holiday diet

How to Manage your Diet over the Holidays

Whether you were always a picky eater or you’re new to managing a new nutrition plan or diet over the holidays can be daunting and stressful on multiple levels.

Trying to stick to your diet over the holidays can leave you feeling very isolated.

You are not alone. The trouble is that others in a similar position are probably not going to be with you when you show up for the spectacular, calorie laden Christmas spread your mother prepares every year.

And it all starts in the mind.

If you can understand it, you'll have a much easier time managing it.

It's the Mindset, Not The Craving

We are talking mindset here. This is the core of where it starts.  Knowing your triggers is the building block to addressing potential pitfalls. Understanding them is how you develop a strategy.

This is not a list of alternatives to chocolates, wine and greasy gravy.

You may already have an idea of some items you can prepare and take with you. Of course if you are traveling and don’t have the luxury of your own kitchen, this can get really tricky.  Similarly, if your host is likely to feel hurt or take offense if you bring your own snacks and sides with you, it makes more sense to either discuss that with him or her well in advance or accept that this isn’t an option.

The Battle is Two-Fold

To complicate things further, there’s more than one thing your mind has to wrestle.

  1. If you totally blow your diet over the holiday get-togethers, you feel like you failed.
  2. Skipping out on your favorite dishes and desserts will make everyone start interrogating and criticizing you; or worse still, you’ll offend your host.

The good news is that you have a reasonably good measure of control over the above if you think about potential pitfalls ahead of time and plan for them.

It starts from the Top Down

Prepare your mind. Then prepare your food (if appropriate). Then prepare your mind again.

Sort your head out. It sounds simple; yet so vague. But no matter whether you’re working out, trying to get a project done or taking charge of your food choices, it starts with a committed decision. The follow through comes later.

Own your choices.

The Power of Repetition

You are stronger than you want to believe.

Have you noticed how natural it feels when we want to hang onto a comfort zone for your mind to start justifying why you can't do it?

“I couldn't help myself. Amy put it in my hand and the next thing I knew I'd eaten it.”

Yeah, I guess Amy chewed and swallowed it for you too, right?  You CAN help yourself. If you don't want to resist, be honest and choose, consciously, to enjoy your treat. Don't pin the blame on circumstances or someone else.

Keep reaffirming your inner strength. When you hear something over and over, you start to believe it. When you believe it, the associated behavior will follow. If others aren't telling you that you are strong enough to make good choices, start telling yourself; over and over. Drum it into your head.

Positive affirmation is my preferred approach, but whatever works for you is the way to go. Sometimes a simple acknowledgment based on past experience that your key workout in a couple of days is going to suck if you hit the cocktails is enough.

I'm not suggesting by any means that it will always be easy. I can guarantee that it will not. But there is something wonderful about knowing that you are in control of your choices.

You are in control. Know it, believe it, practice it and live it. You can stick to your diet over the holidays, even if that means giving yourself permission to abandon it for a day.

Choose Your Strategy

Plan ahead.

Decide ahead of time whether you’re going to ditch the diet for a day or three and just enjoy yourself, stick rigidly to your nutrition plan or find some middle ground in between the extremes. There's no right or wrong, as long as you define your boundaries and leave a reasonable amount of flexibility for the unknown. If you're going to eat the cookie, eat the damn cookie and enjoy it. Don't ruin the experience by trying to guilt yourself with every bite.

Guilt trips do not have the power to erase consumed calories.

Leaving some flexibility in your plan is never a bad idea. Life doesn't always follow our instructions. Be prepared, both mentally and practically, as much as you can.

Put a plan in place.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”People who know exactly what they intend to do have a much better chance at success than those who just wing it.” quote=”People who know exactly what they intend to do have a much better chance at success than those who just wing it.” theme=”style5″]

This is especially true in situations like this, where all kinds of temptations are going to taunt every sense you have for the better part of the day.


Outside of your own bubble, clear communication is the most important thing you can do. So many of us put it off, forget, or hope we can just slip through the day and nobody will notice that for the first time in 40 years we didn't touch the bacon-wrapped sausages we devoured every year. Let your host know ahead of time.

If you have severe restrictions on your diet for a short period, tell them how much you love their special dishes and ask if you can take some home to freeze for a time when you're free to enjoy it.

Be considerate. Put yourself in their shoes. Someone is possibly thinking of you, specifically, when planning and shopping for ingredients for something special. If you know you're going to skip it, let them know and explain why. And for goodness sake, keep it simple. They don't need a lecture on the scientific aspects of carbs and proteins.

Similarly, if you are hosting a holiday meal, don't put everyone else on your diet. Enjoy the freedom to make the things you love. Just remember that your guests probably expect something different. Your grandmother doesn't want to start a keto diet today.

Offer to Contribute 

Assuming you are not traveling far and have the benefit of your own kitchen for some food prep, tell your host how much you appreciate them. Explain (if they don't already know) that you're trying really hard to make healthy choices but you don't want to miss out or let your holiday diet cause them an inconvenience.

Ask if you can bring a tray of veggie sticks and a low fat dip, or a simple “clean” side dish, for example. Make it clear that you do not expect micro catering just for you.

