How Do You Handle Holiday Temptations?


By: , SparkPeople Blogger

For many of us, the next 5 weeks are going to be filled with many opportunities to overeat and skip exercise sessions. And when you combine all these temptations with the emotional stress of the holiday season, it can take an almost heroic effort to keep your healthy lifestyle on track.

What’s the best way to handle this situation? Do you identify the specific temptations that you think might cause problems for you, and try to figure out strategies for resisting them?

Not according to experts who study this problem. They suggest you do the exact opposite...

There’s a ton of research showing that, the more you focus on what you don’t want to do, the more likely it is you’ll actually do it. Thinking about how to control your impulses during the parties, get-togethers, and special holiday meals on your schedule, or about all those Christmas cookies and treats you’ll have to pass up, will probably cause more problems than it solves.

The problem here is that thinking about problem foods and situations, or about your own weaknesses and impulses, just gives them more power to influence your behavior. You create a self-fulfilling prophecy: you’re expecting to have problems, so you will. In fact, that’s how you create “temptations” in the first place. There’s really no such thing as a food that tempts you–the food’s just sitting there, doing nothing. It’s your expectation that you’ll want to eat it and have trouble resisting this desire that makes it “tempting.” And the more you think about it, the more tempting it becomes.

So, the secret to staying on track during the holidays is to expect yourself to do what you choose to do, so that this becomes your self-fulfilling prophecy.

There are lots of ways you can help yourself get into this mindset. Here are a few general ideas:

  • Set your goals in positive terms, not negative ones. Don’t tell yourself what you don’t want to eat, tell yourself what you do want to eat (or how much of it you want to eat), and if necessary, set up some special plans in advance that will help you accomplish that on days where you might have conflicts or problems.

  • Predict your way to success. Start every day by estimating your chances of accomplishing what you want to do that day. Consider all the things you have to do, and figure out if there are any special challenges that could make it harder for you to stick to your eating and exercise goals. Think about what you can do in advance to increase your odds of handling these challenges successfully. Is there someone you can talk to for support if the going gets tough? Can you put together a Plan B for handling predictable problems, and shift to it if things start going wrong?

  • Monitor your self-talk and keep it positive.The worst thing you can do is to start getting down on yourself and focusing on what’s “wrong” with you when you don’t stick to your goals perfectly. That's a virtual guarantee you'll stay stuck in the problem. Instead, remind yourself that no one’s perfect, and no single decision you make means the next one has to be the same. Every situation and every decision is it’s own opportunity, and you’re free to decide what you want to do in this moment, no matter what’s happened in the past. It all comes down to how you think about it, and where you focus your attention.

  • Keep the big picture in mind. The holiday season is a very small chunk of time in the larger scheme of things. It can be a great opportunity to enjoy yourself with family, friends, co-workers, and others, and if being very strict about your eating and exercise gets in the way of doing that, it’s perfectly OK to cut yourself some slack. What’s the worst that can happen? You gain a little weight and it takes you an extra couple of weeks to lose it again. Right? How big a deal does that need to be?

    Obviously, the ball’s in your court when it comes to translating general ideas like these into practical things you can do yourself.

    So, what are you planning to do to make the best of your holiday season? Got any tips you can share with the rest of us that have worked well for you?

    One thing I plan to do is to burn any extra calories I want to eat with extra activity or exercise--before I eat them.

