The holiday season is filled with many wonderful opportunities to visit friends and family, to connect with friends old and new, to celebrate the season and the upcoming new year and…well…to eat. The challenge for most of us is not the few special meals that punctuate the holiday season, but all of the in-betweens. The cookies we bake that linger around. The sweets a well-meaning colleague bestows upon us. The leftovers, the holiday parties, the increase in dining out whether while holiday shopping, visiting family or deliberately planning a special night out with friends. The bottom line is that the challenge is often not about the actual holiday that we are celebrating but more about eating and drinking our way around and through the holiday season. Here are a few things to keep in mind during this festive season. The goal is to enjoy those special dishes, desserts, drinks and meals; not slippery slope ourselves into feeling stuffed, sick and guilty. Try a few of these strategies to navigate the season in a special, but healthful way.
3. ) The first bite is best. Do you know that when it comes to flavor and satisfaction that our taste buds peter out around bite four? What does that mean? It means nothing is going to taste as good as that first bite! If you are tempted by a decadent holiday dessert, have a bite or two and then put the fork down. Having that bite or two may just satisfy you. Nobody says you need to eat the whole thing!
4.) Eat only what you love. This ties into #3! If you don’t absolutely love something, don’t eat it! Choose homemade baked goods over store bought. Choose small portions of special dishes so that you don’t feel deprived. I personally don’t love mashed potatoes, but I might use them as a vehicle for stuffing if they are on my plate. I don’t even bother with them because they are just added calories for me.
5.) Waste or Waist? Worried about wasting food? Did your mother-in-law slave over her famous (insert name of dish here) leaving you no choice but to finish it? Honestly, if you are eating food only because you don’t want to ‘waste’ it, you are not honoring yourself. You are ‘waist’ing it, in my opinion. Choose yourself first and move along leftovers/sweets that are sabotaging your health and fitness goals.
6.) Move away from the table. Don’t put yourself in a position to eat food because it is there. Choose something from the buffet if you are hungry and then move into another room. If you are full but tempted by the dessert table, find a friend to talk to or grab a glass of water.
7.) Hydrate. Keep a glass of water in your hand at your holiday party. This way you will actively keep yourself hydrated, be less inclined to overindulge in alcohol which leads to mindless eating (as described here). Keeping water in your car, in your purse while shopping and running errands and close at hand while baking or cooking not only keeps you hydrated, but means you are less likely to mindlessly nibble on things here and there. Sometimes we think we are hungry when we are really dehydrated. If you need a reminder about why water is so important, read this.
8.) Plan for a busy day. Make it a point to eat something prior to going to a holiday party or event. Going out? Bring a healthy side dish so that you know you will have something you can feel good about eating. Have a small bag of nuts with some fruit on hand or a Lara Bar for a long day of errands. Plan some simple meals or make and freeze meals now for weeks when you are strapped for time. When you have healthy options in your car, purse, or crock-pot, you are less likely to reach that point of hunger where you may easily fall prey to the closest fast-food option. Try to avoid pre-packaged, processed foods. Do not over-complicate your meals this time of year–the simpler, the better!
9.) Just say no. You do not have to go to each and every holiday event to which you are invited. When you are feeling stressed by too much merriment, you know it is time to cut back. The truth is, all of the fun and festivity can be downright depleting if you are trying to ‘do it all’. Remember that the season is also one of peace. Trading in the myriad of ‘events’ you have planned for a few special traditions makes them all the more special. If you have children, be mindful that kids need to decompress and get some good rest as much as you do!
10.) Keep your exercise ‘appointments.’ That’s right. Go ahead and schedule your workouts in as if they were doctor’s appointments because they are just as important! The ‘cost‘ for missing or cancelling? Why only our good health and sanity! Who can afford to pay that kind of price, particularly during the holiday season! Let’s put it this way, how many of you have ever regretted working out? Exactly. I can honestly say I have never regretted working out. I have regretted missing a morning workout. As an energizer, mood-stabilizer and immune-booster, exercise is the gift that keeps on giving! Grab a friend, hold each other accountable and keep movement a top priority.
11.) Catch those Z’s .We have talked about the benefits and importance of sleep many times. Not only can lack of sleep contribute to weight gain, it can also reduce the body’s ability to produce antibodies and to fight off common infections! Too little sleep promotes mood swings, irritability and general unhappiness. When we stay up to bake that 25th batch of cookies, or hand-craft holiday cards, these things become stressful and are no longer any fun. Are you doing these things because they bring you joy or because you don’t want to disappoint anyone? Be honest. Then hit the sack–that extra batch of cookies will not even be missed!
12.) Check in with your bad self: Are you really hungry or feeling overwhelmed? Do you need that snack or are you trying to procrastinate? Keep the hunger scale in mind and never let yourself get to either end of the spectrum (ready to eat your arm off or stuffed and feeling sick). Find activities that restore your energy. Go for that walk, browse through a book store, whatever your pleasure (as long as it doesn’t involve spending more than you have and causing more stress); reward yourself for working hard. Take five minutes for yourself and do one thing you love each day. Remember,” If Mama Ain’t Happy, Ain’t Nobody Happy!”
The holidays and those special meals are a time to spend with family, give thanks and celebrate. Give yourself permission to enjoy the meals with your family and friends. If you focus on eating healthfully for the majority of the month, splurging a little on the holidays is okay. Splurging for two entire months, however, is another story! Be aware of using the entire holiday season as an excuse to eat mindlessly, but do enjoy those special, traditional foods, without guilt!