It’s that time of year again.  Fall continues to fall, which is bringing us ever closer to the first big holiday of the season:  Thanksgiving.  With it comes family, food, festivities and fun.  Then, about four weeks later, many people celebrate Christmas.  One week after that, we welcome the New Year. 

After that, then, and only as a matter of personal opinion, are the three longest months of the years.  The festivities are over, the decorations are packed up—or are overdue to be packed up if they aren’t already.  And, if you live in the Midwest and many other parts of the United States, Old Man Winter takes up his annual residency.  If you like winter, then you are in luck.  If not—like me, it is a tough time of year.

The holidays can be a joyous time of year for many people, and I hope it is for you, too.  However, the few months after can be time of reckoning for some people.  The family is gone and the party is over.  Perhaps you spent too much money on them for gifts and festivities, and you have new debt.   This can equal new stress.

Finally, and for purposes of this post, if you are like many of us, you may have one more post-holiday stress to deal with:  weight gain.  I certainly hope you don’t ever have that concern, but if you do, I want to provide some ideas and tips that are simple and easy to implement in order to prevent this before it becomes a problem in January, February and March. 

It is important to realize that nearly every human fights an internal battle between what we want, and what we know is best for us.  Too often, the human brain acts as a toddler, throwing a fit if it doesn’t get its way.  The good news is that like toddlers, it often responds positively to structure and discipline.

The brain loves patterns, loves to go down a familiar road.  At the holidays, most of us have made a habit of partaking of many kinds of good food, and likely over-indulging.  This is the default mode, and it is the path of least resistance.  It is the most familiar route, so we simply take it, because it is easy, and the path is well-worn. 

The key is to change the way we think about it.  Approaching the holiday table with a clear-cut intention to change our old patterns is the first step.  Fixing this intention in our minds, telling ourselves I am going to eat a normal amount of good food, I will not overindulge.  And, I will enjoy small amounts of the food that may not be quite as good for me. Eating the goodies is good for the soul, provided they are in small amounts.

Much like you would fix a small plate of goodies for a toddler, you need to fix yourself a small plate first in your mind, then on your real plate. 

Beginning this practice ahead of the holidays allows you time to get used to smaller portions.  At mealtime when you dish up your plate, simply put a few less bites on your plate.  If you are not satisfied after the meal, after giving yourself a few minutes to resist, then return to the serving bowl.

Along these lines are a few other suggestions to practice before the holidays:

  • Leave a few bites on your plate at the end of the meal.  Most people were taught not to waste food, but it will certainly look better left on your plate than accumulating on your hips and stomach.  In time, simply taking smaller portions will become easier, and there will be no waste.
  • It takes a few minutes for your stomach to register that you are indeed full, and then communicate it to your brain.  Giving yourself about five minutes to sit and decide if you really do need more is important.  Walking away from the table will decrease the temptation to take more right away.
  • If you are feeding small children, resist the temptation to clean their plates if they don’t.  Trust me, as the mother of grown sons, I can attest that this is not necessary to be a good parent!
  • If you are eating out, ask for a box as soon as your meal arrives, and pack half of it.  Most restaurant meals are large enough to provide two meals.  Take the other half for lunch the next day.  Or, if you are eating with someone you are comfortable enough with to split the meal, consider ordering one entrée.
  • So, that brings us back to the holiday table.

  • Fill your plate with vegetables first, and after you have finished those, then go back for the not-as-nourishing food.
  • If you are bringing something to the party, make a vegetable tray with your favorite vegetables so that you will have this defense.
  • Drink a large glass of water 5 minutes before you partake.  This will help with hydration—obviously, but it will likely fill you up a bit.
  • If you are hankering for sweet stuff, or more of it after you have already eaten it, try eating a pickle, an olive or some other bitter food.  The bitterness often cancels out the craving for sweets.
  • Eating a small square of dark chocolate may satisfy your craving for something sweet.  It contains less sugar than milk chocolate, and typically doesn’t leave you craving more.
  • Getting enough sleep is an important defense in controlling your appetite.  Studies have shown that the hormone ghrelin increases in production when you are tired.  It is known as the ‘hunger hormone.’
  • Chew twice as long as you normally would.  This slows down your rate of intake, and allows you to relish the same amount of food with equal enjoyment as if you took more.  Also, saliva production increases as you chew, and this aids digestion.
  • Above all, be sure to enjoy yourself.  Eating good food you enjoy is one of the greatest pleasures in life.  In my work as a speech/language pathologist with adults in the medical setting, I also provide therapy for swallowing disorders. I often have to restrict or forbid food intake altogether.  In the most severe cases, a feeding tube is required for nutrition and hydration when the swallow muscles are not strong enough to swallow safely and protect the airway from food and liquid “going down the wrong way,” as we all do once in a while.  With many of my patients, this happens too often, and they cannot safely swallow.    It is heartbreaking.

    If you have the ability to swallow safely, and I hope you do, please be grateful for the gift that it is, and exercise the swallow muscles with small bites and sips.  Again, be sure to enjoy the good food of the season—within reason.