Indulge & Bulge

How to Avoid the ‘Indulge & Bulge’ Holiday Food Trap

December 13, 2023

I was shopping recently and came across this holiday card that read: “When what to my wondering eyes should appear…but 10 extra pounds on my hips, thighs and rear!”  I think we can all relate to this card and the concern for weight regain from Thanksgiving to the New Year. Can you avoid this ‘Indulge & Bulge’ weight regain? Yes, you can. Here’s how.

How to Avoid the ‘Indulge & Bulge’

In order to sidestep the indulge & bulge trap, you have to be realistic and ask yourself if the holidays have been a problem in the past. Specifically, do the holidays have the ability to change the direction of your current mindset and get you off track? It’s much harder to let loose over the holidays and then try to pull it all back together in January than to have a strong plan in place and stay with it. Now is the time to hold onto and follow those healthy behaviors that work well for you and are part of your life, your daily routine. Think about it…you wouldn’t stop brushing your teeth or washing your hair just because it’s the holidays. Same for your bariatric lifestyle habits. Practice them daily from Thanksgiving to the New Year.

Another potential food trap is the lack of sleep. What does being tired have to do with a food trap? Sleep improves what dietitians call food restraint. This means that when you’ve had enough sleep, you have more control over what you choose to eat and when you choose to eat it. This is the opposite of what happens when you’re stressed and tired. When you don’t get enough sleep, the hunger hormone called ghrelin increases by up to 25% or more. Sleep studies also find that the hormone GLP-1 takes a nosedive, and this lower level is tied to NOT feeling full or satisfied…basically, you’re hungry. Work short power naps into your day and week. Also, take a look ahead at your schedule for the coming week. Which nights can you go to bed early so you stay more rested? You’ll curb some of that sleep-deprived hunger. Remember, when you are rested, you are in control of what you eat and your weight regain.

What about caffeine as a pick-me-up?

What about caffeine as a pick-me-up? One or two cups of coffee, if allowed by your health care team and tolerated by you, are usually fine and can perk you up for that party or event, but shift away from using more and more caffeine to make it through the day and night. That extra caffeine will likely make you more anxious. Then you get tired, followed by hangry, tired and hangry. When you’re sleep deprived and over-caffeinated, control of what you eat slips away, and you’re caught up in the holiday food trap. Remember to consume your beverages separately from your food…a best practice that continues to work for most people well after surgery.

While we’re talking about beverages, let’s touch on alcohol. While you’re considering your plan for the season, include a strategy for the amount of alcohol you’ll drink, if you plan to drink it at all. It’s really important to remember that after any bariatric surgery, your tolerance to alcohol will have decreased significantly. This is partly due to weight loss itself. Alcohol dilutes in water and not in fat. That water is in the bloodstream and in the muscles, so the larger your body and the more muscle you have, the lower your alcohol concentration will be. Most people lose some muscle after surgery and need fewer blood vessels to support their fat stores, so in the end, that makes you more easily intoxicated. That’s also why women have a lower tolerance for alcohol than men generally – because we have less muscle. The other issue is that the enzyme which breaks down alcohol is not only in our liver but is also in our stomachs, so if you have had some of your stomach removed, your capacity to break down alcohol decreases.

Bottom line: It’s easy to get a buzz quickly and get drunk before you even realize it. Alcohol reduces inhibitions and you tend to lose your control over how much you eat.

All the variety at holiday parties can also be a food trap. You want to taste a bit of everything on the table. Instead, focus on making a plate of exactly what you want – pick the best. Think about being mindful, that is, pay attention to what the food looks like and how it tastes. Savor the moment versus eating quickly and going back for more before the brain and stomach have time to connect with each other and say I’m satisfied. One of my favorite tricks that my husband and I use is to never go hungry to a party, as everything will look good and control goes out the window. Also, move away from the buffet…chat with your friends away from the food. You won’t constantly be looking at and smelling the food.


Holidays, as wonderful as they are, can be very stressful and often make you feel blue, which can lead to reaching for comfort foods, typically not broccoli. Take time out to relax and do something for yourself, like treating yourself to a massage or a good book, snowshoeing, or walking the beach, depending on where you live…whatever works for your body and age to help you fight off those blue feelings.

You want to end the year strong and ready for the new year ahead. Having a strong plan in place will help you avoid the indulge and bulge food traps and come out feeling successful and ready to immerse yourself in the New Year.

Bariatric dietitian Dr. Susan Mitchell is host of the podcast Bariatric Surgery Success.

Susan Mitchell


Bariatric dietitian Dr. Susan Mitchell is host of the podcast Bariatric Surgery Success. Selected as one of the Best 35 Dietitian Podcasts, Bariatric Surgery Success was chosen from thousands of podcasts on the web ranked by traffic, social media followers, domain authority & freshness. Dr. Susan helps you conquer cravings, emotional eating and weight regain after bariatric surgery with a focus on your nutrition and health, journey and success. Read more articles by Susan!