Who else is full swing with “seasonal” celebrations? (Apparently they’re not called Christmas parties any more, even if that IS the reason for the celebration – and I’m hip to the fact that there is more than just Christmas to celebrate this time of year, with Hanukkah, Diwali, and even Festivus get-togethers under way.) Anyhoo, no matter how you slice it or what you call it, there is at least one thing in common with these events, and it’s not the sub-par decor or even the questionable wardrobe choices that at least one attendee inevitably makes.
I’m talking about the FOOD (and the BOOZE)! Food, food, glorious food! All those “special” recipes get pulled out of the recipe box this year (do people still use recipe cards? Do people still have recipe boxes? Listen, young readers, Google it). And again, what they all have in common seems to be a lot of refined, processed carbohydrates, extra FAT and extra calories. Are you feeling freaked out about all that food and all those drinks? Or maybe you just gleefully anticipate your “cheat MONTH” and figure you’ll deal with the fall-out in January.
Well, if you don’t want to completely abandon your health and fitness goals (or your non-elasticized waistbands), this week I’m sharing my top five strategies to eating (and drinking) at these events to stay sane, fit, healthy and happy in the holiday season, without the hangovers and food comas. You can catch the Instagram video series, or find me on Facebook, too!
Ready? It’s time to get tactical!
Match alcohol 1:1 with water
Yup, we’re doing math. I’m talking ratios here (that’s what those dots are in the math world, when they’re not being a colon for English grammar – yes, I am THAT BIG of a nerd!). What I mean is, for every alcoholic beverage you consume, alternate it with AT LEAST one glass of water (still or sparkling). Sparkling water with a splash of lemon or lime and a garnish can be just as enjoyable (and fancier-looking) than a cocktail or a glass of wine or beer.
The water will keep you hydrated and feeling full so that you don’t overdo it on the canapes and will make for a much better day after. Remember when I said that drinking water was good for you? It’s still true.
Choose your meal in advance
This works especially well if you are ordering from a set menu. Or, if you know in advance what the choices on hand will be, you can decide what you really want and what you’re really in the mood for and plan the day around it accordingly, instead of showing up starving and deciding that it ALL looks good. This is similar to the tip I shared in my post on How To Eat Out Healthfully (an article that might be worth a revisit now).
Too many choices can actually lead to overeating simply because we find it harder to make a decision (this is true when it comes to ALL consumption behaviour, from car-shopping to clothes-shopping to selecting travel insurance). Since it ALL looks good, we feel compelled to try a little bit of everything, even things we know aren’t our favourites. So, one way to do this is to create mental “blinders” by pre-selecting a narrower range of acceptable choices. If you’re in the mood for seafood, maybe that means you know you won’t even bother checking out the beef or poultry selections. Or you might know that your Aunt Shirley’s souffle is to die for, so you’re going to beeline to that dish before your cousin Earl scoops it all up.
If you know you’re having a really rich or larger-than-normal dinner, don’t starve yourself leading up to it because that will only lead to fast and ravenous eating (and possibly overeating) at the vent. Just make mindful (and possibly lighter choices) during the day.
At the event, take the time to eat slowly and mindfully and really savour the food. There’s no need to finish it all just because it’s THERE. It’s not actually satisfying to feel comfortably feel and to spend the night tossing and turning with the sweats and panting breaths as you try to accommodate your new food baby. If there’s a way to get a “doggie bag” to alleviate your sense of missing, out, go for it! Or ask for the recipe so that you know you can re-create that eating experience whenever you like.
One polite bite
I’m taking a page out of Jill Coleman’s book, with her strategy of “one polite bite.” (You can read her entire blog on the subject here). If you feel compelled to eat ALLTHETHINGS (or at least try a little bit of everything), then fine: have one polite bite of each. With that “polite” mouthful (read: you can close your mouth without puffing your cheeks out), you are going to really take the time to fully experience the food. This is mindful eating at its finest.
Take a moment to really look at the food and enjoy it with your eyes before you put it in your mouth. Notice the aroma as well – as you likely know, a lot of the experience of taste is closely associated with the sense of smell. Close your eyes while it’s in your mouth so that you can really focus on your other senses. Does it make a sound as you bite into it? Are there subtleties to the flavour that appear as you chew?
Rather than hurriedly gulping snacks from various trays, this approach allows you to fully enjoy and appreciate each food. At a rate of one bite, you’re less likely to go overboard.
Experiment with different strategies
Just as there’s no one “best” diet (approach to eating), and no one best way to exercise, there is no one “right” strategy for holiday eating events. The best strategy is the one that works best FOR YOU. And this might differ from event to event. Maybe it means deciding ahead of time that you are going to have (and be perfectly satisfied with) a designated serving size of a certain food. Maybe it means that you actually won’t eat at the event. Does that lead to bingeing at home afterward, or at the next event, since you were so “good” (restrictive and feeling deprived) at the last one? If you give yourself carte blanche to eat two dozen cookies, will you actually do it? If yes, how does it feel? Would you do it differently the next time?
Maybe you eat a small meal before you go. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you make it a policy to have a plate of raw veggies to take the edge off of your hunger before you have anything else. Maybe you decide that if you’re going to have alcohol, you won’t have any sweets, or vice versa.
Try and see! Each social event is a new opportunity to try different approaches. See what works best FOR YOU; see what doesn’t work well FOR YOU (but might be great for your best friend Suzanne). Learn and adapt!
Woohoo-ery (aka visualization and self-talk)
You are going to visualize and use your words to describe what you want to have happen at the event. Sounds crazy? Not really.
Pro athletes use visualization all of the time. Now, you may not be a pro athlete (not yet, anyway), but your subconscious mind actually does not know the difference between your imagined reality and actual reality (so what is really reality? Ha!). What this means is that you can create a template for your brain and body to follow at the event.
How? Picture yourself there in the fabulous outfit you are going to wear. Imagine being charming, witty and wonderful. Imagine calmly sailing by the trays of food and only taking what you really want and enjoying it thoroughly without overdoing it.
Also, say out loud what you will do at the party. This reinforces your template. Your ears will hear the instructions and add them to the template you are going to follow.
This is high level stuff for my high level tribe (that’s YOU!). You can do it! Try it and see!
Now, if these kinds of strategies are appealing to you, this is the kind of approach to behaviour change that is in my habits-based nutrition coaching. You can learn all about it on my dedicated website.
If you’d like to learn more about working with me, I invite you to fill out an application. Or, simply book a FREE strategy call with me to see what simple changes you can make TODAY to move you closer to your health and fitness goals.
Have a fit day!