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Rewriting Your Story: Nutrition Tools for the Holidays

This is the story of Jane. Jane LOVES the Holidays. She loves spending time with family, friends, going to holiday parties and drinking her Holiday Starbucks lattes.

But Jane has a secret.

The Holidays also make her feel very, very…guilty. There is a part of Jane that struggles from the beginning of November until January 1st. While she tries on her dress and puts on her lipstick before her Holiday parties, she worries “Is this dress still going to fit me next year?” With every bite of dessert she thinks, “I shouldn’t have done that.” By the time the Holidays are over, Jane is carrying so much guilt over the eating choices she has made, that she spends the next 2 months on a strict exercise and diet routine to try to undo the damage that’s been done during all those moments she was looking forward to.

Sound familiar?

Jane is far from alone. There are many MANY Janes out there. In fact, it’s so common to be a “Jane,” that nutrition companies and gyms base their entire marketing plans on this time of year. For them, it’s the busy season.

Now, nothing against Jane, she’s a cool lady. But, why go through that EVERY year? Why throw a big wet blanket of guilt over such an otherwise amazing time of year, and then put all that time and effort into trying to erase it all?

It takes some practice, but there’s a better way. Jane needs a better set of tools in her bag so she can have her cake and eat it too (pun intended)…

1) First, let go of the idea that you need to be perfect during the Holidays to avoid the dreaded weight gain. The Holidays are different than any other time of the year. Because treating yourself is part of the fun, change your mindset from trying to avoid “cheating,” to enjoying reasonable amounts of those foods that are super yummy but aren’t the healthiest. Shoot for reasonable accuracy, not perfection.

2) Don’t starve yourself. You know when you go to the grocery store on an empty stomach and you end up walking out with twice as much food as you would shopping on a full stomach? Holiday dinner parties are your grocery store. You’ll be less inclined to overfill that plate if you eat relatively normally the rest of the day, and try to have something within a couple hours of the main event.

3) Don’t stuff yourself. In our hustle bustle lifestyles, hunger cues are woefully underutilized by most of us. In short, this means being able to identify you’re full when it actually happens. Remember the saying that it takes about 20 minutes for your brain to register that your stomach is full. So, be reasonable with that first plate of food, and fill your stomach slowly enough that you’ll be able to tell when that happens.

4) Use your Balanced Plate Method-ish. The reasoning behind the balanced plate method doesn’t go away because it’s the Holidays, and you can still use this to your advantage. Find the sweet spot between choosing those special foods you love and only get a couple times a year, and creating a healthy balanced meal inspired by the Balanced Plate.

5) If you’re bad at controlling portions, hydrate. At the end of the day, if our stomach is full, it’s full. If you’re still working on being successful with those hunger cues, help yourself out by drinking a lot of water while you’re around food. The same concept can be used by having an extra helping of salad or green veggies.

6) Practice mindfulness. Be in the moment. When you’re eating, pay attention to the food. A pitfall to holiday eating can be when we lose our focus on the activity at hand. If we don’t pay attention to the food when we’re eating it, how will we know how quickly it’s being eaten? If we make the choice to save room for that extra piece of pie, what’s the point if we aren’t even paying attention when we’re eating it? An easy trick to help your cause is putting down your fork between each bite until it’s completely swallowed. Don’t focus on the next bite until you’re done with the current one.

7) It’s not all about the food. (“LIES!”) Yes, the food is amazing, but the most important part of the Holidays is truly the time you get to spend with loved ones, and the special moments that only happen during this time of the year. Just like you want to be present when you’re eating, remember to be just as present when you’re having a conversation with a family member, or playing with your nieces and nephews. This gives you a break from the calorie onslaught.

8) Remember to move. It’s not just the food routine that gets a beating during the Holidays, our gym routine can take a hit too. Think back to tool #1…the same applies here. Don’t expect to be perfect, and DO think outside the box. Taking a family skiing vacation? Exercise. Playing outside with your kids in the snow? Exercise. Going ice skating? Exercise! First things first, if you’re using the Holidays as an excuse not to go back to the gym, seriously consider a new exercise option. Once upon a time we all loved playing at recess. Find that exercise activity that feels like recess and do that…because you’ll keep doing it! Shoot for a few days a week when the Holidays get busy, whatever time you have available, and when the holidays are over, just keep swimming…or biking…or jogging…

So, hopefully “Jane” is in a better place heading into the Holidays this season. After all, we’re trying to enjoy this time of year MORE, not less. And if this sounds like a lot, it’s because for some it really is. Some of you might look at all of these tools and say “I’ve never done ANY of those!” And that’s okay. Everyone is starting down this road from a different place. So once again, focus on reasonable accuracy, not perfection, and maybe this season you re-write the story of Jane.

As always, if you need a hand, know that seeking out a Registered Dietitian puts a very powerful resource in your corner. To find a good professional fit for you, check out this RDN finder:

Have a happy, healthy Holiday!

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