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Now is the Time to Prepare a Holiday Eating Strategy

Enjoy the holidays without the calorie hangover.

 If you are trying to lose weight or simply eat better, the thought of the upcoming holiday season and its cornucopia of food offerings may leave you feeling overwhelmed and disheartened. But stay calm. With planning, a little courage, and the realization that although you will practice restraint in the next few months, you also will give yourself plenty of opportunities to enjoy food with family and friends.

 We can all attest to the fact that most social rituals are intertwined with food. Can you imagine a Thanksgiving without the traditional meal, or a Christmas without plates full of cookies and sweet treats? Many of us also use restaurants, bars, and holiday parties as gathering places to connect with old friends during this season of coming together, which makes it more than likely that there will be plentiful food and drink available. Even if the social occasion or outing isn’t technically about eating, food almost always hovers temptingly in the background: like the cinnamon roll store at the mall while we are gift shopping with friends, or the snack bars at the airport while we are travelling with family. Socializing without food, then, requires planning, assertiveness, and some thinking outside the box. Here are some ideas and tips for successful socializing without eating too much.

  • Instead of automatically reserving a table at a restaurant or going the traditional holiday party route, consider scheduling a gathering with friends someplace where you can be active: Take a yoga class together, visit a museum, or go to a shopping center. At the very least, you choose the restaurant or catering company—pick one you know has some healthier options available.
  • If the social event does take place at a restaurant and you are not hungry, don’t feel like you have to eat something to fit in—just sip on a non-caloric beverage and enjoy the company.
  • For family gatherings, try adding some non-food elements to the mix:
    • Try a post-meal family walk instead of flopping in front of the TV
    • Start a family game-playing session—family traditions have to start somehow!
  • As you are eating in social situations, try to keep your focus on what you are consuming as opposed to all that is going on around you. Savor the flavor of each bite.
  • If your family holiday gatherings always have food sitting around, avoid grazing by limiting yourself to only those things that are homemade (or set other “limits” or “rules” for yourself).
  • Plan ahead. Decide before you go out to eat what you will order and know how many calories it will cost you. Develop a mental list of “fallback” meal items (healthier options that you will feel good about eating) that you can count on. Similarly, have a few default alcoholic drink ideas you can order that you know won’t break your calorie bank.
  • Have a back-up, back-up plan in your mind for nearly every social situation involving food—so if plan A falls through, you can try your plan B, and if B doesn’t do the trick, no worries—you have a plan C!
  • At parties, decide on a couple “must-have” items, take a modest portion, and fill the rest of your plate with vegetables if you can. Don’t waste calories on unremarkable foods you can find anywhere like potato chips or store-bought cookies.
  • Focus on the fun, not the food! Enjoy the people, conversation, and entertainment.
  • When you can, bring your own favorite healthier dishes and treats. Consider it an opportunity to open a few people’s eyes to healthy eating without deprivation.

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