the things you eat impact how you feel. Could Buddy the Elf's sugar-filled diet be the secret behind his endless Christmas Spirit? I mean, it wasn't that far-fetched of an idea. Buddy seems pretty amped for Christmas, and it doesn't matter how many terrible cups of coffee he's had, he's still super excited for every ounce Christmas. He wasn't passed out on the couch by 3 or bent over in rage after eating one too many candy cans. Did Buddy the Elf hold the secret to holiday joy?
I decided to adopt the elf diet for a full day to find out.
I run, dance, and lift weights, and I feel best able to do these activities when I eat a balanced diet with lots of veggies and fruit. I love sweets, but I try to limit them to a couple times a week so they feel special. Buddy explains the four elf food groups are as follows:
Candy, candy canes, candy corns, and syrup.
I have IBS and colitis, so in spite of my sweet tooth, my body feels better when enjoy them sparingly. As an adult, I've learned there can be too much of a good thing, so rather than adopt an elf diet for the entire month of December, I decided to stick to a single day of sugar indulgences. For a full 24 hours, I bid farewell to my smoothies and said hello to oodles of sugar in the quest to find my inner elf.
I started this experiment off strong, with peppermint sprinkled pancakes. My children adored the decorative touches to their breakfast and their good mood combined with the taste of maple syrup made me smile before I'd even finished my coffee. Maybe there is something to eating sugar in order to be a more positive person.
When it comes to my children's diet, pancakes are a rare weekend treat that are served with maple syrup and a side of fruit. Their reaction to getting a pile of whipped cream topped pancakes with sprinkles for breakfast made me feel more like Santa Claus than an elf, and by the way they ran around in circles after their meal I could tell they were enjoying the boost of energy from all the sugar.
I don't typically snack between breakfast and lunch because I'm usually not hungry, but by mid-morning of this experiment, I was ravenous. I'm not a nutritionalist, but I suspect the high-sugar breakfast I had in lieu of my usual egg whites and avocado on toast messed with my blood sugar levels.
Hobbits are known for eating around the clock, and they must be at least distant cousins of the elves, right? Either way, I need to eat something. A banana with peanut butter is a go-to family favorite for a quick bite, so I grab one without thinking, then add some sprinkles to make it elf-diet compliant.
Bananas with peanut butter are delicious. Sprinkles are also delicious. Combine them together and it's the perfect snack. After eating this with me, my boys now refuse to eat plain old bananas with peanut butter, and I can't say I blame them.
I depart from my usual salad with goat cheese and grilled chicken and instead join my kids in a peanut butter and jelly with chocolate milk. I don't know if it's the thrill of sharing such a nostalgic meal with my own kids or just the sugar hitting my blood stream, but we have a fabulous time giggling and being silly over lunch. I know it's not Buddy-approved, but a fun meal would surely count to Buddy, especially if it involves giggling and having fun.
The festive mood continues after I clear our plates and I'm struck by the urge to dance, so I put on some Christmas carols and take turns waltzing with the kids. I'm sure part of my energy was from my high sugar lunch, but I think the reason for my spontaneous dance break was that I'm letting myself relax. Allowing myself to eat sugar foods without worrying about the consequences is allowing me a chance to loosen up and be less anxious over other parts of my life. I'm not thinking about educational activities or practicing flashcards and am enjoying their company without an agenda. I'm just in the moment, and loving it.
20 Minutes Later
Everything hurts and I'm dying. My mouth is dry, my stomach is rocky, and it feels like my eyes are twitching in their sockets. I flop down with my kids to watch some cartoons and don't move for another hour until it's time to put them down for their nap. I don't want to deck the halls or wrap presents, I just want to sleep.
Feeling such a crash after eating the lunch my kids eat on the regular made me wonder if they're really sleepy after lunch or if maybe I'm giving them too much sugar. I try to avoid battles over food by feeding them things I know they enjoy, but it may be time to throw some hummus or grilled cheese into the mix, or at very least cut back on the chocolate milk.
You can't do a day on the elf diet without trying the maple syrup pasta from the movie. I was skeptical about the dish before I even boiled the water, but since rice pudding is delicious, I tried to keep an open mind.
I like to think I'm a fairly adventurous eater. I've yet to meet a hot pepper I haven't liked, and if you can fry it, I'll try it. But there was something about the smell of pasta and syrup mixed together that made Buddy's special dinner (and subsequent breakfast) turn my stomach. I swallowed a single bite and immediately regretted my life choices.
Seeing my reaction, my partner couldn't be convinced to try it, but my 2-year-old twins were game. (This was entirely unsurprising.) One of them sucked the syrup off the strands of pasta and left the pasta on the side of the dish and the other plucked the chocolate chips off the top but even they weren't daring enough to eat it outright. Will Ferrell deserves an Oscar for gobbling that mess up.
Dinner, Take 2
Ever supportive, my elf/partner stops to pick up cupcakes on the way home in honor of the experiment. Even though I'm dragging and craving the pasta with ground meat sauce the rest of my family is enjoying, I rally, because that is what one does when there is pastry to be had. After a dinner of cupcakes and a giant glass of milk, I settle in to read the kids The Night Before Christmas and watch A Muppet Christmas Carol and try not to fall asleep from the sugar crash.
It could be the elf diet is working, because for the first time all month I remember to move the Elf on the Shelf to a new hiding spot before going up to bed that night instead of rushing down the stairs ahead of the kids in the morning to do it.
Did 1,000 Spoonfuls Of Sugar Awaken My Christmas Spirit?
I wish I could say that eating like Buddy the Elf made my heart grow four sizes and now I'm knitting stockings to hang over the mantle, but it's just not true. The morning after the experiment was over, I woke up with an awful stomachache and felt like I had a hangover, even though I didn't drink anything the day before.
Eating more than my fill of sugar made me want to take a closer look at how the sweets I give my kids may be impacting their energy levels. It also reaffirmed my beliefs that I feel better when I eat mostly unprocessed foods.
My sugar haze made me more willing to engage in holiday activities with my kids, and I was surprised to see how much I enjoyed singing carols and reading Christmas books with them. I learned spending time doing things that make them happy makes me happy too. Therefore going forward I'll make an effort to do holiday themed activities with them for the quality time it gives us. But in the end I'm just a Grinch, living in a house full of elves, trying to make it to New Years.
Images: Courtesy of Megan Zander (5), Giphy (4), YouTube (1)