The holiday season is well and truly upon us now, and if your schedule is anything like mine you’ve been hitting the holiday party circuit big time with no signs of it letting up. I’ve been getting a lot of questions about how to manage the holiday season from a nutrition perspective, so today I thought I’d share my top five tips for eating well during the holidays.
1. Embrace it.
My nutrition philosophy is all about balance and moderation. I aim to eat as healthy as possible about 80% of the time, and indulge and enjoy the other 20% of the time. At this time of year the scales tip a little more towards that indulgent 20%. But so what?
The holiday season is a finite period of time. And it’s the only time of year I get to have my family’s special chocolate rum balls, my mom’s brown sugar shortbread, or my friend Emily’s cornbread stuffing. You’ve probably got special once a year foods in your family too. Embrace it! Enjoy them! A couple of weeks of holiday eating is not going to ruin your overall nutritional well being – I promise you.
Mathematically speaking, 20% of 52 weeks is 10.4 weeks. You’re hardly going on a 10-week holiday eating bender, are you? For most people this stretch lasts for 2-3 weeks, which puts you way under 20% if you’re following the 80/20 rule. So relax, embrace, enjoy, take a nutritional chill pill, and deck the halls with refined sugar and saturated fat!
And in the name of balance and moderation (and because at the end of the day I’m still a nutritionist), some holiday eating strategies below.
2. Eat First
Okay, so you know you’re going to a party where cookies and eggnog will be the primary offering. Skipping a meal to create a calorie deficit in preparation for an indulgent event is rarely a successful strategy. More often it leads to overindulging since you turn up so dang hungry. Eat first!
If you fill up on healthy foods before you head to your event, you’re less likely to overindulge. It’s equally if not more important to fill up before you head to an event where you know alcohol will be involved – especially if you want to get invited back next year!
Since so much holiday food is loaded with simple carbohydrates, aim to fill up on produce and protein. This simple combination will help keep you satiated and help keep your blood sugar stable.
3. Eat Mindfully
Folks, I am not going to eat my family’s special rum balls moderately. I’m just not. I only get them once a year and to me it’s not Christmas without them. You probably have something similar in your life. Your Aunt Bertha’s peanut brittle? Your Grandmother’s fudge?
Hopefully you’ve taken your nutritional chill pill and have just embraced the situation. If so, the next step is to indulge mindfully. Eat slowly. Turn the TV off. Step away from the computer. Eat with your eyes closed. Savour every bite. Write down how you feel when you’re eating that delicious delicacy. Thank whoever made it. Share some with a friend. Pass along the recipe.
Whatever you need to do to inspire mindfulness when you’re indulging in special holiday treats, do your best to put it into practice. And remember, this is a guilt free zone!
4. Schedule a break
The holidays aren’t a finite period, but there are still only so many shortbread cookies one can eat. If you’re feeling like you need it, take a break. I know I do from time to time. Choose a day when you don’t have any social engagements and thoughtfully plan out super healthy meals for that day. Maybe start the day with a green smoothie (I’ve been making ‘em extra extra green lately!), try some zucchini noodles with tempeh for lunch, and a big salad for dinner.
I think it’s just as important to approach your break day mindfully as it is to mindfully eat those rum balls. And bear in mind that a mindfully scheduled break from indulgent holiday eating is NOT the same thing as beating yourself up for too much eggnog the night before. It’s all about balance and moderation, and you’re just giving the pendulum a bit of a swing.
It can be helpful to write out a weekly meal plan with healthy eating days scheduled in. But if life happens and you suddenly find yourself under the mistletoe with a mug full of mulled wine, just take a deep breath and remember your nutritional chill pill.
5. Stay hydrated
Did you know that hungry and thirsty and tired can all feel the same to your brain? It’s important to stay hydrated at any time, but at this time of year with so much extra merriment, even more so. If you’re drinking alcohol try to have two glasses of water between drinks (<< this is one of those do what I say not what I do situations because I am TERRIBLE at putting this advice into practice).
If you live somewhere cold and the air is super dry at this time of year, drink and extra glass of water. If you’re traveling somewhere warm this holiday season, drink LOTS of extra water. If you’re flying anywhere, load up on extra fluids. Hydrate, hydrate hydrate.
Most importantly, ENJOY this holiday season. It’s about love and giving and spending time together. Don’t let food phobia or food guilt get in the way of that. Embrace it, eat mindfully, and share the love.
My sentiments exactly! As you know I teach weight management classes for people post cancer treatment, and at this time of year I tell them very similar advice. Some will still wish to not be tempted to undo their hard won weight loss so we balance this advice with still using smaller plates (at least at home) and strategies for making healthier choices easier at this time of year. But mainly encouraging guilt free eating. Enjoy your rum balls! In the southern US states the thing is to make "hillbilly crack". If you've not heard of it it's based on covering saltine crackers with a melted mix of butter, chocolate and butterscotch chips and baking. It is then cooled and broken up to eat. I would call it cracker toffee but the rather cruder name has become common.
I've seen recipes for the cracker toffee around the web but have never tried it. I admit, it does look delicious! I think smaller plates is a good strategy, one I should have mentioned! I also find eating first and really focusing on produce and protein helps me make better decisions most of the time. But I've only got a few days of Christmas eating left and then I'm off to Indonesia where I'll be feasting on tempeh and the like. Can't wait!
Linda @ Veganosity
Great advice Katie! I always eat before I go to a party because I never know what will be available for me to eat. You need to share that rum ball recipe, they must be amazing!
They're amazing alright, but they're not vegan and definitely not healthy! They involve crushed vanilla wafers, pecans, marzipan, sourcream, a lot of butter, melted chocolate, rum, and orange juice. And they just taste like Christmas to me.
Sam @ PancakeWarriors
Nutritional chill pill taken!! Th breaks are so smart too! I've learned to eat what I enjoy, only take one at a time (if I think I'll binge on something) and remember it's not the last cookie I'll ever eat!
Definitely not the last cookie you'll ever eat! That's a great way to look at it as well.
Love this blog post - it's virtually a mirro image of my December philsophy. I'm usually 80/20 too but that slips to 70/30 at this time of year - I'm currently doing a mini 3 day pre Christmas detox to give me an extra excuse to indulge a little from next week onwards....
I think that 70/30 is a good place to be at this time of year. Some days are better than other, and sometimes that 70/30 means that you have a totally indulgent day followed by a couple of lighter days, like your detox. But most important is to relax and enjoy the holidays!