Donald R. Henderson, MD, MPH

I have decided to begin this journey in the middle of the Eating Season. Since my last entry, I have experienced a few highs and lows.

I could tell you that it has been an easy transition, going from an “eat whatever you want when you’re hungry” attitude, to changing my eating habits for the better. But this time of year has made my efforts more challenging. Allow me to share some of my most recent experiences.

The holidays are filled with family and friends who congregate around the kitchen. We prepare rich buttery meals in large portions.

Eating heavily has been a part of my holiday celebrations for as long as I can remember. I have developed a pavlovian response to the changing of seasons. When the air gets colder and the days grow shorter, I can almost taste the hot chocolate and winter treats I usually enjoy this time of year. I do not view my family’s offerings of rich food as malicious or a personal attack on my personal eating restrictions. I understand that holiday eating is a big part of our celebrations.

We break bread together with little to no thought of the commitments we’ve made to ourselves regarding dietary restrictions. For the majority of my life, I have been a willing participant in these rituals. Needless to say, food cravings are a major part of the celebration.

Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year, Super Bowl, and all throughout the Eating Season we can lower our caloric intake by using techniques of mindfulness. Thinking about and observing what and how we eat offers options to avoid weight gain. Limiting the amount and pace of food intake is a ritual that can help you maintain the pleasures of taste, smell, and satisfaction without the guilt.

What happened?

I made every effort to keep this commitment to myself. I was destined to give into my cravings. Yet, I hoped to have limited the damage. The scale, however, will tell me the truth. I weigh myself twice a month. I observe myself in the mirror. I notice how my waist fits my clothes.

I was able to pinpoint some of the contributing factors that may have led to a lack of self-control. The biggest being an unavoidable key component: unavoidable stress.

I looked back on the last few weeks. There were many contributing factors to my current stress levels. There was travel, loved ones visiting and the expectations of others.

There were many events to attend. In order to lower my stress levels, I had to step back and examine all of these components individually. I had to assess and manage my time during the season in a unique way, taking into account all the challenges this time of year can bring.

I thought about what I usually do to alleviate stress.

One form of stress reduction has been taking brisk walks around my neighborhood and physical activity. I used to think of my walks as light exercise, but I have come to realize how beneficial it is to spend time walking as a method of gathering my thoughts. I could sort through the day’s tasks, re-consider various ways to approach business interactions or gain perspective on work related interactions.
Activity also offers a time to be grateful for what you have. Gratitude provides the energy to reduce stress.

I decided to make positive changes for myself. I will spend as much time as I can with the people I love. I will value the relationships in my life. I will use voice and face-to-face communication rather than electronic messages. I will make the effort to visit. I will tell you I love you rather than just think it. I will value your time and contribution.

I was reminded that my Christmas setback is normal. It is a bad idea to beat myself up for indulging in my favorite foods every now and then.

The trick is to acknowledge the change in my new rituals and during special occasions to eat what I want in moderation. I just have to be extra mindful to avoid unhealthy leftovers within an arm’s length. Beating myself up for cheating on my new regiment was not going to help anyone!

Try a few healthy alternative meals during the holiday. These meals do not have to replace favorites found around my home, but they can provide options to stay the course when it comes to health maintenance. I also encourage other health conscious guests to share recipes or bring their favorite low calorie or low sodium meals. My wife helped by generously offering leftovers to friends leaving the house. That is one proven way to remove yourself from temptation.

Technically, the Eating Season does not end until the Super Bowl Sunday. With a few minor adjustments, I will be equipped to eat better during the Eating Season. But, in the final analysis, the scale will tell the truth.