What’s the secret to holiday success? Having a plan. Yes, it really is that simple. Every dieter’s plan is different, and the plans can range from very general to very specific. For dieters who rebel against the notion of having a plan, we ask them, “When has not having a plan in the past ever helped you to reach your weight loss goals?”

My dieter, Jamie, came in to see me this week and we spent most of the session formulating her Christmas Eve plan. Jamie told me that she spends Christmas Day at her sister’s house does well staying in control while she’s there. However, on Christmas Eve Jamie’s whole family comes to her house and she is in charge of cooking for a large crowd. Jamie said that in previous years, the stress of entertaining a lot of people, combined with eating a lot while she was cooking, has led her to eat way too much, feel sick, and then just completely throw in the towel. This year, however, Jamie was determined to have a great Christmas Eve which she could feel good about, both during and after.

Before we made her plan, Jamie identified several areas that have been difficult for her in the past: she gets really stressed, she excessively tastes everything while she cooks, she skips breakfast and lunch, she doesn’t take any time for herself, she usually avoids the scale for the next few days, and she doesn’t respond to sabotaging thoughts like, “I’ve blown it so I might as well start tomorrow,” and “It’s Christmas Eve so it’s okay to eat whatever I want.”

Here is the plan that Jamie and I formulated:

1. Plan in advance to have breakfast and lunch. In the past, Jamie has skipped breakfast and lunch, thinking she will “make up” for it later in the day. This caused her to be extremely hungry when she started to cook, which then led her to eat a lot while she was cooking and during dinner and after, thinking “I skipped breakfast and lunch so it’s okay to have extra now.” For the day, Jamie usually ended up eating way more calories than she would have if she had had a reasonable breakfast and lunch.

2. Read Advantages List and Response Cards several times throughout the day, especially right before cooking. Jamie knows that she is more susceptible to sabotaging thoughts around this time, and she also knows that she will be tempted by more food than usual. In session Jamie and I made some Response Cards with responses to sabotaging thoughts that she has had in the past, and she committed to reading those cards, as well as her Advantages List, throughout the day so it would be fresh in her mind exactly why it’s worth it to her to stay in control.

3. Take a walk sometime during the day. While in general Jamie is good at getting herself to exercise, during the holidays, and especially when she is busy all day getting ready for a celebration, her exercise plans can fly right out the window. This year Jamie decided that she would make sure to get some exercise in at some point that day, not only to prove to herself that she can continue to make exercise a priority even when she’s busy, but also so that she can have a few moments to herself to de-stress and calm down.

4. Eat everything sitting down. This, too, is a skill that Jamie is usually pretty very good at. However, when she is cooking and preparing food, setting out appetizers, and wrapping up leftovers, she is much more likely to engage in eating standing up. Jamie realized that having the very strict rule of eating everything sitting down would help her to eliminate a lot of extraneous eating because, by sitting down, it will force her to be more aware and more accountable for every bite that she eats.

5. Limit consumption of alcohol and desserts. Jamie decided that her favorite part of Christmas Eve was the dinner, and she didn’t want to spend too many calories on alcohol and sweets. Jamie realized that she might feel deprived if she cut these things out of her plan completely, but by choosing to have a small amount of each she would still be able to consume them, and as an added bonus, she would be able to enjoy them guilt-free because she would know that she was having a controlled amount that was on her plan.

6. Take time to refocus if stress sets in. Jamie knows that at any point during the day she might start to feel stressed or frenzied, and in the past she would turn straight to food to calm herself down. Jamie realized that if she wants to lose weight and keep it off, she can’t keep eating as a cure for stress. Instead, Jamie and I made a list of several different things that she should immediately start trying if she notices herself getting stressed so that she can calm herself down, refocus her energy, and get right back on track – all without eating a bite.

7. Weigh in the very next morning. One of the biggest reasons dieters get off track, and stay off track, is because they are not accountable for their actions. By knowing that she will have to get on the scale the next morning no matter what, it will be easier for Jamie to stay in control because she will know that she’ll have to face the consequences, either positive or negative, of her Christmas Eve eating.

8. Remember that staying in control feels great, and eating off track feels really bad. This is one of the most important ideas for Jamie to remember because any time she is tempted to start eating out of hand, she can think about how bad that will feel and realize that it’s really not what she wants to do. Jamie has had enough experiences of feeling happy and proud when she staying in control, as well as enough experiences feeling sick and terrible when her eating was out of control, to know 100% that she will feel so much better and be so happy with keeping her control in spite of the numerous temptations.