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Avoiding Emotional Overeating During the Holidays

by Julie M. Simon, MA, MBA


Set the best of intentions, overeat, shame and guilt yourself, repeat. It’s a familiar holiday pattern that seems to end in weight gain for many overeaters every year. With the last six weeks of the year fast approaching, it’s easy to begin worrying about packing on those unwanted holiday pounds. The holiday season generally means more eating, more traveling, more stress and emotional eating (especially if you have difficult relatives), and less time for physical activity and relaxation. But this time of year doesn’t have to be a recipe for weight gain. With a little forethought, the following six tips can help you avoid the holiday bulge and maintain your weight into the New Year.

Tip#1 Avoid skipping meals or going to a party starving. Pay attention to your hunger signals, eat throughout the day as you normally would, and eat a healthy snack before the party. An apple with peanut butter, a cup of pea soup or veggies with hummus will help you avoid ravenous out-of-control eating when you arrive.

Tip #2 Stay conscious and mindful. Stick to one level plateful. Avoid unconscious grabbing and snacking by making a decision to carefully choose what you desire. Make sure to include colorful foods full of fiber that help fill you up and lessen the chance that you’ll overeat. Do not go back for seconds unless you are truly hungry. Pay attention to your fullness level. Pause and allow yourself time to feel the fullness—move away from the buffet table and wait at least twenty minutes.

Tip#3 Stop at three bites of rich desserts. Remind yourself that these are drug-like foods and that three bites will give you the sweetness and richness without much body imbalance. It’s probably best to pass the dessert to someone else after the three bites. Be willing to feel your feelings when eating time is over.

Tip#4 Pay attention to your emotions. Check in with yourself before, during and after holiday gatherings. If you’re experiencing unpleasant emotions like dread or sadness, remind yourself that overeating or over drinking won’t resolve these feeling states. Plan some time for nourishing self-care activities after stressful family get-togethers. Take a bubble bath, soothe and comfort yourself by writing loving affirmations in your journal or read your favorite uplifting spiritual passages. Applaud yourself for being willing to care for yourself in a non-food way.

Tip#5 Adjust your expectations to a reasonable level. Expect that there will be some over indulgence and plan to get back to your healthful plan the next meal or the next day. Don’t expect difficult people to change—your critical mother may still make comments about your weight, your lecturing in-laws will most likely tell you, for the umpteenth time, how to raise your kids. Try not to personalize other people’s bad behavior—you can’t control it and its best not to waste precious energy on it.

Tip#6 Don't take a vacation from exercise or scrimp on sleep. Even though you have a ton of commitments and are short on time, you'll be more productive and energized if you take exercise breaks and get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Consider a brisk walk, hike in the woods, bike ride with the kids or take a yoga class. Turn the lights out at a reasonable hour as many nights as possible—sleep deprivation creates hormonal imbalances that can lead to an increase in appetite and weight gain.

So eat, drink, practice good self-care and be merry this holiday season and forego the usual New Year resolutions.

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Julie M. Simon, MA, MBA, is the author of The Emotional Eater’s Repair Manual. She is a Licensed Psychotherapist and Life Coach with twenty plus years of experience helping overeaters stop dieting, heal their relationship with themselves and their bodies, lose weight and keep it off. Visit her online at www.overeatingrecovery.com .


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