This time of year you will see countless stories about what to eat or what not to eat during the upcoming holidays. If only it were that simple. For me, and I imagine for many of you, returning home, going to a relative's home or entertaining relatives in your own home may create a lot of anxiety.
When I was in college, spending a few days home around Thanksgiving or a couple of weeks at Christmas was extremely challenging emotionally. Don't get me wrong; I looked forward to seeing my parents, grandparents, brothers and sister and our dogs, but it was worrying about how to handle the food and the thoughts and feelings around the eating events that made me anxious. Growing up in my house was like being in a grocery store and bakery all wrapped up together. There was an endless supply of goodies. Mom, being a mom, always made sure my favorite ice cream (Breyer's Strawberry) was in the freezer. Of course, there were brownies, crackers, cookies, nuts and cheese. The turkey was so big it barely fit in the oven. But somehow we found room and time to bake pies, breads and make numerous side dishes. You probably get the picture, constant food cues – constant stress.
And then there may be issues with other emotions that can get conjured up around family – such as feelings of inadequacy, guilt, perfectionism, anger, jealousy, joyfulness & celebration. If food soothes your soul, this time of year sure makes for easy access to your favorite coping mechanism. What happens after that, however, may be even more stressful or damaging than the actual eating for comfort — the onslaught of emotional turmoil that frequently occurs: guilt, disgust, feelings of failure, and feeling sluggish may lead to futher deterioration of your body image. For some, this may lead to more eating and ultinmately weight gain.
Cut yourself a little slack. Don't expect to be perfect. One day of eating a little off the straight-and-narrow isn't going to make a difference in the the whole scheme of things. Preplan, do the best you can and adopt positive self-talk and practice, practice, practice.
You can break the counter-productive cycle. One way of doing this is using the visualization, or seeing in your mind's eye how you will go through the event or weekend in a manner that makes you feel joyous. Rehearse in your mind ahead of time how you will feel and act. I also remember how if feels when I overeat. A little negative reinforcement CAN be effective too.
Brainstorm strategies to handle the constant food cues.
Here are some things I do to prepare for Thanksgiving:
In the morning I eat breakfast, such as a high protein shake (see recipe section of my Web site). If I am cooking the dinner, I will have started the previous weekend and made most of the side dishes and tucked them into the freezer to be removed the day before. The evening before I make the stuffing and the things that don't freeze well. This leaves only the turkey to be stuffed and roasted. This reduces the stress of doing everything at the last minute. I also put a healthy spin on how I prepare the side dishes. After getting the turkey in the oven, I go for a nice long walk.
I try to plan the meal so it's not too late in the day, which reduces the extra snacking from getting over-hungry. If the meal is going to be later in the afternoon, have on hand or bring with you a tray of cut-up fruits and or vegggies.
Drink lots of water and limit the alcohol early on as it may lower your ability to think clearly and make rational decisions.
Don't take a holiday from your food journal. Write down EVERYTHING you eat, your thoughts and feelings. This will help you prepare for the next holiday.
After dinner and some socializing, try to get out for another walk, enjoy the fresh air and maybe the snow if you live in the north. This will give you a chance to reflect on the positive and congratulate yourself for not only surviving, but actually enjoying your holiday.
Wishing your a healthy and happy holiday season!