We’ve officially kicked off the holiday season with Thanksgiving – and if you’re like most Americans, you ate several times the calories you normally would! I’m a big believer in enjoying celebrations and eating guilt-free on those days, though even those who are normally mindful of what they eat can easily eat seconds and thirds of their favorite family recipes (followed by tiny portions of about 6 different desserts).
The key to surviving the holiday season from this point on while still adhering to your health goals is to take each day at a time- follow these tips to make it to New Year’s without backsliding into old habits.
- Leave the holiday splurges for the holidays.
If you follow one tip all season, make it this one! Food traditions are at the heart of many holiday celebrations, so enjoy them on the actual day-of, but don’t carry those bad eating habits with you for the rest of the season!
Whatever your major holidays are — Christmas Eve, Christmas day, Hanukkah, New Year’s Eve, a certain holiday party you’ve been waiting for — enjoy the food and drink on that day but go back to your normal eating routine once the event is over. If you carry out that celebration mentality every day until New Year’s and eat twice the calories you normally do, you can easily pack on the pounds or wind up with out of control blood sugars. This goes for leftovers as well; definitely enjoy those Thanksgiving leftovers, but serve yourself smaller portions so you don’t overeat like you may have while feasting with family.
- Listen to your Hunger Cues.
If you’ve ever eaten to the point of becoming uncomfortably full (a feeling very well associated with holidays), you probably ignored your hunger cues. Our bodies are great at telling us when we need to eat and when we can stop, but our love of flavor usually leads us to keep eating far beyond that point. Using a mental Hunger Scale can help you identify when you need to eat or wait so you can eat more intuitively. Throughout the season, ask yourself if you are eating because you are hungry (scale points 3 & 4) to the point of satiety (points 5 & 6) or beyond that (points 7 & above) so that you can enjoy your holiday treats without feeling stuffed.
- Don’t drink your calories.
Alcohol is a major part of many holiday festivities, but it’s a two-fold trap when you are watching your health! First, alcohol is packed with calories – and the heavier the drink, the more calories it packs. While a light beer or a 4 ounce glass of champagne has around 100 calories, a heavy winter lager or a martini can easily have over 200. Add creamy drinks like eggnog or dessert martinis and those drinks pack more than 300 calories each. The second trap here is that alcohol dulls your inhibitions and often leads to eating far more than you ever would while sober! This is especially true for anyone who restricts their eating on a daily basis, so if you tend to be a crash-dieter, you may find yourself eating twice what you normally would once alcohol silences that voice in your head. My tip is to cap yourself at once drink so you can enjoy yourself while still being able to hear your hunger cues rather than overindulging unintentionally.
- Plan ahead.
This may be the least fun tip, but it’s the most practical. If you are going to a holiday party where you know your friend’s famous seven-layer dip or decadent dessert will be served, make a mental plan of how you will be allotting your calories. This can help you enjoy your favorite items without feeling guilt that you splurged all night long. A good rule of thumb is to try to divide your dinner into courses like you would at a restaurant: an appetizer, dinner, and dessert. Choose your favorite small app, a main course with protein and some vegetables if available, and one sweet plate (or drink) for dessert rather than grazing mindlessly all night.
- Stay mindful between meals.
There are only a few actual holidays this season but many normal days with special treats lying around. If you love to buy seasonal snacks or work in an office with a constant supply of desserts, make a mental note of how often you are eating otherwise celebratory foods throughout the day. If you are having multiple sweets throughout the morning and afternoon, you are likely having way more calories and carbohydrates than you would eat any other time of year, and this can do a number on your blood sugars and waist line. Find a happy medium that works for you, like only eating workplace treats two times a week instead of every day or saving your treats at home for weekends.
If you find yourself struggling and need extra guidance on how to prioritize your health goals while still enjoying the holidays, nutrition counseling with a registered dietitian nutritionist can make a huge difference. I have a great holiday deal through the end of the year and an even better Black Friday deal through 11/26, so this is the time to book a session!