Cooking, shopping, entertaining, and traveling can contribute to a joyous yet overwhelming holiday season.
Whether you’re tempted by the spread of desserts at the company holiday party, the endless array of food at gatherings of friends and family, or the intoxicating smell of cinnamon buns at the mall, the holidays make it easy to stray from more nutrient-dense dietary habits.
Then when the New Year comes around, we rush to the gym and make unrealistic diet promises and resolutions to make up for the holiday binge.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Here are four healthy eating tips to help you not only survive but also thrive this holiday season. Who says you can’t have your cake and eat it too?
Tip #1: Don’t skip meals before events
Are you thinking about skipping breakfast on Thanksgiving and Christmas to save room for the big feast ahead? Do you plan to avoid eating before the big holiday party so you can try everything? It’s time to rethink this strategy.
When we forgo breakfast or lunch to “save” calories for the main meal, overeating is more likely to occur. Not only does fasting all day interfere with mood and energy levels, it leads to that “hangry”(hungry+hangry) feeling and overindulgence.
By the time you do sit down for the meal, rather than enjoying the taste and smells of the turkey hot out of the oven, or the caramelized sweet potato or cinnamon apple pie, the all-consuming feeling of eating everything, all at once, takes over. This leads to overeating, stomach aches and not being able to fully enjoy your meal or company.
The calories you think you “saved” by foregoing food earlier in the day pale in comparison to the calories you consume by eating too much at the dinner or party. Having a healthy meal or snack before a holiday dinner or party can help prevent overeating and result in less caloric intake than skipping meals before your event.
So what should you eat before your holiday event?
Eat a combination of protein, healthy fat, and fiber. For example, Greek yogurt (protein) + nuts (healthy fat) + berries (fiber) make a wonderful pre-event snack. Or try hard-boiled eggs (protein) with cut-up vegetables (fiber) and avocado (healthy fat).
If you attend your holiday festivities feeling satiated, you’ll be in a better mood for social interactions and less tempted to overeat.
Tip #2: Get active
Whether it’s watching sports, a movie, the holiday parade, or taking a post-meal nap – it’s easy to find yourself sitting for hours on end during the holidays. What if there was a way to incorporate movement beyond getting up to refill your plate?
- Do a turkey trot! Thanksgiving turkey trots are a popular event in most towns and can be a fun activity for the entire family. Most trots are 5K’s or 3.2 miles. If you don’t sign up for an actual event, that’s okay! Plan to gather with friends and family for a walk through the neighborhood.
- Stretch during commercials. An easy way to keep yourself from sitting too long is to get up during commercials. Whether it’s stretching, taking the dog out for a walk, or stepping outside for fresh air – your body will thank you. If you’re watching a show without commercials, incorporate breaks of your choosing.
- Help clean up. Another way to increase physical activity and contribute to your holiday dinner host is to help clean up. Carrying plates, moving chairs and tables, and wiping surfaces down can burn quite a few calories and get you up and moving around. Besides the physical activity benefits, your host will thank you and invite you back next year.
- Dance. If you’re at a party, hit the dance floor. Besides burning some of the calories you just ate and drank, dancing is fun, elevates your mood, and reduces stress.
Tip #3: Load up on vegetables
Many popular holiday dishes actually incorporate vegetables such as green bean casseroles, sweet potatoes, spinach dip, and stuffed mushrooms. However, these dishes are usually loaded with many other calorie-laden ingredients like butter, cream, cheese, and sugar. Without giving up your favorite side dishes, try preparing them in a lighter way.
- Instead of a green bean casserole using heavy cream or bread crumbs, try sautéing green beans with other vegetables such as mushrooms, spinach, onions, and garlic in olive oil. Add some thyme or even lemon juice to enhance the flavor.
- For a healthier spin on traditional marshmallows and brown sugar-topped sweet potatoes, try using spices such as nutmeg, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, vanilla, dried fruit, and nuts to enhance the natural sweetness of the sweet potatoes.
- Swap Greek yogurt for sour cream or mayonnaise in dips and toppings. Using Greek yogurt as the base will provide more protein, calcium, and probiotics.
- If you’re eating out or at a party where the food is pre-prepared, try eating the vegetable crudité (carrots, celery, cucumber, etc.) first. By loading up on healthy vegetables, you’ll be less tempted to attack the less healthy offerings before the meal is served.
Tip #4: Practice mindful eating
The holiday season is meant to be enjoyed. In order to get the most out of your favorite foods and avoid feeling sluggish, mindful eating is key.
Start by making smart choices at the table or buffet. You can always go back for seconds, so be reasonable in your selections and portions. Try filling ½ your plate with vegetables, ¼ of your plate with protein, and the other ¼ with foods that interest you. Try to use only the middle section of the plate.
Next, eat slowly. Put your fork down between bites. Challenge yourself to chew slower and don’t forget to breathe. Talk to the other people at the table between bites.
Slowing down the pace of your meal allows your gut and brain to work together to better signal when you’re full. Since this satiety process takes about 20 minutes, taking your time as you eat allows your body to receive the physical cues which can help prevent overeating.
Mindful eating also involves maintaining an awareness of the food and drink you put into your body. Rather than moving hastily from one bite to the next, stay present at the moment and observe how the food looks, how it tastes, and how it makes you feel. In other words, eat with your eyes first. Then inhale the aroma of the food. Take a bite. Feel the texture of food – is it crunchy or soft? Finally, really taste the food. Savor the flavor combinations. Try and identify them. Then connect the taste with a sensation.
For example, suppose you want to eat a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie. Sure, you can stick it in your mouth followed by two or three more. But what if, instead, you practice eating it mindfully?
First, eat with your eyes. Look at the freshly baked chocolate chip cookie. Look at its shape. Smell the warm chocolate. Take a bite. Feel the melted chocolate chips and dough in your mouth. Revel in the bliss of the warm gooey cookie sitting alongside your loved ones, remembering eating them in your grandmother’s home when you were young.
This type of mindful eating has been linked to better digestion, stress reduction, and weight loss, not to mention making the food taste better and more satisfying.
The holiday season is a wonderful time to gather with loved ones, create memories, have fun, and, of course, eat delicious foods. Remember — no foods are off limits but challenge yourself to implement the above tips to keep your holidays healthful and to avoid the New Year panic.
Interested in working 1:1 with our Nao Medical Nutritionist on how to thrive this holiday season? Find out more here.