Healthy Holidays Survival Guide: Deck the Halls Without Ditching Your Health

Your guide to healthy holidays

We’ve all been there. Heck, most of us are there right now. It’s two weeks from Thanksgiving, and already we’re dreaming about which of our favorite dishes we’re going to gorge ourselves on this holiday season.

It might be the fudge, or Aunt Linda’s decadent corn casserole, or the pumpkin pie (with plenty of whipped cream, of course). For me personally, it’s my mom’s savory cornbread dressing and my own garlic mashed potatoes. And maybe the green bean casserole. I always end up going back for thirds, after all. And the wine and cocktails. I’ll drink to those!

That’s all well and good. The holidays are for gathering and partaking of delicious food together. But let’s face it: Too many of our food choices can end up making us feel like garbage a day, week or month later.

So here’s a handy dandy guide for surviving the holiday season without depriving yourself of all the foods you love and look forward to each year – at least not entirely. Here’s to (relatively) healthy holidays.

 

DON’T SKIP MEALS

Some people like to skip breakfast and lunch to “save room” for that big Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. Don’t. This often leads to overeating. Eat a healthy breakfast with plenty of fiber, and a light lunch if appropriate.

It’s equally important to fuel up on nutrient-dense food before heading out for your holiday errands. The mall is full of culinary temptations, and it will be easier to pass them up if you’re not already hungry.

 

GO EASY ON THE HORS D’OEUVRES

Many hosts will serve a spread of appetizers to keep guests occupied while they put the finishing touches on dinner.

If you’re hosting, try serving some cut fruit and veggies this time instead of the mini quiches, cheese dip or pigs-in-blankets.

If you’re a guest, offer to bring an appetizer and make something on the healthier end of the spectrum, such as shrimp cocktail.

At the party, keep your distance from the hors d’oeuvres – more than an arm’s length away – to prevent yourself from mindlessly munching.

 

AVOID OVEREATING

Speaking of overeating – it doesn’t matter how healthy you think the food is, too many calories of even the highest quality or most nutrient-dense food is still too many calories. Try starting with a smaller plate, and serving yourself smaller portions than you think you want. It’s also a good idea to front-load your meal with the healthy stuff – salad and vegetables – before piling on the richer entrees, sides and desserts.

While eating, concentrate on your meal. Eat slowly, chew carefully and savor every bite. Try to avoid eating while mid-conversation, and put your food down until you’re done chatting.

When dessert comes around, try to find someone willing to split that piece of pie with you, or go for a smaller sliver.

 

START WITH BETTER INGREDIENTS

The difference between junk food and five-star restaurant food is largely in the ingredients. The same is true of the difference between junk food and nutritious food.

Ditch the canned green beans and opt for freshly picked beans instead. Make your own French “fried” onions. You could even try your hand at whipping up your own cream of mushroom soup for the base.

Substitute healthier oils. Avoid using vegetable oil, which is high in the toxic erucic acid and Omega-6 fatty acids. And avoid olive oil for cooking, which can turn toxic when heated to high temperatures. Reach instead for something with a higher smoke point, like avocado oil or coconut oil. Coconut oil has the added benefit of being high in natural saturated fats, which can improve your HDL, or healthy cholesterol levels.

Use bone broth in lieu of water to add extra flavor and nutrients to mashed potatoes, rice, gravy, sauce, soup, casseroles or glazed veggies. “Never use water again,” we always say – at least when it comes to your savory foods.

Substitute honey for sugar in pie and other confections. Instead of candy or chocolate in your cookies, try dried fruits.

Use spices, herbs, extracts and citrus juices to add flavor to your food and beverages, as opposed to extra salt and sugar.

 

PICK YOUR BATTLES

This one may sound obvious, but once you start intentionally picking your food battles, you’ll realize you’ve been eating a lot of things simply because they’re in front of you, and not because you particularly enjoy them or desire them. This is especially true at parties. Don’t fall for it this year. Be intentional about your food choices. That doesn’t mean saying no every time, though.

Did you know that we actually have a very finite amount of willpower? (1) If all you do is deny yourself things you want, you’ll eventually run out of willpower and end up caving and consuming that entire German chocolate cake in two sittings. This is why it’s important to say “yes” on occasion. Don’t wear out your willpower.

This is a two-month food marathon, after all, not just a sprint. Saying “yes” when you really want to will give you the stamina you need to make it through this thing without constant heartburn and a 10-lb. food baby to lose in January.

So if you absolutely can’t fathom enjoying Thanksgiving dinner without that soft, buttery roll, then don’t. Eat it, and relish it. Same goes for mom’s cornbread stuffing. I’ll be eating my fair share, you can count on it. But I’ll also taking a hard pass on the pie and ice cream. Because they aren’t my dish, I don’t want to waste my calories on them – and it won’t take that much willpower to resist them.

So if you’re not THAT into sweet potato casserole loaded with brown sugar and marshmallows, skip that side dish and opt for the sautéed veggies instead.

 

SET LIMITS ON ALCOHOL

At long, extended parties, it’s easy to drink more cocktails or glasses (or even bottles!) of wine than you realize.

Avoid this by setting a limit on your alcohol consumption for the evening, and then switching to non-alcoholic beverages (sparkling water, tea, coffee, etc.) when you’ve hit that limit.

You can try alternating between alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, too. For every glass of wine you pour, have a glass of water. This will help slow and regulate your alcohol intake.

 

GET MOVING

Plan to go for a walk or play a game of flag football with the family after dinner. A lot of times anticipating that physical activity will help you control your portions at the dinner table. Even if it doesn’t, getting your blood flowing after you eat will aid digestion.

Don’t stop your regular workout routine, either. It’s often when you’re pushing your body to perform at the gym that you regret eating those extra cookies the night before. Having this regular reminder will prevent you from overindulging too often throughout the holiday season.

 

TRACK WHAT YOU EAT

Amid all the excitement and catching up that comes with holiday gatherings, it’s easy to lose track of what you’re actually putting in your mouth. Keep a food journal that helps you record what you’re consuming on a daily basis. This will give you a much-needed reality check, and help you set goals for the next party you attend.

Remember that the food of this season is to be enjoyed. If you’re mindlessly consuming everything put in front of you, chances are you’re not enjoying much, if any of it, to the fullest. Picking and choosing the foods you want to “spend” your calories on will ultimately bring you greater enjoyment – and leave you feeling better come January. Cheers!

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  1. https://academic.oup.com/jeea/article-abstract/10/2/342/2298443