Ah, the holidays—‘tis the season for family gatherings, work parties, and get-togethers with friends. While it can be a festive and fun time, it also brings many opportunities to fall out of step with a whole foods, plant-based diet. Whether it’s eggnog or gingerbread, the temptations of the season can be endless. And even though we convince ourselves that “it’s only once a year,” the season can last as long as six weeks! I know I’m not alone when I say that more than once I’ve rolled into January feeling cranky, stressed out, and frustrated with my eating habits of November and December.
This year, I’m trying to do things a little differently. Here are some tips I’m going to follow so that I enjoy the holidays to their fullest without overindulging.
Eat three good meals a day. Make sure that each meal includes complex carbohydrates, healthy fat, and protein—this will help keep your blood sugar stable throughout the day and prevent the cravings that cause you to reach for sugary holiday treats. Avoid meals that are starchy, as they promote cravings. Try to avoid simple carbs (like cereal for breakfast) as they don’t make you feel full for long.
Plan ahead for parties. If you know you’re attending a holiday celebration in the evening, plan ahead by eating a healthy snack or meal before you go. If you need to eat when you get there, fill your plate with fruits, vegetables, and other whole foods before reaching for treats. This way, you can enjoy a bon bon as dessert, rather than parking it by the tray for the whole evening.
Keep healthy snacks on hand. If you work in an office environment, then you know that treats have a way of just showing up at this time of year. A chocolate here, a handful of caramel popcorn there...it all adds up. I’ve started keeping healthy snacks in my desk or purse for those moments. If I’m still hungry after eating some almonds or a grain-free granola bar, I’ll try a bite, but usually once I get past the initial craving, I don’t need to.
Beware of beverages... Holiday drinks are my personal kryptonite—they’re so delicious! Whether it’s the seasonal festive latte at my favorite coffee shop, hot chocolate with my kids, or mulled cider at a party, sharing a beverage is one of the most common ways to celebrate the season. And while they’re certainly tasty, they’re also often packed with empty calories and lead me to a sugar crash before too long.
...and stay well-hydrated. We often confuse dehydration with hunger and tend to overeat when we haven’t filled our tank with enough fluid. Keeping hydrated throughout the day can help us make better decisions about unhealthy food and drinks. I notice that I often have cravings around 3-5 p.m. and this is usually a sign to me that I haven’t been drinking enough water all day. If I have a couple of glasses of water, I often ditch the craving.
Assess your social anxiety. I don’t know about you, but when I feel anxious in a social situation with family or friends, it often seems easiest to cozy up to the snack table or the punch bowl. I distract myself with treats and then I just feel crummy at the end of the night. I’m working on really asking myself which gatherings I feel most strongly about attending, and staying home from the rest. Give yourself permission to have a quiet night at home if that’s what you really need—social fatigue is real!
Keep (some of) your routine. Holiday travel can make it difficult, but if I can stay consistent with exercise, I find that I’m less prone to indulge when I don’t need to. The endorphins from exercise are also great for combatting the seasonal depression and social anxiety that many folks face this time of year. My kids—and my husband and I—are also happier when we get plenty of sleep, so we do our best amid the hectic holiday schedule to prioritize reasonable bedtimes. Keeping some semblance of our regular routine helps us all enjoy the special aspects of the season even more.
By keeping these tips in mind, I feel like I’m going into the holidays ready to focus on what I love most about the season: sharing love with family and friends, and gratitude for all the blessings in life.
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.