One of my students offered the very best distinction between a lapse and a relapse that I've ever heard. She said, "A lapse is eating too much on Thanksgiving Day. A relapse is acting like every day is Thanksgiving Day."

The challenge of the holidays is combining fun, feasting, and family with our health, wellness, and personal goals. So, how could you plan a small lapse for Thanksgiving without treating (no pun intended) every day as if it were Thanksgiving Day?

First of all, there are some people who probably want to avoid even a small lapse (aka, a slip) on Turkey Day. People with certain health conditions like diabetes will want to stick to their healthy eating plan. Needless to say, anyone abstaining from alcohol or drugs must continue to do so. And if you know from experience that a lapse will morph you into the Incredible Gobbling Hulk, then don't tempt fate.

Other people intend to place no restrictions on their feasting whatsoever.  For some, that can be a valid choice, too.

For the rest of us, here are some guidelines for a planned lapse:

1. Get your head on straight.

Start by briefly recalling your motivators. Why you have a healthy eating plan in the first place? For your health? For family? For your children? For energy? To maintain your youthful looks? To lose weight? Any of these motivators could help keep your lapse from morphing into a relapse.

Then check your thinking about lapses. You want to bust these myths:

Myth 1: "A lapse means I have now relapsed." Better self-talk: "A lapse does not have to become a relapse; I can get right back on track again."
Myth 2: "Any lapse is a failure." Better self-talk: "With food, lapses now and then are to be expected ."
Myth 3: "My eating plan has to be perfect." Better self-talk: "It's normal to take a break from my routine now and then." Myth 4: "Any lapse could make me get out of control." Better self-talk: "A planned lapse can actually help me stay in control, since depriving myself could trigger a binge. I can get right back on my healthy eating program tomorrow."

2. Understand your goal.

Your goal is to have a splurge, not a binge. For one thing, you'd like to avoid the physical pain and discomfort of overeating, right? I love the archaic phrase, "the groaning board." This expression refers to a table so laden with food that the table boards themselves seem to be groaning with the weight. But you don't want to groan along with them.

3. Make a plan beforehand that you are willing to follow.

Here are 10 good ideas, among many others, that you could put in your plan. I've phrased these ideas in the form of brief self-instructions. Create your own or use these:

1. "I will focus on people as much as on the food."

2. "I will not starve myself all day before the Big Meal. I will eat small meals so I don't get too hungry and set myself up for a binge."

3. "After Thanksgiving, I will return to my healthy eating patterns."

4. "I will remember that not all holiday food is worth a splurge. I will pass up Aunt Tillie's stuffing or anything else that isn't tasty."

5. "Instead of eating mechanically, I will eat mindfully.  I will eat slowly and savor what truly tastes good."

6. "I will keep my portions small. If I decide to get seconds of the really good stuff, I'll continue to keep portions small."

7. "I'll create a sampler plate for desserts with tiny portions. If I yearn for more, I'll return for seconds of the very best one only."

8. "I'll drink a glass of water before the meal." (Recent research shows that the water will fill you up and help you eat less.)

9. "To help myself stay in control, I'll limit alcohol to 1-2 drinks."

10. "I'll have a relapse prevention plan ready just in case." (You could attend a support group more often during the holidays, enlist a sympathetic friend or family member, or remove most holiday treats from your house.)

If your controlled, planned lapse seems to be unraveling into a relapse, just think about what's going wrong and what you'd like to be doing instead. Make every lapse, planned or unplanned, into a learning experience. Self-knowledge, not self-flagellation!

4. Give yourself an inner compliment for your successes. "Hey, I did pretty well! I splurged, but I didn't binge. " These compliments help you learn to be kind to yourself.

How do you plan to treat yourself without overdoing it? Tell us in "Comments."

(c) Meg Selig

To read a review of my book, Changepower! 37 Secrets to Habit Change Success, follow this link: order, click here.  For tidbits, insights, and humor on topics of motivation, healthy living, habit change, and willpower, please like me on Facebook and/or follow me on Twitter.


"Maintaining your weight over the long term," by Harry Mills, PhD,

"Drink water to curb weight gain? Clinical trial confirms effectiveness of simple appetite control method," 8/23/10,

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