Retrofit Blog

Show Stress the Door

December 15, 2014
eliminate holiday food stress

The countdown to the holidays is on and chances are your stress level is off the charts. Even if you pride yourself on making smart food choices the rest of the year, this season can throw your best intentions into a tailspin since nearly everywhere you turn there are trays of baked goods, punch bowls of eggnog and other festive fare. Fortunately, there are ways to build your resilience. Research from the University of Pittsburgh has found that older female subjects who best controlled their weight had two things in common: They ate filling meals with lots of fruits, veggies, whole grains and lean proteins and they were good at resisting the temptation to overeat sweet treats.

Here is a Retrofit tip for how to find your biggest secret weapon this season (and, frankly, year-round): Have a game plan. If this stress-zapping strategy sounds easier said than done, here are three easy steps you can take to minimize stress and maximize success.


All habit changes start with a "want". For example, you may have told yourself, "I want to lose weight" or "I want to fit into that smaller size." But without follow-through, these intentions can easily fall by the wayside. To bridge "want" with success, you need a thought-out plan. It doesn't have to be extensive. Setting a small goal each week (ie., "I will focus on having 50 percent of my plate filled with produce each meal and snack") will do the trick. You can plan out meals, grocery lists, opportunities for exercise, and ideas for handling sticky social situations. Remember, failing to plan is a plan to fail!

A few plan-ahead strategies include:

  • Give yourself "planned permission" to enjoy a special treat and not feel guilty.
  • Plan to fill your plate with 1/2 produce so you can choose foods you love for the other 1/2.
  • Plan to stay clear of the food table or only have one plate of food.
  • If you find you often want a treat after stressful meetings, keep a 100-calorie treat on hand to prevent yourself from seeking out less-healthy options.
  • Decide beforehand if you are going to drink alcohol. Ask yourself, "What's my compromise?", "How many drinks will I have tonight?", or tell yourself, "I will drink club soda with lime instead of a cocktail tonight." Anytime you go in with a plan, you will be more likely to stay on track. Plus, if you plan for it, then you are never off track.
  • Most importantly, don't go to the party or social function on an empty stomach. This is a recipe for overeating or mindless eating.


Another critical (and often-overlooked) step for taking the stress out of holiday eating is being able to see yourself in various situations during the days and weeks ahead. If, for instance, you know that your family feast on Christmas Eve will consist of at least three main courses and a massive dessert buffet, picture yourself picking the leanest of the entrees and filling the majority of your dinner plate with salad or veggies. Then imagine sipping on a cup of hot tea after dinner and selecting one cookie or biscotti to accompany it. (You should be sitting down with the treat on a plate so you can thoroughly enjoy the experience.) Don't forget to think about how proud you will feel when you follow through on this vision. Filling your head with such positive, motivational images will likely prevent you from overfilling your plate.

TIP: Need a reminder to help you remember to take the time to visualize? Change your computer passwords to reflect your weight-loss goals (ie., "produce-present", "the-new-me" or "healthyholidays2014" ). Since you key in passwords numerous times every day, they will serve as a reminder to keep your eyes on the prize.

A few more simple visualization strategies:

  • Picture yourself drinking several glasses of water throughout the day.
  • Imagine taking a long walk around the neighborhood to check out your neighbors' holiday light displays after you finish wrapping your holiday gifts.
  • Think about the compliments you'll get on New Year's Eve when you bust out your new (smaller-sized) outfit.
  • Envision having just one wine spritzer at your office party, despite the lure of the open bar.
  • Place sticky notes in highly visible places such as on your computer or over the sink where you brush your teeth reminding you to stay on track with your weight loss goals. Some people even find placing a yield sign on their fridge and/or pantry door helpful to remind themselves to slow down and ask themselves, 'Am I hungry?' before turning to food.


Life throws you curveballs and, while there's no way to predict the future, you need to be as prepared as possible for whatever might come your way this season. Having a Plan B is an important part of following-through. It allows you to be more resilient in the face of difficulty. When life doesn't go according to plan, as it often doesn't, your healthy goals don't need to be compromised. Some ways to plan for the unexpected include keeping healthy snacks readily available at home, in the office and in your car, in case you're stuck in traffic or the engine fails to turn over after gift-shopping at the mall. At home, you can reorganize your refrigerator to make healthy eating a no-brainer by placing cut-up veggies and fruit in clear containers at eye level. In your car and at the office, stash non-perishable options such as nuts, dried fruits, or protein bars. That way when you head into meetings you can grab a healthy snack to take with you instead of helping yourself to caloric catered donuts or cookies.

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Jennifer Plotnek Lead Behavior Coach

Jennifer is a lifelong athlete who has spent the last 15 years helping other people minimize the impact of their life stressors through exercise, nutrition, and self-care. She has a degree in Sociology from the University of Colorado and a Master's degree from the Smith College School For Social Work. Jennifer has worked in hospitals, schools, mental health clinics, and private practice. She co-owns a health club in DC and always strives to set a good example for her three daughters.

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