Christmas Eve 2015 with friends. Yum.
I’ll never be the one to tell you not to indulge during the holiday season. I love it too much, myself.
To be honest, I don’t shy away from my share of indulgences during the holidays, myself. In fact, I indulge every single day while maintaining my weight. A few bites of ice cream after supper. A chocolate covered pretzel with my coffee as I make my son’s eggs in the morning. Small, sweet, reasonable treats throughout the day make me feel like I’m not depriving myself.
The brilliant book The Willpower Instinct by Dr. Kelly McGonigal discusses a concept that blew my mind. She points out that if you use willpower all day, you’re more likely to cheat at night. For instance, people on diet’s are more likely to cheat on their spouses.
Based on this logic, if you snub your nose at Christmas cookies and eggnog at parties, are you more or less likely to overdo it all in one sitting? Probably more.
Living A Life Of Sweet, Well-Earned Indulgences
I’ve struggled more than most with food. I have dabbled with every eating disorder on the planet, in fact it’s the subject of my next book.
But the hardest thing about living a life of restriction is that our entire lives revolve around food. And there’s a good reason for that. Food fights disease, burns fat, gives us energy, and makes us happy. We can’t live without a well-rounded diet. You must enjoy fats, carbs, and even cholesterol to survive.
Meeting somebody for good or drinks is really the adult equivalent of, “hey, wanna go play at the park?” It’s generally how adults socialize.
The difference between full-on binging and enjoying reasonable indulgences is in your frame of mind. If you eat cleanly Monday through Thursday but binge on the weekends with booze or pizza, you’re not doing yourself any favors. But if your daily practice is one of mindfulness towards food and drink, you can have reasonable indulgences every single day.
Around the table is where we gather to make friends, rekindle old flames, honor those who’ve passed, and challenge one another in our respective life journeys.
I have a huge Italian family that is tightly knit and tethered to one very special place: Chicago.
Growing up in a huge Italian family meant that Saturday mornings my father would wake up early to make dough that would become bread we’d dip in olive oil and Caprese salad, or pizzas we’d scarf down after my three siblings and I returned from baseball practice, gymnastics, or sledding outside on a cold winter day.
In my twenties, food went from being a source of happiness to a source of deep pain. I didn’t understand fats, sugars, protein, or the importance of organic foods. I struggled as a vegan for two years and a vegetarian for seven – but I kept gaining and gaining weight.
Finally I put my foot down and took my life back. I began working as the apprentice of a brilliant fitness and bodybuilding expert and started to see the error of my ways. Most importantly – my confusion around food finally turned back into a deep love, and passion for cooking!
Instead of dreading the holidays – where my family will make homemade lasagna, ravioli, and dozens of loaves of soft, gooey breads – I have found the key to making the holidays a time of TRIUMPH again in my fitness and nutrition goals.
Here are 12 Mindsets I use on the holidays, as well as the rest of the year, to keep trim while enjoying plenty of treats.
12 Ways To Indulge (Everyday) Without Weight Gain
Bring Your Own Food. There are two benefits to contributing to the meal, whether it’s at your house or at the home of a loved one.
1. It’s generally the polite thing to do. Don’t show up empty-handed! Plus, if you’re a guest at somebody’s home, you can’t expect them to fuss with a 100-year-old family green bean casserole recipe on account of your not eating bacon… err… you get the point.
2. Nobody is going to care about your weight loss goals like you do. Even if they say they do – it’s unreasonable to expect people to cook around your diet.
It’s for these reasons that I recommend bringing a snack to share with everybody. I love to bring homemade chick pea or white bean hummus with tons of veggies. If the party is lacking healthy options, I’ve got something to fill me up while I politely pick at the pound cake.
Another one of my favorite snacks to bring to the holidays is a seafood platter with shrimp, gluten-free low-sugar cocktail sauce, grilled calamari, and even some fish roe that I get for a reasonable price at a local Asian foods store. This is a very fitting dish with my Southern Italian family. If you’re attending the party of a more “beer-n-brats” type gathering, bring something low-key that people can still slather in chemical-laden ranch dressing if they choose, like a roasted vegetable plate.
