I was originally going to title this post “Surviving the Holidays,” and we all would immediately know what that meant – not gaining a million pounds and still be talking to our family when it’s all over. But if our goal is just to ‘survive,’ then if we achieve our goal, we survive. How satisfying is that?
If our goal is to enjoy, however, and we achieve it, we will do both! The great challenge most of us face during this season is the combination of two of the greatest obstacles to losing weight and keeping it off – stress and temptation.
Stress + Temptation = The Holidays
The Mayo Clinic reminds us that the holidays present a dizzying array of demands – parties, shopping, baking, cleaning and entertaining, to name just a few – devoting a page on their website to tips on relieving the unusual amount of stress.
In addition to the stress, however, we are also faced with an inordinate amount of temptations, mostly of the edible variety.
This creates a situation where we are presented with all too many opportunities to immediately ‘swallow our feelings’ with comfort foods, indulgent sweets and once-a-year, can’t-miss’em treats available at every turn.
A cycle of temptation leading to overeating – leading to guilty feelings – leading to more overeating gets set in motion, and by the end of the season – and the year – we are at war with ourselves.
Then, of course, we reach the new year exhausted, overweight and gung-ho-ready to start a new diet. Too often dieting continues the cycle of perceived failures, guilt and self-abuse. I’ve offered antidotes to that cycle in chapters of my book on the Zen of losing weight.
Stress creates a general sense of anxiety. We lose touch with our body; we’re tightly wrapped up in the thoughts racing around in our head – and we get totally ‘uptight.’ Everything seems to be moving faster. So, we move faster to catch up, but can’t, like a dog chasing its own tail.
Human beings are hard-wired to reduce anxiety as quickly as possible. For many of us, when faced with stressful situations that won’t readily resolve, the fastest, easiest and surest way to reduce anxiety is to eat it away.
Comfort food does make us feel better, and while we’re eating we don’t have to deal with what’s stressing us out. Unfortunately, the relief is temporary. Eating doesn’t address the source of stress, and we will just have to face it again when we’re done.
The grounding practice of mindful awareness is a direct antidote to stress. Deep breathing moves your energy down in your body. It slows the speed of your thoughts and helps you relax – ‘grounded’ is the opposite of ‘uptight.’
When you feel stressed, and especially when you feel the urge to ‘stress-eat,’ take a time-out and do a few minutes of grounding practice. Here’s how:
- Gently close your eyes. Let any excess tension, other than what you need to hold your posture, flow down and out of your body.
- Let your awareness fall into the deep core of your torso, with the same feeling as letting yourself fall into the back and arms of a big, soft easy chair.
- Taking slow, full breaths, imagine that as each breath goes out, you sink deeper and deeper until you feel like you are merging with the earth. That’s as grounded as you can be.
Turning Down the Temptations
The Temptations aren’t just a great Motown R&B group from the ’60s, but they are both almost irresistible. Nobody turns down “Just my Imagination” or “Papa was a Rolling Stone,” and it’s difficult to turn down turkey with all the fixings and pumpkin pie. What’s a dieter to do?
It’s important to be mindful and make positive choices. Take preventative measures by planning ahead, writing down your plan for what you will and won’t eat.
If you’re going to be pressured into taking seconds – or thirds, or fourths – have your script prepared beforehand to allow you to take smaller portions in the first place, and graciously passing on offers of more, more, more…
Here are three keys for keeping your cool:
Take Breaks, as Many as You Need!
The best way to relieve the stress and avoid the temptations is to remove yourself from stressful and tempting situations. It seems simple, but when you are at a party, or a feast, or just sitting around the television on Thanksgiving Day, it might be a little difficult to do.
Still, try to notice when you are starting to feel pressure build or buttons being pushed, and excuse yourself. Go for a walk, call a friend, meditate, whatever gives you the best chance to clear your head and regain your composure.
Have a ‘Friend On the Inside’
Enlist a family member or close friend to be your stress-buster ally. When things start to get overwhelming, pull your ally aside or give them a call.
This builds on the ‘take a break’ strategy and allows you another way of removing yourself from toxic situations. It also allows you to regain control of your emotions.
Have a Plan… and Carry It Out
Before the season starts, take stock of what and who pushed your buttons in prior years and be ready for them when they come at you. Note the most stressful or tempting situations you may encounter, and be particularly mindful of them.
Write down phrases you can use to diffuse tense situations, scripts you can employ to avoid seeming rude when trying to politely refuse over-indulging, and, your most important holiday phrase, “Would you excuse me, I’ll be back in a little while…”
What ways have you found to let yourself be able to simply enjoy the present moment, without needing to make it (or yourself) better or different in any way? How much time do you waste re-playing past experiences from which you already learned all you could? Please share your experiences below.