The holidays can be a real trial for the healthy routines that we have been building, tweaking, and refining all year long. Many clients that I work with are terrified of the holiday season out of fear that they might sabotage their healthy routines and permanently undo all their hard earned progress. Instead of flushing our health habits down the toilet this season, let’s find a way to nourish our bodies while joining in on the holiday celebrations. We can have fun and be healthy too.
- Eat Regularly: If you can keep your blood sugar levels and appetite stable throughout the day you will be better positioned to make appropriate choices when offered sugary and processed foods. This may mean avoiding a sweet altogether or indulging in a small portion of one of your favorites. Eat some healthy food options throughout the day so you don’t go to a holiday event hungry.
- Fill Up on Real Food First: When you attend a holiday party try filling your plate with nourishing foods first. If you are still hungry later go back for those indulgent choices when you are just near full. Don’t forget to choose vegetables whenever they are available—even if these foods aren’t always your favorite. Beware though—not all holiday vegetables are healthy! (Not mentioning any names… good ol’ fashion green bean casserole or yams drenched in marshmallows.)
- Stay Hydrated: Being hydrated curbs sugar cravings and often prevents overeating. If you notice a craving for junk food use that feeling as a trigger to first drink a full glass of water. Then, re-assess your craving before indulging in the treat.
- Bring Your Own Treats: Be prepared for work or social parties by bringing your own healthy treats/desserts. Here are some of my favs to have handy at holiday parties:
- Homemade Trail Mix Bars
- Dark Chocolate and Nut Clusters
- > 70% dark chocolate bar
- Danielle Walker’s Chocolate Chip Cookies
- Avocado Chocolate Mousse
- Date bars
- Kale Salad
- Choose Foods You Love: Scan the food choices and note which foods you don’t care that much about versus the must have treats that you look forward to during the holidays. Health is about balance (nutritional and emotional). If the treat you’re looking at doesn’t make your “must have” list, don’t put it on your plate. Save your one or two exceptions for those special items that are the most significant part of your holiday tradition. Having a prioritized plan enables you to avoid falling victim to everything that is placed in front of you.
- Create Healthy Versions of Your Holiday Favorites: I have come to realize that most (maybe even all) of my holiday favorites can be reinvented into a healthy version. For Halloween, I made a pumpkin pie minimally sweetened with honey with a nut-based crust—delicious! Gravy made with arrowroot flour and coconut milk—a staple at Thanksgiving. Green bean casserole with fresh green beans and mushrooms—yum! Make a list of your holiday must have’s and do an Internet search for recipes that align with your healthy eating habits. When I want an option that avoids eggs, dairy, grains, and refined foods I search for “paleo vegan ______.” Message me if you need help coming up with a healthy version of your favorite holiday staple.
- Beware of Beverages: Alcohol can lessen inhibitions and lead to poor eating choices. And both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages themselves can be full of calories, carbs, and sugar. Choose low to no sugar drinks. A wine spritzer (wine and club soda mix) is a great way to slow alcohol consumption and reduce sugar intake. Alternating between alcoholic and water will keep you hydrated while keeping sugar/carb and alcohol consumption balanced.
- Tap Into Your Fullness Gauge: Just because food is on your plate or in arm’s reach does not mean you need to mindlessly eat. Check in with yourself and aim for about 7/10 fullness—nice and full, but not busting at the seams.
- Remember the 80/20 Rule: This is a rule that inspires eating 80% nourishing, healthy food, and allowing 20% of food intake to be indulgent or less optimal. This rule doesn’t work for everyone—especially those with sugar addictions who find that they “can’t just have one” or when they eat unhealthy foods they quickly go down a fast and furious rabbit hole of poor eating decisions. For some, on the other hand, the 80/20 rule provides a reasonable guideline for eating healthy without feeling deprived of the season’s treats.
- Keep Your Routine: The spontaneity and loose routines of the holiday can shift our normal schedule. Many people thrive on routine and it helps them maintain their healthy habits as second nature. Try to keep as much structure as possible--meal plan, eat regularly, keep your exercise routine, and wake up and go to bed as consistently as possible. For some, planning/scheduling their holiday activities (cooking, traveling, gift exchanges, meals, etc.) for specific times can help maintain some structure.
Eat well and be merry this holiday season!
For insight into my top two eating rules to remember message me for a free copy of Chapter 9 in my book, Full Plate: Nourishing Your Family’s Whole Health in a Busy World.
Let’s chat on social: How do you maintain a healthy eating balance during the holidays?
Sarah Kolman is the mom of three boys, a Registered Nurse, an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, and has a master's degree in Contemplative Psychotherapy. Her private practice as a health coach blends her experience and career as a nurse with her passion for nutrition and holistic wellness. She is the author of Full Plate: Nourishing Your Family's Whole Health in a Busy World.