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Healthy Holiday Eating Tips: Part I: Psychological Factors

Winter holiday season is a time of heightened feelings, desires, giving, guilt, families, loved ones, crowds, loneliness. Looking back, looking forward, fulfillment, contentment, hunger for love, and often, way too much food.....

Is it possible to stay lean and gorgeous throughout the Winter holidays and have a great time doing it? Yes!

Not only that - you can do it with finesse. In Part II of this series, you will learn how to select healthy foods without offending your host or hostess. Part III will give you hints on how to be flexible and enjoy some seasonal treats without guilt, and without compromising health.

Here, in Part I, we will explore some of the emotional factors that influence how we eat during the holidays. By being more aware of the emotional mechanisms that trigger our selection of foods and our physiological responses to those foods, we strengthen our ability to choose wisely while still having fun.

The Influences From Our Past

Colored lights glow around my bedroom windows. Dad put them up a few days ago - big, three-inch ones popular in the 1950's. I lie in bed watching big flakes of snow drift down reflecting the rainbow colors of the lights. The magic is palpable. Peace and joy aren't just concepts, but living, breathing reality drifting in from the deep blue of the clear, starry night. My seven year old imagination runs free; the sound of sleigh bells in the distance tells me that any time now, if I am still awake, I will hear tiny reindeer hooves on the roof. Santa Claus will be here soon.....I can feel his presence.....

.....Everything is silent in the deep of night. I quietly go out to the living room, to the sparkling magic of the tree. Santa has already come and gone. I can tell because the milk and cookies Mom and Dad left on the piano have been eaten. There among the gifts is the one I really wanted; a huge furry brown teddy bear, just like the one my cousin has. Next to it is a smaller stuffed toy - a brown puppy dog. I have to make sure.....I look at the labels and find that the big teddy bear has my sister's name on the tag and the other toy has mine. Santa must have made a mistake. I try to switch the labels, but can't remove them easily. Disappointed, I return to bed..... a swirl of crinkling red, green and silver wrapping paper, Grandma and Grandpa come in bringing more gifts, Dad takes movies with big strobe lights. I am immersed in a wonderland of sensual delights; the tinsel and ornaments of the tree, the pine scent, colored lights, candy canes and ribbon candy, delicate glassy rustling of the tree ornaments, laughter, the aroma of turkey, stuffing, and baking emanating from the kitchen.....

If you are anything like me, when you think of the Winter holidays, you probably have longings, visions and expectations of what how you want them to be. Those expectations and desires are colored by childhood memories of magical and precious moments, or family tensions. Much of this processing is on a subconscious level. By becoming more aware, we empower ourselves to enjoy the present much more.

No doubt about it - the holidays are emotionally charged time.

Because they trigger so much of our past, and also because much of what influences our present experience happens on a subconscious level, we are all the more affected. Add to that family tensions mixed with visions of what an ideal winter holiday season should look like. Top it all off with the time and opportunity to eat large quantities of all manner of healthy and not-so-healthy treats. A recipe for disaster for the unaware.

So how do you navigate the Bermuda Triangle of old emotional agendas, family tensions, and a plethora of unbearably tempting, colorful foods laden with sugar, alcohol and other dubious ingredients?

"Sugar Blues' Isn't Just a Concept

We have a potentially explosive situation here.

Not only are emotions closer to the surface during the holidays, but many things that are eaten in larger quantities at this time can add fuel to the fire. For example, it's well-known that sugar (and alcohol, which is a "super-carbohydrate'), can bring on a biochemically-triggered emotional meltdown. Typically, most people ingest large quantities of both from mid-December through the New Year.....

.....My sister's package arrives; a boxful of the most beautiful Christmas cookies - chocolate-dipped, liberally covered with confectioner's sugar, colored sprinkles, and caramel. I am on the Atkins Diet.

"I will eat just one or two at a time. I can't throw them out. They were made with such love and care. To eat them is to honor and receive my sister's caring.'

I very slowly enjoy two cookies; a little oblong one half dipped in chocolate, and a very rich, buttery vanilla one covered with colored sprinkles. I eat some sesame butter along with them to try and minimize the glycemic (sugar shock) effect on my system.

Fifteen minutes later, I am depressed and teary for no discernible reason.....Hmmmm.....

A Few Suggestions

First, take time to care for yourself physically.

That provides a foundation for feeling more confident and at ease. Feeling better about yourself empowers you to make better choices in how you eat and how you interact with family and friends. Even if only for ten or fifteen minutes, do some exercise that makes you feel good. When not at social gatherings, be sure to eat especially wholesome foods and take some supplements.

Second, take care of yourself emotionally.

In the rush of social engagements, you will do well to find a little time alone to take stock of your feelings. If you are having a great time, alone time can be a moment to feel gratitude and joy for how blessed you are. If there are family tensions, a little personal space can do wonders for finding your center and your strength. Breathe deeply while allowing your ribs and belly to let go of tension. Give yourself permission to be totally honest about whatever feelings are present, without being tempted to feel guilty about any of them. If you are having a wonderful holiday, give yourself a moment to relax in the joy of it.

In Part II of this series, you will learn how to eat healthier without having to offend anyone. Honesty combined with some finesse will make it easy to be a welcome guest while retaining your svelte figure. Have a great holiday!

Ellen Landauer is a Health Seminar Leader and Coach with 3 decades experience, and a Certified Advanced Rolfer with a practice for over 25 years. Her mission is to empower people to achieve optimal health as a gateway to the joy of higher human functioning. Ms. Landauer has initiated a wholesale supplement program for a limited number of selected applicants.

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