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The Dieters Christmas Conundrum

christmas tree 04 ink

Christmas is upon us.

It might look slightly different for each of us but one thing is for certain…THERE…WILL…BE…FOOD.

And there will probably be a lot of it.
Roast turkey, ham, new potatoes, roast veggies, prawns, crayfish, oysters, pork, steaks and sausages on the BBQ, salads, yorkshire puddings, panettone, trifle, pavlova, chocolate, christmas pudding, cherries, strawberries, champagne, beer, beer ….and more beer.
It is the one time of the year when people who have been sticking to an eating plan might loosen it up a little and have a treat or two or they might loosen it up completely and totally indulge.
It is also a time when people who think they probably should have been sticking to an eating plan, might pat their tummies as they politely decline treats and drinks that are offered to them.

So, what will you eat this Christmas Day?

Your options should you choose to accept

In my mind you have 3 options (These 3 options go for any special occasion where there is going to be food that you would not normally eat).

  1. Be militant about what you will and will not eat and stick to your guns and your guidelines no matter what comes over the hill.
  2. Indulge just a little bit, be selective and take the cream of the crop.  Pretend you are a master taste tester in a french patisserie or a wine taster with a highly refined palate. I am not suggesting you will chew and spit, but why eat or drink something if it is not going to be the most awesome tasting experience you have had all year?
  3. Eat whatever you want.  You may as well throw open the gates because the horse will bolt anyway, you will eat today and worry about going to find the horse tomorrow.

Which of these 3 options should you take?

Well, that depends…on you. You know best how it will all pan out for you.

Will you be able to eat a little bit and stop or will it turn into a month long sugar binge?
How will you feel after you eat every treat in sight and have packed your
stomach like a chipmunk preparing for winter?
Will you wallow in a crippling guilt or will you be able to shake it off in the morning and pick up your eating plan where you left off?
Will you still be able to enjoy Christmas if you turn down the special Christmas trifle that you know your mum makes just for you?

Our enjoyment of certain foods is very contextual.  There are probably some foods that you only eat at Christmas and over many years you may have tightly associated these foods with an enjoyable Christmas experience.

No matter if you choose option #1, #2 or #3, it is important to be mindful but not obsessive about what you will eat or drink at Christmas.
Have a plan of what you will and will not eat and stick to it.

Some considerations and strategies that might help you stick with your chosen plan on Christmas Day:

  • Be prepared, get some idea of what’s on the menu, if it is your regular Christmas celebration then you should have some idea anyway. If you are the cook then you are in control of what makes it to the dinner table.
  • Take the time to consider the consequences of your decision to eat or not eat a particular food. Don’t just think about it in passing, I mean REALLY think about it and be honest with yourself. Recall how that type of food made you feel last time you ate it. Reflect on how likely you are to stop “at one” or to “just have a little bit.”
  • If there are certain foods that just ‘mean’ Christmas to you but they are on your banned list for day to day eating, you will need to weigh up how important eating them is to your whole Christmas experience and how important that experience is to you.

  • Dallas and Melissa at Whole9 have put together a great guide to nutritional off-roading. It is a like a roadmap designed to help you make smarter choices when contemplating the “not-so-good” for you food. With the simple flowchart you can “walk yourself through a series of checkpoints that all lead to one of three conclusions – don’t eat it, eat the “less bad” option, or eat the real deal.”
  • Tell your family. So that (hopefully) they will not feel compelled to offer you the foods you have decided to avoid. If they persist, you could try making a game out of how many times you will have to say no to their offerings.
  • If you are not hosting, you could “help out the host” and take some paleo-friendly alternatives to dinner.  For me, my downfall is dessert so I am going to make a paleo apple crumble and espresso nut balls or cacao balls to take to Andrew’s family Christmas this year.  These are “less bad” options that satisfy my need for some type of indulgence and they are a hit with Andrew’s family as well. (If you are interested in these recipes they are in Paleo Cookbooks.)

    Cacao Balls

  • Eat till you are full, then stop.  This seems like a no-brainer I know, but the food that you find super tasty has a higher satiety point for you than other food you find not-so-tasty, which means you will eat more of it in a sitting.  This differs between different people in terms of which foods disrupt the “time to stop eating” signal and to what degree.  If you don’t think you can trust your bodies “full” signal then make sure your eyes are not bigger than your tummy when you are loading up your plate. Stephan Guyenet has some excellent posts on palatability and food reward on his blog, Whole Health Source if you are interested in more info on this.
  • Wait at least 20 minutes before you go for seconds or dessert, it takes that long for the hormones in your gut to get enough signal to your brain to say “I am full, stop eating now” and for your brain to send the hormones that reduce your motivation to eat more food.
  • Make Christmas more than just sitting around eating and drinking, get out for a stroll before or after dinner, play with the kids, get a game of cricket going, throw around the footy, put up a volleyball net or play charades.  Enjoy the company of your family and friends away from the dinner table or the esky and the chilly bin.

    family cricket match

  • If you are struggling to stick with your plan, it helps me to remind myself that the food options I am avoiding are not ‘real food,’ especially if they are wheat-based, sugary concoctions.  They are toxic to my body and therefore should not even be on my ‘food’ radar.  If you find it easier you could try a mantra like “That is not real food, I only eat real food.”
  • To ensure that Christmas day does not flow into Boxing day and beyond, if you are hosting get your guests to take some leftovers home with them, if you are a guest just politely decline any offers for food which would not ordinarily fit with your eating plan.
  • If you travel between different families on Christmas Day and have many opportunities to eat, be selective about what you eat…go for the good stuff and leave the filler food.
  • Whatever you decide to eat make sure you savour it and the occasion.  Christmas is a time to get together with family and friends and enjoy each other’s company, show our gratitude to each other and reflect on the year.
  • Whatever you decide to eat don’t get obsessive about it, it is only one day of the year.

In some cases it is better to eat the wrong food with the right attitude than the other way around”  ~  Chris Kresser, on the 80/20 Rule 

So good luck with whatever you decide to eat this Christmas, enjoy it and have a happy & safe holiday.

Feel free to leave a comment below and tell us about your Christmas dinner.  Are you going to make an eating plan?
Also if you have any other tips or strategies that help to get you through celebrations where food is involved please share!

Merry Christmas!
Until next time…eat, sleep, move and be merry!



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2 Responses to The Dieters Christmas Conundrum

  1. Katheirnekelley Wednesday 19 December, 2012 at 10:00 PM #

    I’m more of the first option set, but only because of food allergies and intolerances.  I’ll want the other stuff, but not enough to be sick for weeks from it.  I called home and found out that this year we are doing more of an appetizers/tapas deal this year so I’m packing things that I’ll be able to eat, without standing out too much.  Olives, prisciutto stuffed peppers, deviled eggs and the like, along with the sliced veggies that everyone ignores.  :)

    • Cassie Bond Thursday 20 December, 2012 at 4:56 PM #

      Ditto that!