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Kathy Whelan

Posted on December 12, 2019

Do you look forward to the holiday season but fear overindulging in food and drink? Are you worried that your healthy habits (or your progress toward them) will be wiped out by a few weeks of fun? Do you dread or avoid stepping on the scale this time of year?

When I found myself feeling this way several weeks ago, and hearing that others did too, I knew where to turn. Beth Reardon is not only an excellent dietitian and nutritionist but also a wise and practical person. She is co-author of The Mindful Diet, a book that has proven invaluable to me, both personally and professionally.

Beth’s answer to my very first question underscored why I needed her advice. I’d just read an article suggesting that a minor weight gain during the holidays could take five months to reverse. Another article made an even scarier prediction. Could this be true? I asked Beth.

A pause on the other end of the phone signaled the re-frame that followed. “We always gain weight in the winter like other mammals,” she replied. As I said, she is wise and practical. Beth went on to explain that she dislikes thinking of the issue this way, in terms of risk. Yes, she agreed, we do sometimes go over the top this time of year. We need to find a happy medium so we can enjoy being with family and friends, cooking and eating together, experiencing the joy and love that are the essence of the season.

So is there a way, I asked, to be social and eat healthy too? “Absolutely,” she said. “It depends on the mindset with which you approach the holidays.” And this, she explained, involves a bit of loving kindness toward ourselves during this time that brings with it both healthy and less healthy forms of stress.

But how, I wanted to know, do we get this mindset and find that happy medium? Beth responded with some practices she has found helpful:

1. Play out each holiday event ahead of time.

Put the emphasis where it should be, asking yourself who you look forward to seeing and what relationships you’ll be nurturing. Attend to your self-care by getting adequate hydration and exercise prior to the event.

2. At the event, be mindful about drinking.

Mindfulness is especially important here because of what alcohol does to metabolism. To varying degrees, depending on the drink, alcohol creates fluctuations in blood sugar, leading to sugar cravings. Go ahead and have the special cocktail you drink only at holiday time but follow it with something less sugary like wine or seltzer, and be sure to start with something substantial in your belly. Take a moment from time to time to check in and notice how your body feels.

3. Cruise around to see what’s offered before digging in.

Beth suggests starting with a food that has both protein and fat in order to satisfy you but not hijack you as you try to eat mindfully.

4. Skip the everyday foods.

Why fill up on cheese and crackers or other foods that are available all year long? In making choices, lean toward the special foods you won’t see the rest of the year; eating them will make the holidays more memorable.

5. At a buffet, choose veggies first.

If you fill half your plate with vegetables, you won’t have as much room for meat and grains, which should always be eaten in smaller amounts.

6. Whatever you choose, eat it with intention.

Having chosen carefully, eat slowly and savor the flavors of the food on your plate.

7. Don’t feel like a kill-joy if you’re trying to self-manage and not overindulge.

We are each responsible for taking care of ourselves. If your host seems disappointed you’re not eating more, explain that you’re full but would love to take something home to eat when you can really enjoy it.

8. If you accidentally go overboard, don’t make it worse by punishing yourself.

Remember that every cell in your body is eavesdropping on your thoughts, so stressful thinking about last night will do more harm than good. Learn from the experience and course-correct for the next time. If you want, and it feels right, you can do an “intermittent fast” of at least twelve hours to reset.

Hearing these tips, I felt more confident about enjoying the season without ambivalence. But I couldn’t let Beth go without asking one more question: Should I weigh myself during the holidays?

“I think not,” she said. “At the end of our lives, it’s all about relationships, and that’s what matters this time of year.” If it were up to her, we’d all ditch the bathroom scale until January and use a completely different kind of measurement: a scale showing how much we enjoyed ourselves and our family and friends during this special season.

You can reach Beth Reardon at

Happy Holidays!

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