Holidays tend to be extremely stressful for people; from making plans, to rigid obligations, overwhelming shopping crowds, and back-to-back holiday parties with food…yes…lots of food. I understand how easy it is to feel not so wonderful at this most wonderful time of the year. The best advice I give my clients to manage their weight over the holiday season is to gain confidence and reduce stress.
Stress eating can sabotage even the best efforts to manage weight. When you are stressed, adrenal glands release a hormone called cortisol, and cortisol increases appetite. As a result, this increases the motivation to eat, and often those foods are of high caloric value but low nutritional density. Stress also affects food preferences. High fat and high sugar foods seem to inhibit the stress response, and this contributes to cravings for “comfort foods.” The catch is, consumption of calorie-rich foods may make us feel better and function better, but it’s bad for long-term health.
So how do you gain confidence and manage your weight this holiday season? Here are 10 ways to keep you on track.
1. Reduce stress. Exercise and essential oils are great ways to accomplish this for immediate results. Researchers studying depression have found that certain citrus fragrances and lavender boost feelings of well-being and alleviate stress by upping levels of norepinephrine, a hormone that affects mood. Find your favorite oil and enjoy.
2. Restrict, not eliminate. Telling yourself “I can’t have this or that” is only going to create a feeling of deprivation, which leads to overeating later on. Social gatherings require strategic planning. Holiday eating doesn’t call for abstinence from favorite foods. It does require being more conscious of what, when, and how we’re eating and how we may be sabotaging ourselves.
3. Focus on the people not the food. Yes, this is a tough one. Societal norms place a large emphasis on the food, and little emphasis on memories being made. Make it an effort to build lasting memories with the ones you love and remind yourself ‘eat to live’ not ‘live to eat.’ The food will always be around, so focus on family and friends, where time is a precious gift.
4. Do less, enjoy more. We go overboard to please others during the holidays. Take care of yourself by saying no at least once—and maybe more. Prioritize your workouts, book club, etc., and don’t try to squeeze in more holiday than you can handle.
5. Don’t diet. As a dietitian, my biggest pet peeve is the word ‘diet.’ I feel our society places too much pressure on what not to eat. Shifting these negative thoughts into positives can empower you to make healthier choices. There is no magical diet pill that will miraculously keep you from gaining weight. Instead, invest time and energy in the community, and fill your heart with love from helping those in need, and not your tummy.
6. Learn to say no. During my consultations with clients, I teach them mindful eating. Mindful eating is eating slowly, fully tasting the food, appreciating every bite, being conscious of what you’re putting into your body, savoring but not overdoing. If you truly are not hungry and someone offers you another piece of pie, learn to say no. “I’ve had enough, thank you.” Or “Thanks. I’m just not hungry right now.”
7. Chew your food. We can become easily distracted and again, mindlessly eat. Try to count up to 15-20 chews per mouthful. That will really slow you down.
8. Plan behavior beforehand, and plan it specifically. If going to a place of feasting (holiday, buffet, free lunch, etc.), make a specific plan for what you will allow yourself to do. For example, plan to eat a good portion of protein, one starch, and lots of green vegetables. With your plan, you can then acknowledge the urge to overeat, but not give in. Be sure to make a specific plan before the event and not on an empty stomach.
9. Munch on some gum. This is a huge trick I use during events. After I’ve enjoyed my selection, I will chew peppermint gum. Seeing other people eating and drinking sometimes makes you want to eat when not hungry. Keep your mouth busy with some gum.
10. Don’t think you blew it. If you get to a point where you think you have eaten or drank more than you intended, do not immediately think you blew it and should just give in to everything for the rest of the night. Tell yourself that you realize you are more than satisfied now and choose to continue your night happily. Choose to care for yourself by listening to your body and enjoying the rest of the time without drowning yourself in the candy bar.
Gain Confidence Not Weight