The holidays are upon us! And surviving holiday gatherings as a bariatric surgery patient can be incredibly challenging. Food is everywhere and, of course, most of it is unhealthy. Navigating all of the parties, family functions, and office goodies can feel overwhelming.
Most people tend to worry about weight gain this time of year, and that can be especially true for bariatric surgery patients. The good news is, people don’t tend to gain as much weight as they think they do. Still, this weight gain can stick with us, and no one wants to spend the beginning of the new year focused on losing holiday weight.
My Plan for Surviving Holiday Gatherings
So what do you do? How do you maintain healthy eating habits at holiday gatherings? Most of us go to the same parties/events each year, so we know what to expect in terms of the food that will be served. Think about what these parties have been like in past years, and have a game plan. Here’s what that game plan might look like:
1. Know what is being served (call the host if necessary) and make a plan for your meal before you get there. This helps to cut down on in-the-moment decisions that may not be the most healthy.
2. Bring a dish that works for you, if there will be nothing appropriate for you to eat. Check out My Bariatric Life’s recipe for Rustic Hearty Antipasti, Three-Ways.
3. Eat the foods that are super special. Most of us have special foods at holiday gatherings that we eat no other time during the year. If your Aunt Betty’s fruit cake is the thing you dream about all year, then have a small piece (if you can tolerate it). Be sure to plan beforehand how much you’ll have, and stick to that. Eat it slowly and with as few distractions as possible so you can really savor it.
4. Even though people tend to congregate around the food, do your best to stay away from food as much as possible. Focus on the people and the conversation instead of the food. If you can, let others there know that you’ll be hanging out in the living room instead of the kitchen and they can join you there. My guess is you won’t be the only person wanting to avoid the food!
5. Leave early if you need to. Sometimes parties are just too difficult, and that’s ok. You’re allowed to leave if it’s just too hard to stick to your plan. Have an exit strategy in place before you arrive — just in case.
When All Else Fails
Ok, so a plan is all well and good, but what if it doesn’t work? What if you end up eating things that you hadn’t anticipated? Or what if you ate more than you had planned? PLEASE DO NOT BEAT YOURSELF UP. THIS DOES NOT HELP.
You are human, and humans love food. Instead, think about what was difficult and how you can do it differently next time. Maybe for the next party you need to bring your own food. Maybe you need to arrive later and leave earlier. Or maybe you’ll just need to skip holiday gatherings for now.
If a party causes you more stress than it does enjoyment, it may be best to avoid it. Obviously, telling friends and family that you can’t make it can be difficult. And I understand that for many people, avoiding a family gathering is just not an option. If that’s the case, just do your best while you’re there. Plan to get back to your normal eating from the moment you get home. One party is not going to undo all of your hard work.
Make Self Care a Priority
It’s also extremely important to engage in a LOT of self-care during the holidays. Even if you love the holidays, chances are you still feel stressed by them. And stress can leave us feeling depleted and tired, which can lead to making quick, unhealthy food choices. So, be sure to focus on the following throughout the holiday season:
1. Get enough sleep! Lack of sleep leads to fatigue, which can lead to emotional eating, poor planning, and eating high-sugar foods for energy.
2. Maintain your health habits: grocery shopping, meal planning, and exercise. Be sure to keep these behaviors a priority no matter what you need to do for the holidays.
3. Engage in activities that are stress-relieving for you. Maybe it’s time for a massage or a manicure. Watch your favorite holiday shows. Start meditating.
4. Pick up something for yourself while you’re out shopping for others. We’re often so focused on others that we don’t do anything for ourselves. Make sure you get yourself something for the holidays too!
Keep Holiday Gatherings Fun
Hopefully these tips will keep your holiday gatherings fun and as stress-free as possible. Remember: There is no such thing as perfection. Just do your best. Keep up with your regular eating plan as much as you can and forgive yourself if/when you slide. The holidays are stressful for a number of reasons so please be kind to yourself. And be sure that you do something fun that’s just for you!
Wishing you freedom from food,
Kim Daniels, PsyD
“Ask the Psychologist” is a monthly column by Kim Daniels, PsyD. Content is the opinion of the author and does not constitute or is a replacement for medical advice.