Top 10 Holiday Diet Tips

We asked our Facebook Community for their favorite tips and tricks for sticking to their plan during the holiday season. Here are our favorite tips:

  1. Make Holiday-specific Response Cards (and maybe a Holiday-specific Advantages List detailing why it’s worth it to stay on track during the holidays) and read them multiple time a day, every day.
  2. Bring healthy alternatives to holiday parties and events and challenge yourself to try new, healthier recipes.
  3. Remember that the holidays are not just about eating. Work on finding non-food related ways to celebrate the holidays.
  4. Send guests home with the leftovers and get rid of anything else that’s really tempting (or make a plan for exactly when and how much you’ll have).
  5. Write out plans for how you’ll handle holiday meals and events. If things don’t go according to plan, take time after to figure out why it happened and what you can do to stay on track the next time.
  6. Don’t skip meals during the holidays to “save” calories. Doing so means you’ll likely go into holiday meals very hungry and also with the thought, “It’s okay to eat [a lot] extra because I skipped lunch.” When dieters have that thought, they often eat way more calories than they would have if they had a healthy lunch and a reasonable dinner.
  7. The holidays are a busy time for most people, but also a stressful time. When dieters get busy, they sometimes drop their stress-relieving activities (like exercise, meditation, talking to friends, etc.) and so they’re much more likely to turn to food to alleviate stress. This holiday season, make sure you have built-in stress relievers!
  8. Portion control, portion control, portion control. Put forth the time and effort to really savor everything you’re eating and you’ll get so much more enjoyment from less food.
  9. If you’re feeling deprived, remind yourself that it’s likely because you’re focusing on what you’re not getting – extra food, not on what you are getting – all the benefits of staying on track. If you feel deprived, change your focus.
  10. Don’t stop weighing yourself, even if you’re afraid you’ve gained weight. Avoiding the scale will allow you to continue to avoid doing what you know you should do. Taking accountability will make it easier and more likely that you’ll be able to get back and stay on track.

Treats in the Office Kitchen

One of the biggest challenges that makes staying on track with healthy eating difficult during the holidays is what dieters find when they walk into their office kitchens.  The fact of the matter is, it often seems like there is extra (tempting) food everywhere during the holidays, but the office kitchen is definitely one of the biggest culprits.  We’re not going to sugar-coat this (no pun intended): managing the office kitchen during the holidays is difficult but it absolutely can be done with three key elements:

  1. A really good plan
  2. Strategies to put that plan into action
  3. Extra determination

The first part of managing the office kitchen is having a plan.  For most dieters, it almost never works to just “wing it” (meaning, go into a situation without a firm plan and with the thought that they’ll just figure it out when the time comes) but this is especially true during the holidays. When there are so many extra temptations around, having a clear plan is critical.  When making a plan for treats at the office, it’s important that your plan is both reasonable and realistic.  If your plan is too restrictive or unreasonable, then ultimately you won’t be able to follow it anyway and will likely end up throwing it out the window and eating way more than you would have, had you made a more reasonable plan that you were able to stick with.DSC_0051

Some of our clients have plans such as: one reasonable treat a day from the office kitchen; one treat every Friday; one treat every other day; etc.  A plan that we, ourselves, use and that many of our clients have since adopted is this: no treats from the office kitchen ever (unless it’s an office party).  If there’s something in there we really want, we take a portion home and have it after dinner. This plan works so beautifully for us.  It makes it so much easier to resist treats at work because we’re able to remind ourselves, “It’s not that I’m not having this food, I’m just not having it right now. But I absolutely can have it later, and when I do, I’ll be able to really enjoy it fully without guilt.”  It also works well because we only bring home one portion at a time so even if we really want more when we’ve finished, there’s no more to be had!

Once you have your plan, you then need strategies to help you stick to it.  One extremely helpful strategy is to make Response Cards for any sabotaging thoughts you think you’re likely to have about sticking to your plan.  Here are some sample sabotaging thoughts and Response Cards.


Sabotaging Thought: It’s okay just this one time to not stick to my office holiday treats plan.

Response Card - It’s okay just this one time to not stick to my office holiday treats plan. (1)

Sabotaging Thought: I’m going to eat this unplanned treat because I just don’t care.

Response Card - I’m going to eat this unplanned treat because I just don’t care. (1)

Sabotaging Thought: It’s too hard to stick to my plan.

