Prevent the Holiday Diet Trap (and enjoy your food instead)

Have some cake and feel good too. Avoiding holiday weight gain is not about restriction or deprivation, but rather Mindful Eating. Registered Dietitians Lisa Andrews and Cheryl Mussatto weigh-in on what really matters.

PHOTO: rawpixel | southpasadenan.com | Being mindful at the holidays is key

Dieters beware! The dreaded holiday season is here and your pants are still a bit snug. Do you avoid the parties, put your blinders on while walking through the grocery isles, and hope that those little crumbs you nibbled off your child’s plate didn’t count? Or maybe you skip meals because, in your best efforts not to eat this or that, you’ve managed to sample a little bit of everything rather than enjoying a simple slice of cake.

When your attitude is all about food, that’s where the trouble begins. Your mind keeps cycling through the shouldn’t-haves or must avoids (or ‘I’ve got to make up for that decadent brownie.’). The cycle is vicious! Instead of responding to little hiccups in your diet, find balance throughout the day and listen to your hunger cues. How can you possibly be enjoying yourself this season when all you can think about is food (and what not to eat)?

“I believe food is to be eaten and enjoyed,” says Lisa Andrews, Registered Dietitian and Owner of Sound Bites Nutrition, LLC. “Feeling guilty for eating a piece of chocolate or a cookie or feeling like you have to work out more/longer because you ate a ‘forbidden’ food does not serve anyone.”

Shunning desserts all together? A no-go according to Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD and owner of Eat Well to Be Well.

“Most dieters find it difficult to maintain the limited food choices,” says Mussatto. “What people should do instead is think of themselves as ‘weight maintainers’ by simply focusing on choosing a wide variety of food.  Eating is meant to be pleasurable and this will serve people best in sticking with a healthier eating pattern for life,” she says.

Andrews agrees that you should “aim to maintain” (your weight) this season, rather than focus on the scale.

“I have worked with several clients that avoid carbs all day (bread, fruits, etc.), only to find themselves ravenous and raiding the fridge or pantry later, and it’s not healthy food they’re gravitating towards later,” cautions Andrews. Instead she suggests working treats into your diet plan.

“If you know you’re going to want a treat, that’s fine,” says Andrews.  “Don’t gobble it up or eat it in a closet. Sometimes having a bite or taste of something is all you want.”

Being mindful is key. “Experience the taste, smell, and texture of the food.  Enjoy every last bit,” says Mussatto. “Keep your portions reasonable. If you find yourself wanting to go back for seconds or thirds, find other things to take your mind off of the food.”

“Not everything about this holiday season has to focus on food,” adds Andrews who suggests including time with friends and family that doesn’t involve food or cocktails.

Here are some take home tips (So you have some cake and feel good too!):

  • Remember that this is not the last time you’ll get to eat doughnuts, cookies or other treats.  (You don’t have to try them all.)
  • Skip the “run of the mill” treats like boxed brownies or store bought cookies. Save your calories for the good stuff you’ll only get once a year like homemade fudge or other treat you truly desire.
  • Allow yourself to enjoy a treat, but do so mindfully.
  • Work treats into your meal plan.
  • Aim to maintain weight this season and don’t focus on the scale.
  • Dump the idea of banning foods.
  • Embrace the notion of choosing to eat all foods in moderation.
  • Respect your food and your body.
  • Make friends with people and not the buffet table.
  • Take some hikes outside, volunteer in your community or put up holiday decorations with your friends and family.
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Lauren O'Connor

Lauren O’Connor, MS, RDN, RYT is a Los Angeles based registered dietitian, yoga teacher and founder of Nutri Savvy Health. She authors her own blog, is a health writer, menu developer and nutritional consultant with articles and recipes in numerous publications including Food & Nutrition magazine, Shape, Redbook, Livestrong, AZCentral and DietsinReview.

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