Managing Holiday Food

As each year nears its end, we gear up for the usual holiday food-fest with a mixture of anticipation (“The food’s going to be great!”) and dread (“I’ll hate myself when it’s over.”).  Here are some guidelines to help you take control of your health while enjoying the holidays to the fullest…
1. Maintain any health-oriented practices that you normally have.  Many people take a break from their regular routines during the holidays.  This sets up uncontrolled eating, because one unhealthy decision tends to lead to another.  By keeping enjoyment and health in mind at the same time, you will naturally have greater control with food. 
2. De-emphasize the role of food during the holidays.  You can make shared activities -- rather than the big meal -- the main event of special days, with food in the background as a supporting player.  Consider reducing the exchange of food gifts, which are the source of much excessive holiday eating.  Giving food only makes sense when the recipient genuinely needs it – otherwise, such gifts merely add to the food-clutter of the season.  Have you noticed how many people “get rid of” excess food by taking it to work?  This is an obvious sign that there’s just too much of it around.
3. Approach each holiday food event with a plan that allows you to enjoy a manageable bit of every food you would truly like to have.  This means being careful about portions, and passing on items you don’t care that much about.  We all underestimate how much we are eating, so even after an evening of what may feel like miserly portions, you will still be quite full.  Eat slowly and enjoy every bite as consciously as you can; you’ll find that doing so allows you to get more enjoyment out of less food.  Nobody ever complains about eating too little over the holidays.
4. Choose what you eat based only on your own needs, rather than following the cues of others.  Assertively say no to anyone who pressures you to eat more than you want.  Such people are not thinking about your best interests or enjoyment – they are often trying to get you to match their behavior so that they won’t feel accountable about their own eating. 
5. Support the efforts of others to remain healthy through the holidays.  Consider giving only non-food gifts except in cases where food is clearly needed or requested by the recipient.  Never pressure anyone to eat more than they want, and refrain from teasing anyone who is managing to control portion sizes despite the temptation to do otherwise.  
6. Challenge habits that set everyone up for failure.  Groups of people who spend time together (family members, coworkers, friends) often groan to each other about how much they overdo it during the holidays.  Try having some conversations about things you all could do differently so that it doesn’t turn out that way this time.  Try one-time experiments with change that can be evaluated and fine-tuned for next year once everyone sees how it feels to do things differently.
7. Prepare to discard or freeze excess food, even gifts.  You can count on being surrounded by way too much food, so some of it’s got  to go or be stored for use over weeks/months to come.  Reserve an amount that you can enjoy without remorse or damage, then pitch or store the rest.  This will be hard to do, but you’ll be relieved once the food is out of your sight.   
The key to a happier and healthier holiday experience is to start working on ideas like these now, before the old patterns take over.  If you do, you’ll eventually look back on this holiday season with fond memories, no regrets, and a body that is just as healthy in January as it was in October.  
Copyright © 2007, Elizabeth Babcock, LCSW.  All rights reserved.

Related articles:

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Basic Strategies for Managing the Urge to Eat

Fat: Important New Findings
Gaining Weight While Losing Meaning over the Holidays
Loving Each Other to Death with Food

Raising Kids to be Emotionally Balanced with Food  

Risk Management: The Overlooked Key to Finding Peace with Food

Ten Tips for Managing Food during Special Occasions

 Your Weight May Not be the Problem
When is It Time to Consider Psychotherapy? 



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