Surviving the Holidays with Your Diet Intact

Thanksgiving is right around the corner.  I see Christmas lights being put up around the neighborhood.  Black Friday ads are overflowing out of my mailbox.  ‘Tis the holiday season, and every year I am concerned about my diet surviving intact. Holiday dieting is the worst.  Who doesn’t savor the chance to partake in their holiday favorite foods?  I know I do, but this year I won’t be one of those people that gains weight over the holidays.  Not gonna happen.  Why?  Because this year I have a plan.  I am committed to my diet and making progress – and it’s more important than a piece of pie.  Or two pieces of pie as they case may, or may not, have been in the past.

It takes a good deal of discipline to consistently make healthy choices even under the best of circumstances.  This is a struggle that everyone faces when they are trying to stick to an eating regimen over the holidays. Diet and exercise routines won’t mean a thing if you don’t have the mental fortitude to stick with those routines.  The last thing any of us want is for our hard work to end up meaning nothing. To that end, I have compiled a list of strategies to help us manage these holiday moments while keeping our diets intact.


Don’t Go It Alone:

Get an accountability buddy. Choose someone who will be at the holiday event you are attending, and ideally this is someone who is dieting too – but it doesn’t have to be!  Their role is to help hold you accountable and maintain compliance with your diet when there is an abundance of opportunity to make bad eating choices. Alternatively, you can do the same thing for them.

Say No:

Many folks suffer from an approval addiction during the holidays.  They feel they must accept or say yes to any offer to avoid offending the hosts.   Even if that means putting their diet in jeopardy.  However, it is ok to say no – when offered that piece of cake or pie, simply say “Thank you so much, the cake/pie looks wonderful, but I’m really committed to my weight loss goals this year, so I’ll have to pass.”   Of course, saying “no” isn’t always as easy as I make it sound.  If your family is like mine, mostly Norwegian from Minnesota, then you’ll have to say no 3 times.   It usually goes like this:

  • Them: “What kinda ice cream do ya want wit’ dat pie, Ethan?”
  • Me: “Uff da! …I’m pretty stuffed from dinner, I think I better pass.”
  • Them:  “Ohhhh yaaa.  Are ya sure? …We got da pumpkin!”
  • Me: “Ohhhh yaaa, I’m trying ta stick to da diet, don’tcha know.”
  • Them:  “Alrighty then! We got a little apple pie too if ya change yer mind??”
  • Me: “Ohh ..real good then, if I want any, I’ll letcha know. “
  • Them: “you betcha!”

Curious fact: When I get around them I actually start talking like them …chock full of local and cultural colloquialisms!  Ya fer sure, you betcha!

Vision Board
My Visual Goals

Visual Reinforcement:

The temptation to cheat on your diet is everywhere during the holidays. Almost every event you attend – and perhaps even your home is going to be loaded with food and opportunities to go astray.   Remind yourself of your goals by having images around you of your goals.  Establish a constant visual reminder of what your goals are.  Those can be pictures of fit and sexy people, or inspirational words, pictures of your old self as a reminder of what you don’t want to go back to.  For me, I’m using pictures of the 1950’s BSA Gold Star motorcycle and the Royal Enfield Interceptor motorcycle.  In the spring, my goal is to buy that Royal Enfield as a reward to myself.  But it’s not like a big Harley – vintage British bikes are traditionally smaller, more agile machines.  That means I need to be a smaller, more agile version of me to fit on one.

Set Tangible Goals:

Don’t be general – don’t say “I want to lose SOME weight”.  Be specific. When I started, I didn’t do specific long term goals, but did specific short term goals. Given that I had SO much weight to lose, I had absolutely no clue how to set a long term goal for that. Probably there would be no way to determine that because my body would change in terms of muscle mass by the time I actually get closer to my goals.  So I do “micro-goals” or “mini-goals” …these are goals for the immediate future – or the next step.

This year, as I write this, I am 11 pounds away from having lost 200 pounds.  My goal is to be at 200 pounds lost by Christmas.  It’s November 19th today – so that gives me around a month to do it. But you may not have those same hurdles – maybe you are only 20 pounds overweight and your goal could be “I want to lose 15 pounds from my hips and thighs.”   Making your goals tangible and specific gives them added significance and makes them something you can easily envision when being tempted by holiday treats.  A clear picture of what you want can provide significant motivation.

