For many Americans, the holiday season means dealing with family members and social situations that are uncomfortable and stressful. If turning to food is your solution to feeling better, you might be setting yourself up for a heavy 2013.
"If you use food as a crutch, this time of year could be troublesome," said Stefanie Barthmare, a psychotherapist with the Methodist Weight Management Center in Houston. "Getting to the root of your problems and finding better ways to deal with them without food will help you avoid putting on extra unwanted pounds this holiday season."
Barthmare said many of us make bad decisions about food under stress because we want a distraction from what is challenging us.
"We are using food for coping and comfort -- and of course, we know eating is not the answer," Barthmare said. "All the food does is cause the number on the scale to creep up, causing a whole host of problems with health and self-esteem."
The cost of obesity in the United States is more than $147 million a year with obese people paying more than 40 percent more than normal weight people for health care treatment. A Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or above is considered obese and more than 30 percent of American fit into that category.
"Many of us will gain anywhere from seven to 10 pounds from the middle of October through the end of the year because of all the fatty foods available at parties and other gatherings," Barthmare said. "If you're not careful those numbers could easily double very quickly."
Barthmare adds there are ways to navigate through everyday problems without resorting to food. Take a walk; call a friend, read a book. Take part in anything that gets you away from wanting to eat in times of stress.
"Join a support group where you can talk about your problems and discover positive ways to fix them without eating," Barthmare said. "It's important to interrupt patterns that send you to the pantry."
Meeting with a counselor or dietitian will help you come up with strategies to change your ways, but a lot of it depends on you, your motivation and your frame of mind.
"If it was just a matter of knowing the calorie difference between a piece of cake and broccoli, we would all be all be our ideal weight," Barthmare said. "Maintaining a healthy weight requires a disciplined approach mentally and physically. Finding a way to refrain from using food to help you feel better is the key. Unfortunately, it's complicated and there is not a one-size fits all solution."
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