Holiday Food Blues – Bariatric Edition

The holidays are upon us and with that brings the parties and events and family gatherings.  Most of us are food focused and thinking of the holidays immediately brings to mind all of the delicious food that will be served when our family and friends gather together.  

Let’s chat about how it feels after bariatric surgery and how our new stomachs can only hold 3 to 4 ounces of food at one time.  How are we going to maneuver these events and how are we going to feel?  Feeling sadness is normal.  It is like a “food depression” where we cannot avoid the feeling of missing out on something, or more commonly known as FOMO (fear of missing out).  

Looking back, it is obvious that overeating at the holidays did not make us feel any happier and generally we felt depressed, bloated and unhappy.  This is why it is so hard to get our heads in line and understand that we are not actually missing anything by having a small stomach and eating so much less during the holidays.  How can we overcome this feeling and look forward to the event by changing our focus from the food to family and friends?  

So every single year, at the end of November, beginning of December, my inbox gets busier with emails from clients worried about regain and concerned about the holiday events and how to maneuver them. I mean, there is going to be lots and lots of unhealthy food under our noses and a lot of the time we have emotional attachments to those foods that go back as far as our childhoods.  

These food attachments make it so much more difficult to deal with the holidays.  How difficult is it to say “no” to the famous pasta and cheese dish that your Aunt brings each year or to refrain from eating the homemade short-bread cookies that your Mom bakes each year?   Family members are not always going to understand that you just simply cannot eat those foods any more.  They push “just have a bite” on you and make you feel even worse.  It’s just a hard and complicated situation so I suggest that you have a solid plan prior to attending these events.

I want you to focus on all the reasons WHY you had bariatric surgery in the first place.  Sure, you can have a little “pity-party” but then I want you to sit up straight and get a pen and paper and start writing.  I want you to remember how depressed it felt being overweight and how you may have cried yourself to sleep after a binge.  I want you to remember how your Doctor told you that you were pre.diabetic or how you may have had full blown diabetes.  How did that make you feel?  What about your cholesterol levels?  Or your blood pressure?  Did your Doctor also tell you that those were high?  How scared did you feel about your heath?

How did it make you feel not having the energy to do the things you wanted to do.  How did it feel to be out of breath climbing the stairs to work or to bed?  Let’s dig deeper and let me ask you how it felt to not be able to button up your favourite blouse?  Or being told that your favourite clothing store does not carry your size and that you need to go to a special store for the sizes you need.  

How did you feel about airplane travel?  Did you worry about whether or not the seats were large enough to accommodate you?  

This list can go on and on but let’s make our own personal list – and then read it to ourselves out-loud.  

Now tell me again how depressed you are feeling about the food FOMO ?  I am not saying that your feelings about food should be dismissed.  I am saying that we need to go back to where we were when we made that decision to have bariatric surgery.  I am sure that nobody made that decision while they were feeling good about themselves.  Let’s focus on all of the health improvements we have had since surgery.  Doesn’t that make it so much easier when mourning food during the holidays?  

Here are some other ideas you can use during this difficult “food holiday”.  

Make a food coupon system.

I want you to give yourself a free pass – 5 free passes actually.  Sit down and write 5 coupons to yourself.  Number those coupons 1 to 5.  Put them in your purse or wallet because you are actually going to use them.  These are going to be totally guilt free coupons that you are going to use 5 times during the holidays.  You don’t need to use all five of them but before you use any of them I want you to ask yourself the following:

1/ Is this really what I want to eat and is it worth it?  (While looking at the mashed potatoes and gravy)

2/ Can I make a recipe for this that is healthier so I don’t have to use my free coupon (ie. cauliflower potatoes)

This plan helps you maneuver better because yes you CAN have “said food” but do you really WANT it?  If you only use 3 coupons great !  Throw out the other 2 coupons on January 1st.  If you use all 5, great – move forward and use this system for the next holiday season. 

Set up a short term goal.

This is the perfect time to set a short term goal or a few short term goals.  For example: I am going to drink 8 glasses of water each day and walk for 40 minutes and take my bariatric multivitamins.  I am going to follow this for 14 days starting on December 16th until December 31st.  On January 1st I will create a new short term goal.

When we shift our minds to focusing on positive things like short term goals, we tend to lose focus on the negative things like how we cannot have the mashed potatoes AND cheesecake AND Mac’n cheese.

I hope that this has helped you shift your focus from feeling depressed about food to feeling excited about your holiday food plan and about your short term goals you are going to get focused on.  I have a lot of experience and understanding when it come to surviving the holidays after bariatric surgery so please reach out to me if you want to dive deeper into this topic or if you need some specific advice.  Don’t struggle through it alone – I am here for you.

About the Author: Sheri Burke is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and Bariatric Surgery Coordinator at International Patient Facilitators in Tijuana and Cancun, Mexico. She has worked with bariatric surgery clients for over 10 years and especially enjoys providing nutritional guidance to pre and post bariatric clients.  In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her husband and two teens and cooking up a nutritional storm in the kitchen.

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