Christmas is almost here!!! If you’re like my family, you’ve probably started baking some yummy treats for the holidays. You might have some tins of cookies sitting in your pantry or freezer ready for Christmas. However, when all those cookies, fudges, and candies are in your house, it’s really hard to avoid them! Trust me, I know! By the time Christmas gets here, you might already have made a pretty good dent in them.
But what about all that hard work – excercising and doing your best to eat health – you did throughout the year? Does that all just go out the window during the holidays? Or should we be very restrictive and say “no, thank you” to every sweet that comes our way?
I believe that it’s important to go into the holiday season with a plan, a healthy mindset, and balance, so that we don’t feel guilty after it’s all done, ruin our progress we’ve made, or feel like we missed out. So I have seven strategies you can use over the next few weeks so that you can feel great, instead of discouraged, come January.
7 Strategies for Guilt-Free, Healthy Holidays
1. Eat Your Veggies and Protein First
At your parties or big meals you attend during this holiday season, load your plate up with vegetables and meat first. Instead of eating only a little bit of these in order to “save room for dessert,” fill your tummy mostly with these healthy foods that have nutritional benefits.
Shoot for filling up half of your plate at each meal with colorful vegetables, like Roasted Bacon Balsamic Brussel Sprouts, Roasted Asparagus with Lemon Cardamon Sauce, Healthy Green Bean Casserole, roasted broccoli, or Winter Chopped Kale Salad. The rule in our home is that our boys have to eat all of their vegetables and meat if they want to have any kind of treat later. The same thing will go for Christmas – for my boys and myself alike (as long as I can keep the grandparents from sneaky cookies to them!). It doesn’t have to be a negative thing though. Vegetables can be fun and so tasty!
Also, make sure you are getting a good amount of protein in (about 1/4 of your plate) at each meal. This will help you feel satiated and keep you from having cravings an hour later. The desserts will probably have PLENTY of fat and carbs in them. So protein is the macronutrient you should consciously be making sure you are eating enough of.
After you get your vegetables and meat in, you shouldn’t have as much room to fill up on all the breads, desserts, or processed foods. Those things should be eaten last – in moderation.
The winter is cold and flu season, so set yourself up for success and boost your immune system by making sure you get plenty of vitamins and minerals in your food.
2. Eat Mindfully
My advise is to not restrict yourself so much that you are going to feel like you’re not fully enjoying Christmastime. It is a wonderful time of year, and yes, a lot of it does revolve around food. You probably have traditions for foods you always make for Christmas.
My family is part Swedish, and we always have Swedish meatballs, rotmos (basically mashed potatoes with rutabaga in it), pickled herring (mainly just my dad eats that), and other sides for our Christmas Eve meal. Even though I don’t typically eat mashed potatoes, this is a tradition we’ve been doing ever since I can remember, and I look forward to it each year. I’m not going to sit and watch everyone else eat. I’m going to participate too! But, I’m not going to load half my plate up with mashed potatoes. I’ll eat a scoop of the rotmos, a scoop of meatballs, and load the rest of my plate up with whatever vegetables there will be. I know mashed potatoes are a high carb vegetable that will make me feel very full if I eat a lot of, and that’s not how I want to feel.
Remember the goal of the meal – it should not be to stuff yourself as much as you possibly can. It’s to SATISFY your tummy, provide nutrients your body needs, and satisfy your taste buds with delicious flavors.
Enjoy the meal, but be mindful about what you are putting on your plate and listen to your body. Keep in mind how you’ll feel after the meal. Try not to eat so much that you know you’ll feel guilty and have a stomach ache afterwards.
Besides being mindful about WHAT and HOW MUCH you’re eating, also be mindful WHILE you eat. To help aid good digestion, chew your food slowly. Savor the wonderful flavors. I tell my boys this all the time! Dinner should not be a race or a contest. When you eat food so quickly that you don’t properly chew it, it can cause stress to your esophagus, difficulty digesting, and bloating. Another added bonus to eating slowly is that you will probably be more mindful about how much you’re eating and notice more easily when you are full.
Even though I don’t believe in restricting yourself so much and being on a “diet” during Christmas, there is a time where restrictions are necessary. If you have any food sensitivities, intolerances, or allergies, this is where restrictions definitely need to come into play. I am sensitive to gluten, nightshades, and dairy. I don’t go into anaphylaxis or anything, but they will make my eczema flare up. So, I will avoid those things and make substitutions as needed.
