Monday, December 3, 2012

Twelve Tips to Survive the Holiday Food Season!! :-)

Well its that holiday time of year and many of my dear compulsive overeater friends and myself are facing the Thanksgiving to Christmas food season.  Its a happy time of year but it can also be really stressful!  No matter how much you love your family, the social pressures around the holiday (buy more! eat more! decorate more!) just are enormous this time of year.  Its no wonder it is so easy to find yourself significantly larger by the end of December!  Then January hits and you are in a mad panic to "re-start."  What if we skipped that this year & stayed healthy throughout the season?!

Last year when the blog was fresh and new I did a blog post on how I survive the holiday season by sharing a few tips on how to manage my desire to overeat.  The nice thing about having this disease of compulsive overeating is that the tools that bring me sanity don't change that much--its just that I sometimes forget to use them!  So these tips are pretty much as true today as they were a year ago!!!!! That said, if you are anything like me, you need reminders (frequent reminders in my case!) of how to manage food sanely.  And so, I'm going to re-post that old post in the hopes you will find it as helpful as I did when I just re-read it!!  I won't be facing the same challenges as last year--I'm at home on maternity leave instead of working so I'm not inundated with baked goods daily the way I was last year--but I WILL be attending my work's holiday party (baby in tow) so these tips are helpful for me too!   

So wishing you all a healthy and happy December!  I hope you enjoy this post:

Originally posted December 15, 2011.......

Ok so this time of year is always a challenge!  For goodness sake, I work in healthcare--the land of drug rep holiday gift baskets & nurse's homemade treats!  Anyone who has ever worked in health care can attest to the volume of unhealthy food available to you during the whole month of December!  I think that this is pretty much the same for ALL of you out there--whether you work in healthcare or not!  And then there are the parties!  And family dinners!  Ack--no wonder everyone starts January with all those weight loss resolutions!

So I'm not perfect (by any small stretch of the imagination) but since the holiday season was my favorite binge-worthy, full-of-excuses extravaganza--I use a few tried and true techniques I use to stay on track despite the UNBELIEVABLE temptations everywhere!! (I literally just had leave the room averting my eyes from the table here at work to avoid some of my favorite sweets displayed in the nursing workroom)

Here are a few Tips to Survive the Holidays based on what I do!  Scroll down to the end for details after this list!  As always, take what you like & leave the rest.

1) Use the "One Plate Method" of eating at all events involving food

2) Call ahead to events so you can plan your food strategy & if appropriate, offer to bring a dish

3) Talk about "allergies"

4) Make sure to have a lot of yummy meals on hand at home (your FAVORITES) throughout this season so you never feel deprived.

5)  Eat at home before food events and eat the foods from Tip #4!

6) Become willing to believe that there is NO SUCH THING as "one bite" or "just a little taste" or "just this one time" or "I don't want to offend anyone by not eating this lovely meal."

7)  Use your resources

8)  Remember the point of a party

9)  Leave

10) If you slip once, get right back up and march on as if it didn't happen!

11) Make new traditions that don't involve food

12) Be realistic

Ok!  Here are a few explanations of the above suggestions:

