The Most Important Tip for Holiday Eating

Wonderful as they may be for everything else, when it comes to sticking to a weight loss plan, holidays can be downright deadly.

Since holiday eating can mean so many things-  family stuff, office parties, special desserts, the inevitable boxes of cookies at the office water cooler- it’s hard to come up with one sure-fire strategy that will work for everyone in all situations.

There is, however, one strategy you can use that will invariably make a difference no matter what the particulars of the situation. And it can be summed up in one word:


Most of us know what we’re going up against in situations where we’ve previously encountered trouble. For some it’s the sight of the Thanksgiving table and relatives you haven’t seen all year. For others, it’s virtually everyone in the office bringing in their aunt’s special Christmas cookies. For still others it’s the stress eating associated with the mixed emotions of family reunions and juggling even more commitments than the usual overload. Even vacations can be stressful, and if they happen to involve airports at holiday time, fuggedaboudit.

Add it all up and you’ve got a potential disaster. You’re looking at emotional and physical overload, and what that means for your waistline (let alone your sense of well-being) is not good.

Rehearsing a problem situation in your mind before it happens helps you to arm yourself with strategies, visualize yourself doing them, and experience the positive results. That way you’re not caught unprepared, and you can actually practice reacting to a variety of dangerous situations.

Rehearsal is what coaches do with their athletes; it’s what boxing trainers do with their fighters. “When he throws that left hook, you step in under and throw a right to the body”, says the coach, basically “rehearsing” the moves his athlete will make using the tools of visualization and planning. Studies have shown improvement in sports performance just by doing visualization exercises. Basketball players who mentally rehearse shots perform better than those who don’t; pianists who spend 30 minutes mentally rehearsing a passage perform that passage almost as well as they would if they had actually physically practiced it.

You can do the same thing with the holidays.

Of course to do this effectively, you have to be clear on what you want to happen. That’s why I like using a tool I call the “proactive food journal”. Here’s how to do it: Pick a day, visualize what it’s going to be like, where you’re going to be and with whom. Think about what food is likely to be available. When you’re likely to be hungry. What the circumstances are going to be. (Is your Aunt Tina going to be there insisting you try her special key lime pie? Are you going to be in a restaurant known for it’s creme brule and homemade breads? Are you going to be in a fast-food restaurant taking care of six  kids? Is your sister that you hate going to be there watching everything you eat and sitting in silent judgment?)

Now write down what you’re going to eat. Decide in advance, and decide early in the day, or the night before. Visualize the situation. If there’s temptation or anxiety, close your eyes and picture it. Hear in your mind’s ear what people will say. See yourself responding in a way that would make you proud of yourself, whatever that is. It might mean allowing yourself one or two bites of something “off your diet”, it might mean being spartan. The point here is not what you choose, but that you choose it.

And that you then stick to it.

As Sondheim wrote, “The choice may have been mistaken. The chosing was not”. The point here is to put you in charge of what happens, not the circumstances.

If you can accomplish that, you have begun a journey that will not only help you manage your weight, but will empower you in all areas of your life.

Here are 7 of my favorite tips on how to use visualization to help you with holiday eating:

  1. Close your eyes and really picture the situation clearly.
  2. Ask yourself whether what’s being offered is going to be something that supports you in what you’re doing or takes you off course.
  3. Decide what you wish to allow yourself to indulge in- if anything- and when you decide to do it, indulge in it with gusto.
  4. Make the choice and take the action.
  5. Don’t arrive hungry. A cup of soup or vegetable juice before arriving at a big event will help keep you in charge of your own actions.
  6. Remember that stress leads to stress eating. Stress management is a critical part of managing weight gain during the holiday season!
  7. If you do indulge, for goodness sake enjoy it!

Have a wonderful and healthy holiday season!

This is just 1 of the terrific articles you’ll find in my eBook Weight Loss Coach Handbook, Volume I