My posts have been quite toddler focused lately so here’s a little something for the adults.
The Christmas season is upon us, and with that comes holiday parties, dinners out and family get-togethers; it seems like there’s something going on every night of the week. It’s important (and fun!) to celebrate the holidays, but that also means: less time to workout & cook healthy meals, and more extras in our diets like alcohol, appetizers & sugar.
I’m sure most of us recognize this pattern: we go into the holidays with the best intentions to make healthy choices, drink in moderation, avoid desserts and stick to our portions, but on January 2nd most of us feel guilty, are 5-10 lbs heavier and ready for a detox. Sound familiar?
What if this year was different; is it possible to break “the holiday binge – new years guilt” pattern? According to The Mindful Diet by Ruth Wolever PhD, Beth Reardon MS, RD, LDN apparently there is, and it’s all about recognizing the triggers that lead to unhealthy eating. Once you identify the external & internal triggers it’s easier to change the behaviour pattern.
Let’s go through the exercise that Wolever and Reardon outline in the book, but with a specific focus on the holidays. Major holidays come around at least 4 times per year; wouldn’t it be nice to go into them with a healthy approach, and come out feeling good for once?
Let’s start with identifying external triggers (you may identify with 2 or all of them):
- Holiday advertisements showing alcohol, food or eating
- Baked goods, candy and snacks in the workplace
- Holiday lunches, dinners or parties
- Your “favourite” holiday foods (e.g. nanaimo bars, egg nog, stuffing)
- Family gatherings
- Friends or family eating
Next, let’s identify possible internal triggers (these triggers aren’t necessarily holiday specific, but still apply):
- Childhood memories or associations with certain foods (e.g. your mom’s Christmas baking, egg nog)
- Negative feelings and thoughts about your body
- Harsh, self-critical thoughts
- All-or-nothing thinking (e.g. I just overdid it at breakfast, my whole day of eating is now ruined so who cares I’ll continue to eat badly all day)
- Catastrophic beliefs
- Relationships with family members
The next step in the process of changing your pattern is to do a “chain analysis” or “chaining,” which will help you examine the events, thoughts and feelings that lead to an unhealthy incident.
Take Lisa for example, it’s Christmas Day and she’s had a few drinks and grazes all day on appetizers: multiple types of cheeses & crackers, deep-fried finger foods, mixed nuts and salty snacks. She goes into dinner feeling full, but loads her plate with turkey and all the sides. She’s stuffed when dessert rolls around, but it’s her favourite: grandma’s famous sweet potato pie with vanilla ice cream – she has to have a slice. Dessert is finished and everyone is having an aperitif so she doesn’t say no. Lisa’s stomach hurts and she’s so full she can barely breathe. She’s tired, feels guilty and starts beating herself up for being so weak. She really thought she had it under control this year.
Looking back Lisa attributes overdoing it to a lack of willpower, but when she works backwards to create the chain of events, she discovers there were many contributing factors: events (a fight with her mother, a poor sleep, eating a small breakfast & lunch), negative thoughts (feeling fat all week as a result of indulging in daily treats at the office) and emotions (sadness).
Chaining may seem painstaking at first, but once you get good at identifying the triggers – an external stressor, a distorted thought or an emotion – and your responding negative behaviour – you can change your pattern and start to develop healthy habits: working out to de-stress from the fight with your mom, eating a healthy breakfast & lunch, filling one small plate with appetizers and paying attention to portion sizes. Choosing dessert or an aperitif.
One of my favourite sayings – “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, but expecting different results.” Why put yourself through your typical holiday pattern of over-doing it, feeling guilty, berating yourself and starting the new year with resolutions and new diet. Why not change your pattern this year? I encourage you to create your own chain analysis this week, and see what happens over the holidays.
I also encourage you to ask for a copy of The Mindful Diet for Christmas. To be clear, this isn’t a typical diet book, it’s about adopting a new way of thinking when it comes to eating by addressing the roots of unhealthy behaviour. It will teach you how to eat mindfully, put you in control of food and help you break the cycle of yo-yo dieting.
I wish everyone a safe and healthy holiday season. Merry Christmas!