With the holidays quickly approaching (yes I know, time flies right!?), it’s easy to lose sight of your health goals. For example, maybe you’ve worked hard on a weight loss goal for the last seven months, and just as you see the number on the scale almost hit your target weight…BOOM!…It’s time for the holidays. Starting with Halloween in October and going all the way to New Year’s in January, it’s easy to lose motivation when you are constantly bombarded with all sorts of social opportunities and obligations that tend to be filled with good food, beverages and way too many calories.

So, before you start to feel overwhelmed by what is about to come, realize there are very doable steps you can start to implement NOW to keep yourself on track:

Step #1: Make the decision to hold yourself accountable. This step is the most important. A lot of times we have good intentions but once around our friends, we throw our goals to the wind and jump head first into all of our favorite dishes. This year though, DECIDE to put yourself first. By coming up with your choices ahead of time, you will feel more in control when temptations arise. And, believe me, they will! Sometimes people have really good intentions, and they want to feed you a lot- but it’s OK to say, thank you but you are full from all the good food you’ve had already. Don’t let others tease or coerce you into something different. Remember: You didn’t put in all this hard work only to go back to square one.

Step #2: Develop a game plan: Stay strong and have a plan BEFORE you start the holiday season. Decide what is realistic during this time of temptation. For example, I know myself and my values: family time, having fun, and of course eating good food. So, is it realistic for me to avoid my favorite dish that only comes around one time a year? OF COURSE NOT, that’s not even fun! So, think about what you value most, and then decide which pieces you realistically can’t live without and which you can avoid without any regret. It’s similar to a person about to quit smoking for whom developing a “quit plan” is essential to their success…you’ll need to be prepared to deal with moments of weakness where the very thing you are trying to avoid will come calling your name. 

Consider the following as you plan your strategy:
• Do you want to maintain your weight? (Which may be more realistic than losing weight during this season)
• Do you want to concentrate on working out each day to compensate for extra calories?
• Will you focus on portion size to keep yourself from going overboard?

The more you figure out, the more successful you will be. Everyone is different, so it’s okay to approach the holidays however you see most realistic for yourself.

Step #3: Commit to your plan: After considering all the options (which I’ll list below, but you are more than welcome to come up with on your own), pick your top variable that will allow you to stay on track. Choose your primary focus long before you need to put it into practice (hint, hint: NOW!) Why now? Well, it’s easy to say, “I will do all of these ideas!” But, in reality, having too many expectations can defeat you before you start. By allowing yourself to only have one focus, you will be able to remember it, and you will also feel more confident that it’s maintainable versus all of a sudden thinking, “Am I crazy?? I can’t have small portions, no alcohol, AND only one dessert!…Forget it!” Pick the factor to which you can be most accountable. Think of your past experiences. What derailed your progress last time? Was it that extra cocktail that lead to more bad food decisions? Be honest with yourself and you will set yourself up for success.

Now for the fun part! There are so many factors that contribute to holiday weight gain. Think about some of the following ideas when considering your options:

Option 1: Increase Activity: During these months, increase your activity to burn more calories in order to compensate for eating more. Caution: although a great factor to focus on, don’t assume just by being more active you will be okay! Watch your food intake too because it’s a lot easier to consume TOO many calories than it is to burn it all off after.

  • What are some options? Whatever challenges your body! Get your heart rate up and try to challenge yourself physically. If you are used to watching TV every day after work then moving more by walking is a great way to make your body burn extra calories throughout the holiday season.
    • Try ideas like: Walking, doing a gym workout, swimming, playing Frisbee, taking a bike ride, playing with the dog, having a dance party with your family, playing a game of flag football, going to the park, or even do jumping jacks while watching TV!
    • When? Knowing you will be busy with family obligations, PLAN AHEAD so you can fit something in! And, it’s okay to do quick workouts whenever possible. Go for a walk before church, play tag in between meals, go to the gym before you get busy for the day, take the stairs every chance you get, etc. From small to big, find opportunities to move more and get your heart rate up!

