Off-plan eating is perhaps the biggest source of anxiety plaguing nutrition plans worldwide. We all have food and beverage weaknesses, and keeping them in check is a consistent challenge of varying degrees — typically during social events and celebrations, where plentiful unhealthy options are simply part of the tradition or culture (homemade cookie platters on Christmas, for example).

That said, many of us have been conditioned to believe that all off-plan eating is bad; yes, it is not exactly ideal for any nutrition-based goal, but there are ways to mitigate it while allowing it to run its course. The key here is to exercise a blend of foresight and self-control — all while addressing your inner critic before the fact, denying him or her the chance to run rampant as your off-plan eating occurs.

In reality, there is such a thing as planned off-plan eating and unplanned off-plan eating, and there is a considerable difference between the two. Paradoxical as it may sound, the former serves as a happy medium between healthy celebration and overindulgence, as it will help you set hard boundaries on your consumption habits while permitting you the freedom to partake.

With the holidays just around the corner, here are a few quick tips for planning your future off-plan ventures.

Acknowledge the inevitable

When heading into an off-plan scenario, be it a family gathering or a football game tailgate, acknowledge the fact that you will likely be going off-plan. The sooner you come to terms with the weaknesses that will be present, the sooner you can plan for how to manage their impact on your eating. Without this foresight, you will run the risk of being blindsided by temptation, which in turn can send you off the rails in terms of both your plan and your self-esteem as you spiral into regret. Winging it rarely works.

Set some ground rules

No one truly wants to be that person bringing their own prepared foods to a holiday meal, but deep down most of us are also quick to feel down from overeating and/or overdrinking. A few ground rules can allow you to enjoy the perks of both scenarios.

One good rule of thumb, for starters, is to tell yourself you will not eat to the point of feeling sick or bad about yourself. This limit will vary with each person and each scenario, so make sure you know your personal boundaries in advance, including your goals and the promises you have made to yourself; this comes back to the redefinition of success discussed in past posts, an important asset to any nutritional plan. Set up a series of subgoals within the context of the off-plan scenario, and celebrate those wins as steps in the right direction.

Be prepared to get back on track

Finally, following the off-plan segment, plan to get yourself to get back on the horse with your regular nutritional routine. This, like the previous section, primarily boils down to self-awareness. Stick to your minor off-plan wins, but don’t let off-plan urges become pathways to binges and other downward spirals.

Off-plan situations should serve as a treat and nothing more. We all like to indulge in an unhealthy food or beverage now and again, but succumbing to their allure after the fact will prove harmful in the long term. Keep that “everything in moderation” approach and focus on how good it feels to have fun while remaining in control.