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How to Eat Well During the Holidays (Without Stressing Yourself Out)

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.

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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? :)

That said…

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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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. :)

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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:

Comments

  1. 1

    Definitely sharing this- I hate to see people stress out about enjoying delicious food over the holidays, it ruins the fun and happy spirit. My husband and I also have been super into tea drinking at night in lieu of dessert or extra snacks… since it’s not something you can gulp down easily, drinking it slowly helps savor the flavor!

  2. 3

    Love this! I’m not a huge dessert person, so I manage to skip most holiday desserts and not be bothered by it. I’m a sucker for the sweet potato dishes, though.
    I’ve recently gotten hooked on peppermint tea, so I find myself getting that all the time now. You’re so right that it helps when you just want something, but not necessarily food.

    • 4

      Agreed – I’m not hugely into desserts, either, with the exception of pie! I’d usually rather indulge on more savory stuff.
      I love peppermint tea, too. Have you tried Celestial’s Candy Cane Lane? So good.

  3. 5

    These are great tips to keep in mind for this holiday season! Choosing to only eat something if it’s worth it/you like it is a tip that helps me a lot. There are so many times that you are offered food/dessert that you don’t quite like during the holiday season and it’s easy to say yes because you don’t want to disappoint the person who made it. If I’m in this situation, I usually say, “____ looks delicious, but I’ll have to pass because I’m still full from _____ meal.” It’s definitely helped!

  4. 7

    2 and 4 are GREAT tips! I don’t think there is any reason to stress out over the holidays about gaining weight. All things in moderation and be smart about what you are eating. Don’t indulge just because. Indulge if you really want to eat or drink whatever it is. Another tip that I have to exercise with my family is : Don’t fall victim to family pressure to try whatever it is. If you don’t want it don’t eat it.

    • 8

      Exactly. I was thinking I should have added an extra tip: “Be okay with saying no!” You don’t have to eat something just because everyone else is. Only have it if you really want it!

  5. 9

    These are great reminders. The most important for me is to pick and choose indulgences… I feel like too many people feel compelled to eat everything when they dont really want it.

  6. 10

    Love #3. I will be sure to scope out everything before heading down the buffet line.

  7. 11

    Great post! I totally agree with all of your points. I’ve been trying to get in the habit of having tea at night for exactly what you mention – you want something or a distraction. I usually want hot chocolate once it gets below 40 outside because it’s so warming. I just need to remind myself that tea is plenty warming as well! Thanks for sharing some great tips!

  8. 12

    Great tips! Thank you!

  9. 13

    I love this post and this approach. It’s amazing what messages you can hear from your body re: food when you just slow down for a second and listen to yourself. This morning, after my run, my husband offered to go get us breakfast sandwiches. But when I stopped to consider what I actually felt like, I realized I was craving a banana and a handful of trail mix, not eggs and bacon and a carby English muffin. I know brekkie sandwiches are OK, too, but when I really stopped to listen, it wasn’t what I needed this morning. Anyway, thanks for a great post, and happy T-day!

  10. 15

    I’ve drunk too much terrible wine at parties over the years to feel the worse for it, so my personal rule is to only drink things that I really like. I have a list of cocktails (G&T), beer (Canadian, Blanche de Chambly, or Kronenburg Blanc), and wine (Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling) that I’ll indulge in, but otherwise I’ll have a water (or other non-alcoholic option). Same for baked goods. No more supermarket cookies or bars. If it’s not homemade or high quality, I avoid it. It helps me to have clear guidelines and if all a party has lukewarm Chardonnay and store bought gingerbread, I know I can save my indulgence for something else.

  11. 17

    Great tips! On days I know I’ll be going to a party/dinner, I try to eat as many fruits/veggies as I can early in the day. It helps me feel balanced. As for Thanksgiving, I try to abide by the one plate rule — as in I fill my plate once with anything that looks tasty and then enjoy every bite! I try not to get seconds unless I’m truly hungry which saves rooms for dessert!

  12. 18

    I completely agree with this list, ESPECIALLY number 2. I wrote about that tip in my blog post about a week ago. Saving up calories by skipping meals throughout the day is a terrible idea! Besides being completely ravenous and likely overeating that night, I find that doing that will put one on edge and moody because they are so hungry! Thanks for the practical tips :D have a great thanksgiving!