Response Card - It’s too hard to stick to my plan.

Sabotaging Thought: It’s okay to eat [this unplanned treat] because everyone else is.

 Response Card - It’s okay to eat [this unplanned treat] because everyone else is. (4)

Just making Response Cards and looking at them every once in a while is probably not good enough during the holidays.  Once you have your cards, it’s important to start reading them every day, at least once a day, as a matter of course. Doing so will start cementing these helpful thoughts in your head. In addition to reading them once a day, consider reading them again during difficult moments at work. If, for example, you know that 4:00 is a vulnerable time for you, set an alarm on your phone and read your cards again every day at 3:45.  Or if you know going into the office kitchen to get your lunch puts you in direct contact with tempting treats, read your cards right before venturing into the kitchen.

Another strategy that can be helpful in dealing with office treat cravings is to have distractions at the ready.  Remember that cravings really are like itches in that the more you pay attention to them, the worse they get. The moment you get really distracted is the moment the craving goes away. Having a list of distracting activities to try when a craving strikes can help you even more quickly turn your attention to something else.  Some potential distractions are: take a walk, go talk to a co-worker, call a friend or family member, write an email to someone, check news or sports headlines, look at social media, do a crossword puzzle or Sudoku puzzle, read your Response Cards, read a blog post, online shop, and so on.

You may also want to pay attention to how long your cravings actually last. Most of the dieters we work with tell us that their cravings usually last somewhere between three to fifteen minutes.  Even if your craving lasts a full fifteen minutes, it will eventually go away.  Seeing how long they last can help you remind yourself that the discomfort is temporary, and that you’re only x minutes away from success.

We know that office treats are tough to handle, but the more you work on it, the better you will get.  Make a plan, make Response Cards, and have distractions ready.  Then you’ll be ready to do battle and win!

Common Holiday Sabotaging Thoughts

Everyone knows that it’s harder to stay on track with healthy eating during the holidays, and most people assume that it’s because there are so many more parties, eating events, and treats out during this time.  While that’s accurate, it’s only part of the picture. The truth is that what really makes the holidays so hard are the sabotaging thoughts that people have that they aren’t able to respond effectively to. It’s never a party that directly gets someone off track, it’s when she has sabotaging thoughts while at the party, like, “I won’t be able to have fun unless I indulge.”  Learning to identify, in advance, what sabotaging thoughts you’re likely to have and coming up with responses to them ahead of time is the missing link between wanting to stay on track during the holidays and actually being able to do so. Below are four of the most common diet sabotaging thoughts that we hear and some helpful responses to them.  If you find any of these responses helpful, consider making your own Response Cards and reading them every single day from today until January 1st.

1. I only get this food once a year.

When dieters are telling us about a holiday meal that didn’t go as well as they’d have liked, part of the problem tends to be that they overate food and justified it with the thought that they “never get this food” or “it’s the only time of year I can eat it.”  The truth of the matter is that in this day in age, there is almost no food that can’t be bought, ordered, or made 365 days a year. While it’s true individuals many never think to make a certain food at other times during the year, or only come in contact with it organically during the holidays, that doesn’t mean that they can’t find/make/buy it at other times.  Also, it’s good to keep in mind that it’s true the holidays are only once a year, but they’re once a year every year, so it’s never the last opportunity to have something. While it is certainly fair to eat reasonable portion of favorite holiday foods, it doesn’t work to go overboard on those foods. Reminding yourself that you never need to overeat a food because you can and will have it again can help you stay on track around favorite holiday foods.

Response Card - I only get this food once a year

2. I have to do things the way I’ve always done them or someone will be disappointed.

Dieters often put themselves in traps when thinking about the holidays.  They think that they have to do things the way they’ve always done them or there will be negative consequences, such as disappointing someone or themselves. The truth of the matter is that they way they’ve always done things probably just doesn’t work, not if they’re trying to stay on track with their eating during the holidays. If dieters want this year to go better, it means they have to do things differently. While it’s true that others may be temporarily disappointed if you, say, decide to only make three kinds of Christmas cookies instead of ten, or go out and buy some holiday food to save yourself the time and energy of making it, it’s likely that the disappointment won’t be as great or as long-lasting as you’re fearing.  And they’ll get over it, probably in much less time then it will take you to lose the extra pounds you put on as a result of not making changes.  It’s important to keep in mind that traditions can always be changed and new ones can always be instituted.  If you start the tradition this year of taking a walk after Thanksgiving dinner instead of picking at leftovers, in few years that will start to feel like a time-honored tradition – and one that will help you reach your goals instead of taking your farther away from them.