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    • 68
      Portion control and exercise, the same as any other day. - 12/17/2008   10:58:55 PM
    • NO-41_RAZZYS_PL
      Well... I got through the Thanksgiving FEAST without gaining (or losing, LOL!!) so maybe I'll get lucky and break even for Christmas, but those CHOCOLATES sure do look yummy on THIS blog, Dean! That's what I need (not the chocolates, LOL!!) to keep the negative 'talks' AWAY from myself more than the treats, and to STAY aware of what I'm saying to myself!! Thank you for reminding me! Annie - 12/16/2008   10:23:01 AM
    • 66
      My usual strategy is to plan ahead, but unfortunately SP has made that a bit more difficult for me since last Christmas since we can no longer access the nutrition planner more than a week ahead. So I have laid out a spread sheet for the month and will do some calorie cycling. That isn't normally a very sucessful strategy for me, at least not long term, but knowing what days I expect to be taking in more calories or unable to get in a full exercise session, gives me the opportunity to make up for it on other days by eating fewer calories and/or exercising more on those days. I have also turned revamping recipes into to healthier versions as sort of a hobby, so will be experimenting with several of those this season. - 12/3/2008   10:54:08 AM
    • 65
      If I want it I have it, I allow myself to have a little and don't go overboard. I did a walking video in the morning after I put the bird in the oven so I still got my exercise in.
      I dealt with one holiday by fixing dinner myself on Thanksgiving. The chip dip was fat free so was the veggie dip. There were veggies to dip instead of crackers & cheese. No peanut butter filled celery, no cheese filled celery, no candy, no cake, no candied sweet potatoes, no sour cream in the mashed potatoes. For dinner there were 4 veggie choices, ham and turkey. I did make rolls so they had bread. They were stuffed and didn't complain. I was packing leftovers for my family to take with them when I realized I forgot to make the stuffing. No one even missed it. I had a pumpkin pie and and apple pie for desert, what was left went with family. By 9 o'clock the food was out of my house and it looked like nothing had taken place. The only thing left were some ham slices for my hubby for breakfast. I chalked it up as a success. Now on to Christmas dinner. - 12/1/2008   10:59:07 AM
    • 64
      i tell myself its a holiDAY. it shoudnt just be weeks of indulging. plus, i up my workouts. - 11/29/2008   6:30:54 PM
    • 63
      All in moderation and keep the tempting thinga away that I can't resist, no worries about pie since my wonderful doesnt like it. For thanksgiving we went to moms, so no worries about leftovers and I ate small portions of everything and actually lost a pound the next day. - 11/29/2008   2:53:51 PM
    • 62
      I am trying to keep in mind portion control and allowing myself some goodies so that I don't feel like I am punishing myself. - 11/29/2008   1:53:39 AM
    • 61
      I tried to make lighten my holiday dishes a little... I used less butter this year for sure, and added chicken broth. I made one of my favorites and skipped the (old) traditional creamy veggie dish in favor of a big salad. We had a bunch of college kids over so we sent them home with all the fattening stuff and kept the leftover turkey, cranberries and salad. It worked out perfectly, I was able to have small portions of my favorites and I was able to get the leftovers out of the house. IT WAS GREAT!!! - 11/28/2008   2:58:40 PM
    • 60
      I love to plan ahead what I'm going to eat on a daily basis. It helps me to stay focused. When I track ahead of time I can see what I need to include or exclude. - 11/28/2008   11:53:39 AM
    • JUSTME52
      Holidays are hard for me. Our Bible study group is having a get together next week and it's all around a chocolate fondue fountain, sigh......but the strawberries to dunk in it they're healthy :) - 11/27/2008   5:03:03 PM
    • 58
      Plan ahead. I input my food choices for the whole day in the nutrition tracker including my mother's ultra famous, best in the world pumpkin pie. I actually input her recipe in the recipe calculator to see exactly how many calories are in a piece of pie. I plan on eating a half a serving without the crust. I look forward to savoring every bite.