  13. 19

    Thanks for sharing Anne! My favorite tip would be one you have already mentioned – don’t have any food off limits. This helps me make sure I don’t feel guilty eating certain foods or over indulge. I also make sure that I don’t only allow myself to eat my favorites because on a special occasion . I like being able to tell myself I can eat more of my favorite treats whenever I want them. This way I don’t eat too much all at once.

  14. 20

    great tips! It’s so true that if you make certain foods off limits or forbidden, you are only going to crave those foods more! eating slowly and actually enjoying the food is the key!

  15. 21

    The most important thing for me is to maintain some level of activity throughout the season. While it doesn’t negate my over-indulgences, it helps me feel better and more empowered rather than “icky” for eating a bit more than I should.
    If I look back on the last 10 years I’ve managed to maintain my weight for the most part. It’s just an ebb and flow type thing. Maybe I’ll gain a few lbs over the holidays but they don’t stay there permanently. My normal lifestyle is full of healthy eating and exercising on a routine basis.
    That said, I still don’t like to give myself a pass to go all out. So long as portions are small, I’ll taste everything that looks good. If I don’t like it, I leave it on my plate and get seconds of one of the other items that I did like.

  16. 23

    This was a fantastic read! I’ve been doing well lately with my nutrition, and I want to enjoy the holiday season and all of it’s tasty delights without getting off track. :) I totally agree with you that savoring slowly and not “putting things off limits” is the key to success. When I’ve tried to deny myself all desserts, for example, I always end up going overboard!

  17. 24

    I love these tips-especially the not placing food off-limits! I know that when I do this, it makes me CRAZY, and then I get stressed about it which is just not sustainable!

  18. 25

    No food is off limits but it’s not a license to go crazy either. I think just remembering to keep your own wellness top of mind and that you can have these foods all year round.

  19. 26

    CELESTIAL SEASONINGS HOLIDAY TEA = MY LIFE!!!!!! ;) That being said, my diet stays exactly the same during the holidays so I really don’t worry about it at all. I guess I should be thankful for my food allergies? LOL

  20. 27

    Love this list!!! Well explained and thoroughly covered!!

    I love the no denying yourself. That always leads to binge eating!!

    Have a happy Thanksgiving Anne!!

  21. 28

    I just wrote a very similar post! Seems smart women think alike :) I’m all about being picky and mindful at the Holidays – gotta enjoy what is really worth enjoying!

    have a great Thanksgiving!

  22. 29

    I’ve learnt a lot about intuitive eating from your posts Anne – thanks! At the moment I’m really trying to listen to my body about what and when I eat, and I hope I can keep that up through the festive season.

    I try not to snack / nibble too much between meals. It is never really very satisfying, and I just feel full when I want to eat a meal and I don’t enjoy it as much.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  23. 30

    Great tips for enjoying the holidays without feeling guilty or going overboard. I wish I could develop a taste for tea as I know sometimes I just want something warm and comforting. I need to at least get some decaf coffee for those moments…

  24. 31

    One tip I learned from my friend who is also a dietician is to use a small plate and eat slowly for 20 minutes. At 20 minutes stop and wait for about 10 minutes and see if you’re still hungry. She said that it takes your brain about 20 minutes to realize you have started eating, that we often eat too quickly and scarf down way more food than we actually need. I have found this to be so true. After waiting the 10 minutes I often find I am no longer hungry and feel full! Thanks for all your great tips Anne!

  25. 33

    Awesome tips! I love that you have such a balanced approach to food (no shaming, rules, or anything restrictive). Also- that cranberry vanilla tea looks like the bomb dot com.

  26. 34

    I have definitely struggled with binge eating (specifically at night) but drinking tea before bed instead has resulted in the biggest break through for me. I love Trader Joe’s peppermint tea and Trader Joe’s Harvest Blend Herbal Tea. Tea and not getting a little too tipsy (and therefore eating more than I normally would) are my best holiday tips ;)

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  1. […] and Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers! I’m glad to hear many of you liked my post on How to Eat Well During the Holidays Without Stressing Yourself Out. Great tips from you guys in the comments, […]

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