Author’s Note: Although I have extensive experience in eating for the purpose of improving my own personal health, I am neither a physician nor a certified dietician. I do not recommend making major dietary changes without consulting your personal physician. Although I have taken care to research the information included here, every individual is unique, and you should follow the advice of your healthcare team.
The holidays are upon us. In addition to all the chaos that this year has brought, we are now juggling the usual anxieties we face as Christmas and the New Year approach. For many, the winter holidays shine an uncomfortably bright light on eating habits. We’re tempted, even socially expected, to overindulge from Halloween to Christmas, then shamed for any extra pounds we’ve gained as soon as the new year dawns. The result? Body insecurities, unrealistic fitness goals for the new year, loads of shame, and by mid-February, a long list of failed resolutions. How can you navigate the holiday season in a way that fosters a healthier relationship with food and your own body?
Eat for enjoyment. This doesn’t mean you should make food consumption a hobby or your new part-time job. It does mean you should love what you eat. Don’t eat anything over the holidays (or at any other time) out of a sense of obligation. Instead, eat the things you love to eat—only the things you love to eat.
Stop when you feel full. If you follow the first tip, this second one will likely come naturally. When you only eat what you love, it’s easier to live in the moment while consuming food. When you feel full, stop eating. You’ll feel better and get more pleasure from eating.
Sip, don’t slurp. Avoiding over-consumption during the holidays also extends to drinking. Sip that eggnog, don’t slurp it. Sample the punch. Enjoy a glass of mulled wine. But stop before you become muddled. Great ways to do this include: a. a.) Finish your drink before getting a refill. b.) Drink water between each alcoholic drink. c.) Eat in order to avoid drinking on an empty stomach.
Remember your roughage. Be the person who hangs out by the veggie tray at the holiday party. Better yet, be the person who brings it. That way you can be sure the veggie tray shows up. By supplementing your holiday diet with crisp, raw veggies, you add healthy fiber to your diet and minimize the number of calories that linger and stick to your hips.
Find healthy substitutions. Not all sweeteners are created equal. Neither are all holiday goodies. While there is certainly a place for Grandma’s lard-laden baked goods, some recipes are easily adaptable. My personal favorite substitution is replacing the refined sugar in my oatmeal raisin cookies with honey, which metabolizes in a more healthy manner for individuals who are not diabetic. Two-thirds cup of honey in place of one cup sugar should do the trick.
Satisfy your sweet tooth. If you’re craving something sweet, as long as you don’t have a medical condition that makes it dangerous to indulge, go ahead and have it. As mentioned in tip five, not all sugars are created equal, so you might want to use natural, less processed options such as honey or maple syrup. Also keep in mind that sampling from your favorite cookies or candy won’t instantly result in a ten-pound weight gain. Moderation is key.
Get a little nutty. As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post, your brain needs fat, especially during times of heightened stress. Holidays are stressful. Holidays during times of upheaval and uncertainty are even more so. If you can eat tree nuts, now is the perfect time to indulge. Bring back the tradition of passing around a tray of mixed nuts, still in the shell, while relaxing with family this year. Don’t have time or patience for cracking those nuts yourself? Fold your favorite tree nuts into cookies or other baked goods to add a healthy component to your holiday goodies.
Embrace Grandma’s recipes and her portion sizes. If you have heirloom recipes passed down from previous generations, most likely you will discover they are full of ingredients that tend to be frowned on today—lard, shortening, etc. Remember, your brain is crying out for fat right now. Go ahead and fix that favorite banana pudding recipe. Then keep moderation in mind at serving time, and stop with one serving.
Worry less, walk more. It’s the holiday season. Temptation is everywhere, and you are going to indulge at some point. Don’t worry about it, but make a point to work off those extra calories. If you live in a geographical location where cold weather inhibits outdoor activities during the winter, you might have to get creative. I promise, the effort will be worth it.
Move to the game table (and away from the snacks). Food shouldn’t be the center of all social interaction and activity. If you’re overwhelmed by temptation, try replacing food with fun activities. Some of my favorite childhood memories involve working on jigsaw puzzles with cousins and playing card games with extended family.
Regardless of the specific stressors facing you this holiday season, it would be wise to eliminate self-imposed food-related stress. As you navigate the winter holidays this year, do so with plenty of self-compassion. Eat for pleasure and nourishment. Forgive yourself for any indiscretions. Recognize that it is natural for our bodies to put on an additional one to six pounds during the winter (as preparation for the leaner months of early spring). Moderation is generally far more effective than extreme dieting. Take courage! You’ve got this.