Holiday Weight Gain: Beat the Odds (cont.)

Among the strategies that work best is positive self-talk, with the help of appetite "flash cards," says Judith Beck, PhD, clinical associate professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania at Philadelphia and author of The Beck Diet Solution.

"Part of the Beck Solution is to make a list of every good reason why you want to lose weight, and read it to yourself every morning -- and when you are tempted to eat something you hadn't planned, just read it again, so you're constantly reminding yourself why it's worth it to turn down food," she says.

She believes you have to rehearse your reasons for wanting to be thin, the same way you rehearse the speech you give your boss when asking for a raise or the pep talk you give yourself before any challenging situation.

"You have to condition yourself and change your mind-set about what food means to you," says Beck.

Muller says this method works well for those who are "thinkers" and do well with a script. For those who are more spur-of-the-moment, "see it and eat it" types, a technique called "mindful eating" may work best, she says.

"So often, overeating is connected to a primitive, emotional place inside us, and we just mindlessly start eating," says Muller. "So one of the strategies would be to cultivate mindfulness: Keep bringing yourself back to the here and now, notice what's in your hand, notice what's on your plate, and pay attention to what you are eating."

Huberman says you can also go party-by-party, with a plan for each event: "You can limit the number of dishes you will eat, limit how much you will eat at each course, limit yourself to the three foods you absolutely love the most. The key is to put parameters around how much you will consume, and then stick to your plan."

Don't Let 'Food Pushers' Lead to Holiday Weight Gain

Despite your best laid plans, your holiday food goals can still go awry thanks to "food pushers" - friends, family members, and co-workers who refuse to take "no" for an answer when they're offering fattening treats.

"These are the people who, for whatever reason, seem to believe that their holiday celebration just isn't complete until they get you to give in to their food weaknesses," says Huberman.

From that co-worker with the bottomless cookie jar, to Mom and Great-Aunt Sue with their pecan pies and zillion-carb stuffing, to the hostess who won't let you leave her house before you wolf down a plate of diet-busting treats, even well-meaning friends and family can drag you into the Diet Twilight Zone.

The easiest way out? Just say "no" -- over and over and over, the experts say.

"We call this the broken record technique," says Huberman. "If you continue to politely refuse the food pusher, eventually they will stop pushing you. You don't have to be rude, but you do have to be firm."

Beck adds that we should feel entitled to do what is good for us.

"If you were refusing food because of an allergy or for religious reasons, you wouldn't think twice about saying 'no' and sticking to it," Beck says. "So give yourself that same sense of entitlement when you say 'no' to something because you are protecting your good health."

There's no need for lots of explanation about why you don't want to eat something. You don't even have to mention the word "diet."

"It's really OK to just say 'No, thank you -- it smells divine, but I'm really full.' You don't have to offer more explanation than that," says Huberman.

If you simply can't get away without accepting something fattening on your plate, Muller says, accept it. Then, just walk into the next room and dump it.

"Just because it's on your plate or in your hand," she says, "doesn't mean you have to eat it."

Medically Reviewed December 13, 2007.

SOURCES: Warren Huberman, PhD, psychologist, surgical weight loss program, NYU Medical Center, New York City. Heather Niemeier, PhD, Weight Control & Diabetes Research Center, Miriam Hospital; the Warren Alpert Medical School, Brown University. Katherine Muller, PsyD, director, Cognitive Behavior Therapy Program, Montefiore Medical Center, New York. Judith Beck, clinical associate professor of psychology, University of Pennsylvania; director, Beck Institute for Cognitive Therapy, Philadelphia; author, The Beck Diet Solution. Niemeier, H., Obesity, October 2007; vol 15, no 10. Lee, J., Behaviour Research and Therapy, October 2007; vol 45, Issue 10: pp 2334-2348.

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Last Editorial Review: 12/20/2007