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Healthy Choices over the Holidays

October 26, 2021

For many, the holidays are a time to spend with loved ones, whether in-person or virtually. Navigating food around the holidays can be a stressful task, especially if you are attempting to keep your health and fitness goals in mind. Keep reading for more information on tips to help make healthy, nutritious and sustainable choices this holiday season!

Keep Your Intake Consistent

A common misconception around the holidays is to reduce food intake or skip meals before attending a holiday gathering. In theory, this is to “save the calories” for later, allowing individuals to indulge in a large meal without exceeding a healthy calorie limit for the day. However, skipping meals can put you more at risk of making unhealthy choices. When you go an extended period of time without eating, blood sugar levels decrease, cortisol (stress hormone) levels can increase and your body goes into “survival mode’. All of these factors can lead to fatigue, irritability, reduced cognitive function and increased cravings.

Food provides your body with necessary fuel to function. Instead of changing eating habits around the holidays, focus on maintaining consistency. Continue to stay hydrated and eat nutrient dense foods ahead of time. Fluids will assist in your appetite management and nutrient digestion. Protein-rich, high fiber meals and/or snacks loaded with micronutrients (fruits and vegetables) will keep you properly fueled and satiated for longer.

Practice Mindful Eating

Mindful eating is not a diet, but rather a practice that promotes awareness and autonomy over restricting or omitting certain foods. Mindfully approaching a holiday meal encourages self-reflection of the food choices selected, the portion size and the rate of consumption. Are you eating because you are bored or because you are hungry? What are you craving today that will satisfy your body? What flavors or textures do you appreciate most during your meal? By taking a mindful approach to the food on your plate and taking time to savor the favorites, you will allow the body to readily process the act of eating and signal feelings of fullness. You might even find yourself more present and more connected to the individuals you are sharing a meal with. For more mindful approaches, check out ACE’s ‘A Mindful Approach to Holiday Eating’.

Holiday Food Doesn’t Have to Mean ‘Unhealthy’

While many favorite holiday recipes incorporate added fats or sugars, keep in mind that not all holiday food is ‘unhealthy’. For those foods that may incorporate more added fat and sugar, it is okay to still enjoy! In this case, consider your portion size. According to Ohio State’s Student Wellness Center, research has shown that people consistently eat more food when portions are larger. To help set yourself up for success this holiday season, they recommend downsizing the size of dish you grab (think appetizer versus dinner plate), safely splitting food items with a friend and avoid socializing by the food table once you are done eating (out of sight, out of mind). See more portion control information and tips for success from the Student Wellness Center here.

Besides considering portion sizes, pay attention to the types of food you are eating and serving. Fill half of your plate with foods full of color, like fruits and vegetable, to consume added fiber, providing an added feeling of fullness. Get creative with your cooking and find ways to incorporate more vegetables and saturated fats into your holiday recipes. We recommend browsing EatingWell’s selection of healthy holiday recipes.

Getting Back on Track

After a holiday meal, some may consider ways to “make up” for the food consumed. Our bodies crave routine and consistency. Instead of drastically changing a routine, it is important to get right back to that consistency the body loves, eating and working out as you normally would. This will mitigate any additional stressors on the body and make it much easier to feel and perform as normal.

Alternatively, you might feel defeated post-holiday and believe that you will never be able to get back on track. This all-or-nothing thinking, which uses absolute terms to emphasize only right or wrong, is a form of cognitive distortion. By simply recognizing this “thinking mistake”, you can start to reframe your approach, build your confidence and get back on track one day at a time.

Show Yourself Grace

The holidays are a special time, consisting of special food and memories that go along with it. There is a time and place for everything, including perfect nutrition. Give yourself some grace, be kind to yourself and understand a few holiday meals will not make or break your progress or routine over the course of the weeks, month and year ahead.