      I'm focusing on the fun of the family gathering. My family made 14 pumpkin pies yesterday. Yes, 14. All of which will be inhaled before the weekend is over. I am proud to say that I didn't have one bite (yet). We had so much fun making the pies and talking to each other. I choose to focus on the event over the food. As much as I love my mom's pumpkin pie, I love the way my clothes are getting looser on me. It's all a matter of choice. This year I'm choosing me. - 11/27/2008   9:53:03 AM
    • 57
      I will ask myself before I eat something not so healthy "Is it really worth it ?"
      Plus, I am going to add some extra minutes to my exercise workouts. - 11/27/2008   7:26:15 AM
    • 56
      Just say "NO." - 11/27/2008   4:28:00 AM
    • 55
      Planning in advance is this: Keep it out of the house. If I have to have something, I try to purchase a small amount (1 serving). Eating out is getting easier. I now look at restaurants as a personal challenge to do the right thing. I don't let it prevent me from enjoying myself and the company I'm with. I know I can eat anything I want, I just take responsibility for it and log it on the Nutrition Tracker. Think "Nutrition Tracker" and quantities and amounts begin to get smaller and smaller. The Nutrition Graph influences the types of foods (proteins, carbs, fats) I eat every day, also. I love this program and the tools (toys). - 11/27/2008   12:20:06 AM
    • 54
      if I know I am going somewhere and can be tempted to overindulge...I plan a few days in advance by upping my water intake exercising harder and then if I do get tempted...I keep track of what I indulged in and will have to make up for that extra calorie intake by working it back off for the next few days to make up for it.
      - 11/26/2008   10:43:44 PM
      Wow - just what I had finally come to grips with doing to get through this holiday season. My plan is to focus on having fun, eating right, and exercising, and when my MIL drives me nuts to sneak away to the garage and put in an extra workout. Hence the reason for moving the exercise equipment from the room they will occupy during their stay to the garage. - 11/26/2008   8:49:16 PM
    • 52
      Portion control for me - and my husband will let me take one or two bites of his pie. - 11/26/2008   6:44:55 PM
    • 51
      I don't avoid temptations I just eat a few bites of favorites and exercise a bit more. I discovered years ago if I avoid something it bugs me to gorge on it so I just have a smidge. Its worked for me when I follow that method. - 11/26/2008   3:48:55 PM
    • 50
      Great tips! Mind control is so very important!! - 11/26/2008   2:55:42 PM
    • 49
      I will definitely taste all my favorites.. But will try to burn it before I eat it.. or atleast after.. - 11/26/2008   2:37:44 PM
    • 48
      I can say that for myself, I do let myself have a little extra. I just pay attention to what I am letting myself have. I keep in mind that if I really want the pie that is higher in whatever, I will have to add a few extra minutes on the treadmill or eliptical at the gym. I kind of weigh it all out. Generally what I have done in the past also is, I let myself have SOME and some is the BIG word here. I don't take a ladel full of gravy, I put just enough on to work. I a lot of times will take less overall to start with and then the one thing that is like OOoh I want more, I can have more because I took less. I am making a healthier desert for myself and if anyone else wants some they can have it but I have never been a big pie person. So, I don't feel like I am missing out. A couple of years ago I held out some extra apple slices and then put a little splenda on them yummy. Better than a piece of pie in my opinion :O) - 11/26/2008   2:30:57 PM
      thanks! - 11/26/2008   1:20:56 PM
    • 46
      Honestly, did you HAVE to use the picture of chocolates. OK, it isn't doing anything but being there, but now that picture will be in my head the rest of the day. - 11/26/2008   12:48:52 PM
    • 45
      I feel it's only 1 day. I will try to stay w/in my calorie allotment. My fried is bringing a pecan pie which I am not crazy about so it will not tempt me too much. Plus I will send it home w/ her. My children won't be here, so I am making less food overall.
      - 11/26/2008   11:14:52 AM
    • 44
      I know that for me certain foods are triggers. Stuffing (ironically) is one. So the first plan is to not make more than we will use in 1 meal. No leftovers, no temptation. As for the sweets? I will take a small portion (think three year old size) and really savor it. That will usually kill the craving for me. Everything else on the menu at our house will be diet friendly (in normal amounts) so that part at least will be business as usual. - 11/26/2008   10:22:17 AM
    • 43
      This is part of "THE SECRET"- Its a great book. Its about positive thinking bringing positive results. - 11/26/2008   10:11:59 AM
    • 42
      I am going to try eating small amts. of it all, and not over do on any one thing, plus do my workouts.
      I refuse to buy candy, it,s just to tempting to have in the house - 11/26/2008   10:11:41 AM
    • 41
      Great blog!

      I always try to make the best food choices 80% of the time. The other 20% I make the best bad choice if I want to eat something that I don't normally eat. So if I want a slice of pie, I'll choose pumpkin over apple.

