Set the best intention, overeat, shame and guilt yourself, repeat. Despite our best intentions, many of us find ourselves routinely overeating at meals, snacking mindlessly, or bingeing regularly. It’s a familiar pattern that seems to end in weight gain for many of us every year, especially during the holidays.
With the last two weeks of the year upon us, it’s easy to begin worrying about packing on those unwanted winter pounds. The holiday season, beginning with Thanksgiving, generally means more delectable foods, more traveling, more stress and emotional eating (especially if you have difficult relatives), and less time for physical activity and relaxation. But this time of year doesn’t have to be a recipe for weight gain.
The truth is, a little overeating here and there isn’t going to hurt us or pack on too many pounds. The bigger issue is that often it starts a pattern for the entire holiday season. Whether it kick-starts an old habit of holiday over-indulgence or triggers an underlying compulsive eating problem, you may want to nip your overeating in the bud early this year.
Try these 10 strategies to do just that:
1) Have a plan. Which foods are you truly longing for this year? This includes munchibles, main entrees and desserts. Make sure those will be the ones on your plate. Which foods can you take a pass on? Remind yourself that we live in America where there are 24 hour food stores. There is no shortage of food to eat. And if your mind kicks up “But this is homemade and I won’t be able to get it again until next year, and Granny, who makes it may not be around then…” take a SERVING SIZE of it home with you. Problem solved.
2) Stay conscious. Once you arrive at a gathering, remind yourself of your plan. If you didn’t plan to munch endlessly, don’t! Keep reminding yourself of what your food plan is throughout the afternoon or evening. Yes, this means having lots of inner conversations. Try to stay connected to yourself and your game plan. Remind yourself how good it feels when you stick to your goals and when you come home feeling light rather than bloated.
3) Don’t arrive anywhere ravenous. It’s always best when heading out to places where there will be an abundance of delectable foods to make sure that you are not super-hungry. Your willingness to take the best care of yourself goes right out the window when your blood sugar plummets. Even just a piece of fruit or a handful of nuts before will tide you over nicely.
4) Stick to one plate. Your stomach is the size of your fist. One level plate, and I don’t mean a jumbo, will satisfy your natural hunger. Make sure to include nutrient-dense foods like leafy greens and fruits on your plate–the fiber will fill you up fast and satisfy any way-ward cravings. DO NOT GO BACK FOR SECONDS, unless you feel true physical hunger. Pay attention to your fullness signals–they’re there to guide you. Try to wait at least 20 minutes for your signals to register satiation.
5) Stick to three bites of rich desserts. When you have just a few bites of a rich dessert, you get all of the mouth pleasure and little of the body imbalance caused by all the sugar and fat. This way, you can still eye a delicious dessert or two, stick to a total of three bites and feel proud of yourself.
6) Move your body. Even when the day is busy and there is little time for formal exercise, you can still get some movement by parking your car farther away, choosing stairs versus elevator, playing with small children and animals or taking a before meal or after meal walk with family and friends. Just look for small ways to stay active.
7) Don’t be concerned with weight loss. At this time of year, it’s probably best to set your goal to maintain your weight and not gain any weight. If you lose weight from staying connected to yourself in these ways, that will be a plus. The skills you are learning regarding holiday eating will keep you in good stead during all festive occasions.
8) Focus on the joy of the gathering. With so many delectable, addictive foods around, it’s easy to get food-focused at holiday gatherings. But by following the one-plate and three-bite suggestions, you’ll have plenty of emotional and physical energy available to enjoy friends and family.
9) Stay mindful of unpleasant emotions surfacing and plan to attend to them later. Unfortunately, not all holiday gatherings are full of good cheer. Sometimes we have to spend time with difficult family members. We may be spending holidays with people we don’t know well. Whatever the situation, give yourself the gift of taking a little time to be mindful about the feelings coming up. I always like to journal when unpleasant emotions are surfacing–-it helps me stay connected to myself and gives me the opportunity to access my inner nurturing voice.
10) Carve out some quality alone time. We all need time to decompress and fill back up. Even an hour off by yourself can help you stay connected and reduce any tendency to overeat to “come down” from it all or to reward yourself for getting through it.
Make this the year that you interrupt the urge to overeat at holiday meals, and give thanks to yourself for your willingness to be uncomfortable while you try on new behaviors. Peace and blessings this holiday season.
Posted by Julie M. Simon, MA, MBA, MFT., psychotherapist, life coach, certified personal trainer, speaker, founder of The 12 Week Emotional Eating Recovery Program and author of The Emotional Eater’s Repair Manual. If you have a question or topic you would like to see addressed in this blog, go to http: //www.overeatingrecovery.com.
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