Holiday Dieting Tips: How to Indulge Without the Bulge

The best way to stay fit during the holidays is to stay fit all year long.

The holidays are a time of abundance. So how can you celebrate while practicing girth control?

It’s not just what you do during this season, it’s how you eat the rest of the year that truly makes a difference. Keep to a healthier diet leading up to the holidays, to leave room for treats. I can motivate myself to exercise a bit more before the season if I know I’m going to indulge later on.

The key to a healthy diet
The key to a healthy diet is balance.
It helps to view foods as a spectrum of choices, not as rigid “good” and “bad” foods. Once you label foods as “bad,” you may feel you’re a bad person when you eat them. This often leads to a vicious circle, in which you may say, “I feel so bad about cheating that I might as well just eat everything now.”

Instead, find ways to strike a balance: If you indulge one day, eat better the next. Likewise, if you don’t have time to exercise one day, do a little extra the next. Can’t meditate for 20 minutes? Do it for one — consistency is more important than duration.

The people with the best diet overall allow for indulgences. So if you eat a balanced diet, there’s room for the occasional scoop of ice cream. Finding a combination of being mindful of what and how you eat and allowing yourself treats can make the holidays joyful, not stressful.

When someone offers you food at a party or dinner, have a few bites and tell them how delicious it is. Thank them for the love and caring they put into making it for you. That will be more meaningful to them than if you just ate the whole thing. At a buffet, fill part of your plate with foods that are high in fiber and low in fat, sugar and salt, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. Put sauces on the side; dip the tip of your fork in when you take a bite to get the flavor with fewer calories. If you’re hosting a party, try to offer a wide range of choices, from the most healthful to the most indulgent.

In our research, we’ve learned that it’s not enough to focus on diet and exercise; we need to address what motivates us. For many people, the holidays are depressing, and when people are down, they often overeat and drink to numb these feelings of pain. To offset these negative emotions, call a wise friend, do charity work, or talk with your local minister or a therapist. Then, the holidays can be a time for transforming our lives rather than our waistlines.

How we eat is just as important as what we eat. And during the holidays, it’s easy to eat without awareness. At a party, you can down an entire plate of food while your attention is focused on your conversation, not on your meal.

You look down, the plate is empty and you wonder, Did I eat this? You hardly tasted it. You had all the calories without pleasure. Maximum calories, minimum pleasure.

If you eat with awareness, you’ll get more enjoyment with fewer calories. For example, I love chocolate. So I find a piece of premium dark chocolate, close my eyes, smell it and put it in my mouth. With my eyes closed, I notice the flavors and textures and how they change as the chocolate melts in my mouth, like hearing different harmonics in music. After a while, I swallow the chocolate but continue to savor all the flavors that change and evolve over the next few minutes. Do this with any food to experience exquisite pleasure with a small number of calories.

Maximum pleasure, minimum calories.

Originally Published in Reader's Digest

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