Monday, January 2, 2017

The Geek's Guide to Dieting, Part 4: Surviving the Holidays

This is Part 4 in my series on dieting for geeks. This time we're talking about surviving the holidays, the biggest challenge a dieter faces.

The holidays are a wonderful time of year: they bring together celebration, fellowship, and food. Unfortunately, the holidays also seek, relentlessly, to undermine your diet. Everywhere you look, there's an excuse to over-indulge. All if takes is a few days of over-eating and old habits quickly return.

For me, the holiday season starts with an annual chili cook-off with longtime friends in late October or early November. As we near the Thanksgiving season, all sorts of special foods arrive, many of them pumpkin-spice flavored. Holiday pies are on sale. Thanksgiving itself, of course, is the super bowl of eating. A month later we're eating again for Christmas, and just a week after that there's the all-night eat-a-thon of New Year's Eve.

This year, I entered the holiday season four months into my diet having shed 40 pounds. I had gotten into a routine where I was keeping my calories to 1200 a day, and losing 10 pounds a month. I was justifiably nervous as Fall approached: I certainly had every intention of enjoying the Holiday festivities, but I also didn't want to throw away all of my weight loss progress. I decided I would indulge, but not recklessly. If I could make it to end of year and continue to lose weight at half the usual rate, I would be satisfied; then I could go back to my normal routine in January.

Initially, this worked out fine. We attended the chili cook off and of course over-ate. But that was only one day, and since I otherwise stayed on my diet plan everything was okay. By the time Thanksgiving arrived, I was feeling confident. By now I'd now lost 45 pounds since July, so my plan to continue losing weight but a bit more slowly seemed like it was working. In fact, I'd upped my daily calories from 1200 to 1300. Of course Thanksgiving and the next few days involved a lot of eating, but I again reverted back to form without too much difficulty afterward and only gained a couple of pounds from all that Turkey, mashed potatoes, and stuffing.

By the time Christmas arrived, however, I was starting to crack. Food was being offered to me left and right! There were parties and candy and treats seemingly every day. I did my best, but knew I was slipping into some bad habits and eating more than I should far too often. My wife and I sing in our church choir, and Christmas Eve means singing for three services, with a pot-luck in-between each service to keep our energy up. I lost track of how many meatballs I ate.

Finally, New Years Eve. We were hosting a party for 20 people, and that involved having a lot of food available (such as homemade pretzels and pizza and chips and guacamole) and staying up past midnight eating it. I ate, and ate, and ate. In the morning I weighed myself, and found my 45-pound weight loss had reverted to only a 40-pound weight loss: I'd gained 5 pounds over the course of December.

On January 1st, I knew I had to reset things and work to get back to where I had been. I got a lot more strict about staying on my diet plan and stopped making exceptions. Now that the holidays are over, the constant temptations are gone.

Looking back, I survived the holidays but could have done better. I give myself a B instead of an A. I did gain a bit more weight than I'd wanted to (5 pounds), but I didn't completely unravel things. My plan for next year is to have less in the way of left-overs: left-overs can turn a day of over-eating into several.

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