In your future, you see holiday meals and potluck buffets. All that traditional, tempting holiday food! This year, you’ve resolved to eat reasonably, but when you face the delicious spread, you are afraid that your will-power will melt faster than the candles illuminating the table.
So what do you do? Here are 10 strategies for enjoying the holiday food in moderation.
1. Be Prepared. Studies by Roy Baumeister of Florida State University and colleagues demonstrate a small dose of carbohydrate can help replenish a depleted ability to self-regulate. So don’t go to the feast completely starving. If you deprive yourself of food prior to the event, not only will your will power be in short supply, but your ability to rationalize overeating will also be increased, quite a counter-productive strategy.
2. Pace Dishes. Start out with the healthier options, such as the the veggie tray, before you look at the buttery puffed pastries and other creamy bites. You can fill up on the good stuff and be stronger for what follows.
3. Choose a small plate (or bring one with you) and pick the smallest cutlery. The amount we eat is very affected by the size of the plates and utensils we use. Paul Rozin of the University of Pennsylvania has found that Americans use larger serving dishes than Europeans, and that when smaller dishes are used, people eat less.
4. Navigate the Trays Wisely. To maximize profits, commercial buffets tend to place cheaper foods in areas that are most accessible because they know that patrons are more likely to serve themselves more of it. Pick your own strategy by spending more time where the lighter foods are the easiest to grab.
5. Decorate.The more abundant the food, the more we eat. If you are the host, trade some of the space given to food for fresh flower bouquets or other decorations. This will make your spread look plentiful without having to serve more food.
6. Water It Down. Replacing one or two alcoholic beverages with water can easily shave as much as 300 empty calories off your meal, not to mention that it helps fill up the stomach quicker. If you are the host, make water available and appealing by adding slices of strawberries, orange, lemon, or lime or perhaps mint leaves. This option is tasty, interesting, and full of vitamins!
7. Just the Right Size. People tend to agree that “one is appropriate.” If you take a piece of pie weighing 10 ounces, that’s what you will eat. If you take half a slice, you are very likely to stop at 5 ounces. Hosts, try serving your desserts in small pre-cut pieces. (Caution here! If the serving is so small that it looks bite-size, the strategy will backfire!)
8. Get Moving.Suggest an activity shortly after the meal to detract attention away from eating and towards connecting. If that activity involves mild caloric expenditure, such as a Wii or ping-pong tournament, dancing, or walking in the neighborhood to admire decorations, you get bonus points. Your holiday get together will have more to offer than just food.
9. No! To Arm Twisters and Guilt Attacks. Catch yourself before you tell others that they have to taste every dish, that one more drink won’t kill them, or that they should indulge a bit more. If somebody talks that way to you, change the subject or move away. If you overdo at one feast, don’t load yourself down with guilt. Look over these strategies. Is there one you needed to pay more attention to?
10. Yes! To a Buddy System. Getting peer support is an important booster of self control. If food acts on you like a magnet on metal, ask a buddy to nudge you if you go overboard. If that’s not enough to discourage you, take a formal bet to make a $100 contribution to a charity chosen by your accomplice for each plate of food you eat past your main course and dessert. That should do it!
Of course, you may want to give yourself carte blanche to eat whatever you want since the holidays are the last week of the year. If that’s your choice, just remember that the expression “use it or lose it” applies to self-regulation too. So you might want to find other ways to flex your self-control muscle over the holidays. Exercising or meditating every day would be good choices.
Happy Holidays everyone! May 2012 be filled with peace, warmth, health, and accomplishments! 😉
Big thanks to Kathryn who helped me update the version of this article I published 3 years ago in Positive Psychology News Daily.