Do you tend to gain weight and feel depleted over the holidays? You’re not alone as many midlife women tend to experience an increase in stress this time of year. However, with a positive mindset and mindful strategies, you can feel great, stay on track with your healthy lifestyle, and maintain your weight this holiday season.
How the holidays impact your body
The period from Halloween to New Year is risky business when it comes to your waistline and well-being. It starts with the Halloween candy that hangs around until the last Snickers is gone.
Then there’s Thanksgiving dinner and loads of leftovers. In December tins of caramel popcorn and Christmas cookies beacon in the breakroom, and eggnog, at 200 calories a glass, is everywhere. There are parties with tempting food and alcohol, which lowers blood sugar and willpower, and those irresistible Peppermint Mocha lattes.
Exercise? Forget about it. Who has time to hit the gym or the desire to walk when there’s so much to do and it’s cold outside?
The result according to research published in the Journal of Obesity is that the average adult gains between 1 and 2 pounds over the holidays. While that may not seem like a lot, the extra pounds packed during the last quarter of the year typically account for most of the annual weight. Over a decade the 1 or 2 yearly pounds can result in a 10–20-pound increase in body weight.
How the holidays impact your mind and emotions
While there’s pressure to be merry and bright, many of us feel overwhelmed. Results from a poll conducted by the American Psychological Association found that 89 per cent of Americans surveyed said stress was higher over the holidays due to financial concerns, missing loved ones, and potential family conflicts.
All that stress increases levels of the hormone cortisol which in turn increases appetite and weight gain, especially around the middle. To cope with the stress and difficult emotions associated with the holidays many people also eat emotionally. Turning to comfort foods and/or alcohol to help you deal with difficult emotions can cause additional weight gain.
Now that you know the truth about the holidays and wellbeing keep reading to discover 5 simple shifts you can make to feel great and not gain weight this holiday season.
Swap negativity for positivity
Letting go of negativity during the holidays can be challenging. Our brains have a negativity bias. This means, we typically look for what’s wrong rather than what’s right. Our negative emotions like sadness, frustration, and anger tend to stick, while positive emotions like joy, satisfaction, and contentment slide off.
In addition, expectations, and pressure to create the perfect celebration can trigger stress and disappointment. Difficult family dynamics, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), loneliness, and feeling overcommitted are additional challenges that can increase stress and feed negativity.
Fortunately, you can work on cultivating a positive mindset which will help you navigate the holidays as a well-being.
Start by setting an intention to take care of your body and mind. Even though you’re busy prioritize self-care. Make a list of all the ways you already care for yourself. When you are feeling stressed pull out the list and give yourself what you need to feel better.
Practice self-compassion by treating yourself like a good friend with kindness and understanding, rather than judgment. It’s particularly important to use positive, supportive self-talk around food and body image. For example, instead of criticizing yourself when you overindulge, affirm that you’re doing the best you can and learn from your experience so you do better next time, and.
Keeping a gratitude journal, surrounding yourself with positive people, and challenging negative thoughts can also help you stay positive over. To build positive emotions and memories, when those magic holiday moments happen slow down and savour them.
Swap outcome goals for behaviour goals
You may already be thinking about New Year’s resolutions and outcome goals –like losing weight or finding a mate – that you’d like to create next year. However, emphasizing behaviour goals, such as getting 7-8 hours of sleep a night, is more effective especially this time of year. Why? You control behaviour goals because they focus on specific actions. In contrast, outcome goals often involve factors beyond your immediate control.
To stay healthy and avoid weight gain write down some easy, low-stress behavior goals. For example, meditating for 5-10 minutes a day, taking a weekly yoga class, eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, preparing healthy meals, walking 7,000 steps a day, or carrying snacks to avoid getting hungry.
Take out your calendar and schedule time to make your goals a reality. Clear goals and a plan will give you direction and help you stay motivated. To help reinforce your behaviour, celebrate and reward yourself when you achieve your goals.
Swap dieting for mindful eating
Forget about dieting this time of year and all year long. Research shows that dieting does not work for most people. Sure you may lose a few pounds initially on Atkins or the Zone, but most people tend to gain back some or all of what they’ve lost and even more. Plus, dieting increases both physiological and psychological stress.
In contrast, mindful eating can help you maintain a healthy weight over the holidays and enjoy holiday treats without the guilt. Mindful eating is an approach that arose from the philosophy of mindfulness which emphasizes being present and experiencing what you are experiencing while experiencing it.
Eating mindfully entails using all your senses to experience and enjoy what you are eating. Instead of gobbling a fast-food burger in the car, you savour your food. You start by being grateful for all the people who grew, transported, and prepared your meal. Before eating you observe how food looks and smells. You take a bite and note the taste, texture, and sounds that arise while you eat. You pause frequently to observe how you feel physically and emotionally especially. You pay attention to feelings of hunger and satiety, so you eat until you are satisfied rather than stuffed. This can help prevent overeating and foster a healthy relationship with food where guilt and judgment are replaced with gratitude and pleasure.
Unlike fad diets all foods are allowed and the emphasis is on balanced nutrition. This means that you can enjoy all your favourite festive foods while also incorporating more nutrient-dense options. This positive food mindset can help prevent deprivation and make sticking to healthy eating habits easier.
Swap being sedentary for being active
Yes, it can be challenging to find time to exercise but moving your body is one of your best ways to feel good over the holidays, reduce stress and maintain your weight. Research also shows that exercise can have a positive effect on sleep quality in midlife women.
Short on time? Get creative. Incorporate shorter, high-intensity workouts into your routine, which can be as effective as longer, moderate-intensity workouts.
When you go shopping park further away from the mall and do a few laps inside the mall before you shop. Include family and friends in your fitness plans. Go for a family walk after a big meal, play football, dance, or participate in a holiday-themed run together.
Consider working out in the morning before you get busy. Morning workouts can also boost your energy levels and set you up for a positive mindset for the day. Can’t make it to the gym? Work out at home. Tons of online resources require minimal or no equipment.
Be consistent, schedule your workouts in your calendar, and prioritize them. Increase movement throughout your day. For example, use a standing desk, take the stairs, or do some ab crunches while you watch TV.
Swap spontaneity for planning
The holiday season changes your routine, so be flexible and adaptable, especially around your fitness and nutrition plans. However, if you want to avoid the holiday of 1-2 pounds you must swap total spontaneity for planning. This is especially true if alcohol is involved because once you have a drink inhibition goes down and appetite goes up making it harder to make smart food choices.
Before an event eat a healthy balanced meal and have a snack so you don’t arrive famished. If you are eating out look at the menu online ahead of time and decide what you are going to order before you get to the restaurant.
When you visit friends and family, bring a healthy dish to share and have a strategy for navigating food options. For example, if you must have Mom’s fabulous strawberry cheesecake and Uncle Sam’s famous bacon brie crescent wreath plan to balance out the meal with lower-calorie options like shrimp cocktail, sliced ham, or your sister’s roasted garlic green beans.
In addition, shift the focus from being food-centric to celebrating other aspects of the season like spending time with loved ones, enjoying festive music, decorating your home, or attending spiritual services.
Bonus: Learn to say NO to others and YES to yourself
No is the shortest and most powerful word in the world so use it. If you don’t want to go to an event because it’s not your jam stay home and use the time for self-care.
Finally, remember to love yourself to health and focus on progress, not perfection. Your body and mind will thank you, you’ll enjoy the holidays more and will avoid needing to set a New Year’s resolution to lose weight and get fit.