Dietitian and IFBB Pro Chris Tuttle shares tips on navigating holiday eating with a more flexible approach.

How To Navigate Holiday Eating: The Flexible Approach

That time of the year is approaching—when holiday parties and family get-togethers will fill most weekends from the end of November through mid-January. A very high percentage of people will gain a considerable amount of weight over this period of time. They often struggle with balance and go overboard with eating and drinking. Although it’s easy to justify indulging because the holidays happen just once per year, you should avoid this mindset going in. The overall goal is to learn to enjoy the holidays without feeling too restricted, and to mitigate the caloric surplus when eating off plan. With the right perspective and a few steps this becomes very possible.

The first step is to simply accept that you just cannot go all out at every single party and gathering you attend. That is, if you want to make it through the holidays without gaining weight. It is very easy to attend these gatherings, enjoy food, and be social without overeating and pounding booze. Perspective is everything.

The second step is to let loose a bit on your diet only on the special days with immediate family around your actual holiday. One to three days of eating off plan will not be impactful enough to lead to excessive weight gain, but this does not mean eating as much as possible. You should enjoy what is served, eat until satisfied, and enjoy time with family. Focus on just being social at all of the other gatherings and parties. That being said, you probably don’t want to avoid eating or drinking completely at these events. That might draw too much attention to yourself and you will ultimately feel restricted. Therefore, some consumption of food and drinks will be warranted. Read the following for helpful tips.

  1. Eat within 30-60 minutes before you attend the scheduled party to lower overall temptation. Going into a holiday party starving is a bad idea.
  2. Do not be the first one to show up. Arriving 10-15 minutes after the start time should suffice, unless it is a sit-down dinner.
  3. Offer to bring a dish or appetizer. Bring something that is reasonable so you have something for back up just in case there are less than ideal options at the party.
  4. Upon arriving, immediately grab a diet soda or beverage that might appear to be an alcoholic beverage. This way nobody will see you standing around with nothing in your hand. That opens up an invitation for people to offer you food or drink.
  5. Choose appetizers and offerings that are on the lower calorie side and consume slowly. The longer you have food in your hand or on your plate, the more likely you will avoid pressure from others.
  6. Be the last one to be served and the last one to finish their plate.
  7. Get right back on your habitual diet program after the party.

The most important step is the third one, which is sticking to your current diet and training regimen when you are not attending holiday parties. Under no circumstance should the off-plan eating snowball into days of eating high calorie foods because you’ve adopted the attitude that you will just start fresh on Monday. That is a recipe for disaster. We want to avoid the “all or nothing” mentality that tends to throw us off the deep end. It is ok to occasionally be off plan within reason. On the other hand, feeling pressure to remain 100% on your diet through the holidays more often than not leads to a very poor relationship with food. That could cause anxiety around food, decreased quality of life, depression, and binge eating. We must avoid going down that road completely. Once that path has been taken it is very hard to come back.

It’s difficult to resist temptation or overcome the pressure to eat and indulge from others over the holidays. This is where you need to remain steadfast and understand that the main point of the holidays is to come together with friends and family over food. It is not just about eating food and drinking. If you use these steps to navigate the holidays, you won’t go overboard or feel restricted.

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