Keep Your Diet On Track During The Holidays (and other social events)

Dan DeFigioBehavior and Mindfulness

Staying on track while eating in social situations like dinner parties, date nights, wedding receptions, and similar events can be challenging, to say the least. Typically, the fare served by caterers and restaurants is much higher in sugar, fat, calories, and portion size than what you’d ordinarily eat, and you’ll likely be focused on everything except what (and how) you’re eating. So how do you keep your diet on track during the holidays and other social events? Being aware of your food intake while fully participating in all the social interaction takes some practice, but by utilizing a few of the basic skills in the following sections, you should be able to have a great time and still keep your diet on track during the holidays!

keeping your diet on track during the holidays

How To Keep Your Diet On Track During The Holidays

It amazes me how many people completely shut off any sensibility or moderation around food during holidays. When they give themselves permission to indulge in some holiday sweets, an all-or-nothing mentality takes over, and they go completely overboard, gobbling down every single sugar-filled treat they can lay their hands on — usually with the promise that at the beginning of the new year they’ll start their diet, get back to the gym, or whatever other promise they make to themselves every year. It’s almost like they’ve entered a contest in their minds, trying to win the award for who can cram the most sugar into themselves before New Year’s day.

I encourage you to enjoy some goodies during holiday times, but you need to do so in a reasonable fashion. If you’re at a holiday party with a table loaded with desserts as far as the eye can see, pick three things and have two bites of each one. That way you’ll get to enjoy three desserts without overloading yourself with sugar.

During the holidays, you don’t need to splurge at every meal of every day. The holiday season isn’t a pass to eat foolishly for weeks! Do some planning in advance and look for times when it will be easy for you to put together a healthy meal. Be on the lookout for situations in which you’ll want to overindulge, and be judicious about which ones you allow to become major deviations from your healthy, low-sugar lifestyle. Pick your battles and make conscious, sensible decisions about when you have a treat and how much of it you eat.

During the holiday season, don’t lose sight of the big picture of a healthy nutrition plan — things like vegetables, protein, water, and portion control. Consider junk food as extra, not as a substitute for real food. Be sure to apportion your treat before you start eating so you can keep the amount of sugar you consume in check. You don’t have to eat all the cookies to enjoy them!

Keeping Your Diet On Track During Social Events

A handful of social situations often crop up that can destroy your nutrition plan if you’re not careful. If you can avoid these common pitfalls, you’ll have a much easier time keeping the event from turning into an eating disaster:

Eating everything you’re given: Many events have a constant flow of food coming at you from all directions, much of it empty calories. News flash: You don’t have to eat everything that someone hands you. Choose your snacks wisely.

Playing the “I’ll have some if you have some” game: People often look toward another’s behavior to give them permission to eat dessert or junk food. Just because your friend wants some dessert doesn’t mean you’re obligated to eat some too. It’s not rude for one person not to eat something that others are eating, so don’t fall into the social trap of using what others do as an excuse not to make your own decisions.

Staying near the food all night: People love to congregate in the kitchen or near the buffet line, but conversations don’t have to stay there all night. You can be the one who invites people to move to a different area by saying something like, “Let’s move away from these cookies before I eat them all.” You may even be helping out some other folks who may be trying to clean up their eating too. If you stand and talk next to the brownie plate all night, you’re just asking for trouble!

Being Prepared

If you’re headed to a place or an event where you know that the food will be unhealthy, plan ahead and arrive having already eaten a healthy meal or snack. If you show up hungry and all that’s available is junk food, you’ll probably succumb to your hunger and cravings before you can get something better to eat later on.

If you’re not able to eat a full, healthy meal before a social dining event, at least make sure that you eat often enough throughout the day so that you don’t arrive with a hungry belly. Walking into a room filled with tempting junk food when you haven’t eaten for six or seven hours is a disaster waiting to happen. Plan ahead!

balanced eating

Creating Balance

Beware of becoming obsessive or neurotic about food. If you’re at a special event and you spend all your time and energy being super-strict about what you eat, you may find that you feel disappointed even though you ate well, because you’ve missed out on what was supposed to be important.

One of the keys to creating a balanced eating plan is that you must feel good about doing it. If having desserts and treats in moderation feels like punishment, then you’ll feel like you’re dieting instead of eating normally, and you won’t likely maintain the moderate approach for long.

I encourage you to lighten up and allow yourself to eat a reasonable amount of junk food at a special event. Just promise to do it on purpose, not unconsciously, and to stay mindful about what you choose to do — no “brain off” gluttony allowed! Limit your portions of bad food to a few bites, and eat slowly. If you find that you’re not enjoying what you’re eating, don’t finish it.

Remember that a party, an event, or a holiday is not the last time you’ll have the opportunity to eat your favorite junk foods. When you have a consistent system of moderation in place, you don’t follow a strict diet, so you aren’t deprived of these foods forever. When you decide to indulge in a treat, have a few bites, and then call it quits. You don’t have to eat a lifetime of sugar in one night!