Achieving Happiness 

November 27, 2017

Over the next few weeks you’re going to find yourself in front of some very tempting holiday treats. Undoubtedly your plan is to eat reasonably this year, but that’s always been your plan in the past. How well has that worked out for you?  

If you’re like most people you can recall looking at delicious feast spread out in front of you and feeling your willpower melting away faster than the candles on the table. Excessive eating is a challenge during the holidays. Most people put on 5-7 pounds. 

When you give into immediate temptations, you often end up with a feeling of being uncomfortably full and wondering why you let yourself overindulge. But the worst part comes when you stand on the scale and get that sinking feeling of disappointment and discouragement. 

If you plan now for how you’ll handle the temptations that lay ahead, you can avoid packing on extra pounds that you’ll likely lug around for the rest of your life. Having a plan can help you defeat that gremlin inside of you that tells you, “It’s the holidays. Just enjoy yourself.” Here are some tips for prevailing over that part of you that’s prone to pigging out. 

1.    Prepare. Eat well on the day you have to face a feast. Have a hearty and high-fiber bowl of cereal early in the day. Have a reasonable size lunch so that you’re not starving when dinnertime rolls around. In fact, eat a small portion of something healthy an hour before you’re having to decide how high to pile your plate with goodies. Studies have shown that this strategy can help people regulate their food intake. Your mother was right. If you eat something close to dinnertime you will spoil your appetite. Now we know that’s a good thing. 

2.    Alternate alcohol and water. This strategy can easily cut down the number of alcoholic beverages you consume. Replacing just one or two high calorie drinks with water can easily cut hundreds of calories off the total that you consume. Try sparkling water with a twist of lemon or lime to help you feel like you’re still participating in the festivities. 

3.    Start strong. Make your first food choices healthy ones while your willpower is strongest. Pick something off the veggie tray before indulging in the high fat cheese board. Eat all of your salad first. Willpower is like a muscle in that it tires the more you have to exercise it, so fill up on healthy stuff right from the start. 

4.    Pick your plate size. Europeans use smaller dishes and utensils than Americans, a fact that has been found to contribute to their eating less. If at all possible use a salad plate to help you control the quantity of food you can put on your plate. Take small portions the first time around. 

5.    Take a break before seconds. Often times you may find yourself being offered more to eat as soon as your plate is empty. The problem is that your brain hasn’t registered the fact that your stomach is full. Tell yourself that you can take seconds after you’ve waited for 5 minutes to let the food you just ate settle. Tell yourself that you can always go back for more if you’re still hungry. Then take very small portions of seconds. 

6.    Share your dessert. Ask someone if they will split that scrumptious something you’d like to have. Researchers have found that people get immense pleasure out of their first bite of something sweet, but only about half as much satisfaction out of the second bite. After 4 or five bites there is very little added pleasure – but an enormous number of calories – that are added to the experience. Savor those first few bites and you’ll get all the satisfaction that you’re craving from a delicious dessert. 

7.    Eat, move, love. Plan an activity that requires moving your body shortly after eating. Take the group on a stroll through the neighborhood to look at house decorations. Play some ping pong. Just knowing that you’ll have to move about after dinner can help prevent you from stuffing yourself to the gills. It will also focus you on getting pleasure from engaging with friends and family rather than relying on food and drink to satisfy you. 

8.    Exercise. Holiday’s disrupt regular schedules, so plan times to go get your exercise. To weigh the same next month requires burning off as many calories as you consume this month. 


Dr. Tom Muha is a psychologist practicing in Annapolis. To contact him call 443-454-7274 or send e-mail to More information about positive psychology can be found at  


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