Obesity and Psychology at Christmas

food wreath

Mens sana in corpore sano — that’s Latin for “a healthy mind in a healthy body,” and to make it through the holidays, you need both. For the healthy body, getting enough sleep is paramount.

Focus on such concepts as trip consolidation and creative child-care solutions to bring yourself, family and friends through the holidays with the minimum of frazzled nerves. Look ahead to see where the biggest stress points will be, and devote some ingenuity to neutralizing them. Summon up all your temporal engineering skills, and plan for breaks. Don’t overestimate how much time is available, because it will always be less than you think.

Eat breakfast, eat vegetables and disregard people who say things like “Don’t ruin your appetite!” Forget about starving yourself in anticipation of the main culinary event. If a little nosh will prevent you from unreasonable and harmful overeating later, have a snack. Don’t get all out of control with the legal drugs tobacco, caffeine and alcohol in an effort to reduce stress. This rarely works, and usually you end up feeling worse.

Looking ahead

Tammy Beaumont is not only a certified bariatric nurse, but a gastric bypass surgery veteran who lost 135 pounds post-op and has maintained that loss for 7 years. She asks a thought-provoking question:

So why, when this is supposed to be a happy, joyous and thankful time of year, are so many people feeling the effects of stress like not sleeping well, having more headaches, stomach issues, nervousness and maybe worst of all to most of us, the inability to use moderation with the never ending feasting that accompanies the holidays?

In Beaumont’s view, planning is key. You have a busy day ahead. When and where will your next meal be, and how can you guarantee that you will eat reasonably? She recommends mental role-playing, setting a script and adhering to it: “Visualize yourself walking up to the grill and ordering the grilled chicken sandwich and asking for it open faced, hold the mayo. If you were to just walk in and see and smell the pizza, or any food you consider your weakness, how likely are you to go for that pizza rather than investigate other healthier options?”

Clinical psychologist Renae Norton specializes in treating obesity and eating disorders. Her advice is, if you visit someone else’s home for Christmas dinner, make something that you can eat safely and confidently, and bring it along to share. Also, Dr. Norton thinks it’s a good idea to have some kind of emergency plan in case the stress level goes off the chart. Call a friend, or find a quiet corner where you can meditate. Here is a major idea for keeping your head on straight: “Discuss any specific concerns with your treatment specialist. Try to role play situations that you suspect may arise (such as comments about your weight, about your food choices, etc.) Be as prepared as you can to avoid counter-productive coping behaviors.”

Family gatherings can be brutal

Holiday get-togethers pose a threat by their very nature. People who haven’t seen each other for a long time will inevitably comment on the physical appearance of their friends and relations. The National Obesity Forum looked into the question of whether Christmas is a good time to tell family members that they appear to be out of control, weight-wise. If you care about someone and think they are taking a bad health risk, of course the right thing to do is bring it up — in theory. In reality, it’s not so easy. Anything could happen, from a punch in the nose to lifelong ostracism.

It’s a good idea to be really careful about clothing gifts, too. Carelessness in this area can cause lifelong trauma. There are people in psychiatrists’ offices right now who never got over an ill-considered clothing gift 20 years ago.

It would really be nice if all grownups could just decide to never, ever make remarks about a child’s size. Not even to note that they have gotten skinnier. Just leave that subject alone, because you don’t know what kind of can of worms it might open. And if a parent wants to bore you with all the details of young Jenny’s weight control battle, think about how mortified poor Jenny must be. Don’t sit still for this discussion. Excuse yourself and go outside and chop some wood. Evade and escape, while at the same time working off some calories!

Also recommended:
Holidays and Childhood Obesity
Visions of Sugarplums

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Holiday Stress,” ObesityAction.org, 12/11/13
Source: “Eating Disorder Treatment: Tips to Reduce Stress During the Holiday Season,” EatingDisorderPro.com, 11/22/13
Source: “’Tell loved ones they are overweight this Christmas’,” BBB.co.uk, 12/20/11
Image by Carmen Rodriguez


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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
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Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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