Happy Thanksgiving! I’m a big fan of festive feasts and sociable holidays - my husband and I are hosting dinner today — just, without overkill and regrets in the morning. Today’s post is an updated version of my 2009 piece titled “Top Ten Tips For Not Gaining Weight Over The Holidays”. And about tomorrow — please consider joining me in boycotting Black Friday. Our national economy, and personal happiness, can rest on things other than retail madness.
It is possible to not gain weight over the holidays. Did you know that I struggled in my early youth with compulsive overeating, and a few years later I worked as a weight reduction counselor? And that I have an M.S. in counseling psychology? The following strategies come from both personal and professional experience.
- Set specific, realistic goals. “I’ll get skinny between now and New Years” isn’t specific or realistic. “I’ll gain no weight this holiday season” would be more realistic. Some specific ways to achieve that could be, “I’ll limit desserts to one per day, and I’ll exercise for thirty minutes three times a week.”
- Ask a friend or coworker to support you on your eating and exercise goals. Choose the right friend or coworker, one with some practice at self-discipline, and who wants you to succeed. My friend Lonnie is very loving, but lenient in equal measure. “Oh, I would have eaten that whole tin of cookies, too,” I heard her say happily last Christmas to her friend in Overeaters Anonymous. Not the right friend for the job. You want the friend who will say, “Ah, next time why don’t you call me before you open the cookie tin.”
- Focus on physical activity rather than food for holiday entertainment. Go ice skating, take walking trips to sing Christmas carols or view Christmas light displays (hopefully LED lights). Go folk dancing, which is famously kind to people of all coordination levels, as the heroine of my novel Revelle points out to a man who says he can’t dance. Dancing to 80′s songs was a surprise hit at my recent birthday party.
- Consider doing no baking this holiday season. You can love and honor your mother, grandmother and all feminine forebears before them without continuing to make the pecan and potato chip cookie recipe they handed down to you. (You know, the one that leads to eating the whole tin.) Make ‘real food’ like sweet potatoes, hearty soups, veggie frittatas. If your ancestral holiday recipes are short on the wholesome factor, fall back on my curried tuna salad, healthy and easy to make, if not especially traditional. If your challenge is not your own baking but everyone else’s, ask their help in not giving you baked treats this year.
- Put your TV watching on a diet. Quite possibly your TV is the guiltiest party in your home, and is the one needing the discipline. Every minute it holds us sedentary under its grip is a minute we’re not moving around, using our bodies, using our minds, relating to other people, checking things off our merry lists. Again, be specific and realistic with your plan (a 25% reduction is more realistic than cold turkey). Perhaps your sneaky television needs an attractive hood over its head to remind it of its new place in your life.
- Use ritual to slow your eating down and increase your satisfaction. Chew carefully, tasting everything, appreciating the details of texture, freshness, aroma. Cultivate a sense of ritual around meals, using good table manners, for example, even when you are alone. Pleasing choices like good background music, plates, glasses and napkins in your favorite color, or a flower in a vase can all give us satisfaction beyond that of calories.
- At holiday gatherings, focus on ‘real food’ instead of sweets. While overeating can happen with many kinds of food, it’s usually sweets that set off the worst binges. If the gathering is all about sweets, eat real food before you head over, and then position yourself at the other end of the room. Thor and I are serving smoked salmon for our open house Christmas party on December 9th, and not setting out any candy or baked items.
- Consider putting your car on a diet. Using public transit leads us to walk more, for example, and cars often take us to the wrong places, like fast food drive-throughs and purveyors of Hagen Dazs. I tell you, the culpability of technology in our weight problems is underestimated. Take the real culprits to task.
- Hide treats and snack foods, if they’re to have a place in your home at all. I do this with verve and creativity, and my husband, prone to late-night snacking, appreciates it. I find that some hidey-holes are better than others. The other day he emptied my laundry basket into the washing machine. “Honey, have the Pepperidge Farm crackers gotten dirty again so quickly?” he asked me.
10. Say grace before each meal. My husband and I hold hands and settle into a silent, extended moment of thanks whenever we sit down to a meal together, including in restaurants and when we have guests over for meals. This slows us down and interrupts the chattering monkey-mind that tells us more (of anything) is better. Often, less is better, and saying grace can help set us straight on that. The food landing in our mouths is an enormous blessing. In my view, it’s the gift of a Creator who loves us beyond measure. Consider asking that Creator to help you practice good stewardship of your body and the life-giving stuff we call food.