Veggie platters don’t have to be the overpriced grocery store version with fatty, sugary salad dressings in the middle. Head to the local organics section for Belgium Endive, Snap Peas, Baby Zucchini, Asparagus in every color… and Radishes!
2. Juice Before You Let Loose
My sister Val is notorious for stopping at the coffee shop for a hot tea with milk or a latte before holiday gatherings. A professional dancer for many years, she was under intense pressure to keep her tummy taut throughout the season. This has become one of my favorite tricks for holiday healthfulness!
I stop at the Whole Foods or local juice bar before attending a party to get a nice green juice. I sip the juice before arriving so that I won’t be hungry during the snacking phase of a party. I may nibble on some olives, veggies, or protein-packed snack, but it keeps me satisfied until the main meal is served.
When I’m really in a rush, I arrive at the party empty-handed, but request a cup of hot water for my Oolong tea with honey and sip that for an hour or so in order to pace myself for the long, food-filled parties my family throws.
3. Make Wise Booze Choices
For a plethora of personal and health reasons, I don’t drink hard liquor. The hardest liquor I consume is pinot noir. But I love that pinot just about every day ending in “y”. A glass, maybe two once in a while, satisfies me immensely. I don’t get tipsy and I still make awesome food choices despite the wine.
I find that most parties, weddings, and celebrations tend to provide an abundance of drinks with high-sugar, empty calories, and inevitable hangovers. My trick is to show up with a nice bottle of wine – something that’s a treat to drink. Sipping a delicious wine and really focusing on it’s flavors, aromas, and texture helps me drink slowly, and minimally. Wine has unbelievable health benefits, such as antioxidants and the resveratrol in wine is linked to a healthier heart.
I also volunteer to be the designated driver at virtually every gathering I attend. It makes me feel good to know that my loved ones are in safe hands, and it forces me to “cut myself off” before drinking too much.
4. Beware of Portion Distortion
Nothing can keep me away from my Grandma’s Homemade Ravioli or my Mom’s Famous Breakfast Casserole (I included a gluten-free version in this book), but instead of twelve raviolis, I fill my plate with salad and have one piece of each filling.
Instead of two slices of my dad’s to-die-for homemade bread, I eat the crusty end of the loaf – my favorite part and a decidedly smaller piece than the massive gooey middle of the bread.
5. Don’t Deny Yourself
Why am I to turn my nose at fine champagne or my Aunt Diana’s mouth-watering meatballs? The key is portion control. I don’t go back to the crock pot with my toothpick four or five times for meatballs. Instead I take one, try a reasonable bit – savor that bite and let my mouth and taste buds enjoy the fatty meat and fruity sugars – and share the rest with somebody who isn’t watching their diet. I rarely had a problem taking half-portions or small bites of anything. Maybe at first I did. But now I’m just so used to it that devouring an entire cookie mindlessly just doesn’t often happen. I munch my favorite parts – the raisins, the chocolate chips, or the sprinkles and stop when I’m satisfied.
In fact, you enjoy the food MORE when you savor each bite slowly than if you scarf down seventeen meatballs. Instead of a glass of champagne every hour – I’ll have a half a glass with my dessert. That way I’m enjoying a sugary drink instead of 700 calories of French Silk pie. And frankly, I prefer to drink my dessert as it is!
6. Choose Your Battles…
There are some foods that I absolutely won’t touch at parties. It’s good to use a bit of discretion – or even to be resolute about certain foods. There’s something wickedly cool that happens in the brain when you make a choice. When you willfully choose to do something – your brain is filled with chemicals that fill you with a sense of reward.
The more we practice the art of willfully choosing a course of action – or saying “no” to foods that nobody should ever eat – like Velveeta cheese dips – the easier it becomes to practice self-control on a regular basis.
If you have ever suffered from addiction, you know that until you cultivate these higher self-control processes, you feel like a an teenager on the school yard who falls into smoking or drinking habits – it’s harder to say no to things when you haven’t practiced. Your brain – and your body – will become stronger with each good choice you make.
