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Willpower is limited, so say yes to dessert

cristmas cookies on cookie sheet

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If you haven't already overdosed on shortbread cookies, eggnog and other holiday treats, the big meal on Tuesday is sure to put you over the top.

Sure, advice on how to trim calories and fat abounds. Skip the appetizers (especially that triple-crème cheese or those 1,000-calorie-a-handful sugary spiced nuts). Use a smaller plate. Choose between wine and dessert. (Good luck with that.)

But willpower expert Roy Baumeister, co-author of the best-seller Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, says focusing on the meal doesn't account for all the other simultaneous draws on your willpower during the holidays.

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"The key thing to know is that we have a limited supply," says Baumeister, a professor at Florida State University. "We use the same willpower on all sorts of things – making decisions, controlling emotions, resisting temptations and doing stuff we don't want to do."

Much the same as we tend to fail at New Year's resolutions because we make too many of them, this week is filled with way more than a monster meal to navigate. You may be holding your tongue with your in-laws, trying not to drink too much or lose your temper with the kids, and also staying on top of the planning and execution of Christmas Day – all of which competes with your wish to avoid your fat jeans on Boxing Day.

Baumeister suggests planning in advance what demands need your willpower most – and keeping your diet in perspective. "Having a big meal now and then isn't that big a deal."

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About the Author

Tralee Pearce has been a reporter at The Globe and Mail since 1999, starting as a writer in the paper’s Style section. She joined the new Life section for its launch in 2007. She covers parenting and family issues for the daily section. More

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