Tag Archives: holidays

Fighting Holiday Food Temptation? Try These 13 Tips.

I think a lot about habits, and lately I’ve been thinking a lot about habits related to holiday eating.

The holidays are supposed to be a festive time, but many people feel anxiety and regret around food and drink—the holiday season is so full of temptation.

I have to say, I enjoy the holidays much more, now that I’ve got a better grip on my habits, than I used to.

Here are some ways to apply the strategies of habit-change to this challenge:

1. Buy food in small containers. Studies show that people give themselves larger portions out of larger boxes, so I don’t buy that economy box of whatever. Buy the little box of gingerbread cookies, not the giant box.

2. Make tempting food inconvenient—put cookies in a hard-to-reach spot, set the freezer to a very cold temperature so it’s hard to spoon out ice cream, store goodies in hard-to-open containers. The Strategy of Inconvenience is simple, but crazily effective.

3. Wear snug-fitting clothes. That’s the Strategy of Monitoring. When we’re aware of what we’re doing, we behave better.

4. Dish food up in the kitchen, and don’t bring serving platters onto the table (except vegetables).

5. Pile your plate with everything you intend to eat, and don’t get seconds once that food is gone.

6. Skip the add-ons: tell the waiter that you don’t want the side of fries. When I do this, I sometimes feel like Sally from When Harry Met Sally as I quibble about how my food should be served, but oh well.

7. After dinner, to signal to yourself that “Eating’s over,” brush your teeth. I’d heard about this habit, so I decided to try it, but I was skeptical. I’ve been amazed by how effective tooth-brushing is. This is the Strategy of First Steps–because that tooth-brushing is the first step toward bedtime.

8. Don’t allow myself to get too hungry or too full. This is the Strategy of Foundation.

9. Realize that, with some things, you might not be able to have just one bite. I sure can’t. In the abstainer/moderator split, I’m a hard-core abstainer. It’s far easier for me to skip cookies and chocolate than it is to have a sensible portion. The Strategy of Abstaining is not a strategy that works for everyone, but for some people, it’s enormously helpful.

10. Never eat hors d’oeuvres. This kind of bright-line rule, which is an application of the Strategy of Clarity, is very helpful.

11. Don’t eat food I don’t like, just because it’s there. No one cares if I have a serving of asparagus or cranberry sauce.

12, Plan an exception. Planned exceptions are a great way to break a good habit in a way that feels limited, controlled, and positive.

13. Watch for loopholes! Some loopholes that are especially popular during the holidays include the “This doesn’t count” loophole, the “Concern for others” loophole, and the “fake self-actualization” loophole. Remember, we’re adults, and we can mindfully make exceptions to our good habits, but everything counts.

Although it may seem festive and carefree to indulge in lots of treats, in the end, we may feel guilty and overstuffed. Which doesn’t make the holiday happier.

It’s a Secret of Adulthood: By giving myself limits, I give myself freedom.

Intrigued? Pre-order my book Better Than Before, in which I reveal the secrets about how we can change our habits–really!

NOTE: Email subscribers, I apologize for the glitch in the emails that you’re getting. It’s such a pain, I know — I’m experiencing it, too. Some terrific tech minds are trying to diagnose and fix the problem, so please bear with me. I hope to get it fixed soon.

8 Tips for Dealing with Difficult Relatives During the Holidays.

Back by popular demand: dealing with difficult relatives over the holidays.

Holidays can be tough. Some people love them; some people dread them.

I thought a lot about the holidays as I was writing Happier at Home, because the holiday season tends to be a time when we focus on home. Maybe you’re going “home” the way I go home to Kansas City for Christmas–which may be fun for you, or not. Maybe you’re deciding how to decorate your home. Maybe you’re making an effort to arrange the holidays the way you experienced them as a child–or the opposite. Maybe you’re feeling sad, or happy, about whom you will or won’t be seeing.

