Balancing Family Traditions and Weight Loss Goals During the Holidays


Diane Carbonell Before Making Cookies

Christmas of 1996 was a good time for our family and a challenging time for me. We had two wonderful children, family and friends that supported us, and my husband had a job he loved. That was the good part. The not-so-good part was that I was always tired, often cranky, and found it hard to keep up with my kids because of my morbid obesity.

Fortunately, that was the last Christmas I would be morbidly obese because soon after that Christmas I went on a healthy weight loss plan and lost 158 pounds. Goodbye, morbid obesity. Hello living life at a healthy weight.

The challenges of weight loss during the holidays are well understood. Candy everywhere you turn, frequent social gatherings, and the busyness of the season make it hard to stick with your weight loss plan.

An often under-discussed aspect of weight loss during the holidays is how to balance your family traditions with your weight loss goals.  Especially family traditions that deal with food.

Many families have strong feelings that certain foods should be included in holiday meals and even stronger feelings that everyone should eat those foods. This can create pressure on you to go off of your weight loss plan to make the people in your family happy.

I experienced this pressure firsthand the Christmas that I was in the midst of my weight loss plan. Friends who always hosted a cookie exchange made me feel guilty for coming to the party without taking home any cookies. Family members inadvertently made me feel badly when I turned down the sweet potato casserole smothered with marshmallows in favor of a green salad. And even my patient husband expressed confusion when I refused to make five desserts and instead just chose one.

I learned that family traditions are strong, rooted in expectations, and often feel sacred. I bucked the trend of eating with abandon and caused some hurt feelings without meaning to. But, I also lost weight over the Christmas holidays, and that made me happy.

The quest to balance family food traditions with your weight loss goal should be undertaken with care. Your goal should be to gently help your family understand what you need while staying true to your weight loss plan.

Over the 15 years that I’ve maintained my weight loss, I’ve experienced 15 Christmases. Even though I’ve been doing this a long time, I still have to tread carefully when dealing with family food traditions.

I’ve put together a list of suggestions that have helped me and for you to consider as you balance your weight loss goals with your family’s traditions.

1. Communicate Openly
Do not be afraid to talk to your family about your goals and family traditions. Pick a time when everyone is relaxed and ask if you can talk about foods that will be at the holiday gatherings. Explain that you are not asking for every food item to be changed, but wanted to make certain you would have some dishes that fit within your weight loss plan.

2. Offer to Help
After talking to your family and friends, offer to help with the food by bringing healthy dishes that everyone will love and fit within your dietary guidelines.

3. Prepare for Resistance
In an ideal world everyone in your family will support your desire to make some changes or additions to the holiday food. However, you may meet some resistance. Prepare yourself for this by imagining how you will react if you meet resistance. I would encourage you to stay loving and calm but firm.

4. Stay Firm in Your Resolve
Whether you meet resistance or have your family’s full support, remain firm in your resolve. Resist giving into family members who push food on you, eat foods that you enjoy and meet your dietary guidelines, and say “No, thank you,” when you need to.

The holidays during my initial weight loss experience were the hardest because my family and friends were not accustomed to be caring what foods were around. However, in spite of some initial resistance most of them were supportive. As the years went by, everyone accepted my new healthy eating lifestyle as part of who I am. I hope your family will too.

Did you have to change any family food traditions when losing weight? 

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