Eating healthy during the holidays can be a challenging feat: people believe they need to deprive themselves of their grandmother’s famous jam rolls or their uncle’s beloved stuffing in order to have a healthy holiday season – but, this couldn’t be further from the truth! As nutritionists, we have guided many clients on how to eat well throughout the holidays without feeling guilty, bloated or lethargic. No need to skip out on the sugary treats or specialty alcoholic drinks, because there is actually a way to have your cake (quite literally) and eat it too. Here are our 10 realistic ways to eat healthy during the holidays.
1. Don’t Starve Yourself Before a Meal
A big meal is approaching, so you eat less throughout the day to make “room” for all of the goodies to come – this is a big no-no! When you don’t eat, your blood sugar drops so low that you end up hangrily binging on the meal instead of deeply enjoying it. When you eat this way, you ignore your hunger and full signals, and end up eating too much without really tasting the meal in front of you. Usually what happens next is severe bloating and a food coma. The goal is to have balanced blood sugar throughout the day, so eat all of your meals and/or snacks as you normally do. That way when you get to the holiday meal, your body won’t be as hungry and you will eat serving sizes that are appropriate for you.
2. Start Small (You Can Always Go Back for Seconds!)
The famous casserole, pecan pie and gratin that you otherwise never get to eat are now staring you down – so you must fill your plate! Sound familiar? As nutritionists, we always recommend starting small. This doesn’t mean passing up on the foods that appeal to you most, it just means start with smaller servings. Remember, you can always go back for more. Usually, when you start with smaller servings, you give your body time to realize it’s full and you’ll no longer want to refill your plate. When you take so much food on your first go around, your eyes tell your brain that you must eat it all, even if you get full. So start off small and only go for seconds if you’re still hungry.
3. Go for the Veg
We strongly encourage everyone to eat lots of veggies, especially green ones, which deliver incredible minerals, vitamins and antioxidants to the body. During the holidays, load up your plate with vegetables, even if they’re smothered in maple syrup, heavy cream and bacon. Not only will this help fill you up with fibre (so you feel full faster) but it also provides your body with important nutrients to digest, eliminate and detoxify some foods your body may not be used to eating.
4. Chew Your Food and Eat Mindfully
Did you know that you’re actually supposed to chew your food about 30 times before you swallow so that your salivary enzymes have a chance to break it down? This really applies to your eating habits all year round, but it’s especially important during the holidays. When you chew your food, you tend to eat much slower, your body will better digest the meal, and your brain and body have time to properly communicate and let you know when you’re full. You also allow yourself to eat mindfully and consciously, aware of the amounts you’re eating and the incredible tastes and textures of the food being consumed.
5. Eat Digestive Enzyme Rich Foods
Enzymes help your body process the foods you eat so you’re able to digest well, and then in turn feel energized. Some foods are naturally packaged with important enzymes that aid digestion, and these foods should especially be eaten during the holidays. To avoid feeling bloated, gassy and lethargic, we highly recommend eating pineapples, papayas, lemons, kefir and sauerkraut. They all have natural digestive enzymes that help break down the food you eat. You may even want to try a digestive enzyme supplement. If you’re not sure which one to choose, consult a healthcare practitioner.
6. Don’t Give Into Peer Pressure
Picture this: you’re enjoying a holiday meal, and someone at the dinner table (either the host, your mother-in-law or whomever) is aggressively pushing you to eat more food or to down the very special dish they cooked. This is so common, and many people overeat just so someone else won’t feel bad. If you don’t want to eat anymore – don’t do it! You can tell the person you’re simply too full, or even ask to take some home so that you can try it later.
7. Choose the Foods You Love First
Most holiday meals are just a smorgasbord of so much food! It’s so easy to fill your plate with everything the eye can see, even if it’s items you don’t actually want. Before letting it all go and grabbing everything in sight, choose the dishes you absolutely love. Usually what happens is when you eat the foods you love first, you don’t feel the need to go back for the other dishes that aren’t as appealing to you anyway. You also limit the chances of overeating and ending up bloated and gassy.
8. Drink Lots of Water
You need to drink between 6-8 glasses of water a day, and your need for water will most likely increase during the holidays as your alcohol and sugar intake skyrockets. This will ensure you avoid dehydration and will help your body process these new dietary additions. Drinking water will also aid your digestive system and help flush out toxins. Sometimes when you think you’re hungry, your body is actually just thirsty, so drinking lots of water will also help to eliminate overeating that tends to come with the holiday season.
9. Eat Guilt-Free
You stuff your face, eat lots of desserts, overdo it on the potatoes, have one too many cocktails… and then the guilt sets in: you start beating yourself up for eating so much and now feel sorry for yourself. We’ve all been there. Even if you do over-indulge, it’s important to take that guilt off the menu. If you eat in a state of gratitude, appreciation and love for the food and people around you, it won’t be that big of a deal that you overdid it. It happens, so move on and remember that tomorrow is a new day.
10. Find an Accountability Partner
As nutritionists, this is something we recommend for many of our clients, whether it’s during the holiday season or not. If you want to eat healthy, or at least eat in moderation when enjoying a holiday meal, it’s best to call on a friend or family member to be your accountability partner. They don’t need to control what you’re eating, but if you have someone around that has your back and wants to keep you in line with your health goals, you will most likely stick to eating well without overdoing it.