What’s on your agenda this week? Digging into Ree Drummond’s Christmas Queso? Sitting down to Ina Garten’s gorgeous rib roast or cutting into the Neelys’ crowd-pleasing glazed ham? Perhaps you’ve been the one tasked with making those cookies left out for Santa conveniently disappear? Sounds like a lot of fun — and fun that should be had.
For the last week of our No-Resolutions Resolution plan, let’s all be reminded: Holidays are meant to be celebrated. Relish in the once-a-year feasts, cocktail party nibbles, seasonal eggnog, gingerbread men and, of course, memorable time with your family — for better or worse. No one has said, though, that by kicking up your heels and indulging you are automatically given a free pass to pack on the pounds. “It’s not like you have to gain weight,” says clinical associate professor of nutrition and food studies at New York University Lisa Sasson. “The holidays are not a green light.” OK, that may sound a little harsh, but somewhere along the way we’ve all been programmed to think: “Hey, it’s the holidays! Gaining weight is just part of the deal!” Uh-huh. No one ever said the two needed to go hand in hand. There is a way to enjoy Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year’s — or whatever your food-filled celebration — and not be required to unbuckle your belt under the table. That said, what do you do to be sure you’re not leaving the party with a belly that resembles Saint Nick’s?
“Think,” says Sasson. It’s really that simple: Be mindful before you even get to the festivities. Sasson suggests telling yourself: “There are times I will splurge, but the next day I’ll be more active. Or say, “I’m not going to parties famished. I am going to make sure I have something to eat before I get there.” Stick to a regular eating schedule and pause before you go in for seconds or thirds.
Despite the fact that you’re reading this, and hopefully that means you’re going to enjoy yourself responsibly, what do you do Jan. 1 when your scale is not showing your normal weight? Here’s what Sasson says not to do: diet. “That’ one of the worst things that happens in the new year,” says Sasson. “People set unrealistic goals and go on crazy diets.” While a plan to cut back sounds reasonable, what’s so wrong with dieting? Likely you’ll start a diet on Monday (everything begins on Mondays), but by Tuesday, when you’ve already broken it, you’ll tell yourself you’ll start again next week; therein lies the problem. “If you’re going to go on a diet, you’re going to go off a diet,” says Sasson. “That can’t happen if you decide to change your eating habits.” Give yourself reasonable goals, and tell yourself that this year you’re going to change your patterns.
Make Lasting Changes
What’s a good place to start? “Explore the main reasons you gain weight,” says Sasson. “Is it that you drink too much? Snack too much? Whatever it is, figure it out.” When you get to the root of the issue, find a solution, but make sure it’s one you can take on. “Perhaps you tell yourself, ‘Every time I watch TV I’m not going to snack.’ Or, ‘When I go to restaurants I’m going to split desserts.’ Or, ‘I’m only going out to dinner once a week and cook more at home,’” suggests Sasson. She stresses that making key lifestyle choices is the key to success. “These are longer lasting rather than the temporary Band-Aid approach that people only do for a couple weeks.”
A challenge you may face in changing your lifestyle, however, is managing time. There is just never enough of it, and yes, if you’re cooking more and ordering in less, you will need more of it. The key is to plan ahead. Sasson suggests batch cooking and making time to grocery shop, which will prevent you from eating junk when you come home starving at the end of the day. Think in advance what lunches you’ll be making for the week, and have an array of basics on hand or frozen homemade soups ready to be reheated.
When you do ring in the new year, if you’re going to resolve to do anything different, there’s one biggie: change. “It’s the best resolution you can make for 2015,” says Sasson. “You have to do something, because there’s no magic. It’s time to make a change in your life.”
Happy New Year!
Kiri Tannenbaum is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu Paris and holds an M.A. in food studies from New York University where she is currently an adjunct professor. When her schedule allows, she leads culinary walking tours in New York City and is currently at work on her first book.