LIFESTYLE MOTIVATION Thoughts WELLNESS

How to Survive the Holiday Season (without excessive weight gain): A Group Therapy Activity

It is now fall and yes it’s true… winter is coming (any GOT fans out there?). There is a chilly crisp in the air, buckets of halloween candy at every turn, and pumpkin spice everything are haunting our dreams. Soon many of us will take a break from our busy lives to enjoy some quality time with friends and family, perhaps with bellies full of peppermint hot cocoa, and we’ll feast on the most decadent meals that seem to last for days. It’s the time of year where eating (a lot) of homemade cookies/sweets becomes a thing, since they were made with love and gifted to you at a holiday party, or perhaps they didn’t make it out of your house after you pulled them from the oven (#guilty). Shortly after, many of us will end the season partying the night away whilst trying not to spill champagne on our sequined covered dresses, waking up to nurse a hangover well into the next day. By this point, with our jeans fitting a bit too snug for comfort, we’ll vow to go on a strict diet or detox and sign up for a gym membership to undo the “damage” we’ve done over the last couple of months. Does this sound familiar? Did you know that most gyms make their money off of people who sign up and don’t go? For some, the extra weight we’ve gained will dissolve on its own as we settle back into our routines. For others it won’t and will linger around even until next year’s festivities! If the latter sounds like you, you are not alone and I am proof that it doesn’t have to be this way…

Coming from a background of obesity, yo-yo dieting, emotional binge-eating, and struggles with depression, this time of year and I have had a love hate relationship. I loved it because I am a foodie, but I hated it because I am foodie who had some serious issues to resolve which resulted in constant feelings of guilt and anxiety over all of the nonstop temptations that are especially prevalent this time of year. I was a person who felt helplessly out of control and would use excuses like, “It’s [insert holiday name here]! It only comes once a year, let’s indulge!” However, my definition of indulge wasn’t just a slice of sweet potato pie. I also HAD to have the pumpkin pie, pecan pie, ice cream, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and more, only to continue to overeat on such items for days to come, as if I was starving! Pie for breakfast anyone? It goes great with coffee! Then came the feelings of shame and guilt for not being able to fit into my clothes, which led to more negative-self talk and thoughts, which would further trigger me to binge again and again and again in attempts to numb my feelings. What a sick cycle! I truly hope that you can’t relate, but if you can I am here to offer you a different perspective.

Having a positive relationship with food and your body has less to do with what you eat, and everything to do with how you think! The following exercise was first presented to me in a group therapy class, and it left an impression on me. It is my privilege to share this simple exercise with you, however please note that the best results will come from being an active participant!

For this activity you will need: 

  1. One sheet of paper
  2. A pen or pencil
  3. Optional: A partner or two to help you brainstorm

On the sheet of paper, create a list of all the holidays, celebrations, and events that heavily revolve around food throughout the year. List as many as you can (one item per line) and take as long as you’d like. 

Again, please take a moment to do this on your own… I’ll wait!

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If you were thorough with this exercise, you may have included some or more of the following:

Events (which may happen multiple times per year): Birthdays (Yours + Friends/Family), Graduations, Weddings, Funerals, Promotions, Break Ups, Vacations (Spring Break, Summer, Winter Break), Foodie Holidays (ie. National Donut Day), etc.

Holidays: New Years Eve/Day, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Passover, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas,  Kwanzaa, etc.

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Through the practice of physically writing this out, hopefully you will notice how quickly you’re able to fill up one sheet of paper. You may have even had to flip the sheet over to continue writing on the back, and from this we can conclude that we do a lot of extravagant eating! This list represents all the times we give ourselves permission (excuses) to over-indulge, and this list may not even include how often we casually go out for drinks with coworkers, or a night out with some friends. All of these moments add up!

Something else you should notice is that these days (especially holidays) come around every year. So my previous thoughts of, “It’s [insert holiday name here]! It only comes once a year, let’s indulge!” is the wrong attitude to have. And when it comes to the food, oftentimes these holidays are seasonal, meaning we aren’t just eating extra on the day of! Instead of treating each event with an all or nothing mentality, realize that this day will come around again and so will these foods/treats too.

Previously my mindset was one of lack and scarcity, feeling the need to over-eat as if I’d never get the chance to have these items ever again. If there was a bucket of free Halloween candy in front of me I couldn’t take just one piece, I ate at least five pieces daily and continued consuming even after the holiday was over. But now I look at these treats and see that they are just fun-sized candies that I could literally buy any time that I want. They are not that special after all! Most of the popular ones are made of toxic ingredients anyways and my body deserves better, but I digress! Instead of telling myself “No, I can’t eat that” (which leads to feelings of restriction and even more desire for the forbidden item) I remind myself that I can have x-item whenever I want, but am CHOOSING not to right now (which leads to a feeling of empowerment and truth). Even better, now I can limit myself to one and feel no qualms about it! I know that I am not missing out.

Instead, of approaching each holiday as a rare must-eat-all-the-things event, I look forward to appreciating the season by highlighting non-food-centric activities like turkey trots, or taking a hike to admire the fallen leaves. It’s just another day after all and being able to realize all of the above has allowed me to be in control of my choices. Today I enjoy said indulgences even more as they truly are in moderation now. With such a shift in mindset, life became much easier for me and so did letting go of the excess weight I had.

Additionally I use practices that work for me, such as not keeping my binge food in the house. If I buy Halloween candy for the neighborhood kids, I’ll purchase the ones I don’t like and/or the non-vegan ones… anything that I know won’t tempt me. If I purchase them, not only will I buy the candy that I don’t like, but I will also purchase the candy on the day of Halloween and take the leftovers to work the following day. On days such as Thanksgiving, I do and feel my best when I keep the feast simple with a main, two sides, and a dessert. Otherwise, if there is too much variety I’ll want to try it all! Today I set myself up for success by being observant of my behavior patterns/triggers, and counteracting them. Besides, the feeling of being in a food coma with unbuttoned pants on Thanksgiving day isn’t fun anyways and overeating is a form of self harm; hopefully you wouldn’t force feed a child until she’s sick so why are you doing this to yourself? Know yourself and come up with a plan.

Today my experience during this time of year is one of freedom, hallelujah! There is no more shame, guilt, feeling self-pity or conflicted about sticking to a diet amidst all the temptations. Today it is about being present and mindful of every moment. When I choose to indulge, I do so with gratitude and empowerment. Binging is (mostly) a thing of the past and I’m so thankful. It is my hope that this activity and my insights are eye-opening for you too. As we approach this food-centric holiday season, I hope that you will feel empowered to think differently of such events, put an end to your suffering, and take responsibility of your choices in a much more peaceful way.

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