How to Stay Healthy During the Holidays

As soon as those familiar holiday carols start playing, it seems like our weight begins its inevitable ascent. The festive season is synonymous with indulgences – sweet treats, savory delights, and calorie-laden temptations lurk at every corner. From the checkout counter, the office breakroom, desks at work. Even the homes you visit with an array of delights, strategically placed on end tables and countertops.


Amidst the holiday chaos, you’re often racing from one task to another, neglecting the time needed for a proper meal. However, the season also brings an abundance of big, sit-down dinners that grace the calendars. With all these temptations and hectic schedules, it’s no wonder that many people throw in the towel on healthy eating during the holidays. But, fear not! With a proactive approach and the right mindset, you can navigate this challenge and emerge unscathed, well on your way to a healthier you come January.


A Defensive Mindset


The cornerstone of your holiday dietary strategy is adopting a defensive mindset. Instead of thinking of yourself as someone trying to lose weight or avoid unhealthy choices, envision yourself as a person who consistently makes wholesome, healthy decisions. Emulate the habits of successful individuals. When faced with a plate of frosted candy-cane cookies at your morning meeting, remind yourself that health-conscious people like you don’t indulge in such fare for breakfast. Smile, nod, and continue on your path.


It’s beneficial to arm yourself with a set of defensive thoughts for moments when someone insists on offering you sweets or treats. Consider what motivates you to eat better and pursue a healthier lifestyle. Jot these motivations on index cards and carry them with you for quick reference when temptation strikes.

If someone is particularly insistent about plying you with goodies, be prepared with a polite yet firm way to decline. Practice a few responses in advance so that you can confidently deploy the “no, thank you” defense when needed. Avoid saying, “I’m dieting,” as this often triggers sympathetic responses and encouragements to indulge. Remember, your quest for healthier eating is driven by a desire for a longer and more vibrant life.


Strategies for Avoidance


When you’re faced with a sumptuous sit-down meal at Grandma’s house or any other festive gathering, plan ahead to avoid overindulging to the point of discomfort. While the food may evoke nostalgia and temptation, it’s not necessary to overeat to relish the memories. Slow down, savor each bite, and appreciate the special dishes. Satisfying your palate thoughtfully is far more rewarding than indulging to the point of discomfort.


Begin by serving yourself small portions. Many of us were raised with the “clean your plate” mentality, feeling compelled to finish whatever is offered, even if we’re already full. Remember that you’re not obligated to consume everything on your plate, especially if you’re already satisfied. Start with modest servings, and if hunger persists, you can return for more. This approach ensures that you won’t be burdened by excessive filler, leaving room for seconds if truly desired. Consider the buffet serving style, even for more formal occasions. Rather than placing all the food on the dining table, serve from a separate buffet area. Numerous studies have demonstrated that when food is within arm’s reach, we are more likely to consume it. By making the effort to retrieve additional servings, you can exercise greater control over your portions. This strategy is effective for holiday parties and gatherings, as well as everyday meals at home.


Give your body time to signal fullness to your brain. It takes approximately 30 minutes for the hormones that convey satiety to transmit from the stomach to the brain. Avoid the temptation to keep eating simply because your brain hasn’t received the message that your stomach is satisfied.

This “arm’s reach” defense also applies to snacks. Position yourself away from the bowl of chips and avoid standing near the tray of hors d’oeuvres at social gatherings. If you anticipate feeling uncomfortable in certain social situations, consider wearing clothing with pockets. This allows you to stand with your hands occupied without resorting to mindless munching, a common response to social unease.


Navigating the Road

While these strategies are valuable at holiday parties, they are equally effective when you find yourself at a drive-through during your busy shopping excursions:

  1. Hold the Sauce: Skip the special sauces, dressings, or gravies, which can add 100 calories or more to sandwiches, salads, or sides.
  2. Skip the Soda: Regular soda, often found on buffet tables, can contribute hundreds of calories to a meal. Opt for a refreshing glass of ice water, an unsweetened iced tea, or a diet soda instead.
  3. Don’t Supersize: Embrace reasonable-sized portions. Holidays allow us to appreciate abundance without resorting to supersized meals, whether at a drive-through or a holiday buffet.


A Season of Celebration, Not Excess

Remind yourself that you have the power to choose what and how much you eat. You are not obligated to consume everything that is served, and it is perfectly acceptable to decline additional offerings. The holiday season should be a time of pleasure and celebration, not an annual journey into extreme eating.

By maintaining a defensive eating mindset, practicing avoidance strategies, and nurturing mindful habits, you can sail through the holidays with your health and wellness intact. Instead of succumbing to the temptations that surround you, you’ll emerge from the festive season not only unscathed but also on a path to a healthier, happier you.


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