Halloween may soon be in the rearview mirror but the candy will still lurk – beckoning, tempting, luring. 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
Think about calories as if they’re dollars. Imagine you’re at your favorite clothing store with a set amount of cash and no debit or credit cards. Imagine all the necessities are a bargain but all the latest, trendy casual-wear is at full price. You’d naturally select what you need first and then choose only what you desire the most from the rest of your options.
Food, in terms of calories, is “priced” similarly. The most healthy foods – those high in fiber, complex carbs, lean proteins, vitamins and minerals – tend to be lower in calories compared to the pleasurable foods like pastries, candy, many salty snacks and restaurant appetizers. If we know excess calories equals excess pounds of body fat, we may want to be more stingy about what we indulge in.
This isn’t 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, think about ending each day in the black in terms of calories.
Be miserly: Halloween is a great example. I’m sure you’ve seen the annual news stories telling us which candies have the least amount of calories and fat, suggesting one should have those and avoid the more calorie and fat-laden candy.
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. I’ve satisfied my craving for the things I love with a small calorie investment and not wasted calories on things I don’t like as much.
Similarly, my kids sort through their loot and keep only their 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 ends up lasting a long time because it’s consumed very slowly. This teaches them treats are fine in small amounts after a nutritious meal. 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 have 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 a modest amount will 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 four purposes: it relieves stress, gives you energy, boosts immunity and provides insurance against weight gain.
What do I mean by insurance? There’ll be days when too many calories are consumed, it’s a given. Exercise burns off some of those extra calories, giving you a fighting chance of ending the day in the black.
The principle at work here is to replace binging with mindfulness. This may be an overused, trendy word but it’s on point. Gorging on high-calorie foods when they’re suddenly in abundance is mindless eating. Instead, be smart about how you consume special 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 Summer Reset, September’s Harness Technology, October’s Be Flexible.