The Smartest Way to Diet During the Holidays
Welcome to "Slim Chance," a twice-monthly series in which author Amber Petty documents the happiness and crappiness of losing weight.
Weight: 225.8 pounds
Lost in 2 weeks: 4 pounds
Total Lost: 27.2 pounds
I’ve spent many holidays on a diet. Usually it goes something like this:
Pre-Thanksgiving: “I’ll have a little stuffing and pie, but not go all-out.”
Post-Thanksgiving: “OK, I ate all the stuffing. No big deal. I’m back on my diet. I mean, I might have one Christmas cookie…”
December 1: “Had my Christmas cookie. What a delight! Surely, that’ll be all the treats I need till Christmas.”
December 2: “Hmm, now I can’t stop thinking about Christmas cookies.”
December 3: “It’s holiday season, DAMMIT! Let me have all the sugar my blood can handle!”
December 27: “How did I gain 10 pounds in three weeks? Oh well, time to enjoy this entire pound of See’s candies…”
Last year, after my doctor told me to eat 1,200 calories a day, I decided to let myself eat whatever I wanted for Thanksgiving but go back to counting calories on Black Friday. Though I enjoyed my super-delicious feast, going back to my diet was incredibly hard. Here’s some footage of me that Friday morning.
For three days, I had intense cravings. That Thanksgiving meal somehow flipped a switch in my brain that turned my mindset from “Let’s Be Healthy” to “Let’s See How Many Fats and Carbs I Can Cram in at Every Meal.” I remember going to the grocery store and desperately wanting to buy candy. It’s the holiday season, I reasoned. To avoid the unnecessary sugar, I had to remind myself, Hey, the candy isn’t going anywhere. You can have some on Christmas. By bribing myself with future sugar, I was able to get through the cravings and eventually eat fairly healthily again—until Christmas, of course.
All of this is to say: When you want to lose weight, the holidays are hard. There's sugar and alcohol are everywhere, parties all through the month, and big fancy dinners with nary a green in sight. Depriving yourself all season is miserable, but gorging yourself isn’t great, either.
So... how will I get through the holidays this year without erasing all the progress I’ve made so far?
Thanksgiving this year was pretty easy. We didn’t have any Friendsgiving invites, and my husband and I live too far from our families to brave the busiest travel day of the year for some turkey. So I got to decide on my own Thanksgiving meal.
We had a turkey breast (because I’m boring and only like white meat), cranberry sauce made with monkfruit sweetener, mashed potatoes, and some homemade pumpkin pie. I only made half a pie so I wouldn’t have many dessert leftovers to taunt me in the days to come.
It was a small meal by Thanksgiving standards, but I got to have my favorite holiday treat (I love mashed potatoes too much to pass them up) and healthier versions of a couple of classics. Note: The monkfruit cranberry sauce was great! It’s not the cheapest sweetener, but I like it way more than stevia.
I chose foods that I enjoy, but don’t make me lose control.
For some reason, stuffing and pasta make me want to eat nothing but stuffing and pasta for days on end. Same with cake. Now, does it make any sense that I could have pie and not have cravings, but having a full cake at home would send me into sugar-only mode? No. But that’s how my brain works, so I decided to opt for foods-I-like-but-don't-lose-it-over and avoid this-is-your-brain-on-drugs catalysts.
As we get into December, I’m going to try to have this same attitude. I’ll enjoy the treats I really love but leave the addictive stuff aside. Plus, I’ll try not to have a treat every day. What is it about December that makes it seem perfectly reasonable—nay, necessary—to have a cookie or candy every single day? Maybe the fact that there are literally whole calendars devoted to doling out chocolate every 24 hours and that not having an advent calendar makes me feel like some kind of Scrooge. But I’ll try to let the sugar-dealing peer pressure pass me by and keep treats to about once a week.
I’m confident that I won’t lose control this year.
As much as I like these foods, they aren’t as important to me as they used to be. Previously, I felt like I had to get in as many treats as possible before I hated myself and went back to dieting. Now, I don’t hate myself. I can enjoy a small treat and also enjoy all the other lovely non-food things life—and this season—have to offer.
I love baking Christmas cookies, so I’ll do that. I love mulled wine, and I only have it once a year, so I won’t feel bad. And See’s candies are the absolute best, but now I know better than to buy a box for myself—so I’ll just get a couple truffles and call it a day.
Now, I could just avoid all this stuff. But I’ve done that before, and it always ends in binge-eating behavior. My decision to have mashed potatoes and pie might impede my weight loss this week. And my desire to make cookies and go out for Christmas Eve dinner might slow my weight loss even more. So what? This year, I want to go through the holidays without feeling guilty or restrained.
Wish me luck.
Amber Petty is an L.A.-based writer and a regular contributor to Greatist. Follow along as she shares her weight-loss journey in her new bi-monthly column, Slim Chance. Take singing lessons from her via Sing A Different Tune and follow her on Instagram @Ambernpetty.