If you said because we eat too much, you’re only a little bit right. Based on some recurrent observations as well as a lifetime of zipper-busting experiences, I believe the reason we gain weight involves three parts:
- We really don’t want to gain weight. No, make that we REALLY DON’T WANT TO GAIN WEIGHT. NOT AGAIN, NOT THIS YEAR.
- Since we really want to avoid the weight gain, our brains think only about food. Our brains are super annoying in this way. Starting to get the picture? It makes sense.
- The combination of thinking only of food plus not wanting to gain weight creates an internal struggle, to say the least. Our minds want to restrict and eat all-the-food all at the same time. And what happens? We restrict food to “save up” for all the goodies, then overeat, feel guilty, and then repeat the same thing on a regular basis from November through early January. Then we do some sort of “cleanse.”
This is not, in my opinion, a fun or meaningful way to live and it doesn’t have to be this way.
It really does not have to be this way.
You can forget about food guilt, weight gain/loss this holiday season, and, it does not mean that you just throw in the towel and surrender to gaining fifty pounds. Quite the contrary. You can NOT THINK about your weight, eat good food, exercise normally, and make it to January without the desire to repent, cleanse, and lose. Here are 6 ways to do it.
6 Ways To Avoid Holiday Weight Gain & Food Guilt
1. Accept that the Restrict-Binge Cycle is REAL
What goes up must come down, what you don’t eat now must be eaten later.
There is nothing special about you that makes you an exception to this rule. All the “willpower” in the world will not erase this simple fact of life. If you deprive yourself of food (even WANTING to deprive yourself) you will eat too much and then some later on. And it will usually be the type of food that will make you feel badly afterwards, and you might not even enjoy the experience that much.
If you want to both forget about your weight and not gain, you need to accept that you can’t restrict or deprive yourself of food. Even a little. It doesn’t work. You can’t beat the system, you’re not unique, so stop trying.
2. Remember How You Felt As a Little Kid
I’m guessing your first memories of the holiday season did not involve calculating how many calories you’ll need to burn come January 1st. Or really anything related to your weight at all.
Your memories might include warm fuzzy feelings of being with family, enjoying meals together, laughing, playing, opening presents, fun music, delicious “just-for-the-holidays” treats, and maybe even helping your mom bake cookies.
Whatever the holidays were about for you before you judged your body, before the day you looked down at your stomach and wished it were flatter and before you knew the size of your body could in any way be related to the food you ate, well, the holidays can still be about that now. And they ARE still about all of that, it just requires a shift of focus, and then, you’re right back where you started in that warm fuzzy place.
3. Eat all of your favorite holiday foods, because you deserve to and SHOULD eat foods that you LOVE
I don’t care if your favorite foods have a trillion calories and a billion grams of whatever you think you “shouldn’t” eat. You should eat them because they’re your favorites, and, dammit, that’s a good enough reason to eat them!
Besides, eating exactly what you want (even the billion calorie stuff) has this funny way of keeping you happy and satisfied, and happy satisfied people tend not to get into that whole restrict/binge cycle that ultimately is what makes you gain weight.
If you approach your favorite foods without fear, but embrace and love them for being DELICIOUS, they will love you back. Promise.
4. Keep on Moving
The “all or nothing” approach some of us take when faced with the holiday season sometimes has us putting off exercise until it’s time for New Year’s Resolutions. Silly rabbit, exercise is for the holidays too!
Since the holiday season often means extra socializing, shopping in crowds of people, lots of time indoors, and generally added stress and pressure of more commitments, it’s a time when we could all benefit from exercise.
No need to begin a strict program/training plan now, but getting out for a walk, run, your favorite classes or just keeping up with your current schedule will help keep your mind feeling sane and your body feeling strong. Just don’t start mentally linking your exercise with your food, because it’s not about “burning calories” and that’s just a sneaky way to get back into that restrict/binge thing (see above.) Do it to care for yourself, not to burn off the pie.
5. If you follow a restrictive diet for health reasons (gluten free, paleo, etc.) have a plan for how you’ll approach food
It’s always in your best interest to keep yourself healthy, so if you normally follow a paleo diet or eat a certain way for health reasons, you’ll need to figure out the best way for YOU to approach the holiday gatherings that will keep you healthy without feeling deprived.
For some people, eating the “regular” treats is totally fine once in a while and no major health problems result from some cake, pie, or turkey with stuffing. The thing is, it’s entirely up to YOU to decide what you will and won’t eat, and there is really no situation where you should ever feel ashamed of that, or pressured to eat something that will make you sick.
There is also no need to feel guilty if you eat something that winds up making you feel badly, because it happens sometimes. Put your personal health first, but don’t get caught up with worry over what to eat. Sit down, figure out a plan that’s right for you, and enjoy!
6. Don’t Weigh Yourself (Not Even Once!)
If you still weigh yourself from time to time, or more often than that, stop doing it now. The scale will not help you avoid weight gain this holiday season or keep you “honest” about anything.
The scale will make it very difficult for you to NOT judge your body and your eating habits. The scale will make it nearly impossible NOT to think about weight, because the whole point of the scale is to make you think about weight. Duh.
Once you’re thinking about your weight, you are likely to start thinking that you either need to lose weight or not gain weight, because society has wired our brains to think that way.
You don’t want to think that way, because it will only lead to your desire to restrict, that feeling of guilt when you don’t, and easy entry back into the restrict/binge cycle.
Plus, if you are doing the first five things, your weight will likely not be budging much anyway, save for a few pounds of normal fluctuations.
Take home point
Being critical of yourself, your body, your weight, and your eating habits will not keep you healthy and happy during the holiday season (or anytime, really!)
Be kind to yourself, accept that a restrictive approach to food will always lead to overeating in the end, and choose not to begin that cycle.
Remember what it was like to experience the holidays before you cared about you weight. Enjoy the time for what it is!
What has been your experience with food and weight during the winter holidays?
How do you typically feel about your body come January 1st?
What’s your best tip for staying healthy and happy this season?