Thanksgiving kicks off over a month of “the holiday season.” For many, it’s a time to look forward to throughout the year – but for others, it can be stressful. There can be complex emotions wrapped around the holidays. And if you're on a weight loss journey, there may be some added stress around maintaining progress and sticking to your lifestyle changes.
So, we asked Dr. Britt Volk, PhD, RD, and Associate Director of Clinical Research at Virta Health for her top tips for how to handle any road bumps on your weight loss journey over the holidays.
“The holidays are a time to enjoy with family and friends–and to stay focused on your goals,” says Dr. Volk. “But most major holidays and celebrations come with added temptation. Whether it’s because that temptation is right in front of you or because someone pushes it on you, be prepared with tactics to help you make the best choices to thrive, not just survive, this holiday season!”
Dr. Volk’s top 15 tips for navigating the holiday season if you’re trying to lose or maintain your weight:
#1. Keep your eyes on the prize.
Remind yourself of your progress and keep your health goals in mind. These can be powerful motivators in the face of temptation. Keep reconnecting to your “why” – why are you on this weight loss journey in the first place?
#2. Set your sights on maintaining (rather than losing).
Be realistic and set a goal that you can achieve during the holidays. Maybe you don’t need to focus on losing another 5lbs right now. What about maintaining your success? It’s a subtle mindset shift that can make a big difference. Maintaining your weight can be a huge win over the holidays!
#3. Tap into your support system.
We all need support and there’s no shame in asking for it! Remind others of your success and your goals. Ask your family and friends ahead of time to think about how much your health has improved, and request that they not offer or pressure you to eat things that may set you back. Consider also sharing with them how eating certain types of foods make you feel, both mentally and physically.
#4. Think ahead.
What are the potential triggers or temptations for you in holiday situations? Thinking about them ahead of time makes you better prepared to face and successfully avoid them. Also think about what types of food might be available at any social gatherings, and what you could eat that would make you feel good ahead of time.
#5. Be prepared.
Eat before you go to a holiday party—never show up hungry. And bring your own dish that fits in with your personal weight loss plan (perhaps a substitute for a traditional favorite) so you know you’ll have something there you can enjoy!
#6. Focus on what you CAN and want to have.
Look for the tasty options that fit in your weight loss plan. If you’re living a low-carb lifestyle like many of our Virta patients, focus on what you can have rather than identifying all of the things that you should avoid. Okay, so there are scalloped potatoes on the table, but look at those delicious-looking deviled eggs. Change your mindset and make the best selections from what is available.
#7. Stop and think.
Before giving into temptation—take a minute to think about it. Easier said than done, but try it. If you stop and think for just a minute to ask yourself why you want it, you may realize it’s just not worth it. In that minute, remind yourself what you gain by skipping the sugar.
#8. Socialize instead of snacking.
Hang out where the food isn’t and seek out great conversations. During parties, most of the foods are usually located in the kitchen or dining room. Stick to areas where snacks are out of arm’s reach so you’re not tempted to mindlessly munch.
#9. Skip it! Especially if you’re not sure what it is.
Sauces and condiments are among the biggest sneaky sugar culprits. If you don’t know what’s in it, just skip it.
#10. Be confident and casual in your response and try a simple ‘no thank you.’
If offered a tray of desserts or other foods that might sidetrack your progress, a great answer is ‘no thank you, but I would love more of that delicious dip,’ or ‘I’d actually love a glass of water or iced tea please.’ People often just want to be good hosts or hostesses—so let them. And be confident and casual in your response. It takes practice but you’ll notice that others will be more on board with your decisions when you are.
#11. Keep your hands busy.
Always have something in your hands to minimize the temptation of grabbing for more food. Try carrying a favorite beverage to keep your hands busy.
#12. Make the best decision at the moment, even if it’s not the perfect one.
Fill your plate with the best options available to you. It may not be the perfect choice, but it’s probably a better choice than having that cupcake!
#13. Let yourself indulge a little, even if it means waiting until you get home.
You can always take a dessert with you that fits in with your weight loss plan. But if there’s just no time and there are no desserts available, you can indulge in things like dark chocolate or other more weight-loss friendly treats when you get home. Or, if you’re able to enjoy a few bites without it leading to a downward spiral, go for it! Know what works best for you.
#14. Have a drink (or two) if you want it.
Weight loss doesn’t have to be about deprivation. You can enjoy yourself as you work towards a healthier future! If you drink and would like to safely indulge in a drink or two at a holiday party, there are several options that tend to be low in sugar. Drier wines, champagne, and spirits are generally good bets if you’re working to maintain your weight loss (skip the sugary mixers). Just remember that going a little overboard on alcohol can lower your inhibitions and increase the chance that you may say “yes” to those sugary desserts or foods that you might normally avoid.
#15. Be kind to yourself, and have fun!
Remember, if you happen to go a little overboard at the dessert table or eat something that you didn't originally intend to, don't beat yourself up over it and let it send you into a downward spiral. Be kind to yourself. Recognize it and move on. One small setback isn't going to derail your entire journey to better health.
And MOST importantly, the holidays are about friends, family, and festive fun, so enjoy them. Here’s to a safe and fun-filled holiday season!