Given the time of year, I’m reprinting an article here that appeared in The Diet Coach’s Letter last holiday season. It’s still timely! I hope you enjoy your Thanksgiving.
The average American will gain some weight over the holiday season. While we may hate this fact, consider the even worse news: most people don’t lose it after January 1. If your weight has crept up over the years, then, it may not be your age that’s at fault . Just living through these weeks, year after year, can do the trick. So, not gaining weight during the holiday season is truly its own worthy goal.
In order to not gain, we may need all those tips the magazines bulge with this time of year. Beyond that, we may need to rethink the season in some basic ways. For any six-week stretch focused on eating, drinking, increasing time demands, and decreasing routine is bound to cause trouble. But just because it’s holiday time, you don’t have to automatically abandon your better habits. You may instead have to learn to enter these times with your highest goals kept at the top of your list. Don’t simply assume you’ve got to jump in and let the holiday tide sweep you along. Try to think instead of how to enjoy the parts of the season worth enjoying, while still emerging in January feeling good about yourself.
Approaching the season from this different angle can, over the years, stop an upward creep. To do so, you may well have to choose what’s important in ways you’ve not done before. Choose which parties and gatherings are really meaningful to you. It’s easy this time of year to end up with entire weeks of dinners out or exposure to party food every single day. You really do not need to attend every event or contribute to every cookie exchange. Choose which activities you really feel good about doing. Many of us try to shop, decorate, make crafts, gift wrap, plan trips, bake, visit and socialize on top of regular work and family demands. You’ll be surprised how people adjust when you do somewhat less. Choose the traditions truly worth saving—you can change some to deemphasize overeating and drinking or to make them less stressful. The overemphasis on food and alcohol, and the related stress, means extra weight in the end. So finding ways of slowing down and feeling more content can help.
Where you do want to enjoy a party or big dinner, planning ahead for what you’ll face can help with moderation. (Here is where you can use those magazine tips.) Before an evening party, for example, you might want to eat a light meal before so you don’t arrive starving and primed to overgraze. At a buffet or potluck, survey the whole layout before deciding what you’ll take on your plate. For big dinners, skip the items you might take out of habit, take only what you really love, and purposely save room for whatever something special feels worth the splurge.
In general, it helps to take smaller portions than you’re used to. There’s obviously enough for more if you decide you want it. Before deciding, though, try waiting at least ten minutes. It can take 20 minutes or more to register fullness, but sometimes even that smaller amount of time helps you to think about a choice rather than just mindlessly digging in. Alcohol adds calories, and it often leads to eating more than you need to or had planned for. So, if you sip slowly, drink less overall, fill up with water or seltzer in between, you’ll usually eat less too. You’ll feel better afterward on both counts.
Keeping certain routines in place, to whatever extent possible,will help as well. For example, try not to stop exercising, even if you have to miss an occasional day. Invite others to take a walk with you after a big meal. You can make that a new tradition. Try to get enough sleep, too. For this affects your weight and appetite and stress level, too. Even if your schedule will be disrupted, think ahead of how you can minimize lost sleep time.
In the end, it comes down to this: our typical holiday season gets packed with too much to do, feels stressful, emphasizes unhealthy overeating and drinking, and lasts for weeks. If we care about our eating and weight overall, we face the question of how to focus on what feels good and meaningful while cutting out, or at least reducing, what doesn’t. Any improvement in any year helps build for more the next and the next after that. Then we can start our New Years feeling good about how these weeks have gone, and about ourselves.