Stop, Drop, and Control Your Diet: Practical Tips to Keep Your Willpower “In-Check” During the Holidays

December 30, 2013

This is the time of year when attention is focused on food as we embark on a season of celebration and tradition that brings out those special family recipes and indulgences once again!

by Marianne Smith Edge, MS, RD, LD, FADA, Senior Vice President, Nutrition & Food Safety, International Food Information Council

This is the time of year when attention is focused on food as we embark on a season of celebration and tradition that brings out those special family recipes and indulgences once again! How do we best keep control of our eating habits during this time? For most of us losing weight may not be the first choice, but we can either embark to maintain weight or throw caution to the wind and indulge in the overabundance of food offered at parties and gatherings. After all, “It’s just one time of the year!” 

Despite the limited appearance of those special foods, we know that the aftermath can be a long term engagement. Regardless of any one goal now or a specific time of year, we need to reflect on steps to accomplish them and the potential barriers that may stand in the way of achieving our health and fitness goals. Personal control certainly plays a role in this scenario. 

According to the IFIC Foundation Eating and Drinking Occasion research conducted earlier this year, the average American has 5.7 consumption occasions per day. However, the weight statue of an individual was inversely related to the number of occasions. Perhaps it’s not about how often we eat, but the quantity and selection – two factors that we can usually control! According to the IFIC Foundation 2013 Food & Health Survey, the vast majority of Americans believe it’s possible to have a great deal of control over their level of physical activity, the healthfulness of their diet and their weight, yet far fewer are actually taking that control. 

Ninety percent of consumers say it’s possible to have “a great deal” or “complete” control over their physical activity, yet only 65 percent are actually trying to take that same amount of control in their own lives – a 25-point “control gap.” In terms of the healthfulness of their diet, there is a 20-point gap (88% versus 68%), and regarding their weight, the gap is 16 points (81% versus 65%). This indicates that there are barriers preventing people from taking more control of their physical activity, diet and weight. 

A lack of willpower (64 percent), the dislike of exercise (60%), the perceived high cost of healthful food (54%), and slow progress (51%) are barriers that prevent Americans from taking greater control over their weight. How best to counter the barriers? Let’s step back from the holiday frenzy and “get a grip on reality.”

Take Control

The IFIC Foundation survey results validate what we see. Honestly, we have far more control than we realize – so take control! First and foremost, don’t skip meals, especially breakfast. Studies over the years validate one of the most “tried and true” weight control tactics is eating breakfast every day! Oatmeal, cereal with milk, yogurt or a scrambled egg sandwich are some quick and easy solutions. Too many times “skipping a meal to save calories” will result in more calories consumed later in the day. Other practical tips to keep your willpower “in check” during the holiday festivities include:

  • Limit yourself to one serving. Have a little bit of everything but don't go back for seconds! Moving away from the table helps curb temptation. 
  • Seek out veggies first. So many good meats, cheeses and dips are often put out at family gatherings that it’s easy to forget about vegetables. One easy way to not feel like your depriving yourself is to use veggies as the “chip” for dips. 
  • Make your calories count! Always ask yourself, “Is it worth the calories?” (and the minutes of exercise to balance it) before you put it in your mouth. (For me, coconut cream pie is “yes,” but cake is “no.”). 
  • During parties, talk more (more talking leaves less time for eating), think more (pay more attention to how full you are and work on stopping before you’re “stuffed”), and chew more (like talking, more time spent chewing can help slow you down and ultimately eat less. Plus, there’s the added bonus of more time spent savoring grandma’s cooking).
  • Keep activity in your daily routine – walk up the escalators in the stores, find the parking space with the most steps to the store front, and plan fun active family activities after a meal. 

This holiday season you can take control. Remember there is no law that says resolutions can only begin on January 1st. If you are already contemplating what your New Year’s resolutions are going to be, why not get a head start on implementation. Small changes to your diet or exercise routine can be made at any time, even during the holidays!