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Kathleen-Approved “Systems” for Surviving the Holidays

BT Montreal | posted Tuesday, Dec 18th, 2018

Set up systems NOW that will save you from your FUTURE holiday-season self.

The holidays are a minefield for our health — we know this!

Instead of thinking “this year will be different” — without outlining the plan to make it different — only to wake up January 1st feeling unfit and energetically low, work to set up systems NOW to save you from your future less-disciplined self.

Create your strategy NOW!  Decide — in advance — which of my tips you will use!

For example, if you know that you make bad choices when you get overly hungry, never go to an event hungry. Always have food (like almonds) on you; grab a few before walking into a work event. That way you will not “have to” grab a cookie out of hunger.

Basically, ditch willpower. Change THE SYSTEM!!!!




Make it simple — the power of 3

Making healthy food choices can feel all-too confusing, and when overwhelmed it is easy to say “screw it” and fall completely off the wagon

The “simple” (but not always easy) system I follow is the “rule of 3.” I save my cognitive energy by telling myself that every meal has to have a protein, a vegetable or fruit high in vitamins and minerals (green leafy vegetables or berries), and a healthy fat. Once I eat those three things I don’t have room for any of the less-healthy stuff!


It is not just about what you eat — it is about what you DRINK!

Commit to being aware of your liquids this season. Many of us are aware of food, but fairly airy-fairy about liquids. Liquids count — they contain calories and, more important, impact our blood sugar, which effects our hormones and fat production.

Stay hydrated, watch your caffeine (and what you add to your coffee), avoid sugary liquids filled with empty calories, AND always be aware of how much alcohol you are drinking.

Before every work event, party, etc. decide in advance how much alcohol you will consume and what your plan is. Tell a friend or write it down if you need accountability. Decide … will you have a glass of water between each alcoholic drink? Or will you combine fizzy water with wine to make one glass of wine stretch into 3 drinks? Or will you sip a vodka-soda so you stay away from the carbs in beer? Or will you go wild and crazy an have weeks where you skip drinking altogether?

Carry a water bottle. Set an alarm at work to remind yourself to drink water. Too often we misunderstand dehydration as hunger. Make yourself have a set amount of water before you get your morning coffee.


Ask yourself, “How can I make this meal a little bit better??”

You don’t have to make each meal perfect, you just have to make it slightly better than originally planned.

Decide that no matter what — no matter where you are — you will attempt to make each meal even slightly better.

So, if you were going to have four servings of pasta, have three servings and some green vegetables. If you were going to have three eggs, bacon, and white bread, have two eggs, bacon, and one piece of seed-filled bread. “Eating well” exists on a continuum. Instead of labeling foods as “bad” and “good,” shoot to trend positive. Work to get to the next stage of your eating continuum.



Make your “base” healthy

Sure, indulge on your grandmother’s famous maple mashed sweet potatoes, but don’t make “indulging” your norm. When you are not at parties or events, commit to making your “base” meals as healthy as possible. If you are going to something in the evening, have a really healthy breakfast and lunch and go to the gym. Then mindfully consume only foods you enjoy at the event.

“Holiday heath perfection” is not a productive goal — it is not possible and thus simply sets you up for failure. What is possible is consistency of healthy habits during your daily life — optimizing your “base” nutrition. It is not the occasional deviations from the plan that matter — what matters are the choices you make on a daily basis, how intensely you deviate from your norms when you do deviate, AND how quickly you course correct. Deviations are not the end, they are part of the process.


Commit to the “love it” rule

Commit to only indulging with foods you LOVE. Don’t mindlessly eat. Go ahead and mindfully enjoy a small portion of something you love. I call this my “love it” rule. Love your mom’s apple pie? Have a small piece. Don’t mindlessly eat chips full of preservatives in front of the TV. Always be aware enough to know what you are eating so you can say no to things you don’t LOVE and then enjoy moderate portions of what you do LOVE.


BE AWARE — “awareness brings choice.” Commit to NO mindless eating

Always take a pause before you eat anything so that you know you are not simply mindlessly stuffing your face.

Sit when you eat.

Don’t mindlessly pick off of someone else’s plate.

DON’T eat as you cook — chew gum if that helps you not nosh.

Put your fork down between bites.

Consider journaling or tracking your food.  Most of us underestimate our unhealthy choices and overestimate our healthy choices.


Portions. Portions. Portions

Portions count! This season commit to being mindful of portions. Sure, have a slice of apple pie but have ONE not three.

Counting exact portions can be overwhelming and tedious, but you need a rough awareness of the amount of any one food you are eating. One cookie is not the same as five. Half a cup of pasta is not the same as four cups.

Think of a portion of healthy fat as the size of your thumb, protein as your palm, veggies as your fist, and carbs as your cupped hand.


Read menus in advance

Before your go to a restaurant, look online and decide in advance what you will eat. Chicken and vegetables? A big salad? Then when you arrive don’t even look at the menu, just order what you had previously decided on. Also, consider telling the waiter to only bring half and to have the other half packed up for tomorrow’s healthy lunch.


Always offer to bring something healthy

When I go to a party I always offer to bring a dish I want to eat — a big salad or steamed greens, etc. That way I know there will always be at least one healthy option.


Final thoughts

When you fall of your health horse—– you will; you are human — try not to let yourself “spiral” — one cookie or one drink is not the same as five cookies or five drinks. Ask yourself, “Did I enjoy the treat and have a moderate amount?” If the answer is yes, great. We all need a few treats. If the answer is no, work to understand why the fall happened — were you too hungry? dehydrated? feeling sad? — AND get right back on your health plan!


Enjoy the holidays and be merry. Don’t deprive yourself. Just be smart.