Harnessing Holiday Hunger

Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa…exquisite celebrations, enriched by traditions. Including, all too often, the dreaded weight gain. In the workplace, snacks smile from their crystal bowls. Flavored popcorn peeks from festive canisters; who knew chocolate could shape change? Muttering about temptations, breaking promises to ourselves, blaming the purveyors — it’s Holiday time in America.


The day Megan flips the page of her calendar to December, she wonders whether her favorite jeans will fit in January! Megan grew up and went to college in Pittsburgh, where her family still lives. Now 25, she’s living and working in Atlanta. Intrigued by the city’s highly touted singles scene, Megan networked into an advertising position and said goodbye to the Steel Town for good. The scene was as advertised. Competition for cute boys was fierce, skinny jeans a necessity. Megan decided to begin a “keep me in skinny jeans diet “asap!

Her concern about party pounds is well placed. Those of us who add a pound or two (or ten) at the holidays don’t usually lose it during the year. Instead, we begin the next holiday season just a little heftier. Fortunately, Megan called her no-nonsense Mom, who pointed out in that “there is absolutely no chance that I am wrong” way Northerners often employ that Megan’s decision had two major flaws:

  1. Aiming to maintain your current weight over the holidays is a far more reasonable goal than attempting to lose weight.
  2. The true villain is not food! It’s stress! Times four!

Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanza fall after mid-December this year. Stress stinger number 1 is about a week before your big holiday. Number 2 is the day before. Number 3 is the actual holiday and Number 4 is the day after.

Overarching the Final Four is The Run-up: what used to be your office is now a snack bar. Vendors and clients send gift baskets, tins of cookies and lots of liquid refreshments. Office parties are unavoidable.

Wow! Inevitable meltdown? No! Reasoned breakdown? Yes! Rather than experiencing a December stress deluge, let’s break it down:

A few tips for enjoying office treats without over-indulging:

  • Give UPS some time: that first gift basket won’t be the last! You’ve got options; choose wisely.
  • Don’t bother with foods available year round. Stick with holiday specialties like Hanukkah’s golden coins and Christmas cookies.
  • Buy inexpensive white or frosted bowls. Replace glass vessels with opaque. Hershey kisses? Out of sight / out of mind.
  • Place platters and baskets away from heavily trafficked areas, like the office kitchen. Going out of your way to retrieve a treat will discourage you.

Party pointers:

Public enemy #1: the buffet table! Bring it to justice.

  • Find a quiet corner and have a healthy snack first — an apple, celery with peanut butter, a handful of almonds.
  • As with the treats, survey the fare first. Find the smallest plate (or use your napkin) and select two favorites. Return a time or two, but for just a couple of selections.
  • Step away from the table. Gather with friends. Footsteps from the buffet table are footsteps toward skinny jeans!
  • Hold your beverage in your dominant hand: you’ll be less likely to reach for a fistful of nuts. Beverages: a word about alcohol: calories! Try alternating a glass of wine (the least caloric alcohol) with a glass of soda water. If a mixed drink is a must, find a tall, skinny glass and use lots of ice. If you are a recovering alcoholic, select soda water; no one will notice! If you lose track of your glass, start over. Again, no one will notice. Don’t take a chance — that other glass could be vodka and soda.
  • Drink lots of water. Alcohol is dehydrating. Dehydration is hangover-inducing. Save yourself the embarrassment of calling in “sick” after party night.


A week before: it doesn’t have to be about food! Introduce distractions. Find the joy in activities that don’t revolve around food. Consider visualizing where you’d like your mind and heart to be as you prepare for the holiday. Should stress creep in, return to that vision.

  • Share! Warm clothing. Unwrapped toys. Non-perishable foods. Your local newspaper will supply the particulars.
  • The Joy Jar — cut scrap paper into small squares. Set them next to an empty jar, along with a couple of pencils, on the kitchen table. Invite family members and guests to add the names of anyone in need of joy this season.
  • Paper snowflakes strung together with yarn offer old world charm — no artistic ability required.
  • If you are lucky enough to have children around, ask them to draw pictures of what the holiday means to them to hang in your windows.
  • Make a holiday mixtape — personal to your family, your town, your memories. Maybe skip the ubiquitous options (Do you really need to hear “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” again?) But keep Adam Sandler’s hilarious renditions of “The Hanukkah Song”!
  • Be mindful of the family schedule. Control the calendar; control the stress.
  • Style yourself! Leave the Kitschy Kollection to retail staff. If cash is tight, the Dollar Store welcomes. Accessories are your secret weapon! A cute headband, glitter nail polish, a white lace scarf, a red belt for Dad. Get catwalk ready for the big day.
  • Gift wrapping! Candy Spelling’s notorious gift-wrapping room is off limits. Paper, ribbon, tissue for shopping bags, scissors, gift tags and (so key) tape are not. (Gifts traveling by post should be long gone)
  • Who do you know? People without family — Megan isn’t planning to go home to Pittsburgh this year, a recently widowed neighbor, a local newcomer. These people won’t resent your last minute invitation; they will be thrilled by it!
  • Housekeeping and laundry — divide and conquer.
  • Plan your menus! Don’t forget the vegetarians. Shop early. Avoid 11th hour runs to 7-11.

