Avoid the pitfalls of dieting this holiday season and enjoy the food you eat.
The holiday season can be absolutely wonderful, but for many it is also very stressful. The list of to-dos gets longer and longer every year, and we find ourselves scrambling from store to store along with everyone else. Tensions run high as we lose precious hours of daylight along with the motivation to be active and maintain our stress management practices. So how do you navigate this time of year knowing
that just around the corner is the new year, the most popular time to sign up for a gym membership and go on a diet in an attempt to amend for the holiday treats that we indulged in?
Why do we do this year after year?
Isn’t there a way to actually enjoy the season and maybe get some much needed rest? Isn’t there a way to avoid the pitfalls of the holidays and the dry spell that hits after the New Year? Why do we label ourselves as naughty during the holidays only to turn around and repent for the following months?
Do I really want to “be naughty” this season and resolve to “be good” next year?
There are many reasons why those holiday treats are so tempting
Sweets are so easy to get and it's so easy to eat them. They are in almost every store you enter, every office and almost every friend or family member seems to be baking this time of year. Cold weather makes us want to bundle up and stay indoors. It also signals to our bodies that is it time to gain weight as a means of helping us stay warm.
The hours of daylight shortens sending the signal that it's bedtime earlier and earlier and to wake later and later. Many people also suffer from seasonal depression because of the change in hours and quality of sunlight. The combination of the change in temperature and hours of daylight make it harder to wake up and get outside which ultimately reduces our activity and changing our metabolism.
But we still need that dopamine rush!
Dopamine is a happy neurotransmitter in our brain. When we play video games or scroll through social media, we look for the dopamine rush of getting comments on our page or from hearing the "ding" every time we score points in our game. We get dopamine from food, too, especially food that contains sugar. Our bodies need carbs for fuel so it makes sense from a evolutionary standpoint that we get positive feedback from our brains when we eat them.
When we just want to sleep but there's a million things to do, we look for things to raise our energy level and bring us some of that happiness we so desperately need. One of the fastest ways to get this is through eating treats. The fat and sugar in treats gives us that dopamine and makes us feel more energized momentarily. It wears off quickly, but there's always more treats to be had! So if we are not careful, we've eaten an entire pie before realizing that eating only for pleasure is not sustainable.
We are often taught that we are "being naughty" when eating sweets, but the reality is that we are being human.
It's tough, though, when coworkers and friends are bringing in treats constantly, trying to spread holiday cheer. If we have learned not to bring treats into our homes because we lack the self-control to avoid them, all of the sudden we find that treats are everywhere we look and the temptation is hard to bear. We don't want to hurt anyone's feelings by saying "no thank you," so we sample, and sample again, and maybe just one more..
So what are some techniques people use to help prevent overindulging in holiday treats?
There are many techniques for enjoying the holidays without worrying about gaining weight or feeling bad. We are often taught that we are "being naughty" when eating sweets, but the reality is that we are being human. If we can change the way we think about holiday eating, we can enjoy ourselves much more. This holiday season, be thankful for what your body CAN do and forget about what it isn't.
Go against diet culture: DON'T weigh yourself
Do we need really need to weigh ourselves?
I expect to gain a little weight during the holidays and know that it will come back off during the following months when there aren’t as many treats around and I'm under less stress. Unless you are working towards making your body more sensitive to insulin, or need to make sure that you don’t gain too much water weight because of a heart condition, forget about your weight. It is just a number and does not designate how you feel.
Instead, why not focus on listening to your body when it tells you that it is hungry and when it is satisfied? Why not enjoy what you are eating and be okay with not finishing it if you've had enough of it?
Intuitive eating is a skill that can keep us feeling healthy and happy all year round without ever counting calories (because it really is boring…). Young kids are very talented at intuitive eating and will stop eating even if their ice cream is not finished. Don't try that with me, though. Ice cream is my favorite because I always feel so good after eating it! I know that it isn't good for me to have too often, so I have it only when I really feel like I need it, and then I enjoy it fully.
Set realistic expectations: this includes treats!
I wouldn’t expect anybody to avoid all treats this holiday season because that would be nearly impossible and I would feel sadistic if I told you not to eat any! Food is meant to be enjoyed! Holidays are meant to be celebrated and celebration usually includes food.
Why not allow yourself to have holiday treats but stick to the ones that are your absolute favorites and listen to your body when it says stop.
I am definitely going to have pumpkin pie during Thanksgiving and ginger molasses cookies for Christmas but I am not having sugar cookies because they just don’t excite me. If I’m questioning what dessert I want when there are an abundance of them, I might pick small portions of a couple, taste them and listen to what my body is really craving that day. If I try something and if it’s not THE MOST DELICIOUS thing I’ve ever eaten, I don’t finish it.
Keep up on your activity and stress management practices
Now you could make it a point to increase your activity this season to help balance out the extra sweets. All the power to you if this is your go-to plan! I am not hard-wired this way and it would take a ton of effort to get me to schedule in more active time especially when I am already tired (just being realistic!). That being said, I do try to get more walking, biking and dancing in during the winter seasons. It just has never been the daily practice I aim for it to be.
I would also recommend prioritizing your stress management practices. This can also be harder than it sounds. We are often low on time but even taking a couple extra minutes in the shower or a few minutes to stretch and breathe during the morning or evening can have a huge effect on your sanity. Schedule in some time for yourself when the family is in town. You might find that you are more calm and present afterwards and your time with them may be more enjoyable.
Exercise and stress management is crucial for surviving life. If you are able to step up your game with either of these, your holidays will most likely be much more peaceful and enjoyable.
Don't feel guilty for enjoying yourself
We only have one life. If you aren't enjoying it, something's got to change. There's enough judgement placed on us from external sources, why do we need to add our own judgements to that? Ask yourself, if you're not allowed to have fun, then who is and why do they deserve it?
Personally, I am tired of thinking I have to be a certain perfect image that someone else created for me. Who sold us on the concept that there is an "ideal weight" for everyone or an "ideal" body type? Ideal weight is a simple "scientific" calculation based solely on your height! If my height was my only defining feature, I would be called, "little under 5'2"."I have been called "Tiny" and "anorexic" while also being told that I have a pot belly (what?). To me, ideal weight is reached when you feel comfortable in your own body and can do the things you like to do with ease. If having extra weight on your body is holding you back from the activities you love, let's talk about making changes, but there's nothing worse than someone assuming you can't be happy and healthy just the way you are.
So allow yourself to be who you are. Accept that sweets are part of this season and don't be ashamed if the stress and temptation of the season gets the best of you. And one more thing, don't comment on ANYONE's body. We are more than what we look like and certainly more than a number on a scale.
I hope that understanding why the holidays cause the holi-CRAZE for sweets will help you enjoy the holidays more this season with a sense that we have freedom of choice with food. I hope that you also feel a little more comfortable saying yes to foods and treats that you really love and have the permission to toss any food that just isn't up to snuff.
If just reading this makes you feel overwhelmed, schedule an appointment to talk about your strategy for staying sane, satisfied and healthy this holiday season. Cheers!