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Maintaining Self Care During the Holidays

The holidays are a magical and beautiful time of year, although food, family and parties can add stress and imbalance. Here are a few tips on staying happy and healthy this holiday.

Continue to eat intuitively. Don’t restrict yourself from any foods if you don’t have to (prescribed). Eat what you enjoy and the amount that will satisfy your whole being. Check in with yourself about your satiety levels to be sure you are meeting your body’s’ needs.

Handle diet talk. Try to avoid “deprivation and guilt” talk (see previous post). Keep triggers such as “today is my cheat day” or “I am going to need to go on a diet after this meal” outside of yourself. Neutralize these messages with a pep talk to yourself: “I am proud of myself for tuning into my body’s needs and eating intuitively.”

No more “now or never.” Sometimes when we sit before a spread of delicious food, we want to have plenty (or too much) of it because we are unsure the next time is that we will get to eat that certain food. Stuffing, turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, they all can be enjoyed throughout the year, not just on Thanksgiving.

Alone time. Take time for yourself during the holiday. Set aside time in the morning, evening or both just for you. Tune into a holiday movie, go for a walk, read a book, something that will give you a break from the craziness of the day. This will also help you tune in to how you are doing and check in with yourself. What do you need to feel good? What will help you cope with the business?

Shifting focus. Instead of fixating on food, how much, how little, feeling guilty or depriving yourself, shift your focus to gratitude! After all, gratitude is the purpose of Thanksgiving! Keep an ongoing list of gratitudes that you come up with during the day, or simply make mental note of them: I am grateful for my family, this delicious food, the ability to trust my body, the day off of work.

Eating Disorders and Holidays

For those who are in eating disorder recovery, holidays can be a tough time. The best advice I can give you is to be prepared. I don’t recommend overthinking the holiday. Have a conversation with someone in your support team, or journal about how you can set yourself up for success.

Have a safety net in place in case you are triggered. This person could be a parent, sibling friend, therapist or nutritionist, someone you can lean on in recovery. My safety net was and always will be my mom. I know that I can pull her aside at any point to have an honest conversation and she will help me work through my triggers.

Stick to your meal plan. When you are facing a day full of people, conversation and food, which can already be overwhelming. Incorporating fear foods that you have not yet worked with in recovery (wine, dessert, etc.) would be difficult to handle amidst the holiday. Enjoy Thanksgiving day with foods that you are comfortable with.

Know the schedule of the day. Knowing how the day is going to unfold can help you plan your meals and snacks. This will also minimize anxiety that can crop up around mealtime.

Identify your triggers. On the left side of a piece of paper, create a list of triggers and brainstorm things that your relatives might say to you that may be triggering. On the right hand side of the paper, come up with specific soothing techniques to match each trigger and list responses that you can have ready in case something uncomfortable is said. Knowing your own triggers is one of the best way to take care of yourself.

Be honest with your loved ones about your boundaries. Let them know that you don’t want comments being made about your plate of food or your body.

Gratitude. Before the day ends, thank those who you love that have been your greatest supporters in your recovery. Thank your body for surviving and thriving in recovery.

Emotions, Psychology and Eating

My first post entitled “Are you confused about how to eat??” reviewed the biological effects of dieting. We talked about how when we diet our bodies enter starvation mode (metabolism slowing down) and through dieting, we try to alter our predetermined set range, the weight at which our body is its happiest. Lastly, that yo-yo dieting can lead to overall weight gain, despite the intermittent spurts of weight loss.

One thing that I think we all can attest to is that dieting is extremely hard on our minds!

Authors of Intuitive Eating, Evelyn Tribole, MS, RDN and Elyse Resch, MS, RDN, describe what I think to be the greatest mental struggle during dieting perfectly. They called this the Seesaw Syndrome: Guilt versus Deprivation.

Picture a seesaw.

The side up in the air is deprivation, the side near the ground is guilt. Dieting is essentially restriction or deprivation in one way or the other. During this time, deprivation is high (eliminating or limiting carbs, white foods, high-fat foods, etc.). Our guilt is low because we haven’t engaged in those “forbidden foods.”

Eventually, that craving for the forbidden food peaks and we cave. This is when the guilt starts creeping in. The result? Our deprivation crumbling. Guilt and deprivation have eventually switched heights on the seesaw scale due to our indulgence.

The next day determination or the next diet keeps us seesawing.

I have definitely been on this particular seesaw and this imagery resonates so well with me. I don’t think it’s worth it because too much of our brain space is occupied by this when we are dieting to lose weight. Not only is our physical well-being suffering because of dieting, our mental state is too.

Another great example of psychological deprivation due to dieting is Dr. Ancel Keys’ Great Starvation Experiment.

Some of you might have heard of this experiment already. It is an extreme scenario of deprivation, but nonetheless, the effects are similar to the diets we engage in today.

Dr. Ancel Keys conducted his experiment out of the University of Minnesota in 1945. He studied the effects of starvation on 36 physically and mentally healthy men.

It may seem obvious, but after a significant decrease in caloric intake and maintaining daily exercise, these men lost a significant amount of muscle mass and energy. Their metabolism and heart rate also slowed. All what would be expected.

These men also grew irritable and preoccupied with food. Some participants even cheated, eating food that wasn’t given in the experiment.

What?! This is exactly what happens in our dieting minds today! Restriction only heightens our awareness of that which we are restricting, evident by Dr. Keys’ study.

I think together we could come up with a long list of psychological effects due to dieting. The Seesaw Syndrome and The Starvation Experiment are only two examples. There are many other ways to engage our minds and bodies in the world (beautiful ways!) that don’t involve dieting. Let’s brainstorm those ideas instead.