From talking to people, it seems that one of the biggest happiness challenges of the holidays is dealing with difficult relatives. You want to have a nice dinner, but Uncle Bobby makes you crazy. What to do?

1. Ahead of time, spend a few minutes thinking about how you want to behave. If you’ve had unpleasant experiences in the past, think about why they were unpleasant and what you could do to change the dynamics of the situation. Get more sleep. Give yourself more travel time. Pick a seat far away from Uncle Bobby. In particular…

2. Think about how topics that seem innocuous to you might upset someone else. You may think you’re showing a polite interest, but some questions will rub a person the wrong way: “So do you have a girlfriend yet?” “When are you two going to get married/start a family?” “Didn’t you give up smoking?” “Can you afford that?” “When are you going to get a real job?” Show an interest with more open-ended questions, like “What are you up to these days?” or “What’s keeping you busy?” Also…

3. Dodge strife. Some families enjoy arguing passionately amongst themselves; however, most don’t handle arguments very well. If you know Uncle Bobby’s views are going to drive you crazy, don’t bring up the subject! And if he brings it up, you don’t have to engage. Try to make a joke of it, and say something like, “Let’s agree to disagree,” “Let’s not talk about that, and give the rest of the family something to be thankful for,” etc.

4. Don’t drink much alcohol. It can seem festive and fun to fill up your glass, but it’s easy to lose track of how much you’re drinking. Alcohol makes some people feel merry, but it also makes some people feel combative, or self-pitying, or lowers their inhibitions in a destructive way. I basically had to give up drinking because alcohol makes me so belligerent. And if other people seem to be trying to avoid or curb their drinking (or their eating, for that matter), don’t make a big deal of it or urge them to indulge. In my study of habits for Better Than Before, it became clear to me that many people become very uneasy when they feel out of step with what others are doing, and that makes it tough for them to stick to a good habit. Don’t make someone feel conspicuous or strange in what they’re doing.

5. As best you can, play your part in the tradition. For some people, traditions are very, very important; for others, no. You may feel irritated by your brother’s insistence on having exactly the same food every Thanksgiving, or by your mother’s extreme reaction to your suggestion to eat dinner an hour earlier. Try to be patient and play your part. In the long run, traditions and rituals tend to help sustain happiness and family bonds. On the other hand…

6. If you’re the one who wants everything to be perfect, try to ease up on yourself and everyone else, so you can enjoy the day, whatever happens. Even if the day isn’t exactly the way you hoped it would be, try to enjoy what it is. My mother once told me, “The things that go wrong often make the best memories,” and it’s really true. And too much fussing to make an experience “perfect” can sometime ruin it altogether.

7. Find some fun. One of my Secrets of Adulthood is Just because something is fun for someone else doesn’t mean it’s fun for you, and vice versa. If the time with your relatives is meant to be fun, make sure you’re spending at least some time doing something that’s fun for you. Working in the kitchen, playing touch football, sitting around talking, running errands, watching the parade on TV — these things may or may not be fun for you, no matter how the rest of the family feels.

8. Find reasons to be grateful. Be thankful that you get to cook, or that you don’t have to cook. Be thankful that you get to travel, or that you don’t have to travel. Be thankful for your family or your friends. Be grateful for electricity and running water. Find something. Studies show that gratitude is a major happiness booster. Also, feeling grateful toward someone crowds out emotions like resentment and annoyance.

Wait, you might be thinking, these strategies don’t tell me how to deal with my difficult relatives — they tell me how to behave myself. Well, guess what! You can’t change what your difficult relatives are going to do; you can only change yourself. But when you change, a relationship changes.

Have you found any helpful strategies for dealing with a difficult relatives? What would you add?

Beware of These 10 Habit Loopholes as You Head to the Thanksgiving Feast.

When I was writing Better Than Before, I loved writing every chapter, because every strategy is so interesting.

But I have to admit, I particularly loved writing the chapter on the Strategy of Loophole-Spotting, because the loopholes are so ingenious and funny. One of the toughest parts of the editing process was cutting down on the number the loophole examples I list. I had hundreds.

