Food has taken on a role as so much more than fuel for the body. We use it to celebrate, to distract, to satisfy, to comfort, and to avoid. For most Americans, food is the one thing they feel they can have complete control over…though not often for the better. When every other part of life seems to be spinning out of control, a plate of French fries, pizza or a blizzard have a way of numbing reality and cutting us some slack when people and responsibilities are negatively effecting us.
These feelings typically intensify during the holiday season—there’s added stress from visiting relatives and a platter of tempting treats on every counter—which makes it tricky to changeingrained eating patterns. But, tricky doesn’t mean impossible. Consistency is the solution to making a dent in lifelong (not just holiday-season) eating habits. It is never one scoop of mashed potatoes or a slice of pumpkin pie that causes weight gain, it’s many similar choices that add up over time.
Here’s how to set yourself up for consistency over the holidays and beyond:
1. Eat small meals every 2-3 hours. The worst thing you can do is let your blood sugar drop too low because you’ll be more likely to make poor food choices. You may be afraid eating so often will cause weight gain, but you’ll be pleasantly surprised that your total volume of food will actually decrease because you won’t be starving when mealtime arrives.
2. Eat something before the party. Do not skip lunch or a snack in an effort to save your appetite for the spread at the party. You are setting yourself up for guaranteed failure and overeating if you arrive with a growling stomach. As mentioned above, going long periods of time without eating creates low blood sugar, which increases your stress hormones and can cause weight gain.
3. Pick your protein first. Holiday food is usually packed with plenty of carbohydrates and never enough protein. The abundance of carbohydrates can create unstable blood sugar levels and increased fat storage. Simply, starting to build a meal or snack with protein first will help you stay full longer and keep your cravings under control. Think protein first and then balance it with a healthy carbohydrate, such as, a ripe piece of fruit.
4. Offer to bring a healthy dish to pass. If you are invited to a holiday party or potluck, bring a healthy dish to pass. This will ensure there is at least one healthy choice for you to eat, and you can have the other dishes in condiment size portions.
5. Schedule in “me” time. The holidays are sometimes the only break from a 8-to-5 lifestyle, but there’s still the stress of entertaining and buzzing from house to house, which can promote overeating and bingeing. To avoid overindulging during your days off, make sure you schedule “me” time every week all year, starting now.
6. Get out of the “diet” mentality. Many of us have an all-or-nothing mindset: “I am going to eat perfectly, and if I don’t, then screw this healthy-eating business.” No one is ever going to be perfect, so it’s important to be kind to yourself. If you mess up, get back on track. Focus on consistently making healthy choices (85 percent of the time is great!) and you will find success much easier to come by.
Remember that putting the time, energy and focus into a healthy lifestyle is a choice—a daily choice. Our society does not set us up for success in this area. But if you sincerely value health, then there is never an excuse.
If you start prioritizing food as your body’s physical (not emotional) fuel, you will find holiday eating less challenging this time around. Implementing the six strategies above, starting today, will help you be more consistent and take control of your food choices forever. Don’t wait until January 1st to start making healthy choices—commit now so you will already have something to celebrate in the New Year.