Don't Let the Holiday Blues Derail Your Diet
Keep your good cheer (and your weight-loss plan) intact
By Jeanie Lerche Davis
Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD
Ready or not, the holidays are here.
For many people, especially those trying to lose weight, it's not an easy time. High expectations of holiday happiness can give way to loneliness, sadness -- and greater vulnerability to the temptations that are everywhere this time of year.
But take heart: If you're prone to holiday blues, there are steps you can take to keep your good cheer (and your diet) intact -- without taking solace in fattening comfort foods.
Adjust Your Attitude
"People who are successful at anything -- whether it's their career, raising kids, or dieting -- come up with a 'lens' they want to view it through," says John Eliot, PhD, a professor of psychology and business at Rice University in Houston, and author of Overachievement: The New Model for Exceptional Performance. It's all about attitude, says Eliot. Tell yourself it's difficult to stick to your healthy eating plan during the holidays, and it will become a self-fulfilling prophesy.
"You have set yourself up," he tells WebMD. "The same thing happens in golf. If you focus on not hitting the ball in the lake, nine times out of 10 it goes in the lake."
That's because, in your thoughts, your brain doesn't "hear" the word no, Eliot says.
"The brain operates on data associated with very strong emotions, feelings, and pictures," he says. "If you charge the brain with emotions and visuals, the brain will key into those and produce them. In golf, the vision of the lake is a very emotional picture. But with that picture, what you've done is program your brain to get the ball into the lake."
Likewise, your mind governs weight loss -- even how well you survive the holiday blues.
To set yourself up for success, look inside, he says.
"Look at what you want to accomplish, and ask yourself, 'Why is it important to eat moderately?'" Eliot says. "If the answer is 'So someone will say you look great,' that's external motivation. That won't work in the long term.
"Internal motivators are things like feeling good about yourself, having more energy, and being able to run. It's about how you want to feel every day."
When you're feeling sorry for yourself, do something about it, says Pauline Wallin, PhD, a clinical psychologist and spokeswoman for the American Psychological Association.
For example, if you don't have an invitation to a holiday dinner, make alternate plans.
"Consider volunteering at a Feed the Hungry dinner," Wallin says. "Focus on someone other than yourself. If you're elderly and isolated, call some people. Just a call to say 'How are you?' is very much appreciated at the other end."
To keep yourself from feeling deprived during the holidays, don't banish all your favorite foods.
"After all, Aunt Hilda's brownies come around only once a year," says Wallin. "But if you tend to pig out on cookies, don't go to cookie parties. Have a couple at home, and stop there."
It's also important to get plenty of rest. One recent study showed that sleep deficiency is very stressful on the body.
"Stress wears you down during the day. When you're tired, you lose your willpower and you get into arguments easily," Wallin tells WebMD. You're also more prone to overeat, or to feel the holiday blues.
If you're feeling self-conscious about your weight -- for example, about how family members will react when they see you -- give yourself a reality check. "They're not going to reject you," says Wallin. "Do you reject people based on how much they weigh?"
And by preparing yourself for the situation, you can keep such negative thoughts in check.
Her advice: "If you feel self-conscious, you're better to deflect it right away. If you bring it up, it won't be an issue any more. Tell them, 'Other than this weight I've gained, I'm doing great.' Then change the subject."
Avoiding social events can just sink you farther into the holiday blues. So if you're shy at parties, go prepared with some small talk.
"It's the concept of 'the elevator speech': a 60-second spiel about yourself, maybe about your job or your recent trip to England, or whatever," says Wallin. "Or ask other people about themselves. Comment on what they're wearing, on the flashy earrings, on what you're eating. Talk about anything. Parties aren't about what you say, they're about relating to others."
And go early. "When only a few people have arrived, it might be easier to talk," Wallin says. "Plan how long you'll stay, maybe half an hour. You don't have to stay for two hours.