3. Limit the Sweets
Does your family make all the sweets like mine does? It’s so hard when there are so many sweets in the house. I don’t usually eat a lot of sweets, but during Christmas time, I do have a little more sweets than normal.
We can probably all admit that sugar is not healthy. It weakens the immune system, creates cravings for MORE sugar, creates a spike in blood sugar and then crashes it down causing low energy, and causes weight gain, among other things.
I believe you should allow yourself to have the sweet (after your vegetables!). Again, don’t restrict yourself so much that you’ll be depressed if you don’t have it. But have the sweets in moderation.
Remember – Christmas is only one day. It’s not the whole month long. So maybe limit your Christmas treats to just Christmas and Christmas Eve. Or limit yourself to just one cookie a day. Set healthy limits that you can stick to. Try not to go crazy and make it a free-for-all when the cookie trays come out.
4. Plan Ahead
If you are going to a party or dinner, and you know there’s going to be a lot of junk food, sweets, or foods that don’t agree with you, it’s important to plan ahead.
When I went to my family’s Thanksgiving gathering in Washington DC a few weeks ago, I was currently on an elimination diet for health reasons (I still am, but have added a lot of things back into my diet). At that point I was ONLY eating vegetables, meat (minus pork and shellfish), and healthy fats. I had to have food to eat there, so I made sure the dishes that I was making aligned with my diet. I made gluten and dairy-free green bean casserole and refined sugar-free cranberry sauce (cranberries were my first fruit I added back in).
If the function you’re going to is potluck style where everyone brings a dish or two, make sure the dishes you bring are on the healthier side and align with your dietary needs, because you probably don’t know what everyone else is going to bring.
If the event you’re going to will have mainly appetizers and desserts, you can make sure you dob’t go overboard by eating some vegetables and meat BEFORE you go to the party. Again, get some good, nutritious food in your belly so you’re not craving ALL the sweets and treats.
5. Maintain Activity
Many of us enjoy a “break” during Christmastime. The kids are out school, teachers are out for two weeks, many offices and shops are closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and many people take vacation during the Christmas season. However, it’s important that we don’t take a break from doing physical activity.
In order to feel our best, fully enjoy our time with friends and family, and not derail progress we’ve made physically we need to stay active. Activity does not have to be going to the gym though. Physical activity can be anything where you’re using energy, raising your heart rate, moving your body, and burning calories. It doesn’t have to be a dreaded, boring thing. Do something fun! Have races with the kids. Play football together. Or go on a long walk after dinner with your family. Just do something where you’re moving and burning off a few of those calories from the extra food you’re most likely consuming. An after-meal-walk can also help aid digestion and get things moving.
6. Drink water
It can be so hard to drink enough water during the cold winter months when you’re not hot and thirsty, but it is important to stay hydrated! Make sure you are drinking enough water daily – about half your body weight in ounces (so if you weight 150 lbs, shoot for drinking 75 oz. of water daily).
This is especially important during the holidays. When your stomach is growly and you think you’re hungry, many times you really just need water. Try drinking a glass of water first, and then see if you still feel hungry. If so, then eat something.
Also, try to consume water instead of juice, soda, or alcohol during meals and parties. All those other drinks are filled with sugar and calories with no nutritional value. The easiest way to save calories is by just drinking water. I’m not for counting and keeping track of your calories every time you eat, but I am mindful of them. If I know I’m eating more food and more sweets than normal, I’m definitely not going to add more calories in with a drink.
7. Show yourself grace
Lastly, just remember to show yourself grace. It’s the holidays, and we should enjoy this time! We shouldn’t be stressed about what we’re eating and feel guilty when we eat more than we should. Stress can do more damage to your body than the food you eat. Do your best to follow the other 6 steps, but if you do have more than you should and you don’t feel your best, just know that it will be okay. It’s not going to last forever. And nobody eats “perfectly” all the time.
Remember, having good health is a lifelong journey. It’s not something that has a start and a finish line – that would be a diet. I’ve made improvements in my health and wellness over the past few years, but I will continue to learn new things, make more healthy swaps, and apply different strategies to feel better and better. If you do go a little over board during this season, try not to think of it as “falling off the wagon.” If you eat more unhealthy food one day, compensate by eating more healthy, higher quality food the next day. Pick right back up into your healthy eating habits. There’s no reason to wait until January 1st to start a “diet.”
I hope these strategies help you be prepared as we go into Christmas week soon, and I hope you have a very Merry Christmas!