Happy Holiday Eating

11/19/2019

The holiday season is upon us – filled with family, fun and food. Some of us enjoy every minute while others struggle with well, just about everything. Here are a few ideas to help you get through the upcoming season so that you can experience the joy of it all.

Try a new approach:

Eat every 3-5 hours. The human body works best when properly fueled every 3-5 hours. Going longer often leads to hormonal changes that increase cravings, make you eat faster, and make it harder to feel full. If you're hungry before 3 hours, you may not be giving your body enough balanced nutrition. Not eating enough energy will leave you hungry, and make sure it's a balance of starch, protein and/or fats.

Focus on sleep. As schedules ramp up, sleep often gets put on the back burner. Not getting enough sleep makes eating more impulsive and less thoughtful. It also increases cravings for sugar and caffeine in order to stay awake and alert.

Manage stress. While we can't always control what happens around us, we can manage how we respond to it. Stress (whether short term or long standing) changes hormones in the body that change food preferences. Eating can become a coping and distraction tool. That doesn't mean using food to cope is bad. However, blaming yourself for "lack of self-control" when it's really about "I need support" is unfair to yourself.

No shame. Emotional eating (like eating food for reasons other than physical hunger such as pleasure, celebrations, emotions, etc.) is not wrong. It's part of being human. Feeling guilty about it takes the pleasure out of the experience. And lying to yourself that "this will be the last time" also makes you more likely to eat past the point of enjoyment. And let's be honest, there will be more cookies. Additionally, trying to "exercise off" the treat not only takes the joy out of food (and exercise), it also sets you up to be more hungry in the long run. Instead, enjoy the full food experience and take note of what else is going on that may need attention.

Real World Practice

Let's be honest - we live in the real world where a perfect stress level and eight hours of sleep can be rare. That doesn't mean all is lost and we're controlled by our next piece of chocolate. Slowing down before eating is a great way to check in to see what's driving your food desires. So before you dip into the office bowl of candy, take one minute to close your eyes, take a deep breath, and gently explore your physical and emotional state.

Ask yourself:

  • Am I physically hungry?
  • When was the last time I gave myself a real, balanced plate of food?
  • If food is needed for fuel/energy, can this [insert food] be a part of the experience (not take the place of)?

Something Else:

If it's not just hunger, maybe something else is at play. What part of me wants to enjoy this food right now?

Eyes - Do I want it because I just saw it, or keep seeing it, as I walk to the front desk?

Hands - Am I looking to keep my hands busy?

Mind - Am I looking for a reason to take a break and step away from, or avoid, a challenge?

Mouth - How well will it satisfy the flavor, texture or temperature that I'm really looking for?

Heart - Am I looking to connect with other people at the office? Will it help me feel calm and comforted? Do I need recognition for a tough day? Do I need love and self-care?

None of these reasons are bad to engage with food. Instead, it's a gentle way to explore the underlying needs that can get tangled up with our eating. If you do decide to enjoy food for whatever reason, make sure to give the experience some attention, instead of nibbling on it in the background.

Author's Note: This is an abbreviated article written by Rebecca Toutant, CHA Registered Dietician and Wellness Manager. Check out more great information at her website Nourishing Bits & Bites.

Cambridge Health Alliance

Contributed By: Cambridge Health Alliance

Cambridge Health Alliance is an academic community health care system committed to serving all members of our communities. We have expertise in primary care, mental health and substance abuse, and caring for diverse and complex populations. CHA patients receive high quality care in convenient neighborhood locations, and have seamless access to advanced care through CHA’s affiliation with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. With over 140,000 patients in Cambridge, Somerville Everett and Boston’s Metro North, CHA is working hard to offer the integrated services its communities need now, and in the future.