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6 Mental Tricks to Avoid Gaining Weight this Holiday Season

holiday-diet-tipsBoston, MA (November 2013)- The holiday season is upon us, which usually means that an extra 5-7 pounds are upon us as well. Delicious food, cold weather, less sunlight, and plenty of parties make it hard to say no to seconds during the holidays.  If there is food nearby, most of us can make an excuse as to why we should eat it.

Gary Marino, who produced and starred in the film Million Calorie March: The Movie, which chronicles his walk from Florida to Boston raise awareness about obesity says, “I used to be the master of holiday buffet excuses.” At his heaviest, he topped the scales at almost 400 pounds. “For me, the holidays provided a perfect excuse to wave the white flag and roll the dice on a successful New Year’s resolution—and that’s still the case for a lot of people.”

Although the New Year serves as a new start for many, Marino says, “we have a 95 percent failure rate on long-term weight loss in this country. The truth is, most of our resolutions will have shaved their heads and checked into rehab Britney Spears-style by the end of February.”

Why is it so hard to avoid falling into this holiday eating/gaining/New Year resoluting trap? Retired psychologist Dr. Howard Rankin says, “we can always find a reason for procrastinating and avoiding doing what we consider difficult or unpleasant.” For him, it boils down to a matter of basic human psychology. “Humans aren’t logical. Instead, we’re emotional, psychological beings…with an emphasis on the ‘psycho.’ Fortunately, when you know beforehand the pitfalls into which your pleasure-driven brain might cause you to fall, your odds of avoiding them improve.”

Dr. Rankin’s five-stage motivation model might further explain this behavior.

  1. 1.    Pre-Contemplation. The person does not acknowledge the need for change. This can also be called denial.
  2. 2.    Contemplation. The person recognizes the need to change, but makes no commitment to make it happen.
  3. 3.    Preparation. The person gets ready for change.
  4. 4.    Action. The person finally takes steps toward changing.
  5. 5.    Maintenance. The person continues the action steps to develop and preserve the changes.

Many people make it to stage 5 during the holidays, but if they start to allow excuses and rationalizations for unhealthy holiday behavior in, they are in danger of never succeeding with their resolutions.

Watch out for the following rationalizations to keep yourself and your resolutions on track this year:

  1. 1.    “I Can’t Be Rude or Unsociable.” Yes it is true that some people place high value on the food they make for the holidays. If you are going to hurt someone’s feelings by not sampling their cake, then you can make the decision to try it. Just be more cautious about eating other food. You can still be sociable even if you are not piling your plate with unhealthy food.
  2. 2.    “I Can Hide It.” Winter clothes are baggier than styles from other seasons. Just because you have more room inside your sweater, however, does not mean that you should use it with those extra pounds.
  3. 3.    “Winter is Coming.” A lot of people shy away from exercising during the winter because of the cold and dark days. Instead of talking yourself out of exercise, though, you should make an effort to find an alternative method to stay active. Maybe you can’t swim laps outside (unless the pool is heated), but you can pop in a fitness DVD and work out in your living room.
  4. 4.    I’ll Wait ‘til the New Year.” The year is almost over, right? Why not wait until 2013 changes to 2014 to start a new healthy eating regiment? As Marino explains, “food addiction doesn’t have a calendar. And the problem with a diet that starts on January 1st is January 2nd. Grab inspiration any time you can get it.” Instead of setting yourself up for failure, start incorporating healthy habits into your life now.
  5. 5.    “I’m Too Busy Right Now.” If you let it, it is easy to get overtaken by your holiday to-do list and make excuses for those things that you do not really want to do. If you make health a priority, however, you will always find time for it.
  6. 6.    “I’ll Be Cooking.” Being surrounding by unhealthy holiday food is not the best way to start eating better, but there are ways that you can still make smart food choices even as you bake sugar cookies for the kids. Only buy enough food for your needs and donate the rest. Marino says, “you have to stay aware and stay in the fight. You know what giving up is like. Many of us have lived it, and it’s no fun there. Fortunately, with mindfulness and motivation, you don’t ever have to go back.”