Food confessions: reining in holiday eating

I hear a lot of food confessions. When this first happened I wasn’t quite sure how to react — did people want me to absolve them, or did they want to know if they were normal? And who was I to say? Heck, I personally have eaten a box of Hannaford M&M cookies over the course of a single day, and can mow down a giant bowl of stove-topped popcorn smothered in butter all by myself. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen.

I have come to conclude the confessors want me to knock them back into line. And then, if they are willing to listen, I can offer some consoling advice.

For instance, one time a client was complaining about achy joints, fatigue and plus their (use of gender-nonspecific pronoun intentional) belly was bloated and uncomfortable. I asked them what they ate the night before. “Pie,” was the answer. And, “boiled dinner.”

Ah, I thought. Easy one. The culprit was salt and sugar. The solution was drink more water and wait it it out. But then I felt prodded to ask another question.

“How much pie?” I asked.

Answer: “All of it.” The boiled dinner? “All of it.”

Yelling occurred. Kind, good-natured (and I hope helpful) yelling but yelling nonetheless. This client wanted to someone to rein them in.

And this being the time of year to rein ourselves in a little (yes, you should enjoy the good stuff, the treats worth indulging in, but not go crazy at the sight of every holiday buffet or open box of homemade candy), I offer you these tips. You probably already know this stuff (which is why personal trainers sometimes raise their voices — we hope turning up the volume opens up the receptiveness), so if it helps, imagine me yelling.

  • Keep a consistent eating schedule. If you veer off track by eating very little all day to “save up” for a nighttime splurge, or going hungry because you ate too much the night before, you’re going to have another splurge. Treat your body well — eat on a regular basis.
  • Know why you’re eating. Emotional eating this time of year (heck, all year) is common. There’s a saying in the recovery moment: HALT. Don’t make decisions when you’re hungry, angry, lonely or tired. Well, clearly you need to eat if you’re hungry, so we’re changing this to HALTS.
    Overindulging simply because you’re happy, angry, lonely, tired or sad has very little to do with feeding your body the nutrients it needs. Enjoy food but don’t use use it as reward or medicine. Again, keeping a consistent eating schedule helps here. A lot. (I personally eat fewer cookies when I eat according schedule. Just sayin’ …)
  • You do not have to be “perfect.” I was worried about my own confession above, because sometimes I think we want to believe “perfection” (whatever that is) is an attainable goal when it comes to eating. When I or any of my physique competitor clients are getting ready for a figure/bodybuilding show, there is a time when we do have to be scrupulous about food choices and portion sizes. But if that isn’t your goal, you don’t have to be “perfect.” Let that go.
  • If you overdo it, don’t berate yourself. And please, don’t give up and wait till Jan. 1 to restart. Do figure out why it happened. There is no start or stop. There’s just your next meal. Move on.
  • It’s not a crime to throw away leftover desserts. It is kind of a crime, though, to waste time feeling crappy because you ate extra cookies/toffee/fudge/snack mix just because it was in the house and calling your name.
  • Most importantly, think about your health. If you focus only on your waistline it’s easier to go back for a third plate of holiday dinner or have a slice of every kind of pie (or for me, every kind of cookie) on the buffet. If you think about how hard your poor heart/liver/digestive system has to work to deal with the sugar/salt/fat you’re throwing at it (not to mention the lack of fiber to help deal with that excess), it’s easier to exercise kindness to them.
Wendy Watkins

About Wendy Watkins

Wendy Watkins is a Bangor-based personal trainer, fitness coach, studio owner, and writer/editor. She is the author of The Complete Idiots Guide to Losing 20 Pounds in 2 Months. Visit her website at