It’s that time of the year where we get to enjoy the holiday season with family and friends. At these family gatherings and celebrations, we often find homemade dishes and tasty food. These dishes may spark memories or bring joy to oneself as it’s viewed as a treat that only appears around the holiday season. But, you have fitness, nutrition, and health goals you want to stay loyal to, putting you in a bind.
So if you’re someone asking yourself, “how can I stay committed to my goals and still enjoy the oh so “forbidden” foods of the holidays”? Then keep reading as we discuss some good habits to practice this holiday season, allowing you to take advantage of the good eats while staying committed to your health!
Rules to follow:
1. No foods are off-limits and give yourself permission to enjoy them
Let’s be honest! With the holidays, these celebrations come once a year and often are full of joy with those you care about. Usually including tasty food you love and may look forward to all year long. Maybe consider during this holiday season changing your mindset and focus on allowing yourself to enjoy the day. Take a step back to relax, refueling the body for tomorrow when you get back on the grind.
This is also a good time to practice having a good relationship with food. As so often, whether it’s from a diet we are on, magazines, or social media, certain foods can be labeled as “bad” or “good”. Being human, this does help us categorize foods we should consume more often than others. But it can lead to self-defeating language if we decide to splurge on something labeled unhealthy. We need to understand all foods have a plus and minus, yin and yang if you will, which is why you may hear advice to eat the rainbow in fruits and vegetables, helping ensure you get a variety of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals.
The biggest thing to remember when you give yourself permission to enjoy the holiday spread is to take your time and enjoy the food!
2. Be sensible when adding food to your plate, practicing portion sizes
While we are giving ourselves a chance to enjoy some tasty home cooking, we need to make sure we focus on the basics, good old reliable, portion sizes.
Looking at the holiday dishes, start with the basics, looking for lean protein first. Luckily, the protein on the table is often the main dish like the turkey or other animal meat products, hopefully reaching for the leaner, less fatty portion if possible. If we are vegan, looking for dishes containing grains, beans, soy, peas, legumes, tofu, and nut products. Vegetarians get some extra choices including eggs and dairy products, both of which are great sources of protein. Once you found the dish containing the protein, look to portion out a palm-size of the animal source product. Aime for about 4 to 6 ounces to ensure intake of about 30 grams of protein. This is enough to sustain muscle mass and helps to fill you up at the same time.
For carbohydrate sources, we are looking at our fist as a portion size serving of potatoes, grains, bread, sweet potatoes, quinoa, fruit, and many more.
Granted, depending on the individual, the number of servings can change, but a good practice with high carbohydrate dishes is to moderate them as some of these dishes are fairly calorie-dense and low in fiber. Also, remember to save room for dessert as these are often high in carbs and fats.
Fats are traditionally limited to about a thumb size or tablespoon since they are fairly calorie-dense, providing 9 calories for every gram of fat. Given the holidays, it can be rather difficult to get an idea of calories or fat grams in a dish, unless you asked your aunt for the recipe. That won’t be us this year, because we are going to enjoy it. Instead, try to minimize visible fat layered on dishes or adding additional sources of fat like butter to bread.
Once we have our nutrition essentials on our plate, it’s time for the fun stuff, the dishes we look forward to year-round. Whatever that dish may be, enjoy it knowing that you can always go back for more later. Focusing on getting a single serving rather than letting our eyes get greedy, which can lead to overeating.
3. Wait 15 minutes before you go back for seconds
You have practiced good habits of portion sizing and using moderation on the tempting dishes, while still enjoying them. You may be eyeing more of the sweet potatoes, but wait. Give yourself time to settle what you just ate. As the body takes roughly 15 minutes to send cues from the stomach to the brain, signaling satisfaction and satiation, so sit back and get caught in a conversation. If after some time, you still feel hungry or not satisfied, practice the good habits already mentioned. Give yourself permission for seconds.
4. Leave room for dessert
Probably what we are most guilty of at these holiday events is overeating the main course. Often forgetting about the sweet desserts waiting for us, only to continue eating dessert even though we are already full. Now, provided you didn’t go overboard on the seconds, you may have room for these treats, which could be considered a reward for practicing self-discipline and portion control.
Additionally, there isn’t just one dessert that you have your eyes on, hoping to get a slice of each one. This is where you can get creative, like getting much smaller servings on your plate of each dessert that catches your eye. It is also a good time to possibly share a dessert with the significant other or close family/friend. Lastly, just because you put it on your plate, doesn’t mean you have to finish it as we practice eating to satisfaction and satiation. Otherwise, you’re going to be overstuffed and regretting it later.
5. Be active
The meal has ended and the first instinct may often be to lay down and rest. This is a sign of overeating and the body working hard to digest all the delicious foods you consumed and no it’s not because you ate a lot of turkey, trust me. To help you get back on track, I’d challenge you to go first on a simple walk as staying active will help with digestion and help improve blood sugar regulation, especially after a big meal. Also, making this a great place to get loved ones into living a healthy lifestyle by leading by example.
Enjoy the Holidays!
Paxton Boyer, MS, RDN, LD, CPT