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6 Tips for Controlling Holiday Eating

'Tis the season in America—with the Salvation Army on every corner, colorful LED lights, and

Christmas carols, goodwill is sure to come to all. Who can resist the office parties, hot toddies, chili cheese rolls, Swedish meatballs, chocolate dipped petit fours, all-day family eating fests. . . and then, oh yea, the ten-pound post-holiday weight gain.

Why do good times have to be so fattening?

Well, they usually are, but they don’t have to be. By employing the following anti-eating strategies frequently throughout this holiday season, you will strengthen the inhibition centers in your brain and may end up trimming yourself (and not just the tree) this holiday season.

1. Plan.  I know, I know, planning puts a damper on spontaneity, but a behavior on which your very health is based should not be left to caprice (which will only desire healthful grub a fraction of the time). For each holiday activity, make a food plan—decide what and how much you’re going to eat, and write it down (you’re considerably more likely to achieve goals if you write them down). 

Please be realistic when writing out your eating plan. Intending a meal for a mendicant when you're entering the den of iniquity is a recipe for failure. Make sure to include some of your favorite dishes, but be very specific (e.g., 1 cup or a 2" slice) about how much of each you plan to eat.

2. Wait. Upon arriving to the event, don’t dive in immediately. Set a time frame, and wait. For instance, if the soiree runs from six to eight, plan to eat at seven or later.

You can also use this strategy for situations that catch you off guard, too—like arriving at your church’s tree-lighting ceremony to find your favorite peanut butter fudge. Take note of the time and wait at least half an hour before having a taste.  You’ll end up eating less and you build willpower by delaying gratification.

3. Take a mug of tea with you everywhere you go. Especially white, green, and hibiscus,

which show up very favorably in the scientific research. Drinking tea is the best way to increase your phytonutrient intake without increasing calories. Also hot drinks have an appetite suppressing effect and give you a healthy way to occupy your mouth while everybody else is ingesting empty calories.

4. Savor. Whatever you eat at your next yuletide gathering, enjoy the hell out of it. Be it roasted Italian chestnuts or fried pecan pie on a stick, sit down to savor your catch one slow bite at a time. You won’t eat as much, and you may find that certain edibles aren’t quite as delicious as you remembered them to be.

5. Animal exploitation. Is there a furry creature nearby with whom you could form a brief symbiotic relationship—say, “I scratch your back and you distract me from the Jimmy Dean sausage cheese ball.”? If not, find a photo album or book shelf to peruse—anything that takes you away from the fancy feast for a while.

6. Go for a walk. Those all-day family holiday gatherings can be difficult—with food in constant sight and decades-old tensions being stoked, a perambulating reprieve can help break the continuous nibbling spell and replenish willpower before you return to tackle the next nonstop meal.

It doesn’t have to be a long walk—a quick jaunt around the block can really help lift your energy and shift your mood, making it easier to say no to yet another ham croquette.

And now for a bonus tip (no extra charge)!

Eat thy veggies first. Let's be real. The strength of your good intentions will probably not overcome the multifarious gustatory provocations coming at you from all directions during the holidays. But you can make a deal with yourself that you can have a slice of that pecan log after you eat a half-cup of crudite or a piece of fruit.

This strategy has major positive implications for your long-term success because delaying gratification builds discipline. Any time you can put off the satisfaction of an urge, you get a little stronger. Also of course, eating some healthy pabulum first can fill you up and make the object of your desire a little less desirable.

The Key

The key to these strategies is to use them over and over again. They won’t work if you don’t employ them, and each time you do put one to action, your brain changes a tiny bit in your favor by activating those prefrontal cortices (where rational decision-making originates). 

Start Today

You don’t have to wait until the next white elephant party or lighted boat parade to practice these new tools—in fact, you can start today by choosing one and implementing it before bedtime.

Feliz Navidad y Buen Provecho!

BTW, if you need help with compulsive eating or sticking to a healthy diet, go here to learn more.

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