7 tips for eating healthy over the holidays.

by Wendy Chatham, Dietitian, MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital
November 25, 2020

Stress, pressure from family, and tempting treats over the holidays can make it hard to choose nutritious choices from Thanksgiving through the New Year. But eating healthy over the holidays doesn’t have to be hard. With a few simple tweaks to your mindset, you can learn to both enjoy special meals and foods this season while practicing how to eat intuitively any time of the year.

Eating healthy over the holidays doesn’t have to be hard, thanks to these 7 tips from dietitian, Wendy Chatham. Read the #LiveWellHealthy blog to learn more: https://bit.ly/2J8a7Dz.

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Tip #1: Prioritize what you want to eat.

Over the holidays, many of us prepare special recipes that are reserved for this time of year. For example, many people enjoy baking Christmas cookies that they can share with family, friends, and coworkers. Grocery stores and specialty shops also sell a variety of holiday treats that aren’t available throughout the year, making them exclusive to the holiday season.

We look forward to eating and preparing these foods that remind us of gathering with family and friends year after year. As a result, it can be helpful to plan ahead what special recipes and food you plan to enjoy throughout the holidays. Or, take an inventory of what food is available at a party before you start to fill your plate at a party. Think about the things that you enjoy the most, and determine what you’re going to say no to in advance so that you can eat the special things you love without stuffing yourself.

Over the holidays, I enjoy making tamales for my family. Because tamales are filling and a complete meal all on their own, I choose to avoid tortilla chips or mixed nuts that fill snack bowls because I can have those any time I want. By planning the kinds of food we’ll refuse, like nibbling on appetizers before the main course, we free up space to enjoy the special foods that make the holidays unique.

Tip #2: Avoid high-calorie beverages.

From sugary sodas to alcoholic beverages like eggnog or hot buttered rum, it’s easy to go way over daily calorie recommendations by consuming high-calorie drinks. Consider that one small glass of hot buttered rum offers the same number of calories as a six-inch roast beef sub from Subway. Even juice, sweet tea, and Gatorade should be reserved for special occasions in the same way you would treat eating a birthday cake. That’s because high sugar levels can significantly increase your blood sugar and wreak havoc on your body.

As you prioritize what you plan to eat and enjoy over the holidays, avoid drinking your calories and instead opt for low-calorie beverages. It’s one easy way you can choose to make healthier choices, as food will provide more nutritional value and feelings of fullness.

Tip #3: You can say, “no, thank you.” No explanation required.

Once you’ve determined what you do want to eat, don’t feel bad about saying “no, thank you” to what you don’t want to eat. It’s common for family dynamics to make you feel like you need to take a serving of everything or even have seconds when Grandma is guilting the table into finishing up a dish. But, no one should make you feel bad about what is or isn’t on your plate. Do your best to shake off any extra pressure and say no when you want to say no.

Tip #4: Don’t feel obligated to clean your plate.

Similarly to tip number three, you don’t need to clean your plate if you’re full. I like to tell people to “honor your hunger, but respect your fullness”. By all means, please eat when you’re hungry! It’s your body telling you that it needs nutrition. In fact, skipping meals only leads to overeating because you eat faster than your body can register your fullness. That’s why you shouldn’t fast all day before a holiday meal. Eat a snack or shake beforehand so you’re not starving by mealtime.

When it is time to eat, pace yourself, eat slowly, and pay attention to when you’re full. Once you are, stop eating to avoid overeating or becoming sick. Some people think they need to finish their plate so they don’t “waste” any food. But, when you continue putting food into your body when you’re full, it’s still a “waste”. There will always be more food and opportunities to have leftovers.

Tip #5: Ask for leftovers to be wrapped up for you to take home.

If you’re full and can’t eat anymore, or you don’t particularly want something but feel obligated to try it so you don’t hurt anyone’s feelings, ask for something to be wrapped up. You can always take something home to have later when you’re hungry again—or if it’s something you truly don’t want, you can throw it away in the privacy of your own home and no one will be wiser.

Tip #6: Be mindful as you eat.

Mindfulness means being aware of what you’re putting into your body. Studies show that if you’re eating while doing something else, like watching TV, driving, or working at the computer, the following things happen:

  • Your body can’t absorb all the nutrients
  • You’re less aware of how much you’re consuming
  • You enjoy the food less because you’re eating on autopilot
  • You overeat because you’re not paying attention

Instead of eating mindlessly, think about what you’re eating and focus on how you feel after every bite. Studies show mindless eating can interfere with nutrient absorption. We should eat for enjoyment and nutrition, not to numb emotions, pass the time when we’re bored, or react to stressful situations. Practice self-care by being mindful as you eat.

Tip #7: Exercise because you enjoy it, not because you need to earn your food.

Finally, avoid falling into the mindset that you need to earn your food through exercise. Punishment is a poor motivator, and viewing food as something you need to work off will only hurt your view of both food and exercise. Exercise is good for you, and is to be enjoyed! Get moving because of the benefits exercise offers beyond calorie burn, including:

  • Elevating your mood
  • Improving your sleep
  • Relieving stress

Some people will tell you to avoid eating certain foods to stay healthy. While I’m a dietitian, you’ll notice I didn’t tell you not to eat this or that. Rather, these tips for eating healthy over the holidays will help you develop sustainable eating habits that allow you to view food as nourishment and pleasure, not something that you need to work for or overindulge in.

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Category: Eating Healthy     Tags: eating healthyhealthy eatinghealthy food choiceshealthy recipesholiday eating