Oh yeah, here they come again, the holidays! It’s funny because it is a time we all look forward to and yet there is still this dread… the dread of weeks of overeating and the unavoidable weight gain. For many, it’s quite predictable. In fact, the average American gains 7-10 pounds during the months of November and December. But really, who can resist all those delectable holiday treats?
Many, on the other hand, never gain an extra pound over the holidays. I am usually one of those. “That’s because you are a dietitian and never enjoy food anyways,” you say. “No way!” is what I say. I enjoy lots of food. Lots of foods in moderation. “Ugh, the moderation word. So overused.” Yeah, I agree. But to a large extent, it’s true. You can enjoy a wide variety of foods if you keep them in moderation. Over-indulge? No. Indulge a little? Yes.
Now, you might be already thinking, well that’s no fun. What’s the holidays if you can’t eat until your stomach is about to rip in two and you need to take an extended siesta on your grandfather’s lazy boy couch? I hear you. We all have traditions that we come to expect and almost crave during this time of year. For so many, overeating is one of them. As mentioned, we dread this season of overeating, but we also expect it and do it anyways. It’s like an unbreakable vicious cycle. How do we get out of candy land hell?
One of the first steps is to recognize the problem! The problem is that when we overeat, we constantly override our natural hunger/fullness cues which eventually leads to dysfunction, to the point we can’t even tell when we are hungry and full anymore. We start to eat for pleasure or pain instead of for physical need. This causes us to eat frequently and in portions much larger than we need.
What to do? This is where some basic mindful eating tips can come in super helpful. It may not change your life immediately, but trust me, over weeks and months you will slowly be more in tune with yourself and better able to nourish your body with what it needs, not with what your cravings tell you it wants.
Danielle’s 5 tips for surviving the holiday food deluge:
1. Recognize your weak areas and where they are encountered
Recognition is always the first step, isn’t it? You have to assess where your problem areas lie. Is it sugar? All carbs? Salt? Large portions in general? All of the above? Does the problem occur in the workplace? At home? At family gatherings? Late at night alone? All of the above. Think through the foods you just can’t stop eating and where you find them throughout the day. Write it down.
2. Make a daily and weekly plan
Remember, most of the gradual weight gain comes from slight but cumulative overeating all through the holidays, not just on Thanksgiving and Christmas day. Make a plan for yourself so you have a rough idea of what you want to eat from day to day and stick to it. Having a plan liberates the mind to think about other more important things and even frees it from considering cravings, especially when you know, according to your “plan,” that they are not an option.
*If you need help making a plan for the holidays come and see me for ideas!
Going along with that, keep a diet journal as you go. Writing down what you eat, at least for a short period of time, increases your mindfulness around what you are eating and helps avoid random snacking. When you are forced to think more about what you eat, you tend to make better choices. So put pen to paper (or finger to phone) and keep track for a couple of weeks during the holidays.
3. DO NOT avoid all your favorite foods
That is probably the worst thing you can do, especially as you start something new. In my experience, the more forbidden food is, the more you want it. What I say is that all foods are allowed, but portions are controlled. That is the key. Make sure you enter it into the plan and stick to a defined portion. *Don’t forget, usually the first 1-3 bites of any food are the most satisfying. The word is enjoy, enjoy, enjoy. Enjoy each bite. When that uber enjoyment ends, put down the fork. Save the rest for another day. I know it’s hard, but try it!
4. Keep up your physical activity!
I can’t even tell you how many people let go of their exercise routines during this time because they are “too busy.” Oh no. That is not acceptable. We all have extra things we add to our daily itineraries because of holiday stuff, but slacking off on exercise is not one we can cut. Decreasing exercise can increase your risk for depression (especially if you are prone to it), decrease your willpower around food portions, and of course, only add extra calories to your day because you aren’t burning those bad boys off. In fact, my advice is to INCREASE your exercise during the holidays! Make November and December your fittest months. You will not be regretting that come January when everyone else is hauling their sorry arse back to the gym!
5. Always load up on fruits and veggies
Basically when in doubt, choose fruit and vegetable. These beauties are chocked full of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants… all the things you need to counteract any unhealthy choices encountered over the holiday months. You are going to feel a lot better, and gain less weight, if you fill your plate with produce at each and every meal.
Bonus tip: Relieve stress however you can!
Stress always makes eating worse (not to mention ruins our holiday spirit). Before the holidays hit, think through right now what helps you melt away stress and make a plan to DO those things regularly. Read a book? Get together with a friend? Meditate or deep breathing? Yoga? A quick getaway? If the holidays stress you out, counteract it this year and get stress-relieving activities on the schedule!
Remember these tips as you move through these next weeks and months, and best of luck as you navigate another wonderful holiday season!
Danielle VenHuizen, MS, RD, CLT is a Registered Dietitian who helps her clients achieve health and vitality through food, not pharmaceuticals. She specializes in working with food sensitivities, Diabetes, Cardiovascular health, Digestive Disorders, and healthy pregnancies. For more expert health advice visit her blog at http://www.FoodSense.net.