Table of Contents
- How to deal with food at the holidays
Do the holidays fill you with a combination of hope and dread? Are you worried about gaining weight during this festive time?
Let’s get the bad news out of the way: Studies show that if you gain weight over the holidays, you tend not to lose it in January. Despite your good intentions and commitment to be healthy, statistics are not in your favor. The chances are high that your New Year’s diet will not work.
And now for the good news:
It does not have to be that way.
You’re about to discover how to break the cycle!
I created this holiday survival guide to make this year different. First, I’ll explain why dieting during the holidays is a terrible idea.
Then I’ll give you the exact strategies you need to make it through so you can start the New Year off right.
Let’s get started!
How to deal with food at the holidays
#1 Ditch Dieting
Dieting over the holidays (or ever) does not work and will backfire.
Diets fail because on some level they are about deprivation and that nearly always leads to overeating or bingeing.
That is because the anticipation of not being able to eat what you want WILL make you want it more.
And if you are thinking all the time about not eating pumpkin pie or Christmas cookies, then you have pie and cookies on your mind all day. That puts the focus on the wrong thing, which is WHAT you are eating, instead of WHY.
Ultimately, diets fail because they only deal with food. Diets do not address the underlying conflicts that make you turn to food in the first place.
There are many reasons why that might be happening:
- Eating for comfort
- For distraction
- To numb yourself against difficult feelings
- And more
Most importantly, dieting keeps you in a perpetual battle with yourself.
The key to change is to stop dieting and start tuning into what’s eating “at” you. When you deal with the true problem, you won’t use food to cope.
A few years ago, researchers did a study intending to prove that food is an addictive substance. The research subjects were asked to eat their forbidden foods as part of the study (Kristeller, 2011). The premise was that once people started eating those forbidden “bad” foods, they wouldn’t be able to stop.
Instead, something interesting happened. When given permission to eat these so-called “addictive” foods, the folks in the study ate less.
This was the opposite of what the food addiction theorists expected. Why did this happen?
Simple. The research subjects had no expectation of deprivation, so they ate what they wanted.
They didn’t feel guilty about their choices, so they did not fall into the common dieting pitfall of, “I’ve had one so I may as well have the whole bag.”
This shows how important psychology is when it comes to food choices. When you allow yourself to have something, you can decide whether you want it or not, or how much you want.
That’s how naturally thin people stay thin.Ever notice how nondieting thin people order whatever they want at restaurants? Sometimes they don’t even finish their portions. Again, that is because there is no anticipation of deprivation.
Fears are not facts.
The fact is, this NEVER happened to a single one of my patients or anyone in my online program.
They did not gain weight. They did not double their weight.
Instead, they found that, like the folks in the research study, when they give themselves permission to eat what they want, then they inevitably end up eating less.
Give it a try!
#2 Figure Out What's Eating “At” You
Instead Of Focusing On What You’re Eating
Most people are familiar with emotional eating. They are aware that it’s not what they’re eating that is the true problem, it is what's eating “at” them.
Every gardener knows that if you yank up a weed, it will grow back. To get rid of the weed for good, you have to get to the root.
Similarly, with weight and food issues, you must get to that proverbial root.
Often we get so good at turning to food to cope with distress, we cannot figure out what is actually bothering us.
That’s why I developed a formula to help you identify the real trigger.
Often, what you think of as a “trigger food” is actually pointing to the true trigger, which is an underlying emotion, need, or conflict.
Here’s the formula…
Foods that are sweet, smooth and creamy, such as ice cream, frozen yogurt, pudding, and suggest a longing for comfort, for soothing and nurturing.
If ice cream is your go-to food, you likely need to find a new way to comfort yourself (more on that later).
Foods that are filling, breads, pasta, cake, pizza, and pastas are correlated to loneliness, since they are bulky and symbolically fill an internal void.
If you crave these types of “filling” foods, that’s a clue you may be feeling deprived or lonely and using food to symbolically fill up.
