6 Tips for A Healthier & Happier Holiday Season

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Over the holiday season, you'll hear plenty of diet advice that tells you to say "no" to your favorite holiday foods -- warning you that you'll gain an inevitable 5-10 pounds during the time from Thanksgiving through the New Year.  But before you believe that to be true, know this: that statistic is false.  In fact, studies suggest most individuals gain less than 1 pound during the holiday season! (1) 

And the advice to say "no" when it comes to your favorite holiday foods is unwarranted. Stressing about your plate and restricting your favorite foods can actually lead to more harm than good!  Research demonstrates that restricting what you eat can lead to binges once food is available.  Plus, a restrictive mindset can lead to an overall preoccupation with food and eating, too. (2-3) That means that strategies like cutting out all desserts over the holidays or saying “no” to meals or days above "X" number of calories can actually backfire – leaving you feeling unsatisfied and unhappy.

When it comes to food and nutrition – especially during the holidays – there’s better out there than a fear-based, strictly calorie controlled plan telling you to “eat this” and “don’t eat that.”  You deserve more than that!  So, let’s consider a balanced approach that helps you respect your food choices and treat your body with more kindness during the holiday season. 

Here are my tips for how you can have a healthier (and happier!) holiday season:

1. Pay Attention To Your Hunger and Fullness Cues

The best guide for proper portion size of foods is YOU…not a list, not a measuring cup, but YOU!  You know the feelings of hunger – your belly might growl or your might feel hungry.  You also know the feelings of satisfaction – feeling like you have had enough and feeling a waning interest in eating more.  The truth is, by listening in more closely to your hunger and fullness cues, you'll know when you've had enough, when you might need more, and when what you're eating isn't out of stomach hunger but out of appetite, instead.

Honoring your hunger means eating when you feel hungry -- so if you're hungry at breakfast or lunch, it's not a good idea to skip it to "save your calories" for later in the day.  Honoring your hunger also means stopping when you’re satisfied.  That means that if you haven't eaten everything on your plate and you're satisfied, it's okay to stop eating.  That also means that if you want to go back for seconds because one plate just wasn't enough, that's okay too.  You know best...you just have to listen in.


2. Slow Down To Be Fully Present

Amongst the excitement of the holidays, you may eat your food quickly or focus on things other than eating – like the football game on television or Aunt B’s crazy conversations.  And, in doing so, that might mean that you don’t feel as satisfied after your meal.  Instead, sit down at a table, put your food on a plate, slow down the pace of eating, and notice all the delicious flavors, colors, and textures of your meal. 

Slowing down means being fully present in what you’re doing beyond the table.  That means that it’s likely beneficial to power off your phone, shut down work at the computer, and say goodbye to the clock for the holiday – if you can.


3. Say “YES!” to Holiday Vegetables

Treating your body with kindness includes giving it the nutrients it needs to do its job.  That means including a balanced eating pattern with whole grains, fiber-rich fruits, healthy nuts and seeds, and legumes most often. Of particular note is the importance of balancing your holiday plate with vegetables. Vegetables are full of fiber, which help keep you feeling fuller, longer, plus they provide special vitamins and phytonutrients, which help support optimal health and wellbeing. 

Holiday vegetables add color and better nutrition to your plate – and when prepared well, they deliver lots of delicious flavors, too.  To your Thanksgiving celebration, add a fall-inspired green salad to share.  Top your greens with in-season produce items like farm fresh apples, roasted butternut squash, toasted walnuts and pomegranate seeds.

Or, consider preparing roasted cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts) or roasted root vegetables (like carrots, turnips, and sweet potatoes) with herbs and spices like turmeric, rosemary, or cayenne. Roasted veggies deliver delicious nutrition to the table from Thanksgiving to Christmas to the New Year and everything in between. 


