Intro to HOliday Eating
By Laura Gaffney, intern and guest blogger from Northwestern University.
As we find ourselves in the middle of the holiday season, many of us have a schedule full of gatherings, parties and events. This is one of my favorite times of the year. I love spending time with family and friends, laughing and having a good time. The holidays can bring feelings of guilt, stress, overeating, and many other things. The following are some basic tips to help handle those situations. Food is a delicious thing and we should not let it control how we feel about ourselves during the holiday season.
Sometimes those gatherings mean platters full of food that look delicious and tempt us to devour them. This brings up either forbidding different foods at the holidays or indulging yourself a little more than you wanted to. What if instead you looked around and picked out a few of your favorite things to eat and had an adequate portion of each? I have found that the more you forbid a food, the more you desire it. By enjoying a small amount of say, the decadent dessert a friend of yours baked, you are still enjoying something you find satisfying instead of letting a food make a rule for you.
I always think a good strategy when attending parties is to survey the scene. Take a glance around and observe what different foods are out there. Choose a few from different food groups that you enjoy; make yourself a well balanced plate; and indulge your palate there.
There is another situation that you might run into at a gathering. What if the event is different than you had expected? You may have expected a full meal so you didn't have a meal before and instead you come to find there is only chips and salsa. This is the point in which you have the opportunity to take care of yourself and ask for what you need. Most hosts/hostess won't be offended if you let them know you haven't eaten and ask to make yourself a peanut butter sandwich. Or another option would be to excuse yourself for 30 minutes and go grab something to eat so you do not fill up on chips and salsa. But if you do it is important to remember that it is only one night and it is not going to ruin your healthy eating habits.
These are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to tools with handling your food choices this holiday season. If you want to learn more about holiday eating and have the opportunity to ask questions, you can find more information and sign up for "Holiday Eating Unwrapped" on Tuesday December 9th in Lakeville at the following link http://www.enlightenunutrition.com/events.html
“Shhhh!” My dad would say, as we ate our lunch and listened to the Paul Harvey radio show at exactly 12:15 pm. My family ritualistically surrounded the dinner table for meals in our small, quaint kitchen in Nebraska. Although we would listen intently to the Paul Harvey news at lunch, there were no other distractions at meals. No talking on the phone – of course there were no cell phones at the
time. In fact, there weren’t even cordless phones. We didn’t have a television in our kitchen. I don’t
believe anyone did back then. We ate whatever my mom prepared, whether that was grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup or good ‘ole Hamburger Helper. And, we were thankful for the food and this time to set apart the busyness of everyone’s day for a meal. My experience eating mindfully began before "mindful eating" was even defined in our culture. Growing up eating meals at the dinner table with my family introduced many of these eating behaviors, now considered hallmarks of following a mindful eating food plan.
My relationship with eating and food didn't stay that easy, unfortunately. External cues from society that normalizes dieting, “eating on the run", and "good" vs "bad" foods slowly decreased these mindful eating skills as I ventured off to college and “the working world”. Lunch was often running to get a large frozen yogurt and popcorn (because these were “nonfat”and good for you – the trend of the late 80’s) and eating at my desk while working on the computer. Evening meals became
eating something convenient in front of the television. I couldn’t understand how I continued to gain weight. I thought I was trying to“eat right” but clearly wasn’t paying attention to my eating. Eating
continued to become so chaotic, cycling between restricting and over-eating; struggling with persistent weight gain; and, continuing to erode away my pleasure with food.
I began to obsess about what to do? So, I began to exercise more and “eat better”. This was also the time I decided to go back to school and study nutrition. I thought that would help with this frustration with food. Well, I did get that Master’s degree in Nutrition, and discovered many
interesting things that I enjoy about physiology, food and nutrition. But, not even an advanced education in nutrition could have changed my relationship with “how” I was eating.
I fondly remembered back to that time when I could eat food, enjoy eating and not worry about my weight. Was that even possible anymore?
