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How to Survive the Holidays? One Bite at a Time

By michelle_may_md on Oct 17, 2013 10:00 AM in Healthy Eating

October through December can be a minefield of challenges for those who struggle with the eat-repent-repeat cycle. Food is everywhere, from your television to your child’s trick-or-treat stash. The constant exposure may eventually lead to cravings, overeating, holiday buffet-hangovers, guilt, and vows to do better tomorrow—or on January 2nd. 

The best strategy is to eat what you love fearlessly. While that may sound counter-intuitive, studies have shown that labeling the foods you love as forbidden can actually increase their power over you. When you think of the foods you love as "bad," you may feel guilty for even wanting them, and deprived because you’re not supposed to eat them. As a result, you may yourself visiting the break room in search of holiday treats. 

Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat

Banish the special occasion mentality. You'll be less tempted to overeat during the holidays if you stop depriving yourself the rest of the year. It takes the “special occasion” mentality out of the equation.

Minimize your exposure. Wait until the last minute to buy or prepare holiday goodies. Make only what you really think you'll need for parties and gifts. Resist the temptation to dump the leftovers in the break room at work. Not only will that decrease your own exposure, but your co-workers’ exposure too.

Remember, it's not your food. All too often we eat whatever shows up—from cookies in the break room to samples in the grocery store. But you didn't choose to put it there so don’t mindlessly put it in your mouth!

Save room for dessert. If you're going to eat holiday treats and desserts (you know you are!), then adjust for it. After all, does it really make sense to have to eat all your dinner to earn the right to eat more food?

Ask, “Am I hungry?” Whenever you feel like reaching for a treat, pause to check in. Sometimes, “I want chocolate” really means, “I want a break,” “I want a reward,” or “I want to scream.” What else could you do to meet those needs better?

Try the Four Really Test. Another question to ask yourself is, “Do I really, really, really, really want it?” If the answer is yes, choose your favorite and enjoy it without distractions or guilt.

Love what you eat. If you love your favorite holiday foods that much, act like it! Enjoy your snack or meal mindfully without distractions. Savor the appearance, aromas, textures, and flavors. Put your fork down to focus on the bite in your mouth instead of immediately loading the next bite.

Just right! A couple of mindful bites of fabulous food is much better than a plate full of so-so. Since those first few bites are always the best, think before you dive in for more.

Eat fearlessly without guilt. We all know that guilt leads to more eating, not less. When you make a conscious decision to eat a treat, enjoy the experience fully, then let it go.

Don't torture yourself with exercise. Being physically active feels good, relieves stress, and provides numerous benefits for your health. Don't turn exercise into punishment for eating.

Pass it on. The holidays are a great time to teach your kids how to enjoy a variety of foods as part of a healthy and active lifestyle. Through observation, they learn that it is possible to balance eating for nourishment with eating for enjoyment.

Michelle May, M.D. is the founder of the Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs and Training that help individuals break free from mindless and emotional eating< style="mso-bidi-font-weight: bold;">. She is the author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: How to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle. (Download chapter one free.)


For me, it's always about that plate I'm putting food on.  Whether it's appetizers or a main dish, I'm always only going to fill half of that plate. NO MORE!!!  This way I choose wisely (as in, what do I REALLY want with no mindless grazing) and I won't STUFF myself (like I really want to, ha ha!).  

If it's a little appetizer plate, sure, I can fill it ONCE.  

So I control my portion, enjoy anything I want, and then I restrain from refilling and going crazy--and THAT, for me, is the hardest part because, man, I love food.

Anyway, since eating like this, I get full on very little food now, so that helps a lot.

Good luck and stay strong!


Eat 1/2 meals to cut 500 to 1000 calories off your intake per day!

Small portions are the key. I like to remind myself that this food is available on other days if I want it, so I don't need to eat a big portion. And I don't waste my calories on mediocre food.

My life is always a run to this or that task, whether is be at work or at home. I fine I get home, the meal is prepared and time to sit down. I don't even know it until I'm done that I've been shoveling it in. I know they say slow down. But when and how?

Dear Jrb171,

You're right! It sounds simple but it is not easy! In the bio box at the end of the article, there is a link to download chapter 1 of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat. I think that will help answer your question.

Last year the holidays came about four months into my lifestyle change and I saw them coming, prepared and survived using many of the things you write about. I will be ready again this year! What I didn't see coming was Summer. Picnics, festivals, fairs, and outdoor celebrations. In our neck of the woods there is a different ethnic event just about every week. Your advice is good for year-round!

Hi Michelle. I bought a copy of your book and I love it! I like to read little sections at a time, and try to practice them before moving on. The most helpful for me was using your 1-10 scale of "how hungry am I?" 10 being stuffed full, 5 being just right and one really needing food. I think this works well.

The hardest thing for me though is cravings! I crave bread, chocolate, soda.. and usually I'm not hungry when I have the craving. I've definitely tried keeping my mind off of it, and I can say no the first 1-3 times I think it. But when it comes back 10 minutes later, it's hard to keep saying no! Any advice on this??

Thank you! I'm so glad it has been helpful so far. When you read chapter 3 and chapter 5 you'll see that topic addressed.

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