Option 2: Decrease Calories (or at least don’t increase calories at every meal!)

Mentally: Distract yourself!

  • Prioritize your favorite foods, for example: if you know you will be allowing yourself a slice of cake, don’t overindulge in potatoes since those aren’t as special to you
  • Focus on something else by catching up with family members
  • Get a smaller plate so it looks like you are eating more
  • Don’t have an “all or nothing” mentality, if you eat too much one day that doesn’t mean you should give up on your goals- stay focused on the big picture and recognize your progress!
  • Stay away from the people who seem to eat 24/7; they will trigger you to reach for that chip bowl too!

Physically: Stay busy! (See options above for ideas for physical activity.) But, also physically stay away from temptations.

  • People that stand closer to the snack trays or buffet table are more likely to eat more throughout the day.
  • Consider eating BEFORE you get to a party or social setting. Having something healthy before you get to the scene will help you feel less tempted to eat everything in sight.
  • Bring a healthy dish that you can have. There are TONS of great tasting recipes with less calories, fat, and sugar than the store bought option (and no one would even know!)
  • Hold something in your hand, like a glass of water or a tooth pick, to sidetrack yourself from mindlessly grazing
  • Slow. Down. It is very easy to eat too much very quickly. Enjoy your food!! Take slower bites, and remember to really chew your food. It seems like a silly suggestion but it really will make you feel more in control of your eating habits.

More food tricks…

  • Start off with a healthy breakfast. If you start your day off right, you are more likely to continue on this successful path. You will ensure you are getting proper nutrients (at least at one of your meals!) and you’re firing up your metabolism.
  • Drink more water. You will feel fuller and less tempted to overeat.
  • Watch your intake of beverages. Stick mainly to water because it has no calories, and you are going to be eating a lot more than you normally do! Also, keep in mind that alcohol may make you feel good, but it can sometimes lead to throwing your inhibitions to the side…i.e. “I don’t care, I’ll eat it all!” Decide ahead of time what your alcohol limit will be.
  • Do not take leftover’s home! Yes, I know, most of you will dislike me for suggesting this one… Don’t continue to reinforce your bad eating habits past the holidays, it’s a very slippery slope.
  • The quicker you get back into your NORMAL routine the better. Plan your “start” date for when you will really get on track again. When will you meal plan? When will you go to the gym next?
  • Watch out for the extra food that your co-workers bring into work to “get rid of”
  • Focus on what you can have! Limit simple carbohydrates such as extra bread, sweets, candy, and potato chips. They tend to make us crave more and more food. Opt for protein like lean meat, low fat dairy, nuts, or beans as well as lots of veggies and fruit.
  • Prepare. Prepare. Prepare. Ignorance is bliss right? So a lot of the time we’d rather wait to think about the damage (calories) we’ve done until after the fact. But, by looking into how many calories you’ll consume by having your favorite dessert, you will be able to compensate in other ways. To do this, look up your favorite dishes online or use your food tracking apps to see how many calories you will consume AHEAD of time.

It’s not an easy decision to go against the grain and take care of your health during the holidays; a lot of people would rather put off their goals until the New Year, but it’s an important step for reinforcing your health goals and your will-power. Don’t lose sight of the real reasons you are taking your health seriously. Remember why you came up with your goals in the first place. Was it to get off medication? Or, maybe to be able to play with your kids without being out of breath? Now picture this: you made it through all the holiday traps, you enjoyed your time with your family AND you didn’t go overboard with food this year. You did have some of your favorite food dishes, but you didn’t overdo it, leaving your goals still within reach…You smile to yourself knowing you put yourself first, even though it did take mental will-power. Now you know you can handle any obstacle that gets thrown your way, and you will start the New Year with a stronger sense of control over your life path and your wellness goals. YOU CAN DO IT, you just have to make the decision to!