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Why Do Healthy Eaters Sometimes Fear the Holiday Season?

How not to let your "Ho-Ho-Ho" turn into "Oh, no!" this November and December.

Gregg McBride
Source: Gregg McBride

For anyone trying to lose or keep off excess weight, the onset of the holiday season can bring with it a panic that goes beyond making our list and checking it twice. In fact, we can often be divided into two different groups: one that dreads gaining weight at holiday events and soirees, and one that decides “To heck with all dieting efforts until the New Year.” Sadly, no matter which group one belongs to, the end result of both of these tactics can leave you feeling worse than when you get coal in your stocking.

Regardless of what weight you’re currently at, you deserve to have a happy holiday season. And yes, that can even translate to enjoying some eggnog, figgy pudding, or whatever festive indulgence represents a joyful eating or drinking experience for you. The keyword here is “joyful.” This means it’s better to enjoy treating yourself in public (at the party, at the social gathering, when out and about with family or friends) rather than when standing alone at the kitchen counter, nibbling away at said indulgence when not a creature is stirring (not even a mouse).

The best gift we can give ourselves is to let go of shame and instead keep in mind why we want to take or keep excess weight off, to begin with. Sure, we want to look great in our party wear. But we also want to feel good. This means being able to take a flight of stairs without becoming winded, sitting at a family gathering without feeling like our jeans are cutting off the oxygen supply to the lower halves of our bodies, or waking up the morning after a celebration dinner without feeling fatigued (mentally or physically).

As someone who took off over 250 pounds of excess weight and who has kept it off for almost two decades, I’ve learned that staying on the “Nice” list doesn’t have to mean eating only celery and carrot sticks throughout the season. Similarly, it doesn’t have to mean overindulging to the point of discomfort or constantly berating one’s self or using guilt and/or shame to stay within the confines of a healthier eating plan.

What I did while losing the weight, and what I do to this day, is to stop and perform a 5-minute mental check-in before any eating or celebratory occasion occurs. This can be done in an office, parked car, bedroom, or even in a bathroom stall. But take a beat to indulge in several deep breaths (thinking “In” while breathing in and “Out” when breathing out). Then, once you’re centered, create a mental picture of who you want to be at whatever event (big or small) is ahead of you.

Do you want to be the person more obsessed with the deli tray than the happy conversation around you? Do you want to be the person excessively drinking cocktails or other calorie-laden beverages, instead of toasting with some sparkling water splashed with cranberry juice? Do you want to be the person giving side-eye to the dessert table instead of shaking your groove thing on the dance floor?

It’s all up to you. And by being present and conscious before any event with food that might intimidate you, you allow yourself to take a moment to envision how you want to handle the occasion—and how you want to feel afterward.

Your questions might include:

1. What is it I most want to enjoy about this occasion?

2. Is there anything about this occasion that makes me nervous?

3. How committed do I want to be to my healthy eating plan?

4. How can I enjoy myself without overdoing it?

5. How do I want to feel (physically and mentally) after the occasion and/or in the morning?

6. What are three of my best traits, and how can I make those shine during this occasion?

I should note that there are no wrong answers. This is all about self-empowerment and reminding yourself that being “out of control” doesn’t have to be how you define yourself anymore—not during the holidays or any time of year.

Finally, almost everyone I know wants to take off three to five pounds come January. I’m not saying you have to gain any weight. But doing a little overindulging during the holidays can be OK. You might even add some extra exercise to your holiday routines to help burn a few of those extra calories you’re consuming.

Even taking a few extra laps around the mall while Christmas shopping can help. It’s about balance. It’s about moderation. And it’s about meeting each of these holiday occasions with not only consciousness and a healthy perspective on food and drink intake, but also with equal parts bed rest, drinking enough water, and getting enough exercise.

Be easy with yourself when contemplating holiday celebrating (and eating) instead of terrified of it. The less power we give the holiday season over our choice to live a healthier (and happier) life, the more power we keep for ourselves. We aren’t this season’s b*tch. We are in control. And that means we can eat, drink, and be merry—all without feeling deprived now or hating ourselves when January arrives.

Gregg McBride
Source: Gregg McBride
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