7. Use Your Guests To Divert Your Attention From Mindless Munching
Parties with tons of tempting food left out for hours is a prime place to binge mindlessly, and needlessly. My favorite way to divert my attention from food and booze at a party is to play with kids. I have tons of cousins and it’s easy to spend hours running around, playing games, or throwing a ball with them.
In Chicago one of my favorite holiday pastimes is getting bundled up and creating a snowman with the kids. It’s amusing for the guests – and it’s an incredible workout. Make a game of it: take a group with you to have a holiday scavenger hunt or sing a carol to your favorite neighbor.
8. Don’t Drown In Dip
It’s rare to find a dip that isn’t loaded with high-fructose corn syrup, MSG, and preservatives. One way to stay on-track with your holiday is to avoid dips altogether, or else to dip very modestly. Ketchup, dressings, barbecue sauces, and cheese dips are the nastiest offenders.
Instead of dunking your veggies into a bath of chemicals, bring an organic hummus on-hand that will give you protein, vitamins, and is just as satisfying on your veggies.
Opt for mustard instead of ketchup on your grilled foods and if the menu calls for steak sauce or barbecue – find a special gluten-free one and offer it as a gift to the host or hostess. One trick I use when going to a barbecue is to find a high-end bottle of sauce that is locally made, organic, and gluten-free. Now you don’t look like you’re not gracious to your host – you’re presenting your healthier option as a gift to the party-thrower!
9. Be Sweet… But Picky!
Loading up on turkey and salad is the easy part of a holiday meal. But what if you’re suddenly confronted with a room full of ice cream, pies, cakes, candies, and coffee drinks? This is one of the easiest ways to take an otherwise healthy meal and blow it. My trick has become a fun game for the whole family. Everybody wants to try every treat – but it seems like each family brings enough dessert to feed the whole party! That’s when we cut a couple slices of each piece and put them on plates with a few forks around each plate. Now I’ll taste my Mom’s homemade pies while also getting a reasonable bite of my sister’s amazing cannoli. Or if there’s just one dessert you must have – cut yourself a mini-slice and slowly savor each bite.
You may find that the first bit is out of the world – and by the end you’ve spent so much time savoring and appreciating the dessert that you don’t need to finish it!
10. Make Post-Party Plans…
My father loves to make post-holiday plans that keep him and my mom on track the day after a party – when most people want to sleep in and gorge themselves with fried eggs and toast in front of a football game. Since moving to Colorado, I’ve started a tradition of going on a hike the day after the holiday. We all pile into cars and trek a few hours south of where they live to hike trails. It gives us a reason to burn beaucoup calories – and spend quality time together as a family. Nobody associates it with working out – everybody sees this as a cherished family adventure.
Plan an activity the day after your holiday that will inevitably get you back on track with your weight loss goals, and provide you with quality family time.
Bring Your Own Healthy Dips or Appetizers to Share
If you’re preoccupied with thoughts of calories and weight loss, your holiday will be anything BUT merry. If you enter the holidays feeling confident about your workout routine, weight loss successes, and realistic about your goals – you will BE stronger. At the bottom of every email I write is this quote:
“A Person Is Limited Only By The Thoughts That He Chooses” ~James Allen
Go into your holiday season envisioning all the ways you will stay fit, and merry! Visualize yourself using all these tricks to conquer the food frenzies. Envision yourself going to bed at night after the holiday party and feeling fit, sober, and satisfied. Know that you have already maintained your weight loss goals over the holiday season… you’re just waiting for the universe to catch up to what you’ve already accomplished.
REMEMBER: If you believe it, you WILL achieve it!
12. Don’t Skip Breakfast or Lunch
One weight maintenance mistake people make at the holidays is starving themselves all day so that they can frankly gorge themselves over the meal. I assure you, the hostess doesn’t feel more appreciated when you can’t stay awake for dessert.
Eat a reasonable breakfast or lunch before you party, which will help you make more wise food choices AND keep your metabolism revving all day. If you wait to eat until the party, your body will greedily store fat as a method of protecting itself from the starvation you’ve put it through.
In addition, don’t drink gallons of water with your meal. It leads to indigestion. Drink water before you eat. It will allow you to make better choices. So often, we eat when we’re actually thirsty!
You can do this!