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Prime Time, November

By Duc Vuong, M.D., board-certified surgeon and director of Lovelace Bariatrics Department

Dieting during the holidays almost never works. It will not only frustrate you but also detract from the key aspect of the holidays—to celebrate family bonds, enjoy yourself and the company of others, and make new and lasting memories. TV shows that have a segment on “How to make your Thanksgiving healthier” or “How to avoid ruining your diet during the holidays” promote backward thinking. I’ve waited all year for my sweet potato pie, and now the “diet expert” is going to mess it up by substituting low-fat yogurt instead of cream? I don’t think so. 

We should feel free to celebrate holidays as we choose. In terms of weight loss, it’s the rest of the year that matters, not these special times. Instead, make it a goal to maintain your weight. This will allow you to enjoy holidays while remaining mindful of your health. 

Have you ever thought, “I’ve already ruined my diet today (or this week or this holiday), so it doesn’t matter what I eat now!”? There are times when we all make poor food choices, but that doesn’t mean you have to throw in the towel! This is one of the few times in life that we behave this way. University of Pennsylvania psychologist Judith S. Beck suggests: Pretend you get pulled over for running a red light, and the police officer gives you a ticket. At this point, you wouldn’t say, “Well I’ve blown it now. I might as well just run all of the other red lights today!” If you stumble down the first couple of steps on a flight of stairs, you wouldn’t think, “Well, I’ve blown it now!” and throw yourself down the rest of the staircase! So why do we do this with our food choices, especially during the holidays? 

I think it’s because the consequences of our bad food choices aren’t immediately apparent, unlike the lecture and ticket from the police officer for running red lights or the bruises and broken bones from falling down stairs. If you eat a pound of cookies, you won’t immediately gain a pound. If you skip your run around the park, you won’t get dimples on your thighs that night. No, health consequences are slow and insidious.

The personal benefits of healthy choices are also small and incremental, not sudden and immediate, so you need to think of making healthy choices as your regular daily routine as opposed to something out of the norm. And never, ever feel that if one day you devour a big chocolate bar while lying on the couch that you have failed! Doing it once is not an excuse to do it again. Everybody falls off the wagon sometimes. The important question is, “What am I going to do from this point forward?”

To see this story in print, click here.

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