It’s holiday time… our favorite time of year! A season full of get-togethers with family and friends, deliciously rich food, and fun!
Along with this time of year comes a certain level of guilt and frustration, as well. We feel guilty for over-indulging, and to some extent, the perceived “sabotage” of our diet and fitness plan.
We have good news…. You can enjoy and indulge and stay on track with your goals! It just takes a little strategy.

The first thing to realize is, it’s not totally your fault, and you’re not alone. We are neurologically wired to consume more calories and more calorie dense foods than we actually need. Dr. Susan Roberts of Tufts University did some great research and reasoning, and identified 5 basic food “instincts” that drive our ultimate actions about “what, how, when, and how much” we eat.

The instinct we’ll highlight today is “Availability” This instinct is very basic. “We eat food simply because it’s available.” Multiple studies across different cultures and populations show that, as humans, we eat more when food is available- regardless of our hunger. Our favorite study that helps show this is this study, done at Cornell University, and is probably one of the coolest studies of all time (in my opinion).
In this study, repeated 3 times, at least 60 subjects were invited to eat as many bowls of tomato soup as they wanted until they were full. They were invited back a few days later for seemingly the same task, but with a catch. The bowls had a hole in the bottom with a small hose attached that continually pumped tomato soup into the bowl, so it was an endless bowl of soup! They were instructed to consume as much as they wanted (until they felt full) over the course of 15 minutes.
The results? On average, the subjects consumed 75% more soup than they had previously when the bowl wasn’t endless! 75%!! That’s a lot of extra calories. Some were quoted as saying, when asked if they were full, “How can I be, I still have half a bowl of soup left!”

We eat more food when it’s readily available, and when we eat mindlessly. It’s inevitable!

But, knowledge is power. By simply being aware of this instinct, we have the ability to plan and set up strategies to ensure we enjoy ourselves without the guilt and poor results afterwards!

Here are some simple strategies for Surviving the Holiday Eating Season with your health and fitness goals still intact:

1. Make sure it’s not available! It’s ok to snack, but make it harder to over-indulge. Either buy the smaller package at the store, so you’d have to go back to get more. Or, take your serving out of the package, put it in a bowl or small plate, and then put the package away. There’s a reason Pringles say “Bet you can’t eat just one!” It’s really hard when that can’s still in your hand!

2. Portion Control! If you’re in charge of making dessert or some other “sinful” dish for the get-together, alter the recipe to make it smaller. Only make enough for one serving per guest, or make the portions smaller. Don’t we all complain that “I ate way too much dessert…” after dinner anyways?

3. Plan Accordingly! If you know you’re on your way to over-indulging as you celebrate, plan for it! You have a few options: Eat a smaller breakfast and lunch, with no snacks that day and the day after to keep your overall calories limited… OR… Eat a little extra for breakfast and lunch, with more significant snacks in between so you’re not as hungry when you get there (not a great option based on our instinct above- there’ll still be plenty of calories available)… OR… Eat lots of high volume, low calorie foods like fresh veggies! Our stomach has mechanoreceptors, or “movement receptors,” surrounding it as well. As we’ve all learned, the body craves movement, and the stomach is no exception. As we fill it with large, but calorie lacking veggies, it stretches, or “moves” the stomach and gives us a more satisfied feeling.

At Fitness Evolved, we’re all about intentional practice to continually improve for lifelong optimal health and wellness. Practicing “elite eating habits,” intentionally, allows us to alter our behavior and enjoy all the wonderful flavors of foods that come with the Holiday Season without getting side-tracked or set-back. We know more about the science of nutrition than we ever have in the history of our country, yet we’re the most unhealthy we’ve ever been in the history of our country. We have the knowledge, it’s the behavior and habits, or “instincts,” that we need to be aware of and intentionally improve. Awareness of these instincts and behaviors is the first step to making a change towards elite health and fitness. While everyone else is complaining and feeling guilty, we can feel happy and satisfied because we planned ahead and learned how to enjoy and control ourselves. Happy eating!

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