Response Card - I have to do things the way I’ve always done them or someone will be disappointed.

3. I’ve already been messing up, I’ve blown it so I’ll just wait until the New Year to get back on track.

This is a thought that often plagues dieters who start out trying to have a healthy holiday season, get off track at some point, and just decide that their efforts are wasted and they might as well wait until January 1st to start working on healthy eating again.  We are here to tell you: Don’t buy into that thought! And here’s why: First of all, it is impossible to blow it for the holiday season. It just doesn’t work that way. It is possible to get off track at one party, and then get off track at the next, and then get off track again at the third. But it’s also possible to get off track at one party, recover, and do fantastically well during the rest of the parties.  There is always, always the option of recovering and making the rest of the days until January 1 great days.  And in doing so, it means that you don’t gain weight (or gain less weight), start out the New Year in a much stronger position, and likely have a happier holiday season.  Remind yourself – just because you were on the highway and missed your exit, it doesn’t mean you have to spend the rest of the day driving in the wrong direction.  You can always get off at the next exit, turn around, and get right back on track.  The same is true with dieting. Just because you make a mistake, you can always catch yourself, recover, and get right back on track. In the same way you wouldn’t’ keep driving in the wrong direction, don’t keep making mistakes!

Response Card - I have to do things the way I’ve always done them or someone will be disappointed. (1)

4. I won’t be able to enjoy myself during the holidays if I have to work on healthy eating.

In reality, the opposite of this thought is usually true. When dieters decide to throw healthy eating out the window and get off track, it actually puts a negative tint on the holidays because they spend time feeling badly about their eating, worrying about gaining weight, and dealing with the nagging knowledge that they’re going to have to face up to all this in the New Year.  By contrast, when dieters work on staying on track, it often helps them feel so much better during the holidays because they feel confident in themselves and what they’re doing.  No one (at least no one we’ve ever met!) has ever gone to bed after a really great, on-track eating day and thought, “Well, I shouldn’t have done that.” It just doesn’t happen!

Response Card - I won’t be able to enjoy myself during the holidays if I have to work on healthy eating. (1)

In Session with Debbie: Mistakes

I’ve been working with my client, Rachel, for about a month. In session last Thursday I found out that one night earlier in the week she had gotten into her kids’ Halloween candy and ended up eating way too much of it. Rachel told me that this made her feel really terrible and made her question whether or not she could even do this thing (i.e. lose weight and keep it off). It was clear to me that Rachel was being extraordinarily hard on herself about making this mistake and she was catastrophizing, thinking that because she messed up once it meant she couldn’t ever get it right.

I first reminded Rachel that learning to diet really is like learning any other skill and that mistakes are an inevitable part of any learning experience. I asked Rachel if there was another skill she has learned in which she wasn’t terribly hard on herself when she made a mistake. Rachel told me that several years ago she taught herself to sew. “I made a lot of mistakes in the beginning and none of my early pieces turned out exactly how I wanted them to.” I asked Rachel what she did when this happened, and Rachel said that she just took time to figure out what went wrong and how to correct the mistakes the next time. “And imagine if every time you made a sewing mistake, you told yourself how terrible that was and questioned whether or not you could ever really learn to do it.” “I probably would have given up,” she told me. But because Rachel was accepting of those mistakes, she learned from them, got better, and eventually learned to sew everything she wanted to.

The reality is that thinking she’ll never make a dieting mistake is just as far-fetched and detrimental as it would have been if Rachel thought she should have learned to sew without ever making a mistake. I also asked Rachel how long she’s been struggling with her weight. “It seems like my whole life,” she told me. “At least 30 years.” I reminded Rachel that she’s only been working on these new ideas for a month¬ – and asked her if it seemed realistic to expect that she would get everything down perfectly in 30 days, after over 30 years of not doing these things. “No,” she admitted with a laugh.

I knew that it was important for Rachel to recognize ahead of time that she is going to make mistakes and she can’t have the expectation that she’ll be perfect. If she expects to be perfect, then each mistake will feel like a huge failure and demoralize her greatly. And the more demoralized she feels, the harder it will be to get back on track. If, by contrast, she makes a mistake and is kind and accepting towards herself, she’ll be in a much better position to recover immediately.

