It is that time of year again! Thanksgiving (in the US anyway) is this Thursday, and then we have the full on (eating) season all the way to Christmas. Surviving without gaining weight can be tough and there is plenty of temptation from now to the end of the year.
This is the time of the year when I go to Weight Watchers’ meetings and the room is almost empty. And, it isn’t just that members are giving up on losing weight during this time. It is also that there is so much going on that it is hard to keep to a schedule. Something often has to go by the wayside and weight loss efforts are often the something.
At last Saturday’s meeting, we talked about eating for Thanksgiving and looked at the options. I agree that it is a good idea to try to figure out in advance how many Points or calories are in the food that you plan to eat on the holiday. This can be difficult when eating at someone else’s house, but just having an estimate can help.
Still, surviving the holiday season with weight loss intact is more than simply knowing what to eat on the actual holiday. The problem is that the difficulty isn’t just on the holiday itself. What makes it tough is that it really is an entire season where it is hard to navigate without going astray.
Looking at the big picture, from now until the end of the year, I have 5 tips that have helped me over the years. I have often found that I do better during the holiday season than I do at other times of the year because I focus so much on staying on track during this time. It can be done!
Number 1 – Set a goal for what you want to do for the season. Many times people think that gaining weight is inevitable during this time and just give up on trying to avoid it. When you do that, you actually are making it your goal to gain weight! That is a choice you can make. But, if you do, then do it with your eyes open.
Another option is to simply maintain for the season. This is often the most realistic choice, particularly in years when it will be exceptionally challenging. For those who will be traveling a lot and eating away from home, it can be daunting to try to lose weight. And, when weight loss isn’t happening, it can be easy to give up entirely and end up with a gain. In those situations, maintaining can be a huge triumph.
The final option is to aim to lose weight during this time. You may set a specific goal or simply have a goal to lose something, anything. I personally don’t like to set a specific weight loss goal for a short period of time because I can’t directly control exactly how much I lose during that specific time. I can choose what I do and hope it leads to weight loss, but exactly when that loss occurs is not something I can directly control. So, I do better simply resolving on having a loss by New Year’s.
The main thing is to be realistic for your circumstances. Most of the time in recent years I’ve chosen to lose weight during the holiday season. Two years ago (during the holiday season pictured), I lost 5 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Years. It was great and not that difficult to do. Last year, I maintained during a more difficult set of circumstance and that was fine. Every situation is different. The big point is to make a considered goal that is right for you. Don’t accept that gaining weight during season period is a given. You can choose to lose or maintain.
Number 2 – I remind myself that the true joy of the holiday season comes from things other than food. This is my absolute favorite time of the year. I adore the holiday season. And, when I think about what I love about it, food is pretty far down the list. Yes, food is on the list. But, being around the people that I love and celebrating with them is way more important than what I eat. When I think about a wonderful holiday celebration, it’s the people that matter the most.
Of course, often we have memories of the people and the food. I fully understand that the food is part of the celebration. But, I’ve learned that the celebration is just as as joyful with a smaller portion. See that turkey on my plate in the picture above? I weighed it on a scale before I put it on the plate. I had a plan for how much I was going to eat that day and I weighed my portion and ate it. Two years later, I don’t remember how much I ate that day. I do know that I enjoyed the day and my Weight Watchers weight tracker tells me I weighed in for a 1.8 pound loss two days after Thanksgiving. And, when I think back on that celebration I think about the people who were there and I don’t wish I hadn’t eaten more food.
Number 3 – Don’t eat it unless you love it. The problem with food during the holiday season is that it is everywhere all the time. It isn’t so much the food on the actual holiday, it is the food all the rest of the time. It seems like everyone is always giving away food. And, holiday parties and celebrations abound. If I took even one bite of everything, I would way overeat. So, I don’t. I really have high standards for what I will eat during this time. It has to be something that I really love. If I go to a holiday party with lots of different things to eat, I’ll pick the few that I really like and eat a reasonable amount. If it is something sort of meh, I’ll just give it a pass entirely. By asking myself if I really love something before eating, I end up choosing not to eat lots of foods that would simply add calories without adding to the joy of the holiday season. And, even if it is something that I love, I find that I love it just as much when I control how much I eat.
Number 4 – Plan for the actual holiday. There are a couple of approaches that can work well whether you want to maintain or are trying to lose. One approach simply treats the holiday like any other day and you count your Points or your calories or your carbs (or whatever you choose to count). For me I usually do this. I treat the actual holiday sort of like a day when I plan to eat out. I may eat a bit more than I would on a regular day, but I don’t go just hog wild. I track what I eat and enjoy it, but fundamentally I don’t eat any more than I would eat on a day that I went out to dinner at, say, Chili’s.
I recognize that not everyone enjoys tracking and some would feel that counting points or calories on a holiday would take away from the celebration. In that case, I would suggest eating whatever you want for the day of the holiday itself. This can work well if you are going to somewhere else to eat and don’t have a good way to figure out the points or calories. Personally, if I did this, I would still track what I ate afterwards as best I could. But, simply not counting at all and eating what you want can work under one main condition. Doing this, say, on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s will be fine if you stay on plan for all the rest of the holiday season. It is fine to eat what you want on Thanksgiving without counting anything and then to watch what you eat from then until Christmas and then eat what you want on Christmas without counting anything. You can still lose over the holiday season if you do this. The problem is when the eating what you want without counting anything continues on for the entire holiday season! So, plan for how you eat on the actual holiday. If you choose to simply eat what you want, recognize that you don’t have to eat that way for the entire holiday season.
Number 5 – Structure will help. One of the reasons that the holiday season is so difficult is that we are often out of our usual routine. The structure we have during the rest of the year gets blown away. We eat out more often, we travel more, and we have a far more hectic life. All of that makes it hard to stay on our eating plan. This is one reason Weight Watchers’ meetings having a drop off in attendance during this time. This is also the reason that I try really hard to go to a meeting every week during this time. Going to a Weight Watchers meeting gives me structure. It keeps my head thinking about weight management and it gives me some normalcy during a time of year that is out of the normal.
This is also why I would track even if I chose to eat anything I wanted on the actual holiday. Tracking gives me structure. It is part of my daily routine. As much as possible, I like to stick to my eating routine during the holiday season. I can’t always do it but I do it as much as I reasonably can. This is why I also work to stick with my exercise routine. I may not always be able to do so, but it helps to stay within my routine as much as possible.
Another possibility is to add in some additional structure just for the holiday season. This year I’m doing the Skinny Snowman Challenge set up by Brooke: Not On A Diet. I loved the idea of this challenge because it has you doing things that are healthy and good for you and it isn’t focused on a specific amount of weight loss. So, it has things to do like eating fruits/veggies or exercising or tracking. For me, this is adding some more structure to the holiday season that will enhance my chances of getting through the season without a weight gain.
The thing is that the more you can stick with routine and can give structure to your weight loss, the easier it will be go get through the season unscathed. No, none of these tips will make it easy to get through the holiday season. It is difficult time of year for weight management. But, maintaining and losing during this time is mostly a matter of mindset. It is a matter of making weight management important during this time. Making it a priority when it would be very easy to simply forget about it for 6 weeks. If you make it priority and have clear goals and plans, and set up structure to support you, it is possible to come through this season with either weight maintenance or a loss.