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How to Win the Holidays After Weight Loss Surgery

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Every year, like clockwork, I see an uptick in my email inbox. The holidays are coming. Which means lots and lots and lots and LOTS of unhealthy food will be paraded in front of us. Food that we not only crave, but to which we probably have emotional attachments!

Here’s what we fail to recognize about “the holidays.” (And I use that term loosely because – at least in America – when is it not the holidays?) The holidays are food-centric, sure. But the food isn’t just about food. It’s about family. It’s about history. It’s about culture. It’s about identity.

All of which make it freaking hard to deal with the food! The first time I refused my late mother’s famous mac ‘n cheese on Thanksgiving (because, well, noodles KILL ME!) I could tell she was deeply hurt, though she put on a brave face. You may have experienced the same. Refusing what I call “elder food” (food made by beloved and often older members of our families) can be hard – and make you feel like a cad. But at the end of the day, you just may not be able to eat what they are serving.

There are also the events. Office parties. Cookie exchanges. Just a whole bunch of stuff between the months of October and January that can push you right off the path to whatever goal you are currently working.

To that effect, I wanted to share with you my three time and battle-tested strategies to win the holidays and stay on track with your healthy habits.

Use a Banking System

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This may sound weird but I literally employ a banking system to my holidays. I issue myself a certain number of “free passes” to use to indulge in the things that I really want during the holidays. And, yes, I do actually mean passes. Well in my case, I buy wooden coins from the craft store and number them. So I don’t issue myself unlimited passes. Last year I gave myself five. And I used all but one of them.

Here’s the rule. If I use a free pass, I get to enjoy whatever it is that I want guilt-free. That’s the rule.

So here’s how that plays out. By giving myself free passes, I know I always have the option to eat whatever I want at any given time. But what the free passes do is makes me consider if I really want it. Like…really? Here are some questions that float through my mind as I’m considering this:

  • Is this really worth it? Do I really like x, y or z that much? And is it going to make me sick?
  • Is this something I could make into a healthier version so I don’t have to use my free pass?
  • If I use my free pass and something better comes along, will I be mad about this choice?

When I’m honest with myself 99% of food put before me doesn’t pass muster when I ask myself those questions. But the very reason I ask them is because I have given myself both freedom and limits. It works for me! (And also allows me a small portion of my cousin’s famous sweet potato pie!)

Set a Short-Term Goal

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Now I know we’re all about goals. We have a goal weight. Fitness goals. Goals about setting more goals.

But this is a special kind of goal. Here are the rules of this goal (in my world):

  1. It must be a SMART Goal (if you don’t know what that is, click here and come back…we’ll wait…)
  2. It must be a goal that I can start/execute/finish within the time-frame of the holidays.
  3. It is not allowed to be weight related.
  4. It must be health related.

Last year my goal was to walk at least three miles a week throughout the holidays. I didn’t actually make that goal 100% (I walked but it wasn’t always 3 miles per week), but it gave me something healthy to focus on. When I focus in on healthy things, they start to become a part of how I move and behave. It also becomes something positive that can off-set any negative thoughts I may have about holiday behavior.

So, in short, unhealthy food is still there. But if I make a choice I don’t feel awesome about (like wasting one of my free passes on something that didn’t turn out to be all that great…argh!) I have a positive thing I did to make me feel better. And insofar as positivity begets positivity, that generally tends to keep me moving forward in a positive way.

Use the Buddy System

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I have said it (many, many, many times) before, and I will say it again.

Accountability is the best tool none of us is using to its full potential.

We think we are using it. We really and whole-heartedly believe that. And in most cases we are partially using it. But to use it to its full potential can supercharge your efforts to get healthy.

Let me explain what I mean. I personally recognize three levels of accountability.

  1. Accountability to self. This is when you do things like keep a food diary and weigh yourself. That’s you holding yourself accountable to you. With accountability to self, it isn’t necessary to invite anyone else into the process.
  2. Accountability to another. This can come in two forms. With mutual accountability you are accountable to someone else who is equally accountable to you (a workout buddy, a family member or friend also working a goal). With one-way accountability you are holding yourself accountable to someone who does not hold themselves accountable to you (your dietican or doctor or therapist).
  3. Accountability before many. This is the one that tends to scare people because it is just what it sounds like. You are holding yourself accountable before many people. You are professing your intended goals or actions before more than one person and you are giving them permission to hold you accountable to those goals or actions. Most often this is mutual (meaning you are supposed to hold the other people accountable as well).

So what does any of this have to do with a buddy system? Welllllll…one of the most fun things I ever did to get through the holidays was seeking out a holiday accountability buddy. I checked in with them, they checked in with me. We shared our ups and downs. We even did suggestion #2 together (we chose a goal to work on together – one where it would take both of us contributing to achieve the goal). I’ve also taken part in and led holiday accountability groups, which have been equally powerful.

The key there, for me, was that the accountability buddy or group couldn’t just be about weight. For me it as also about emotional support (having someone to talk to who gets it). It was about new ideas (especially in my early post-op days when I didn’t know as much as I do now about remixing holiday food!) and it was about motivating one another, not only to be good to ourselves during the holidays, but also to enjoy the holidays.

Healthy holiday lessons…learned the hard way…

Yep…I’ve got them. I went to the school of bariatric hard knocks, so I have learned LOTS about surviving the holidays – and unfortunately I didn’t always learn it in the easiest or most graceful ways.

But that’s ok! Because that means I’ve made the mistakes so you don’t have to! Now I want to share that knowledge with you. Use the form below to sing up for my best healthy holiday tips – straight to your inbox!

Get Healthy Holiday Tips!

As a nine-year post-op I've learned quite a bit about surviving the holidays. Let me share what I've learned with you! Sign up to receive my best holiday tips - straight to your inbox!

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I’m telling you. I spared no lesson here. In this little series of emails I tell you not only what I learned but how I learned it. (Hopefully your squeaky clean image of me won’t change!)

Be sure to sign up for this mini e-mail series and learn from my mistakes!

And if you want or need even more support from me during the holidays…

Join my cooking club and hang out with me from Thanksgiving to New Year’s!

Last year, I led what were called “Bariatric Foodie Holiday Survival Groups.” For the folks who joined, we had a ball and formed good relationships. This year I want to try something a little bit different. I’d like to form a “Holiday Cooking Club.”

What the heck is that?

I’m glad you asked!

The Bariatric Foodie Holiday Cooking Club will be a secret Facebook group where you and I can figure out how to get through these holidays together. In the club we will:

  • Figure out how to “healthify” our favorite holiday dishes
  • (If need be) Figure out how to “me-size” those dishes (because let’s face it…sometimes it’s hard to convince the fam to eat what you eat!)
  • Make strategies around holiday events like parties, and hold each other accountable
  • Do “day-of-holiday” check ins as well as emotional support
  • Have “kitchen talk.” You know what that is. When you cook and other people are around you have kitchen talk – those really good conversations that are like soup for the soul

I’m also going to do weekly food demonstrations using recipes from The Bariatric Foodie Holiday Survival Guide (when you sign up for the cooking club, you have the opportunity to receive a paperback copy). And I may even throw in a fun challenge or two to keep your head in the game!

So if you are looking for that little bit extra support this holiday season, join the club! There’s power in numbers – and we can get through the holidays together, playing with our food!

I wanna join the club!