Rachel told me that she understood what I was saying but still didn’t think that she would be able to remember it when she made a mistake. I agreed with her that just hearing this one time in session likely wouldn’t make that much of a difference. What she needed to do was write down these ideas and practice reading them every single day. The more she reads them, the more they will get in her head, and that’s when it can really start to make a difference. Rachel made the following Response Card and committed to reading it every single day for the foreseeable future:

Response Card - Rachel

In Session with Debbie: Facing Dessert

I’ve been working with my client, Joe, for a few months and he has been doing exceptionally well at getting his eating under control. When I saw him last week, he told me about a number of events he had been to over the past week and described how well he had done at them. As I was listening, I noticed that he said one phrase multiple times: “And I didn’t have any dessert.” I asked him about this, and Joe told me that the few times he tried to have dessert he ate way too much, so now he just doesn’t have it at all.

I discussed with Joe that while this may work as a short-term strategy, avoiding dessert would very likely not enable him to lose weight and keep it off long-term. The reason for this is because Joe is being all-or-nothing about dessert – either he doesn’t have any or he has too much. While it has (temporarily) been working for Joe to have no dessert, I knew he wouldn’t be able to stick to that forever. Joe really likes dessert, and so it’s practically a guarantee that at some point he’s going to get very tempted and end up having some. And if he doesn’t know how to stay in control, he’s going to eat way too much, reinforce bad habits, get off track, and jeopardize his weight loss and his sense of control. I also didn’t want Joe to be fearful going into dessert situations, wondering whether or not this would be the time he wouldn’t be able to resist. I knew that if Joe didn’t learn to eat a reasonable amount of dessert, he would continually boomerang between having none and having too much, which would likely eventually lead to weight gain.

I told Joe that I thought it was really important for us to start working on him having reasonable portions of dessert, and although he was wary, Joe agreed to try. I asked him if there was a dessert opportunity coming up this week, and he told me that he was going to a barbeque over the weekend that would almost certainly have a table full of desserts.

Joe and I then spent the rest of the session preparing him to go to the barbeque and have one dessert. We first discussed some strategies: Joe would look at all the desserts before deciding what to have, he would put whatever he was going to eat on a plate, and he would sit down and eat it very slowly and mindfully, savoring every bite. Joe and I then discussed what he wanted to say to himself before and after he had his one dessert, to ensure that he was able to maintain his control.

Before he ate dessert, Joe decided that he would read his Advantages List and remind himself why it was worth it to limit himself to just one. After he ate dessert, Joe decided that he would read the following Response Card:

Joe emailed me Saturday night and told me that the barbeque was a success! For one of the first times in recent memory, Joe was able to face an entire spread of dessert and not be all-or-nothing about it. Joe said that reading his Advantages List and Response Card greatly helped him keep his head in the right place and he left the party feeling so proud of himself. Joe agreed to keep working on the skill of having one dessert and knows that this will help him ultimately keep weight off for good.

In Session with Debbie: Realistic Perspective

This week, I had a session with my client, Joe.  Joe has been doing well the last few weeks but when we met yesterday, he wasn’t in a good place.  Very dejectedly, he told me that he had had a really bad day yesterday and was now struggling and feeling defeated.  When I heard this, my first thought was not, “Uh, oh, that’s bad. How can I help him recover?”  Rather, it was more along the lines of, “That’s interesting. I wonder if that’s entirely accurate.”  I knew that Joe, like many of the clients I work with, tends to be very hard on himself and sees mistakes as an all-or-nothing thing: once he makes one mistake, it means the whole day is bad.

To find out whether or not Joe was accurately reporting how yesterday went, I asked him to take me through the day and tell me what he ate.  He told me that he had his normal breakfast, lunch was a sandwich and some other things he had brought from home, but then dinner got messy. Although he ate the healthy food his wife had cooked, he ended up taking seconds and eating too much.  He also then got tempted by the ice cream in the freezer, and despite not being hungry, ate some straight from the carton which really made him feel mad at himself.

