Believe it or not, the holiday season is upon us, and I am so excited for the festivity, the family time, the reflections, the gratitude, the joy, the warmth … and yes, the delicious holiday treats. The holidays are a time to celebrate with family and friends, and that often involves indulging in festive foods that may not seem to align with your health and wellness goals. But in this post, I want to help you reconsider. An all-or-nothing strategy does NOT help around the holidays (or ever, I’d argue!). I’ll bet you can imagine what it would be like to eat every holiday item that came your way from now until January 1st, whether you really loved it or not… and how you’d physically feel after. I’ll bet you can imagine what it would be like to restrict and white knuckle and not eat ANYTHING you loved over the holidays … and how you’d feel emotionally after. But can you imagine what it would feel like to strike a balance between them? If not, I’m going to help you imagine that today, and then we’ll commit to it.
I would argue that it’s perfectly okay to enjoy some holiday treats that are truly special to you, and also that it’s essential to strike a balance that allows you to relish the flavors of the season without completely derailing your health goals. In this blog post, we’ll explore science-backed strategies to help you navigate the holiday season while maintaining your commitment to health and wellness.
1. Set Realistic Expectations
Before diving into the holiday season, it’s crucial to set realistic expectations for yourself. Understand that this time of year comes with special occasions and treats that you may not encounter daily. Rather than aiming for perfection, focus on moderation and balance. Now may not be the time to lose 10 lbs. in a month. But can you aim to get to January 1st feeling amazing? Yes, you can.
2. Prioritize Mindful Eating
One of the keys to enjoying holiday treats without overindulging is practicing mindful eating. Slow down, savor each bite, and pay attention to how the food tastes and makes you feel. This approach can help you recognize when you’re satisfied, preventing overeating. It’s far harder than it sounds, and often, when I talk to clients about it, it takes weeks and months of practice to fully master it! And the truth is, we probably won’t eat every bite for the rest of our life mindfully, and that’s OK, too! But slowing down and truly savoring the flavors, especially when it’s a once-in-a-while treat, can really help us not overindulge.
3. Stay Hydrated
Dehydration can sometimes be mistaken for hunger. Make sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day (every day, but especially on holidays!) to help control your appetite and ensure you’re not reaching for extra snacks when you’re actually thirsty. Extra water is also essential for detoxification and digestion of some of the treats that might take a little extra digestive capacity during holidays!
4. Plan Your Nourishment Ahead
Let’s face it, it can be HARD to get in enough vegetables and protein on holidays. And starving yourself leading up to a big holiday meal is rarely the answer! Instead, I suggest planning ahead to figure out how you’ll get in nourishing options even on busy holidays. Can you keep a breakfast casserole full of eggs and veggies in the fridge so it’s easy to grab a healthy breakfast even in the hustle & bustle of a holiday? Can you front load with a veggie and protein-rich smoothie before heading out for festivities? Planning your nourishment in advance can be incredibly helpful during the holidays, and when you get to the holiday meal with nutrient stores on board, you’ll be less likely to overdo it and feel too full later (plus, your metabolism will operate more efficiently!).
5. Incorporate Healthier Ingredients
When baking or cooking for holiday gatherings, consider using healthier ingredient substitutions. For example, you can swap out refined sugar for natural sweeteners like honey or maple syrup, use coconut flour instead of white flour, or add pureed fruits and vegetables for moisture and nutrients in recipes. You can throw in some extra vegetable-heavy side dishes, too! In fact, I have a full blog post of some healthy holiday recipes – find it here!
6. Follow the 1/3 Plate Strategy
Of course, I love to fill my plate ½ way with veggies on a normal meal, but for a holiday meal, I use the 1/3 of the plate strategy. I simply fill (at least!) 1/3 of my plate with vegetables (roasted brussels sprouts with apples and walnuts, herby green beans, or a Fall salad with delicata squash and pomegranate seeds are some of my favorites!), 1/3 with protein (I’m a turkey girl, but whatever protein floats your boat is great here!), and then put everything else I want to enjoy on the remaining 1/3 of the plate. This helps ensure that I get to enjoy what’s most important to me, but prevents me from that icky feeling of overeating nutrient-poor foods and feeling too full. If I want to go back for seconds, I am sure to still follow the 1/3 of the plate strategy!
7. Stay Active
The holiday season is no reason to stay stagnant. In fact, more time off of work may mean more time to be active! It’s OK if you have to, or want to, skip your regular exercise routine. In that case, find something fun you love to do! Go look at lights on a walk with the family, treat yourself to a golf game, call a friend for a pickleball match, have a competition to see who can rake a bigger pile of leaves, or have a family dance-off! Physical activity not only burns calories but also helps manage stress and improve mood, making it easier to make better food choices.
8. Practice Self-Compassion
It’s important to remember that enjoying holiday treats is a part of the season. If you find yourself overindulging on one occasion, don’t be too hard on yourself. Instead, focus on getting back on track with your health goals during the next meal or the following day. I always tell my clients that it’s a holi-DAY, not a holi-WEEK or holi-MONTH. One day will never make someone an unhealthy person (or a healthy person, for that matter). It’s what you do MOST days that matters. So don’t stress about a few extra treats here and there, just stay committed to what makes you feel great in the long run!
9. Seek Support and Accountability
Consider enlisting a friend or family member to be your accountability partner during the holidays. Sharing your goals and challenges with someone can help keep you on track and motivated.
The holiday season can be a time of joy and celebration without derailing your health goals. By practicing mindful eating, planning ahead, and finding balance, you can savor the flavors of the season while staying committed to your wellness journey. Embrace the festive treats, and remember that moderation, not deprivation, is the key to enjoying the holidays without guilt. Balancing your health goals with holiday indulgences is the ultimate gift you can give to yourself this season.
Now it’s your turn! Which of these strategies will you implement this holiday season? What’s your favorite holiday food?