Mind games and holiday overeating

Holiday eating tips. You’ve heard them before from dietitians like me. Don’t go to a party hungry. Bring a healthful dish to share. Don’t hang out near the food. Watch your portion sizes…

Don’t get me wrong – these are practical and effective tips when people are willing to use them. But maybe we’re missing the boat on this whole holiday eating thing. Perhaps we need to take a step back and look at the bigger picture of how we think about the holidays and the endless eating that often goes along with it.

What drives us to overeat during the holidays, even though we know better? As a starting point for reflection, consider some of these “mind games” many of us play:

It’s no big deal, it’s just once a year. It wouldn’t be a big deal if the eating was limited to the actual holiday (notice the word “day”). Instead, we turn the time from Thanksgiving to New Year’s into “eating season” and an excuse to eat whatever we want. Limit splurging to the holiday itself and get back to your healthful habits the next day.

It’s the only time of year I’ll get to eat this food. Of course it is! But if you love scalloped potatoes and five versions of it show up at your office potluck, that doesn’t mean you need to try all of them. Think about what foods you will enjoy the most and if it will be “worth it.” You wouldn’t spend money on something that wasn’t worth the price, so why spend calories on food you don’t love?

I can’t say no. The pressure to eat can be downright oppressive. We equate food with love. We socialize around food. We expect others to eat if we’re eating. We’re afraid we’ll offend someone or be outcast if we’re not eating. But a lot of this pressure is in our own heads. When you find the right way to say “no,” most people understand. And trust me, you are not alone. By asserting your needs, you may inspire others around you to do the same!

I’ll make it up at the gym. No one makes it up at the gym. It is much easier to eat too much of Aunt Bettie’s pecan pie than it is to burn the equivalent calories at the gym. It also sets you up to start viewing exercise as some kind of punishment for overeating, and that’s not a healthy relationship. Commit to maintaining your current exercise routine (that’s tough enough during the holidays) and keep portion sizes small so you don’t have to worry about burning off those excess calories.

New Year’s is right around the corner and I can start my diet then. That may work for the handful of people who actually follow through with their resolutions. But the rest of us need to be honest with ourselves. New Year’s won’t bring that magical transformation we’re looking for, so let’s start taking action today. Every decision you make about what to put in your mouth is an opportunity to challenge yourself, make a better choice and improve your health.

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