The holidays are often a stressful time for people, especially when it comes to healthy holiday eating. There are a plethora of articles recommending various healthy eating strategies over the holidays, but some of them may be ineffective depending on your eating patterns. For example, if you have issues with overeating, then eating healthy foods before you head out to a party may not serve as much of a deterrent from the sweet and tasty munchies at the table.
In light of this conundrum, I have compiled a list of things to keep in mind when you’re dining and partying and celebrating the holidays with loved ones. Feel free to take a few tips and commit to them, rather than trying to follow all of them which can get overwhelming. After all, a little bit of indulgence in moderation can help us stay happy and even healthy through a hectic time of year.
Try mindful and intuitive eating. Pay attention to your food rather than shoveling fistfuls of mediocre appetizers in between snippets of conversation. Sit back, relax, chew, taste your food. People too often rush through their meals without paying any mind to what they’re eating, and this habit is not only linked to overeating, but can also cause poor digestion. If you find yourself distracted by company, try to eat on your own then re-join the other guests when you’re done eating.
If you don’t overeat, consider eating before the event, at the very least, don’t starve yourself beforehand. Starving often results in compensatory over-eating, so best to keep your normal eating schedule throughout the holidays. Eating your own food means that if you have any dietary restrictions, you are guaranteed control over the ingredients and do not feel like a burden on your hosts for being a picky eater, which you should not feel like anyways. If you have binge eating issues where you cannot resist the call of a plate of Ferrero Rochers despite having your meal before, then best not eat an extra meal before the party.
Offer to be designated driver. Maybe once or twice. Alcohol is a potent source of empty sugar and calories and often causes us to overindulge on food while we’re drinking. When you think about it, you don’t really need that glass or two of wine at every dinner. Alternating being Designated Driver with a friend, loved one or family member will not only make other people grateful for your generosity, but will save you many extra calories over the span of the holidays. Sparkling water with lemon or lime is a healthy substitute drink.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! Whether or not you indulge in alcoholic beverages, drinking enough water is an important part of a healthy holiday routine. Sometimes we get so busy that we forget to hydrate, and we often mistake that thirst for hunger. Traveling around a party with water and sipping may prevent you from reaching for salty, sugary, or glutinous snacks when you don’t really want them. Also, adequate hydration after libations can help stave off hangovers and prevent the need for a greasy, carb-y breakfast the next morning.
Eat plenty of green leafy vegetables, fats and protein for your other meals. Some people think that fasting all day before a large meal is the way to conserve calories, but the body’s hormonal mechanisms are more complicated than that. While emerging research tells us that intermittent fasting is an effective tool for some people, it may not effective for everyone. To stay safe, make sure you have a healthy breakfast full of brightly coloured vegetables and fruit, some protein and a healthy fat source from oily plants such as olive, coconut, or avocado.
Consider bringing your own treats to join in the fun. When I was training for competition and eating a strictly clean diet, I brought my own paleo-inspired date, nut and coconut treats to a friend’s party. They were gluten-free and free from added sugar and strange preservatives. That way, I could have something sweet when everyone else was having cookies. Other people tried my food and thought it was delicious. This way, I participated and enjoyed while still honouring my commitment to healthy eating.
Offer to take over some of the menu planning. Some hosts or hostesses may not be okay with this, but if you can suggest some healthy and tasty recipes, of which there are an abundance on the web, everyone will feel less bloated and tired after eating a clean meal. This past Thanksgiving, my family made an entirely gluten and dairy free dinner which did not lack in flavour, and we all felt great after the food without feeling like we missed out. There are incredible resources to take advantage of online for healthy holiday meals. Your host or hostess may also appreciate the extra help.
Try planning activities unrelated to food. It amazes me that we always have to celebrate with food. If you meet up with a friend, it’s always for coffee, dessert or dinner. While I appreciate that food is cultural and celebratory, don’t be afraid to mix it up. Plan some games or fun outdoor activities – you might even get some exercise while re-discovering the magic and fun of winter.
Big meal yesterday? Lift heavy weights! If you do overindulge and end up busting the zipper on your jeans, stop being hard on yourself and put those extra calories to good use. Hit the gym the next day and work your muscles – they will be primed to take in all of that food you consumed the day prior. Then, you can build some muscle, which, as I’ve written about before, is important for healthy metabolism and bones, no matter what your age or gender.
Figure out a stress-management regimen. Cortisol, the stress hormone, can cause disruptions in insulin function and storage of blood sugar, so trying to keep a calm centre during the frantic rush of the holiday season is essential. Go for walks outside, practice mindfulness meditation (there are plenty of wonderful resources available), or find some other activity that helps you to regain your peace when things get tense or rushed. Ask for one of those wonderful adult colouring books as a gift this year.
Above all, be kind to yourself. Enjoy the relaxation that the holidays are supposed to bring. Try delegating a task to someone else so you do not feel overwhelmed while planning a party or hosting guests. We too rarely ask for help from others because we feel as if we need to do everything ourselves. Practice some gratitude this holiday season, for good friends, good family, and good food. While moderation is key to maintaining healthy habits over the holidays, this is a time to relax and enjoy and spend time with those you love. When you do choose to indulge, do so mindfully and without guilt.
Choosing a few of my tips can help you make it through to the new year without feeling the guilt of too many holiday treats.
Happy Holiday Eating!