Fighting the Holiday Urge to Splurge

Three steps to prepare for honest holiday eating

Posted Dec 13, 2016

istockphoto, Michael Puche
Source: istockphoto, Michael Puche

Most of us have a very hard time being honest with ourselves about our eating and health-related behavior. Especially during the holidays! It is a time of year when we make myriad excuses about why we don’t exercise, eat nutritious food, or cut back on unhealthy habits like smoking and drinking. For example:

Eating: Have you ever let yourself eat far more unhealthy food than you would generally eat by telling yourself, “It is the holidays! I get to splurge”?

Drinking: Have you ever told yourself that you will just have one drink, only to find yourself consuming an entire bottle? Perhaps you justified your behavior by saying,  “This is such a great party—I am going to enjoy it to the fullest.” Or perhaps it was something like, “I am so stressed being around my family that I am just going to keep drinking.”

Exercise: Perhaps you tell yourself, “I am too tired to go today.” Or, “I don't have time to exercise. I am already too busy as it is. And I am behind on my holiday shopping.”

Smoking: Have you ever told yourself that you want to stop smoking because it isn’t good for your health? Yet, each time you try to quit, you think, “I need to smoke to relax, especially over the holidays... and if I did quit, I would probably gain weight because of all the food I am eating!”

Given that most of us struggle even more than usual with our eating and health-related behaviors over the holidays, what can we do? The key is preparation. Practice these three steps to prepare for healthy holiday eating and behavior.

Step 1: Honest Awareness
The first step to conscious holiday eating and health-related behavior is being honest with yourself about (a) where you are most vulnerable to overindulging and (b) how you justify it to yourself. Developing honest awareness is much harder to do than it sounds. You have to pause and become an observer of yourself. For example, ask yourself:

- When am I most likely to overeat? On what kind of food?

- What lies do I usually tell myself to justify my undesirable behavior? For example, will I tell myself that I deserve to splurge? Or that I need this item or behavior to enjoy the holidays?

- What happened over past holiday seasons that I want to be different this year?

Step 2: Make Choices in Advance
As you become more aware of where you are likely to overindulge over the holidays, you increase your power to make different choices. For you are now better able to prepare for situations that you will likely encounter. For example:

- Perhaps you tend to overeat at buffets. So, before going to a holiday party that will undoubtedly have a massive dessert table, you decide you will only have one item even if all of the offerings look delicious. Or, maybe you decide to skip dessert at the party because it will be too hard for you to just eat one item.

- Perhaps you know you have a hard time getting enough exercise during the holidays because your kids are home from school and you have lots of house guests. So, before the holidays arrive, you tell everyone around you that you need an hour a day to walk or get to the gym because you are making a conscious effort to be active this year.

-Perhaps you feel incredibly stressed around your family during the holidays. When you are stressed, you tend to drink or smoke more than you usually would. Consequently, in preparation for the holidays, you limit the amount of time you spend with your family or practice other coping strategies (e.g., meditation, calling a friend, taking some alone time) to manage your stress levels.

Step 3: Hold Yourself Accountable
With self-awareness and choice comes responsibility. As we understand ourselves, we become more responsible for our choices. So, if you make a commitment to yourself to exercise, eat in a certain way, or limit your drinking and smoking this holiday season, hold yourself accountable for it.

Of course, no one is perfect. You may set out with great intentions and end up eating or drinking far more than you wanted to. If that happens on a given day, pause. Notice that you didn’t act the way you wanted to. Don’t beat yourself up—just notice. And start again... that very instant

The Naked Truth is this: Becoming honest with yourself about holiday eating and health-related behavior can be a massive challenge. It is a time when we are very prone to overindulgent splurging. And it is a time when many of us experience a large mix of emotion, making us prone to self-deception. This holiday season, prepare for honest holiday eating and health-related behavior using 3 simple steps: 1)  awareness of where you are prone to splurging; 2) making choices about your desired behavior in advance; and 3) holding yourself accountable for your choices.

Copyright Cortney S. Warren, Ph.D.