As my own family started to grow, I began to plan for and insist on having family meals. My husband and I sitting at the table with a 2-year old and a baby wasn’t the “Normal Rockwell” painting I remembered back from that dinner table in Nebraska. But, we stuck with it. Eating began to be more focused on “how” we were eating instead of “what” we were eating. Of course, I
continued to try and provide good nutrition for our family at the meals. But, it really wasn’t about the food. I began to notice that I looked forward to planning, shopping, and preparing a meal that would be presented at our table. We were thankful for the meal and setting apart the busyness of the day for each meal. And…unintentionally, my weight dropped back to the point I was at before all the chaotic eating.
Fast forward about 15 years through a divorce; being a single parent; stress of a job; taking care of adolescents; and the list goes on, to the present day. A mindful eating plan has not included any specific foods or recipes. It has not been about a diet. It has not been about grazing or having to eat at a specific time. For me, eating mindfully has been a practice of staying aware of my body and taking time to eat consistently. Whether having a family meal (that I continued to insist on even as a single parent with a 7-year old and 4-year old); or, a meal alone, eating at the table without distractions and staying aware of the sensations and pleasures of the food, has been the cornerstone of my eating plan. I have challenged judgment about food, and instead eat what I enjoy at meals, not what is the latest food or diet trend. Being a nutritionist, I enjoy preparing a variety of food with balanced nutrition in mind at each meal. But, if you asked anyone in my family, they would tell you there are no “forbidden foods” and “it’s just normal to have a family meal at the
Recently, we had a young guest over for our evening meal. The table was set, as it is at every evening. We began our meal with our usual centering of prayer. As we talked about the day, enjoying our food together (with no cell phones or TV allowed), our guest commented in
amazement about how different this meal was from her experience at home. She added that “it was very strange to sit at the table and eat.” Later in the meal, she continued to explain how “there is so much noise at her house during meals” and “eating here is so pleasant.” Truly the joy of
Managing emotional eating
Emotional eating is when an emotion triggers a person to eat, instead of the physical symptom of hunger. There are many misconceptions about emotional eating. One of the biggest myths is that all emotional eating leads to overeating and weight gain. In fact, it is natural to eat for emotional reasons and still maintain your weight. For example, celebrations with family and friends often include special foods that we have an emotional relationship with. Having birthday cake with friends, not because you are hungry, but because it feels good isn’t necessarily a prescription for overeating or weight gain. In fact, a recent study investigated how an individual’s perceptions about eating a food, like chocolate cake, influenced their motivation to maintain a healthy eating plan. Researchers discovered that those who felt “guilty” after eating a piece of cake were more likely to sabotage their weight loss efforts than those who associated the cake with “celebration.”
So then, what’s the problem with emotional eating? Emotional eating is a problem when you abuse it. When a person is out of touch with their feelings and eats to comfort themselves or stuff their feelings down, it can result in overeating. When an individual engages in this behavior day after day, it is likely to result in weight gain.
Diets and having forbidden foods often make the problem worse. Dieters, or individuals with restricted eating patterns, are typically eating less than they need; less of the foods they enjoy; and, are chronically hungry. When faced with stress or other emotions, the ability to maintain control
of the restrained eating becomes intolerable for the individual who “gives in” and overeats. In these situations, the individual often eats quickly; is distracted; and, is disconnected from his or her internal cues. Feeling guilty and remorseful, the dieter tries harder to restrict the eating and the cycle continues.
How to stop abusing emotional eating.
1. Identify your triggers. Keep a mood food diary and track information about your meals and snacks (including unplanned eating). Write down what you are eating, when you are eating, where you are eating, whom you are eating with, and how you are feeling at the time. Many of my clients strongly object to keeping a journal for various reasons. Taking time with a nutritionist or other health professional to discuss strategies to overcome those barriers may be key for you to take the first step in getting control of your emotional eating.
2. Don’t skip meals. Feed yourself regularly while being mindful of balance, variety and
moderation in your meal planning.
