Healthy Holiday Strategy

This past weekend was chock-full of get togethers with family and friends. And what does a fun get together inevitably bring? Yup, delicious food. And lots of it.

I offered to bring a dish to each shin-dig and guess what I discovered in the process of putting those dishes together? My sometimes 5-10 lb weight gain over the past holiday seasons (from Halloween to New Years Day) can be mostly attributed to picking. I am a picker. Not a casual picker - I'm a hard-core picker. While I cook, I taste food. Yes, this is a good habit if you want to make sure what you are creating tastes good, but I go beyond the little taste tests. I EAT. Especially if I cook when I'm really hungry. I'll serve myself a "little" bowl of this and a "little" bowl of that. Before I know it - I've consumed a few servings of the dish I'm meant to pass or eaten 2-10 cookies I was supposed to share. Then I'll go to the party and eat again. Why am I doing this to myself!?

Honestly, I never noticed how bad of a habit this was for me until 7 days ago. And as I reflected back to holiday seasons of years passed, this is the main reason why I start off the new year feeling crummy: it's not a lack of willpower or discipline, it's a lack of mindfulness. The sure fire way to gain weight each and every holiday? Enter the season without mindfulness and without a plan or strategy.

Think of a scenario where you are most vulnerable to mindless eating. Is it in the kitchen while you are cooking/baking, at the buffet line at those Holiday parties, at the office with the endless stream of treats? Start to become aware of where your mindless eating occurs. Then declare a full-on war.

Decide which one (or two or all) of these scenarios describe you most - I've provided a simple plan of attack for each. But of course, you know your body and mind the best. Devise the best strategy and then move forward fully prepared for what lay ahead:

The Hard-Core Picker

Are you a hard-core picker like me? Do your little tastes turn into bowls of things? Do your nibbles turn into noshes? Here's your plan of attack:

1. Do NOT cook or bake when you are hungry. If you are setting out to cook or bake the day away or make something that has things you KNOW you will want to chow down on, have a snack before you even start. Eat a bowl of granola with some greek yogurt, some fruit and nut butter or even fry an egg and have some toast. A 10 minute snack break will save you 100s of calories later.
2. Find the foods that you are least mindful about or that taste the best to you and allow yourself a few tastes - then start a.) packing up as you go b.) throwing things in the freezer (ex: biscotti ends) - just move them out of site...out of mind.
3. Don't open ingredients until it's time to pour them into the recipe (ex: choco chips).
4. A tip from a reader! Make a cup of your favorite tea or dark hot cocoa as a special treat before you start. This is your treat now. And what you are creating is your treat for later.

The Holiday Junkie

Are you a holiday junkie? Do you start partying like a rock star at Halloween and don't stop until New Year's Day because, well, it's the holidays, baby!? Do you just go from one party to the next and tell yourself "Ah, it's the holidays" and never stop to think about how you celebrated them yesterday and the day before? Here's your plan of attack:

1. Realize that "The Holidays" aren't three months long. They are 3-4 days: Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day & New Years Eve. Give yourself a licence to celebrate the true holiDAYS and stick with your typical healthy lifestyle the rest of the time (80%-90% whole food eating).
2. Stick with your typical exercise routine - or even ramp it up a bit. Don't look at this as a three month vacation.
3. Find a few recipes that are healthier versions than your old standbys. Bring those to get-togethers and stick with what you brought.
4. Eat BEFORE you go to parties. Like a full on healthy meal. Then have just tasty bites of the foods at the party - and enjoy every last little morsel.
5. Keep a drawer of healthy snacks at the office to make walking by that 13th tray of cookies that much easier.

The Sluggish Celebrator

Many times around this time of year (less daylight, germs at every turn) we find ourselves tired more, sick more and turning to the quick, easy energy boost: sugar! It's so unfortunate that we are more suseptible to sugar cravings during the time when sugar is around every corner. If you start to get sluggish around this time, here is your plan of attack:

1. Get REST. We've all heard it a thousand times, but for good reason: it's true. Even though there are many parties and late night celebrations, make sleep a priority for you and your family. Sleep will allow your body to fight off colds, flu and sinus troubles, and give you the energy you need to get you through the day and to say no to the sugary treats that suck the energy stores we have remaining.
2. Boost your immune system and your energy levels: Eat tons of veggies and fruit. Eating sugar lowers your immune system - the opposite of what we need this time of year. Give your body a boost instead with natural cold and flu fighting foods found in nature. They give your body the energy it needs to stay healthy and strong. Be sure to get proper levels of Vitamin D!
3. Exercise. Movement will help you sleep better, will help your body stay strong as it fights off sickness and fight off stress.
4. Create a holiday priority list. Some become overwhelmed with the seemingly endless to-do list that comes with the holidays. The truth is, it doesn't have to be stressful and filled with activities and "things". Create a top 5 list of what matters most to you during this time of year and focus there. The rest will follow or fall off the list. That's ok.

Remember that the holidays are a time to be with friends and family and food should be a part of that community experience. It should be pleasurable. It should be a time to savor traditional favorites that bring us back to our childhood. Eat your grandma's famous pie or your Aunt Lucy's iced sugar cookies, but slow down, enjoy each bite, and try to gain so much satisfaction from one serving that you just don't see the need for more. It's tough sometimes, but the more you practice mindfulness, the easier it becomes. And, think how your pants will fit just as well on January 2 as they do today.

If you have any other scenarios or helpful tips, please share them in the comments. Together we can fight back and make this time of year what it should be: a time to be happy, healthy and helpful to others.


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