When it comes to holiday weight gain, there’s good news and bad news.
The good news:
While you might expect to gain five to ten pounds over the holidays, the truth is, you’re probably putting on much less. On average, adults gain one pound from November to January; people who are already overweight gain five or more pounds.
The bad news:
Those extra pounds are probably here to stay. Rarely are they burned off during the course of a year, making prevention your best strategy to maintain your current weight.
Most experts recommend avoidance during the holidays – positioning yourself away from the buffet table, staying out of the kitchen, just saying “no.”
All of these measures require the same thing: willpower.
Luckily, willpower is something that you can cultivate. The more you resist temptation, the easier it becomes.
“Self-control is strengthened over time, like a muscle,” wrote Heidi Grant Halvorson Ph.D. in Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals.
“Engaging in daily activities such as exercising, keeping track of your finances or what you are eating—or even just remembering to sit up straight every time you think of it—can help you develop your overall self-control capacity.”
To better practice self-control and avoid holiday weight gain, do the following:
1. Have the Right MotivationIf you want to lose weight to improve your public image or obtain approval from someone else, you won’t achieve lasting well-being, and you probably won’t work as hard, according to Halvorson.
Pursue a healthy weight for yourself – because you want to improve your self-confidence or feel better physically, for example.
2. Focus on Improvement, Not PerfectionDo you catch yourself saying that you were born with a sweet tooth? Or that you’re naturally big-boned?
When you take an “I was born this way,” stance, you’re essentially throwing up your hands in defeat.
“If you don’t believe you have what it takes, you stop trying and you become a victim to a self-fulfilling prophecy,” said Halvorson.
All abilities can be learned, including the ability to eat healthy in the face of holidays.
By pursuing a goal of mastery, you’ll work harder and persist much longer than people who think that they’re doomed to failure because they were “born this way.”
3. Judge Yourself by Your ProgressAsk yourself, “Am I improving?” instead of looking for perfection.
By focusing on your progress, you can approach mistakes in a kinder, gentler way and recognize them for what they are: opportunities to learn, not signs that you’re doomed to failure.
In the face of a mistake, remind yourself that you haven’t mastered your goal yet, and think about what you can do to avoid making the same mistake in the future.
4. Consider What You Have to GainTo motivate you in achieving your goals, consider how you will benefit by avoiding weight gain. What will your life be like?
Maybe you’ll be able to:
- Wear your favorite clothes
- Feel more attractive and self-confident
- Play with your kids
- Prevent or overcome health issues
5. Use If-Then Statements in Challenging SituationsTemptation can come from many places around the holidays:
- Your own Thanksgiving or Christmas table
- An office break room that is loaded with cakes and cookies
- Friends and loved ones who give treats as gifts
- Dinners or celebrations with friends
- People who pressure you to overeat
- Find healthier dessert recipes for your Thanksgiving or Christmas table
- Avoid the break room when you’re hungry
- Throw out gifts of cookies and desserts or give them to someone else
- Eat a snack before you go to parties so that you’re less likely to overeat
- Practice saying “no.”
Creating if-then statements conserves our self-control. “Anytime our unconscious mind can take over, detecting situations and directing our behavior without conscious effort, it is far less taxing and requires less willpower.”
6. Remember to HALTYou have less self-control when you’re hungry, angry, lonely or tired – easily remembered with the acronym HALT.
Think about when you’re likely to experience each and make if-statements to put your reaction on auto-pilot and avoid overeating.
Although the holidays are full of temptations, you can exercise your self-control muscle to prevent weight gain now and throughout the year.
If you’d like to learn more about achieving your goals, Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals by Heidi Grant Halvorson Ph.D. is available at the following libraries:
- Frank E. Merriweather