By Elizabeth Pavka, PhD, LD/N, Wholistic Nutritionist
Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chanukah, other religious celebrations, New Year’s Eve. We are bombarded with holidays and stressors! They include more food (as in more appetizers, more buffets, more parties, more cooking), feeling left out or different, more alcohol, less time, more shopping, less money, more wrapping, less exercise, more stress. Whatever the challenges are for you, they probably fall into what I call the holiday triangle of food, activity, and emotional stress.
Before the party: Never go to a party hungry! If your blood glucose/sugar level is crashing, it’s much more difficult to make healthier choices about what to eat and drink. How can you tell? Here are the top 5 items of a 33-item list taken from The Mood Cure: The 4-Step Program to Take Change of Your Emotions — Today by Julia Ross:
1. craving sweets or alcohol
3. exhaustion, weakness
4. faintness/dizziness/tremors/shakiness/cold sweats
About 30 minutes before you arrive at the party eat a small meal containing protein, perhaps cheese and crackers, a cut-up apple spread with almond butter, or a piece of leftover chicken and raw carrot. The protein stabilizes blood glucose/sugar level which, in turn, helps you make healthier choices.
At the party: Remind yourself that you don’t have to eat everything to enjoy yourself. Choose your favorite foods, perhaps those that are holiday specific. Start with small portions, chew well, eat slowly, and savor every bite. Talk less. Listen more. Socialize and circulate around the room. Be aware of “mindless eating and drinking”. Listen to your body. Pay attention to the cues that you are satisfied. Stop when you are comfortably full.
While food is usually the way people nurture themselves, you can choose non-food ways. Go for a walk with a family member or friend, walk alone if you prefer, listen to your favorite music, read a book, ride a motorcycle, take a nap, or engage in your own personal “non-food nurturing activity”.
Exercise: Busy holiday schedules tend to bump people off their regular exercise routines. Get some physical activity at least every other day or daily if you can. Aerobic activities like brisk walking, jogging, bicycling, roller-blading, or swimming relieve stress, improve sleep, regulate appetite, and burn up extra calories of holiday eating.
Emotional stress: The holiday season is traditionally a time of family gatherings. For some, attending family get-togethers will be a time to reunite with good friends and family, to share, laugh, celebrate, and give thanks. However, for others family gatherings can be very stressful. Be aware that holiday memories — sometimes called “ghosts of Christmas past” — can be some of our most cherished and most painful memories. Trying to make the present recapture or make up for the past can set the present holiday up for failure. Families change. Babies are born, individuals die, divorce happens, “blended families” manifest, people move away, individuals change.
Many people eat more or less food to “numb themselves out”. Why? So they won’t feel the disappointment, the frustration, the annoyance, the anger that holidays are just not the way they used to be. Talking with a trusted friend or seeking help from a counselor can help you understand yourself better and hopefully enjoy your holidays more.
In her book, Why Weight? A Guide to Ending Compulsive Eating, Geneen Roth includes a chapter called “Making It Through the Holidays”. She writes, “Whether we are alone and do not wish to be, or not alone and wish we were, the common problems we have are how to untangle ourselves from the complicated web of nostalgia, feigned merriment, obligatory buying, and frantic eating [in order] to create a holiday in which we can enjoy the pleasures of the season without burying ourselves in food.”(p. 159). In this chapter, as in all the others, she has exercises for the reader. Titles include “Holiday Fears”, “Chanukahs and Christmases Past”, and “Creating Happier Holidays.”
If you find yourself eating much more or much less food during the holiday season, check out: 1) “Holiday Stress”