Top 5 Ways to Eat Well Through the Holidays
I used to get really stressed when the holidays rolled around about how I would make it through without gaining weight, eating badly every week, and losing motivation to exercise. I realized this time around though that that stress has totally vanished for me, and I go through the holiday season feeling great without any fluctuations in weight. Is that annoying to say? Some of you might be looking at me with a Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids face like......
And I get it haha! But the thing is it's totally possible for you too. And I do not sit around drinking herbal tea, eating kale and saying no to every holiday party, no way. I've just got a good routine down so that going through the holiday season doesn't mean binging and letting myself go for a few months in order to have fun, and then feeling insanely guilty once January rolls around. I had to really sit and think about what it is that has changed everything for me because it's become second nature now. I came up with a handy list for you guys of my top 5 tips to make it through the holiday season with grace and ease so you can feel great heading into 2017.
1. Eat Mindfully
Have you ever gone to a holiday party and found yourself hovering by the food table, grazing and chatting and next thing you know it you’ve eaten a whole plateful of cheese and sampled every single cookie on the table and you’re actually not even sure what else you put in your mouth and you weren’t even hungry in the first place? Then the guilt sets in, and you didn’t even get a chance to enjoy what you ate! The holidays are prime time for social snacking and we end up eating much more than we usually do without even realizing it. This is where mindful eating, or simply paying attention to the food that we put into our mouths comes into play.
It takes time for your stomach to send signals to your brain to indicate that you are full. Devouring your food quickly and mindlessly doesn’t allow enough time for these signals to travel meaning that you keep eating, and eating and eating forever, or until you satisfy your hunger or cravings. Eating with awareness makes you more present to the whole process of consuming food rather than shoving something in your mouth impulsively and regretting it later and will allow you to sense when you are full and take in fewer calories overall. By paying attention to our food, we are able to appreciate the varying flavors, textures and feelings it can produce and we can actually enjoy it rather than eating it mindlessly and regretting it later. And food should be enjoyed, especially during the holidays!
Try this exercise in mindful eating. Take the next thing you eat, say a blueberry, and look at it, smell it and touch it. Think about where it came from, where it grew. Then take one small bite to pay attention to the taste and texture of it. Seriously, do nothing but focus on eating this blueberry in its entirety. Then maybe never do this ever again, but you get the idea. Focusing on being present when eating allows you more connection to your food and your body to identify when you are hungry or full, or how certain foods make you feel. Use this method next time you are standing next to the snack table at a party. If you are hungry, fill up a plate with food you really want to enjoy, and take time to sit down, appreciate the flavors, textures and joy it brings with each bite and stop when you are satisfied. (It will be much easier to tune into you’re the signals your body is sending). Then step away, step away from the table and enjoy your time socializing with friends and family!
2. Crowd Out
The term “crowding out” means adding in good, healthy food to your diet rather than focusing on restricting or taking away foods. The idea is that by eating more vegetables, fruits, and other nutrient-dense foods, your cravings for less healthy foods will naturally diminish. There just isn’t as much room for junk food and unhealthy overeating when you’re satisfied and nourished by real food throughout the day. Crowding out is such a good tactic for the holiday season because it doesn’t have to mean going without your favorite, traditional foods.
Some tips on how to successfully crowd out:
Plan ahead. Planning ahead for your week will help to ensure you have good, nutrient-dense foods on hand so you don’t find yourself starving in front of a plate full of sugar cookies. By doing just an hour or so of meal prep on Sunday, you can set you up with meals for the next few days. My 5 Day Detox Meal Plan will help give you some insight into how you can prep and plan for the week ahead. I typically make a batch of whole grains, roast veggies, and cook up some protein like a roast chicken and store it to create varied dishes throughout the week. It’s also a good idea to bring some healthy snacks to have with you at the office (see meal plan for suggestions), or even bring a healthy meal to any potluck you attend so you know there will be something you can feel good about eating.
Eat the good for you foods first. When faced with a big, holiday party spread, aim to fill up your plate with foods like vegetables, salads, whole grains and lean protein first. This way you will fill up on good, healthy food and will have less room for sweets and treats. This will also keep your meals more balanced and your blood sugar more stable to ensure you don’t get a nasty sugar crash from eating a plate full of chips and brownies. This doesn’t mean you can’t have any treats, just start with a good base to set yourself up for success.
