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Balanced eating in the holiday season

Well, it’s official – it’s the holiday season. And for many this is a double-edged sword time of year. We look forward to the parties, family gatherings and delicious seasonal treats (what else can we make with peppermint?), yet we dread the possible attack on our waistline.

It can feel tempting to write off holiday weight gain as a given, and quickly follow it up with a New Year’s vow to lose it all plus more with the help of a pristinely “clean” diet. But even during the holidays, when food as part of our culture and pleasure is so intensely highlighted, there is balance to be found.

Typically the words balance and moderation evoke ideas of choosing more fruits and vegetables with the occasional sweet treat, and yes, that is part of balance. But I like to approach balanced eating from two different angles: one is more logistical, the other is more psychological. And both are important.

Here are a few examples of the logistics of eating:

  • Party at night? Avoid not eating all day. Showing up extra hungry at a dinner or party is a sure-fire way to eat and drink in excess.

  • Have food with your alcoholic beverage and alternate it with a non-alcoholic beverage. The more intoxicated you become, the more your inhibitions lower and you’re likely to choose foods and portions you wouldn’t normally.

  • Check out all the food options at a party or dinner before committing – decide which dishes you really want to enjoy and include those on your plate. Avoid taking some of everything simply because it’s there.

Addressing the logistics has to be done, but we must also address our mental approach.

One of my favorite ways to illustrate the concept of balance is the Chinese finger trap. If you aren’t familiar, the Chinese finger trap is a 3-4 inch long woven tube with a diameter just wide enough for a forefinger. If you place a finger in each end and pull apart, the woven material tightens and your fingers become stuck. The harder you pull, the tighter it gets. If you stop pulling and relax your fingers closer together, you can then free them. In other words, the more you clench, the harder you pull…the more stuck you become.

A client recently illustrated this concept so perfectly when discussing her Thanksgiving experience. She was terrified leading up to it because she had TWO Thanksgiving meals to attend – how could she possibly stick with her balanced eating habits? She decided to try a different approach from years past when she might have vowed to eat only vegetables and turkey, then caved and binged on everything at the meal.

She reminded herself this was one day and one day does not determine your wellness. She took inventory of her favorite Thanksgiving foods and gave herself permission to have them – to enjoy them. If she did overeat, she planned to avoid a binge cycle by not judging herself, remembering it was only one meal, and to use gentle self-talk to return to her routine.

My client told me she ended up having a plate of food at each meal which were 4-5 hours apart, and she was actually hungry by the second meal – a first. She enjoyed one piece of her favorite dessert at each meal. She had no interest in eating just for the sake of eating and having some of everything, but rather she decided what she wanted and enjoyed it – and was done. The next day she didn’t feel like she had missed out on anything at the holiday meals, was glad she had taken the chance to enjoy it, and returning to her normal routine was…normal.

By relaxing her thoughts and concerns about the meal, she “unclenched”. She had more room and freedom to enjoy her eating experience, which can be in line with wellness goals. In fact, the two absolutely must go together.

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