The holidays are a difficult time for those of us who both enjoy eating and worry about our waistlines.  Chances are good that if you overindulged a bit at Thanksgiving, you are now looking ahead to the month of December with a wary eye – only too aware of the minefield of cookie platters, holiday parties, family dinners, and gift baskets that you will have to somehow navigate.

You know from experience that you cannot get through these trying times on willpower alone.  So here are three very simple and proven-effective motivational strategies for remaining in your current pant size.

Tip 1:  Acknowledge That You Probably Can’t Have Just One. According to the laws of physics, bodies in motion tend to stay in motion, unless something acts to stop them.  Well, the same thing can be said about human behavior, too – including eating.

Your actions have a kind of inertia – once you start doing something, it often takes more self-control to stop than it does to just avoid doing it in the first place.  And it gets harder to stop the longer the behavior goes on.  So it’s easier to be abstinent if you stop at the first kiss, rather than letting things get hot and heavy.  And it’s a lot easier to pass on the potato chips entirely, rather than just eat one or two.

Stopping before you start is an excellent strategy to keep your need for willpower to a minimum.  Consider cutting out all between-meal snacking over the holidays.  The fewer times you start eating each day, the less you’ll have to worry about stopping.

Tip 2:  Set VERY Specific Limits. Before you get anywhere near the cookie platter, the fruit cake, or the cheese plate, think about how much you can afford to eat without over-indulging.  Decide, in advance, exactly how much of any particular holiday treat you will allow yourself for dessert, or at the Christmas party.

The problem with most plans, including diet plans, is that they are not nearly specific enough.  We plan to “be good,” or “not eat too much,” but what does that mean, exactly?  When will I know if I’ve had too much?  When you are staring at a table overflowing with delicious snacks, you are not going to be a good judge of what “too much” is.

An effective plan is one that is made before you stare temptation in the face, and that allows no wiggle room.   Studies show that when people plan out exactly what they will do when temptation arises (e.g., I will have no more than 3 cookies and nothing else), are 2-3 times more likely to achieve their dietary goals.

Tip 3:  Savor.   Savoring is a way of increasing and prolonging our positive experiences.  Taking time to experience the subtle flavors in a piece of dark chocolate, the pungency of a full-flavored cheese, the buttery goodness of a Christmas cookie – these are all acts of savoring, and they help us to squeeze every bit of joy out of the good things that happen to us.

Avoid eating anything in one bite – you get all the calories, but only a fraction of the taste. Also, try not to eat while you are socializing.  When you are focused on conversation, odds are good that you will barely even register what you are putting in your mouth.

Eating slowly and mindfully, taking small bites instead of swallowing that bacon-wrapped scallop or stuffed mushroom whole, not only satisfies your hunger, but actually leaves you feeling happier. 

And that, ideally, is what holiday feasting is all about.

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