This time of year can prove particularly challenging if you are trying to introduce or maintain healthier eating and exercise habits. The cold, wet, dark days cause us to feel more tired and to crave “comfort foods.” And with the holiday season focused around food, it’s no wonder people feel overwhelmed this time of year. I want to share with you some strategies for enjoying the holidays without overindulging.

My Experience with Holiday Eating

Let me begin with a little background story.

As an adolescent, I was very overweight. I was extremely self-conscious and the holidays proved particularly challenging because I feared the judgment people would place on me for the food choices I made. At family gatherings, I felt like there were only two options: eat whatever I wanted, as much as I wanted, and pretend to not care what other people thought; or deprive myself of everything (and end up sneaking food later). Obviously, neither approach allowed me to truly enjoy the holidays.

In my late teens and early twenties, I did end up losing a lot of weight, yet my previous fears and stress around food still lingered and the holidays remained a very difficult time for me. It wasn’t until I finally made the decision to create a plan that I was able to enjoy my favorite foods, avoid overindulging, and finally enjoy the holidays and what they are truly about: spending time with those we love.

So, how do you enjoy the holidays while maintaining healthier habits? How do you indulge without overindulging?

Make a Plan Ahead of Time

Manage Stress

It is important to manage your stress level. By keeping stress under control, you will feel more relaxed and are more likely to make healthier food choices. A great way to reduce stress is exercise. Just a 20-minute walk is enough to alleviate stress and help energize you. (Yes, exercise gives you more energy.) Invite coworkers to join you for a walk during your lunch break. This will help you get outside during the limited daylight hours we have during the winter.

Set Rules for Treating Yourself

There are often lots of treats hanging around the workplace this time of year. Put some rules in place for yourself to avoid subconsciously grabbing a treat every time you walk by the growing goodies stash. For example, “I can have one treat on Wednesdays, but only if it’s a homemade one and was brought in no later than Monday.”

Enlist Help from Coworkers

Talk to your coworkers and come up with a plan to help everyone avoid all the sugary treats. Things that are store bought and arrive in sealed containers could be donated to a local food bank. Maybe you all agree to throw out everything at the end of each week (as one of my aunts says, “you can ‘waste’ it or you can ‘waist’ it”).

Eat Healthy Before the Party

When attending holiday parties, eat a small, healthy snack before going and bring a healthy dish to share. Bringing something healthy not only provides you with something you can feel good about eating, but it also gives the other guests a healthier option.

Plan Your Indulgences

Choose your indulgences ahead of time. For example, do you simply love your grandmother’s homemade cookies and the holidays aren’t the same without them? Then choose to have a small serving but forget about the other sweets. Skip the bread at dinner and load up your dinner plate with vegetables. No, candied yams and mashed potatoes are not what I mean. Think salads and other non-starchy vegetables and proteins. Then, have a cookie or two and enjoy them!

To provide more buffer for indulgences at parties and family gatherings, be more diligent about your nutrition during the week. If you regularly have a glass of wine with dinner, skip it during the week.

Try Limited Fasting After a Big Indulgence

Consider adding “intermittent fasting” to your week. A particularly good time for intermittent fasting is the day after an indulgence. For example, the day after a holiday gathering with a big meal put off eating your next meal as long as possible, perhaps until dinner. “But I’ll be so hungry!” you’re probably thinking. Make your fasting day a busy day! Do some shopping, go for a hike, plan a “spa-day” with your partner or friends. (A spa day has the added benefit of also helping reduce stress!). Plus, make sure to drink plenty of calorie-free fluids. Beverages with caffeine, like coffee and tea, will also help curb your appetite.

Enjoy Family and Friends (not Just Food)

Instead of just sitting around and snacking during parties and gatherings, save room for the main meal by engaging family and friends in other activities. If it’s nice outside, go for a walk, play a game of flag football, etc. If the weather is not cooperating, invite people to play board games or card games or do some sort of holiday-themed craft.

Be Kind to Yourself

Finally, and most importantly, be kind to yourself. If you overindulge, simply acknowledge it and move on. Don’t dwell on it, learn from it. Reflect on what happened and how you can be better prepared the next time.

The holidays are a fun and joyful time of year and should be appreciated. We all know the holidays can be stressful, but eating healthy should not be an added stress. By using some, or all, of the strategies above, you can still make the most of the holiday season and reduce the stress of trying to maintain or introduce healthier habits.

December 12, 2018 | by Jasmine Miller MS, CN