      I drink lots of water and I chew sugarless gum when baking holiday treats. I stick to my workouts and I remember that "You shouldn't love food because it doesn't love you." - 11/26/2008   9:58:28 AM
    • 40
      Thanks Dean!!!! This article is going in my favorites. You have such a way of putting things into perspective for me. Thanks, thanks, thanks. - 11/26/2008   9:52:42 AM
    • 39
      I am going to think of these holidays just the same as any other day. First of all, I have extra time off which means I should be putting in some extra workouts. Secondly, we are doing Thanksgiving without extended family so we made our menu like any other day. We are actually having steak instead of turkey. Its our favorite so why not? I found a recipe yesterday on Spark I plan to try to include a "pumpkin" dessert for my older son who loves pumpkin pie, but is also the only one that will eat it besides me and I don't want that temptation around the house. Keeping track of everything I write will help too. Who wants to write down cookies, treats and extra mashed taters and stuff... YUCK! At work, I also have a plan of attack. I work at a school where there are always sooooo many sweets around at this time... I plan to avoid the teachers lounge for a few weeks. that's where all the sweets end up and I am steering clear. Lastly, I have been thinking, I will just say no! I am working too hard and feel too good to fall back into the same bad habits that put this weight on my body. It was much easier to put on than it has been to take off. I think my mind is in the right place and that helps! Good luck all! - 11/26/2008   9:10:22 AM
    • 38
      My plan is to:
      1. work out on Thanksgiving day (and keep my workout schedule the same throughout the winter, too;
      2. track my food so I am still aware and mindful of my calorie intake;
      3. make sure to eat a small but filling breakfast so I am not starving for the big meal;
      4. evaluate the T-giving table to determine what is truly worth it and what I can skip;
      5. and treat myself -- if I truly want something, I'll have it. Depriving myself only makes the cravings worse. - 11/26/2008   8:34:46 AM
    • 37
      I have three strategies this year. First, I am planning ahead to what I will eat - including entering into the Nutrition Tracker, which I then print and put in my day planner. Second, I am planning extra activities (I write them right on my nutrition planner) based on the choices I made (e.g. Thanksgiving Day choices require extra minutes on the workout in the morning). Third, my most difficult time is when we are with family over Christmas. So many have a "well, its just one or two days approach" and they encourage me to do the same! When we have two or three of these family events, that adds up to 3 to 6 days! So this year, I am working to just maintain what I achieve by 12/24 until 1/2. So ask me how I did on 1/2/09! - 11/26/2008   7:56:56 AM
    • 36
      I try and maintain in Dec. I love treats and the holidays. - 11/26/2008   7:06:58 AM
    • 35
      I up my strength training during the holidays, and time it as described in the performance eating articles - the food I am eating is healthy, and my body needs a few extra calories at the right time to build muscle! - 11/26/2008   5:48:12 AM
    • 34
      I plan to keep as active as possible while enjoying myself with my friends and family! - 11/26/2008   4:52:39 AM
    • LULUBELLE1102
      My plan is to hit the gym 6 days a week. To focas on what I want and not what I don't want (The Secret). It will get me through the holiday season. - 11/26/2008   3:51:53 AM
    • LOOSEIT57
      I dont buy them and family dont give them to me as gifts - 11/26/2008   2:43:25 AM
    • 31
      I have just stsarted with a personal trrainer who 3 times a week takes me just a little further than I thought I could possibly I intend to think about how hard I am working to get in shaoe when I am tempted to over-indulge. - 11/26/2008   1:53:41 AM
    • 30
      I always eat healthy during the holiday's. When there are temptations near by I ignore them. I exercise during the holidays. I never miss any exercise. - 11/25/2008   11:25:41 PM
    • 29
      Living alone has it's advantages ~ I leave all the temptations at the store! When I crave something ~ I go visit it at the store, smile & say ~ I choose not to buy you, cuz I'm so worth this healthy journey!!