Stay hydrated. Sometimes the body’s signals for thirst get confused for hunger and cause us to eat when we aren’t really hungry. Simply drink enough water throughout the day to avoid becoming thirsty and you should be good.
3. Identifying Emotional Triggers
The holidays can be a very emotional time for a lot of us, triggering thoughts about past experiences, family, relationships and self-worth and comparison. And we know that emotions and stress can often trigger internal cravings we interpret as hunger and cause us to head straight to the fridge. Say you just went through a bad divorce or break up and your holiday celebrations this year look way different than they have in the past. You may experience feelings of grief, sadness or loneliness and if you do, congratulations, this means you are human. If you find yourself home, bored, on the couch watching Love Actually for the third time this holiday season you may gravitate towards the fridge to look for something to satisfy that craving, not even realizing why.
If ignored, however, these feelings can cause us to feel out of balance and our brains send out signals that we need to find something to feel better. Often times what we turn to is food for instant gratification as we mistake these signals for physical hunger. This is called emotional eating or stress eating and is a common phenomenon in our society. Although it doesn’t feel like it when we are operating on autopilot, we do in fact have control over these feelings and there are steps we can take to work through this cycle of emotional eating.
Don’t Judge Yourself. The first step to stopping the cycle of emotional eating is to become aware of those feelings when they come up rather than shoving them down further. Practice becoming aware of feelings like stress, loneliness, and sadness and allow yourself to feel them as they pass through you. It can help to identify exactly what emotion you are feeling to begin to unravel what’s really going on. Try to observe these feelings from a place of self-love rather than self-judgement for not being perfect.
Find another outlet. When you do experience intense emotions and your initial reaction is to turn to food for a feel good boost, just become aware of this and try to channel this energy into another coping strategy such as going on a walk, calling up a friend, going to a yoga class, reading a good book, getting your nails done, whatever works for you!
Journal. It can be helpful to start a little food/ mood journal where you write down what you are thinking and feeling when you have a massive craving or can’t get out of a cycle of eating. Just having it written down can help you track patterns and bring awareness to the real issues going on.
4. Swap in Healthy, Whole Foods
Almost everything can be modified to be a healthier version of itself with just a few substitutions. It’s all about getting away from the boxed, packaged, processed foods and making your favorite dishes with real, whole, nutrient-dense food. You can tailor everything to your specific dietary needs, but just know there are always options to make your favorite holiday foods more nutritious. Here are some examples for inspiration:
Pumpkin Pie from My New Roots: https://www.mynewroots.org/site/2012/11/spiced-salted-pumpkin-pie-minis/
Mac and Cheese from Martha Stewart Living: http://www.marthastewart.com/900309/gluten-free-mac-and-cheese
Green Bean Casserole from Gimme Some Oven: http://www.gimmesomeoven.com/healthier-green-bean-casserole/
5. Keep up the exercise
Exercise can be one of the first things that falls off when you get busy during the holidays. You start to feel crappy from eating indulgently, changing routines, drinking more and just can’t get motivated. But it’s so important to keep moving. I want to emphasize that exercise should not be viewed as merely a way to “burn calories” so you can consume the food you want. This notion of strictly monitoring calories in and calories out has dominated our way of thinking about weight loss and healthy eating for years. But when you think about it, it’s really not the best or only method and it can make you crazy in the process!
It’s nearly impossible to regiment ourselves to the point that our calories in equal the exact same amount (or less if the desire is weight loss) of calories we expend on a daily basis. Rather, the quality of the food we eat and the type of calories we put in our bodies are much more important than just the number of calories themselves. For example, I think we can all agree that 100 calories of green beans pack a much bigger nutritional punch and makes our bodies feel better than 100 calories of Oreo cookies. This is something I speak about much more in detail in my one on one coaching, but essentially what I want you to take away is that as long as you are putting good, whole, real food in your body and moving your body in a way that makes you feel alive and gives you energy, everything starts to fall into place.
So brainstorm what type of exercise that feels right for you. If the thought of slogging it out on the treadmill at the gym makes you depressed (join the club), don’t do it. A good idea is to think about what you used to love when you were little. Dancing, stretching, swimming, brisk walking, and playing team sports are all great methods of exercise that work differently for different people. Just get out there, move, sweat and enjoy yourself!
I hope these tips are helpful to you as you enjoy this holiday season :) If you have questions or want to get more in depth about any of the topics listed above click the button below to set up some time for one-on-one coaching to figure out a plan that works best for your unique life.
xx Christina Tidwell, MN, RN, CHC