Planning for Healthy Holidays

The holiday lights are up, the holiday music is playing, the holiday shopping has started, and the holiday parties are happening. I don’t know where the time went and it is already the week of Thanksgiving, but it is hard to be in denial when the holiday season is clearly here and all around us.

During this time of year I always discuss holidays and provide tips on how to stay on track. Some like to say they are tips on “how to survive the holidays,” but I don’t particularly care for the word “survive” and rather think about life as something we are living, and not just simply surviving. So although my last blog post about this one year ago was titled “Surviving the Holidays,” let’s instead think about this as “planning for the holidays.”

The holidays can be a stressful time for many, and for a variety of reasons, but it is also a joyous time and CAN be as long as we do some prep work and plan for it.  [Side note—-The holidays also tend to be a difficult time for people who are trying to lose weight– see my post from last year titled: Surviving the Holidays: How to beat (not eat) your holiday stress discussing holiday weight gain and providing some tips to a healthier holiday season.]

Today I want to focus on a few different things regarding the holidays and what I call potentially “high risk situations” or challenging situations. Since we know that holidays can be stressful we can plan for this time and set ourselves up for success. We can think about what part of the holidays are stressful for us and then make sure we have a plan going in. For instance, if you know it is going to be stressful because there are no healthy food options where you spend the holidays, you can plan by asking the host/hostess if you can bring a dish to share. If there is family discord and you know that certain family members don’t make you feel good, then perhaps set yourself up to not have to spend that much time with those individual family members. I just recently had this discussion with a client and she told me that she had already planned to sit at the opposite end of the table of the family member that brings her down. She is aware of how this individual makes her feel, so she has already planned to minimize her interaction with this individual to hopefully prevent the chances of that happening.

If we remember we can’t control other people, but we CAN control our reactions and our behaviors, then we can plan for success. Planning and having the ability to think through different scenarios is such an important part of having a healthy and happy life, as well as making sure that we accomplish our goals. With that being said, we know there are things that are not in our control, so here are a few things that CAN be in your control. Here are some general tips to help you plan for your holiday meal, even if you have no control over what is being offered or served.

Dr. Rachel’s Tips to a Healthier Holiday Meal (see additional tips from blog “Surviving the Holidays: How to beat (not eat) your holiday stress” from last year)

  • Eat regularly throughout the day. Many people go into holiday meals skipping meals all day to allow themselves to eat whatever they want and as much as they want during the holiday meal. This is NOT the way to go into a holiday meal. Instead, do not skip meals. Eat regularly throughout the day. Perhaps eat smaller, or lighter meals, but do NOT skip. Going into any meal hungry is not a good idea and will most likely lead to you feeling bad about the food choices you made when you were emotional or so hungry that you couldn’t think rationally to make that healthier choice.
  • Scan the room before picking up your plate. When you arrive and it is time to eat do NOT pick up a plate, get in line and start filling up that plate. INSTEAD scan the room first. Take a walk around (with no plate in hand) to see what options you have so you can have a plan. Try not to be multi-tasking like socializing when doing this, so you can focus on what food is available.
  • Don’t be afraid to make requests. If this be before you arrive by asking the host or hostess about the menu or to bring your own dish OR if this is at a restaurant, feel free to ask for substitutions or other requests you may have.
  • Ask for sauces or dressings on the side. If you are at a restaurant for your holiday meal and ordering, always ask for sauces and dressings (i.e. gravy or salad dressing) on the side.  This allows YOU to be IN control of how much you add.
  • Choose lean proteins and load up on vegetables. Fill your plate with veggies first and then add learn protein. If there are other foods you like, take one spoonful of each and enjoy it, but load up on the veggies and protein first.
  • Use smaller plates. If you have the option, use smaller plates or even a bowl. This way you can fill your plate and it will look full while you are not overdoing it. If you only put a small portion on a big plate it looks like you are depriving yourself and you definitely don’t want to be depriving yourself in anyway, not in appearance of the amount of food on your plate, thinking you are, or feeling like you are. Deprivation and restriction is NOT the idea of having a healthy holiday or a healthy lifestyle.
  • Don’t drink your calories. Avoid caloric beverages, or at least minimize them. These are empty calories and include juice, soda, alcohol, and energy drinks. You want to eat your calories and not drink them.
  • Remember moderation is key. Choose wisely and eat what you really want, but just in a small amount. AND don’t beat yourself up if you splurge a little. We are all human and it is OK- just accept it and move on.
  • Continue to self-monitor. If you are tracking your food intake, continue to do so. Just because it is a holiday or it is a vacation doesn’t mean it doesn’t count. Your logs continue to be data and help us understand the story a little better. So, if you bite it, write it! Each spoonful of this and that adds up but logging will help you stay on track and will provide us with valuable data for later.
  • Have fun. Remember that the holidays don’t have to be stressful, and if they are – we can control the level of stress. Let’s remember what we are thankful for and surround ourselves with those that make us feel good.

Remember: Celebrations are really about family, friends, and traditions – not food.

Please feel free to comment and add additional tips, as there are many more we can discuss. We are all in this together and something that works for you may also work for someone else.

To a healthy and happy holiday season!




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