In a perfect world it would be easy to say “this is just one meal, I’m going to enjoy it,” but in Malta about two-thirds of adults are considered overweight or obese and many of these overweight people stress about their weight. I know for one I always had a tendency to stress and panic when faced with a situation where I would be eating out of a controlled environment – i.e my kitchen.
This time of the year can be difficult for many people for a number of reasons. I’ve talked about my own struggles with my weight and binge eating for years before.
As winter approaches the days become shorter and this plays a role in seasonal depression or seasonal affective disorder (SAD), even though we have good weather here in Malta – I notice that many people are still affected by it. But the holidays can also trigger depression, anxiety and an abundance of stress in general for a number of reasons. Failed relationships, Family problems, infertility issues, dealing with the passing away of loved ones you usually spend your all holidays with- all of these seem to affect people more around the holidays. I know this Christmas is going to be tough for me since it’s my first Christmas with no grandparents.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America has provided tips for managing stress, anxiety and depression around the holidays from travel anxiety to how to help your anxious children as well as how to de-stress. Some tips I found more helpful than others and some are not so suited to the Maltese population, but I do think it’s a generally helpful list and I recommend you do check it out.
A few years ago, Psychology Today posted a blog post talking about holiday anxiety and what it meant to the guest writer as well as how he coped through it.
However, many posts don’t talk about the eating behaviors that are triggered by the holidays: emotional eating (i.e. stress eating), restriction out of fear of indulging, binge eating triggered by allowing oneself to indulge, feelings of guilt for wanting to eat special holiday treats. There’s also a lack of realistic information on how to have a healthy balance and prevent overindulging around the holidays.
I recently went off track because my stress levels were through the roof and I started eating bigger portions as well. However I have accepted that at this moment in my life my eating patterns won’t be perfect. In December I will be less stressed as I have some time off coming up and I will be able to get back to my healthy routine soon. I have finally learnt to listen to my body and right now it needs to rest and eat a bit more. I am still eating healthy food most days but I am less strict with myself. It is ok to allow yourself to be less strict because life is not all about food and I have managed to learn that.
I’m not saying my tips are perfect, but like I said it’s easier to tell someone that it’s just one meal, it’s just one day than it is for them to hear that validation, understand it and execute an appropriate behavior. While I can’t control how everyone feels in the moment, I do believe that feelings of guilt can cause people to go completely off track and building self-control is key to success – so that everyone can enjoy experiences and not feel chained to restrictive behaviors.
So each and everyone of us is going to have some events coming up this Christmas right?
Make a plan for the day of your event so that you can participate how you want to at your event.
Planning your meals or your timing the day before or a few days before can decrease or eliminate the stress that comes with a change in routine. If you’re going to a dinner party on Friday and you know there’s a chance that there will be goodies you want, you can create two kinds of plans. Plan A: plan for earlier in the day that gives you nutrients you may not find at the party such as protein or carbohydrates from vegetables and fruits and just take something small at the party. I never recommend eating less during the day because you are more likely to be hungrier and eat more once in a social setting full of goodies you haven’t taken in ages.
Plan B: Eat your normal meals and allow yourself to enjoy the party with the potential of eating at maintenance for the day – so control your portion at the event but still eat like the rest of people there.
2. Make a plan for the next day so you have direction and can pick up where you left off.
The next day plan is crucial for success because it’s going to help you get moving in the direction you had been going prior to your social eating event. This plan should mimic your every day routine – it shouldn’t be drastic or used as punishment. So don’t tell me I am not eating on Saturday because on Friday evening I had a chocolate Fondant. One chocolate Fondant is not going to make you put on a lot of weight. Your body will balance itself out – yes it is that smart. Just make sure to eat healthy on Saturday, and drink enough water.
3. Ask the host about the menu and if you can bring a dish to share (if you want to).
Communication is important around the holidays because we all experience them differently. A friend of mine has IBS and was nervous about the food at a holiday party she was going to. As we talked about it, she realized that her friend didn’t realize she had a medical issue that warranted a different eating plan. After our talk, she planned to talk to her friend about the menu to see if there’s anything she could eat that was already planned. She also asked if she could bring a dish this way she knew there would be something that she could eat and wanted to eat. She never had to mention that she had a medical issue. Her friend was grateful for the offer to bring something and offered her information about the menu so she could plan.
While not everyone has a medical condition that requires specific eating, knowing the menu can help alleviate some stress that is brought on by holiday treats when someone is dieting. Having a routine is very important for most people and a change in that routine can be detrimental. If you want some ideas of recipes you can make over the holidays my ebook has plenty of great recipes.
4. Don’t eat what you don’t like. Likewise, try what you want to.
I say this often and probably the same exact thing – does your grandmother make a really good cookie only at Christmas? Does your mum make lasagne only twice a year? Are meatballs on the table only at the holiday’s? There is an emotional connection to food throughout all cultures and in our close families the emotional connection can run deep and long. Restricting and denying yourself of items that are a once-a-year thing can be detrimental to emotional health. While you may see pounds lost on the scale over time, denial of these every-now-and-then treats may not be a sustainable lifelong approach.
This goes along with #1, make a plan. Eat the cookie, maybe you don’t eat four, but you do have one or else you will regret it and resent it all year – take reasonable portions of what you want and go back for seconds if you absolutely want to and if it’s something you truly enjoyed. Try to not allow the pressure of others pull you to consume foods you don’t want. So if you have a choice between that 1 cookie your grandma makes and a piece of banofee pie have the cookie and don’t have the pie, you can have a piece of pie anytime you want.
5. Maintain hydration like you would any other day.
Normal people i.e. people not dieting, don’t walk around with water bottles. Also, at parties, how many people are drinking water throughout the night, not just at the table?
It’s very easy to forget to drink water at a social gathering, and I’m not saying you need to be that person who carries your water bottle, but just be mindful of your hydration throughout the day and the event. When you’re not preparing your food there can be higher amounts of sodium and sugar, also a higher consumption of carbohydrates than your normal can cause water retention. So make sure you drink your water it will make a huge difference.
6. Don’t weigh yourself after a social eating.
I spent so many years getting on the scales every single day and only for the past 2 months have I managed to break the cycle. When you think about it
Does this really do you any good? If you ate differently than normal, what will the scale tell you that you don’t already have an inkling about? Refer back to #1 and #2 and #5. Wait a few days or up to a week for getting back to your normal for weight and measurements to adjust.
7. Don’t use exercise to punish yourself for what you want to eat or what you did eat.
Doing extra cardio to offset date nights or social engagements is creating a relationship with the gym and activity in general that encourages misuse. The gym is a tool to create a healthy lifestyle and to lose weight and to let off steam. If it become a chore or you start dreading it because of it’s connection to other behaviors involving food, it’s going to be harder to follow through and adhere to your plan.
If you exercise most days, maintain that. If a gym day falls on a social holiday, still go, but don’t alter the plan to “make up” for what you will be eating. Adding an activity like a walk after a meal isn’t the concern. Be mobile because you want to, because it feels good – not because it’s a consequence. I have been so stressed the past few months that I have been to the gym only a handful of times because in my free time I was preferring to get some sleep – my body needed it. But I am now craving my gym fix and on the 11th December I have a date with the Rowing machine and the dumbbells.
I want you all to enjoy the time with your loved ones – or by yourself, we all have different traditions. But I also know that food can bring on other anxieties outside of the typical stress that many experience from family engagements, socializing around this time of year (as well as other situations).
Make a plan. Be honest with yourself. Talk to someone you trust. And try to remember that this is a small blip in your journey – developing your control and recognizing these situations will help you develop emotionally and your mental health is just as important as your physical health.