You’re three weeks into your new diet. You’ve lost a little bit of weight before the holidays, but you look at your calendar and see a dozen parties in the next six weeks. Office parties. Get togethers. Happy hours. School holiday parties. Every one of them resplendent with cupcakes, cocktails, chips, and wine. They are a gauntlet of fun that you’re dreading, but as your MyFitnessPal habit expert, I’m here to reassure you that parties are awesome.
Parties are celebrations of being with people we care about. They are a time to see old friends, catch up on gossip, reconnect, and be reminded why you don’t ever want to hang out with Jerry from accounting socially. Interestingly, none of these reasons for a party necessitate food or drink. The point of a party is to socialize. It’s not a Cupcake Eating Contest. So take a deep breath and let’s talk options.
All too often, we think of parties as a place in which we will be tempted—where the only options are licking the dip bowl clean or stoically resisting every morsel like the Patron Saint of Not-Eating-Cupcakes. But if you are looking at your calendar with these two options in your mind, you have already decided your path. According to the work of Drs. Roy Baumeister and Dianne M. Tice, the more you try to resist—especially late at night, maybe after a drink or two, surrounded by people making different choices than you, without a really good and obvious reason—the harder and harder it gets to keep resisting. So if your only choice is perfection, then your only outcome will be failure.
Here are some alternatives to help you maximize your chances of leaving the party happy with the choices you made:
- Eat before you go. I write a version of this every year, and every year 50% of people think I’m nuts and 50% of people write me “thank you” emails. It’s a lot easier to resist cupcakes on a full stomach. Dr. Tice has done dozens of studies that indicate this, and heck, it’s probably advice you got from your grandmother, too. Eat a healthy, satisfying meal and let the chips fall where they may.
- Get all your drinks up front. For years, people thought I was some sort of robot designed to consume alcohol when I would go immediately to the bar order a beer and glass of whiskey at the start of a party. What they didn’t notice was that I never went back to the bar. It’s a lot easier to dole out the alcohol slowly when you’re the one in control of the pace.
- Hang out away from the food and booze. Dr. Brian Wansink and Dr. David T. Neal have shown over and over again that if food is close at hand, you will eat it—even if it’s week-old stale popcorn. So plant yourself as far away from the bar as you can.
- Hold your phone. I know what you’re thinking. “What the heck does a phone have to do with food?” Nothing. It has everything to do with hands. A lot of people get food and drinks when there is a lull in conversation. Or when they don’t know what to do with their hands. If you’re holding something inedible that is also a source of constant entertainment, you’re actually far less likely to eat stuff mindlessly or because you’re bored. And you have an immediate out when Jerry from accounting wants to tell you about his kid’s little league game again.
What do you do to enjoy holiday parties without stressing about going overboard? Share your strategies in the comments below.