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Healthy Holiday Eating

There are so many exciting things about this time of year. Paid time off from work, going to parties, dancing, giving to those less fortunate, being grateful for having the special people in our life that make us happy or inspire us to be better; the list goes on. However, the candy and food festival that comes along with the holiday season is haunting. Add to that the challenge of not only moderating my children’s sweets consumption, but also doing it in a way that will motivate them to continue eating healthfully in the future.

That’s where the Switch Witch* came in this year during Halloween. I told my children that there is a witch who loves candy, but she can’t get any because when she trick-or-treats everyone tells her that she is too old and when she goes into a store no one will sell her candy because they are too scared of her. On Halloween when kids leave their candy out on the front porch the Switch Witch will take their candy and leave a toy. 

Halloween came and both Brendan and Fiona, to my surprise, were actually excited about the prospect of giving up their candy. Both kids were allowed to keep 10 pieces of candy and we left the rest of it on the porch. We went down to the basement and danced to 2 Halloween songs (because that is what you need to do to get the Switch Witch to visit you) and went back to the front door to find the candy gone and a Blue Ninja Lego Kit and a Groovy Girl.

The Switch Witch brought me to the realization that giving up candy was easy for my children when it was replaced with something better. Maybe that is the key to surviving the whole holiday season (Halloween to New Year’s Day) ... swap the food and drinks for something better.

Can great tasting food and drinking a little be a part of the celebrating? Absolutely. But it does not have to (and should not) be the only aspect of the holiday season that we focus on.  Nor should we indulge in it to the point of excess. Weight gain through this time would be an indication of that excess. 

How do we change? First of all, become part of the solution. How often do we arrive at work to find the break room loaded with treats that have been brought in only because the gift receivers found them to be too tempting when kept at home? How is that a gift anyway; giving someone something that they are compelled to get rid of?  It isn’t. Make the extra effort to give gifts that will be truly appreciated

That leads into another consideration. Regardless of our motivation levels, the reality is that most of us are wired to make choices based on convenience. If our goal is to eat fewer sweets then we need to make them less accessible. Treating the break room at work as a ‘sweets and treats’ dumping ground is not conducive to supporting our goals. Make a pact with your co-workers to keep the office free of sugary snacks. And stop kidding yourself thinking that you have the willpower to resist or that your co-workers are grateful when you sabotage their healthy eating plans.

Choose the treats that you like the most and skip the others. For years my mom made 10 different batches of cookies, because that is what she always did. Finally, after moving to New York away from family (which whittled our holiday celebrations from 40 people to 4) she realized that this was excessive, and a lot of work. Now she makes about 5 batches, smaller batches, and only the ones we really like. 

Be picky about food quality and quantity. Try to choose treats that are made from scratch with real, fewer and recognizable ingredients. When we choose desserts made with good ingredients, there is a much better chance that the internal hunger and fullness signals that we were born with will actually work the way they are supposed to. I hate to break it to you, but this would mean the cookie batter tube that you find in the freezer section that you cut to reveal shapes that celebrate the holiday of the month would be ‘out’. Remember if you want more, but you are full, tomorrow is another day. You are probably going to be happier eating 10 cookies over a period of 5 days versus all 10 at once.

Eat slowly and savor your food. Taking your time will allow more time for you to realize your fullness. There are many strategies, chewing your food longer, using smaller utensils, setting down your fork between each bite, etc. A favorite of mine is to simply eat and drink with your non-dominant hand for 2 months.

Place exercise high on your list of priorities. Now is a time that you need physical activity more than ever. Not only for the stress-relieving and enhanced calorie-burn effects, but because when you exercise, it provides a similar boost in mood that chocolaty, sweet, fatty, salty foods produce without the guilt. As explained in an article that I recently read in a monthly IDEA publication, ‘Brief Bouts and Baby Steps,’ exercise (even short bouts of it) can make it easier for us to resist tempting food. Feel like there is not enough time? Remember that a little bit is better than nothing. Also, reevaluate how many of the tasks on your to-do list are absolutely essential.

Create new holiday traditions. Instead of turning each holiday into an eating festival, find other ways to celebrate. When we have snow, our whole family goes sledding or snowshoeing (grandparents included). For awhile it was ping pong tournaments. Weather permitting, morning runs remain a constant. We spend our holidays wearing out a few different board games as well including; Catch Phrase, Pictionary and The Eighties Game. Believe me, making this transition never left any of us feeling cheated out of over-eating. 

It all comes down to replacing the food with something better. When you do, it will not be missed.

So, am I making a difference with my kids? I can only hope, but the fact that after Halloween this year my son said, “Mommy, I hope we can have a present and egg hunt instead of a candy and egg hunt for Easter like we did last year,” makes me believe that I am. 

*I have to give Jenine Wright, owner of Fit Lifestyle Studios in Melrose, MA credit for the Switch Witch. One of the few moms that is more diligent about her children’s eating than I am with my own.  I also admire her effective,‘by the book’ Spinning program offered at her club.


Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D.,
Brief Bouts & Baby Steps, July/August IDEA Fitness Journal
David Kessler, MD, The End of Overeating

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  Linda Freeman

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