Your total guide to healthy, hassle-free holidays

Published by rudy Date posted on December 9, 2008

Sure, you enjoy the glamour and glitter of the Christmas season — who doesn’t? But what you really want during the holidays is to have a purely joyful moment with your family, enjoy good food and music with friends, and find enough time to decorate your home — all without breaking a sweat, gaining 20 pounds, or going broke.

Here’s how not to overeat, overspend, or overdo things during this holiday season.

How Not To Overeat

Avoid the four biggest overeating traps this side of the holiday table.

• Variety. Increasing the variety of food increases how much everyone eats, according to food psychologist Brian Wansiak, PhD, author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think. Options make us giddy, says Wansiak. Consider the typical buffet table: At first glance, there isn’t a canapé in sight without your name on it. But instead of pouncing, practice Wansiak’s rule of two: Put two kinds of food on your plate at a time, eating the foods you’re most excited about first to satisfy your immediate cravings. After a few trips to the table, you’ll probably feel too embarrassed to make the walk of shame for a fourth.

• People. “We want to make people feel good by feeding them lots, or eating a lot ourselves,” says Wansiak. Which is why it’s hard to say “no thanks” to your Tita Chit when she drops another helping of leche flan onto your plate. But that’s exactly what you must do. Another peer-pressure party tip from Wansiak: Ignore “external food cues” — like eating until others are finished or until the party is over. Stop eating when you’re full, not when you’re stuffed.

• Multitasking. Combining eating with other tasks — writing holiday cards, e-mailing friends — gives you mental permission to keep eating until that activity is complete, says Wansiak. So, eat first, then surf the Net, write, or whatever.

• Convenience. The more visible food is, the more we eat it. So, don’t keep candy dishes around the house or cookie jars on your desk at work. Wansiak and his research team found that when a dish filled with Hershey’s Kisses was placed on someone’s desk, that person ate nine Kisses a day, as compared to four when it was placed just six feet away.

How Not To Overdrink

Avoid consuming empty calories by picking your holiday poison wisely. Choose a cup of apple cider (120 calories) over eggnog (343 calories), or a glass of wine (120 calories) over a bottle of beer (146 calories). To avoid imbibing too much alcohol (bad for your waistline), drink tall. Wansiak’s research found that we unwittingly pour more alcohol into short, wide glasses than into tall, skinny ones. So, order your gimlet in a highball glass, and your merlot in a slender white-wine glass.

How Not To Overspend

Here are four phrases that you should drop from your budget vocabulary during these holidays:

1) “I’ll just scrimp next month.” Your holiday budget doesn’t exist in a vacuum, says Olivia Mellan, coauthor of Overcoming Overspending. Be aware of your family’s year-round spending and saving goals (kids’ education, vacations, a new car) or else the holiday debt will follow you into 2009. To avoid overspending, tally the cost of the items on your holiday shopping list, then deduct that money from other expenses in your overall budget (say, your monthly entertainment and eating-out allowance). Then, pay only in cash to stay on target. If the thought of spending from a set amount of cash (no credit cards!) makes your eyes twitch, Mellan says to get over it. “With money, the only thing you should delay is your gratification, not the payment itself.”

2) “It’s a splurge, but it’s not that expensive!” Yep, if the item you’re buying costs more than what you initially allotted for in your holiday bank, it is that expensive, and you should only purchase it if you’re prepared to subtract the extra amount from something else on the list.

3) “But ______ really deserves this for all he/she does for me.” Yes, your mom probably does deserve that expensive cashmere pashmina. But you’ll never truly be able to repay her -— or anyone you love — for all she’s done, at least with stuff. Instead, tap into your inner self by offering a loved one your friendship, time, and energy, all of which are priceless. Determined to treat someone special to a big-ticket item? Purchase their gifts first so you know how much money is left for the other giftees on your list.

4) “I deserve a treat, too.” Often, a holiday shopping isn’t complete without a “one for you, one for me” stop at your favorite store. But instead of buying yourself another sweater, Mellan says, “Look at your big picture.” Think about a cherished long-term money goal, like that solo spa getaway you’ve always dreamed about taking, then decide to put aside the money you would have spent on your self-gift.

How Not To Overdo The Holidays

Here are some stay-same strategies:

1) How not to overfantasize: Forget those magnificent Christmases of long ago when all the family were gathered at a table with enough food to serve the whole barangay, the neighborhood was humming with Christmas carolers; you received a ton of Christmas presents; and your house was fully decorated with homemade trimmings that will impress even Martha Stewart herself. Perhaps you latched on to your fantasies because they’re just like, or better than the holidays you had growing up, says life coach Sherri Ziff Lester of But as a kid, you were oblivious to Mom’s stress migraine, Dad’s hernia from stringing holiday lights, and their shared credit-card hangover. So before you go chasing that elusive “best Christmas ever,” give yourself a reality check. Define what a meaningful holiday looks like for you in your life now. Set realistic goals, like spending one night or two celebrating with your family, or hosting a merienda cena instead of a five-course feast, then protect those plans and make them happen. If making your own Christmas decor means that much to you, then do it. If not, skip it without breaking your yuletide stride.

2) How not to overcommit: Before accepting any invitations to make merry with friends, neighbors, or coworkers, mark your calendar with blocks of time to spend with family, advises Lisa Lelas, coauthor of Simple Steps for Every Holiday: An Easy Plan for More Joyful, Less Stressful Celebrations All Year Long. With those dates reserved, you can send out your holiday SOS (“Sure!” “Of course!” “See you there!”). Here are some other rules of thumb:

• Limit social events to one to two per weekend. Spend your valuable time at the parties you’ll most enjoy. If you have no energy to attend yet another get-together, say no kindly but firmly. If you really must attend two parties on the same night, you can make quickie stops at both, but be up front with each host ahead of time. Their parties aren’t about you, reminds Lelas, so once you’re there, focus on that party — and stifle the elaborate excuses about why you can’t stay.

• When you’re playing host or hostess, say yes to help. You invite 20 of your closest friends to your house for a Christmas party and at least 10 of them ask, “What can I bring?” Repeat after me: “Thank you for offering, how about _______?” Single out 10 or so items you need — cookies, punch — and let guests choose what’s easiest for them.

3) How not to overgift:

• Separate the musts from the maybes. There’s usually no question about the first few names on your list, says Lelas, but it’s the ones you jot down after wondering, “Hmm, who did I forget?…” that you should reconsider.

• Wait until the last minute. Shopping too early, says Lelas, often leads to more shopping. After you buy for someone on your list, cross them off, wrap up your gift, and don’t look back.

• Buy group gifts. A bilao of pancit Malabon for the family next door, a box of chocolates for the secretarial staff to enjoy — kills two birds, or 20, with one knockout, practical gift.

The bottom line is this: Do not overdo the holidays. Focus on what’s important to you so you can create a more meaningful experience for everyone around you. And that — more than the food, the gifts, and the trimmings — is the stuff perfect holidays are made of! –Tyrone Reyes, M.D., Philippine Star

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