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Keeping It Healthy for the Holidays!

The holidays can be a challenging time to stay on course with our healthier diets, but this is not because the dinners have to be fattening; it's because we have our own expectations of what the holidays have to be -- full of fattening food.
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Thanksgiving Holiday Dinner Table
Thanksgiving Holiday Dinner Table

Thanksgiving and the holidays are a time of plenty... too much plenty. We are encouraged to indulge, and even those who rarely indulge do so during this time. We start the afternoon with hors d'oeuvres, often pastries and deep-fried foods, with bowls of nuts and chips laid out on any surface possible! We move on to the main course -- appetizers, creamy mashed potatoes, candied sweet potatoes, turkey with gravy and stuffing, and then on to dessert: pumpkin pie with whipped cream, apple pie, ice cream and maybe a few other baked goods on top. And then there's the alcohol: beer in the afternoon, wine with dinner and liqueurs with dessert. What's more, this may be repeated once or twice over the weekend, depending on your family!

Perhaps it's human nature to celebrate bounty with excess, but that's left over from times when bounty was scarce. Times have changed, but this ritual seems to remain. If you spend 364 days of the year with barely enough to eat, then one day of celebratory excess does little harm. That, however, is not the case in the U.S. today. Since 70 percent of us are overweight or obese, it's pretty safe to assume most of us have more than enough to eat every single day... more than enough calories, at least. Foods that use to go in and out of season are available year round at every supermarket. For most of us, the problem is not in finding enough calories; our challenge is in finding ways to NOT eat too many of them. This is even more important when you are already transitioning to a weight-loss or healthy-eating program. I know, once weighing 360 pounds myself as a teen, how daunting this task may seem!

The holidays can be a challenging time to stay on course with our healthier diets, but this is not because the dinners have to be fattening; it's because we have our own expectations of what the holidays have to be -- full of fattening food. In order to come out on the other side of the holiday where we started it physically, we have to have the right mindset. In reality, our Thanksgiving and holidays can be just as enjoyable, or even more so, if we keep a few things in mind and make some promises to ourselves. Here are a few tips that have helped dozens of my clients to continue to move toward their goal and avoid complete sabotage on the big day!

1. Watch your language! Go into Thanksgiving and the holidays ready to succeed. Don't walk in with a wishy-washy attitude. If you say to yourself such weak things as "Well, I'll try to stay on my diet if I can," then you will cave when faced with goodies. Stop focusing on what you can't have, but on how great you feel having finally taken control of something you've struggled with most of your life.

2. Avoid the coma! Find healthy ways to cook your holiday meals. Turkey is a great choice, when it's cooked properly. Add some roasted vegetables and mashed sweet potato or squash along with some gravy made without too much fat, and you're good to go with a delicious Thanksgiving dinner without the food coma or the extra pounds. Keep Thanksgiving dinner to dinner -- not all day long! Coming from an Italian family, I remember my relatives starting to eat dinner foods at 8 a.m.!

3. Replace spontaneity with strategy! In my book Think and Grow Thin, I outline a meal plan that's helped people lose 50, 100, and even more than 200 pounds! A major key to my clients' success is that they have a plan. Be sure you are eating all of your "normal" meals on Thanksgiving so you don't end up leaving yourself vulnerable to hunger. Have some strategies ready and plan ahead so you're ready to take on temptation. Take control of the situation you're in by making a veggie platter so you don't feel at a loss when everyone else is indulging in puff pastries. Drink sparkling water with lime or lemon, or make a spritzer with a little pomegranate juice and sparkling water to feel more festive.

4. Refuel meal? In my book, each person who embarks on my program is entitled to a "refuel meal" -- one night per week wherein they can go off the reservation and recharge their body with healthy foods that aren't customary to their daily plan to allow for a physiological and psychological break. Decide ahead of time if this meal will be your refuel meal. Some people can allow themselves a small treat -- a glass of wine or a slice of pie -- and go right back on their healthy eating plans. For many people though, one taste of a "forbidden food" and it gets them started on the path to bingeing. It does you no good to allow yourself a treat when you know from past experience that treat will likely send you off the rails. If you don't know how you'll react, it's better to be safe and stick to your healthy foods. I recommend you treat it like any addiction and don't touch the drug!

5. Treadmill your way to the turkey. Start your day with some exercise. Go to the gym or for your run first thing in the morning. This is not to burn off calories so you can eat more later! It's to set the right course for the day. Starting your day right can help you continue along the right path. And while you're at it, why not add some activity to your traditions? Start a traditional afternoon walk with the family or a game of backyard football. Establishing new healthy traditions will not only help get you in shape, it will help keep future generations in shape too. Emotional affect is what leads a person to overindulge most often.

6. Are you lonesome tonight? Most important! Thanksgiving and the holidays are about being with those you love. You don't really get together to eat copious amounts of food; you get together to spend time with each other. Make your company the focus of your attention more than the food, and you will all end up happier. Loneliness is a feeling that can lead a person to shoveling food unconsciously down their throat in effort to fill the void. If you don't have family to spend the day with, call up a friend. Or even better, volunteer at a place where the less fortunate will gather. Life is about giving to others -- it will get you out of yourself and focused on what really is important in life.

How you choose to act on Thanksgiving can set the course for the next month, giving you a reason to stay strong or an excuse to give up! One day of overindulgence may not be too catastrophic, but stretch that day over a month or more and you may find yourself having to buy larger clothes come January. Once we start sliding, it gets easier to keep sliding deeper and deeper into the defeat whirlpool so many have found themselves in. Start your good holiday habits today and sooner than you know it you'll be wearing a new size to your Christmas party spending the evening answering questions from those who are amazed at how fabulous you look!

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