It’s holiday time! This time of year we’re all tempted (even me) to indulge and eat too many things that taste good but leave us feeling bad. Often we promise ourselves to begin a clean eating plan or diet right after the holidays. Unfortunately the average person gains 6-9 lbs. between Thanksgiving and Christmas, often leaving them frustrated and eager to make changes that may not be easily sustainable.
What if you could enjoy the holidays, have amazing food and not be smothered in stacks of sweets, cakes and heavy foods that give you that momentary pleasure but are immediately regretted? Holidays are a festive, joyful time to celebrate with family and friends. And you can avoid turning those social functions into sugary, processed food experiences that jeopardize your health or waistline.
During the holidays you’re very likely to find yourself in a family, social or workplace situation where there are many tempting sugary foods and significant pressure to participate. While I see the general movement towards healthy eating growing consistently, people feel a lot of pressure to eat and drink as everyone else is, even knowing that they will feel terrible afterwards. Maintain the health goals you’ve worked hard to achieve over the last year or months. These 22 action-steps will help significantly at your next social gathering or dinner party.
1.The number one tip I can give you is to avoid major food allergies- sugar, gluten dairy, and corn. Eating these foods is associated with increased cravings.
2. Ensure you’re making enough serotonin the calming hormone, by eating complex carbs such as quinoa, squash, and sweet potato.
3. Ensure you’re making enough dopamine, the feel good hormone by eating high quality protein and foods that contain folic acid, iron, zinc and magnesium, B vitamins (hemp hearts have all of these).
4. Reach for adapotogens instead of stimulants. Include ashwaganda, astragalus, and maca in your smoothies.
5. Use low glycemic sweeteners and flours in your baking. These include almond, coconut and brown rice flours and coconut sugar, stevia, raw honey and maple syrup.
6. Practice the 3-food principle- before you give in to ‘hunger’ or cravings, eat three health-promoting foods, then if you still want that food, have it.
7. Start your meals with vegetables and protein as this will promote satiety and ensure adequate omega-3s from foods such as fish, chia, flax or hemp. By loading up on real foods first like whole fruits, vegetables, non-gluten grains, healthy fats and wild-caught fish or other animal protein, your brain will be signalled to stop eating and you’re less likely to reach for sugary processed foods and dessert.
8. Before eating sugar or drinking alcohol take a greens supplement such as Greens Plus or Vitamineral Greens. This will help you to avoid leaching minerals and mood-boosting B vitamins from the body. Also remember to stay hydrated during the event.
9. Make a dessert or entrée ahead and take with you to a social gathering to share with others.
10. Experiment with a new recipe and share it with others.
11. Have a potluck get-together at work or with friends. Create a holiday dinner and request everyone brings one dish. Coordinate those dishes ahead of time so you know everyone brings something different and that every dish will be healthy.
12.Bring a Feel Good Food Pack. If you are not sure what the food choices will be when you arrive at your destination, then be prepared. I call this a Feel Good Food Pack because you’ll be feeling very good when you can avoid eating foods that trigger inflammation, cravings and digestive difficulty. Having this with you is a great backup. You can always have something before you go in and after you leave if you are still hungry. Over time you will find your favourite version of this pack, but here’s an example of what you could include:
A small bag of raw almonds, walnuts or pecans
A small bag of cut carrots or cucumbers
A small container of hummus
A can of wild salmon and gluten free crackers
A container of chickpeas with olive oil, lemon, salt, and pepper
A healthy, whole-food protein bar
Flax or chia crackers3
13. Keep your loved ones informed during the holiday season. Tell your host about any food sensitivities you might have and make special requests. Most will be more than happy to accommodate your request.
14. Don’t skip meals on the big party day and save up for the ‘big’ dinner event that evening. Instead, eat early in the day and eat regularly throughout the day this will keep the fire of your metabolism burning, rather than slowing it down during periods of “mini-starvation”, and prevent you from overeating at dinner.
15. Eat before you go. I will often eat before I go to an event. I am happier, have more fun, and can enjoy talking and interacting if I don’t have to focus on eating.
16. Eat mindfully and reflect upon the following questions: are you really hungry or eating because it’s social, are you eating too quickly, is your meal balanced and nutrient dense, are you minimizing sugar, dairy and gluten.
17. Watch out for food pushers. Every family has one of these. They give you a guilt trip about not trying their special pie, persuading you to “live a little.” If you must sample their creation, having a few bites will usually appease them. Just be careful that a few bites don’t become two pieces.
18. Get your sleep throughout the holidays. Sleep often becomes secondary during holiday festivities, but getting enough is even more important to avoid becoming stressed and frenzied. Try to stick to the sleep hygiene habits you’ve developed so your body will be physically and psychologically ready for deep, healing sleep each night. You will create hormonal balance by sleeping, moving, experiencing physical touch, deep breathing and minimizing stress.
19. Maintain your exercise routine. The holiday season isn’t our pass for avoiding maintaining our fitness. Exercise is the only thing besides eating breakfast that has been correlated with long-term weight loss. You don’t have to exercise to exercise. Instead of going to the gym, try going for a brisk walk, ice skating, playing with your kids or going for a hike.
20. Increase your probiotics to double the does you currently take and bring your supplements with you to social gatherings. Just because you eat a big dinner doesn’t mean you should neglect crucial nutrients you might not be getting in your food. Almost everyone would benefit from a multivitamin and mineral supplement, vitamin D and omega-3 fatty-acids. It’s also a good idea to include a B Complex vitamin daily and continue to do so after the holidays. B vitamins are mood-boosting and diminish the effects of stress.
21. The holidays can be an emotionally charged time of year. Here are a few techniques you can use to help let go of emotional eating:
- Let go of the past
- Try new flavors (replace comfort foods)
- Listen to your tummy when it is upset and follow your ‘gut instinct’
- Switch to warming foods if your tummy is upset
- Occupy yourself and fill your hands (you’ll be less likely to snack)
- Snack on things that take time to tackle (nuts in the shell, pomegranates)
- Receive help- keep friends and family that you have a close relationship on speed dial
- Never think of self-care as selfish. Make time and opportunity for self-care as often as you need it.
Have a beautiful holiday season this year, enjoy the twinkling lights, the falling snow, time with friends and family and delicious, nutritious food.