How To Stay On Your Diet During The Holidays- 5 Useful Tips

Staying on your diet during the holidays isn't impossible

How To Stay On Your Diet During The Holidays- 5 Useful Tips


Eating healthy and staying on your diet is hard enough as it is during the year and not wavering during the holidays can be a Herculean task given the ever present abundance of not-so-healthy food and drink and the social pressures to indulge. To paraphrase Sartre, “Hell is other people when you are trying to eat healthy,” and while the holidays are a great time to be with friends and family─ those very friends and family can often be the source of some powerful peer pressure that encourages to eat what you ordinarily wouldn’t. As well-meaning as it might be, some friends and relatives simply will not take no for an answer when offering you the most decadent of holiday treats and will insist that you partake in the eating frenzy. Add this to the fact that you are surrounded by truly great tasting food and it’s easy to see how we can fall into that cycle of putting on a few pounds during the holiday season and then feeling absolutely horrible about it. Personally I have always found it somewhat odd when people talk about how much they enjoyed eating to their heart’s content during the holidays but in the same sentence talk about how terrible they feel about the extra pounds around their midsection. It doesn’t have to be that way. You can weather the holiday food storm without overindulging and have the enjoyment of having a fantastic time minus the guilt trip and extra pounds by following some simple steps ─ but you first have to WANT to stay on your diet as all the tricks in the world won’t help if you don’t really want to, so you have to first be very honest with yourself about making a change. That said, there are some very some simple steps you can use to stay on track during the holidays. I have been commended over the years─ and yelled at─ for never wavering on my diet, regardless of the occasion or how tempting the foods may be. While I like the idea of me having superhuman willpower and self-control, the reality isn’t anywhere near as impressive. In fact, how I stay on my diet during the holidays─ and all year round─ has little to do with self-control and is more a matter of employing certain cognitive and behavioral tools skills developed over time. Eating consistently well isn’t rocket science, but without the proper tools it can indeed feel like it! That being said here are five battle tested strategies that have helped me and the hundreds of people who I have been privileged to work with stay on their diets during the holidays and throughout the year.


How To Stay On Your Diet During The Holidays— Tip 1: Fill Up Before The Festivities

How to stay on your diet during the holidays- tip 1- eat beforehand

Make sure you eat before going to any event where there is a lot of food. That way you are less likely to overeat!

On days where you are expecting either a holiday meal or a gathering at work where there will be an overabundance of food, nothing is more critical to ensuring moderate consumption more than filling yourself up long before the festivities begin. NEVER ─and I do mean NEVER─ go to a holiday meal on an empty stomach as you are setting yourself up for failure.

A big breakfast with high fiber foods like oatmeal—the real stuff not the instant kind— fruit and lean protein sources like egg whites are the perfect way to start your day! After a fast of several hours our bodies are designed to absorb and use the most nutrients at this time of the day. Failure to eat well at breakfast time puts you in a bit of a nutrient deficit. One that grows and grows as the day advances culminating in major food cravings later in the day. That being said on a day where you are expect to have a large meal like eating a hearty breakfast will go a long way in reducing the amount of food that you will eat.  So be sure to start the day right! (You can download my free ebook on healthy breakfast choices here!)


How To Stay On Your Diet During The Holidays— Tip 2: Drink Water!

Tip for staying on your diet- drink water as your main drink for the holidays.

Drink a glass of water before you start eating or drinking as it will help you eat and drink less and be a bit more mindful about your choices.

You don’t have to have juices, cider or alcohol with your meal and if you are going to be faced with an overabundance of food while trying to stay on your diet then you would do best to just drink water. It might not sound super sexy to not have a drink or two (or in some cases three or four) with your meals but alcohol contains seven calories per gram and is processed by your liver in such a way that actually promotes the storage of fat around your internal organs. Alcohol also not only reduces testosterone levels—which can adversely affect your hard earned muscle mass, among other things— but studies show that it also stimulates your appetite and makes you eat more [1] which is the last thing you want when faced with a holiday buffet. Juices and ciders are also chock full of calories and sugar- which you really don’t need if you are eating a large meal to begin with. If you absolutely must have some cider or alcohol, you can cut down on how much you will drink of you first start off with an eight ounce glass of water which will fill you up some and make you less likely to overdo it with what you eat and with what you drink! My suggestion is to grab a glass of water the second you enter the room with a lot of food and finish it before you start partaking in the feast. It will give you a chance as well to be a bit more mindful about what you are going to put on your plate and if you want to be a little fancy, seltzer with lemon works just as well, and you can put it in a wine glass to fit in a bit more. (For a more detailed explanation on how alcohol can make you eat more and inhibit fat loss see my article here.)



How To Stay On Your Diet During The Holidays: Tip 3— Eat Only Two Items

tips for staying on your diet over the holidays

Limit yourself to only 2 items- with one of them being a protein!

That’s right, limit yourself to just two items (and make sure one of them is a protein dish like chicken, turkey, fish, eggs or beans) and then add a salad or vegetable dish if those didn’t make it to your list. It’s all about being mindful and the reason most people overeat is the idea that they have to taste everything on the menu for the day. You don’t as the calories do add up as you pile more and more food on your plate. Instead choose the foods that you really and absolutely love to eat and stick with it. You can have as many servings as you like of the protein food as long as you lay off the gravies and sauces and really take the time to enjoy your food and the company. which leads us to the third tip for sticking with your diet over the holidays.