4. Stay Hydrated with Water

Your body needs water in all of its cells!  Yet, sometimes, you may not get enough.  Staying well hydrated is essential for a healthy body.  Choose to drink a glass of water when you first wake up and have a glass of water with each meal or snack.  And on special holidays (or just whenever you feel like it!), consider adding festive fruits like cranberries, pomegranate seeds, orange slices, ginger and/or cinnamon to your water to infuse the flavors - and add a little extra nutrition, too!


5. Trot Like A Turkey or Run Like A Reindeer

No matter your body size, your body can do wonderful things!  I mean, seriously, how amazing is it to be able to walk, run, ride a bike, swim, lift weights (no matter their size!), and play with your children?! This holiday season, treat yourself right by simply appreciating what your body can do. Moving your body through exercise is not and should not be a punishment for (or an investment into) the foods you choose -- that mindset is not helpful!  Trot like a turkey or run like a reindeer: get outdoors and move with swift appreciation and gratitude for the blessing of physical ability! 


6. Choose Mostly What You Need, But Also What You Really Want

It’s true, pumpkin pie and your Grandma’s favorite sugar cookies might add more calories and added sugar to your holiday.  But, when chosen in respectful portions as part of an overall well balanced eating pattern with plenty of movement, hydration, sleep, and listening in on your hunger/fullness cues, special occasion foods can indeed be enjoyed.  The holiday is just that - a holi-DAY (not a week, a month, or a year), so choose what you need most times (nutrient-dense whole foods!) and when it comes to treat foods, enjoy what you really want...and pass on the items you don’t!


The bottom line: stressing about your holiday plate is not helpful physically or mentally.  The holidays are about so much more than the food!  I believe that holiday foods are meant to serve as as source of nourishment (mind, body, and soul) and that they should serve as a source of undue food stress! Don't you agree? 

If so, share a comment with what you’ll do to have a healthier and happier holiday! As always, I love hearing what YOU have to say. Have a happy holiday season!  

Need a little extra nutrition help over the holidays? 1:1 Nutrition Counseling can help you! 


References:

  1. Roberts SB, Mayer J. Holiday weight gain: fact or fiction? Nutr Rev. 2000 Dec; 58(12):378-9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11206847
  2. Polivy J. Psychological consequences of food restriction. J Am Diet Assoc. 1996; 96:589-592. Accessed online: http://jandonline.org/article/S0002-8223(96)00161-7/pdf
  3. Mathes WF, Brownley KA, Mo X, Bulik CM. The Biology of Binge Eating. Appetite. 2009;52(3):545-553. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2009.03.005. Accessed online: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2694569/

Simple Stir Fry: Create a Family Favorite, Delicious & Healthy Dinner

In school, I never enjoyed nor did well in Art class. Color inside the lines or follow a paint-by-number? Sure, I can do that. But draw or paint something new? No way, no how.  From sketching to painting, pottery and graphics, I've always appreciated art, but every time I was pushed to create something new in art class, I just wanted the directions, the instructions, the clear method spelled out for how exactly to complete the work. I wanted the recipe. 

It's ironic because inside the kitchen, I don't want to follow instructions. I don't want to measure. I don't want to be limited to certain ingredients. I don't want to feel like I can't add my own colors and textures. Perhaps it's because I feel more comfortable in the kitchen than I once did in art class. Perhaps the kitchen is my art studio - the place where I can let my imagination do its wonderful thing.

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Admittedly, not all of my work is a winner (yep, because sometimes breaking the recipe rules means less than satisfactory results), but sometimes - like in this Simple Stir Fry - I totally crush it. And by crushing it I mean meeting all of my requirements for delicious flavor, complementary textures, family favorite dishes, time-friendly recipes, and satisfying nutrition (that's Registered Dietitian approved!) too. 

The best part about this Simple Stir Fry? If you like clear instructions and methods, you can follow the recipe precisely and get a delicious, healthy dinner. Or, if the kitchen is your canvas, you can freely adjust - adding in your favorite vegetables, swapping out the chicken (my husband's go-to!) for plant-based proteins like beans or quinoa or cashews overtop. What works so well here is the homemade stir fry sauce with simple ingredients and LOT of flavor! 

