Ahh, yes… The holiday season. The days are shorter, the air is bitter, and the sun is all but completely obscured. We seek shelter indoors from the increasingly harsh conditions of a rapidly-approaching winter. The inhospitable outdoors is in stark contrast to the cozy, nostalgic nests we craft inside our homes. Decorative gourds, squashes, and pumpkin spice everything give way to rich reds, emerald greens, twinkly lights and peppermint stick everything. The change in season brings forth our desire for warmth and comfort, which directly translates into our food choices as well. We crave fatty, starchy, rich foods that warm our bodies as well as our souls.
But what if you’re pursuing health goals? What if you want to lose weight, feel more energetic, resolve chronic health issues? The holiday season is a perfect storm of progress-wrecking indulgences and temptations. The good news is, it doesn’t have to be that way! Read on to discover some helpful tips to keep you from falling off the health wagon 🙂
Go Ahead and Indulge… A Little.
Yes, you read that right! The key is not to overdo it.
We are bombarded with Thanksgiving feasts, friendsgivings, Christmas parties, work parties, Christmas dinners, and New Year’s parties kicking off from Halloween and carrying us to the end of the year. That’s a whole two months of temptations! It is all too easy to fall into the trap of “oh well, I’ll get back on track after the holidays.” Then next thing you know you haven’t made any changes all year and you’re making the same old tired New Year’s Resolutions next year!
So, what to do about this?
Pick your battles. At all these events, there are surely a multitude of delectable treats you can gorge yourself upon. You know it’s bad news bears to eat everything in sight, however it’s the same case to abstain from every single thing. Food is an essential part of social connection, and if you feel like you can’t eat anything in sight, you can feel a sense of deprivation and alienation from those around you.
The solution? Choose one food to indulge in. Load up on the veggies and charcuterie first, then pick the one food that seems most irresistible to enjoy. It can be a slice of apple pie, a Christmas cookie, a hot chocolate with whipped cream. Whatever it is, just eat that single treat without guilt and enjoy it fully. I cannot stress that point enough. If you are going to feel guilt and shame for eating a food that’s not perfectly healthy, don’t bother eating it at all. The holidays are meant to be fun and allow you to let loose a little. It’s not worth eating something that is going to make you feel more shame than enjoyment. A scoop of mashed potatoes or a slice of pumpkin pie isn’t going to ruin all the progress you’ve made or send you into a downward spiral if you don’t let it.
When you choose to have one treat, you can feel satisfied that you got to indulge and yet not overdo it. You won’t get sucked into the whole drama of feeling deprived because you didn’t get to share in the food fun and you won’t throw all your health goals to the wayside because you didn’t have a field day consuming everything in sight.
This is a tip I am going to personally apply this holiday season. I generally completely avoid any unhealthy food at social gatherings. Period. I have no problem doing this, however, as I genuinely have no emotional attachment or temptation associated with the foods at these parties. I know for a fact that breads, pastries, and other common comfort foods make me very sick and so knowing that I don’t get tempted! Lately, however, I’ve realized it’s not always fun to be so restrictive and I do miss out sometimes. So today I went to my local farm and bought a loaf of organic, local, sourdough bread to bring to my family’s Thanksgiving dinner. In daily life, I completely abstain from grains, especially wheat. Despite this, I know that I can digest a little organic sourdough or sprouted wheat bread with no problems. With all the paleo breads I’ve created over the years, (which are all fantastic mind you) to me there will never be a true replacement for a real sourdough bread. So why not enjoy it once in a while? I will have a slice or two on Thanksgiving and savor each and every bite. I will be grateful and appreciative that I can enjoy such a delicious and thoughtfully prepared food. The next day, I will feel fine and resume my regular eating habits. No guilt. No shame. No problems.
Maybe you genuinely don’t want to indulge in any of the foods at the party or gathering. Maybe you’re not tempted, or maybe you want to avoid the inevitable digestive disaster that follows eating a gluten, dairy and sugar-laden Christmas cookie. That’s okay too! All you have to do is…
Bring a Food to Share with the Crowd
Perhaps you’ve been working on health challenges for a little while and your body is sensitive to the smorgasbord of foods that will be presented to you at Christmas dinner. While it would be nice to simply enjoy a little bit of the offending foods, you are deterred by the inevitable digestive disaster that will ensue if you do. What’s a health conscious person to do?
Bring a dish, or two! Bring a food to share with everyone that you know will be safe for you to eat as well. This way, you know you at least have one dish you can eat worry-free.
