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!
- 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
- 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
- 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/