Foods that are crunchy, like chips, pretzels (anything with a CRUNCH!) are associated with anger. If crunchy foods are the ones you turn to most, you may be angry, frustrated, annoyed or anxious.
Perhaps you are taking those angry feelings out on yourself instead of directing them towards the people or situations that are actually causing you to be upset.
If you think you are triggered by food, think again. You are actually being triggered by an emotional need. Identifying what is bothering you is the first step to changing your relationship to food. Once you know what is bothering you, you can start responding differently to yourself. A little later in this article, I give you specific guidelines on how to do exactly that.
#3 Take It A Day/Meal At A Time
The holiday season stretches from Halloween through New Year’s Day.
Two months seems like a really long time to be “good” for the holidays. What may seem like several weeks can be condensed to only a few days of actual celebrating.
Chances are, you will only participate in some of these holiday events:
- October: Halloween
- November: Thanksgiving
- December: Christmas Eve, Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanza, New Year’s Eve
If you think about which holidays you participate in, that adds up to a handful of days at most, rather than weeks. So, take it one holiday day at a time.
If you skip breakfast and/or lunch, knowing that you’re going to a holiday party later, you may be setting yourself up to overeat or binge.
That’s because when you are super-hungry, you’re more likely to lose control once you actually start eating.
Make sure you eat enough before you go to a party or occasion. If you are really hungry or feel as if you are starving, it is difficult to stop yourself from making poor choices or eating too much.
How To Take Care Of You Over The Holidays
#4 Be A Friend To Yourself
Recently Kaila* confessed to eating endless bowls of ice cream after a painful break-up. She said, “I can’t believe I did that. I should be over it already. What’s my problem?”
I asked what she would tell a friend who had comforted herself with ice cream after a bad break-up.
Kaila said, “Oh, I’d tell her I was sorry she was going through a tough time. I’d ask her how I could help.”
I nodded. “So, you would not shove a carton of ice cream into his or her hands and say, ‘Here, have this.’”
She looked horrified. She assured me she would never do such a thing. And yet, that is what she did to herself, followed by self-recrimination. And if a friend had eaten eating ice cream, she would not have said, “What's wrong with you? Just get over it, already.”
She would not have said, “You are so disgusting. She would not have been so mean to anyone else.
But that is exactly what Kaila said to herself. Can you relate?
If you are mean to yourself, you feel terrible, and you might even use food to escape your own mean voice.
The way you talk to (and about) yourself, can make you feel either good or bad. When you are kind to yourself, you feel better. And when that happens, you do not need food to cope.
#5 Silence Your Inner Critic
If you’ve ever said something like this to yourself:
- You’ve got no willpower
- You're not good enough
- You’re never going to lose weight
- I’m such a loser
If any of that sounds familiar, well…welcome to your inner critic. That critic is horrible — it makes you feel bad, and you know what? You might eat just to escape your own mean voice.
By the way, a quick way of identifying your inner critic is to catch when you talk to yourself in second person, when you say to yourself,”You're a loser” rather than,”I'm a loser”.
Recently Ellen* was at a party catered by a gourmet French restaurant known for its excellent food.
She told me, “I decided this wasn’t the time to worry about what I was eating so I just ate what I wanted, and afterwards I thought, ‘You’re such an idiot, you’re never going to lose weight, and I can’t believe you did that.”
Notice the way Ellen was talking to herself. She switched from “I” ate what I wanted to “You” are such an idiot.
When I asked her to say, “I’m such an idiot” she couldn’t do it. She said it felt really harsh. And she was right. It was harsh. As you can see, changing the way you talk to yourself can be very powerful.
Instead of being critical, you must learn to be kind to yourself.
By responding to yourself in comforting, soothing, acknowledging and validating words, instead of food. Comfort words instead of comfort food. A good rule of thumb is this: if you wouldn’t say it to a friend, child or loved one, don’t say it to yourself.
How To Deal With People Over The Holidays
#6 Be A Social Anthropologist
Does it seem as if every TV family gathers at a table loaded with turkey and trimmings, looking happy and getting along wonderfully?
If that is your life, awesome. Lucky you!
