As a student many years ago, I worked part-time in a state government office. The holidays in this office were a shock and awe campaign of parties, sweets, snacks, and gifts that seemed to be a competition to see who had the best recipe (with the most calories and fat) for cookies, cakes, brownies, candies, drinks, etc. This was a full-on assault against healthy eating. The first year, I was decimated. The only reasons I didn’t need a new wardrobe that following January were my youth and active lifestyle. I remember at the “kickoff” bash (I think Halloween was the excuse), one thin man politely stood in the corner, observing but not partaking. When offered what I perceived to be an irresistible treat, he simply said, “No, thanks. I always try to cut back this time of year.” What?! Cut back? During the holidays! As the years continued, I began to learn that this man’s aberrant behavior was part of a secret: not everyone pigs out over the holidays, and it’s not impossible to maintain a healthy eating plan and avoid those extra 5-10 pounds. We are all lead to believe that this is inevitable. Not true! You don’t have to lose control in the next few months and deal with the subsequent guilt, loss of self-esteem, and the painful, depressing struggle for recovery.
Here is your game plan:
2. Plan ahead. You really shouldn’t be blindsided by the piles of goodies at the office or the family pressure to engorge yourself at Thanksgiving dinner. This happens every year! You need to mentally prepare, and be ready for the obstacles:
a. Eat a small, healthy meal or snack before going to the party or dinner. You will have more control if you are not famished when you arrive. Starving yourself all day so you can really indulge at the holiday event does not work.
b. Drink lots of water before and during all events. If every day is an “event” at the office, increase your daily water intake.
c. Think about the foods that will be served before you go. Allow yourself a small amount of your favorite things. Plan your plate and stick to the plan. Eat slowly, and when done, pop in a mint and drink water or diet soda for the rest of the time.
d. Plan a response to the typical nagging you will hear to convince you to consume more. People can be amazingly persistent and unsupportive at this time of year. I think it makes them feel better about their own overeating. Some good responses-remember they all work better with a big smile:
i. “Wow, that looks great, but I am absolutely stuffed” (even though you’re not).
ii. “I will definitely get some of that later, when I have a little more room” (but you won’t and they will forget).
iii. “You know, I stepped on the scale this morning, and realized I better start watching it!”
e. Focus on the people at the event. This is what it’s really all about, right? Talk to someone you don’t know well. Play a game with the kids. If you’re stuck at a party you really don’t enjoy, don’t be afraid to leave early. This is better than hanging out at the food table and grazing because you are bored.
f. Watch the beverages. Wine, mixed drinks, egg nog, and regular soda or fruit drinks are high in calories. Stick with water and diet drinks.
g. Don’t stand near the food table.
3. Be physically active every day. Even if it’s something simple like taking extra stairs and doing another lap around the mall.
4. Reduce the fat in holiday recipes. Some suggestions:
a. Egg whites instead of whole eggs
b. Skim milk instead of whole
c. Nonfat yogurt instead of sour cream
d. Low-fat cheese and light butter instead of regular
e. Search the internet for low-fat and low- calorie recipes, and try some! There are many good alternatives.
5. Be a good example! Bring healthy snacks and desserts to the office and holiday parties. Give non-food gifts to co-workers, teachers, friends, etc.
6. Buy healthy snacks to keep on hand. Snack on these when the urge to grab something fattening hits.
7. Create some new holiday traditions. Maybe the family could go skiing, sledding, bowling, or have a wii tournament instead of just watching football and munching all day.
8. Maintain perspective. One day of overeating doesn’t kill the whole plan, and won’t make you gain weight! Several days of overeating are needed to tip the scale. If you have a bad day, or even a few bad days, put it behind you and start over with the plan the next day.
9. January 2nd: Take a deep breath and re-commit to getting back on track, no matter how well you’ve done. If you didn’t stick to the plan well, shake it off and consider it a learning experience for next year! You now know some things that do and don’t work well for you, during the holidays and the rest of the year.
Shari S. Phillips, M.D.