It is possible to celebrate the High Holidays without gaining weight.
But for this to happen, people, especially those who have a propensity to gain weight, need a plan for how they'll handle their eating. Why? Because "winging it" invariably leads to overeating.
When people are hesitant or unmotivated to devise an eating plan for the High Holidays, it's important they ask themselves, "When has winging it ever helped me to stay in control?"
Here are some potential components of a "High Holiday Plan":
· Prepare an Advantages List. Before the holidays start, it's helpful for people to make a list of exactly why it's worth it to stay in control of their eating. They might list items such as, "If I don't gain weight during the High Holidays, I'll be so proud of myself when they're over; I'll be able to continue fitting into all my clothes; I won't have to feel guilty about my eating; I'll be able to focus more on the meaning of the holidays and less on how uncomfortably full I feel." It's essential for people to read their list every morning (and also at vulnerable times throughout the day when they're tempted to stray from their plan) so that they'll be able to remember exactly why it's worth it to them to stay the course.
· Eat everything sitting down, slowly and mindfully. Practicing these good eating habits are critical because they help people better self-regulate their eating, stop from picking at food they don't need, and really focus on and enjoy what they do eat. During the upcoming High Holidays, these eating habits are even more important because people are likely to have more opportunities to snack while standing up, eat while distracted and not really notice what they're eating. Eating everything sitting down, slowly, and enjoying every bite can help eliminate a lot of extraneous eating. · Have (at least a general) food plan. It's important for people to take time to think about what foods they want to enjoy and what they'll pass up. It's reasonable to plan to eat a small amount more on Rosh Hashanah and a small- to-medium amount more when they're breaking the fast. If they want to maintain their weight, however, they can't eat a significantly increased amount of food; people's bodies have no idea that it's the High Holidays, and will continue to process all calories in the same way. If celebrants eat a lot of extra food, they'll gain a lot of extra weight. Having a plan, even one that includes extra food, will enable people to maintain control over their eating and ensure that they don't take in too many calories.
· Respond to sabotage thinking. When people think, "If I can't eat everything I want then I won't be able to enjoy the holiday," it's important to remember that it's not all-or-nothing. They can eat some food they want and still receive the benefits of not gaining weight. When they think, "I can't say no to this food that my host is offering me," they can tell themselves, "I'm entitled to do what I need to do to maintain my weight. Even if my host is disappointed, he or she will likely get over it quickly and I will feel so much more disappointed if I give in and gain weight."
· Take time to refocus if stress sets in. Some people tend to turn straight to food whenever they feel stressed, but if they want to maintain their weight, they can't keep using food as a coping strategy. Instead, it can be helpful for people to remind themselves, "Even though I'm stressed, eating won't help solve the problem and I'll ultimately just end up with two problems: whatever was initially making me stressed and now also feeling stressed because I overate." Instead, it's important to take a few moments to calm down in a different way and get right back on track.
· Remember that staying in control feels great, and eating off track does not. It's so important for people to remember that staying in control of their eating will help them have a better holiday. They won't have to waste time feeling badly about themselves and instead can feel great about how well they are doing.
Deborah Beck Busis, LSW, is diet program coordinator at the Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavior in Bala Cynwyd, which offers diet coaching and workshops for professionals and consumers.