1) The One Plate Method
  • At all parties with appetizers, don't just eat off the trays.  Ask your host for a small salad plate or saucer & fill it up ONCE with samples of the appetizers (this is a MAJOR issue for me).  Eat slowly and try to talk a lot so there is still food on your plate until the cocktail hour ends.  If you end before, you give the plate back and ignore the food completely.  See Tips 7, 8 & 9 below.
  • At dinner, get ONE dinner plate & that is your plate for the evening.  You can fill it with whatever you want but no piling on.  Once it is filled, you are done.  No seconds. No bread at the table (unless you leave a space on your plate for it). 
  • At dessert, if you don't eat sugar than have a cup of coffee or tea and sip.  Leave the table as soon as possible.  Sometimes I go to the restroom to avoid the majority of the dessert time because pies are a major weakness for me (I had to do this myself at Thanksgiving this year).  Or if its close family or friends, I help clear the dinner plates & stay in the kitchen to give them the gift of washing the dishes for half the dessert time so the host can come back to a clean kitchen.  When everyone is done eating or nearly done, I slip back in and can still have social time.  If anyone asks me what I'm doing or if I'm ok, I rarely mention that I'm avoiding dessert b/c that starts a huge conversation on it.  I usually smile and say, "Oh I'm just trying to help out a bit" or "Oh I'm fine, how are you? (and then turn the conversation to them).
  • Try to keep an eye on your alcohol consumption--it really makes it easier to eat foods you cannot eat reasonably.  Practice Tip #7 for this challenge.
2) Call ahead & if appropriate, offer to bring a dish
  • If its a big sit-down thing--like a dinner party where it would be really obvious that I'm not eating what others are eating, I call the host/hostess/organizer ahead of time.  I say:  "I just wanted to call you because I wanted to let you know ahead of time that I have a lot of allergies & food intolerances so I may not eat everything you serve. I want to make sure that you know so I don't offend you!  I'm so sorry!"  I'm really looking forward to the event!"  This works very well to reduce any discomfort at the event and it helps me plan.  Usually, either the host lets me know what they are serving (and I can plan accordingly and eat in advance if necessary) or they accept my offer to let me bring something to contribute to the meal.
  • When I'm going to a more formal event, I call ahead and ask the event planner (caterer, etc) what they are planning on serving.  I say:  "I have a lot of allergies and I just want to make sure whether I need to eat in advance or it will be ok to eat what you are serving!"  I try to be very polite and appreciative of the information.  
  • When I'm going to a work party I usually offer to bring food I know I can eat, if they say no, I eat before
  • When going to friend's of family they usually know my "allergies" or food restrictions so I can plan with them what to eat in advance.  I suggest to my sponsees that they call ahead and honestly ask one person (preferably the host) to help them.  For example, you could ask your Aunt to not leave you alone with the cookie tray or have someone else serve the foods that you have a hard time with.  Simple things like that make a difference.  My family still does the big traditional meals and I happily attend.  It isn't my job to tell others how to eat, its my job to maintain my own recovery.  So I just make sure I've brought food that I know I can eat & focus on that. 
  • If you ARE the host, be smart.  DON'T plan to serve dishes that are big problems for you.  Get creative & skip the traditional options.  If you have to serve dishes that are traditional & you aren't able/willing to change the menu than ask for help.  (For example, if you ARE the host & have an issue with sugar, ask someone else to serve dessert & pack it up immediately after dessert &  give it to your guests to take home with them.) 
  • The KEY to ALL Food Planning at the Holidays is SUBSTITUTION!  Try to find foods you are comfortable with to substitute for other foods.  For example, I may do the mashed potatoes (if vegan) instead of the sweet potato casserole (covered in marshmellows).  Or at dessert, I may bring a tasty, sugar-free treat (see blog list below for recipes) to have while everyone else eats the high-fat non-vegan stuff (note: always bring enough of that treat to share!) 
3) Talk about "allergies"
  • If there is a food that makes you feel sick afterwards (i.e. you can't eat one chocolate so you eat the whole pound of fudge and then you feel uncomfortably full afterwards), guess what, I'd say you are allergic to it! Food cravings often are medically attached to allergy.
  • So feel free to say things like "I'm allergic to..." & "I have a sensitivity to ...." so I don't eat it. 
  • Its much harder for people to pressure you into eating if you use this term.  And it IS honest--you ARE allergic!  My allergies to food range from an actual dairy allergy (rash & headache) to "gluten-intolerance" which I explain flares my neck pain.
4) Make sure to have a lot of yummy meals on hand at home (your FAVORITES) throughout this season so you never feel deprived.
  • Make a list of your favorite healthy foods & make sure they are in your house fully stocked.
  • Do not do what I used to do and rely on parties to fuel my appetite (justification: free food!) OR be so busy getting all the gifts etc that I don't stop to eat at home.