Have a Plan:

If it is hunger and temptation that are the driving source of holiday cheating, plan for the event you need to attend by setting up options for yourself.  Perhaps drink a good amount of water to help fill up – or have a healthy snack before you leave to attend the event.  These are just small ideas of things we can do to plan for the onslaught of holiday temptations.  One thing I will likely do is simply keep an Isagenix Vanilla Cranberry Almond meal replacement bar with me in case I want something.  It’s balanced, delicious, and easily can replace a dessert item for me.

Brussel Sprouts
Honey Balsamic Glazed Brussel Sprouts

Offer to Bring a Dish:

Chances are there will be mostly traditional holiday foods at these events.  So, this is an opportunity for you to bring something healthy to share!  It also has the byproduct of allowing you at least one dish at the event where you won’t need to exercise as much portion control. But moreover by preparing something healthy to share that is also delicious, you may very well inspire others around you to start eating in a healthy way.   A great, simple, option are roasted vegetables with rosemary and salt and pepper, or the picture to the left – brussel sprouts in a decadent honey and balsamic glaze.

Portion Control:

When dinner hour arrives and everyone is eating, it’s imperative to have a solid grasp on how much you can have without going overboard.  Control those portions so they fit into your overall plan.  It’s ok to indulge in your favorite foods – but it needs to be done wisely. Click here to review my diet fundamentals which touch on portion control.


On the day of thanksgiving, spend a little time exercising in the morning …burn a few extra calories just to get you motivated to make healthier choices later that day.  When the moment of decision arrives, remember the effort you put forth that morning and know you have to be vigilant or it’s all for naught.

Eat Slowly and Thoughtfully:

Your body takes about 20 mins to register that it is full.  So if you are eating slowly, you’ll eat less food in the same amount of time.  As you are eating, appreciate the food and think about how it tastes.  Take note of what you like or dislike about it.  Thinking about it, as if you were a food critic, is a way to engage with the process and slow it down.

80 percent fullListen to Your Body:

There is a Confucian teaching referred to “Hara hachi bu” – which means “Eat until you are 4/5th full. Essentially it instructs people to not eat until they are completely full, but eat only 80% of their capacity.  It makes sense.  In modern times, this has often been expressed as “always leave the table a little hungry.”  Once you are satisfied …then STOP!  Focus and engage with family and friends instead of your plate.  A pleasant and memorable holiday is one where you spend time with your loved ones and really connect with them.  Make that your priority.  Except for that crazy uncle every family has – there’s a reason they call him “crazy”.

Drink Smart:

If you drink, then make sure to set limits for yourself and choose cocktails that are less calorie-heavy.  For instance, go with gin and diet tonic with a wedge of lime, or vodka and soda.  Avoid fruity drinks such as vodka cranberry or vodka/rum and orange juice.  The mixers all contain more calories.

leftoversDon’t Take Home Leftovers:

Your grandmother always wants to send home leftovers with you, but say no!  Your time to enjoy the meal and time with your family is on the day of the event – not constantly through the week.  Once you are home, you are back to your normal routine!  And don’t even try to use the excuse “but it will go to waste if I don’t eat it!”  …I’m not buying that.

Stop With The Excuses:

During the holidays you hear a lot of people say “Oh it’s the holidays, it’s ok to splurge a little…”  or, “It only happens once a year, it’s ok to let yourself enjoy the season.” , or “Hey the holidays are a time for enjoyment!  You can at least have a few treats!”   No, it’s not ok.  Making excuses and lying to ourselves is how we got in this mess to begin with.  It’s time to stop making excuses, stop blaming the season and the holidays, and accept responsibility.  We need to be committed to our health goals and realize that we are the problem – and that only we can be the solution.


There we have it folks; my suggestions for navigating through the holidays while keeping your diet intact.  I wish everyone a very happy holidays this year, and hope however you celebrate, it is safe, and enjoyable.   See you next time a little further on up The Unplowed Road.

2 Responses

  • Scott Robinson

    Honey Balsamic Glazed Brussels Sprouts looks amazing!!

    • Thanks Scott! …they are delicious!


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