Eating During the Holidays and Beyond

I will start out by stating that I am NOT a nutritionist. But I am an avid researcher who has lost 20 lbs in 2014 and I’m holding steady these past few months.  I would like to share a few resources that helped me out through this year and those that have helped a few of my friends.

One of the biggest worries over the holidays for people, particularly those who are trying to lose weight, is that of weight gain.  And it’s understandable – more sugary treats, more food, more drinks – it’s all out there.  I remember when I was working at a school that every single day someone would bring in baked goods.  While lovely, it was tough on the waistline!  I’m currently facing 3 social outtings this very weekend – one dinner & drinks out on Friday night, a party with my Oxford gang on Saturday afternoon and a late night social evening with my hockey gang.  So, what’s a girl to do?  Here are my suggestions:

1. Find a support.  I belong to two online groups who keep me sane and keep me on track.  The first is MyFitnessPal.  Some people, like me, use it to post their food intake & exercise to keep them on track.  I also have ‘friends’ on there who post their thoughts and support, and I post at times to the forums.  There is a lot of conflicting information on there and MFP (as it’s called) tends to give people much lower calorie levels than people really need.  But it’s good.  The other support is in a group called Eat More 2 Weigh Less.  I wish I had this group when I was younger & dieting.  They support eating at a small deficit (NOT 1200 calories).  I’m even featured in their blogs.

2. Binging is bad.  While binging does have a psychological component, it also tends to have a physical one.  Many people who binge tend to also be restrictive, and so to try to get the calories that their bodies need, a binge desire is created.  Most people think they need to eat 1200 calories to lose weight. WRONG!  Unless you are very much older, very short and sedentary, you probably have to eat well over 1200 calories to just survive if you were in a coma – this is called your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR).  Mine is around 1377 (found through the Scooby Workshop calculator).  But I am not sedentary – I play with my dog, walk around a lot, do laundry, etc.  Mothers are very much NOT sedentary at all.  So even if I was trying to eat a minimum amount of calories I’d still want to eat more than 1377.  To maintain the weight you are currently at, you want to eat at TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure).  I am already reasonably active (so that would put me on the lightly active level) plus I exercise about 5 hrs during field hockey season (minimally) so I get to be at the 5-7 hrs level which allows me to eat around 2350 calories to maintain.  If I were to want to lose more weight, I’d go with TDEE minus 10% (as I’m at a very healthy weight) and I’d never suggest eating below 15% from TDEE.

3. Make a plan and use portion control.  When I go out (such as I will do on Friday), I plan my eating for the day and allow for a larger calorie allowance for the meal out.  I also may under-eat a touch the day before or day after (about 200 or so calories).  Because I’m not at a high deficit, this is easy to do.  But for Thanksgiving and for Christmas, I just don’t care – I eat what I want in moderation.  BUT I don’t pig out.  I enjoy all the tastes but take small portions.  If I eat out, I eat half of what’s on my plate.

4. I don’t eat things that bring me joy.  Just because something is there in front of me doesn’t mean I should eat it.  I’m not a huge sweets eater but I used to eat them to be polite.  Now, I tend to have a bite and then let it go. Or I say ‘no thank you, it’s not for me’.  Cheese, now that’s a different story – bring it on!  I don’t let other guilt me – it’s MY BODY, MY CHOICE.

5. Forgiveness.  I don’t beat myself up or give up if I don’t do it “right”.  This is a journey not a sprint.  I’m going to be eating food for the rest of my life, so it can’t be an enemy.  I have not yet given up any foods even while losing weight.  I don’t see the point as I won’t give up carbs or fat or sugar for the rest of my life.  Cooking & baking brings me joy so why would I want to stop that?  So, when I overeat something because it tasted amazing or I have a glass of wine too many because I was being social, I pick myself up the next day and carry on.  And try to figure out if I could do something different in the future. And sometimes, I don’t want to.  Sometimes it’s worth it.

Here’s a few helpful worksheets to use if need be:

Food diary (with space for unhelpful thoughts)

Cravings diary

If you feel like you need more, or want further resources, please do get in touch!

Handling the Holidays

The holidays can be rough.  There are heightened expectations, interactions with family members in closed quarters and the monetary concerns.  For expats or those living a flight or more away, it can bring on feelings of guilt for either not wanting to head back “home” for the holidays or feelings of sadness that you can’t make it home due to work or financial constraints.  And then there’s the multiple families issue – who do spend Christmas morning with? For some families there can be a ton of different people all pressuring you to spend it with them.

How can you handle all of this stress? How do you make it through the holidays with your mental health intact?  There’s a few things you can do:

1. Make sure you have a bit of ‘me time’. Even if you have a lot of relatives and friends all around you, and you love spending time with them, you’ll still need a bit of alone time to recharge.  Hand off the kids, decline a lunch gathering or do whatever it takes to get away for a moment.  Have some quiet, even if it’s only in a bubble bath or going for a walk in the woods (heck, I can find peace in the middle of London sometimes).

