The holiday season is rapidly approaching, and it is not uncommon for us to gain up to 10 pounds between Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day. But what if we do not want to put on some insulation? What can we do? I specialize in medical weight loss, and my first recommendation would simply be to be aware of the food around us and recognize that seeing food in itself can be a trigger to eat.
For instance, how often does a co-worker have a basket of candy on their desk that seems to call out to us when we walk by? Or just the other day, I had a company rep come to my office with a package of cookies in tow. I found myself gravitating towards them, and then I realized they needed to be out of sight. Sights of temptation include holiday parties, offices, friends’ homes, and even your kitchen. Thus, I should place these treats in a room I am less likely to enter, or avoid the lunchroom altogether as this is the kingdom of calorie-dense baked goods, or invite someone else to take them home. In other words, address the visual trigger of seeing food.
Knowing these temptations exist, it is important to be vigilant, stay focused on your goals, and make wise choices regarding portion sizes. For example, if a cake is being served and you want to indulge, you do not have to claim the largest piece. Take a smaller piece or maybe share your piece with another person. That way, you can still enjoy the treat but with wisdom. In addition, strategize in advance how you will handle yourself when there are several food choices available, such as what is often seen at a Thanksgiving buffet. Understand there is an unconscious urge to taste everything that is set before you and plan accordingly. So first of all, prepare your own plate. I personally recommend that if patients want to try everything, limit themself to 1 tablespoonful only of each item. You do not have to get out the measuring devices, but you get the point. That will help prevent them from overindulging by having large portions of several foods. In addition, if you are going to a holiday event, avoid going on an empty stomach. Have a snack first, so you are less hungry and less likely to overdo it.
In addition to being mindful of portion sizes, it is also important to understand the power of alcohol. Not only does alcohol encourage people to do things they would not do under normal circumstances, but alcohol also has calories. As a matter of fact, the only macronutrient more calorie-dense than alcohol is fat! Also, alcohol tends to make people want to eat more. Thus, alcohol consumption contributes to weight gain in several ways.
If you choose to bake goodies for friends, remember that they are for your friends and not you. In other words, resist the urge to sample your masterpieces, maybe delegate that responsibility to a young child. But the goal is to make them inaccessible to you as quickly as possible, again being mindful of visual triggers. Also, understand the role certain comfort foods can play. The holidays can be an emotionally painful time, especially if you recently lost a loved one. However, filling the void with food will not change anything other than your waistline. Thus, try to fill the void with supportive friends and family instead. This is a much healthier alternative.
Additionally, understand that we reach for comfort foods when the weather turns cold. We like to enjoy warm and comforting foods. I know I like to enjoy hot chocolate when it gets cold, but then I stop myself and think about the extra calories that would come from a beverage, and I often, but not always, decline. A good strategy to help is to be sure to dress appropriately for the colder weather and stick to your normal eating pattern. Carb loading to stay warm is not the goal unless you are trying to self-insulate instead of wearing a coat.
Last but not least, remember the true meaning of the holidays and focus on family and friends, not food. It is important to be thankful, but that does not mean we need to fill out a Santa suit unless you are looking for a part-time job. Enjoy the season and be wise!
Angelice Alexander-Martin is a family physician.
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