The holiday season often brings real challenges for those watching their weight, and especially for those with emotional eating tendencies.
The pressures of parties, cookies, and traditions, on top of the emotional stress and anxiety that often arise at this time, can create a troublesome chain of events:
Troublesome thoughts ==>
Troublesome eating ==>
Gaining unwanted weight ==>
More troublesome thoughts…
I think you’ll find this article reprint helpful (from my colleague Deborah Beck Busis, LSW, Diet Program Coordinator at the Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavior Therapy):
Top Five Holiday Sabotaging Thoughts
During the holiday season, dieters often experience a variety of sabotaging thoughts that, left unchecked, can ultimately lead to significant weight gain. Here are five of the most common holiday sabotaging thoughts and helpful responses to them. We have also included sample Response Cards for each thought. If you think you’re likely to have this type of thought, consider making a similar Response Card and reading it throughout the holiday season.
“We have to do it this way; it’s tradition.” During the holiday season, it’s important to examine your traditions to see if you necessarily have to keep all of them, or have to do each one exactly as it’s been done before. Just because you’ve always done things a certain way does not mean that you have to continue doing them in the same way. If, for example, you traditionally bake 10 kinds of Christmas cookies with your family, and then wind up eating way too many and gaining weight, what would be the advantages of changing this tradition? Perhaps instead of 10 different cookies, you could agree to bake 2 or 3 kinds. That way, you’ll still have the traditional aspect of cookie-baking with your family, but will be less tempted to overeat. Further, if you decide to change traditions or skip some of them, you can always decide to put new, healthy traditions in place, such as taking a family walk after dinner (which would be good for everyone). It’s important to not feel bound by traditions with negative consequences and instead be willing to consider amending some or starting new ones.
Just because I’ve always done things a certain way doesn’t mean I have to continue. Changing or instituting new traditions will not make the holidays less special because the meaning behind what I do will be the same.
“I have to prepare everything perfectly.” Especially during the holidays when you’re probably a lot busier, it’s important to really think about your priorities and question whether it would be helpful to change them. If, for example, you always cook and prepare a holiday feast from scratch, you may want to consider saving time by buying some pre-made side dishes and then using the extra time to exercise. If you prioritize wrapping all your presents perfectly, you could consider wrapping them less perfectly and then use the extra time to prepare a healthy meal instead of relying on easy takeout. Just because it’s the holiday season does not mean that you need to do everything perfectly. It’s important to reflect on your priorities, and if you make healthy eating and exercise top priorities, you will have to make concessions in other areas.
Things don’t have to be done perfectly over the holidays. It’s important that I keep my priorities in mind and figure out what I can cut back on to make time for my most important goals.
“I won’t be able to enjoy myself unless I eat everything I want.”Especially during the holiday season when treats and desserts seem to lurk around every corner, it’s important to remember that it’s not all-or-nothing. It’s not as if you’ll be able to eat everything you want, whenever you want, or you won’t be able to eat anything you enjoy at all. There is, in fact, a huge middle ground. It is perfectly reasonable to plan in advance when and where you’ll have extra treats, but it probably can’t be every single time treats are offered to you if you want to reach your goal. It’s important to remember that not eating treats has its own rewards, too. When you stay in control and don’t give in every time you’re craving something, it means that you’ll be able to enjoy maintaining your weight (or even losing weight). While you won’t necessarily get the (momentary) enjoyment of eating certain treats, you’re likely to experience significant enjoyment when your clothes still fit, when you step on the scale, and when you feel good about yourself.
It’s not all-or-nothing. I can still enjoy some holiday food and also enjoy all the benefits of weight loss. Besides, if I go overboard, I won’t feel good about myself or my eating.
“It’s okay to eat whatever I want because it’s the holidays, and besides, everyone else is.” Unfortunately your body processes calories in the same way, 365 days a year. Your body doesn’t know or care that it’s the holidays, that it’s your birthday, that it’s the weekend, that you’re on vacation, or that you’re at a special event. Regardless of the day or the circumstance, if you take in too many calories, you will gain weight. This means that if you want to work on losing or maintaining your weight, you can’t eat everything, even though it’s during the holiday season. Similarly, your body also doesn’t know or care what everyone else around you is eating. It only knows what you are eating. So just because everyone else is eating five cookies, it doesn’t mean that you should eat five cookies, if it’s not in your plan. Additionally, make sure you look out for the sabotaging thought, “I was so good and didn’t eat all those other things, so it’s okay to eat this [food I hadn’t planned].” Just as your body doesn’t know or care what day of the year it is or what anyone else is eating, it also doesn’t know how many treats you turned down – it only knows and processes the foods you do eat. So just because you said “no” ten times, does not necessarily mean it’s okay to say yes the eleventh time.
My body doesn’t know or care that it’s the holidays, that everyone else around me is eating certain foods, or how many treats I already passed up. It only knows what I eat, so I have to be deliberate in all of my decisions.
“I’m just going to let go and enjoy. I’ll get back on track once the holiday season has passed.” This may be one of the most common holiday sabotaging thoughts – and the one that can lead to the most weight gain (and subsequent unhappiness). It’s important to remember that deciding to just “let go and enjoy” comes with consequences, particularly once the holidays are over. Think back to previous holiday seasons – how did you feel afterwards when you decided to just throw in the towel on healthy eating? Did you feel good about yourself? Did you feel good about gaining weight, about having your clothes fit differently, about having to struggle to try to get back to normal eating? When you were coping with the negative consequences of letting your eating get out of hand, did you wish you had done things differently? This is the year that you can start doing things differently! This is the year that you can work on maintaining a healthy balance during the holiday season, responding to your sabotaging thoughts, and enjoying all the benefits that come from staying in control over you eating, both physically and psychologically. This can be the year that’s the model for every year to come. Why wait?
Letting go over the holiday season in the past has never helped me to achieve my goals. While I may enjoy eating a lot in the moment, I always feel terribly about it afterwards when I gain weight. This year, it’s worth it to me to do things differently so that I end up in a better place.
Reprinted with permission and written by Deborah Beck Busis, LSW, Diet Program Coordinator at the Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavior Therapy.