So just give it a try - follow the recipe exact or add in your own flair - and let me know what you think! 

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Simple Stir Fry

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil, divided
  • Your favorite protein (I used 3 chicken breasts, cut into chunks)
  • 5-6 cups of chopped fresh vegetables of choice (broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, sugar snap peas, and carrots make for a great combo!)
  • 4 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 4 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
  • Dash of red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon flour

Instructions:

  1. In a large wok, heat olive oil and 1 tablespoon sesame oil.
  2. When warm, add your favorite protein and cook through.
  3. Add your favorite chopped vegetables to the wok. 
  4. Cover and cook until vegetables are tender, tossing occasionally.
  5. While the vegetables are sautéing, make the stir-fry sauce by mixing together the brown sugar, soy sauce, rice vinegar, ground ginger, 1 tablespoon sesame oil, and red pepper flakes.  Add flour to this combination to thicken.
  6. Once vegetables are tender, pour over the stir-fry sauce and stir together. Serve alone or with your favorite cooked grain, like rice or quinoa. 

Dark Chocolate Foods: Healthy Brands, Tips & Ways To Use Dark Chocolate

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When you think of "chocolate," what comes to mind? Its taste? The rich aroma? Its creamy mouth feel? In his book, In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, Michael Pollan shares that people's responses to "chocolate cake" were "guilt."  Michael writes, 

“He showed the words “chocolate cake” to a group of Americans and recorded their word associations. “Guilt” was the top response. If that strikes you as unexceptional, consider the response of French eaters to the same prompt: “celebration.” 

Research suggests that those who associate chocolate cake with guilt report less perceived control over eating -- and they are also often less success at maintaining and/or losing weight! (1)  Associating foods with guilty feelings isn't helpful nor healthful in the quest for optimal health for the mind, body and soul!

My hope is that you feel good - not guilty - about the foods you choose...and that includes foods like chocolate!  You see, beyond its delicious taste, chocolate can actually be good for us -- and something that we can say YES! to frequently! Chocolate can indeed fit into a healthy diet.

Chocolate is made from cacao and cacao brings a variety of nutrition benefits - including antioxidants (like flavonoids and theobromine) and nutrients that help support the health of your heart and brain.

Here's how you can say YES! to chocolate: 

Healthy Tips for Enjoying Chocolate

  • The darker the chocolate, the more cacao and less added sugar compared to other chocolates.  I recommend looking for chocolate that's at least 65% cacao!
  • Dark chocolate features a nutrient profile that's mostly carbohydrate and fat. I recommend adding a little bit of protein to a dark chocolate snack, so combine your favorite dark chocolate with handful of nuts or seeds or add a layer of nut butter overtop your square. 
  • Choose a respectful, delicious portion. One ounce (about the size of a small matchbox) is a good measure! 

Delicious Chocolate Foods - YES! Nutrition Favorites

Dark Chocolate Almond Perfect Bar:

What happens when you mix dark chocolate, almond butter and 20+ organic superfoods?  This Dark Chocolate Almond Bar...which tastes unbelievable (who knew healthy could taste this good!)  I find these bars in the refrigerated section at the grocery store and keep them in my refrigerator at home. They're great to grab on-the-go or to enjoy after a good workout!  


Hail Merry Dark Chocolate Espresso Cups:

Sink your teeth into the creamy ganache and the crispy cookie crust of these dark chocolate espresso cups. They are made with simple ingredients and of course they're delicious. Treat yourself! 


Navitas Organics Cacao Nibs

Cacao is what chocolate is made from, so cacao nibs (like these cacao nibs from Navitas) deliver the most nutrition (flavonoids, magnesium, theobromine, etc.) compared to equal portions of dark chocolate or milk chocolate! I like adding a tablespoon of cacao nibs to my morning oatmeal, as part of trail mix, or overtop a smoothie made with protein powders and cauliflower (like my Strawberry Cauliflower Smoothie!).