2. Keep your expectations at a minimum.  Now’s not the time to think that this year is going to be “perfect”.  As you can only control your own actions and thoughts, this means that things will go wrong.  Find humour in the out of control stupidity that happens.  Dropped your turkey? Give it a wash, put it back in the oven for a bit and then carry on. Forgot to bring the wine to your in-laws? See if you can make a special cocktail out of what they have.

3. If things go very badly, walk away.  You don’t have to put up with meanness or bullying by your relatives.  You deserve better.  If someone says something offensive, feel free to say “Why would you say such a thing?” and then walk away.  If it continues, then leave the house.  YOU are not ruining the holiday – you are taking care of yourself.

4. Find ways of relaxing within a crowd.  As an introvert, I have learned how to relax within very crowded and overwhelming situations.  I can do deep breathing, short visualisations, muscle tensions exercises, etc, without anyone even knowing.

5. Have an outlet.  Call a friend, write on a forum, talk to your priest or write to me. But find a way to vent your frustrations so you don’t take them out on your nearest and dearest.

There are many ways to handle holiday stress.  The above are just a few.  If you have any you use that you think might be helpful to others, please do share!

Be Thankful

As an American who lives overseas, sometimes celebrating Thanksgiving can be very tough.  No one has off either Thursday or Friday, or your friends have gone elsewhere for the holiday.  So, like many expats, I celebrate it on another day (this year it’s Saturday).  I’ve invited a bunch of people for a buffet meal – 2 vegetarian adults, 2 vegetarian kids, 6 meat eaters and only 2 of us are American!  I’m so thankful for having people around to celebrate one of my favourite holidays.

Being thankful is important in life.  Finding just little bits of positivity can be so helpful both mentally and physically.  Mentally, it can open you up to other possibilities, will allow you to look more regularly for the positives versus negatives in life and make you feel better about yourself, your life and your future.  Physically, finding the positives in life can keep heart issues at bay much more than looking at just the negatives.

So, do yourself a favour, and look for the beauty in the world around you.  It might just be that the sun is shining today (which it is in London), or a smile on a baby or the sight of an older couple holding hands.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you, American or not!

Where is your home?

Where is your home?  A tough question for those of us who are expats or immigrants, but also for many who have moved around a single country.  It’s definitely something that some of my clients have discussed in our sessions.  Pico Iyer has done a fabulous Ted Talk on this whole idea looking at how one might define ‘home’.

I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania in the States and spent most of that time in one house.  That is ‘a’ home for me.  I moved to another state for university and to live for a while after university. Then to another two for work before moving to London, where I’ve been for 10 years.  While I’m both a citizen of the US and UK, I’m not sure that I can call either home at this point.  I don’t fully fit in either place in its entirety.  So, perhaps, I can call the house I own with my husband, home, which I do when I’m talking about ‘going home’.  But if, like Pico Iyer, I lose this home, then is it truly my HOME?  No, I think I carry my home in my heart – it’s the people who I love who make where I am my home.  So, while with my husband, I feel at home.  With my parents, I also feel at home.  Perhaps, I can have more than one home.  And I think that is quite amazing.

I love the quote that Pico Iyer says at the end of his talk, “Movement is a fantastic privilege, and it allows us to do so much that our grandparents could never have dreamed of doing. But movement, ultimately, only has a meaning if you have a home to go back to. And home, in the end, is of course not just the place where you sleep. It’s the place where you stand.”  

Focusing on Your Strengths

I know.  It’s been a while since I’ve posted.  Like many people I hit a period of procrastination and lethargy and I gave in to it following a period of having a chest infection which knocked me out.  I started focusing too much on the weaknesses that I have, the things I was doing wrong and that influenced how I felt day to day.  Even though I’m a CBT therapist, it doesn’t mean that sometimes I fall prey to my own negative thoughts and beliefs.  What it does mean is that eventually I understand what I’ve been doing and I use the tools under my belt to get me back on track.  So, world, here I am again.  Ready to refocus and look at my strengths!  And luckily, an article came up in Psychology Today about why it’s so important to focus on your strengths.  I’ll paraphrase below or you can check it out in full by clicking on this link.

1. It makes you happier – well, of course, when you focus on what you are good at, you are less likely to think about negative things

2. You experience less stress – by focusing on strengths, you will become more resilient and able to deal with any negative thoughts which would impact your stress levels

3. Have more energy – you are more likely to live a healthier lifestyle when you are positively focused (as someone who used to eat their emotions, this makes so much sense!)

