Ease the Holiday Stress of Family Meals
by Joan Kent, PhD
Will you be visiting your family for the holidays? Do you have any concerns that you'll fall back into old, familiar eating patterns that work against you and sabotage your health?
Most people say their stress climbs during the holidays, and weight gain is one of the stresses. The food and alcohol that are everywhere during the holidays can too easily become part of the coping strategies used for dealing with the other stresses: long lines, crowds, expenses, family conflicts, and so on.
What did food patterns look like in your early family years? Family patterns may affect your eating behaviors during your family visits this holiday season and add to your stress.
In many families, eating is part of the family dynamic, but in some families it's the major part. Overeating is accepted, expected and encouraged — and overweight is simply ignored.
In other families, food involves power games and control issues:
- who can get whom to eat what (and how much)
- who can get whom to gain weight during the visit
- who pushes others to eat dessert just to feel better about eating it her- or himself.
Sometimes one family member is the "food pusher"; sometimes there's group pressure.
All of this is rather crazy stuff, but it can affect us. And some folks appear to have few defenses against these behaviors. Here are a few strategies to help.
If you're visiting for only one meal, eat healthful foods before you go. It will be easier to turn down unhealthful items if you're not starving, or even not very hungry.
Even better, eat protein before you go. That will stabilize your brain chemistry so you can avoid temptations and stay in control with ease.
Work out before you go. It's a reminder of who you are now, and another way to stay on track. Why undo the benefits of your workout by overeating unhealthful foods?
Bring a healthy dish with you — even if you're not asked. Heck, ESPECIALLY if you're not asked. Take food you'd feel good about making a focus of your meal, and bring plenty for everyone.
Organize a group walk after the meal, even if there's initial resistance. The walk will help you, and turning it into a family event will make it social. It needn't involve every family member. When you return, it will be easier to make wise decisions about further eating.
If you're visiting for a few days, take healthful foods with you and eat them as snacks or part of your meals during the visit.
Take along some reminders of your present life. Stay connected in a few ways to your present life to remind yourself that you're no longer the child who grew up in that toxic food environment.
If you're asked to help with meal preparation, use that perfect opportunity to make something healthy and delicious for everybody.
Find ways to work out while you're there. Even a 10-minute workout can help if you do intense intervals. For more on fitting in holiday workouts: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/surviving-holidays-less-nutrition-damage-part-1-joan
Follow the other suggestions above, as well.
Does this mean you can't indulge at all for the holidays? Obviously not, but be in control. If you indulge, be sure you have decided when to do so, what you'll eat, and how much. Have a plan — and follow it — for getting back on track, preferably right after your indulgence.
Why make the same resolutions this New Year's? Get out in front of things with your health intact and your weight under control, and make 2018 a great year right from the start. Enjoy the holidays this year without damaging your health — or your peace of mind.
For more on Surviving the Holidays with Less Nutrition Damage, just go here: