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How to Enjoy the Holidays Without Wrecking Your Diet

The holidays are a time for indulgence. Here are three strategies that can help you enjoy holiday eating without throwing all your healthy habits under the bus.

By
Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
5-minute read
Episode #553
The Quick And Dirty
  1. Be extra choosy about what you indulge in
  2. Plan ahead for maximum enjoyment
  3. Don't think all-or-nothing—a healthy lifestyle is a work-in-progress

We’re in the thick of the holiday season, a time when many of us struggle to stick to our healthy habits. With all of the extra treats and disruption in our routines, it feels like every day is a cheat day!

It may be tempting to decide that you’ll just throw in the towel and pick up the pieces on January 1st. But today I have a few time-tested strategies that can help keep things from feeling quite so out of control.

Holiday Tip #1: Cultivate your inner food snob

I’m not talking about being hyper-critical or looking down your nose at anyone—that’s not in the holiday spirit! But with so many treats and indulgences around, we can afford to be—and really, we need to be—extra choosy about which ones we’re going to enjoy.

If anything, our standards should be higher than usual at this time of year given the overabundance of options.

For example, there’s a lot of cheap chocolate around at this time of year. And just because it’s wrapped in green and red foil instead of silver doesn’t actually make it taste any better. I don’t eat cheap chocolate at other times of the year. I hold out for the good stuff and eat it in small quantities. But for some reason, my normally high standards seemed to fall apart as soon as the tiny chocolate santas hit the scene. I’ve learned to be on guard against this effect and remind myself that, if anything, my standards should be higher than usual at this time of year, given the overabundance of options.

By the same token, if someone has gone to the trouble of making egg nog from scratch, I might enjoy some. Sure, it’s crazy high in sugar and calories, but homemade egg nog is a rare treat. On the other hand, I would never waste the calories on egg nog out of the carton, even if it means I go the whole season without any. No big loss.

Now, if you genuinely love tiny chocolate santas or eggnog out of the carton, then this is your chance to enjoy them … in moderation. Just remember to pass on those treats that you don’t actually enjoy that much.

I can hear some of you saying, “But, Monica, the problem is that I love all of these treats! There are none that I don’t enjoy!”

Pick the ones that are the least ubiquitous to be your special treat. Let their rarity be part of the appeal.

In that case, decide which of them you love the best. Or, if you really can’t rank them, pick the ones that are the least ubiquitous to be your special treat. Let their rarity be part of the appeal. For example, you’ll probably be going to more parties than usual—office parties, family get-togethers, neighborhood gatherings. There will probably be bowls of potato chips and vats of generic onion dip at most of them, along with multiple bricks of nondescript cheddar cheese and baskets of forgettable crackers. Special? Hardly.

Even if you love potato chips and onion dip, you don’t need to be eating them every day for the next three weeks. Focus instead on special or unusual treats that you don’t have all year or won’t be seeing at every party.

Holiday Tip #2. Plan your treats to enjoy them more

One of the most enjoyable parts of any pleasant experience is looking forward to it. The longer we anticipate a pleasurable thing, the more pleasure we get from it. If you’re indulging at every opportunity—planned and unplanned—you never have the pleasure of consciously choosing your treats and looking forward to them. As a result, you actually get less enjoyment, even though you’re indulging in more treats

Planning ahead also allows us to pick and choose which special thing we would most enjoy, which then makes it easier to pass on other things that aren’t as special I might decide to skip the cheap wine at the holiday happy hour at the office because I know there will be some very nice wine served at the dinner I’m going to later and I’ve already decided that that is going to be my treat for the day.

Holiday Tip #3. Don’t fall prey to all-or-nothing thinking

Just because your diet isn’t quite as healthy as usual or you indulge a little extra during the holidays, it doesn’t make sense to abandon all your healthy habits and restraint. And yet, this is what many of us do. We miss our regular workout and then, perversely, decide we might as well order fries with lunch instead of our usual side salad.

It’s a very curious quirk of human nature. If we’re going down, we’re going down in flames! But I think that’s because we tend to see a healthy lifestyle as an all or nothing thing—you’re either on or off the wagon. Once you’ve fallen off the wagon, you might as well roll all the way into the gutter!

A healthy lifestyle is always a work in progress not an exercise in perfection.

But of course, that’s not how it really works. A healthy lifestyle is always a work in progress not an exercise in perfection. One misstep doesn’t ruin all of your previous effort, as long as you get back in step. But compounding one misstep by running another mile in the wrong direction? That can start to undo your previous gains.

Another dangerous impulse is to decide somewhere in the middle of December that you’ll turn over a new leaf on January 1st. This somehow gives rise to a fantasy that nothing that happens between now and then really counts, which often leads to even worse excesses.

Even though it may feel like we all get a fresh start on January 1st, the body that you wake up in on New Year’s Day is going to be the same one you spent December in. And the habits and behaviors that you rehearse and reinforce this month are the very ones you will carry into the new year. Why not enter the New Year with some positive momentum instead of having to turn the ship completely around?

So, as we head into the final weeks of the year, remember to be extra choosy about your indulgences, plan your treats for maximum enjoyment, and, when things don’t go according to plan, don’t give in to that black and white thinking.

About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.