If not, you have got lots of company. Family get—togethers can be huge triggers for many people.
If you feel like you morph into a ten-year-old the moment you step into the house you grew up in, then the holidays can be unsettling.
If your family makes comments about what you are eating, that can be tough.
When you sense that other people are mentally calculating how much weight you gained since they last saw you, it feels humiliating.
The answer is to be an observer.
Keep the focus on what YOU think of them, instead of what they may be thinking of you.
When you are listening and observing, you're not a participant.
When you get distance from your relatives and friends, you get some perspective that may help you feel better about the situation.
When your mom or dad or grandparents criticize your sister or brother or cousin, or themselves, you can see how you learned to criticize yourself.
When you realize your Mom apologizes for every bite she eats, you will understand why you feel guilty for every bite you take.
Observe your family members as if they were actors in a play. There are usually certain types of people at these gatherings, including the following:
Either happy drunks or angry drunks; neither is fun.
When people are inebriated, they tend to say things they would not ordinarily say and make comments about your weight or life choices.
Ugh. Even worse, it’s hard to communicate with people who are buzzed, which can add another level of anxiety or frustration.
Overly cheerful, we’re so happy and life is perfect.
These types prefer living in a fantasy world to the real world. For those of us in the real world that can feel frustrating.
When the message is, “Nothing should bother you. Be happy!” that discounts reality and is frustrating. You might feel bad just for feeling bad.
Remember that life is not perfect and living in denial does not help.
When you face the unpleasant truth, you can deal with it and move on.
You know them. The ones who want what you have and begrudge your happiness.
If you got a new car, they are going to buy a better car.
If you are struggling, they have it worse.
They can be extremely frustrating, to say the least.
They think they’re better than everyone else because they can outspend everyone else in the family.
Their main topic of conversation is how great it used to be back in the day.
They can’t handle being in the present. Worse, they bring up their version of how things were in your past, too.
“You always were such a chubby thing.”
“You did so great in school. I would have thought you would be on top of the world by now.”
Which categories match your family? When you’re observing others, you don’t feel as much under observation.
That makes you less self—conscious, and you feel better.
Again, when you feel better, will not cope with food. You do not need to cope when you are feeling good!
#7 Prepare Clever Comebacks
Benjamin Franklin once said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
Conversely, by preparing, you will succeed!
Going home for the holidays can cause a temporary regression. Sometimes when you step through the doors of your childhood home, it can be difficult to hold onto your adult self.
Having snappy comments at the ready will help get you through.
Be ready for comments and questions about your food choices and your weight, such as:
“Do you really need to eat that?”
“You’ve put on a few pounds since last year.”
There are three ways to deal with these types of comments.
“I’m not discussing what I’m eating or how much I weigh. Period.”
“I don’t like speaking about my weight so I prefer you don’t bring it up.”
“No, I don’t need that. But I sure do want it. Is there a problem?”
“My weight is a number and it’s unlisted.”
“Thank you for noticing. And here I thought nobody paid attention to me.”“Absolutely right. Curvy is the new black, didn’t you hear?”
“Wow, I actually HAVE gained weight. Thank you for letting me know because otherwise it would have completely escaped my attention.”
So what? What’s new with you?
Maybe. So how are you these days?
My weight really isn’t that interesting to me. What are your plans for next year?
If they tell you that they are only asking because they are worried about your health, say:
“I appreciate your concern, but I do not want to discuss this.”
And, remind yourself: this is TEMPORARY.
Before you know it, the New Year will be here, and you will have gotten through the holidays without gaining weight!
In this comprehensive guide, you have learned about your relationship to food, yourself and other people.
Now it’s time to put this “food for thought” into action
Happy Holidays, Nina
Dr. Nina Savelle-Rocklin is a psychoanalyst, author and radio host specializing in binge eating disorder. She is the author of The Binge Cure: 7 Steps to Outsmart Emotional Eating and Food for Thought: Perspectives on Eating Disorders, and co-editor of Beyond the Primal Addiction. She hosts The Dr. Nina Show radio program on LA Talk Radio.