Surviving the Holiday Eating Season

By Sean Barrett, Registered Dietitian

Beginning with Halloween all the way through New Year’s Day, ‘tis the season for holiday eating. This time of year provides us with many opportunities to gather with family, friends or co-workers and most of these gatherings revolve around food.

The holiday food environment can be especially daunting to patients who have a history of dieting or eating disorders, or who grapple with emotional or stress eating. The holidays can also conjure up memories of the past spent with loved ones that are no longer in our lives leading to sadness. Food and drinks can seem to offer a temporary distraction.

Emotional eating involves using food to make yourself feel better. It usually has nothing to do with hunger or nutrition. Rather, most emotional eaters eat this way in order to suppress or soothe negative feelings and experiences.

Many holiday dishes or treats are high in fat, sugar and calories so overindulging can lead to guilt, remorse, further overeating, and possibly extra pounds, which can lead to unhealthy attempts of dieting.

Guilt caused by overeating can be bad for your health. Feelings of guilt or shame can cause physical symptoms ranging from a simple knot in your stomach to fatigue and depression. It can significantly stress your immune system. Fortunately, there are ways to avoid overeating this holiday season.

Pay close attention to what you eat and how it makes you feel so that you can make better choices. Eat healthfully throughout the day, and have healthy snacks if you get hungry so you won’t walk into a party feeling like you want to eat everything in sight.

Remember you can have the holiday foods you love later. For example, there is no reason why you can’t have turkey and stuffing in August. Don’t overindulge during the holidays because you think you can’t have those items year round.

Try to keep in mind how much you really need to feel satisfied. If you’re not going to pass on the sugar cookies altogether, make a decision to have one and really enjoy it, instead of snacking on them all day long. Look into modifying your own recipes. You can often cut down on the sugar, oil, and salt without significantly altering the taste.

Monitoring what you eat can also help you avoid sugar highs and lows that can impact emotions. A well-balanced diet rich in mood enhancing natural foods like yogurt, green tea, food and dark chocolate can help you better manage the highs and lows of the holiday season.

If you’re tempted to overeat, consider instead asking for the recipe or a take-home container. Just knowing you can have it again later can help curb the desire to keep eating past the point of fullness.  Plus, asking for a recipe is a great compliment to the chef.

If you’re at a buffet or potluck, look around at your options before grabbing a plate, this way you don’t fill up on a mediocre food and then keep eating when you realize what else is there.

We tend to be more sedentary during the holiday. Sticking to your workout routine or sneaking in an extra walk here and there this time of year will help to slow down weight gain, as well as provide possible mental health benefits.

Taking a mindful approach to eating this holiday season will help you to better enjoy this time of the year. However, if you do overindulge, don’t beat up yourself. Cut yourself some slack and think about making healthier choices in the New Year.