Loopholes matter, because when we try to form and keep habits, we often search for loopholes, to justify breaking a good habit.

However, if we spot these  loopholes, we can perhaps reject them.

Holidays are a time when many of us face challenges to the good habits we want to maintain — and because holidays tend to involve lots of food and drink, those habits need special attention at that time.

To help you recognize loopholes you might be invoking, here’s a list of some popular ones that are often heard around Thanksgiving:

1. False choice loophole “I can’t do this, because I’m so busy doing that.” “I can’t go for my usual 20 minute walk, because I have to get ready for guests.”

2. Moral licensing loophole  — “I’ve been so good, it’s okay for me to do this.” “I’ve been eating so healthfully, it’s okay for me to eat anything I want today.”

3. Tomorrow loophole — “It’s okay to skip today, because I’m going to do this tomorrow.” “It’s okay for me to drink as much as I want today, because starting tomorrow, I’m not going to drink for six months.”

4. Lack of control loophole — “I can’t help myself.” “A considerate host wouldn’t have served something so tempting.”

5. Planning to fail loophole, formerly known as the “Apparently irrelevant decision loophole.” “I’ll just stand here by the dessert table, because the other room is so crowded.”

6. “This doesn’t count” loophole – “It’s Thanksgiving!” “We’re out of town!”

7. Questionable assumption loophole — “These cookies are healthy. Look, they’re gluten-free.”

8. Concern for others loophole — “If I don’t drink wine with dinner, other people will think it’s weird.” “I have to eat seconds and thirds of everything, or my host will feel insulted.”

9. Fake self-actualization loophole – “You only live once!” “I have to do this now, or miss out forever.”

10. One-coin loophole “What difference will one meal make, over the course of a lifetime?”

Of course, sometimes we do want to break a habit—say, as part of a celebration. A very effective safeguard for that situation is the planned exception, which protects us against impulsive decisions. We decide in advance how we want to behave.

We’re adults, we make the rules for ourselves, and we can mindfully choose to make an exception to a usual habit by planning that exception in advance. That’s different from saying, “Yay, this loophole means that I can break my habit, I’m off the hook.” We’re never off the hook. Everything counts.

One good question is to ask yourself, “How will I feel about this later? Will I think, ‘I’m really glad I had a piece of my grandmother’s famous pie. I only get that once a year, and I’d hate to miss it.’ Or will I think, ‘Shoot, I’d been on such a roll at cutting out sugar, and I blew it to eat a piece of my grandmother’s pie, which I don’t even like.'”

What are some of your favorite loopholes? #1 is my favorite. Have you found any good ways to avoid invoking them?

Better Than Before includes many more examples of loopholes, and how to avoid using them. To pre-order, click here. (Pre-orders give a real boost to a book, so if you’re inclined to buy the book, I’d really appreciate it if you pre-order it.) I’m thinking about doing some kind of little book, with all the loophole examples that I had to leave out. I hate to leave them on the cutting-room floor.

Spending Time with Some Difficult People over the Holidays? Consider These Tips.

Back by popular demand…some ideas for dealing with difficult people over the holidays. I’ve posted this before, but every year around this time, there’s a spike in interest about ways to handle tricky situations with relatives, neighbors, and friends. Consider:

1. Think about how topics that seem innocuous to you might upset someone else. You may think you’re showing a polite interest, but some questions will rub a person the wrong way: “So do you have a boyfriend yet?” “When are you two going to get married/start a family?” “Can you afford that?” “When are you going to get a real job?” Show an interest with more open-ended questions, like my favorite:  “What’s keeping you busy these days?” (also a good question if you can’t remember details about a person’s life that you really should know). Also…

2. Don’t drink much alcohol. It can seem festive to fill up your glass, but it’s easy to lose track of how much you’re drinking. Alcohol makes some people feel merry, but it also makes some people feel combative, or self-pitying, or lowers their inhibitions in a destructive way. I basically had to give up drinking because alcohol makes me so belligerent. And if other people seem to be trying to avoid or curb their drinking, don’t make a big deal of it or urge them to indulge.