3. Eat whole foods. Eating whole foods that you enjoy, on a regular basis, can help to
balance out your mood and provide consistent energy during the day.
4. Develop alternative coping skills to manage your emotions. Take a moment to create
a list of activities you can use when emotions run high. Things like calling a friend, gardening, being outside, reading, and taking a bath are all examples. Many activities result in the release of the chemicals in the brain that help us feel better. I suggest that individuals have their list visible and easily available. When you notice a trigger to use food for comfort, try one of the items from your list. After 10 minutes, if the food is still beckoning you, try the 2nd activity for 10 minutes, and so on. Usually if you make it to the 3rdactivity, you will notice that the urge to eat is less.
5. Try Individual or group counseling. Talking about your triggers and getting support for planning healthy meals and snacks may be the key to making the behavior changes that are needed.
Navigating the holiday party
The year-end holidays are upon us! You know that stretch from Thanksgiving to January 2 where frequent nibbling and persistent overeating often ends with undesired weight gain. Following are strategies to help you make it through this blissful time of year, and still feel great in 2014.
Holiday weight gain tends to happen because more food is available – cookies and desserts at work; frequent gatherings involving food (and more beverages, too); and, endless buffets wherever you go. The problem lies largely in having a strategy for managing the amount of food available. So, how can you make sure you are able to successfully enjoy your holiday parties and manage your weight at the same time?
Set yourself up for success.
Eating less all day to “save up” for the party is not helpful. Skipping meals/snacks usually affects productivity, causes poor concentration, more difficulty with problem solving, and increased fatigue. It can also lead to overeating at the next meal or snack, such as at the holiday party or gathering. Take time to enjoy a bowl of soup, yogurt, vegetables and hummus, as an example of meal that will help meet your energy needs consistently throughout the day.
Take a plate.
Many individuals comment that they struggle with grazing or “picking” at foods left out at the party. By the end of the event, it’s hard to remember what or how much you ate. Learn to indulge intelligently at the buffet or appetizer spread by first scanning the buffet table to figure out which foods will be most satisfying for you. Make a plate balanced with some protein options, along with vegetables or fruit, whole grains or, and a dessert. This will help you be aware of portions and more conscious of how much you’re eating. Wait 20 minutes; and, if you decide you are still hungry, use your plate again to intentionally choose foods that will help you feel satisfied. Try to recognize when the food is "beckoning" you rather than thinking you are physically hungry. Getting involved in conversation or a game may be a helpful distraction. You may also want to try drinking water to ensure you aren't just thirsty (see below). As always, try to eat mindfully and savor these tasty holiday foods!
Location, Location, Location.
When you realize you are not hungry, step away from the food. Try to sit or stand away from the food table and near supportive people to decrease the urge to mindlessly eat. Take time to enjoy the folks you are celebrating the season with - participate in conversation, listen to stories, learn something new about a friend or relative. Most important, try to relax and have fun.
This is often the most common mistake people make (including me). On average, women and men need 2.7 and 3.4 liters of water per day, respectively. This does not include additional fluid needs for activity. Also, the hustle and bustle during this time of year may lead to decreased fluid intake. Thirst is often mistaken for hunger and can lead to overeating. Therefore, try to keep a water bottle with you at all times and drink frequently throughout the day – includingt the holiday party – with added limes, lemons, or cucumbers for extra flavor. An added benefit for some can be decreased headaches by avoiding dehydration. I know I feel so much better when I make this a priority!
Move your body!
Take time to include moderate, enjoyable movement in your day. Ideally 30 to 60 minutes of some cardio and strength training activity is recommended daily. If you already have an exercise routine, try and stay with it. You may also want to include less frenzied activity such as a yoga class or a peaceful leisure walk under the stars. To include the family (and unplug), consider walking together after a holiday meal; ice skating at a local park; going to a local museum or the zoo instead of sitting around.
Val Schonberg is a Registered, Licensed Dietitian who specializes in weight management, sports nutrition, disease