Wednesday, March 3, 2021

How to Stick to Your Diet on Special Occasions


Birthdays, holidays, family outings, business dinners – all are potential diet disasters. Humans are inherently social creatures. We have incorporated food into celebrations (and funerals) since the cavemen.

Adopting a healthy lifestyle does not mean living like a hermit and foregoing these events, or being miserable at them.

You deserve to enjoy these special occasions. You just need a plan to manage them and stick to your diet.

Try this three step process:

  1. Anticipate
  2. Develop a Plan
  3. Visualize Success

Anticipate refers to knowing ahead of time you are walking in to a potentially challenging scenario.

Developing a plan to deal with the situation allows you to remain in control. If you decide it’s OK to have a steak now and then and this is your night to do it, that is a conscious choice and you are still in control. Usually, though, your plan will involve a strategy to stay within your healthy eating plan.

Visualize success requires that you envision carrying out your plan perfectly. Feel the positive emotions that result. You will be much more likely to successfully manage the potential diet problem if you see yourself doing it and having a good time.

Eventually these steps will become second nature, but initially follow them rigidly until they become a habit. Document your success in your food journal to inspire confidence.

To demonstrate the 3 step process let’s review a common diet problem scenario and some suggestions for how you might handle it…

Eating Out

Eating out is a way of life for most of us. Eating out may also be a job requirement, or a necessity if you travel frequently.

Sharing a meal with friends, family, or colleagues should be an enjoyable experience and something you look forward to. Your new diet does not mean putting an end to these occasions. You just need to apply the three step process to avoid breaking your diet.

First, if possible, choose the right restaurant. See ideas for vegan dining out here Vegan Dining Out.

It can be a fun adventure to try new places and introduce your friends and family to the variety of delicious veggie options. Chances are they are envious of your weight loss and eager to experiment with you.

What if your friends have their hearts set on a steak house? Even the most traditional steak restaurant likely has a fresh fish entrée or two. Salmon or ahi tuna can be delicious paired with a large salad to start.

Portion sizes are another trap. Restaurants generally fall in to two categories. Gourmet restaurants will offer small portions, artfully presented. No problem. The others, though, dish out enough for an army.

Don’t fall in to the trap of “cleaning your plate” and eating until you are stuffed. Your body will punish you. It’s not worth it. Instead, offer to share with your friends or ask to take home the leftovers.

Now that you have a handle on applying the three step process to manage diet disasters, for Family Gatherings, Special Occasions and Holidays, Business Meals, and Peer Pressure.

Family Gatherings

Family gatherings often lead to breaking your diet or other similar disasters. Apply the three step process to enjoy (or just get through) these family gatherings without abandoning your healthy eating plan.

Family get-togethers include special occasions like Thanksgiving, graduations, and weddings can be diet disasters for many reasons. Most of us can’t help but feel strong emotions around close family. There is of course love and joy. But family has a way of getting under our skin, so often there is an undercurrent of powerful negative emotions as well.

Anticipate these emotions in advance and resolve not to turn to mindless eating as an escape. Formulate a plan and visualize yourself staying in control of what you put in to your mouth.

Consider eating before the event so you don’t arrive starving, or bring along a healthy snack bar to eat in the bathroom if you have to. Sometimes just knowing you have a back up plan is enough to keep you away from the unhealthy fare and avoid diet disaster.

Often these gatherings are buffet style. Buffets inevitably have fresh fruit and veggies, so load up on those. If it’s family style and plates are being passed, you will need another strategy.

For instance, what if someone asks why you are foregoing the meat? The simple approach is usually best, delivered nonchalantly with a smile. How about something like “I’m not eating meat right now for health reasons, but this asparagus looks great!” and then quickly change the subject.

You may have to deflect some remarks or questions, but remember your family may simply be curious about how you are losing so much weight and looking so healthy. How much you tell them about your new diet and lifestyle is up to you. No one likes a crusader, so keep your comments casual and upbeat, without preaching. If anyone seems genuinely receptive, refer them to this website!

Everyone has the well-meaning relative who will try to get you to feel guilty for not eating her special cake/pie/veal dish or whatever. Put yourself in her place. She is just trying to show her love and she wants to be appreciated. It may seem like a deliberate plan to sabotage your diet, but it’s not.

Anticipate, plan, and visualize a non-confrontational way to deal with this. She will get over your refusal to indulge in her special dish much faster than your body will recover from giving in! Try a polite “no thank you, I’m stuffed”, compliment her about the beautiful table or something else suitable, and give her a hug.

Family gatherings can be diet disasters and emotional roller coasters. Visualize having a good time before you go. Stay away from negative people at the event. Smile and ask genuine, sincere questions. Play games with the children. Offer to help the hostess serve or clean up.

Family gatherings are about the love and joy you feel being around the people you care about. Skipping the unhealthy food will only increase your enjoyment.

Special Occasions

Many celebrations have rituals and traditions involving food. Egg-nog at Christmas, turkey at Thanksgiving, chocolate on Valentine’s Day, hot dogs and hamburgers on July fourth. Sometimes traditional foods will be meaningful enough for you to make an exception and choose to indulge.

The important difference as compared to your former self is to make a conscious decision to make an exception. Have a taste, remind yourself that you are still in control. Occasional divergence from your healthy eating plan is OK.

If you don’t want to indulge, use the three step process – anticipate, plan, and visualize. Your plan should include taking the time to recognize and savor the elements of the event that make it special (other than the food). A BBQ may be the excuse to get together on July Fourth, but the real enjoyment comes from the personal interactions with friends.