I pointed out to Joe that it sounded like the whole day until dinner went well.  “And was there any food earlier in the day that you wanted to eat but didn’t?” I asked him. Joe told me that he had resisted bagels and muffins at an office breakfast and walked by the vending machine three times that day without buying chips.  “So yesterday, you ate a healthy breakfast, then resisted bagels and muffins, ate your healthy planned lunch, and resisted chips three times. Is that right?” I asked him.  Joe agreed that this was correct.  “What does this tell you about your earlier assertion that yesterday was a really bad day?” I asked him.  Joe admitted that perhaps that wasn’t entirely true. “But I still got really off track at dinner time,” he said.  I agreed with him that it was true dinner and after dinner didn’t go as he would want, but that in no way negates all of the other good work he did that day.  Focusing only on the parts that he wished had gone better was taking a negative, distorted picture of how the day really went. If we counted up all of his eating experiences yesterday, the vast majority were ones he could be proud of.

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I discussed with Joe why it was so important for him to maintain a realistic perspective on how yesterday really went.  “If you say to yourself that yesterday was just a really bad day, how does that make you feel?” I asked him. “Terrible,” he said. “If, by contrast, you say to yourself that dinner and after dinner got a bit messy but the whole rest of the day went really well and you were able to stay on track and resist many cravings up until dinner, how does that make you feel?” “Better,” he admitted.  The problem with dieters telling themselves, inaccurately, that a whole day was bad is that, like Joe, it makes them feel terrible and defeated.  This saps their motivation and makes it much, much harder for them to get back on track and do what they need to do. If, however, they keep mistakes in perspective and are able to see that often the whole day wasn’t bad, it makes them feel much better and less defeated, which keeps their motivation up and makes it easier to do what they need to do.

Once Joe was able to see that yesterday really wasn’t the crushing defeat he was making it out to be in his head, he clearly felt a lot better and told me he was much more confident that today would go well. I reminded him that at this point, we really only needed to troubleshoot dinner and after dinner because he mostly was able to be very successful the rest of the day. Nothing Joe and I did in session changed what had happened yesterday, but once he was able to view the day realistically, what did change entirely was his attitude and his mood – which would directly impact his ability to stay on track and keep moving forward.

Eating While Driving

One of the early skills we work on with clients is the skill of eating everything slowly and mindfully. This is such a helpful skill in so many ways: when dieters eat more slowly, it gives their stomachs a chance to catch up with what they’ve eaten and they get fuller faster; it allows dieters to be satisfied with less food because they get so much enjoyment from the food they do eat; it helps cut down on mindless eating and snacking, which can reduce overall calorie intake, and so much more.  In order to put this skill into place, one of the guidelines we give dieters is, as best they can, no eating in the car.  We work with dieters on not eating while driving for three important reasons.

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First, when dieters are driving, hopefully the vast majority or their attention is on the road. This means that their food is getting a fraction of their attention at best. And when dieters eat without paying attention, they don’t feel as satisfied physically or psychologically and they often want to eat more.

The second reason we work on not eating while driving is because many dieters we’ve worked with tend to do secret eating while driving.  I’ve had many dieters describe to me how they stop at the fast food drive-thru and eat a meal on their way home from work (before coming home to eat dinner with the family), or how they buy a big bag of something sweet or crunchy and snack their entire commute home.  Something about being alone in the car, when no one is watching, gives dieters a false sense that what they’re doing doesn’t really “count” in some way. But of course, our bodies don’t know if 100 people are watching us eat or no one is watching us eat; they process all calories the same regardless.

A third reason we work with dieters on not eating while driving is because, if they eat while they drive, it tends to reinforce the notion that they have to or should eat every time they feel like it, or at the very moment they start to experience hunger.  Unless our clients are driving far distances or have terribly long commutes, most of them are not in the car for long stretches of time.  Working on delaying eating until they get to their destination is a helpful tool in teaching dieters not to fear hunger.

In order to help dieters put this skill into place, sometimes we have to be creative.  One of my clients was a sales rep who drove from place to place each day and spent most of his working day in the car.  We worked out a strategy where he could eat in his car – just not while he was driving. We decided it was perfectly reasonable for him to eat lunch in his car, as long as he was parked somewhere.  Another client of mine really loved to break up her drive home by stopping in at a convenience store and chatting with the clerk with whom she had become friendly.  In this case, we decided it was reasonable for her to continue doing this, but the only thing she would buy would be water (and we agreed that water was the only food/beverage that was okay to consume while driving). We also agreed that if she ever broke this and got more than water, she’d have to cut it out entirely (at least for a period of time).

Eating in the car can be a difficult habit to initially break, but once dieters are able to get themselves to stop doing so, it can do a world of good.


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