You’ve been working hard for weeks, maybe months, to change your eating habits.  You met with the dietitian, you traded unhealthy behaviours for healthy ones, and you’ve been seeing some results.  Maybe you lost a few pounds.  Maybe your blood sugars are improving.  Maybe you’re just eating healthy and feeling good.

So it may seem like it’s all smooth sailing from here on out, but you’re about to hit a big red and green bump in the road called Christmas.

We all know what the holiday season means for our diets.  Who can resist the plethora of exciting and delicious holiday goodies?  The cookie exchanges at work?  The endless gifts of chocolates?  The special treats that we get to enjoy just once a year so we had better eat them now while they’re around(!), like gingerbread cookies, candy cane ice cream, and Starbucks’ holiday beverages.

And what about all the social events that centre around food and alcohol?  The work parties, family get-togethers, and dinner dates with friends.

‘Tis the season to throw all your hard work out the window and indulge, right?

Nope!  I think we can still enjoy the season and its goodies without flushing our goals down the toilet, but it might take a bit more effort in December.   One of my favourite tricks for limiting the Christmas binge is the delay trick.

Delay the treats

The Christmas season starts earlier and earlier every year, which means we have more and more time to eat holiday goodies.  If you start baking seasonal treats like shortbread cookies, candy cane brownies and gingerbread men in November when the Christmas season “starts”, then you’ll likely be consuming excess sweets for weeks and weeks if not two full months!  The end result of prolonged intake of excess calories is weight gain, and the longer your indulging lasts, the more weight you’ll put on.   For people with pre-diabetes, the end result of Christmas could be a new diagnosis of diabetes come the new year.  In fact, many people with diabetes have higher blood sugars in December and this is reflected in their higher A1C in January.  (Your A1C, or HbA1C, is a marker in your blood that indicates your average blood sugar level over the past 3 months, with blood sugars during the most recent 6 weeks contributing the most to your A1C level.)

Indulging for a week or two (depending on the degree of indulging!) is not likely to result in much – if any –  weight gain for most people because this isn’t a long time.  Weight gain and loss takes time; it doesn’t happen overnight or even over a weekend.  However, when people chronically eat more calories than the body needs, most people will gain weight.

This all means that an important step in preventing holiday weight gain is minimizing how long you’re exposed to calorie-dense foods.  I like to suggest that people delay the introduction of holiday treats as long as possible.  Ideally, wait until the second week of December before doing the holiday baking so you’ll indulge for less time.  A client and I discussed this idea recently and because it really resonated with her, she made it part of her nutrition plan.  Instead of starting baking December 1st, she plans to start baking in mid-December.

This trick should be used with other Christmas treats too.  Tins of candies and boxes of chocolates will start flowing endlessly through offices soon, giving people ample opportunity to overeat.  A lot of people give in to goodies in the break room to alleviate boredom, boost energy, and manage stress.  So here are a few tips for limiting junk food when it’s all around you:

  •  Eat healthy balanced meals that satisfy you. This can help prevent cravings, which are hard to ignore when there’s a mound of goodies in the employee lounge.
  • Out of sight, out of mind. Avoid keeping goodies in your office.  If you can see or easily reach the food, you’ll probably end up eating it.
  • Bring a healthy snack to work that you actually enjoy to help resist the sweets. Get a little stimulation and pleasure from a yogurt with fruit or an apple with peanut butter instead of candy.
  • Drink fluids. Maybe nursing a water, tea or coffee will give you the afternoon pick-me-up you need in order to avoid the goodies.

Research has shown that if you have a craving, making a plan to eat the food item later in the day can actually help subdue the craving.  To apply this to holiday eating, you might decide to start occasionally taking a goodie from the break room as of December 20, or start holiday baking on December 18.

I’ve met a lot of people over the years who feel bad about turning down a homemade goodie, and I can appreciate this.  However, if you truly do not want to eat something, it’s OK to say no. Saying,  “No, thank you, but maybe later” will likely be accepted without shattering the person offering the treat.  Don’t let guilt determine your diet.

Good luck everyone, and Merry Christmas!

Thanks for reading!

-Andrea Senchuk, RD