By Angie Engles
Now that Thanksgiving is over, some of us may be breathing a huge sigh of relief right before we remember that Christmas is just around the corner. It’s not the family time or the shopping or the lists of everything that needs to be done that is on our minds so much (though all of that can be quite stressful) as much as the food that is constantly on parade pretty much anytime from Thanksgiving to the first few days of the New Year. Suddenly our favorite places (friends’ houses, home, workplace lounges) can be something out of a horror film.
People joke about “food comas,” unzipping their pants, wearing sweats to dinner to make room for more, but the sad truth is for many people nothing about holiday eating is funny. For anyone struggling with a diet, food issues, or eating disorders, this can be a particularly nightmarish situation, especially if food is forever present, whether it be in the workplace, on tv, or in other people’s homes. It’s no wonder that statistics show attendance at Over Eater’s Anonymous spikes in January when many members go to deal with their genuine anguish over having eaten so much during the holidays.
Last November, The New York Times featured an interesting article on holiday eating. Though writer Jesse McKinley was referring to Thanksgiving, his advice can easily apply to Christmas and New Year’s Eve as well.
First of all, he advises, forget fasting the day before the big holiday event. No matter how good your intentions or how strong your willpower, the next day you will just make up for what you missed the day before. There are ways to survive the gastronomical warfare, most of which, like any good contingency plan, involve getting ready beforehand, assessing the damage, and finding the strength to start over and stick to your regular diet.
Anticipating holiday events, of course, can fuel the fire, but there’s no doubt about it that once you actually get to that family dinner or friend’s party or workplace event that you can feel like a deer caught in the middle of dinner table headlights. Dealing with “food pushers” (we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt by calling them the polite and well-meaning host/hostess who is nevertheless insistent) can be also problematic around this time of year.
Cynthia Sass, who writes for Shape magazine, says you might want to say something like this: “I love you and your cooking, and I’m so happy to be spending the holiday with you, but I feel so much better when I don’t overeat, so please don’t be offended, but eating “my” way is the best way for me to really enjoy the holidays.” Another trick? Go discreetly with your health. Explain to your “food pusher” you’re following your doctor or dietitian’s advice; if need be, get specific and say you get bad heartburn or have trouble sleeping if your diet gets off track. “Fake-out” by having both hands full, one with a light drink, the other with, say, a plate of lean veggies.
The figures for remedying your overindulgence can be quite terrifying. Taking in the average Thanksgiving meal, for instance, Heather Mangieri, from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics who is also a sports nutritionist in Pittsburgh, says a 180-pound person would have to walk briskly for five hours (five hours!) to make up the damage. Eat slowly, savor the meal and, by all means, stop when you’re full, Mangieri adds.
Other tips? Have a seat, take in your meal, really take a look at the colors and size and shape and enjoy a moment of quiet so you’re not rushed or too caught up in all that’s going on around you to realize how much you’re eating.
Call this corny or overly sentimental or easier said than done, but during this food-crazed, stressful “Wasn’t it our turn to have Christmas here last year?” time, remember this saying I once heard: “Worry more about the size of your heart than the size of your hips!” It’s important to keep in mind (though easy to forget in the commercial craze otherwise known as the holiday shopping season) that we gather at the table to celebrate our friends, family and love. Worries about being around food and overeating are legitimate and worthy of sincere attention, but they also shouldn’t kidnap the joy you’d feel otherwise at being around the people in your life.