The holiday season can result in some interesting eating. Calorie requirements can be reduced during the off-season in the Northern Hemisphere when training loads may be relaxed and fewer races are happening.  How can you get through the cake, pie, cookie, mashed potato (with gravy!), egg nog, and spirits (alcohol has tons of calories— and you can set it on fire) season?

First, plan ahead.

Second, manage in the moment.

Planning ahead means deciding before you go to the party or the relatives’ house how you want to eat.  Think like an economist:  will the outlay of expense be worth the price? You might say,” Aunt Ellen’s pecan pie is going to be totally worth the calories, and I will have no remorse when I down a piece.”  Or, “When I get to Will’s house, I’m going to pass on his oatmeal cookies—they look good but I think he uses sawdust from a horse barn floor instead of oats.  Most definitely not worth the calories.”

You can mentally rehearse how you are going to eat, just as you would mentally rehearse a workout or a race. Make an imaginary movie in your mind, seeing yourself eating and drinking just what you want and passing up the rest. You can find a more in-depth article I wrote for USAT with strategies specific to this concept here.

Planning ahead means eating at home before you go there.  If you arrive at the party after a 2500-yard swim and treadmill workout, you may have good intentions but are likely to eat everything including the napkins (OK, the reindeer on the holiday napkins could look appetizing). Consider having a salad with a little protein or something filling before you go so that you can browse in control (like an economist).

Managing in the moment means standing away from the food and drink table. When at the party, you can go to the opposite side of the room so that you are far more than arm’s reach away from the egg nog and sugar cookies. That way, if you really want some, you have to walk through the mob to get there and take the time to think, “Are these calories really going to be worth it?”

Managing in the moment might also mean having a sidekick. If you have an ally at the party, you can make a pact. “Let’s agree that you will remind me not to eat more than six pieces of cake. Do we have a deal?”

That sidekick might even be your own self. In your mind’s eye, propel yourself into the future to place yourself on the day before your next big race and then back yourself up in the current moment, asking yourself, “Do you really want that extra slice of cake?”  Your future self can judge whether it was glad for that slice of cake (after all, Will didn’t bake it) or wishes you had smiled and graciously said, “No thanks, but it does look awfully tasty.”

Q. What do you call an accountant with no sense of humor? 

A.  An economist. 

I’ve asked you to think like an economist, but I’m not suggesting that you become a monk during the holidays. After all, as humans, we are hard-wired to enjoy sharing meals and company with people we enjoy. It’s a grand part of life and we don’t have to pretend to be in a monastery. You can, though, get through the holidays with good cheer and food and libation and fun, and maybe without the extra baggage that you want to spare yourself from carrying around come January.

Will Murray is a USA Triathlon Level 1 coach with mental skills, trauma and youth specialties.  He is a practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming and his techniques lend to success in one or two sessions. He is co-author with Craig Howie of The Four Pillars of Triathlon: Vital Mental Skills for Endurance Athletes and author of Uncle:  The Definitive Guide for Becoming the World’s Greatest Aunt or Uncle. Both books are critically and economically unacclaimed.

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