Establish Healthy Habits for Holiday Season Success

By Lauren Ehlert, RDN, LD

Have you ever changed a habit in 21 days? Me neither. Habits can be deeply rooted in our lives, maybe even since we were children! I myself grew up eating on-sale chocolate covered cherries the week after Christmas and I found myself craving these every December. Decades later, I finally realized, I don’t even like them! Yet I still find myself having to consciously turn away from this treat in the grocery store because I associate it with warm childhood memories.

What habitual food choices do you find yourself facing? The following tips can help you rewire your habits to set you up for a healthy and successful New Year.

Give Yourself Time

Change doesn’t happen overnight. It is a long term process. Each time you get it right, celebrate yourself. If you make a mistake, learn from it and move forward as soon as possible. There is no benefit to punishing ourselves when we do not succeed. But there is a significant benefit to recognizing ourselves when we do succeed. When we pat ourselves on the back for doing something well, we boost our self-esteem and motivation, and increase the likelihood that we will do the right thing again next time. Over time, it becomes easier to repeat the healthy habit (1). We can rewire our habits over time!

Find Customized Support

Who do you know who can accomplish everything on their own? I could not think of anyone either! Customized support is essential for changing and keeping habits. In a two year study of about 800 participants, people who received coaching as a part of a lifestyle intervention program lost more weight, had better blood sugars, better cholesterol ratios, and improved Metabolic Syndrome Severity scores (2). Having a team to support you can help you to navigate challenges and create solutions that consistently work for you.

Practice “Flexible Restraint”

Perfect eating, especially around the Holidays, isn’t always realistic. Set a specific, but flexible boundary for your food intake. For some, this means choosing the dark meat turkey, even though it is not as lean, if you happen to like it the best. For others, this might mean choosing a small slice of pie at dinner while passing by the rolls, stuffing, and potatoes (3). Your Livea team can help you set boundaries around food.

Make a Plan and Ask for Help

When you are setting boundaries around any situation that might be a trigger to overeat, plan ahead. Plan what you are going to eat before, during, and after the occasion. Do not be afraid to ask for help from those around you. Would it help if family or friends kept the treats out of the main sitting area? Ask for this! Would it help if seconds or leftovers were not offered? Let your host know! People around us are often willing to support us if we advocate for ourselves and what we need.

Change Your Rewards

In the battle of weight loss and weight maintenance, there is often tension between two things we want: Food vs. Benefits of weight loss (1,3). We know that certain food choices will lead to a long term benefit, but it can be difficult to see them in the short term. For example, around the Holidays, we tend to connect food to many positive experiences like connecting with loved ones and celebration. When we eat that food, we feel the reward of that food for a moment, but in the long term, we miss out on the reward of feeling our best.

One of the most impactful ways to manage this tension is to find what reward the food is providing for us and find a healthy, non-food experience to receive that same reward (1,3). For example, if you tend to overeat at Holiday gatherings, what are you looking for in the food? Celebration? Connection? Nostalgia? How can you experience those feelings without extra food? A few examples might be cooking healthy recipes with your loved ones, playing games, or building snowmen. Find what works for you!

Build Food Routines that Consistently Work for You

Have you ever seen those Instagram-Perfect photos of meal prep containers and felt like you could never do that? Good news: that is not the only way to meal prep! Find a meal routine that works for you and stick with it. For example: maybe every Tuesday is Taco-Salad Tuesday-that way you have a meal you can count on coming together easily and you do not have to stress on a busy weeknight. For others, this means choosing a few foods that they really like and eating those for mid-morning or mid-afternoon most days. It might get a little boring to have the same cheese stick or almonds every day, but if you have a snack you can count on, that is one less thing to worry about during a busy week. This can also mean having a couple of go-to choices at restaurants. Maybe you commit to yourself that you always choose the salad, the burger no bun, or the lettuce wrap appetizer. Be sure to pick something that you like! With the meal already chosen, you can have a go-to meal you can depend on and can relax and enjoy your time with your fellow diners (or your alone time not washing dishes!)(3). Consistency does not mean eating the exact same thing every day, but it can mean less stress of decision making, more frequent healthier choices, and less focus on food.

Keep Moving

A lot of times we imagine that exercise will help us lose a lot of weight, but the truth is, while exercise has some benefit for weight loss, it has significant benefit for weight maintenance. Physical activity helps to keep our body in a healthy place to maintain a healthy weight. It counters the metabolism decrease that occurs naturally with weight loss, and it helps to regulate appetite. It can also be helpful to simply decrease sedentary activities like screen time (3).

By now, you’ve probably noticed a pattern. Habit change takes time and a strong support system. It also takes planning and strategizing both for our attitudes and our environments. Your Livea Team can help you customize your approach to find solutions that consistently work for you for long term success!

References

  1. Greaves C, Poltawski L, Garside R, Briscoe S. Understanding the challenge of weight loss maintenance: a systematic review and synthesis of qualitative research on weight loss maintenance. Health Psychol Rev. 2017 Jun;11(2):145-163. doi: 10.1080/17437199.2017.1299583. Epub 2017 Apr 7. PMID: 28281891.
  2. Hochsmann, C., Dorling, J.L., Martin, C.K., Newton, R.L., Apolozan, J.W., et. al. February 9, 2021. Effects of a 2-year primary care lifestyle intervention on cardiometabolic risk factors: A cluster-randomized trial. Circulation. https://doi.org/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.120.051328
  3. Warshaw, H., 2020. Lifestyle changes that keep pounds off. Today’s Dietitian. 22(7), 30.