Surviving the Holidays

November 15th, 2012 by Sara Upson

The holidays are approaching and many people are looking forward to joyous celebrations with their friends and family.  For you this may be carving the turkey, dining around the table, finding that perfect gift, wrapping the presents, or decorating the tree.  For many people with this excitement also comes much apprehension. On one hand the holidays are a festive celebration and on the other hand there’s the holiday weight gain followed by the New Years weight loss resolution.  I’m sure each year everyone vows that this year will be different- that visions of sugar plum regret will not dance in your head.  Let me assure you that it is possible to navigate the holidays, enjoy the celebrations, and maintain your normal weight.

To do this though you must first eschew all of those holiday diet myths and holiday weight loss tips that you have heard before.  Forget about eating before you go, choosing a smaller plate, and carrying a clutch so that you only have one hand available to eat with.  Don’t even consider wearing the tightest pants or belt you have to remind you to eat less.  Stop spending time trying to figure out how to stand as far away from the buffet as possible.  And whatever you do- do not skip meals!

To feel your best- to enjoy the holidays guilt free- try these 10 tips instead.  Let me remind you that these are tips that can be used all year long, not just at the holidays.

  1. Honor your Body- Eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full.  Instead of thinking about how many calories you can have and if you should or should not eat focus on if you are hungry and what you are hungry for.  Think about what would be appealing to you and eat that food.  Notice the sensations in your body as you eat, and stop when you are comfortably full.

When I ask people what full is the first thing I usually hear is sick, stuffed, disgusted, etc.  In reality you do not go from hungry to extremely full instantaneously.  There are different shades of fullness that occur in between.  Notice these different physical sensations of fullness, and even consider the hunger and fullness scale to help guide you through the process.

2.  Be Picky- focus on satisfaction.  It is actually very important that you eat the foods that you enjoy. It is hard to know if you are satisfied if you don’t like the foods you are eating (or for that matter if you are eating when you are not hungry). Therefore, don’t skip your favorite foods on the buffet because you believe they are bad, instead enjoy your favorite foods in moderation and savor them.  Notice how it tastes, ask yourself if it tastes as good as you thought it would.  If it’s just mediocre- there are plenty of other delicious foods to go around so find something else that is satisfying.  Check in with your satisfaction as you continue to eat.  The pleasantness of food decreases over time.  When it no longer tastes good, stop.

3.  Be Mindful- Sit down and savor the food that you are eating.  Be in the moment and aware of the food.  Notice how the food looks, the aroma, feel it on your tongue and in your mouth.  Anchor yourself (be truly in your body) and call forth every sense to be present as you are eating.   Notice how your body feels, what is your hunger or fullness level?  Notice the satisfaction factor- does it still taste good.

4.  Know that you can have the food again– really; truly- you can have it again.  Although the holidays are a special occasion, know that you can have the food again.  This is not the last time you will ever eat that holiday dish.  Sometimes the sense of future deprivation can drive people to overeat when they feel that this is the only time that they will be able to have this food.  In reality, you can take some of the food home with your for later and/or you can ask for the recipe.  Enjoy it in the moment and know if you want it again tomorrow, next week or next month you can always make it again.

5.  Eat throughout the day- Do not skip meals!  This one is important enough to be repeated- do not skip meals- even if you have a big one coming up soon.  Eat normally, follow a regular schedule (as much as possible), and most importantly respond to your body’s hunger and fullness cues.   Eat on time and respond to your body so that you are not starving when you are surrounded by food.  Skipping meals only makes you hungrier and increases the likelihood that you will overeat.  The theory that you are saving all your calories up for one meal is simply not true.  In fact, there is evidence that skipping meals actually sets you up to eat more than if you had not skipped that meal.   Listen to your body- you would never dream of letting a hungry baby cry for hours because you know a “big meal” is coming.  Why then do adults do this to themselves?

Should you feel that you overate at the party, or the big meal- don’t feel that you need to compensate.  Return to your normal eating habits the next day, and your body will normalize.  In fact, if you truly listen to your body to your hunger and fullness cues- you probably will probably notice that you are less hungry and your total intake will be the same.  Believe it or not your body, when given the chance, will naturally regulate itself.  External control- diets, boundaries, and rules- only inhibit this process.  Instead remind yourself that overeating occasionally does not cause instant weight gain and you will not instantaneously become fat.  Trust your body that it actually knows what to do with that food.  It is normal to have a little bit more during the holidays and it really is “okay.”

