Just when you’re finally getting your weight under control, boom! It’s the holidays, and food is everywhere. From the office to the factory, from the office supply store to the drugstore (not to mention parties and family events galore), it seems as if the Christmas -New Year’s holiday season is one long, tempting food fest designed to make you gain weight. Add in the emotions of the season and experts say the holidays can deal your weight loss efforts a double whammy.
“You’ve got the stress of the holidays, along with a lack of sleep, and, for many, a cauldron of bubbling emotions coming to the surface — and you’ve got all this food beckoning you at every turn,” says Warren Huberman, PhD, a clinical psychologist specialising in weight control. “It can be a dangerous combination for those who have problems controlling what they eat.” But it is possible to keep the holiday food fests from ruining your weight loss plans. One of the best ways to start, experts say, is by discovering what your personal holiday overeating cues really are.
Food and Feelings: The Holiday Weight Gain Double Whammy
Though it may seem as if the temptation to overeat is all wrapped up in those hand made ‘yummies’ or that German chocolate cake, just being around more scrumptious food isn’t the whole story. One recent study indicates that, for most of us, the drive to overeat at any time of the year is governed more by emotion than environmental cues. In research published in the journal ‘Obesity’, Heather Niemeier, PhD, and colleagues found that for many people, the seed of overeating is actually planted within their emotions. Further, they found that people whose overeating is triggered by emotions tend to have a harder time losing weight and maintaining weight loss.
“When it comes to successful weight loss, our research showed that our emotions and our thoughts seem to actually play a bigger role than environmental cues — we eat in response to feelings — and for many people, the holidays can drum up a whole treasure chest of feelings, both good and bad,” says Niemeier. Whether it’s longing for the memories of holidays past, having to face the lifelong struggles that come to the forefront at family functions, or just being alone this time of year, for many, this can also be a season of sadness.
“Much like music can evoke memories, so can certain foods stir up memories, plus, the olfactory sense is a direct path to the brain,” says Huberman. “So sometimes, even the smell of a certain holiday dish can evoke an emotional response that ultimately sends you back to the buffet table more times then you even realise — and you don’t even know why.”
Making a Plan to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain
Although understanding why you eat can offer some measure of control, experts say it’s also important to head into each potential food fest with a plan for how you’re going to handle the temptation. “If you think you can just go into the party and wing it, or worse still, believe you can simply avoid the buffet table, it’s almost a sure thing you’re going to lose control and eat everything in sight,” says Huberman. Instead, he says, you have to have a coping plan.
In research published recently in the journal ‘Behavior Research and Therapy’, doctors found that dieters who tried to control their appetites using avoidance strategies were at greater risk for overeating than those who developed coping skills to control their overeating. Among the strategies that work best is positive self-talk, with the help of appetite “flash cards,” says Judith Beck, PhD, clinical associate professor of psychology and author of ‘The Beck Diet Solution’.
She believes you have to rehearse your reasons for wanting to be thin, the same way you rehearse the speech you give your boss when asking for a raise or the pep talk you give yourself before any challenging situation. “You have to condition yourself and change your mind-set about what food means to you,” says Beck. Muller says this method works well for those who are “thinkers” and do well with a script. For those who are more spur-of-the-moment, “see it and eat it” types, a technique called “mindful eating” may work best, she says.
Plan to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain
“So often, overeating is connected to a primitive, emotional place inside us, and we just mindlessly start eating,” says Muller. “So one of the strategies would be to cultivate mindfulness: Keep bringing yourself back to the here and now, notice what’s in your hand, notice what’s on your plate, and pay attention to what you are eating.” Huberman says you can also go party-by-party, with a plan for each event: “You can limit the number of dishes you will eat, limit how much you will eat at each course, limit yourself to the three foods you absolutely love the most. The key is to put parameters around how much you will consume, and then stick to your plan.”
Don’t Let ‘Food Pushers’ Lead to Holiday Weight Gain
Despite your best laid plans, your holiday food goals can still go awry thanks to “food pushers” – friends, family members, and co-workers who refuse to take “no” for an answer when they’re offering fattening treats. “These are the people who, for whatever reason, seem to believe that their holiday celebration just isn’t complete until they get you to give in to their food weaknesses,” says Huberman. From that co-worker with the bottomless cookie jar, to Mom and Great-Aunts with their special recipes, to the hostess who won’t let you leave her house before you wolf down a plate of diet-busting treats, even well-meaning friends and family can drag you into the Diet Twilight Zone. The easiest way out? Just say “no” over and over and over, the experts say.
“We call this the broken record technique,” says Huberman. “If you continue to politely refuse the food pusher, eventually they will stop pushing you. You don’t have to be rude, but you do have to be firm.” Beck adds that we should feel entitled to do what is good for us. “If you were refusing food because of an allergy or for religious reasons, you wouldn’t think twice about saying ‘no’ and sticking to it,” Beck says. “So give yourself that same sense of entitlement when you say ‘no’ to something because you are protecting your good health.” There’s no need for lots of explanation about why you don’t want to eat something. You don’t even have to mention the word “diet.””It’s really OK to just say ‘No, thank you — it smells divine, but I’m really full.’ You don’t have to offer more explanation than that,” says Huberman. If you simply can’t get away without accepting something fattening on your plate, accept it, says Katherine Muller, PsyD. Then, just walk into the next room and dump it. “Just because it’s on your plate or in your hand,” she says, “doesn’t mean you have to eat it.”
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD
Source : WMD