It seems like just as soon as those holiday carols start playing in elevators, our weight starts climbing up and up.
You know it’s coming. Everywhere you turn, there are sweets and treats and indulgences: next to the checkout register, in the break-room and on desks at work, and on every end table and counter-top at every home you visit.
When you’re not having something waved under your nose, you’re rushing around with the shopping and errands and preparations, probably not taking the time you need to get a proper meal.
But then during the holiday season, big, abundant, sit-down dinners are likely to make their way into the schedule of even the most harried and hurried among us.
With all that to contend with, many people find the temptations too much to bear, and simply give up on healthy eating altogether during the holidays. But don’t surrender! If you recognize going in that these challenges will be there, and arm yourself accordingly, it needn’t be the fight of your life just getting through to January.
A defensive attitude
Perhaps the most important attitude adjustment is to be sure that you’re thinking of yourself not as a person who is trying to lose weight or even someone trying to avoid junk.
If you’re trying to eat better and get healthy, then think of yourself as a person who eats well and makes healthy choices. Successful people do what successful people do. When you walk in to work first think in the morning and you’re faced with a plate of frosted candy-cane cookies, just recognize that healthy-eating people such as yourself just don’t eat that sort of thing for breakfast. Smile, nod, and keep walking.
It also helps to be forearmed with a few defensive thoughts to call up in case someone brings that plate of cookies right over to you. Think of what motivates you to be eating better and getting healthy to begin with. We have our patients write these out on index cards and keep their top motivations with them for quick reference in moments of temptation.
And if someone is particularly insistent about trying to ply you with sweets or goodies, be ready with a polite way to decline. You might want to try a few out in advance, just so you’re ready and skilled with the “no, thank you,” defense.
But don’t say, “I’m dieting.” That’s only going to invoke sympathy and good-natured encouragement to live a little. Remember that you’re trying to eat better because you want to live a little longer.
When you’re faced with that big sit-down meal at Grandma’s, plan in advance to NOT get so full that you’re uncomfortable. Sure, the food is delicious and evokes all sorts of wonderful nostalgia, but you don’t need to overeat to enjoy the memories. Chew slowly, savor each bite, really appreciate those special dishes. It’s a much better way to enjoy them than doing the stuff-and-suffer.
And start by taking small servings to begin with. Many of us were raised to “clean our plates,” and we feel obligated to finish whatever is served, whether or not Mom is watching. But if you’re full, stop. That mountain of mashed potatoes isn’t Mr. Everest, and you don’t have to eat it just “because it’s there.”
And ask for small servings or serve yourself in small portions to start with. If you’re truly still hungry, you can go back for more. That way, you won’t be jam packed with something that was just filler, leaving room for seconds of the really delectable dishes.
Another trick to help slow the overeating at holiday parties is to try for buffet serving rather than putting all the food on the dining table.
We actually recommend this to patients year round, so that when they’re at home, they fill the plates from the stove and bring them to the table. That’s because repeated studies have shown that if the food is within arm’s reach, we’ll eat it. But if we’ve got to go and get it, we are less likely to have more.
Even a more formal meal can include service from a buffet away from the main table. And if you’re a guest, no matter how your host has arranged to serve, after you’ve finished eating a plate, give it a moment to settle in before going for more.
It takes about 30 minutes for the hormones that signal satiety to get the message from the stomach to the brain. Don’t keep packing just because your brain doesn’t know your tummy is done.
The at “arm’s-reach” defense is useful for snacks, as well. Look for a seat further away from the bowl of chips and don’t stand next to the tray of hors d’oeuvres when you’re chatting at the office party.
If you’re somewhere that you might feel uneasy, consider wearing something with pockets so you can comfortably stand with your hands idle. Many people munch at parties just to be doing something, especially if they feel uneasy in conversation.
And finally, there are a few other simple defenses you can employ that will serve you equally well at a holiday party or if you hit the drive through in the midst of your shopping:
Hold the sauce
You can knock 100 calories or more off most sandwiches or salads-not to mention that pile of potatoes-by skipping the special sauce, dressing, or gravy.
Skip the soda
A wide array of sodas on the buffet table may look hospitable, but regular soda will add hundreds of calories to a meal. A nice glass of ice water goes beautifully with any holiday meal; unsweetened ice tea or diet sodas are a decent second choice.
Stick to reasonable-sized portions. Holidays are a great time for appreciating the abundance in our lives, but we can do that without upgrading to the supersize meal, either in the drive-through or at Grandma’s holiday buffet!
Remind yourself that you don’t have to eat everything you’re served, that you can take small servings and have more later, and that it’s okay to say no, even if more is offered. Holiday dining should be a pleasure, not an annual experience in extreme eating.