My Top Healthy Eating Holiday Tips To Avoid A New Year’s Backslide
The holidays are coming up, so Ho ho ho and Pa rum pa pum pum! Hark the herald - the desserts and drinking are on the way!
It’s the most wonderful time of the year to remind you about healthy eating holiday tips because you’ve got Christmas parties to navigate. You’ve got well meaning saboteurs bringing cookies into the office every day. And you’ve got people castigating you for turning down that fourth eggnog. “Let loose and get in the spirit,” they say... “It’s the holidays!”
But if you want to avoid undoing all the hard work you’ve done to lose or maintain your weight this year, you’ll want to pay attention to what I’m about to say. Here’s the skinny on how to stay on the rails at this time of year.
Healthy Eating Holiday Tips: First Some Context
Let’s get one thing straight. I’m not against treats. Truth be told, I like to get into the Godivas around this time of year. Not the ones with fruit fillings.
What I am against is eating unhealthy food options accidentally, failing to have a plan, and abdicating your personal responsibility for nourishing yourself because it’s the holidays.
The first point is: HAVE FUN! Enjoy yourself with obsessing. But have a plan.
Having said that, the challenge of the holiday season sometimes gets overblown. How many holiday parties and events do you really have this year? Unless you’re far more popular than me (very possible), you have a few dinners. If you eat three times a day, you’ll eat 93 meals in December. If you have 4 holiday events, that’s only 4% of your total meals.
That brings us to the second point: aside from special holiday events, eat normally. Seeing the two or three weeks around Christmas as a total write off is silly and makes no sense. If you need some extra planning to stay on track, simply make sure to plan your main meals out ahead of time. That means at some point before going to bed you’ll physically write down (on paper or your phone) what you’ll have for breakfast, lunch, dinner and any planned snacks for the next day. That way, instead of reacting to the day and being on your back foot, you’ll get out ahead of the game and stay in the drivers seat.
Healthy Eating Holiday Tips: BEST PRACTICES FOR HOLIDAY PARTIES
Eat slowly. Don’t underestimate this simple tip. It’s first among my healthy eating holiday tips for a reason.
Eating slowly has numerous benefits, not the least of which is giving your body’s satiety signals enough time to kick in. No matter what else you do, do this. Chew food until its fully liquefied. Take a few breaths between bites. Sure, sometimes you’ll forget about slowing down, but make it a point to keep it in mind. If you think you might want a second helping set your timer and wait 10-minutes first before making a decision.
Stop at satisfied, not obnoxiously stuffed. This is self explanatory. Keep your belt on.
Stay hydrated. The body often confuses thirst for a craving for sweets. Drink plenty of water before and throughout any parties. If you’re drinking alcohol have a glass of water between drinks.
Keep portions balanced. Fill most of your plate with vegetables, a quarter with protein and a quarter with starch. Check out my portion guide here.
Eat healthy, well balance meals prior to your events to encourage better hormonal and emotional balance. Skipping meals earlier in the day before an event tends to lead to overeating. Don’t be starving when you arrive.
Choose your parties wisely. Skip the ones you don’t care about and make sure not to overextend yourself and wear yourself out. As you become more tired and stressed, cravings get worse, as does your reservoir of will power to say no to the cravings.
Avoid liquid calories and if you’re having alcohol, side step sugary mixers, including artificial sweeteners (sorry Coke Zero). The “healthiest” option is a distilled alcohol with soda and lime. As with everything, pick your spots with drinking. Have a few drinks at parties where you’ll really enjoy it. Skip it at the ones where it won’t add much. Have a plan.
If you feel like it, eat the treats you really love and skip the ones that are just so-so. Let’s face it, there can be a lot of mediocre filler at your average Christmas party. Filler belongs in livestock feed, not in your successful holiday nutrition plan. Sample the good stuff. Forget the rest. If you’re offered an appetiser, dessert or part of an entree that’s both unhealthy and not absolutely insanely delicious, that should be an easy and firm “no.”
