Please note: some of these scenarios may not apply this year depending on what your safe celebrations look like due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, most of these tips also apply to pandemic stress eating - so hopefully you find them helpful no matter what!
A quick internet search on “how to stay on track during the holidays” reveals a plethora of rather useless tips: drink a lot of water! Bring your own food! Eat a meal before! Only eat fruit! The Mayo Clinic even goes so far as to recommend joining a weight management program. Thanks Mayo Clinic!
All this is great ON PAPER, but you know that by 7:30 PM you are going to be 3 glasses of Sauvy B deep, glancing lovingly at a plate of salted caramel brownies, trying to avoid political discussions and nosy relatives asking about your relationship status, and much, much more.
How do we cope?
In the nutrition world, the time between Halloween and New Year’s Eve is informally known as “national eating season.” Let’s look at a few strategies that could potentially help, during eating season and beyond.
Understand the difference between emotional cravings and physical hunger.
Ask yourself the following questions. If the answer is yes to any of them, keep reading:
- Do you eat more when you’re feeling stressed?
- Do you eat when you’re not hungry or when you’re full?
- Do you eat to feel better (to calm and soothe yourself when you’re sad, mad, bored, anxious, etc.)?
- Do you reward yourself with food?
- Do you regularly eat until you’ve stuffed yourself?
- Does food make you feel safe? Do you feel like food is a friend?
- Do you feel powerless or out of control around food?
Know that emotional hunger comes on quickly and is often centered around one type of food. Anyone ever spend 3 hours thinking about Doritos and trying to talk yourself out of eating them? That is emotional hunger. Physical hunger comes on more gradually and you can satisfy it with a meal that is healthful and well balanced, not a specific food. Social influences and childhood memories often trigger emotional eating around the holidays, so always give yourself some time to check in with yourself here.
Adopt a “maintain not gain” point of view.
Unless you absolutely must lose weight for a weight classed competition or are dealing with extreme obesity that is life-threatening, October through December is a very difficult time to lose weight or to begin a new program. It can be done, it is just difficult. At Shebnation® we often coach our clients to just maintain the progress they made over the year and remain stable during this time.
With a little work, you can have those salted caramel brownies (or Doritos) and still maintain your current bodyweight, all the while enjoying celebrations with relatives and loved ones (and maybe those loved ones you love a little less).
Understand and acknowledge where your personal “minefields” might be and avoid stepping on them.
Say you are going to spend 3 weeks with your family, outside your regular routine and away from your regularly scheduled foods. Note the times and places where nutrition might get out of hand and try to minimize multiple “minefields” in one day.
For example, your parents always order pizza Christmas Eve. But your Aunty Evelyn likes to do an ice cream sundae run that afternoon with the grandkids, and breakfast is always cinnamon rolls and bacon. All these are fine on their own, but multiple scenarios like this over multiple days will probably result in weight gain and general feelings of bloat and indigestion.
Decide which tradition is most important (and fun) for you and say “yes” to that, then courteously decline the other two. You can still participate without eating all the things. This is a time of year when we cannot really afford to eat whatever the heck we want (aka "go full a$$hole") for 3 months - that’s 25% of the entire year. When you think about the holidays in the big picture of your goals, it may be easier to say no to that cookie you really didn’t want in the first place.
Sheb is the Arya® Resident Nutrition Coach and record holding powerlifter. Her company, Shebnation® Nutrition was founded in 2017 and she has helped countless people reach their nutrition and weight loss goals, all the while fostering an environment of science based knowledge and empathetic support for her clients. If you're interested in learning more about Shebnation Nutrition, visit Shebnation.com or find @Shebnation on Instagram.