Some never experience the roller coaster that is holiday overeating, however, most of us know it all too well.

The truth is that we overindulge because there’s a payoff.  The brain releases the feel-good neurochemical dopamine when we eat foods high in fat and sugar. Stress, anxiety and depressed mood during the holidays makes us more prone to reward-seeking behaviors which in this case means bingeing on food.

We have an association between “feel-good foods” and the holidays that has been so strongly reinforced in our minds that many of us are averse to the idea of cutting them out altogether during the season.

Many look forward to celebrating the holidays with a stocked pantry full of “the permissible treats because it’s the holidays.”  I’m speaking to those of you who buy tree-shaped cookies, fudge, extra tamales, holiday cakes, bags and bags of chips, soda, and brownies because your friends, or your friends’ kids, or your relatives are coming over.

You may eat to celebrate because the association between feel-good food and the holidays is cemented in your brain. You may also be eating your way through stress, guilt, disappointment, loneliness and sadness. You give so much to others that you feel depleted so you reward yourself with seconds and thirds until you feel added guilt…and the cycle continues.

So, how can you make it through without getting into the holiday binges?

Shift your Identity – Identity is strongly linked to behavior. Start now by identifying yourself as a fit person who eats mindfully. Say to yourself, “I am a person who takes time to think about what I am putting into my body,” “I am a person who eats treats but does not go overboard,” “I am a person that eats to live and not the other way around.”

Engage in Behaviors that are Non-Compatible to Binge Eating – Walk, run, or strength train the day of the holiday party or the morning of the actual holiday. Overeating after exercising is a non-compatible behavior. Binge eating is not compatible with exercising, meaning if you exercise in the morning you will be more likely to engage in compatible behaviors such as picking up a carrot or cherry tomato rather than a greasy dumpling or cookie.

Record – Either count calories, keep a food journal, or both. Keeping a food journal from December through January will help you see the reality rather than the illusion of what is going into your body. Both food journaling and writing goals down are proven by research to be effective for altering behavior.

Avoid labeling Food and Yourself as “Bad” – All informed dietitians will tell you should avoid labeling foods as good or bad. All foods provide some source of energy. Labeling foods as bad can have the effect of you feeling badly for eating it, thus, spiraling you into a binge. The research shows that the more you label a food or yourself as “bad”, the more likely you are to overeat.  Banning foods can cause you to overeat them later on. If you’re really craving something, give yourself permission to have a small amount.

Delay and Distract–Delay – Sometimes people get so focused on what they want to eat that they don’t stop and ask themselves why they want to eat. If you use food as a coping mechanism, you may be out of touch with the cues that signal hunger or fullness, so it’s critical to bring your awareness back to your body. Slow yourself down. Don’t head straight for the food. Start with a glass of water, seltzer, or tea and make a conscious decision to slow down. Distract – The holidays are for catching up with friends and family. Distract yourself by talking to your loved ones, lending a hand to the host, playing a game, or taking in the beauty of the decorations. One of my favorite distraction techniques during the holidays is to keep a warm mug of tea on hand at all times.

Reframe your intentions. You could choose to go through the holidays focusing on the guilt for not buying enough gifts, or the guilt of buying too many, or on the stress because you feel you need to please everyone and so on and so on.  You could also choose to get through the holidays with a new intention. You can make the choice to focus on celebrating, being positive and truly in the moment, and giving attention to your favorite holiday traditions.

Be Empowered. You don’t have to be a victim of the energy-sucking stress or sadness of the holidays. Feeling empowered helps you control your emotions and eating behaviors.  Keep your home a sanctuary of health and wellness by stocking up on winter produce such as pomegranates, dates, plums, mandarin oranges, and sweet potatoes.  Avoid conforming to the traditional overeating that your loved ones engage in because you are on your own path. Think of the holidays as practice for the New Year so that you have an edge up on fitness with a cleaner and more energized mind and body when the New Year begins.

Happy healthy intentions to you this holiday season!

About The Author:

Kim Chronister, PsyD is a therapist, wellness expert, and published author. She specializes in substance abuse, fitness motivation, relationships, weight loss, and eating disorders. Her passion for health psychology is evidenced in her contributions to Women’s Health Magazine, Livestrong, NPR, and Yahoo News and numerous other media outlets. She is the author of “The Psychology Behind Fitness Motivation” and the bestselling book “FitMentality.”

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