How to Survive the Holidays? One Bite at a Time
October through December can be a minefield of challenges for those who struggle with the eat-repent-repeat cycle. Food is everywhere, from your television to your child’s trick-or-treat stash. The constant exposure may eventually lead to cravings, overeating, holiday buffet-hangovers, guilt, and vows to do better tomorrow—or on January 2nd.
The best strategy is to eat what you love fearlessly. While that may sound counter-intuitive, studies have shown that labeling the foods you love as forbidden can actually increase their power over you. When you think of the foods you love as "bad," you may feel guilty for even wanting them, and deprived because you’re not supposed to eat them. As a result, you may yourself visiting the break room in search of holiday treats.
Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat
Banish the special occasion mentality. You'll be less tempted to overeat during the holidays if you stop depriving yourself the rest of the year. It takes the “special occasion” mentality out of the equation.
Minimize your exposure. Wait until the last minute to buy or prepare holiday goodies. Make only what you really think you'll need for parties and gifts. Resist the temptation to dump the leftovers in the break room at work. Not only will that decrease your own exposure, but your co-workers’ exposure too.
Remember, it's not your food. All too often we eat whatever shows up—from cookies in the break room to samples in the grocery store. But you didn't choose to put it there so don’t mindlessly put it in your mouth!
Save room for dessert. If you're going to eat holiday treats and desserts (you know you are!), then adjust for it. After all, does it really make sense to have to eat all your dinner to earn the right to eat more food?
Ask, “Am I hungry?” Whenever you feel like reaching for a treat, pause to check in. Sometimes, “I want chocolate” really means, “I want a break,” “I want a reward,” or “I want to scream.” What else could you do to meet those needs better?
Try the Four Really Test. Another question to ask yourself is, “Do I really, really, really, really want it?” If the answer is yes, choose your favorite and enjoy it without distractions or guilt.
Love what you eat. If you love your favorite holiday foods that much, act like it! Enjoy your snack or meal mindfully without distractions. Savor the appearance, aromas, textures, and flavors. Put your fork down to focus on the bite in your mouth instead of immediately loading the next bite.
Just right! A couple of mindful bites of fabulous food is much better than a plate full of so-so. Since those first few bites are always the best, think before you dive in for more.
Eat fearlessly without guilt. We all know that guilt leads to more eating, not less. When you make a conscious decision to eat a treat, enjoy the experience fully, then let it go.
Don't torture yourself with exercise. Being physically active feels good, relieves stress, and provides numerous benefits for your health. Don't turn exercise into punishment for eating.
Pass it on. The holidays are a great time to teach your kids how to enjoy a variety of foods as part of a healthy and active lifestyle. Through observation, they learn that it is possible to balance eating for nourishment with eating for enjoyment.
Michelle May, M.D. is the founder of the Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs and Training that help individuals break free from mindless and emotional eating< style="mso-bidi-font-weight: bold;">. She is the author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: How to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle. (Download chapter one free.)