Every year, without fail, I start hearing the same things, over and over again during these early winter months:
“It’s the holiday season, there goes my diet”
“I won’t be able to stick to my eating plan, I’ll just start again in January”
“My pants are getting tight and it isn’t even Thanksgiving yet”
“The holidays are always too hard to stay healthy and fit”
“I’m going to gain weight, so I’ll have to go on a diet in January”
What if this isn’t necessary at all? I personally, as well as my clients, have lost weight, gotten healthier and fitter over the course of the holidays. When I told a friend this who was stressed about this, her response was: “I could never have enough willpower to do that!” You’re probably thinking the same thing: how do so many people stay healthy and fit during the holidays?
Well, I have good news for my doubting friend, and for you as well. You actually don’t need any more willpower than any other time of the year to stay healthy and fit over the holidays. That is, if you have a couple of other things in place to help you make decisions BESIDES willpower.
When I work with clients, I tell them that willpower is the LAST RESORT for healthy eating and weight loss, not the first. Why is that? Because research shows that we can actually use up our willpower, and by relying on it too often, we set ourselves up for failure once it runs out.
So what do we do instead? Anyone who knows me knows I like pyramids (except the USDA food guide pyramid) so here’s a visual representation of how to make healthier choices seamless and easy, any time of the year.
The first step is to build a solid foundation of good habits. Habits are the things that we do day in and day out without much thought. By creating good habits that be relied on in many different situations, whether they are habits of choosing fruits and veggies, doing activity and exercise daily, or anything else to that effect, you are taking less brain space to make these decisions and choices. Win. The caveat: Habits do take time and conscious effort to build. You cannot decide today that starting tomorrow you want to choose lean protein for breakfast and expect it to become an instant habit.
The second level of support for healthy eating during the holidays is your structure. One of the most important parts of structure is our surroundings. Take a look and the surroundings that you have control over: your home, your desk at work, and your car. Are there things in your surroundings that could sabotage your goals? Get rid of them. Really. Every time you have to look at that candy bar at your desk and say no you’re using up some of your precious willpower resource. Getting rid of these things doesn’t mean you can’t ever eat them, it just means that you are less likely to feel compelled to eat something that you don’t really want or need, just because it’s lying around. It gives you more freedom to enjoy these foods when you actually DO want them.
The final level, willpower, is just the tip of the iceberg. With strong habits and strong structure in place, the number of willpower challenges you encounter decrease drastically. This makes it even easier to use your willpower when necessary.