The holiday season should be filled with joy and fun. But many people approach this time of year fearing weight gain, stress and guilt. What a shame!
True, there is an abundance of tempting food available this time of year. But feeling guilty will never prevent us from getting out of control with food. If you want to get through the holidays without feeling like you've failed again, the first thing to do is to shed the shame.
Why? Most people believe that guilt is a useful emotion that keeps "bad" behaviors in check. With eating in particular, too many people believe that beating themselves up will keep them on the right track of avoiding temptation and preventing weight gain.
Concern is a useful emotion. But guilt and shame take concern to the extreme, producing stress, anger, depression, anxiety and a general feeling of being overwhelmed.
Put it all together, and it's easy to slip into feeling like you're stewing in your own juices. You just swirl around in this murky concoction that you've created and can't get out of it. Instead of being motivated, you feel stuck. From here you're more likely to want to give up — leading to more eating and less control.
So now you may see why I'm convinced more weight is gained during the holidays because of guilt rather than too much food being available.
Guilt and shame about eating during the holidays are like Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol: They take all the fun and joy out of the season. By being stuck in our negative, emotional vortex, we can't focus on the significance of having our loved ones near us, savoring traditional tastes, or the joy of giving and receiving.
But how do we keep guilt from getting in the way of our intentions to eat well, enjoy the holidays, and avoid weight gain? Try these tips on for size:
• Use concern, not guilt. Try to focus on a relaxed feeling of concern. It's okay to strive to eat proper portions. But use your head to come up with creative ideas of how to do it instead of worrying about failing.
• Keep stress down. Stress can make anybody overeat and gain weight. Think about all the things you do during the holidays that produce stress but may not be as important as you think. For example, perhaps you don't need to cook all the dishes for the holiday meal from scratch or make them all yourself. Be smart and delegate some of the activities or eliminate some altogether. Make the holidays simpler for yourself and you'll reduce stress and eat less.
• Take the focus off food. Think of activities for yourself and your family that don't involve food. Perhaps everyone can go see a performance, go bike riding on one of our beautiful trails, or set up a fun game of bocce or croquet in the back yard.
• Stay active for the fun of it. The more active you are during the holidays, the less you'll eat and the more fat you'll burn. And come up with activities you want to do — maybe dancing suits you better than walking. When we think of pleasing reasons to do something, we want to do more of it.
• Savor your favorites. Don't bother with foods that you can have any time. Pick what you find special and delicious, taking your time to relax and savor each bite. Your brain will feel satisfied sooner and you will eat less.
• Keep hunger in check. Use a rating scale of 0 (no hunger) to 5 (famished) to rate your hunger as you go through each day. Don't let your hunger get beyond a 3 before eating again. When we get too hungry we eat more and feel out of control.
• Sample. Small quantities of many colorful tastes will fill up a plate and satisfy the brain, while helping you avoid the familiar holiday "stuffed" feeling.
Lavinia Rodriguez, Ph.D., is a Tampa clinical psychologist who specializes in weight management. She can be reached at (813) 240-9557 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Her book, "Mind Over Fat Matters: Conquering Psychological Barriers to Weight Management," is available at FatMatters.com.