As an endurance athlete, you understand the importance of fueling your body with high-quality food. And then the holidays come and wreck everything! The break room at work is overflowing with cookies and candy. And grandma will be devastated if you don’t eat her special stuffing. So in today’s post, let’s talk about some strategies for eating healthy during the holidays.
Many of these tips come from Brooke Castillo, one of my fav life and weight loss coaches. For more great tips, check out her podcast. (I’ll also link to specific episodes below.)
1. No bad days
It’s easy to feel like a victim around the holidays. There’s so much pressure to spend money, decorate, cook, eat junk food, and hang out with family. And after a rough day, it’s natural to comfort yourself with food, right?
Well, no. Because the truth is, there are no hard days. There are only your thoughts and beliefs about the day. You can also choose to believe that every day is easy and fun.
It sounds simplistic, but when I figured this out, it was like winning the lottery. I realized I had the power to make every day awesome. (Or not.) I definitely had much better willpower on the easy, fun days.
You can learn more by listening to Brooke’s podcast episode, No More Hard Days.
2. Eat a nutritious breakfast
Even during the holidays, breakfast is usually one meal of the day you have complete control over. And that’s fortunate, because research suggests breakfast-eaters consume fewer calories throughout the day.
Eating a breakfast rich in protein, fiber, and healthy fat will help you to feel satisfied and control spikes in appetite. Some healthy breakfast foods to mix and match:
- Egg white
- Canadian bacon
- Whole-grain bread
- Low-fat cheese
- Tofu (makes great plant-based scrambles)
- Spinach or kale
- Almond milk
- Flax seed
- Sri Racha pepper sauce
3. Use healthy holiday recipes to make your family’s favorite dishes
If you can’t imagine Thanksgiving without green bean casserole, you don’t need to get rid of it. Just find a recipe to make a healthier one. Oh look, a healthy green bean casserole recipe! (The secret: it replaces canned fried onions with toasted onions and parmesan.)
You can also make stuffing out of cauliflower and replace white mashed potatoes with sweet potatoes. Need help? There’s this awesome thing called Pinterest that’s full of healthy holiday recipes. Start by checking out my healthy holiday recipes board!
4. Make healthier Christmas cookies
Do the kids insist on cookies every Christmas? Make your favorite holiday cookie recipe healthier by:
- Replacing white flour with alternatives like whole wheat, coconut, or almond flour
- Using natural alternatives to refined sugar like dates, honey, or maple syrup
- Adding fruit, oats, and nuts to the mix for extra nutrients and fiber
- Swapping applesauce or bananas for a portion of the butter
To get you started, here are 47 healthy holiday cookie recipes curated by Greatist.
5. Don’t skip meals before a party
Yes, intermittent fasting may be all the rage. But it isn’t the best idea when you’re headed into a high-temptation environment. Research suggests that people who skip meals (especially breakfast) consume more calories later in the day. Along those lines …
6. Never go to a party hungry
If necessary, eat some food high in protein, healthy fat, and fiber about an hour before the potluck or company dinner.
7. Bring a healthy dish to the party
Better yet, bring two. Not only will you look like an awesome guest, you’ll still have something to eat when everything else on the table is swimming in butter and sugar. Need inspiration? Here’s a roundup of 30 healthy holiday recipes from the Academy of Culinary Nutrition.
8. Be mindful of portion sizes
Yes, you can enjoy some apple pie — or anything else that looks good. Just keep the portion size appropriate. This handy infographic by Precision Nutrition shows you how to estimate portion sizes using your hand.
9. Take a small plate to the buffet
This is another healthy eating hack to control portion size. If you know the holiday dinner will be served buffet style, take a small plate along in your purse or messenger bag. Slip it out at meal time and load it up with smaller portions.
10. Eat your veggies first
Many vegetables are rich in fiber, which creates a feeling of fullness. If you eat them first, you’ll tend to eat the rest of your meal slower and stop when you feel full.
11. Eat mindfully
Instead of horking down your food, enjoy each bite. Notice its flavors and textures.
12. Ask yourself, “Am I still enjoying this?”
Another aspect of mindful eating involves paying attention to your body sensations. Eating good food becomes less rapturous as we approach satiety. Notice when your body crosses the line from hungry to satisfied — and stop.
