The holidays are here…and we celebrate them with food. You give me a fruit cake; I give you a pie. Aunt Martha always wants peppermint bark and Uncle Henry could use some peanut brittle. We forget nobody, adult or child…except for those who are trying to manage their weight.
If that seems familiar, that’s a bit of a variation of the closing lines from the 1940s film The Bishop’s Wife. But this isn’t exactly a joke. With December’s arrival, we are entering a season centered around food. Thanksgiving, the last Thursday in November, kicks it off and it doesn’t end until around January 1st. That’s almost forty days!
During that time, people’s schedules are packed with holiday cocktail parties, office parties, volunteer organization lunches, holiday brunches, family dinners—the list goes on and on. And that’s not mentioning people bringing in holiday cookies to work, receiving gift baskets and the perpetual load of fruitcake that gets passed around family and friends.
All of this on top of usual holiday stressors (which can lead to stress-eating) can make weight management very difficult. But, this isn’t a reason to panic. You can continue your weight management program and if not lose further, at least maintain your current progress. Consider this your guide to getting through the holidays without distress.
LOOK AT YOUR SCHEDULE FOR THE MONTH
You’ll want to start by looking at everything you have going on in December. Pull out your calendar and check for any holiday events you have planned. Circle or star the ones that are food-centric. These are the events that you’ll have to be extra-vigilant with. Start making plans for how you’re going to handle these events now.
Second, if you are currently enrolled in a weight management program, carve out time for your sessions. If your program is by appointment, try to schedule them as far in advance as you are able. If you are part of a program that uses weekly meetings, put those on your calendar immediately and plan to be there. Yes, the holidays are a time of extra stress. But that is why you need your support groups at this time more than ever.
Do not skip your appointments. Even if you’ve gained weight. I understand that it can be intimidating, but your weight management professional is perfectly-equipped to handle this kind of scenario. It is much better to rely on your support to help nip the issue in the bud rather than waiting until the holidays are over when the issue could have become more of a problem.
December is also right in the middle of cold and flu season, so you may need a contingency plan if you are not able to make a visit due to illness. If your program uses appointments, reschedule the appointment when you cancel. If your program uses weekly sessions, make it your number one priority to get in to the next session.
Third, if you’re traveling for the holidays or if you are hosting family or friends for more than a day, mark those times on your calendar as well. While the approaches you use to handle each case are going to be radically different, the planning process really isn’t. In both cases, you’ll need to take some time the week before to look over your plans and see how to work your weight management program around those.
REAFFIRM YOUR MOTIVATION AND GOALS
When I see patients, I talk about motivation and goal-setting over and over. There’s a huge reason for this. It’s because your motivation is what gets you through the tough times. Your goals can pull you through times of temptation.
But for this to be effective, you need to have your goals and motivation in front of you as much as possible. Write these things down on sticky notes that you put on your mirror. Put them in a journal. Type up a note in your phone and set it as your screensaver. Set phone reminders—whatever works best for you! In any case, you want these front and center as much as possible.
When you’re having a rough time, take your motivation and goals out and look at them. Remind yourself as to why you’re doing this. You’d be surprised at how much it can help you.
MAKE A HOLIDAY COGNITIVE CONTRACT
Last week, we talked a bit about cognitive contracts and the different grades of contract you can make. With the holidays, you’ll want to make the strongest contract you can—a grade three written contract.
Now, this cognitive contract is different from the goals and motivation that you’ve already set. In this cognitive contract, you have two options:
- You make a commitment to continue losing 1-2 lbs a week, just as you have in other times in your weight management program
- You commit to maintaining your weight throughout the holidays rather than losing
Here’s the reasoning behind these options.
Option A: If you are a highly motivated individual, it is absolutely possible to continue losing weight throughout the holiday season. This is especially true if your holiday schedule doesn’t differ that much from your usual schedule.
Now, if you choose this as your contract, keep in mind that this what we want to aim for. In short, do not beat yourself up if your loss is slower than usual. Even if you maintain, that is still a win!
Option B: For some, option A might be a little bit overwhelming. It might even be stressful, especially if you tend towards becoming severely demotivated when you do not exactly meet your goals. As I tell all of my patients: your weight management program should not become another stressor. So if you have a packed holiday schedule or even if you feel that it would be less pressure for you to simply maintain, this option is open!
Should you choose this option, be aware that maintaining does not mean “relax your restraint completely.” You still need to keep up with your food logging and all of the other good habits you have in place for your weight management program. If that leads to losing weight, fantastic! Consider it an extra bonus.
PLAN TO MAINTAIN YOUR ACTIVITY
Yes, I understand that everyone is incredibly busy during the holiday season. Working out is usually the first thing to go in these times. But, if you can maintain your current schedule, fantastic. Try to pencil times into your calendar to go to the gym. Use home workout videos (or Youtube videos). Make use of the time you have available—five or ten minutes is better than zero minutes!
Now, for some, formal exercise may not already be part of your usual routine or it may be incredibly difficult to fit in to your holiday schedule. If you fall into this category, you can still get activity in—you’ll simply be relying on NEAT (non-exercise associated thermogenesis AKA a fancy term for activities outside of exercise that burn calories). Here’s some examples of NEAT opportunities during the holidays:
- Go shopping for presents in store rather than shopping online
- When grocery shopping, walk every aisle of the store (but don’t get distracted by unnecessary items!)
- Help put up holiday decorations around the house
- Volunteer with local organizations
Look for seasonal events that can help you get some activity like a Santa run (which you can always walk) or tour your neighborhood to see the decorations.
All of these are festive opportunities to maintain your activity throughout the season. Get creative and remember “don’t sit when you can stand, don’t stand when you can walk!”
Now, to wrap everything up (pun completely intended), remember that one of the best gifts you can give to yourself and your loved ones is a healthy you. Look over your schedule, recommit to your goals, write out your cognitive contracts and prepare for an active December.
I hope all of you have a wonderful and healthy holiday season. Next week, we’ll be discussing why you shouldn’t wait until New Years to make your weight management resolutions.