Food & TravelHealth & Wellness

Guilt-Free Holiday Eating

When it comes to food and weight management, there is not a tougher time of year than the holiday season. I am going to share with you some of the ideas and strategies that have worked for me and the people I coach. These ideas are about guilt-free eating — understanding your choices and feeling good about them.

Often behavior change is about changing the way we think. If we can change the way we think, we can change the way we act. The holidays really boil down to three or four days of awesome holiday celebrations. Here lies one of the big holiday traps — you may think that just because you let loose one day, say on Thanksgiving, and Christmas is around the corner, why bother holding back in between? But, t is the in-between times that are truly the most dangerous.

Let’s talk about the holiday meals themselves. Do you think it is worth indulging? The simple fact is, it’s your choice. If your answer is yes, are there things that can take the “bite” out of the damage? If your answer is no, are there ways to enjoy yourself and feel satisfied without feeling deprived?

The good news is the answer to both of these questions is a big resounding “yes!” In order to get a better grip on the way I feel about these things, I often let my “left-brain” take control and do a little cost/benefit analysis. I list the pros and cons of eating this way, then the pros and cons of not eating this way. This can often steer me in one direction or the other. An example of an internal dialogue: “If I eat this, I will have such a great time, but also I will gain an entire pound and feel lousy physically and emotionally. If I don’t eat this, I will feel so much in control and reach my goals. However, if I don’t eat, I will have a lousy time and may disappoint the people who cooked and invited me here.”

In spite of being a health professional and an expert on nutrition and weight management, I find myself at times taking one path and at other times taking the other. In order to be satisfied, feel good about myself and maintain my goals, I find balance is the key.

Whether you go one way or the other, you can make it work and feel totally guilt-free. We often give little thought about diving into a high calorie meal. Then afterwards, we feel totally lousy and guilty for doing it. Think about if this guilt-riddled self talk sounds familiar. “I don’t know why I did that. It wasn’t my fault. I don’t know why I ate like that again. I just had no control. It looked so great and who knows when the next opportunity for me to eat an entire fruit cake with an eggnog chaser will be?”

In this instance, you’re likely feeling like a victim. It’s like some alien being was pointing a ray gun at your head and forcing you to eat. You have put yourself on a total guilt trip.

Now instead, if you do the analysis of pros and cons and decide it is worth it, you are going to throw caution to the wind and have the 3,500 calorie meal. You go into it with complete power over your emotions and acknowledge the negative effects and plan to enjoy the positive – you’re okay with the outcome. By thinking this way, you put yourself in control and you’re not a victim but instead a powerful, thoughtful person making a decision that is right for you at this moment. No guilt trip whatsoever!

Even if you choose this path, there are many things you can do to lessen the negative outcome. I am hoping when you do the analysis, you can find the middle ground where you can have a great time and not go totally over the top. Here are my top strategies to make that happen: Use smaller plates, glasses and utensils. These will deceive your brain and actually make you think you are eating more; Slooow down your eating and chew thoroughly, 20 chews per mouthful. The more slowly you eat, the less you will eat; Drink lots of water, or zero or low calorie liquids. Don’t drink your calories, those 800 calorie Margaritas are killers; Eat lots of calorie-free foods such as non-starchy vegetables. Don’t avoid, but have a small serving of, the high calorie, fatty or sugary foods. Offer to bring a low calorie “safe” dish; When milling around, mill away from the food tables; Most importantly, budget your calories and physical activity. If you are going to eat more one day, plan to eat a little less and add more physical activity on the days before and/or after to compensate.

Remember, parties are more about the people and the social connections. You can have a great time and also stay in control while feeling totally guilt-free. Happy holidays to all of you!

Stuart Offer, DC, CSCS, CLC, is a Wellness Coach & Educator with Hickok & Boardman Group Benefits.

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