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Feast or Moderation. How to keep off extra weight this Holiday season with customized incentives that work for you.

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As we approach the end of the year, November and December mark two months of celebrations, feasts, holiday desserts and that unavoidable uptick in caloric intake.

The weight you sweated and worked so hard to shed when you made your New Year’s resolution back in early January is now at risk.  According to research, the average person gains 1.3 pounds during the holiday season starting in October with Halloween and ending in December after the Christmas holiday.

Now 1.3 pounds may seem like a low number but for most of us, it can take four to six months to work it off.  Consider that the average person gains one to two pounds a year which can quickly turn into 10 – 20 pounds in 10 short years. Just shaving off 100 calories per day can help curb this unhealthy track record.

Scientists have concluded that it takes 3,500 calories to burn off one pound of energy. But the critical question is where is the energy coming from – your fat or your muscle? This all depends on your unique body composition.  

“There’s tremendous variability in how a 3,500 caloric deficit affects different people,” says Pamela Peeke, M.D., M.P.H., senior science adviser at Elements Behavioral Health and author of The Hunger Fix. Therefore it is best to follow a diet recommended by a licensed professional to ensure you eating foods for your metabolic type.   

Regardless of which diet you follow, here are some ways to keep your head, heart, and body all in the same game over the next 60 days.

6 Habits to Customize:

1. Set a realistic goal given your timeframe and other constraints. 

a. What is your weight goal this holiday season? Is it short-term or part of a longer-term goal?

b. Put a number to it so that you are clear about your target.  

c. Where are you now? Because our weight is constantly changing throughout the day, weigh yourself at the same time every morning without clothes and after you have gone to the bathroom.  Do this for several days and then take the average to get your most accurate weight.  

d. Small steps matter. The devil is in the details. Two months may seem like a long time to stick to any plan.  Break down your goal into small incremental steps. Focus on what you can do today. Savor what you are eating now.  Chew your food.  Pause.

Habits are cultivated by repetitive behaviors.  You can create new behaviors in the present moment. Click to Tweet

2. Create an incentive plan that will cause you to take action.  

What personal strategies and techniques work for you to keep you motivated? How can you make healthy eating fun without punishing yourself? Write down your incentive plan. Here are some techniques to consider:

a. The Carrot (Rewards) technique:   What rewards, badges, gifts, special treats (non-food) will keep you motivated? It could be something as simple as watching your favorite TV show after you exercise. Or a no-dessert-day could garner a 1/2 hour bonus time on your favorite social media outlets.  Rewards don’t have to cost you extra money.  They can be simple pleasures repurposed as a daily or weekly incentives.

b. The Stick (Punishment) technique: Setbacks can happen. When they do, forgive, forget and move on.  However, if you could set up a deterrent to curb your overindulgence what would it be?  For example what if you had to give someone $150 for every pound you gained?  There has to be enough pain in the repercussion to truly drive you to stick to your goal. What works for you?


3.   Two Proven Writing Strategies: Food Log and Journaling

Maybe you are the type of person who would find it helpful to keep a food log to review what you have eaten throughout the day. This strategy can help hold you accountable for your food intake.  If you don’t like writing things down in a notebook, you may find Talk To Track a helpful application.

Another successful writing technique is journaling? One study has shown that women who spent 15 minutes a day writing about what they value lost 3.4 pounds over the next few months.  Focusing on what is important to you and all the things that are going well can raise your mood. Often times you can overindulge when you are feeling stressed, anxious, worried, depressed or lonely.  By focusing on what is going well you are shifting your mental mindset to one that is positive which will directly impact your overall well-being.  When you are upbeat, you are less likely to use food as a source of emotional comfort.

4.  Exercise with a buddy.

Research shows that working out together can have tremendous benefits beyond preventing weight gain and improving muscle tone. Not only does group exercise help keep you accountable, it has been shown to reduce stress and depression.

“The communal benefits of coming together with friends and colleagues, and doing something difficult, while encouraging one another, pays dividends beyond exercising alone.”  Lead researcher Dr. Dayna Yorks

5.   Get enough sleep for you.

Holiday stress can cause lots of sleep disruption which leads to increased eating. Not getting enough sleep causes disruption in your hormones and impacts your metabolism.   When you feel your energy is lagging it is often tempting to grab a candy bar, sugary drink, a sweet, or a bag of pretzels to give you a quick boost. These “comfort” foods can quickly add calories especially if you are mindlessly eating them.

To ease the holiday stress, incorporate a mindfulness practice ( see blog post: Reacting vs Responding ), identify what is truly urgent and important, and make a commitment to yourself to get quality sleep during the holidays.

6.   Learn to say “no” with language that supports your goals.

Small portion sizes or holding firm to one plate with no refills are good ways keep your caloric intake on track. Often social events invite overindulge. However, it is on these occasions when you need to summon up your inner strength and politely say no without any guilt.

An interesting study found that students who said, I don’t eat ice cream,” were able to avoid eating ice cream better than those that said, “I can’t eat ice cream.” Your words and the stories you tell yourself can play an important role in mind-body wellness and achieving your goals. Saying no will reaffirm your personal resolve that you are making health your top priority.   

Good luck this holiday season and enjoy those precious moments with family and friends.

Suggested Reading:

The Hunger Fix by Pam Peeke, MD, MPH, FACP with Mariska van Aaulst




Slim by Design: Mind Eating Solutions for Everyday Life. by Brian Wansink, PhD




The Metabolic Typing Diet by William Wolcott and Trish Fahey

More health-related books.

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