Surviving the Holidays: How to beat (not eat) your holiday stress

This is a topic that I usually discuss in support groups around this time of year, but this year I decided to write a blog entry to share my thoughts and ensure that more people are able to read it and learn from it. First, I want to debunk a holiday weight gain myth. Media suggests that the average person gains between 7- 10 pounds between Thanksgiving and the New Year, but several studies suggest that the average weight gain is only about a pound. With that being said, don’t go into this season already assuming that you are going to be gaining a ton of weight and/or going up one clothing size. Further, if you go into the holiday season thinking that, then you just may do that. This can be explained by the self-fulfilling prophecy, which is a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it is already true. In other words, if you are expecting to gain weight during the holidays, you will most likely change your behaviors in a way that will be in line with that belief and therefore gain weight. So, first, know the facts. You are most likely going to gain only about a pound so don’t tell yourself you will, or you will. Instead, be positive and realistic. Accept the fact that most people gain a pound or so.

Now you may be asking yourself why should I expect to even gain a pound, or better yet, why are we even talking about this? By knowing this information you can start planning and learn tips to help you stay on track. The reason is that it is truly difficult for anyone to not gain weight during this time of year. Holidays typically include a lot of social gatherings, which include office parties, family and friend gatherings. These gatherings may include alcohol or other liquid empty calories, including sugary beverages. When there are social gatherings there are typically also finger foods and appetizers, snacks, sugar cookies, chocolates, pies, and other desserts. You can see how those calories just start adding up. Holidays can also be stressful for many reasons, including being around family, needing to buy gifts, decorating, and traveling. Further, when we are traveling, that also means that we are not home and not in our normal routine (both in terms of food and physical activity). This can also be quite stressful.

To summarize and name just a few things that happen around this time of year, we have the holidays, more food readily available, potential stress, and traveling. Therefore, it shouldn’t surprise you why it is hard to not gain weight, but it is also important to know that it is NOT easy to lose weight during this time either. With that being said, I urge you to not even try to lose weight during this time. Also, be good to yourself. Go into the holiday season telling yourself that you are NOT going to beat yourself up IF you do gain some weight. Now, with a few tips, the hope is that you will stay on track and have an easier time beating that holiday stress and NOT eating it. The goal is for you to come out of this season, NOT starting a diet on January 1st (which will be the topic of a future blog) but also acknowledging that you did the best you could during this not so easy time.

Dr. Rachel’s Tips to a Healthier Holiday Season

  1. Focus on weight management and not weight loss during the holidays. Set realistic goals for the holiday season, including a goal to maintain your weight (not to lose weight!).
  1. Make a plan. It’s easier to deal with a situation if you have planned ahead.
  1. Plan on NOT dieting or skipping meals before the holiday meal. Eat regularly throughout the day to limit the chances of binging or overindulging. Remember it’s a LIFESTYLE. Also, make a plan to NOT diet after the New Year. Anticipation of food restriction could set you up for binge type eating over the holidays.
  1. Anticipate stressful situations and develop a list of how you will handle these challenges. (i.e. if you eat out of emotion and know you will have family stressors at the dinner table).
  1. Eat something small and healthy before you go to a party or holiday gathering so you don’t show up starving and then end up eating with your eyes.
  1. If you are at a holiday meal (especially buffet style) don’t just pick up a plate and get in line. This will lead to a full plate of food and overeating. Instead, take a few minutes to scan the room and see what is there. Walk around and look at the food. Come up with a strategy.
  1. Choose wisely – ask yourself “What do I really want and enjoy?” Don’t waste calories on things you do not really enjoy, even if they look good.
  1. Make the healthier choice. The healthiest choice may not be available, but there is always a healthier choice.
  1. Avoid empty calories (i.e. juice, soda, alcohol, energy drinks)
  1. Create new routines and traditions. Get Moving and stay active. Maybe include your family or friends and go for a walk while the food is cooking, or afterwards to get fresh air. Other great activities are: signing up for a walk/run, or playing a sport together.

Remember: Celebrations are really about family, friends, and traditions – not food.

Please feel free to comment, add additional tips, as there are many more we can discuss, ask questions, etc. We are all in this together and something that works for you may also work for someone else.

To a healthy holiday season and being Healthie 4 Life!

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