The truth is that December, and it's many food-focused events, is not the only time during the year where we are faced with the challenge of wanting to enjoy many of our favorite foods without the consequences to our health (and our waistline!). There are many holidays during the year that can present challenges to those of us trying to make nutrition a priority in our life, many of which occur outside the month of December. Depending on your background and which holidays you celebrate, there can be large family events for New Year's, Easter, and Thanksgiving - not to mention birthday's, anniversaries, graduations, camping, summer festivals, and travelling. The truth is, these events are not so much the exception like we pretend they are, but rather the rule, and a big part of life. I have said it before, and I'll say it again. Food, and the events we celebrate that are surrounded by food, are not for stressing over, but rather for enjoying! I believe that 'healthy' eating doesn't just mean eating nutritious food, but rather eating in a healthy way. A way that allows you to provide your body enough of what it needs to work well, not to much of the stuff that prevents it from working well, and just enough of our favorite things to feel satisfied.
The challenge people often face however, is that they don't know how to enjoy special events without feeling like they are in the middle of a tug-o-war between what they think they should do and what they want to do. It's this ALL or NOTHING mentality that I often counsel my patients to avoid. When we feel like we either have to go all in, throw our healthy living goals out the window, and gorge ourselves to the point of feeling unwell in order to 'enjoy' the holidays or, on the other hand, have nothing at all to prevent over doing it, we lose. We lose out on the enjoyment of just being present with friends and family, we miss out on the taste of some delicious family favorites that can stir up warm feelings from our past, and we lose out on practicing healthy habits that fit into our life no matter WHAT holiday or event we are celebrating.
If you want some simple, surefire ways to enjoy this holiday (and the next) without the guilt, keep on reading!
The problem with this whole 'it only happens once a year' idea, is that it's a lie.
Mind the Wine! With many holiday parties comes many glasses of wine, champagne, punch, or other liquor. While we know a glass of red wine may have some health benefits, any type of alcohol in excess, is not good for us. Not only can too much alcohol make us look foolish at our work Christmas party, but it can contribute a significant number of nutrient-free calories and inhibit our ability to eat in moderation or sense our hunger/fullness cues. Enjoy 1 or 2 small glasses of alcohol and then switch to water. You can make it more interesting by adding cinnamon and cranberries, citrus fruits, or even frozen raspberries!
Snack Wisely! Snacking seems to be unavoidable at many of the holiday functions we attend this time of year and at most social gatherings for that matter! Although snacking can help prevent over-eating at the main meal, it is important to make smart choices when passing by the goodies table. Nuts are a great choice, especially if you have to take time to crack them, but keep it to 1/4 cup or a small handful. Look for other things like popcorn or oranges and get some nutrition out of your snack!
Share the Sweets! Christmas goodies are always a big part of my family get-togethers and definitely something I look forward to, however eating too many can leave my stomach aching and my head asking 'Whhhhyyyy'?! The strategy I've developed for my need to try 'a bite of everything' is to share! I usually take a bite out of whatever looks good on the table and then share the rest with my husband. It's a nice way to sample the beautiful treats that everyone has worked so hard on, without going totally overboard. You don't need a husband for this strategy either, most friends, cousins, or siblings would gladly eat the other half of your fudge or cookie with no complaints!
Fill Your Plate! Family dinners can be overwhelming with the many choices that are placed before us. I have found myself starting out with mashed potatoes and dishing myself a serving the size that I would have when there is only 2 or 3 options. This gets me into trouble about 1/2 way around a table of 10 dishes when I go to add a few greens and find there is no room left between my stuffing and fresh bread for any broccoli! Remember to serve yourself a portion of whatever you like, but keep things like bread and stuffing to 1/2 or 1/4 your regular serving. This will leave you room to try everything, but will ensure that there is plenty of room for salad and veggies!
Get Active! Keeping up with your normal exercise routine may seem impossible during the holidays, but with a bit of creativity you can get active during this festive season! Now if hitting the gym is not an option, try taking a walk after dinner with the whole family or even setting up a rousing game of charades to get everyone moving - and laughing! Pitching in for clean-up can also get you on your feet, help digest that big dinner, and earn you some 'brownie' points among your friends and family!
Here's to a healthy, happy, and safe holiday season! Best wishes from my family to yours!