Courtney Ferreira has a masters degree in nutrition and is a registered dietitian in Baltimore, Maryland.
The holiday season from Thanksgiving to the New Years is truly the best time of the year. People are more cheerful, there is time with family and friends, for the lucky ones there is time off work, and of course there is food. Lots and lots of food.
Between parties, happy hours, more parties, and several holidays crammed into a small timeframe there are endless excuses to eat and drink to your heart’s content. Couple this with the cold weather and you may be finding yourself on the couch more often than at the gym.
Healthy lifestyles can go a bit off track during the holiday season, perhaps veer in the totally wrong direction. While on average, the amount of weight the average person gains over this season is only about 1-2 lb (much less than the media wants us to believe) we often go back to our usual weight when we return to our typical way of eating.
The thing is, it’s not just about weight. Our overall health suffers when we go through these periods of overeating, particularly if it goes hand and hand with restricting or fasting. And if you've been working hard on developing a new diet routine or lifestyle, indulging without restraint can set you back or require a restart.
Being mindful and staying on track with our goals isn’t easy in the first place, and during the holidays it can feel impossible. Below are some strategies that will help you be more mindful of what you eat and feel good about how you eat it.
These tips apply to everything from your work’s holiday party to Thanksgiving dinner. Don’t be part of the new year gym rush or the crazy crash diet! Commit to at least one tip below to help you find balance and peace during the holiday season.
- Eat before you go. Don’t skip breakfast. Don’t ignore your growing hunger because you are “saving up” for dinner. This guarantees you will overeat and likely end up feeling sick. Eating first helps you take a calm, thoughtful approach to the delicious food items presented to you later.
- Get your veggies, protein, and fats in earlier in the day. You’ve committed to eating before The Big One (see above); now make it nutrient dense. Get your GI tract in shape with plenty of veggies and keep your blood sugar stable with plenty of fat and protein. Then, you can enjoy the holiday food choices that are exciting, unique, and potentially sweet.
- Focus on the foods you can’t have often. If you make a food totally off limits, you are much more likely to either overeat it when you give in, or overeat something else that you are hoping will satisfy the same craving. The best thing to do is allow yourself to eat, even if it falls outside of your typical diet. That’s right – eating these foods will help you in the long run. Prioritize the items you don’t get any other time of year such as a family recipe or your co-worker’s secret brownie recipe. Be sure to eat them slowly, and savor them.
- Leftovers, please. Don’t feel the need to eat it all. Flatter your family by asking to take some home. This comes in handy in two situations: a) you are full and satisfied but there was something you didn’t get to try; and b) someone is pushing a dish or food on you so you offer to take some home because you’re full but would hate to miss out.
- Monitor alcohol intake. It is more difficult to be conscious of your food choices when you’re drinking. Take it slow and don’t forget to put water into the mix.
- Get active! Don’t take the all or nothing approach. You may be traveling or away from your gym and normal routine but move whenever you can. Take the family dog for a walk, suggest a morning run, or do a bodyweight workout in your house. Working out revs your metabolism and helps you burn off calories throughout the day which means you’ll have a better appetite and staying active when many people are normally sedentary!
- Pace yourself. Have you ever eaten three holiday dinners in a single day? Yup, been there. There is a balance between not wanting to feel sick and not wanting to be rude. If you're hopping from one family's even to another, consider that in your portion sizes. Pace yourself, enjoy the special things, and maybe even be prepared with your own tupperware for taking leftovers.
- Remember what the holidays are about: Family, friends, loved ones. So while food should be enjoyed, don’t be so preoccupied with it that you forget to be present.
Do you have a family recipe you look forward to each year? Do you have a nagging relative that forces you to eat their food? Share your quirky holiday experiences and how you deal with them. We learn best from each other.