13. Wait at least 10 minutes before refilling your plate
Ready to head back to the buffet for round two? Hang on a second.
Satiety (a feeling of fullness and satisfaction) doesn’t happen immediately when your stomach fills up. As your stomach wall stretches, it triggers the release of certain hormones into your blood stream. These travel to your brain to tell it you’re full and to stop eating. This realization usually doesn’t happen until about 10 minutes after your stomach starts to stretch.
14. Drink plenty of fluids
Your brain often mistakes thirst signals for hunger, so staying hydrated can reduce your appetite. Drink plenty of water before your holiday party. If you feel the urge to overeat, try drinking a glass of water and waiting 20 minutes.
15. Decide how much alcohol you will drink before you go
Don’t wing this one. Alcohol, like opioids, porn, and refined sugar, does an excellent job at pinging the reward center of your brain. As a result it’s easy to feel out of control after a drink or two and keep going.
One way around this is to plan your drinking. Once you reach your drink limit, you will probably feel uncomfortable cravings for a few minutes. Notice the thoughts that come up. Also, remind yourself that you can drink again tomorrow.
The more often you plan your drinking and stick to it, the less discomfort you will feel when you stop drinking.
Sometimes drinking less is a matter of changing your thoughts. If you overdrink often at holiday parties, notice why. What are you feeling before you drink? What are you thinking? Some people drink because they think the party will be boring without alcohol. Others think drinking will relieve the stress they feel around certain family members. Knowing why you drink means you can do something about it.
For more great tips, check out The Life Coach School podcast episode, Stop Overdrinking.
16. Track your calories
As management expert Peter Drucker likes to say, “If you can measure it, you can manage it.” This is just as true for healthy eating as it is for widget production.
Using a tracking app like MyFitnessPal builds awareness of your eating habits. This means you’re less likely to mindlessly grab another holiday cookie from the break room at work as you walk by. And if you do grab the cookie, you can compensate with healthier choices at dinnertime.
17. Question normalcy
Do your friends and relatives think you’re weird with your cauliflower stuffing and your small plate and your tracking app?
Maybe they’re telling you things like, “Christmas calories don’t count,” and, “You should just enjoy your food.”
Some people can get downright hostile, insisting that you eat a slice of pie.
Well, you can’t control what other people think. But what do you think about these “normal eating” rules?
- It’s OK to eat junk food or cheat on your diet during the holidays.
- Holiday weight gain happens to everyone.
- A healthy diet is low in fat. Mashed potatoes are low in fat. So you can eat all the mashed potatoes you want.
- Family meals are important, because they make everyone happy.
- Healthy eaters are control freaks (or have eating disorders).
- You shouldn’t deny yourself deserts and sweets, because you’ll just binge later.
- We all have to eat grandma’s food to show her we love her.
As Brooke Castillo noted in a recent podcast episode, much of what we’re taught about “normal” eating is actually pretty weird (and sometimes just plain wrong). So when it comes to eating healthy, it’s probably better to be abnormal!
18. Get plenty of sleep
During our nightly sleep cycle, our bodies release hormones that help us function at our best. Research suggests that people who don’t get enough sleep are at increased risk for obesity and early death.
Sleep often takes a hit during the holidays due to travel, stress, and the time changes associated with winter. So if you’re staying up late and waking to your alarm feeling tired, make getting more sleep a priority.
One of the best ways to grab more sleep is to go to bed earlier. If you don’t feel sleepy at bedtime, try wearing blue-light blocking glasses in the evening to get your Circadian rhythm on point. You should also avoid exercise, alcohol, and big meals later in the evening.
19. Be kind to yourself
No matter how hard you screw up, remember that there is absolutely no way to hate yourself into being healthier. Self-loathing creates negative thoughts and feelings that make healthy choices harder.
So if you slip up with your healthy-eating goals, be compassionate and curious. What thoughts and feelings contributed to overeating? Were there good intentions behind the behavior, like calming yourself or pleasing a loved one? Is there another way to think about the situation that wouldn’t trigger overeating?
So there you have ’em. All my favorite tips on eating healthy during the holidays.
Got any healthy eating tips of your own? Comment below to share.
Originally published Dec. 11, 2018.