The holidays offer endless opportunities for indulgent eating. From Halloween through New Year's Day, festive meals, scrumptious desserts, cookies, candy and other treats are everywhere. If you have set a goal for healthy eating, the holidays may seem like a challenging time - especially if you believe that these goodies are off limits. But eating healthy during the holidays can and should include your favorite delicious and satisfying foods.
Perhaps you have set a goal to reach and maintain a healthy weight. Or maybe you are trying to adjust your meals to increase your vitamin and mineral intake. Regardless of your nutritional goals, there are simple strategies you can enact to eat well, enjoy the season, and feel good about your choices.
5 Tips for Healthy Holiday Eating
Healthy eating doesn't just mean eating nutritious foods. Healthy eating also means filling your body with foods that make you feel good. It means savoring meals with family and friends and taking part in meaningful celebrations that may (or may not) center on holiday meals. Consider these different ways to stick to your nutrition plan while you navigate the season.
1. Set Realistic Goals
Going on a restrictive diet, such as a low-calorie or very low-calorie diet is not a great idea any time of the year, but it can be especially problematic during the holidays, when you are likely to be around foods that are not included on whatever plan you happen to choose. If your long-term goal is weight loss, remember that your eating plan needs to be sustainable. So eliminating entire food groups or skipping all festive meals is probably not going to work during this time.
Instead, think about ways to achieve balance. Look at your social calendar and choose the meals or occasions where you know that you will want to enjoy a little bit of everything on the menu. Then allow yourself to indulge and enjoy those special occasions. But then you can also choose the events where you'd feel comfortable about cutting back a bit on your calorie or food intake. On those occasions, try to:
- Drink more water
- Eat slowly
- Enjoy half-servings or smaller portions of heavier foods
- Fill up on low-calorie, fiber-rich veggies
- Reduce your alcohol intake
If you have the option, you might also choose to focus on holiday festivities that don't revolve around food. You can even organize events of your own, such as a fall hike, a walk around the neighborhood to see holiday lights, or a volunteer opportunity at a local food shelf.
2. Gather Support
Once you've set realistic goals for healthy holiday eating, let others know your plan. You'll get more support from family and friends if they understand your intentions and your long-term strategy. You might also find friends who can help support the physical activity goals that you've set for the season.
For example, if you're traveling to visit family for Thanksgiving, see if some of your loved ones would like to participate in activities that will help you maintain your exercise routine. This might include signing up for a Turkey Trot, visiting a local gym, or taking time to do a home workout. Having others participate can make the activity more fun and can help you to stay accountable.
Including others in your plan might also inspire them to adjust the menu at meal time to provide more nutrient-rich foods for everyone to enjoy. Bring along some of your favorite recipes and then get everyone involved in cooking and meal prep.
3. Practice Self-Care
Sticking to your healthy holiday eating plan will be much easier if you are well-rested and feel at peace. Take some time to prioritize your own well-being during this hectic time. If you regularly practice self-care strategies such as journaling or meditiation, be sure that these practices don't get back-burnered during the holidays. Schedule the activities just like you would schedule high-priority work activities so that the time is set aside.
If self-care is not part of your normal routine, now is the time to give it a try. Start by getting adequate rest each night. Studies have shown that getting a good night's sleep can increase your chances of weight loss success by as much as 33%. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep to support healthy holiday eating habits.
4. Be Mindful at Meal Time
Mindful eating practices can be especially helpful during the holidays. Mindful eating is simply the practice of being fully present when you eat. You use all of your senses to fully experience your meal. That is, you pay attention to the smell, taste, appearance, texture, and mouth feel of the food.
Mindful eating has been described as "paying attention to our food, on purpose, moment by moment, without judgment." Nutrition experts explain that the practice focuses on your sensual awareness of the food and your experience of the food. Researchers have found that it can be an effective approach to weight loss when compared to traditional diets.
Mindful eating can be especially helpful during holiday meals when large gatherings present a myriad of distractions. Rather than mindlessly gobbling up your meal or snacks, take time to truly savor each bite.
5. Practice Intuitive Eating
Pairing mindfulness practices with intuitive eating can enhance your overall meal experience and also help you stick to whatever goals you have set for yourself. While mindful eating and intuitive eating are similar in some ways, they are two slightly different approaches to food. Mindful eating addresses how you consume food, while intuitive eating addresses your thoughts and choices regarding food.
Intuitive eating requires that you pay attention to your body's signals about food. As a result of listening to your body's cues, you choose foods intentionally that serve your body's needs. When you are hungry, you eat the foods that satisfy your cravings. And when you feel full, you stop eating. As a part of intuitive eating, you give yourself unconditional permission to eat what your body wants.
Both mindful eating and intuitive eating encourage you to enjoy food without guilt or judgment
More Tips to Enjoy a Healthy Holiday
In addition to the tips above, there are other ways to celebrate the season and still stick to your dietary goals - whatever they are.
- Call the host prior to the party to see what is on the menu and offer to bring a healthy dish that aligns with your eating plan
- Make the party what it is: a social event and focus on family and friends rather than food
- Host a party yourself and share some of your favorite healthy dishes. You can also make it a healthy holiday potluck dinner.
- Find seasonal fruits and vegetables and build meals around local, seasonal offerings
- Avoid an excess of caffeine as it is stimulant and can only add to the holiday stress you are already feeling
Lastly, don't bother aiming for perfection when it comes to holiday eating. For some people, holidays are stressful enough without the added pressure of sticking to a restrictive eating plan. Give yourself permission to enjoy all that the holidays have to offer, including food, family, fun, and festivities.