4. Feel more satisfied with life – by looking at strengths, you will be a better problem solver and so be more okay with the outcomes

5. Faster development – when you focus on your strengths, you will develop new skills more quickly and easily

6. More creative – the feelings of authenticity that come with strengths focused work also increases creativity

7. More confident – you can look forward and push through mistakes more easily

8. Feel engaged and find meaning in work – when you are doing something that feeds your strengths, then you will also be feeding your inner drive



Need help to figure out your strengths?  You can check out this free survey to figure out your strengths profile (you do have to register to do so)

I will share that my top five character strengths were: Forgiveness, Love, Kindness, Honesty & Fairness…which I do believe ‘clicks’ with the person that I am.

Every woman (and man) should listen and read these


Poor body image is something I have worked on personally as well as professionally.  I don’t know a single woman who likes their body fully or who can go through an entire day without focusing on some imperfection.  It’s insidious.  And as these two sources state, it takes a LOT of energy to be that hyper-vigilant.  Energy that could be directed toward much more amazing things!

So, please watch the TEDx talk by Caroline Heldman called The Sexy Lie, and then go and read the blog post by Angel Kalafatis (and when she starts talking about yoga, you can also put in CBT or Mindfulness as skills to learn to do similar things).

Let’s hope that more and more of us can move beyond our own self-subjugation.

How do you handle chronic illness?

There are a multitude of chronic illnesses in the world, from diabetes to M.E.  And while we’re making strides in finding a cure for many of these, we may be ignoring one aspect of these disorders…mental health.  A chronic illness has many components to it that may contribute to anxiety and depressions, from not knowing what’s going to happen day-to-day to having to deal with not having enough support through friends or family.  Lack of progress in treating symptomology or not knowing how long certain side effects are going to be part of your life can trigger potential anxious or depressed thoughts.

Per the American Psychological Association (APA), the best way to deal with the emotional side of a chronic disease requires an approach that is “realistic but positive.”  What that means for you may mean something different for others.  A therapist can help with this approach, but there are a few other ideas that the APA suggest:

1. Stay connected.  If you can find supportive friends and family.  If they are not around, search for support groups, or at the very least go online as you can find many support forums.

2. Take care of yourself.  Don’t be ashamed to ask for help or to push if you aren’t getting the care you need.  You won’t be seen as a hypochondriac if you are feeling symptomology and need some help.  Eat well, exercise if you can and find time for yourself.

3. Maintain a routine.  When depression hits, the first thing that goes are pleasurable activities or even those you might do on a daily basis.  Get up, do errands, go to work, go to the gym…just do.

I have several friends who have chronic illnesses.  One has dedicated herself to finding a cure by working in a lab that focuses on her disease.  She does Crossfit and runs.  And she tries her darndest to maintain a normal life.  Another friend found humour as her way to deal with some of the toughest aspects of her illness.  She’s gone so far as to write a book called “Prescription for Disaster: the funny side of falling apart” (which is also available in the US).  It doesn’t matter how you choose to make your way through life with a chronic disorder or disease as long as you keep moving forward.  It’s not easy but as others have shown, it is doable.



Have you seen the popular TV show in Britain, Googlebox?  Googlebox has an interesting premise; you are watching people watching television.  Why is this so intriguing?  And what does it say about us?

We get to see how other people react to the same shows that we might watch.   Are they a reflection of us?  Or are they very different?  What does this tell us about ourselves and our views of the world.  What we are doing is something called social comparison.  This is a process through which we are better able to understand ourselves by comparing ourselves to others.  Most of the time we compare ourselves to those who are very similar.  We look at their attitudes, abilities and their beliefs.  We feel good about ourselves when we compare favourably.

The thing about Googlebox is that the cast most likely has someone like you.  But if not, we will reflect on how well or how badly we have fared based on the good or bad comparison of those others.  We will either have an upward comparison or a downward comparison.  When we make an upward comparison we observe people who have it better than us when it comes to money, looks or other resources.  When we make a downward social comparison, we observe people who apparently have it worse than we do.  We often feel better about ourselves when we downward compare versus when we upward compare.

As you are looking at Googlebox keep these comparisons in mind.  Who do you feel most connected to in the show and why?


Comfort Eating

Like many women, I’ve struggled with issues around food in my past.  It’s a tough thing because we need food to survive, but at the same time, we get so many conflicting messages around it from society, our families and media.  A lot of times, food has been used as comfort as a child – even doctors would sometimes give me a sweet treat (lolly) when I was given a shot and upset.  And if you had a bad day at school? Out would come the cookies.  Having spoken to many women about this, with similar stories, it’s no wonder that we may come to equate food with dealing with our emotions.  And note, this isn’t just a problem for women.  Many men also bury their emotions and choose food as their ‘weapon of choice’.