If you’re worried that people will find it strange, don’t. Sharing is what the holidays is all about! The more, the merrier as we are wont to say during this time of year.
You’ll likely discover that everyone at the party really enjoys your healthy, nutrient-dense dishes, too! I can’t tell you how many times people have been blown away by how delicious my healthy creations are, even if they seem like the simplest things to me! For example, at my wedding I made gluten free, grain free cookies for dessert instead of a traditional cake. I made chocolate chip, butter pecan, tagalongs, and snickerdoodle cookies with almond flour. Compliments on how delicious the cookies were was probably one of the most common comments I received about the wedding! Aside from how fun it was, of course 🙂
An alternative to bringing food is offering to host the event yourself. This is of course more stressful than simply bringing a dish, but if you are looking to have complete control over the menu this is the way to go! We host a Christmas party for my friends at my house every year and I honestly love it! Sure the logistics of feeding 10+ people can get a little hairy (and expensive), but seeing everyone’s smiling faces and enjoyment of my cooking makes it all more than worth it! To me, there are few things better than being able to give the gift of wholesome, delicious food to the people I love. Their appreciation is the best gift I can ask for 🙂
Okay, so we’ve figured out some strategies to tackle holiday parties. What about the rest of the time?
Keep it Clean In-Between
With all the events and parties going on pretty much every weekend from the beginning of November to the end of December, it’s especially important to eat clean during this time.
Ensuring that you’re preparing nutrient-dense, whole food meals every day is the biggest weapon you have against falling victim to the siren song of holiday treats. When your body is properly fueled and full of nutrition, cravings are simply not an issue. With adequate nutrition, you have more energy, an even mood, and feel more satiated. It is much easier to say, “No, thank you” to the cheesecake when you’re eating clean.
In fact, the more you eat a whole foods diet, the more you crave healthy foods. This is because the foods you consume have a direct impact on the bacteria in your gut. Eating healthy, whole foods creates a population of beneficial bacteria in your gut that feed on those very foods. The gut bacteria that feed on the sugary starches in your breakfast cereal, cakes, cookies, etc. will simply die off over time. That means no more cravings for the very foods you wish to avoid. Basically, the more consistently you eat a nutrient dense, whole foods diet, your desire for junk food will practically disappear! I know for me, I sincerely am not tempted by any of the processed candies, cookies, and snacks that line the grocery store shelves. I’ll take a plate of brussels sprouts over that any day!
One more point I will suggest to you is to make sure you’re fueling properly at breakfast. As the author of one of my favorite health books, Cate Shanahan, says, “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day not to screw up.” It couldn’t be more true. The first meal you have directly affects how the rest of your day goes.
If you sit down to breakfast and have oatmeal with brown sugar and berries, or cereal, or toast, or juice, or anything else loaded with carbs and sugar, you’re setting yourself up for failure. It’s the start of blood sugar highs and crashes that will punctuate your entire day. You’re constantly searching for the next sugar rush to prop you up from the previous crash. It’s a donut, then a sugary coffee, then a cookie, then crackers, etc. You end up eating way more than you wanted to and are unable to keep your energy stable. You become a slave to the cravings.
Contrast this with a more nutrient dense breakfast. A vegetable hash cooked in coconut oil with brussels sprouts, turnips, carrots, broccoli, and spinach topped with poached or over easy pastured eggs. If you’re feeling extra hungry, have some pasture raised, uncured bacon or nitrate-free sausage with it. All of these healthy fats, high quality proteins and low carb, nutrient dense vegetables will give you the perfect start to your day. These foods will provide you with a satiating, slow burning energy that will stabilize your mood and keep hunger pangs at bay for many hours. You won’t feel edgy and will easily be able to go through your day without thinking much about food. You will have primed your body to make better decisions throughout the rest of the day. After a healthy breakfast, you will be more inclined to stay the course and choose veggies or high quality proteins over sugary treats.
All this to say, if you have the well curated habit of eating clean, the holidays are going to be waaaaay easier for you. You can move through the holidays with ease and confidence. You can enjoy a treat, or not, without succumbing to cravings and move on with your life. No guilt, no shame, no fuss, no stress. You can pick up exactly where you left off the very next day. You’ll simply feel… better.
Relax… and Enjoy.
Whatever your situation is for the holidays, do your best to enjoy them! I understand it can be stressful; do what you can not to dwell on it. Be present and enjoy the time you have with family, friends, coworkers, etc. The memories made last a lifetime.
Thanks to all for reading, wishing you the happiest and healthiest holidays!