It’s officially that time of year, folks! Between Thanksgiving and New Years, there are at least five weeks of holidays. For most of us, this means indulging in lots of food, and not always the healthiest foods. Not to mention, winter is coming (Game of Thrones fans, are you out there?) and for many of us, that means staying indoors. I live in Buffalo, and let me tell you – when the snow flies, there is nothing more I want to do than stay on my couch with a fuzzy blanket and a cup of tea! (Sometimes that’s literally all I can do, as we can get snowed in and unable to leave the house!)
Between the extra food and potentially being stuck inside, we may see some weight gain. How many of you (or someone you know) has made a New Year’s resolution to be healthier: start a diet, start an exercise plan, or both? It’s just not worth the effort of struggling through the holidays and also moving around, right? Plus, new year, new you! It’s a motivational fresh start!
But we all know how it goes. Gym enrollment is sky high in January, all the machines are taken. Your fridge is filled with nothing but fruits and vegetables, and you’re pleased with yourself for saying no to the donuts at work every morning. Then you do so well that you allow yourself a treat, and that turns into a “cheat day”, and before you know it…February is here and you’ve already “failed” at your goals. The motivation is gone. The weather is still crappy. Everything sucks.
So, I’m going to do a multiple part series on how to stay healthy through the holidays. I’ll talk about eating right while still indulging, exercising when you just don’t want to, and even managing your stress as holiday shopping and visits with in-laws looms over you and adds to the tasks of everyday life. Health is more than just healthy eating, after all, and while it’s my main focus at Salt and Skillet, there’s so much more to it!
For this first part, I’ll be starting with food and how to eat healthy through the holidays.
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Staying Healthy Through the Holidays: Eat Well…enough.
There’s no question – food during the holidays is some of the best stuff we eat all year. Home-cooked comfort foods that you may have been eating for years have a comfy, cozy, nostalgia to them. Something as simple as grandma’s apple pie or mom’s lasagna can bring such joy, and the more, the merrier! Not to mention, we wouldn’t want to insult our in-laws who made a certain dish because they know it’s your favorite.
But what do we do when we’re watching our weight or trying to eat more nutritionally? Holiday dinners are delicious because they’re loaded with fat, sugar, and salt, which can be less than nutritious. There are a few obstacles to overcome, sure, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy dinners as you always have just because you want the scale to read out a certain way the next morning! Moderation is still key, but allowing yourself to indulge won’t break everything you’ve worked for. I promise.
Here’s some tips on how to stay healthy through the holidays when it comes to food:
Cook! Host dinners! Be the boss of the kitchen! Or, bring a dish!
If you’re not the one who normally cooks, you may be subject to whatever mom, grandma, or whoever is hosting is putting into the foods. You can’t control if the mashed potatoes are made with cream cheese and heavy cream to make them extra creamy. By offering to cook or host a meal, you’re in charge of the kitchen. By being in charge of the kitchen, you control not only which dishes are available, but what goes into those dishes as well. You can cook without salt and leave shakers on the table for each person to add to their own tasting. You can say you used heavy cream but actually use 1% milk in the potatoes. Or – don’t be sneaky – just straight up tell your friends and family that it’ll be a lighter fare!
If you aren’t hosting, offer to bring a dish! You can cook something at home and know that at least one of your sides for that meal will be on the healthier side.
Use a smaller plate
A good rule for any meal, but especially important during the holidays. I love to sit down with a plate that is absolutely loaded up on Thanksgiving – I don’t want to see any china! It’s easy to grab much more than you can actually eat. But portion sizes still count. If you use a smaller plate, you can still have some of everything – just in smaller portions. If you want more once your plate it cleared, go for it! I can never seem to go for seconds, though…at least not until I’ve given it some time.
Fill up on veggies
One of the great thing about big holidays is that there are a lot of side dishes, and the side dishes are often some sort of veggie! Start by filling up your (slightly smaller) plate with veggie dishes, then grab your lean meats (turkey!), then use the remaining space for more calorie-heavy items like stuffing, rolls, lasagna, and ham. Sure, these side dishes may still be covered in butter or baked with a marshmallow topping, but the nutrient content is still there. And, sure, we can pretend that the low calorie veggie makes up for the high calorie toppings.
Green beans, yams, potatoes, broccoli, corn, Brussel’s sprouts, squash, beets, carrots, salad…whatever it is, grab it first!
Stop eating when you’re full. Practice mindful eating.
I know it’s tempting to go back for more and more and more when it tastes so good. I know. But the food coma after the meal doesn’t have to be an uncomfortable mess.
Mindful eating is something that I’ve been looking into more, and hope to post on soon. Basically, with mindful eating, you only eat when you’re hungry, and only until you’re comfortably full. There’s not much more to it, but it’s a way to prevent overeating. People who may have eating disorders or who binge-eat can benefit from mindful eating.
For our purposes now, during the holidays it might be more difficult to practice mindful eating. You want more and more and more, because it tastes so damn good! By using a smaller plate, you can finish that plate and then stop. Think about how you feel – do you really want more food? Would it make you uncomfortable? Would you have to unbutton your pants? Maybe don’t go for seconds….yet.
You can always go back for more in a little bit once you’ve digested some! Listen to your body – are you hungry again? Not ravenous, mind you – you don’t want to get to the point where you want to eat EVERYTHING! But don’t let it get to that point. When your body is lightly poking you with a reminder to eat, have something to eat!
Don’t restrict yourself. Eat the foods you want to eat!
What if you’re the type to have “off-limit”, “no-no”, “bad” foods on a list? Do you count calories? Are you the kind of person to dread holiday meals (or dining out, or literally anything involving food) because you don’t want to be tempted?