Be mindful of the person preparing the meal and remember that they are not on your diet. Most likely, neither is anyone else. Trying to explain macros, food group classifications and nutrients with your 80 year old mother-in-law is not going to help either of you.  Keep it simple. Deal with the weird stuff yourself. Let your host do what he or she does and don't put it on them to make separate items and side dishes they've never heard of, just for you.

Telling them you don't eat white potatoes so you need sweet potato sounds simple on the surface.  It's not helping you when it's served up with a stick of butter and a quarter cup of sugar baked into it.

Emotional Associations with Food

It's not the food; it's the memories.

Nobody needs a 3000 calorie meal to enjoy a day with family. So why is it so hard?

We are all sensually driven to some extent. Visually, you see the same pie your Aunt bakes every year and consciously or not, your mind goes back to all the decades of good times together. The taste, the smell, watching those you love sharing it with you and the look of satisfaction on your Aunt's face as she watches the family enjoying it … It's family; it's home; and its a form of security because no matter what happened during the year, some things are always consistent. We find comfort in that.

The pie is great. Scratch that. Pie is damn awesome! The sensory association that brings back all the nostalgia and happy memories is what you're really after, though.

We are wired this way. It's not bad. But we can train and control our response in these situations.

Never let your mind put the food before the heart.

diet over the holidays

They Are Not Trying to Sabotage You

Yes, it does happen, but it is nowhere near as common as our defensive, excuse-seeking minds want to believe.

Your family members are not trying to destroy your diet. They aren't trying to force you to cave and eat something to make sure you fail.

Really, they aren't.  They just don't understand.

And who can blame them? Let's face it. You've done the same thing, every year for decades. Now, all of a sudden, you're acting weird about the good stuff and your siblings are scratching their heads, wondering why your mother never told them you fell and hit your head really hard moments before you lost your mind. Since when do you not eat ice cream?

Turning away from the bowl of mashed potato with two sticks of butter in it (and you know it, because it wouldn't taste so good if it was just plain old potato) may be interpreted as rejection. When someone urges you to try just one bite, they aren't trying to make you fat. They're having a good experience and want to share it and include you.

Remember, as I said before, this is not about the food, but about the association. Your family members are used to traditions, just like you are. Keep in mind that your lifestyle changes took time to develop and understand. Most importantly, you made the choice to do so. Those around you who aren't doing the same are not there right now.

This is Not the Day to Preach 

Your holiday meal with your family is about the family. This is not your show-time. It's not your stage, even if you are the host. Today is not the day to try and convert everyone to your way of thinking. Your best intentions will come across as criticism.

Such an easy trap to fall into!  Your cousin you see once a year, who sits beside you at the dinner table so you can tuck into a meal and catch up on the past year probably didn't show up expecting a lecture on the hazards of a diet high in saturated fat or the latest statistics on obesity. Perhaps he has some weight to lose, but he was excited to see you. Don't ruin it.

While your intentions may be pure, making him feel bad about himself is not doing anyone a favor. You're probably right, but you don't have to say everything that passes through your mind. Kindness, love and consideration are powerful behaviors. Living by example is more likely to get the attention of others than an unsolicited lecture.

Save it for another day.

Be Appropriate

Following on to the above, showing up at a home where everything goes in the deep fryer with a box of gluten free, sugar free, fat-free, low carb “cookies” is not going to earn you any brownie points.  And if your intention, well-meaning as it may be, is to give others a taste of the good, healthy life, it is going to fall flat. That's enough to put anyone off for good.

Consider the lifestyle of your host and act accordingly. It probably took you a long time to grasp the concept of wholesome nutrition. Force feeding it to others will get you plenty of attention; just not the kind you want.

If you plan to escape temptation by physically removing yourself form a room or area at specific points, make sure you understand the practicalities involved. Slipping out of a group of 20 is a lot easier than leaving a family of five.

Enjoy the Day

Whatever approach you decide to take, stick with it and enjoy yourself. Enjoy the people. Have fun with the family.

If you really want to share your new lifestyle with everyone and make them want to find out more, don't tell them. Show them.

We all know that one day, some of the faces around the table will not be there anymore. Make the most of your time together.

Make today count.


What if?

Even the best plans can get derailed. So perhaps you didn't stay on track the way you hoped and expected.

Let it go. Pick up where  you left off and carry on.

Beating yourself up and imposing guilt and shaming is not going to serve you well in the motivational department. Self-bashing does not undo the calories you consume so it's a self-serving pity part that will do you no good at all.

Be careful not to allow a few decisions you make one day become your identity in your mind. And get back on track immediately. Postponing it because you blew your diet so you may as well stuff yourself with candy until January 1st is flawed logic. One day won't hurt you. A week of over-eating is going to show up on the scales and in your athletic performance.

diet over the holidays

Have a little faith in yourself.  I'll say it again and again: You CAN do this.

And remember what I told you earlier.

Those who plan ahead are more likely to succeed than those who do not. Plan to succeed.

Enjoy your time with your family.

Carefree Runner

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  • Rich Brown December 21, 2018   Reply →

    Nice Lee! So glad to see you back blogging! I’ve missed this!

    • Lee Beem December 21, 2018   Reply →

      Thank you, Richard! I’ve missed blogging so much. This was definitely one of my more challenging years and my goal (among others, of course), is getting back to consistent posting. Why wait for January 1st, when today is a perfectly good day to start, right?! 😀

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