With all of the holiday treats being passed around the office, at parties and in our homes, it can be tough to stay on track with our diets. I know it is for me (especially when chocolate or pie is involved). But there are a few strategies I’ve developed over the years that keep me “on track” with regards to my healthy lifestyle but still allow for me to mindfully indulge. Remember – food is not just something we humans use for nourishment but it’s also something we use to celebrate and bond with the people we care about. So please…indulge a little and enjoy good food this season.
That said, here are my top 6 tips for maintaining a healthy diet during the holidays.
You know how it goes – you go a little crazy at one holiday party by eating and drinking a bit too much. The next day at the office, upon seeing a plate full of chocolate chip cookies, you say “to hell with it – I might as well keep eating whatever I want since I went so off the rails at last night’s party.” But don’t do this to yourself! One (or two, or even three) occurrences of a little unrestrained holiday eating are NOT going to derail your efforts to stay healthy, lose weight, etc. It’s better to put the situation(s) behind you and move on rather than stress about the 20 mozzarella sticks you ate (because, ironically enough, stress releases a hormone called cortisol which is a major contributing factor for weight gain!).
Just because you’re surrounded by loads of holiday foods and people eating those foods, it doesn’t mean you have to give in! You are in control of your body and don’t let people’s expectations, comments, efforts to guilt-trip, etc. make you cave in if you don’t want to eat particular foods (or even, any food at all). Before you dive into that plate of brownies or liter of peppermint eggnog, take a moment to ask yourself “do I really want this right now?” If you do, go ahead and enjoy. If you don’t want to indulge, give yourself a pat on the back for recognizing that your true desires/needs were not going to be served by mindlessly eating whatever it was you were just about to eat.
This is one of my favorite things to do at any meal, but particularly during holiday meals which are known for heaps of food on plates. At some point during your meal, probably when you sense you’ve eaten about half of the food on your plate, stop eating. Literally put your eating utensil down, take a breath and notice how you feel. Is your stomach full? Are you still hungry? Could you step away from your food right now and feel okay? Do you feel thirsty? By taking 5 to 10 seconds to sort out how your body feels, you’ll know if you want/need to keep eating or if you’re actually full. Many times, we eat so quickly that our brains don’t have time to catch up to our stomachs. This can lead to overeating and that all-too-common feeling of being stuffed. I try to eat until I’m no more than about 80% full and this is what I also advise many clients to do as well. It takes some practice – sometimes you still might overeat despite putting down your fork, other times you might under eat. But the very fact that you’re paying attention to what and how much you’re eating is a huge part of maintaining a healthy diet.
What does this mean exactly? It means don’t stress if you’re at a holiday party and the food isn’t all organic or if they use a store bought salad dressing over a homemade one, etc. Just make the best choices available to you and your body will still thank you. For me this means when I first approach a buffet at a holiday party, I’ll take a quick look to see what veggies are available and what proteins are also available. I’ll then load up at least ½ to ¾ of my plate with veggies, whether it be a salad, or broccoli or whatever other options are there. Then I’ll fill the remaining part of my plate with chicken or another lean meat. I might then also take a small scoop of rice or other grain if it’s available. I’ll try to get any salad dressing on the side rather than placed directly on my salad. For dessert, I’ll have a small slice of cake or pie, but might only eat a few bites. And I also try to drink a full glass of water before eating – that is a great way to take the edge off of hunger and make your stomach feel a little bit full so you won’t overeat.
Isn’t it weird how we sometimes starve ourselves all day before going to a holiday party/meal in the evening, only to get there and end up eating like a rabid squirrel? Going to a holiday party when you’re starving is a recipe for disaster. So preempt that by eating a snack before you go. Snacks like a couple hard boiled eggs, or a handful of raw nuts with an apple, or a bit of oatmeal with some almond butter mixed in….all are good choices. Snacks that contain healthy fats and lean protein are the best since they keep you fuller for longer and therefore keep your blood sugar stable.
This tip is a bit sneaky, since you’ll presumably be bringing this dish more for yourself than for the other partygoers! But I swear it works – it’s a way to ensure that at least one food item at the party will be healthy and prepared to your liking. It’s also a great way to show people that “healthy food” isn’t bland, boring or merely comprised of a plate of raw carrot and celery sticks (blah). Take the time to create a really amazing dish and who knows… maybe you’ll turn somebody on to a healthier way of eating after they try your dish! But most importantly, by knowing that at least one dish is “healthy” at your function, you’ll be less prone to stress over the food options.
So there you go! I hope you’ll find these tips helpful as you navigate the season. Remember, there is no such thing as being a perfect eater. We all veer wildly off the healthy eating road sometimes. The key is whether or not you can regain control of the wheel and steer yourself back on the road. I have faith that you can, though! Happy Holidays!
Ashley Harvard lives in the Washington, D.C. area, holds a bachelor’s degree from Bowdoin College, and is currently working on a master’s degree in nutrition fromMaryland University of Integrative Health. As a nutritionist-in-training, she meets with clients, both in-person and via Skype, from all over the country to help them regain control of their health. When she’s meeting with her amazing clients, you can find her whipping up new smoothie recipes, training for her first 5k, or working her way through her latest Netflix addiction, Pretty Little Liars.
To schedule a Skype-based nutrition consultation or to ask a question, email her at [email protected]