Americans tend to gain up to ten pounds during the Winter Holiday season. A new study from Dartmouth College focused on the vicious cycle of weight loss and gain by using neuroimaging. The MRI of the participants showed that a brain imbalance may be responsible for over eating. Impulse behavior and self control can be disrupted due to this imbalance which can lead to an increase in temptation.

The study suggests avoiding temptation may be better then relying on self control. The research also points to trying to work on strengthening self control over time. Being surrounded with repetitive temptation may be the answer as with exercise using repetitive movements to strengthen muscle. Multiple studies have already shown that willpower diminishes over time when stress, anxiety or sadness is present especially during the holidays. Another study done by Cornell University suggests that “out of sight often means out of mind” when it comes to food. The study was done on office workers. It shows that when candy was placed in a clear bowl 71% more was eaten then when placed in an opaque bowl. Let’s examine what may trigger you to give into temptation.

What is the biggest temptation trigger you experience during the holidays?

  1. Having others watch over you making a plate at holiday functions.
  2. Having others make a plate for you even though you did not ask for help.
  3. Having others order or grab a dessert and insist you have a taste.
  4. Going to the restaurant during the holidays and being told it is too busy to make a food substitution for a healthier or lighter choice.
  5. Having a delay in service at a restaurant so you order alcoholic beverages (more calories) and eat the bread basket with butter.
  6. A lack of healthy choices at the office party, buffet table or group gathering.
  7. Being asked to take home leftovers or second helpings even though you are not interested.
  8. Going to an after work Happy Hour and others insisting you order an alcoholic beverage and eat the nibble food to get into the holiday spirit.
  9. Using comfort foods and sweets to get through the stress of the holidays.
  10. Food or sweets given to you as a holiday gift.

These may be things that can lead you down a slippery path. There may be other triggers for you to give into temptation. Be prepared with options so you do not feel pressured to make poor decisions.

Better options:

  1. Remember to keep up with your exercise no matter how pressed for time you feel. If you can not do your regular sessions then break it down to two 15 minute walks. Walking after a meal has been shown to help lower blood sugar levels. Add weight or resistance training to build more muscle and burn more calories.
  2. Never go to a holiday function hungry. This can lead to temptation and poor decision making. Always eat a snack before you leave and keep healthy choices of snacks in your purse or bag ready to go.
  3. Never take rapid acting insulin (Novolog, Humalog or Aphrida) before getting to the function. You do not know how long it will be before food is served. Rapid acting insulin should be taken only 10 minutes prior to eating so make sure the food is on the table.
  4. When you have a choice, take a small portion of holiday treat foods over the usual cheese and crackers or mixed nuts. This way it will feel special and you may eat less.
  5. Drink water or calorie-free beverages to help stay satiated and hydrated. Holiday foods can be extra salty. Skip beverages with calories as much as possible including juices, mixers, hot cocoa, spiced cider or Egg nog.
  6. “Eat mindfully” meaning make your plate and then socialize. If you are talking and visiting you may over fill the plate or eat as you go.
  7. Watch out for high fat choices. Appetizers like pigs in a blanket, artichoke dip, egg rolls or quesadillas sound harmless but are full of saturated fat. Look for salsa, guacamole, bean dip and low fat dips or cheeses for a more healthful choice.
  8. Continue to monitor blood sugars during the holidays. Try to test before and 2 hours after a large meal to get an idea about your readings. If the blood sugars rise more than 30-50 mg/dl from the original pre-meal reading you may have eaten too much food at once or made poor choices.
  9. Make one trip to the buffet table and TASTE everything. No food is off limits –just amounts. Use the plate method and fill ¼ of the plate with all your treats and make it fit (usually carbohydrates like stuffing, rolls, sweet potato casserole and pie). Fill ¼ with protein and the rest with vegetables. You may even want to bring a portion plate to your function to stay focused.
  10. Do not keep foods that tempt you in the house.
  11. Get enough sleep. Being sleep deprived raises your blood sugars and leads to poor decision making.
  12. Enjoy friends and family and try not to make everything revolve around food.

Be positive! January is just around the corner and somehow everyone thinks it is easier to make better choices then. Not really. Just begin now, avoid temptation and enjoy every minute of the holidays!

NOTE: Consult your doctor first to make sure my recommendations fit your special health needs.