Thank you to my friends at Celestial Seasonings for sponsoring this post on How to Eat Well During the Holidays (Without Stressing Yourself Out).
A couple weeks ago, I had a meeting with an AnneTheRD client who has recently really had things click on the intuitive eating front. “Last year at this time,” she said, ”I was dreading all the holiday parties and dinners because food was so stressful for me. This year, I’m looking forward to it, because I have learned how to indulge without guilt, but only when it is really worth it.”
Hearing this made me extremely happy. I feel like so many websites and magazine articles tell us how to avoid this and deny ourselves that around the holidays – turning situations that should be fun into stressful internal battles of will.
Here are a few of my favorite tips for enjoying what the holiday season has to offer food and drink wise – without stressing yourself out, feeling guilty, or waking up with sugar or alcohol hangovers.
1) Place nothing off limits.
Yes. I realize this is counter to most of the advice out there. But for the mindful and intuitive eating approach to work, you have to truly allow yourself to have whatever you want, and without guilt. When a food is off limits it becomes MUCH more appealing. And if guilt is involved and you DO end up eating that food, the “screw it, I’ve already had a bite and ruined everything so I’m going to eat the entire party and have a thousand cocktails” mentality appears. Give yourself permission to get pleasure from food. It’s okay! Food is supposed to be fun, not stressful. Remember? 🙂
2) Don’t ever go to a cocktail party or arrive at a holiday dinner absolutely starving.
I know a lot of people try to “save up” all day before a big holiday meal or cocktail party – eating a super light breakfast and lunch and no snacks to try to cancel out the calories that they’ll be consuming that evening. Friends: this approach is a terrible idea. It’s impossible to make sound eating decisions when you’re absolutely ravenous – and potentially even worse, you don’t enjoy the food/drink you’re indulging in because you’re too hungry to eat slowly and pay attention. Going to a holiday party or dinner starved is a sure fire way to end up uncomfortably full.
The day of a holiday party or dinner, I eat normally, but especially focus on high quality foods – lots of veggies, protein, healthy fat, and unprocessed grains. If I know I’m going somewhere where there will be a lot of appetizers but not a full dinner, I make sure to have a little something to eat right beforehand – usually something with veggies and protein to fill me up a little, like a small salad with chicken or beans or some veggies with hummus or guacamole. That way, I can arrive at the party/dinner calm, and then…
3) Assess which indulgences are really worth it.
When you arrive at a party (or buffet-style dinner), first, do a lap – what’s there? What are your options? Then, ask yourself whether the food or drink that you’re considering enjoying is something that will be really worth it. This does not at all mean that guilt should come into the equation or that we should be assessing options based on calories. Rather, are you thinking of eating/drinking whatever it is because you will really enjoy it/it will enhance whatever experience you’re having, or just because it’s there? Not being completely ravenous per #2 will help a lot with taking time to assess your options and picking a few favorites to enjoy.
Too often we indulge not because we really want to but because we’re on autopilot. It’s easy to mindlessly eat and drink at holiday gatherings, and simply stopping and checking in goes a long way. I’ve had clients tell me that when they actually started to pay attention to what they were eating or drinking, they realized they didn’t even like it!
Indulging in food is one of life’s greatest pleasures – but make sure what you’re having is actually something you enjoy, and that you’re not just having it just because you’re bored/distracted.
Along those lines, if you aren’t actually hungry and just want something to do, try tea.
Tea is one of my favorite things to enjoy when I want SOMETHING, but I’m not actually hungry. I like ordering tea after a meal at a restaurant when I want something but not necessarily dessert. This also works particularly well in the afternoons at work (if I’m not actually hungry, just want a distraction) and in the evenings before bed. I’ve been loving the Celestial Seasonings holiday offerings lately, and so has Matt! Such a nice, healthy way to enjoy a taste of the holiday season. Between the two of us this past weekend I’m pretty sure we had more than 10 cups of tea. So comforting and tasty!
Getting back to the food, this is a big one:
4) Stop when you are satisfied, not overfull.
This is another place where being mindful and really checking in with your body is important. You can’t tell if you are satisfied/don’t need any more if you aren’t paying any attention, or if you are eating too quickly, right? The key here is to eat slowwwwwly. As you are eating (or drinking), take frequent pauses. To help with this, physically set down your silverware, plate, or drink and take a deep breath. Check n with yourself. How are you feeling? Do you need more? Or are you just having more because it’s there? Is your stomach starting to get full? Are you thirsty for water vs. another cocktail? Give your body time to catch up by taking these pauses and checking in with yourself. If you’re eating something really delicious, it’s even more important to slow down, so that you are fully experiencing it!
At holiday dinners, I aim to fill about half my plate with veggies or salad so the volume will help to fill me up. (If no veggies/salad are on the menu, offer to make/bring it yourself!) 1/4 of the plate is protein, and then the rest is more “fun” stuff – mashed potatoes, etc.
If I really want more of any of it, I can go back for more, but I sit and wait it out to give my body a chance to catch up. Bonus: by taking this approach, I have room to enjoy pumpkin pie, my favorite dessert. 🙂
Finally, if you do overindulge – forgive yourself. There’s no point beating yourself up for something that has already happened. Learn from the experience, and take that knowledge as a reminder to be more mindful next time. You’ve got this!
What are your best tips for staying mindful and enjoying the holidays without overdoing it?
p.s. If you enjoyed this post, you might also find these helpful: