Handling Holidays, Gatherings… and Food

Kristina Vollmer, PhD is a psychologist at Aurora Behavioral Health Center Sinai.

Kristina Vollmer, PhD is a psychologist at Aurora Behavioral Health Center Sinai.

Holidays and gatherings can be a particularly difficult time for many people who are trying to change their eating in order to live healthier lives. It is particularly difficult for people who are have undergone Bariatric Surgery, or are preparing for Bariatric Surgery.  Here are some tips and strategies to keep in mind so that you are able to thoroughly enjoy yourself without getting off track!

  • Recognize that you cannot control things the same way you do at home.  This may make you angry. It is important to recognize your frustration rather than to eat it.
  • Acknowledge your cravings – trying to ignore that you even have them sets you up to give in to them. Say to yourself:  “I really want (specific food), but this is the new me. I don’t need (specific food) to feel good about this holiday/occasion or to enjoy myself.”
  • Before you go out, take the time to imagine how the food will be at this event.  When will you eat? What will be served? How hungry will you be? Will there be foods that will trigger you to overeat? Will there be healthy foods that will satisfy you? Will there be foods that you want to treat yourself to? How much do you want to eat? How much and what do you need to eat? Now, being as realistic as possible, decide how you can handle the event in the most positive way for you.
  • Have a goal you DO want to accomplish at the event.  Make it about “doing something” rather than trying to prevent something.  It is fine to have food goals, but you also need to have personal, emotional, spiritual, and relationship goals as well. Remember, gatherings are suppose to be about enjoying each other’s company; not about the food!
  • After the event is over, think about what you could do the next time. Could you suggest a different place? Could you arrive after the eating is over? Could you help plan a healthier selection?
  • Review what was uncomfortable, and then strategize for how to handle it differently in the future. Review what worked well, and congratulate yourself for even small accomplishments.
  • Get adequate sleep!!  You will eat more calories and crave carbs/sugar/caffeine if you are sleep deprived.
  • Never arrive hungry.  Eat something before you go.  Have a protein bar or other items you can carry with you in case the food gets delayed.
  • Don’t skip meals and starve in an attempt to make up for what you recently ate or are about to eat.
  • Offer to bring a food so you know there will be at least one healthy choice there.
  • If at a restaurant, be the first to order so you are not influenced by others decisions. Plus, everyone else is too focused on trying to remember what they are going to order to pay attention to what you are ordering.
  • Have a loved one be an ally for you in the situation – fix a plate for you, help handle situations, help make good choices, help you leave if needed.
  • At social events, don’t fill silence with food. Many people will eat and drink because they don’t know what to say or how to act.  Instead, make an effort to get to know people beyond superficial small talk.  When we do that, we have a tendency to eat less.
  • Use small plates – if there is a salad plate use it for the meal.
  • Cover your plate with your napkin when you’re done so you won’t nibble unconsciously.
  • Arrive late, after food is served.
  • Try to avoid alcohol, it will lower your resistance.
  • Sit far away from the buffet line or kitchen.
  • Plan a walk with loved ones after the meal.
  • Have an “exit” plan.  Know when to use it!
  • It is OK to say no to cake!  If you watch, there are usually a few others who also decline.
  • Do things that keep you moving or keep your hands occupied. If it’s a social outing, bring a clutch instead of a purse, or keep a glass of water in your hand.  Volunteer to write down the gifts at a shower, bring games to play, help clean up, offer to take people’s plates when they’re done with them, offer to cut the cake or hand it out (and take note of the different ways people decline cake or other desserts!).
  • It is OK to throw food away.  Most of us have been made to feel guilty that there are starving people everywhere who would appreciate the food.  In reality, you eating the food is NOT going to help starving people any more than throwing it away will!  You can compost the food, feed other animals, or take it to a homeless shelter if it is truly too hard to throw away.

Remember, gatherings are supposed to be about enjoying each other’s company; not about the food!

Kristina Vollmer, PhD is a psychologist at Aurora Behavioral Health Center Sinai.

Aurora Behavioral Health Services offers complete mental health treatment options, provided by highly trained professionals in a caring, confidential manner to meet individual and family needs.  If you or someone you know needs help, contact us — online or by phone at 1-877-666-7223 — as soon as possible.


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