“If there’s a Christmas cookie you love and it’s disappearing at an alarming rate, by all means throw some ‘bows and snag one for yourself!”
With Thanksgiving around the corner, I decided it’s about time to write a healthy holiday eating post. While it can be a daunting time of year for well-intentioned dieters, it’s not unmanageable. You just have to have a game plan!
When there’s still leftover Halloween candy, when the turkey stuffing’s placed within arm’s reach, when your favorite Christmas cookies seem to be breeding – it can be so overwhelming.
I actually had a conversation about this with my patients earlier today. They mentioned some of the hurdles they face, and asked for advice on how to overcome them. Everyone has different healthy holiday eating barriers depending on the holidays they celebrate, their traditions, and the people around them. So I’ll try to make this list as comprehensive as I can. If I miss anything feel free to ask in the comments below, or be sure to make your own game plan before the issue arrives.
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Healthy holiday eating means no obligations
I attended a conference this past spring where I sat in on a nutrition lecture. Besides having some great insights into tweaking people’s diets to improve health, the speaker also left me with ideas for my own eating habits. One thing she said was essentially, “If you didn’t ask for it, you don’t have to eat it.”
This is a great thought to keep in mind during the holidays. If your great aunt Edna comes up to you with a large piece of her amazing, world-renowned pumpkin pie, you have no obligation to her to eat it. Now if you begged her to bring the pie to Thanksgiving dinner and then decided you’re on a diet, it’d be fair if her feelings were hurt.
It’s kind of funny that people can get offended if you don’t eat their food. Sharing our food is often a way to show we care, so sometimes denying it can be taken the wrong way. But remember that you, and only you, have control over what you put in your body. You do NOT have to eat something if you don’t want to. And others should respect that.
Minimize the snackage
Regardless of the holiday, snacks are usually EVERYWHERE. It’s so easy to just snack all day long. To keep from overeating, try to keep the snacks at a minimum. If there’s a Christmas cookie you love and it’s disappearing at an alarming rate, by all means throw some ‘bows and snag one for yourself! But if it’s just there, like a cheese plate or a bowl of salted cashews, do your best to pass. These are the places where you’ll greatly decrease your caloric intake.
Vegetize main meals
Now on to those pesky main courses. When you have a big meal, load up your plate with veggies (and fruit if it’s there!). And no, I’m not counting the mashed potatoes. If you heap up half your plate with vegetables, you’ve got a pretty easy way to manage the rest of your portion sizes due to lack of space.
Whether it’s salad, roasted brussel sprouts, green beans, or beets, load ‘em on up and you’ll be guaranteed to get some nutrients and fiber from your meal – and have less room for those unhealthy foods.
Like I said, same goes with fruit. If you want allllll the cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning, take one and have a grapefruit half with it. The healthy fruit will also help fill you up, making it less likely you’ll sneak back up to the counter for a second dose of cinnamon rolls. Gahh, truly my guilty pleasure.
Communicate your concerns
How food is prepared is often an issue. Green bean casserole does not equal green beans with garlic and pepper. If your mom always brings a green bean casserole, perhaps reach out and ask if she wouldn’t also mind bringing a healthier version of the dish. If you see your uncle in the kitchen about to dump a liter of salt onto the roasted carrots, ask if he could skimp a little – or maybe even leave a portion out for you. These swaps could make all the difference in your healthy holiday eating goal.
Bring something healthy
Along those lines, if you’re worried about having something healthy to eat at a holiday dinner then eliminate the worry by bringing that healthy thing yourself! That way you KNOW there will be something nutritious that meets your specific eating needs.
Mind the portions
As I mentioned above with the vegetables, portions are the key to healthy holiday eating. If you want a piece of pie, go right ahead! Just because you’re having a piece of pie doesn’t mean it has to be the hugest piece you’ve ever eaten. Grab a little smidgen at first. Chances are you’ll be so full at the end of the meal anyways that you won’t even want to go back for seconds.
Similarly, feel free to take a bit of every food you absolutely love to eat during the holidays. But make it a pre-portioned amount. For example, if you’re obsessed with a Christmas muddy buddy Chex Mix try putting a small serving into a bowl, then close the bag and put it away. Now it will be an extra effort to go back for more, and you’ll be less likely to mindlessly snack your way to the bottom of the bag. *cough* not speaking from experience *cough cough*
Give away leftovers
If what you truly dread are all the scrumptious leftovers sitting in your fridge and cookie tins, I’ve got a idea for you! Try sharing! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten rid of something not so healthy for me by bringing it places to share with others. Then it’s not wasted and someone else gets a little morale booster. It’s a win-win.
Get back on track
Remember that the holiday is (usually) one day or at least a short time period. Whether you’ve gotten off track or only had a few treats, it’s time to get back to your normal eating pattern, starting the next day. As mentioned above, give away tempting leftovers. If it’s something you just cannot part with, like the fudge you only make once a year, then set parameters for yourself. Have one or two pieces a day. Make it special by having it will a mug of tea, sitting down at the table and truly savoring it. Now’s the time to be on top of your eating so new problematic habits don’t form.
If you need a little extra help getting back to your healthy ways, you could always plan ahead with one of the many meal delivery services available nowadays. I just got a Sun Basket subscription myself and know that I’ll have healthy ingredients delivered to my door the Monday following Thanksgiving, ready to keep me hitting my goals. They have a lot of different meal plans too – the Lean and Clean one would be perfect following a holiday.
Eat what you love
I would say to try to forget the food and focus on other parts of the holiday, but to be honest, I can’t entirely do that myself! When I imagine Halloween, I think of costumes and candy. With Thanksgiving, I think of my family around a table eating a delicious feast. Christmas? Family and church and presents and candy canes and hot chocolate. So no, you don’t have to pretend that food isn’t a big part of the holiday. DO eat the foods you love. As I always tell my patients, I’d never tell you to give up your favorite foods. But everything in moderation, and you’ll be good.