      And when I got "out" to friends or family ~ am getting better at saying No Thank you! I have also brought fresh fruit with me to avoid the temtations that come at the end of the meal. - 11/25/2008   9:47:45 PM
      I have found over the years that if I keep a healthy alternative readliy available I tend to much better. for example keep my Brita water pitcher full and in the fridge,have a container with some preped carrots and celery maybe some low fat peanut butter or low fat cream cheese with it. And don't forget to keep your fruit bowl fresh. My plan B would be 100 calorie packs - 11/25/2008   9:37:41 PM
    • SHERI1969
      Because I have hypoglycemia, I can only eat so much at a time anyway. And my mom having just had major surgery can only eat good healthy foods. I don't think Christmas is going to be a difficult one. Where my parents live, they have a free indoor swimming pool so I can go swimming while I am there. But I cannot and will not over-exercise beforehand because I know my body and it can only handle so much. Sweets won't be a problem because mom cannot have them because of her surgery. Same with spices and salt. - 11/25/2008   8:40:25 PM
    • 26
      I try to drink lots of water before, makes me feel full faster when I eat, even a few bottles 1/2 hour before dinner can help me stop before I eat too much. - 11/25/2008   8:23:46 PM
    • 25
      We are going to our cabin, as is our tradition. My cousin is bringing up the pies but that is really the only fattening thing we will have. My fiance is smoking the turkeys and I am making the rest, so I got low cal recipes for our favorites. I have come to the same conclusion as the article. If I really want something, like a chocolate cookie, I have a small piece of one cookie and that takes care of the craving for chocolate. Denying myself never worked very well and when I would do that I ended up eating more of something else and then ate the "offending" food anyway. - 11/25/2008   8:21:20 PM
    • 24
      Moderation is the key! I am not fixing many sweet desserts.I intend to share the sweets for take home desserts for the guests! - 11/25/2008   7:50:55 PM
    • 23
      My new plans are that I will try a little of stuff I rarely have and ignore the food I can have anytime. - 11/25/2008   6:55:57 PM
    • 22
      I am going to Grandma's for dinner...and I know that the food is going to have mega calories there. So I am planning ahead and bringing some lighter dishes so that I can eat what I have brought. I have already decided that I will get to splurge a little. But I will not over do it. And when I am full... I will leave the table. I have found in the past that I continue to nibble even when my stomach is telling me to stop, just because there is something in front of me. So I am hoping that this strategy will work. I am also working out Mon Tues & Weds..before Thanksgiving..and then again on Friday & Saturday to make up for any splurging done. - 11/25/2008   3:31:57 PM
    • 21
      I actually lost weight last Thanksgiving and Christmas. I cooked the whole
      meal, as we had company in for T'giving, and I was so busy I didn't have time
      to eat, but I had a liberal serving of white Turkey, and very small servings of
      whatever else I wanted. I also drank a whole bottle of water before I put any
      thing on my plate. All in all, I was so busy taking care of everyone else's needs
      and helping the kids find something to do, I lost 5 pounds that week.

      If I don't keep something in the house, like EggNog or expensive chocolates,
      then I won't eat them. And as long as they are not here, I don't really focus on
      what is in the cabinet and won't want them....but if I know they are there, then my
      mind will play games and try to trick me into falling off my wagon..LOL

      - 11/25/2008   3:18:13 PM
    • 20
      Interesting. I had no idea that studies have shown that the more time you spend thinking about and analyzing your problems, the more likely you are to actually have those problems. But I guess it makes sense. Part of developing a healthy lifestyle means gradually building confidence in your ability to make the right choices as opportunities present themselves. Whether it's the holidays or not, I need to trust in myself to make a healthy choice. Also, making a healthy choice does NOT have to mean eating plain green beans and three ounces of turkey. A healthy choice is something that fits into my OVERALL, PERMANENT healthy lifestyle. Just about anything on the Thanksgiving table can qualify if I use MODERATION! Thanks for the timely article, Coach Dean! - 11/25/2008   3:04:57 PM
    • 19
      Luckily there are only three people for me to feed and I make a relatively light meal. I don't make several deserts either. It helps alot. - 11/25/2008   2:13:28 PM

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