CONGRATULATIONS! You are ready to move on — and you’ve barely even thought about food right? A+! Be sure to acknowledge everyone for doing their best. Remember: this is tough stuff!

The day before: it still doesn’t have to be about food! Visualize where you’d like your mind and heart to be during the next 24 hours. Remember to return there when stress signals.

  • The After Breakfast Club: get the crew together for a review. “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” (Benjamin Franklin)
  • Despite your magnificent preparations, you will probably have to visit THE MALL, where wily food demons thrive! This Mall law cannot be broken: do not arrive on an empty stomach. Plan a route that avoids the Cinnabon, Aunt Annie’s Pretzels and (Heaven help us) Krispy Kreme Donut stands. If you need to grab a meal, choose a proper restaurant over the grab-and-go food court. Request a back table — loud sounds and distractions can cause you to eat more. Bright lights and noisy hard surfaces speed up the rate at which you eat or, unfortunately, overeat! If time just doesn’t permit…
  • Don’t see red! Avoid fast food restaurants that emphasize red in their color schemes. Red, more than ANY other color, has been shown to stimulate the appetite! (See what we mean about THE MALL demons?)
  • The Mall sells insurance. Pick up a couple of “just in case” gifties, preferably pre-wrapped. Bath and Body Works offers delightful packaged, well-priced gifts for men, women, teens and children. You never know who might stop by with a gift for you…
  • Get active! If you have a regular exercise routine, double it! Walk around the block with your children. If it’s too cold for outdoor exercise, Netflix and youtube are personal trainers for adults and children. That holiday mixtape you made last week? Isn’t it time for a dance-off?
  • Play together. Get out the cards, board games and dreidel.

CONGRATULATIONS! You are ready to move on. You’re so de-stressed, this is gonna be cake. Oh, maybe not cake. This is gonna be easy!

The Holiday Dinner: Visualize where you’d like your mind and heart to be before, during and after the meal. Should stress interrupt, return to your vision. Remember, the size of your heart is more important than the size of your hips.

  • Eat breakfast! People who skip meals to save calories tend to overeat at mealtime.
  • Appetizers — Eat mindfully. The purpose of an appetizer is to stimulate your appetite. With the delicious aromas emanating from the kitchen, how much stimulation does your appetite really need? Consider chewing sugarless gum instead.
  • Build your dinner plate Mayo Clinic style: 1/2 vegetables, fruit and whole grain bread, 1/4 mashed or sweet potatoes, 1/4 meat. The more colorful the plate, the better! Survey all the options before you select yours; police your portions.
  • Trim the trimmings. Cream sauces, gravy and butter add more to your waistline than to their dishes.
  • Eat slowly. Savor conversation. Talk more than you eat.
  • Wear snug clothes. Rock your catwalk style, but be aware of your stomach. If you start feeling like unbuttoning, you’re done eating. Pop a sugar-free mint. A fresh palate can curb additional noshing.
  • Help clean up. It shows your appreciation and keeps you upright. Any guilt — send it down the disposal with the rest of the garbage. We ALL double up on mashed potatoes and/or eat two desserts!
  • Move that body. Weather permitting, take a walk. If not, you’ve got a mixtape!

CONGRATULATIONS! You are ready to move on. Sweet dreams!


The day after: visualize where you’d like your mind and heart to be. We’re guessing it’s already there.

This one goes out to our friend Megan!

“Make lots of noise / kiss lots of boys

Or kiss lots of girls / if that’s something you’re into

When the straight and narrow gets a little too straight

Make a mistake, or don’t

Just follow your arrow / wherever it points, yeah

Follow your arrow wherever it points”

From “Follow Your Arrow” written and performed by Kacey Musgraves

The staff at South Bay Counseling wishes you Happy Holidays! In case you’re having trouble following your arrow, we are here to help you adjust your aim.