This season, it’s possible to have your health and eat pie, too. Follow these nutritionists’ tips.
The holiday season is officially underway, with the first major food-related holiday — Thanksgiving — under our belts, so to speak. Our collective food environment isn’t set up to support nutritious eating as it is, and the holiday food environment adds an extra element of temptation. Is it possible to enjoy favorite holiday foods without suffering a monthlong food coma? Yes, and here are some tips for healthfully, and happily, navigating the holiday food gantlet:
Be choosy. There are days and occasions that qualify as special — but a random Thursday afternoon in December in the office break room isn’t one of them. There’s no rule that says you need to sample whatever holiday food crosses your path. Do you truly enjoy generic boxed candy or mass-produced sugar cookies? During the holidays, include those foods you enjoy the most, and ignore the rest.
Stay curious and eat mindfully. When you are about to reach for food, ask yourself “Am I hungry?” and “Is this what I really want to be eating right now?” If the answer to either one is “No,” consider reconsidering. At the very least, asking yourself those two questions gives you a moment to make a conscious decision, rather than acting on autopilot. When you are eating, pay attention. Being mindful helps you make better, more fulfilling food choices — and enjoy them to the fullest.
Nourish your body. Getting too hungry leaves you vulnerable to eating sugary, high-calorie foods on impulse, partly because hunger is a response to dwindling blood-sugar levels — your body is literally crying out for fuel. Staying well nourished by eating regular meals and snacks (every 3-5 hours, depending on your individual needs) will keep you from becoming overly hungry. Planning ahead so you have nutritious food in the house or know where you can grab a healthful lunch while out shopping will leave you feeling far better than if you are surviving on low-nutrient foods. Who wants to spend the holidays feeling sluggish?
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Establish food boundaries. It just wouldn’t be the holidays without at least one food pusher. Most food pushers are trying to be a good host — or looking for validation of their culinary skills — but the end result is the same if you end up eating food you don’t need or want. To deflect food pushers without stepping on toes, start with a compliment and finish with a deflection, such as “Mmmm … that looks delicious. I’m not hungry right now, but I’ll have some later” or “The food was all too fabulous … I literally could not eat another bite.” If that doesn’t do it, you can nicely but firmly add a, “No, really … I just wouldn’t be able to fully appreciate it right now.” If you have people-pleasing tendencies, it can help to rehearse what you’ll say in advance.
Nourish your emotions. The holiday season brings both stress and joy. That makes this an excellent time to take stock of the tools in your emotional-coping-strategies toolbox. The more you can use food for sustenance and pleasure — and avoid using it to cope with stress or emotions that the holidays might bring to the surface — the better you’ll ultimately feel. If there are certain rituals or activities that help you stay sane — morning yoga, a daily walk, some quiet alone time — establish some personal boundaries to protect that you-time during the busy holiday season.