Visualize the people, the festive decorations, the joy and love on the childrens’ faces of the Christmas season, for example. Picture yourself having a wonderful time without the unhealthy food, and you will not only succeed in adhering to your healthy diet but have fun too!

Thanksgiving is a particularly difficult challenge since the entire holiday revolves around stuffing ourselves. If you are a guest in someone else’s home, offer to bring along a side dish. That way you know there will be at least one healthy option. A large green salad or fruit salad can be an easy solution. Yams are traditional Thanksgiving fare and can be prepared with healthy soy “butter” and topped with raisins.

What about weddings, graduations, and other gatherings? These do not have to be diet disasters. If you are concerned the food will not be suitable, bring along a healthy snack bar or eat something before you go. If there is a buffet, usually you can stick with salads and veggie dishes. For sit down dinners, ask your server if there is a vegetarian entree. Be assertive, but don’t make it in to an unpleasant situation.

Most importantly, avoid diet disasters at these occasions by focusing on the non food elements that make them special. Apply the three step process and visualize yourself having a good time. Feel the positive emotions of being with family and friends.

Finally, celebrate your success and even document it in your food journal. This will give you more confidence that you can handle these potential diet disasters. Eventually it will become second nature.

Business Meals

Business meals are another potential diet disaster. After all, you want your clients or colleagues to like you, and you want to fit in. Often you are nervous. You are worried that quirky eating could be perceived as standoffish by your business associates and detract from the business objectives for your get together.

Don’t Obsess

Often we obsess too much about what others think of us. It is more than likely that your associates will still be pouring over the menu and trying to decide what to order, not even listening to what you have selected. As long as you smile and remain casual and upbeat, it is likely your questions to the server about how a dish is prepared or whether there are any vegetarian options will be quickly forgotten.

Let’s Practice!

Here is one example of how to flawlessly manage a business dinner and avoid a diet disaster.

Let’s say you are traveling to a major US city on a business trip and will be dining with clients that you are trying to impress and develop rapport with. You probably want to stay mainstream to please your clients, so a vegetarian restaurant is not an option.

Since you are not familiar with the city, you ask a colleague for a recommendation that is not too heavy. She suggests a trendy new Asian fusion bistro. You ask your assistant to make a reservation and inquire about vegetarian dishes. She emails you some choices that sound intriguing and fun.

So now you have a plan for the food, but what about the inevitable alcohol question? There are a number of ways to handle this. The most straightforward is simply to be truthful and say you don’t drink, but you would be more than happy to spring for a bottle of wine for your guests. This should put everyone at ease about ordering drinks for themselves.

If you are apprehensive that this approach will not be acceptable, then imagine saying something amusing or poking fun at yourself. Humor is often a safe way to diffuse potentially uncomfortable situations.

For example, say you couldn’t possibly have a drink because you need all of your senses to keep up with them. Or you have jet lag and you are afraid a drink would cause you to fall asleep in your soup.

Visualize the evening playing out magnificently. You are the perfect host or hostess. The clients are pleased with the dinner. Feel the goodwill and rapport. See everyone smiling. If it fits, even visualize getting the order.

Having a plan for what you will eat will mean one less thing to worry about. You can focus on making the impression you are striving for. By eating healthy, nontoxic food you will sleep better and feel energized.

Safely back in your hotel room, congratulate yourself on successfully managing another potential diet disaster.

Peer Pressure

Whether it’s not drinking at a party or skipping dessert, you will experience pressure from well-meaning friends to go back to your old ways. Your friends and colleagues remember the “old” you as fun and associate that with your willingness to drink or eat.

You might not want to give in, but no one wants to draw attention to themselves by abstaining from food or drink in social situations. With a little advanced planning, you can deflect any comments or questions.

Show your friends that you are just as much fun as before by smiling, laughing, and having a great time. Peer pressure is beatable if you apply the three step process on this page.

Maybe your friends are concerned that your new healthy lifestyle also means a new batch of friends. You need to reassure them. While you may very well meet new people who share your passion for your new diet, exercise, and other healthy practices, that doesn’t mean you are deserting your old friends.

You may even have more fun with your old friends by introducing them to something new and active like roller blading, hiking, or ballroom dancing.

It’s also possible that your old friends are just a little bit jealous about the new skinny and healthy you. Maybe they think you are holding out on them and failing to share the “secrets” to your success. After all, it couldn’t be as simple as you’ve described could it? There must be some magic diet pill you are refusing to tell them about….

Anticipate uncomfortable situations, or recall past experiences where you felt negative peer pressure to eat or drink. Plan a response. Use humor. Often the simple approach works best. Smile, say “no thank you” and change the subject. Deflecting attention to someone else by asking a polite question is usually effective.

Visualize yourself successfully handling the situation. Feel how pleased you will be with yourself for being assertive and staying in control. Remember your health and weight loss are worth it.

Stick to Sticking to Your Diet

Make a commitment right now that regardless what happens, whichever special occasion, family event, or whatever it may be– you commit to staying on your diet plan.

Always come back to remembering why you are doing this in the first place and visualizing how your life (and health!) will be at your ideal weight.

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My name is Bella and I am a weight loss retreat leader who runs retreats around the world. Often working alongside well-known retreat leader Sophie Jones. I lost 30 pounds and have kept it off by adopting a whole food, plant-based diet. My blog posts are about how I did it. Please note I am not a medical doctor and my advice is what has worked for me and my retreat clients, try it out, maybe it will work for you too! Contact me on:

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