Navigating the holiday smorgasbord

Steps to feel less overwhelmed, less guilty and more festive over the holiday season.

How do special occasions affect your food choices? Have you ever eaten something over the holidays just to please someone else? Perhaps you didn’t even like that food. You may have even dreaded having to eat at some point. When you think about the holidays and food do you feel overwhelmed? We may need to navigate hors d’hoeuvres, buffets, being a guest in someone’s home for dinner or a party, getting several invitations in one week or weekend, feeding grandchildren, going to office parties, alcohol, desserts, desserts, desserts, more shopping, more wrapping, more cooking and more baking… all with less time. Here are some possible steps to feel less overwhelmed, less guilty and more festive over the holiday season recommended by Michigan State University Extension.

Plan ahead. Mark the events on a calendar. It’s okay to say no to an invitation or to attend after the “dinner hour.” Do not skip meals in preparation for a holiday meal or celebration. Have a snack before you leave the house to reduce the chance of over eating. Balance a larger, high calorie meal by having lighter, low fat choices the remainder of the day. Remember to focus on five fruits and veggies for the day.

For dinner, avoid deprivation. Eat what you like, what you really want, in moderation. Moderation and balance can work by passing on the mashed potatoes (not special) and having the stuffing (special).

Avoid eating when you aren’t hungry. Ask the question, “am I hungry?” Feed hunger, distract craving. Hungry feels like stomach growls, grumpy, headachy, shaky or it is has been four or five hours since you last ate. Hunger starts small and grows in intensity. Hunger isn’t very picky. When hunger doesn’t get fed, there are more physical symptoms, but little emotional feedback. Feeding hunger takes care of the symptoms. What do cravings feel like? No physical cues. Cravings are very demanding and picky. Craving wants certain foods and comes on strong right from the start and might even feel anxious. If craving doesn’t get its way, emotions run high. Feeding a craving can often increase the craving, the more you eat, the more you want. Distract yourself when you are craving a particular food.

Eat just enough, then stop. Start with small portions, eat slowly and savor every bite. Try not to talk on the phone, dance, chase children and exchange gifts while you are eating. Overeating is almost inevitable if you aren’t paying attention. Listen to your body and pay attention to the cues that tell you when you are satisfied. Eat until you aren’t hungry, this is different than eating until you are full.

Be sensible. When you look at a wide array of food, make conscious choices. Remind yourself that you don’t have to eat everything to enjoy yourself. Don’t choose foods that are available at other times of the year. Concentrate on your favorites and those foods that are holiday specific. Stay out of sight and out of reach of the food by socializing.

Finally, plan your holiday gathering around an event rather than a meal. Invite your friends and family to go bowling, play games, ski and walk or volunteer to help others. Research tells us the happiest people are those that invest their time, energy and money in making memories rather than amassing things - or standing in the buffet line.

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