Why Your Decision to Eat Less at the Holidays is the Wrong One

That was dumb! I can’t believe I did it again.

I’d decided I wasn’t going to overeat at the holiday dinner — and I meant it!

The day of the event, I was confident; this year was going to be different.

I’d even noticed the cute pants in my closet and grinned to myself: Before you know it, I’m gonna wear these again. I can do this!

Not Again

As I made my way down the buffet table, I was determined to stick with my decision. I plopped a small anthill of candied sweet potatoes on my plate, instead of my usual Everest. Ditto for the other holiday delights.

I’m gonna make this happen! I’ve set my mind to it; now I “just” have to follow through.

But as the evening wore on, I snacked “just a little bit.” And a little bit more. And then some more. Until it seemed fine to indulge in a large piece of cheesecake.

And then I said goodnight and rolled myself to the car — again.

I’m so stupid. I have no self-control. I’m gonna be fat forever.

And this was the start of the holiday season with mountains of cookies and dinner rolls,  candies and pies, sugar and carbs to come

Why did I think I could do this? I’ll never change.

Your Decision Trouble Spots

Does this scenario sound familiar? Perhaps your holiday decisions aren’t all food-related.

  • Maybe you decided not to spend as much money.
  • Or to not get so frustrated with your kiddos.
  • Or to let your aunts and uncles duke it out over politics while you stay silent. (No good comes from “discussing” politics with family.)

Believe me, at times I’ve had problems sticking with these and other holiday decisions, too.

So why is it so hard to maintain our resolve — even for just one night?

Maybe You Made The Wrong Decision

The wrong decision? Does that mean you should you have decided:

  • to eat more at the holidays? (My husband says, “yes!”)
  • to spend all the money you want? (That’s what credit cards are for!)
  • to give everyone an earful of your political opinions? (How have they survived without knowing?)

No, of course you shouldn’t have made the opposite decisions. What are you to do, then? What’s wrong with deciding to eat less (or spend less, or talk less) over the holidays?

  1. You can’t decide what you WON’T do

“I won’t eat too much food at the holiday party” sounds like a reasonable goal.

But how much is “too much”? And how will you know when you’ve reached it?

Well, I can help you.

“Too much” is when you have to unbutton your pants at the dinner table. (Don’t pretend you’ve never done it!)

But by then, you’ve already crossed the line.

So, you know what “too much” feels like. Perhaps even “way too much.”

But what does it feel like to “not eat too much”? How do you know when you’ve hit that target?

  1. It’s not just ONE decision

Even if you figure out how much food is “not too much” to eat, you’ll have to uphold your decision (and resist temptation) with each dish you pass, each spoonful you put on your plate. With each bite, you’ll have to decide: Is this “too much”?

And, because our brains are good at finding loopholes, the decisions won’t end there.

  • Is “too much” turkey equivalent to “too much” cheesecake?
  • Can I substitute one for the other?
  • What about mashed potatoes vs. stuffing?

By the end of the evening, you’ll have what’s called decision fatigue.

  1. It’s not always the decision you THINK it is

“I made your favorite!” your grandma announces before you take off your coat. “I even kept some separate so you’ll get plenty!” Her swollen fingers point to the bowl prepared just for you; it was a true labor of love.

So you eat potatoes. Lots of ‘em. Because the joy on grandma’s face is worth it. And anyway, you can always skip dessert.

And you do pass on the pie. Good for you!

As you clear the table, you’re proud of yourself. You’ve survived another holiday meal!

All that’s left is the card games, and that’s the fun part! At one point, everyone laughed so hard they gasped for breath.

But as the evening wears on, the conversation turns from, “I’ve missed you guys,” and, “We should do this more often, ” to sibling rivalries and family disagreements 50 years in the making.

Somewhere between the “Your Quarterback Cheats/ Your Running Back Should Have Been Brought Up On Charges” discussion and the Annual “Your Candidate’s a Worse Joker/ Yours is a Bigger Liar” Contest, you fumble your way to the cookies.

Again.

And again.

Are you nervous-eating because of the tension? Or does keeping your mouth busy help you resist jumping into the fray?

Who knows? But by the time the conversation turns to “who’s going to hell” and “who doesn’t even believe in hell” and “I know the Bible better than you do”… you’re zeroing in on a big ol’ piece of cheesecake.

Doomed to Fail?

To be honest, even as I type this my mind wants chocolate and warm buttery bagels (the kind with the sesame seeds). Yikes!

Does this mean you won’t ever be able to stick with your decision to eat better? Because let’s face it, holidays come around Every. Single. Year. Lord, help us!

Thankfully, here are three steps to help you construct the right decisions — ones that will stick:

  1. Check your goals

Why do you want to not eat too much? How do you think your life will be different if you follow through with this decision?

  • I’ll lose weight

Okay, but will you lose the weight tonight? Will you be 10 pounds lighter because you didn’t have a slice of pecan pie?

If only wishing made it so.

Then, what will your life look like tomorrow if you stick with this decision?

Perhaps you’ve maintained your current weight. Now that’s a goal to strive for.  

  • I won’t have a restless night of heartburn and full tummy

Okay, that’s what won’t happen. But again, what will you feel like if you keep your resolve?

Well-rested or refreshed? Maybe lighter?

  • I won’t feel guilty, or bad about myself or ashamed.

You know the routine: What will you feel tomorrow if you follow through with

your decision to not eat as much tonight?

Proud of yourself? Confident? Accomplished?

Reframe your motive based on what you want to feel like the next day, not what you don’t want to feel like.

  1. Make a better decision

Now that you have your positive motivations, let’s change your decision.

Rather than deciding what you’re not going to do to avoid the consequences you don’t want, decide what you will do to achieve the immediate consequences you do want.

Instead of, “I’m not going to overeat at dinner tonight so I can lose weight,” try, “I’ll make healthy choices tonight so I’ll feel rested, refreshed, and confident to take on tomorrow.”

  1. Prepare for action

It’s not enough to decide; you have to prepare.

Because when you’re in hour six of family togetherness, your football team’s down, and your great uncle’s gout’s bothering him, even the stale cookies that have been in grandma’s cupboard since the Bush administration will look appealing.

So how can you prepare to reduce your food intake?

Think about the issues you can anticipate and plan for those situations. What actions can you take?

Remember, your decision is only as good as the action behind it.

Write down your plan so it’ll be more memorable. You can’t prepare for every possible scenario, but you can think through the big ones.

For instance,

  • I’ll sit where snack foods are not within reach (or move the bowl of chips).
  • I’ll dish out my own portions so I can control them.
  • I’ll go to the restroom, when the arguing starts, to splash cold water on my face.

Bonus points if you bring your plan with you to read throughout the evening, perhaps in the bathroom. Based on how much your family loves to “discuss” controversial issues, you may be in there a lot!

Want A Do-Over?

You grin as you climb into bed. I did it! I made it through a holiday dinner without overeating!

You’ve even chuckled about the family squabbles. Oh, they didn’t go away. This isn’t magic, you know. But you didn’t get dragged down.

Your funny anecdotes even changed the topic a few times, which recalibrated the energy in the room.

It was a successful holiday dinner. Not perfect, but good. And you mostly stuck to your decision to eat healthy foods. Good for you!

But the best part? You peeled potatoes while grandma shared her secret recipe and the secrets from her past. What a great holiday!

Do you have trouble with decisions throughout the year — making them and keeping them? Subscribe to the mailing list to receive weekly encouragement in your inbox

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