Square Organics Bars:

With 13 grams of plant-based protein, these bars make for a delicious mid-day fuel up. I like that this Dark Chocolate Coated Peanut Butter Bar delivers a fair amount of iron and magnesium, too (thanks to dark chocolate!).  The Square Organics brand delivers other yummy bars, too, like Cherry Coconut, Almond Spice, and Mint. Mmmm!


Eating Evolved Dark Chocolate Coconut Butter Cups

I can't wait to try these dark chocolate coconut butter cups from Eating Evolved, which come as a "you've got to try this!" recommendation to me from Registered Dietitian Ashley Koff. For those with special diets, they're paleo and vegan-friendly (gluten-free, soy-free, and dairy-free too). 

 


Do you love dark chocolate? What is your favorite chocolate food? Share it with me in the comments below or over on Facebook @YESNutritionLLC!


References:

(1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24275670

(2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26076934

(3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24734311

(4) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23810791

(5) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5432604/

 

Disclosure: This blog post includes some affiliate links, which means I may earn a small commission if you follow the links and choose to purchase the items.

Getting Enough EPA and DHA Daily? If Not, This Tracking Tool Can Help!

I THOUGHT I WAS HEART SMART...

As a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, I believe that I am Heart-Smart. I understand that eating well, moving more, not smoking, managing stress and staying connected to the people I love can help support my overall health -- and can especially support the health of my heart.

UNDERSTANDING MY OMEGA-3 INDEX

So when a brand I am working with, MEG-3, asked me if I knew my Omega-3 Index, I was stumped. Sure, I know my cholesterol and triglyceride numbers (and woot woot, they've been trending better over the last several years!), but I honestly did not know where to begin when it came to knowing my Omega-3 Index. Did I have to calculate something? Go to my doctor? Have a blood draw? 

Nope. All I had to do was take the at-home OmegaQuant Test. With a quick finger prick to collect a small blood spot, I sent my dried sample off to the lab and waited for my results. 

THE IMPORTANCE OF EPA AND DHA

I hoped my report would show stellar results. After all, I know the importance of omega-3s when it comes to health and I have been working hard to choose quality sources of omega-3s in my diet often. Found primarily in oily fish and in omega-3 dietary supplements, healthy omega-3 fatty acids, like EPA and DHA, help support the health of a person's brain, heart and eyes. And together, these fatty acids contribute to a person's Omega 3 Index, a score that helps define if someone is in a "desirable," "intermediate," or "undesirable" position related to the risk for many chronic diseases. 

My results from the test? Well, I have a LOT to say about them (yep, even a Registered Dietitian has opportunities to improve her diet!) so I am going to talk them over with you in a Facebook LIVE chat over on the MEG-3 Facebook page next Friday, September 29, 2017 at 12:00pm ET. Give MEG-3 a follow so that you can receive an update when I'm LIVE! 

TRACKING MY EPA AND DHA CONSUMPTION

But for now, I will leave you with this one-page PDF that I developed in response to my results. I realized that in order to stay on track, I need to track myself. So, I developed a two-week tracking tool to help me monitor how much EPA and DHA I get daily. I printed this worksheet, laminated it, have it hanging in my kitchen cabinet, and at the end of each day I use a dry erase marker to give myself a check mark on the source of EPA and DHA I have chosen that day. After two weeks, I'm able to see how I did. I erase my work and start all over again tracking EPA and DHA consumption for the next two weeks. 

You can download the EPA and DHA Tracker for yourself by clicking the link here or by opening the photo below in a new tab.

I hope you will join me for the Facebook Live on Friday, September 29 at noon ET - and during that lunch hour, I hope you enjoy a rich source of EPA and DHA (like oily fish!) so that you can give yourself a check mark on the tracker, and help support your health too! PS: You will also have the opportunity to win an OmegaQuant Test Kit for yourself during/after the live. Mark your calendar and tune in! 

Disclosure: I am a paid contributor to the MEG-3 brand.