How To Stay On Your Diet During The Holidays Tip 4: Eat Slowly
Eating slowly is a great way to stay on your diet during the holidays

The slower you eat the less you will eat and the more you will enjoy your foods!

My mother was right—eating slowly is an extremely effective way to reduce the likelihood of overeating and studies show that the faster you eat, the more likely you are to eat more calories than you should.[2] It takes a while for your brain to get the signal to stop eating and for that to happen your body has to secrete the hormones glucagon-like peptide-1 and peptide YY which make us feel satisfied and full but it takes a while before those hormones take full effect.[2] So if you eat too quickly, you’ll get the message to stop eating long after you should have already stopped. The solution is to simply relax and take your time with each bite as slowing down is an important tool in the fight against overeating. You will also enjoy your foods more and it is will be much better for your digestion. Remember— healthy eating is about enjoying your food and your life so you don’t have to be Spartan in your approach. (For a more detailed explanation on how eating slowly can help you stay on your diet check out my article on eating slowly here.)



How To Stay On Your Diet During The Holidays Tip 5— Follow The Rule Of Thirds

My rule of thirds is an easy way to always keep your eating in check and works especially well to help you stay on your diet not only for the holidays, but all year round. When surrounded by a lot of food the rule is:

Always eat a serving 1/3 less than what you would normally eat and always keep 1/3 of your stomach empty at all times.

A simple tenet,  but a powerful way to keep yourself in control of your eating habits at all times- and it is easy to remember and put into practice! Eating to the point of feeling like an over inflated car tire isn’t healthy, nor should it ever be a goal holidays or not. Studies have shown time and time again how difficult it is for us to estimate our calorie intake, but by using the rule of thirds you have a practical way to enjoy your foods without overdoing it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take that many calories over what your body actually needs for you to start gaining weight, so you have to be diligent about your food intake at all times. Besides, is it really comforting to feel yourself bursting at the seams? I think not!



How To Stay On Your Diet During The Holidays (extra) Tip 6: Team Up

The hardest part of eating well for Thanksgiving, any holiday or family and friend gatherings isn’t always the food; it’s the pressure you feel from others to eat the food! We are hardwired as group animals to follow others and at mealtime it can be a real issue when you are not taking part in what everyone else is eating. For me growing up in the islands staying on my diet around the holidays was always excruciating until I realized I should use the same peer pressure dynamic to my advantage. How do you do that? There are two ways:

Step 1. The Easy Way:

The easiest way is to get someone else who is also trying to eat healthy to accompany you at the Thanksgiving meal, holiday party or any big get together that involves a tremendous amount of food. It could be a friend, family member or love one but you both have to agree on supporting each other and have similar goals. It makes a huge difference!  By having someone at your side you won’t feel as isolated when you don’t eat what everyone else is eating and you’ll have someone to back you up if the pressure starts to build. By supporting them you will also reinforce your own position and quite often others in the group may come around and see the value in your choices.

Step 2. The Hard Way:

The other way is to recruit family, friends and people around you to help you stay on the right path during the holidays. People are very interesting beings in that if you say that you’re on a diet for health reasons, hardly anyone is going to take you seriously and they’ll keep on doing everything in their power to entice you to eat the foods that you shouldn’t. However if you said you entered a contest where you’ll win $1,000 if you lose ten pounds in two months and that needed everyone’s help to stay on track- you’d be surprised how eager people can be to lend their support (just don’t promise to share the profits!) I think it makes it easier for people to relate as the healthy lifestyle approach just doesn’t cut it. When I was younger at a big food gathering I would announce that I had a major bodybuilding contest or photo shoot coming up and that my career depended on my doing well (which was always true). The response was usually overwhelming- with some of my friends going so far as to inform everyone that I was really important that I stayed on my diet and to look out for me to make sure that I didn’t slip! The support was invaluable to me over the years and to this day my friends would leap across the room to stop me from eating a piece of cake as they know the way I look and the way I live is an important factor in my credibility as a personal trainer and health and fitness writer. I don’t see myself ever going for that piece of cake, but it is nice to know that if I did my friends and family would be there to stage an intervention! Having a family that takes eating well as seriously as I do makes my life much easier as well! So do your best to get others involved. Not only will it make you feel better but it also gives them a chance to feel good about helping you! Happy Holidays!!!!

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Featured everywhere from the Wall Street Journal to network TV, Kevin Richardson is the international fitness consultant for UNICEF, natural bodybuilding champion, creator of Naturally Intense High Intensity Training and one of the most sought after personal trainers in New York City. Learn more about his award winning personal training services here!


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1. Buemann, B., Toubro, S., & Astrup, A. The effect of wine or beer versus a carbonated soft drink, served at a meal, on ad libitum energy intake. International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders 2002

2. Kokkinos A1, le Roux CW, Alexiadou K, Tentolouris N, Vincent RP, Kyriaki D, Perrea D, Ghatei MA, Bloom SR, Katsilambros N.J. Eating slowly increases the postprandial response of the anorexigenic gut hormones, peptide YY and glucagon-like peptide-1. Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2010


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