But, this can become a problem, particularly if you start to use food all the time instead of dealing with your emotions.  Overeating can lead to a bad cycle:  feel a “bad” emotion – eat food – feel badly about overeating or eating something that you have labelled as ‘bad’ – eat more, etc, etc, etc.  Instead of facing the emotion, you may end up gaining weight and feeling worse and worse.

So, how do you get out of the cycle.  Here are a few tips from Dr. Sonia Greenidge as reported by Psychologies in their Feb 2014 issue:

1.  Before you eat something, ask yourself if you are truly hungry or if you are upset about something.  Physical hunger is felt in the stomach, while emotional hunger is usually felt in the mouth, with specific cravings.  Rate your hunger level from 1 (very hungry) to 10 (very full).  If you are below a 5, then it may mean that you are dealing with physical hunger…otherwise, it may just be emotional hunger.

2.  If you are emotionally hungry, sit with the emotions.  What is going on for you right now?  What are your feelings?  Your thoughts?  Your bodily reactions?  Do you have any images in your mind that relate to that feeling?  Accept the feelings.  You can also write them down and see if the thoughts you have are helpful or not.  Use a thought record and see if you can come up with a more helpful thought.

3. Figure out what triggers your emotional eating.  For me, it was around boredom and feeling out of control.  I would begin to focus on my negative thoughts and just want to bury them.  But once I began to recognise the triggers, I also could stop the thoughts and grab a water or do something instead.

4. Challenge your typical behaviours by placing reminders around to question what is going on.  One idea is to place the question, What am I feeling?, on your fridge.  Think about short-term gains versus long-term aims.

If you feel that you are overwhelmed by all of this, seek out some support.  A CBT therapist, like me, can be really useful in figuring it all out and getting at the root of why you feel the way you do.  Or join a group, like Overeaters Anonymous.

It’s a long journey sometimes to figuring out what’s going on with you and food.  You can do it.  You are worth it.  Yes, you truly can do it.

My comfort food of choice


As the gyms start to slowly empty of those who had such great plans, and the diets begin to fail of those who just want a bit of chocolate, along comes a fabulous article from TED.  Kelly McGonigal talks about why it’s just so darned tough to stick to a resolution…or the science of willpower.  You can find the original here, or snippets below taken from the article:

I define willpower as the ability to do what matters most, even when it’s difficult or when some part of you doesn’t want to. That begins to capture why it’s so difficult — because everything we think of as requiring willpower is usually a competition between two conflicting selves. There’s a part of you who is looking to the long-term and thinking about certain goals, and then another part of you that has a completely different agenda and wants to maximize current pleasure and minimize current stress, pain and discomfort. The things that require willpower pit those competing selves against each other. Willpower is the ability to align yourself with the brain system that is thinking about long-term goals — that is thinking about big values rather than short-term needs or desires.

People come up with resolutions that don’t reflect what matters most to them, and that makes them almost guaranteed to fail. Even if that behavior could be very valuable and helpful — like exercise — if you start from the point of view of thinking about what it is you don’t really want to do, it’s very hard to tap into willpower. If there’s no really important “want” driving it, the brain system of self-control has nothing to hold on to.

Things to think about…At the end of 2014 — on January 1st, 2015, looking backwards — what are you seriously going to be grateful that you did? Is there a change you know that you’re going to be glad you made? What would that feel like? That can tap into something that feels really authentic.

One of the things I always encourage people to do is to not try to do things alone, and to start outsourcing their willpower a little bit.  Another thing I encourage people to do is — if there’s a behavior that they put off or don’t do because of anxiety or self-doubt or because it’s boring or uncomfortable — bribe yourself. If you hate exercise but truly, truly want the consequences of exercising, you should give yourself permission to do whatever you don’t want to let yourself do — like read trashy gossip magazines, or download a whole series of a TV show that you can plop on in front of you on the treadmill. As long as it doesn’t conflict with your goal, then you should go ahead and pair the thing you don’t want to do with a reward that you might otherwise not give yourself permission for. That can be very effective for beginning to prioritize and make time for things.  Also, give yourself permission to do small steps rather than think that there’s an ideal you need to meet.

I think that from top to bottom, making your resolution social allows you to access different supports, both internal and external. One more reason to go public — being a role model for someone. People will do things when they know that they’re inspiring change in others. It’s a natural progression that you see in many areas — whether it’s people who are recovering from addiction, or someone embarking on a physical challenge. This is what people naturally do.

One of the big lessons from The Science of Willpower is if you really fight the inner experiences, it’s not going to end well. If you decide you’re going to fight cravings, fight thoughts, fight emotions, you put all your energy and attention into trying to change the inner experiences. People tend to get more stuck, and more overwhelmed. When you try to control the things that aren’t really under your control, you get to feeling more out of control. Whereas where you really have the freedom is in your choices.

Where do you struggle with will power? What tips do you have for others?

It takes willpower