6.  Honor your body- Avoid obligatory eating.  Yes, I know honor your body is on here twice, however it’s important to honor yourself.  This includes respecting your hunger and fullness cues and also respecting what you are hungry for.  Know that you are not obligated to eat certain food just because it is on the table or on your plate, because you paid for it or because it is free, because someone made it for your, or because it is there.  Most likely people will try to push food on you and if you are not hungry or if it does not satisfy you- then don’t eat it.  Be polite but firm with food pushers and say “No Thank You.”  You may have to repeat yourself a couple of times, however it is not breaking the rules of etiquette to say a polite no thanks.  If you are concerned about hurting their feelings ask for a small portion to take home or for the recipe.

7.  Enjoy alcohol in moderation.   The American Heart Association defines moderation as two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.  Unfortunately, you cannot save all your drinks up for one time- your body simply does not work that way.  Instead, try alternating alcoholic beverages with water.  Remember that many beverages do contain calories, and that alcohol can drive you to consume more food than you normally would.  Enjoy your alcohol responsibly and drink in moderation.

8.  Throw out the notion that your diet starts on Jan 1.  This is really important.  Of course if you believe that on January first that you are going to start your new diet with all salad and bland food, then it is going to be really hard to stop eating your favorite foods now.  Future deprivation whether real or perceived can drive overeating.  When you believe that this is the last time you are going to eat these foods because you are starting a diet soon you are more likely to eat past the point of fullness and feel out of control.  Think about it, if you truly believed that this was your last time to have chocolate or dessert then you would want to eat as much of it as you could.  Instead of a last attempt effort to try and get everything in that you will no longer be able to have in January, ditch your diet and try to savor your food.  Discover the comfort that comes from knowing if you want eggnog or aunt edna’s Christmas cookies again- you can have them.  When you remove the perceived deprivation and give yourself the permission to savor and enjoy your food you will find that the out of control drive to eat goes away, and you might even discover that you did not even like those foods to begin with!

9.  Enjoy Regular Exercise.  Just because it is the holidays, the weather is cooler outside, and you are traveling or have guests does not mean that you have a free pass to stop exercising.  Exercise has many positive benefits including stress management and who doesn’t need more of that around the holidays?  When you are engaging in physical activity that you enjoy not only are you improving your health and aiding in weight maintenance you are also maintaining balance in your life and staying connected to yourself.  This connection to your body can help you identify your hunger and fullness cues, your satisfaction factor, and help give you the confidence (and stress reduction) to politely decline the foods that you do not enjoy.

The holidays are busy so look for opportunities for physical activity in your normal day.  Exercise does not have to be done in a dedicated 30-60minute window.  It can actually be broken up into 5 or 10-minute blocks and you can still get the same benefits.  As your schedule becomes increasingly busier try fitting exercise in by doing some extra laps while shopping at the mall, arriving early to window shop before the stores get crowded, taking a walk to enjoy the holiday lights, or by taking guests to local attractions.

10.  Handle stress and exhaustion without turning to food.  The holidays are joyous and exciting, but they can also be very stressful!  Remember, it is much harder to take care of others if you are not taking care of yourself first.  Take care of yourself during the holidays by scheduling time for yourself and keep the appointment, just as if it were a business meeting.  In fact, prioritize your schedule- list all the parties to which you are invited, all the errands, all the shopping, etc.  Prioritize your list and scratch off those that are (honestly) not necessary and will only increase your stress levels.  Think about what you enjoy most during the holidays and schedule time for this.  Think about what you enjoy least and cross it off your list!  If you are truly honest with yourself- you may realize that most of the items on your list are to make other people happy.  A little selfishness (and personal TLC) goes a long way this time of the year to make you happy. This also includes trying to maintain a regular sleep schedule, exercise, and eating patterns.  The holidays are not a time for dramatic changes in lifestyle (and don’t forget planning future dramatic changes in lifestyle can contribute to stress and overeating).

Overall, keep in mind that the holidays are a special time- delight in your senses; enjoy the company, the atmosphere, and the entertainment.  Be flexible with yourself and your expectations- almost nothing can turn out exactly as planned, so hoping for it will only lead to disappointment.  Try to be optimistic whenever you can, be thankful for those you love (and those who love you), and laugh as much as possible- especially at your own mistakes.  This will help you experience and enjoy the holiday season with a sense of gratitude and peace.

Seeking help?

Sara Upson is a Registered Dietitian and is owner of My Signature Nutrition, LLC in Tyler.  My Signature Nutrition is Tyler’s only private practice nutrition service provider and offers individualized nutrition education & counseling to help you survive the holidays, manage your weight, and make peace with food so that you can feel your best.

2 Responses to “Surviving the Holidays”

November 20, 2012 at 3:41 am, Tami said:

Wonderfully said! Thanks.

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December 19, 2012 at 2:02 am, Karsyn said:

It’s really easy to become overwhelmed and not be mindful of the things you consume, plaguing your conscience with guilt. Instead, I will strive to ENJOY this food because I don’t eat it everyday, but also recognize that left-overs are an option; I don’t have to over-indulge and make my body uncomfortable.

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