Halloween is behind us, which can only mean one thing: it’s officially the holiday season – and with it, the endless parade of food and treats from now through year’s end that, for the majority of Americans, leads to an average of 7 to 10 extra pounds by the time we’re singing Auld Lang Syne. This year, why not beat the odds? Here are five easy strategies to do just that.
First of all, the strategies below are “do’s” instead of “don’ts” and this is a subtle but important distinction. Your subconscious mind doesn’t hear words like “don’t” “never” and “stop” when combined with a negative, i.e. something you want to avoid doing. For example, if I were to tell you to not think of an elephant, what’s the first thing you’ll think of? An elephant, of course! The same goes for changes you wish to make in your habits and behaviors. So instead of telling yourself “don’t eat all those cookies,” try “I’ll have one cookie right now” instead. It may sound silly, but it’s sending a subtle signal to your subconscious that will pay off.
Second, forget denial as a strategy this time of year. This is a time for community and celebration, and special food is an integral part of our human connection. When you deny yourself, you feel left out, and may even get pushback from loved ones around you. (Of course if you really can’t stand Aunt Edna’s fruitcake, feel free to deny it all you want!) Instead, practice these science-based strategies to enjoy the season healthfully.
Strategy: Get Up and Move!
Although millions of diet books may lead you to think otherwise, it’s scientific fact that increased body fat is inherently the result of excess calories (or units of energy) consumed being stored by the body for future use. So the flip side of the equation – physical activity – needs to be emphasized even more during the holidays, to offset the extra calories you’re taking in. With all the activities and responsibilities going on during the season, maintaining a fitness routine can be challenging. What’s most important is figuring out what works for you and what you can consistently stick to during this busy time. It may need to be a shorter routine than you normally do, but every little bit does matter. Or, try something new with the kids, friends or family that gets everyone outdoors and moving, like sledding, snowshoeing, a snowball fight, or just a quiet evening walk. Start a healthy new tradition and keep it going!
Strategy: Eat Mindfully
When you eat quickly, your brain doesn’t have sufficient time to respond to the signals coming from your gut that are telling you you’re full. Especially during the holiday season, take time instead to savor each delicious dish to its fullest. Chew slowly, focus on the flavors, and set your utensil down between bites. Take the time to engage in conversation with those around you during meals and treats, whether at home, visiting friends or family, or at the office. Remember your mother’s advice that it’s impolite to talk with your mouth full? She was right – it is more polite, others can actually understand what you’re saying, and if you’re talking, ergo you’re not eating! You’ll eat less food overall and avoid those gut-busting stomachaches from overconsumption too.
Strategy: Focus on Fruits and Vegetables
While most holiday treats tend to be loaded with sugar and fat, there are lots of equally delicious and festive alternatives. Consider bringing something delicious and nutritious to the holiday potluck, like spinach salad with ruby-red pomegranates and toasted almonds; roasted butternut squash with cranberries; or red wine-poached pears with blackberries as a dessert. The possibilities are endless, so challenge yourself to create something new this season (with a little help from Google perhaps).
Strategy: Try Smaller Plates
There’s a reason the buffet restaurants uses small plates – it leads to less food consumed. You can apply this same strategy by setting your holiday table or buffet with smaller place settings. If you’re a guest, simply choose the smallest plate available. You’ll automatically serve yourself smaller portion sizes, and eat less overall.
Strategy: Drink Water
Liquid calories can make up a large portion of your daily energy intake without you even being aware of it. This is especially true during the holidays, with all the traditional tasty libations and celebratory toasts. Whenever possible, choose water or a sugar-free beverage with a lemon or lime wedge instead, to easily reduce your overall caloric intake. You’ll also avoid being “that person” at the holiday gathering…just saying.
One final tip: Try to emphasize just one of these strategies at a time, instead of attempting to do them all at once. It’s better to achieve success in changing one behavior at a time, rather than to fail at many. Pick one strategy that fits in with an upcoming event, like Thanksgiving dinner, and focus solely on achieving that single goal. Your success will give you the confidence to add another new habit, then another, and you’ll ultimately start the new year without those extra pounds!
Laurie Kelly, CPT, CES, is a Certified Personal Trainer and Corrective Exercise Specialist accredited by the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) based in Denver, Colorado. She works with clients one-on-one at their location to help them live healthy and active lives, and achieve their unique fitness goals. Contact her here or follow her blog at www.dragonfly-fitness.com.