Avoid the Holiday 'Indulge and Bulge' Trap

By Anne Wilfong, RD, LD – December 3, 2012

Every year about this time, I find myself completely amazed that the holiday season is here already. Usually, I am reminded by clients, when I ask them what challenges they see coming up. Inevitably, the struggles this time of year include the multitude of holiday parties and family gatherings. Buffets, the seasonal lattes at your favorite coffee house, pecan pies, eggnog, alcohol, and entire parties centered on food such as the always-delicious cookie exchange. Toss in some extra stress from parents, in-laws, co-workers and your boss and you may find yourself using food as an escape. In reality, when you think about it, you have probably been dealing with these same challenges all year, there just happen to be many more of them crammed into November and December. Food is everywhere this time of year, so instead of avoiding it or using it as a reward or an escape from stress, learn to improve your relationship with food so you can eat what you truly enjoy and stay healthy.

Common Holiday Pitfalls

1. I won’t eat breakfast or lunch so I can save up all my calories for the holiday party.

When you skip meals, you end up feeling overly hungry. And when you are overly hungry, you inevitably overeat because your blood sugar is low and your body needs fuel. You also tend to eat quickly, which doesn’t allow for the signals to reach your brain to tell you to slow down; you have had enough food. Before you know it, you are stuffed and overfull. Skipping meals always backfires.

2. I will workout twice as long to burn off what I am going to eat at the holiday party.

Exercise shouldn’t feel like punishment, nor should you set the stage for overeating by working out more than usual.

3. I am going to splurge all December and start clean in January.

Take a more modest approach and choose to mindfully enjoy the foods you do love and avoid splurging on foods you don’t.

4. They only sell peppermint bark (or other seasonal favorite treat) one time a year, so I better eat as much of it as I can before they stop selling it. 

O.K. I confess: I LOVE peppermint bark! Try this mindful eating exercise. The first few bites always taste the best. After several bites, your taste buds are not going to explode like they did the first few bites, so enjoy the treat by eating it slowly while noticing the flavor, smell, and taste of each bite. Remember: all foods can be part of a healthy diet in moderation.

5. I don’t want to be rude and refuse to eat whatever my grandmother makes. 

Your grandmother (friend, co-worker, other relative) doesn’t know what your body needs; only you do. Eat what you want in order to feel satisfied and then politely say you are done.

6. Everything at the buffet looks good, so I better take some of everything.

Take a careful look at the buffet and ask yourself what REALLY looks good to you. Consider choosing foods you haven’t tried before and enjoying them mindfully.

7. I am so stressed out; I deserve these cookies.

Food will only temporarily make you feel better; it will never solve the problem. This bears repeating: Food will never solve the problem. What self-care techniques do you have that could substitute for food? For example: does a hot bath, walk around the block, or listening to your favorite music provide a break from stress? If so, try substituting that behavior instead of food the next time you feel overwhelmed.

Ultimately, it is my wish you will choose foods based on how they make you feel, eating when you are physically hungry, and stopping when you are satisfied. For example, consider the holiday party: If you skip breakfast and lunch and then overeat at a buffet, how does that leave you feeling? If you eat a balanced breakfast and lunch and choose foods and portions you know are delicious but won’t leave you feeling overstuffed, you will feel physically and mentally much better. The choice is yours; one meal won’t make or break your diet, but having a positive relationship with food will help you live a healthy life.

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