3. As best you can, play your part in the tradition. For some people, traditions are very, very important; for others, no. You may feel irritated by your brother’s insistence on having exactly the same food every Thanksgiving. Try to be patient and play your part. In the long run, traditions and rituals tend to help sustain happiness and family bonds. On the other hand…

4. If you’re the one who wants everything to be perfect, try to ease up on yourself and everyone else, so you can enjoy the day, whatever happens. Make the best of the situation. Even if the day isn’t exactly the way you hoped it would be, try to enjoy what it is. My mother once told me, “The things that go wrong often make the best memories,” and it’s really true.

5. Don’t stuff yourself. Research shows that in fact, most people add just one pound during the holidays – but then they never lose it. You’ll have more fun if you’re not feeling uncomfortably full and then guilty about having eaten too much. Think about strategies for staying in control of holiday eating; feeling bad about having eaten too much can make you feel irritable and angry, which spills over into your interactions with other people. And, in the same vein as #2, if you notice that someone is skipping the mashed potatoes, don’t make it harder for them. (I discuss this issue at length in Before and After.)

6. Find some fun. One of my Secrets of Adulthood is Just because something is fun for someone else doesn’t mean it’s fun for you, and vice versa. If this holiday time is meant to be fun, make sure you’re spending at least some time doing something that’s fun for you. Working in the kitchen, playing touch football, sitting around talking, running errands, watching TV — these things may or may not be fun for you, no matter how other people feel.

7. Find reasons to be grateful. Be thankful that you get to cook, or that you don’t have to cook. Be thankful that you get to travel, or that you don’t have to travel. Be thankful for your family or your friends. Find something. Studies show that gratitude is a major happiness booster. Also, feeling grateful toward someone crowds out negative emotions like resentment and annoyance.

Wait, you might be thinking, these strategies don’t tell me how to deal with difficult people — they tell me how to behave myself. Well, guess what! You can’t do anything to change other people; you can only change yourself. Also, in many situations, people behave in a difficult way in reaction to something else. So you may think your niece flies off the handle without any reason, but she’s furious because she thinks you’re needling her about her job. If you behave differently, she will too.

Have you found any helpful strategies for dealing with difficult people over the holidays? What more would you add?

You may also want to ask yourself…Are you the difficult one?

I discuss this issue at greater length in Happier at Home, chapters on “family” and “neighborhood.”

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Fun and Easy Holiday Tradition? For Us, Graham-Cracker Houses.

This weekend, my daughters and I made our graham-cracker houses. As I write about in Happier at Home, every year, instead of traditional gingerbread houses, we make graham cracker houses, which are easier to build and decorate.

Every year–this also seems to be part of the tradition–I almost forget to organize the house-building, until it’s almost too late. But we’ve always managed to do it.

I learned how to make graham-cracker houses when my older daughter was in kindergarten; I was a parent helper when the children made them as part of a unit on “home.” (Coincidence? Or not?)

For me, one of the most important aspects of home is the celebration of traditions–like the building of these houses. Family traditions mark time in a happy way and give a sense both of anticipation and continuity. Research shows that traditions, routines, and rituals boost physical and emotional health. And they’re fun.

I love graham-cracker houses because they’re very festive, they’re very dramatic, and they’re easy.  No kids crying because the task is too frustrating or because “it doesn’t look right”; no mother irritable because the task requires a lot of errands, prep work, or clean-up. (My husband cheers us on, but doesn’t build a house himself.)

If you’d like the extremely easy instructions about how to build a graham-cracker house, you can find it in the Behind the Scenes extra here.

Do you have any satisfying yet easy holiday traditions? I have to keep traditions manageable, or I just can’t keep up with them.