Managing celebrations and holidays

Maintaining eating healthily when huge amounts of tasty tempting (but not healthy in quantity) food is abundant can be very difficult. A few weeks of ‘holiday eating’ can undo weeks of moderate healthy eating. Research shows people can increase their weight by half a stone over the Christmas/New Year period. Many folk will lose this after the holiday; however, the older you get the less likely this is to happen — and the really bad news is that the heavier you were to start with, it is even less likely to happen.

Thus, I have compiled a list of strategies and tips to help you manage your healthy eating aspirations over holidays. The suggestions will also work for one-off events like weddings and parties.

As those of you who have worked with me will know, I think one of the most important components of successful healthy eating, is to get your mind in the right place so it works with you and not against you. You will also know how important it is to have a plan (if you fail to plan you plan to fail). Writing in advance what you want to achieve is a good way of consolidating your plan. Set yourself small and SMART goals.
S – specific
M- measurable
R- realistic

So, be aware; don’t abandon your good habits. Think how you actually want to feel on January 1st. I think it is essential not to develop the attitude of mind where you say ‘it is OK, I will go on a diet in January’ — it mostly doesn’t happen! Trust me. Also, thinking you might actually lose weight over the holidays can set you up for disappointment. In addition, avoid all-or-nothing , black-and-white thinking. By this I mean you get yourself into a situation where you have made some choices which disappoint you, and so you say ‘what the hell’ and vacuum up every last sausage roll and mince pie (worse still, you don’t even like mince pies). It is interesting and worth knowing that guilt and shame activate the same reward centre in your brain as eating high refined carbs/transfats, thus ensuring once started on an eating spree it can be difficult to stop.

Obviously, this may indicate you have a poor relationship with food, and this article isn’t addressing this issue (others will). Nevertheless, take time to consider, why are you eating? Is it hunger, pleasure, socialising, or just because someone handed you a plate? (A good rule is to only eat when you are hungry.) This is where Mindful Eating comes to the fore. When you are at your party, think about what is on your plate, eat it slowly, relax and enjoy it. Don’t gobble gulp and go, hardly experiencing the taste and texture of what you have eaten.
In creating the good habits which assist us in our healthy eating, we have learned to manage our environment so we always have healthy choices available if we are hungry. Also, we tend to clean up our eating environment so that poor choices are not staring us in the face (those chocolates on your desk, cookies on the counter, etc). Don’t entirely abandon these good practices, and, when shopping, don’t fall into the trap of stockpiling beyond what you will eat during the festivities; you will continue eating it until it is gone! The shops are only shut for a few hours.

A tactic that works for many is to try to lose an extra pound or two before the event to give themselves some leeway. For some people, our friend ‘research’ shows weighing regularly may help in keeping them on track, others may find this disheartening; you know yourself. Finally, on the motivation and planning front, after the event, whatever your personal outcome, don’t sweat it, get back in the saddle, be kind and compassionate to yourself.

Another way to ameliorate the bad side effects of potential over-indulgence is to keep active over the period. It may also help you manage your appetite as well. If you can, ramp up your activity, and write yourself an exercise plan that you can adhere to. It helps if you can find a buddy who will participate with you. Accountability works! Find opportunities to keep moving — outside is particularly beneficial. This may also help you manage the stress which is often associated with family gatherings, and give you some time in which you have some clear head space. Don’t underestimate the power of stress in sabotaging good plans. Stress makes you eat and contributes to making poor choices; plus, any excess will go straight on your belly. And don’t overestimate the power of exercise; you can’t outrun a bad diet. You might also think about different ways to have fun, taking the focus away from food, finding an activity family and friends would enjoy rather than just sitting around eating — for example a walk outdoors, or playing games with children outside.

Whilst talking about stress, I will give a brief mention to sleep, so important to our health. During the holiday you may have a few late nights, but don’t skimp too much on your sleep — you will pay for it. There is a support article on my website on how to get a good nights sleep.
And now the event, or one of them! For some folks it may work to eat less on the day of an event. If you are an accomplished intermittent faster, this works well. If not, you may be ravenous and eat everything in sight within seconds. Know yourself. Whatever your approach, don’t start the day on ‘white carbs’; these will only succeed in increasing your hunger. Instead, start your day with protein and a food containing fibre — vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds or wholegrains (oats). It may help to have a small healthy snack before the event, again protein and fibre. Once at your party, don’t forget your good habits, fill your plate up on salad and vegetables, go one step further, try to select a small plate, then select your protein and finally that treat food. Choose your treat carefully and the number of different treats you allow yourself. If you are organising the event or contributing make sure to have healthy options available. Try not to mindlessly munch on fairly boring foods like pretzels, bread, crisps, and salted nuts; save your calories for foods you will really enjoy and savour. Indulge a little, nothing is forbidden, but don’t binge. Moderation and portion control are key to navigating celebrations and feeling good about yourself the next day.
There is some evidence that tracking your food on an app before you eat it works in reducing the amount eaten. The apps work by telling you how many calories a food contains. This can be enough for you to make the judgement ‘it’s not worth it....I would have to spend a month nonstop jogging to work that lot off’. Writing down what you eat may also help.

Now we come to drink: water. Drink it like it is going out of fashion. Up your usual amount even, stay hydrated. Have it with a slice of lemon or lime, sparkling or still, just drink it. Then we come to alcohol. Apart from adding all those extra calories, alcohol dissolves resolve and leads us to scoff anything and everything. Be smart. If you decide you are going to have an alcoholic beverage, choose wisely, gin and vodka with soda will have fewer calories than beer or cocktails, red or white wine in moderation are OK. Agree with yourself beforehand your limit (best to write it down), drink water between drinks, drink like a connoisseur, slowly, savouring the taste and experience, enjoy but don’t overindulge.

Finally, have a game-plan for when the holiday is over!