Get your workouts in. Even if you’re slammed, do something for 5-10mins. Go for a run or do some body-weight exercises in a circuit. Do SOMETHING. It will keep you in the routine, give you energy, and reduce cravings.
Set realistic expectations. When your expectations are greater than reality, disappointment sets in. Yet, life is full of trade offs. You can’t eat and drink like a maniac and expect to lose fat and perform better. Shocking, I know. So if you’re going to indulge this season, what’s acceptable to you? To temporarily stop making progress but to keep your weight the same? To gain 3 pounds or 1% bodyfat? Something else? Normally we make positive goals: I want to improve by a certain amount. But sometimes it’s helpful to set a goal around how much of a backslide is OK. Make a deal with yourself and then plan accordingly.
Healthy Eating Holiday Tips: WHEN YOUR PLAN GOES A BIT PEAR SHAPED
You’re eating well, planning your meals and cruising along. But despite your best intentions, there are two big things that can take you off track…
The first pitfall most of us will run into this time of year is the “food pushers” who try to compel us into eating. I don’t remember seeing any CSA campaigns for food peer pressure back in the day, but it’s real. Just like a ne'er-do-well trying to get you hooked on dope in the boys washroom, they’ll use lines like:
”Don’t make me try this alone.”
“It’s a special occasion. It’s OK to lighten up and have some fun once in a while.”
“My poor enfeebled grandmother made these especially for you. You HAVE to try them!”
So what to do?
You have a few main options. In order of severity:
Be honest and say “No thanks. I don’t feel like that right now.” No need to go into the details of your diet plan. Just offer a concise no without much (if any) explanation. To some, ‘no’ feels uncomfortable and confrontational at first. It’s not. It’s a simple response to a simple question. We’re all entitled to our own preferences. And the more you use it the more it will become your favourite two letter word.
Lie a little. “I’d love to but I’m so full. I can’t eat another bite.” Or “I have a stomach ache right now and I don’t feel like eating much.”
Sneak under the radar and avoid the situation. Take a bit, push it around your plate for a bit, then discard it later. Or, claim that you’re too full but that you’d love to take some as leftovers for later if that’s OK. Then give it way or throw it out.
Lie a lot. If you need to pull out the big guns, here’s one that will immediately defeat even the mightiest of food pushers. Say something to the effect of “every time I eat that kind of food lately, it makes me sick. I get a terrible stomach ache and diarrhoea like you wouldn’t believe.” Or, if you want to be a little more low key, just tell them that you’ve been having some stomach issues and your doctor has strictly forbidden you from eating “that” kind of food.
TOO MUCH TEMPTATION
The other big problem is having an influx of treats at work and/or at home. Either you do Christmas baking and find yourself adrift in a sea of cookies at home, someone gifts you a giant box of chocolates, or Judy from accounting keeps bringing Nanaimo bars to work. Unlike a holiday party that’s one and done, now you’ve got to stare down shortbread cookies every time you pass the break room for two weeks. That’s a harder situation.
First thing is first: I’m giving you permission to throw food away. Forget the nonsense about it being wasteful. Getting rid of food that a) you don’t really want to eat and b) that doesn’t nourish your body isn’t a waste. It’s a bigger waste to eat garbage and reverse all the progress that you’ve made prior to Christmas. You and only you are responsible for keeping any unhealthy and tempting food in your house. Nine times out of ten, excuses like: “someone might want it”, “it’s for my kids”, or “I don’t want to be wasteful” are delusional. If you don’t want to eat something take action now. Put it in the trash or give it away the very next day.
If you bake cookies, do it the night before you’ll be giving them away. Either don’t keep any or keep just a few.
Treats at work can be more difficult since you don’t have as much control. The only real answer is to commit to not eating treats during the day. Eating properly at breakfast and lunch, as well as using exercise strategically are your best bets to minimise cravings. You can read about how to lower cravings and beat the mid-day energy slump here.
Otherwise, purposely avoid the areas of the office where treats are kept. Take a different route to the copier, avoid the staff room, etc.