  • Plan your food for the week as usual and make grocery shopping and cooking happen ahead of time.  This is a good time to cook in bulk and freeze for reheating after a chaotic day.
  • MAKE YOUR HEALTH THE PRIORITY--What are you going to do if gifts don't get wrapped properly or you've been running all over and still can't find the right toy of your kids' dream?  Guess what--I've discovered that no one really cares or remembers--if you pop your gift in a gift bag it is ok (not perfect of course--once again perfection=impossible) & your kid will forget that toy until January when they will be ecstatic when you surprise them with a late gift.  Trust me.  What you WILL care about & remember is feeling awful on December 26th.  And you will always remember starting the slow climb of self-punishment with a week of negative self-talk before Jan 1st starts your new resolution. So STOP and put your health first before errands or people-pleasing. (This has been an ongoing challenge for me which is why I share it!)
5)  Eat at home before food events and eat the foods from Tip #4!
  • This is where calling ahead REALLY is helpful! 
  • If there is the potential for you to be unable to eat 50% of the meal--eat a FULL meal of your FAVORITE food before you leave.  Not some dinky bowel of cereal--trust me, if you eat something you aren't enthusiastic about before you leave, you WILL want desperately to eat toxic things at the event.
  • If you anticipate that you will be able to eat more than 50% of what you are served eat a snack & pack a small ziploc of emergency snacks and put it in your coat pocket or purse to access if needed.
  • Pick things to eat with lots of fiber so you actually ARE full!
6) Become willing to believe that there is NO SUCH THING as "one bite" or "just a little taste" or "just this one time" or "I don't want to offend anyone by not eating this lovely meal."
  • Just don't do it.  Those phrases are lies we tell ourselves that allow our disease to take over and make us sick.  Don't take that first bite or taste.  I use my Higher Power & my OA friends to get me through (see Tip #7).  Choose what YOU need and use it.
  • If you feel like you are about to cave in to that temptation voice, then practice Tip #9 below.
7)  Use your resources
  • Get a buddy.  Call them before and after the party and txt or call them halfway through if its a HIGH temptation situation.  This may seem extreme but you'll feel so much better knowing someone is there to support you if you can't get the support from the other party members.
  • If you get a specific enough menu, write down what you are going to eat and only eat that at the party.  Commit it to someone else.  It helps.
8)  Remember the point of a party
  • If its a purely social event that you look forward to--focus on your friends instead of the food.  Be a good listener & ask them questions.  Give them your FULL attention (this may be the first time you've done this!).  Not only will you avoid the distraction of food but you will give them the gift of your genuine interest in who and how THEY are. 
  • If you notice someone new at a party, be kind.  Go up to them and introduce them to others.  What does this have to do with food?  All service to others gets us out of our heads and away from our disease of overeating.
  • If its a work party--its really about networking, not about eating.  Once again, focus your attention on others. Everyone likes to talk about themself.  You'll be surprised at how much a relationship can change by practicing this--people love undivided attention.  And you can really be of kind service.
  • If its a party you DREAD (an obligatory event) or find uncomfortable, once again focus on others BUT before the party write down a gratitude list for the event and keep it scrolling in your brain so you don't pout internally and seek food for comfort. For example: "I'm grateful for not having to sit next to John because he yells in my ear when he talks.  I'm grateful that this event is only once a year...etc"
9)  Leave
  • If you feel unsteady, emotional or are seriously craving food you see, do not hesitate to:
    • Leave the room
    • Leave the house/building
    • Leave the event (if it is absolutely killing you not to eat it).  Explain later.
10) If you slip once, get right back up and march on as if it didn't happen!
  • I've been taught that no one is perfect and it is impossible to attain perfection.  Period.
  • If you eat something you know is toxic for you, make the next meal a good one.  NEVER say "well this day/week is over!  Might as well eat what I want, I'll start eating better next week!"
11) Make new traditions that don't involve food
***Remember that you are modelling behavior for your (and other people's) kids.  Help them stay healthy--try to ignore the pleas for candy (SO much easier said than done!) and spend time with them doing other activites instead.  It'll keep the candy out of the house (good for you and for them) AND reduce the temper tantrums and crankiness when they are coming down from a sugar high! It is so so much more peaceful without the sugar, it is truly unbelievable! Try it and see!***

12) Be Realistic
  • If you deprive yourself none of these methods will work.  
  • Be gentle with yourself, restrict ONLY certain foods not EVERYTHING unhealthy.
  • Remember you are not on a diet.  Diets don't work in my experience.  Healthy living is forever. 
Ok!  I hope this LOONNNGGG post is helpful! 

What strategies do YOU use?:-)  More ideas are always welcome!!

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