Every year around this time, there are an abundance of articles and news segments instructing people how to stick to their diet during the holidays. There are suggestions like, use a smaller plate when you eat your holiday meal. Or, allow yourself to just eat one helping— don’t let yourself get seconds. I read one article where an expert recommended chewing sugar free gum while you cook to prevent snacking. In another article, the expert suggested weighing yourself daily during the holidays.
Ugh!! These types of articles and suggestions are so unhelpful and only lead to guilt, shame, and disappointment! I am a physician, specializing in weight loss and disease prevention, and I help people lose weight and prevent disease without deprivation, guilt, or counting calories.
In a research study done in 2016, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found that on average, Americans gain about 1.3 pounds over the holidays. While gaining that amount of weight is not negligible, it is far from a tragedy.
If you look at the people who live the longest and healthiest lives in the world, in all of those cultures, people enjoy celebrations with their family. Prioritizing relationships, savoring the precious moments in life, and taking time to enjoy and celebrate with family and friends— there is a wealth of evidence that these are some of the most beneficial things you can do for your health.
In contrast, constantly stressing about dieting, and feeling preoccupied by shame and guilt will only take away from your health and your joy.
So how do I recommend approaching the holiday season if you have been trying to lose weight?
If you create a lifestyle where you eat foods that you feel good about MOST of the time, then when there are holidays, celebrations, or vacations, when you may want to deviate from your plan, you don’t have to feel guilty or stressed. The idea is to be able to enjoy your life, without guilt, while also supporting your health.
Our diet culture is setting us up to fail! Most diets rely on deprivation, and for most people, deprivation eventually leads to more cravings, resentment, and more hunger. Counting calories and cutting out entire food groups may work in the short term, but in the long term, most people will eventually gain the weight back because it is not sustainable. A better approach is to focus on making sustainable lifestyle changes, that will not only help you lose weight permanently, but also help you prevent disease and add healthier and happier years to your life.
Try making a healthier alternative that you can enjoy, so that you eat less of the other stuff. Perhaps make some roasted vegetables or fresh green beans as a side. Make a fresh apple crumble or a fresh cranberry dessert as an option. There are so many amazing recipes for healthy and delicious holiday foods that you can add to your menu!
When we are hydrated, we are less likely to confuse thirst with hunger, and we are less likely to eat when we aren’t hungry. For that reason, drinking water can help us make better food choices.
When we are well rested, we have more control over our cravings and hunger. For that reason, getting enough sleep can help us eat less and eat healthier.
When we are exercising, we are more likely to crave healthier foods. For that reason, getting out and exercising can help you make healthier food choices.
There are many reasons why practicing gratitude can help with weight loss.
By taking time to appreciate your food, you will feel more satiated at the end of your meals, and you are less likely to overeat.
Thinking about what we are thankful for also stimulates the release of serotonin and dopamine, our pleasure and feel-good chemicals in our brain. When we feel happier and more joyful, we are less likely to engage in emotional eating.
Regularly taking time to appreciate our blessings can also help with our stress and our sleep, both of which can influence our metabolism and body weight.
Losing weight and improving your health do not need to be about deprivation, willpower, and dieting. Rather, if you focus on self-compassion, self-care, and making positive lifestyle changes to improve your health and improve your quality of life, you will be much more likely to reach your goals (and enjoy the process).
Wishing you a wonderful holiday season! Savor and enjoy your precious time with your loved ones and your holiday feast!
Achieve permanent weight loss and add healthier and happier years to your life.