Halloween may be in the rearview mirror but the candy still lurks – beckoning, tempting, luring. And, even as the pile of empty calories shrinks, the onslaught awaits: Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Years, oh my! It’s time to institute a strategy to get through the hectic, calorie-filled holidays with dignity, fitness goals and waistlines intact.
Adopt a Balance Sheet Mentality
I like to think of my daily calorie allotment as if they are dollars. I’m not suggesting that you keep a literal running count of calories consumed throughout the day. (Heavens no!) Instead, when faced with a possible indulgence, ask yourself how much that indulgence is worth to you. Would you spend your last couple of calorie bucks to have it? If you would, how much debt would you be willing to take on to satisfy your craving?
This is not about denying yourself. Family recipes, seasonal treats, baking with your kids and enjoying the company of friends and family around shared meals are all joyous, healthy experiences. But, you don’t have to sample everything or overindulge on some things to experience all that’s wonderful about this time of year. It’s about being prudent when picking your calorie battles. As you go through this holiday season, eat, drink and be merry. But, as you do, try to think about ending each day in the black, or close to it, in terms of calories.
Be Miserly: Halloween is a great example. I’m sure you’ve seen the annual newspaper and magazine stories telling us which candies have the least amount of calories and fat, suggesting one should have a couple of those and avoid the more calorie and fat-laden candy. I’m sorry, those sugary-no-chocolate candies do absolutely nothing for me. I’m not spending my last few calorie dollars on Twizzlers or Skittles. This is what would happen if I did: I would feel completely unsatisfied and then end up also eating what I really want – Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Mounds bars. So, I spend my last few calorie dollars on Halloween night on 1 or 2 each of the mini PB cups and Mounds bars. This way, I’ve satisfied my craving for those things but I’ve only had a small amount and, therefore, haven’t left myself deep in the guilt-ridden, calorie hole.
Similarly, my kids sort through their loot and only keep their very favorites, which are portioned out, one at a time, after a meal for dessert. The rest gets donated or tossed. Even though we significantly pare down, my kids’ Halloween candy usually ends up lasting quite a long time because it’s consumed very slowly. This teaches them that treats are fine in small amounts after a nutritious meal. But even more importantly, it steers them away from binging.
Plan ahead (a.k.a. Budget). I practice this year round. When you have a party or dinner out on the calendar, plan to eat differently that day. Have several small but satisfying, nutritious snacks such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and dairy products every few hours throughout the day. This approach guards against consuming a lot of calories before your night out while keeping you from becoming famished. Then you can give yourself permission to enjoy yourself knowing, even if you over-indulge a little, it won’t break the calorie bank.
Don’t be greedy. This goes back to the principle of imagining you have limited calories to “spend.” Yes, indulge but don’t indulge everything. At one party you may want to sample the cheese board, at another gathering you could be more in a cocktail mood, and at a restaurant you may want to end the meal with dessert. In all cases, you’re choosing one indulgence and keeping the rest of the meal light and under portion control. Enjoy and savor your treats so that a modest amount will be enough to satisfy your craving.
Increase your calorie “income”. Exercise adds spending power to your calorie budget. Regular workouts can be very difficult this time of year because time seems especially evasive with so many additional demands on it. But that is precisely why it needs to be a priority. In the context of the holiday season, exercise serves three purposes: it relieves stress, gives you energy and boosts immunity, and provides insurance against weight gain.
What do I mean by insurance? There will be days when too many calories are consumed, exercise burns off some of those extra calories, giving you a fighting chance of ending the day in the black.
The basic principle at work here is to replace binging with mindfulness. This may be an overused, trendy word these days but it’s on point. Gorging on high-calorie foods when they are suddenly in abundance is mindless eating. Instead, be smart about how you consume your favorite treats. There will be days you’ll end in the red with your calorie dollars and that’s okay. If you keep those days to a minimum, you can most certainly say you’ve ended each week of November and December in the black.
Wouldn’t that feel great? It can be done without feeling deprived by practicing these simple rules. So, bring on the onslaught! You’re ready to celebrate being fit and happier.
If you’re new to the Small Steps series, you can read about the philosophy and strategies of the series here. Know the Small Steps strategies don’t need to be done in any particular order and are independent of one another. So, you can begin the series with this post, continue throughout the rest of the year and pick up what you missed next year.
Previous Small Steps posts: January’s Portion Control; February’s Plan Ahead; March’s Accentuate the Positives, Eliminate the Negatives; April’s Substitutions; May’s Go Old School; June’s +1; July’s Reflect, Revamp & Renew; August’s Reflect, Revamp & Renew Revisited; September’s Embrace Technology; October’s Be Flexible.
Author’s Note: Always consult your physician before beginning any new exercise program.