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!

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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