We’ve all been there. It starts out innocently enough: a small, pre-portioned breakfast; zero to little lunch to “save” calories for later; running ’round town at a frantic pace grabbing last-minute ingredients for that heirloom holiday dish… and your stress levels skyrocket.
Before we know it, we’re swan-diving into the egg nog and polishing off a second piece of pecan pie. With ice cream.
Staying on track with healthy eating during the holidays can seem daunting, even futile, but I’m here to tell you that this year can be different.
I not-so-lovingly refer to the weight gained between November and January as the “Festive 15” and, let me tell you, I’ve had plenty of experience with the aforementioned. One year I committed to a juice cleanse for a full week before the feast, only to find myself ravenous by the time Turkey Day rolled around—imagine that. And, of course, a few weeks into December, I had gained more weight than I’d lost in my seven days of liquid dieting.
Fear not. There’s no reason we must accept a fate of elastic waistbands and rigid diets in the New Year. As a voice with some experience, I have a few suggestions on how to tackle the challenge.
KEEP CALM TO KICK CRAVINGS
Is your cortisol creeping from just the sight of that holiday spread? Breathe deeply. Stress (be it from family gatherings, going off a gym schedule or paying for all. those. gifts!) can cause cravings, especially for sugary carbohydrates. Research suggests that people who practice stress reduction techniques (think yoga, meditation, Tai Chi) are able to prevent weight gain. If the thought of sitting still for half an hour sounds like another task to add to your “To Do” list, there are a number of apps you can download and—just like that—meditation is made simple. Gems like Headspace and Calm offer on-the-go guidance in 10 minutes or less. Serenity now!
START YOUR DAY WITH SWEAT
Exercising in the morning can ensure better behavior all day long. Using brain scans, researchers have found that when women worked out early in the day, they not only moved more the rest of the day, but they also responded less to pictures of tempting foods compared to the days they didn’t do an early workout. Better yet, the sweat session doesn’t need to be a lengthy affair. Twenty quick minutes of movement will have you feeling those endorphins and forgetting about sweet potato casserole. And don’t let traveling be an excuse—check out Qinetic for videos and live streaming classes from some of New York’s top group fitness instructors.
HAVE A GAME PLAN
Only amateurs go into Thanksgiving without a strategy. As if spending an afternoon surrounded by family might not be stressful enough, add hunger, little exercise, endless travel and copious amounts of high-fat fare to the equation. This is a recipe for disaster. Cutting back on food all day only so you can indulge at an event that night sets you up for a pig-out. Instead, focus on filling yourself early with fiber-rich foods, fresh fruits and veggies and lots of lean protein to leave you satiated and keep blood sugar levels in check. Make like a boy scout and always be prepared.
Peruse the buffet before you load your plate. Don’t ignore your desires, but choose wisely. If you select the stuff you really want, and enjoy it in moderation, you’ll stave off the appetite that can get you into trouble later on. Caving to a craving—as long as it’s balanced—can curb your impulse to go at it like a kid in a candy store. Forbidding yourself of specific foods will only make them more attractive. Also, #YOLO. Don’t over-analyze your choices. Enjoy them.
LEARN TO SAY “NO”
I know, I know—easier said than done. As a recovering people-pleaser myself, I understand the difficulty of turning down a second helping of Grandma’s stuffing or skipping a workout to drive your siblings to the airport. You might have to make some adjustments and compromises, but there are strategies to outsmart the food pushers. Kindly declining another plate by saying, “I’m taking a little break here to digest” is perfectly acceptable. Willpower and self-control are like muscles; use them often and in time they—and you—get stronger.
The most important thing to remember? If you overeat, you’ll feel sluggish and guilt-ridden, with little-to-no desire to connect with those around you. And isn’t the opportunity to strengthen and enjoy your relationships what the holidays are really about? There’s no doubt that scrumptious treats and special dishes can enhance our festivities, but they are certainly not the reason for those celebrations.
The holidays are about so much more. Time with our family and friends should nourish and enhance our lives—not our waistlines.