What is I told you to just do it, but within reason?
This applies beyond holidays, but the holidays are the time period when we are most tempted to “cheat”.
Here’s the thing: When you restrict yourself by putting a label on foods as “bad” or “off-limits”, you only want it more. You’re keeping yourself from enjoying something that you want. When you use the word “cheat”, it implies you’re doing something wrong. You should be punished, you should feel guilty.
Please try to get away from this mindset!
Of course some foods are “worse” than others in that they are calorically dense, high in saturated fat or sodium or sugar, or have no vitamins or minerals. Those foods are everywhere. And they’re tasty! But this doesn’t mean you can’t have them, ever, and all the food you have to eat is cardboard.
This is the reason diets fail. This is why people hate the idea of “healthy food”. This is why our population is getting bigger and thinking of themselves as failures! RESTRICTION!
Everything in Moderation.
It’s not just a cliché – it’s a good rule of thumb to go through life. You can have the yams with marshmallows, stuffing, honey glazed carrots, a roll with butter, lasagna, ham, roast beef, dessert – YOU CAN HAVE IT! Nothing is “off-limits” or bad, it’s just “less frequent” and “smaller portions”.
Tell me if this sounds familiar:
Your diet might follow certain rules – low in fat, low in carbs, a certain calorie amount or points amount, no eating after 8:00pm, absolutely no sweets…whatever they are, they are rules. When you break the rules, you feel guilty. When you feel guilty, you seek comfort. Maybe in food. Maybe in “off-limits” food. Now you’ve ruined your day. And, to make yourself feel even worse, you enjoyed those foods. They were tasty. They made you happy. Now, you feel double guilty, and just want to enjoy those foods even more. You’ve already ruined today, what’s one more day? And now it’s Thursday, so you may as well enjoy the weekend. You can start healthy again Monday. But Monday comes and isn’t it just faster to go through a drive-thru or grab a donut for breakfast? (Not necessarily…)
So, does it sound familiar? I’m raising my hand. I’ve been through this cycle countless times. And what did it start with? Rules. Restrictions. They became guilt and self-loathing and bad habits.
Through the holidays and through the rest of your life, don’t overly restrict yourself. Don’t make ridiculous rules. Don’t feel guilty if you’ve eaten something you “shouldn’t have” or wasn’t “in your diet”. If you love it, make it a part of your diet. But eat it less frequently, and in smaller portions.
You like pumpkin pie? You eat pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving. Have a slice, enjoy it. Top it with a mountain of whipped cream. Let yourself indulge – on a smaller plate, and while practicing mindful eating.
Still with me? Okay, whew! Two more tips for healthy eating during the holidays:
Watch your alcohol intake
Another one that applies throughout the year, but might be especially important during the holidays. Alcohol has calories – 7 calories per gram, to be
exact – and they can add up quickly if you’re having several drinks, especially on top of food! Now, while I’m not asking you to count calories (that’s a restriction!) unless you truly need or want to, still be mindful of your energy (calorie) balance. If you take in a lot of calories but don’t burn them, they’re going to be stored as fat. You know that (No? That’s okay, read more about calories here!)
Plus, alcohol may make you want to eat more.
Plus, alcohol affects how the nutrients are absorbed and digested in your body. The liver favors alcohol, pushing it to the front of the line, and making those nutrients hang around waiting to get into your cells and do their jobs. You’ve filled up your plate with veggies, but those nutrients can’t do what they want to do if you’re drunk!
A good rule of thumb is to have one alcoholic beverage per hour, with a tall glass of water between each drink. Stay hydrated, my friends.
My drink of choice is mymother-in-law’s eggnog and rum….mmmmyes.
Enjoy your family and friends.
It’s easy to get hung up on the food during the holidays. For Thanksgiving, it’s all about the food. We are celebrating our thankfulness with food (unless your family actually says anything about Pilgrims and Native Americans). We are thankful for our jobs, our houses, our pets, the food….but we are thankful for family and friends, especially.
Don’t get so caught up on the food during the holidays. Keep the above tips in mind, but also remember what this life is about – the people you surround yourself with. You might not remember what the green bean casserole tasted like from one year to the next, but you’ll remember the great moments you spent with great people. For many of us, this might be the only time we get to see our aunts or cousins or other loved ones who are far away. Take advantage of that time by really spending time together.
Enjoy the food. Enjoy the holidays. Enjoy the people you love.
I’m feeling quite thankful after all of that, but I’m also feeling like we need a recap.
Staying Healthy Through the Holidays: Eat Well…enough. Recap!
- Cook your own holiday meals or bring a dish to a family or friend’s house in order to control which dishes are available and what goes into them. You control the butter, cream, sugar, salt, and everything else when you control the kitchen!
- Use a smaller plate to still enjoy the foods you like, but in more reasonable portions.
- Fill up on veggies to give you the most nutrition for the fewest calories, even if there are some added goodies to them (I keep thinking of the marshmallows on the yams!)
- Practice mindful eating to stop eating when you’re full. This will prevent overeating, an overconsumption of calories, and save your tummy from a pretty serious ache.
- Don’t restrict yourself. Everything in moderation. No food is “off-limits” or “bad”…it’s just “less often” and “smaller amounts”. Don’t fall into the self-loathing guilt spiral that comes with overly restricting yourself.
- Watch your alcohol intake to save calories and reap the nutritional benefits of those veggies! Alcohol inhibits the utilization of nutrients.
- Enjoy your family and friends. Don’t focus so much on the food – take the time for what really matters, especially during this holiday season.