How to Bring “Healthy You” to Holiday Gatherings


At a restaurant a few years back, I ate too much. I hadn’t planned to. Honestly, I hadn’t planned at all. When I arrived, I went into “lemming mode” and mindlessly followed the people with whom I was dining.

We lined up at a buffet, went down the line, and filled our dinner plates. We sat close to and facing the buffet, so we could easily get seconds (even thirds). We used forks (it was a Chinese buffet, so we could have used chopsticks).

This was anything but “Mindful Eating.” We were busy talking and laughing. While none of these behaviors is bad or wrong, for me as a bariatric surgery veteran, it’s not the healthiest approach.

Of course, the result for me was a stomachache and guilt. I remember thinking, how many times do I have to learn this lesson?

Recently, I read an eye-opening study that looked at how both obese and non-obese people behave at buffets.

I realized I had gone to the buffet as “Heavy Katie” instead of “Healthy Katie.”

Heavy Katie doesn’t care for her health needs. She sees a buffet and her eyes glaze over. She feels the ambient excitement as everyone helps themselves to the steaming, aromatic delights. She ignores the cries of her healthier self. She wants to fill her plate like everyone else. She wants to eat like a normal person (assuming there is such a person).

I understand that desire.

That part of me, though, is not my best self. That part of me is not prioritizing my health. That part of me wants to pretend being morbidly obese isn’t devastatingly painful. And, that part of me, while she doesn’t come out to play nearly as often as she used to, still lives in me.

The study about behaviors at buffets showed that 71 percent of healthy-weight diners looked over (and evaluated) all the food offerings before serving themselves, while only 33 percent of obese diners did.

Almost three times the number of healthy-weight people chose to use chopsticks rather than forks, which means they took smaller bites and took longer to eat.

The overweight people sat much closer to the buffet and were significantly more likely to face the buffet. Finally, non-obese diners chewed each bite longer than the obese diners.

Considering this study, I see that I can change a few simple behaviors and have a much more satisfying (and much less guilt-inducing) experience at a buffet next time. I also now apply these strategies to holiday meals, whenever possible.

Being mindful of how I eat makes a huge difference in how much I eat, what I eat, and how I feel afterwards. As the holidays set in, I intend to let Healthy Katie take charge.

That part of me knows exactly what to do. I’ve experimented to find what works for me:

  • Go down the line, check out what’s offered, and plan what I want to eat *before* I pick up a plate.
  • At a home gathering, I will survey all the options and notice which are healthy options, and which while less so, will be truly pleasurable.
  • If I want a dessert or something I don’t often eat, I may ask someone who supports my wellbeing to get me a small serving, so I don’t have to second guess myself. Whatever they bring, I eat it slowly and savor it.
  • Use a salad or bread plate, rather than a dinner-size plate.
  • When possible, sit further away from the buffet and don’t face it.
  • If I am serving a meal, I line the serving dishes on the counter and let people get up for seconds. That way, I am less tempted.
  • Take small bites (even use chopsticks, for fun!).
  • Chew, chew, chew. I give my body time to register its satiety. Also, if I take my time savoring what’s on my plate, I am less likely to get up for seconds.

When the holidays are in full swing, it’s time to pull out all your strategies for healthy eating and use them. Take a few minutes today to think through your likely challenges for the holiday weeks and make a plan for how you will meet those challenges.

For more help managing holiday eating, try my Holiday Planner — it’s a great tool, if you want to bring “Healthy You” to the holiday gatherings.

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