Every magazine or newspaper has an article about how to cut calories and avoid gaining weight during the holidays. They all share great ideas, and as I have always said, small changes can go a long way. Choose mashed potatoes over stuffing, sip spicy bloody Marys instead of eggnog, modify your recipes to cut fat, etc.Many of my clients get distressed over having to miss any part of the holidays or traditional holiday foods. However, the fact is that if the holidays pose a stress to you because of health or weight issues, you do need to consider this time and decide if you will make any changes at all, or do as you have always done, enjoy it, and deal with the outcome later.

In my last article, I introduced a tool I use with my clients called the "Hunger and Fullness Scale." Clients are using this scale to gauge their hunger before reaching for something to eat. This moment taken to think about how hungry we are, what we want to eat, and how much will satisfy us, gives us just enough time to make a decision mindfully and without impulse. Then during the meal, the client focuses on how satisfied they are, and stops eating when they are comfortable but not full.

I have another tool in my belt that can also help you decide how you will handle the holidays. You'll need pen and paper for this one. Draw yourself a big box and divide it into four squares, two on the top, two on the bottom. Label the top boxes, "If I change ___," and "If I don't change ____." Now fill in the blanks with whatever you feel is your downfall. Next, label the boxes along the left-hand side as, "Good things," and "Not so good things."

Here comes the hard part. You have to really take some time and think about this. You are going to fill in each of the four boxes. For instance, the top left-hand box should contain "good things" that would happen if you followed through with your proposed change. The top right hand box will be filled with a list of "good things" about not making that change. Then do the same for the bottom two boxes. What is "not so good" about changing, and what is "not so good" about doing things the same way?

Based on your past experience, and if you are honest with yourself, you can pretty much predict the results of your decisions and will have no trouble filling in the boxes. You can then use this information to help you make a decision about how you will handle the holidays this year.

For instance, if last year, you ate and drank whatever you wanted, attended every party and sampled every appetizer, you probably put on a few pounds, felt sluggish come January, your pants were tight, and so on. These would go in the "not so good" box.

However, if in doing so, you really had a lot of fun, traveled to see some distant friends, tried new foods and restaurants, the foods tasted good, and you didn't have to feel deprived, you should list these things in the "good things" box.

After filling in all four boxes, go back and re-read what you have written. Now decide what is priority to you. Or can you achieve some balance among the four boxes?

I don't know if he ever completed my grid, but Steven Tyler, of the rock group Aerosmith was asked how he stays so thin (skeletal, really) His answer was, "Nothing tastes as good as being thin feels."

This simple grid has helped many people to motivate themselves to change or not to change, based on what is really important to them. There is no right or wrong answer. Just know that whatever decision you make, whatever change you make, whatever you eat or not eat, results in a specific outcome. As long as you're OK with that, I'm OK with that. It's important to be happy and enjoy the holidays and your family and friends. At least that's my priority.

Carmel Richenbach is a registered dietician and licensed nutritionist with more than 20 years of experience. She practices in Glen Mills and Kennett Square. Readers may send questions to c.rickenbach@comcast.net

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