How will you enjoy your holidays? The holiday season is a time of joy, celebration, and togetherness. It’s a time when families and friends gather to share love, laughter, and, of course, delicious food. However, for many of us, the holidays can also be a time of overindulgence, guilt, and unwanted weight gain. But fear not, because with a little mindfulness and some smart choices, you can enjoy your holidays to the fullest without compromising your health and well-being.

My friend Colleen Wysocki-Woods, MS, RDN, CLC and owner of ZEST Nutrition has graciously joined me with her words of wisdom for this post.

1. Start with a Healthy Foundation

Before you even dive into the holiday season with feasts and treats, it’s essential to maintain a balanced and nutritious diet and lifestyle leading up to the festivities – as well as after. Continue to prioritize whole grains, lean proteins, fruits, low fat dairy, and vegetables in your meals. Continue to make time for exercise, stress management, sleep, and anything else that enables you to live well. This will not only help you stay on track but also set a positive tone for a joyful holiday season.

As for after all the holiday wishes are made and you are starting a happy new year, you can help yourself continue on a healthful journey by prioritizing healthy options. The holidays can be a time to celebrate and possibly relax on your eating habits but fight that urge so the aftermath doesn’t leave you spiraling. Write down your goals, schedule, or current eating pattern to have a clear place to come back to, in case the happy holiday season takes over.

2. Stay Hydrated

Water is often overlooked during the holidays, with all the tempting beverages and eggnog around. However, staying hydrated is crucial for overall health and can even help control your appetite. Aim to drink at least eight glasses of water a day, and consider drinking a glass before each meal to help control your portions.

This may prove to be an ideal time to experience a new water-based beverage, like a sparkling water or flavored water. You could make it fun by asking a relative or friend to join you in a nice drink and chat. Lately, I have been impressed with Hint and even Olipop for the soda-lovers out there (use the link and promo code SODALOVE to save 15%!).

3. Choose Wisely at Parties

Colleen cautions that “parties can be like a quicksand trap that suck you in to mindlessly munching on anything and everything in front of you. While food is a significant part of socializing and it’s important to enjoy it, if calorie- dense snacks are being eaten without acknowledgement or appreciation, the calories, added sugar, salt, and saturated fat can add up to regrettable amounts. This is particularly impactful on health if someone attends a lot of social events during the holidays, for instance.”

“Therefore, it’s important to choose food wisely at parties. Consider doing a lap around the room to check out all of your options first and then choosing a few items that are worth indulging in throughout the event,” Colleen recommends.

4. Mindful Eating

“Eat it slow, appreciate it, and enjoy it. This is called mindful eating,” says Colleen. “By slowing down the eating process, the body is given a chance to catch up and signal if it’s full or could use a second serving. It takes about 20 minutes to recognize signals of fullness.”

Colleen suggest several ways to slow down when eating: “One way to slow down eating is to put the fork down in between bites. Another way is to try to chew 20
times before swallowing. Other people smell their food first, take a bite, think about where the food came from, who made it, and appreciate that they have been able to enjoy a safe, healthful, and flavorful meal.”

No matter which way you may choose to be more mindful, the owner of ZEST Nutrition says it can “help with weight management, reduce GI issues, and may even reduce blood sugar spikes that in the long run can lead to diabetes.”

5. Don’t Skip Meals

Skipping meals to “save up” calories for a big holiday dinner is a common mistake, which often leads to overeating and poor food choices when you finally sit down for that special meal. Instead, eat regular, balanced meals throughout the day to maintain steady energy levels and control your appetite.

The joyous holiday season won’t be as joyous if you are constantly feeling starved by skipping meals to then having a stomach-ache because you overate. The holidays are not the time to manipulate your eating schedule, no matter what the schedule may be. For instance, if you usually eat 3 meals a day, eat 3 meals a day and be aware that festivities may interfere with a standard meal time so a snack may have to do.

6. Be Mindful of Portions

Like Ms Wysocki-Woods, my nutrition business has many clients desiring weight loss. Colleen says it best: “I talk to so many people who are trying to lose weight. They’re balancing their meals with fruits or veggies, whole grains, and lean meat. However, they still don’t lose weight. Although there are many factors involved in weight loss, one that is controllable is the portion size. For those who are eating from all food groups and still struggling with their weight, portion size may be the answer.”

Colleen suggests a healthy plate from all 5 major food groups, which can be a template for portion sizes. She says, “half the plate should be veggies or fruit at each meal, a quarter of the plate should be protein. A serving size of meat, poultry, or fish is about 3 oz, the size of your palm or a deck of cards, and the last quarter of the plate can be starch or grains, preferably whole grains as the fiber can help with weight management.”

7. Incorporate Physical Activity

Maintaining your physical activity routine during the holiday season can help offset some of the extra calories you may consume. Whether it’s going for a brisk walk after a meal, playing a family game of touch football, or hitting the gym, finding ways to stay active can make a significant difference in how you feel during and after the holidays.

Again, sticking to your physical activity routine  can make the holiday season full and not throw you off your health goals. As we look to the new year, maybe you are contemplating starting an exercise routine and that’s great! Pick an activity you enjoy, whether HIIT, cycling, walking, hiking, walking, or running, and then look to see how you can sprinkle it into your schedule.

8. Plan Active Family Activities

Instead of making food the central focus of your holiday gatherings, consider planning active family activities. Whether it’s a group hike, a bike ride, or a friendly game of soccer, getting everyone moving together can be a fun and healthy way to bond during the holidays.

If you’re like me and are wanting to do more with the family for bonding, search your local area for a craft fair, art show, or an area with cute shops. These can also get the whole family out for fresh air and sunshine, while walking around for movement and enjoying each others company. Plus, purchases can support small, local businesses.

9. Keep Healthy Snacks Handy

While indulging in holiday treats is part of the fun, it’s also essential to have healthy snacks available. Stock up on nuts, yogurt, and fresh fruit to satisfy your hunger between meals without reaching for the sugary or high-calorie options.

Before you choose an entree, side, or any food item, weigh the option in your mind. Is it going to help you toward your health or weight goals? Is it being chosen to satisfy a craving or a real hunger need? Is it nutrient-dense? Will you be hungry again soon after eating it or full and satisfied? Will you feel good about your choice after the meal is over? And so and so forth. Just a little tough-love and pause can help you tremendously in the long run.

10. Limit Alcohol Consumption

Alcoholic beverages are often abundant during the holidays, but they can be a hidden source of excess calories. Limit your alcohol intake, choose lighter options when possible, and alternate alcoholic drinks with water to stay hydrated.

I truly believe there are way more ways to celebrate and have a good time than with alcohol. Explore non-alcoholic drinks that are delicious or stick to classic water. You will be happy and proud of yourself for doing so.

11. Prioritize Fiber

Fiber-rich foods like vegetables, whole grains, fruits, and legumes can help you feel full and satisfied. In turn, this reduces the urge to overeat. Incorporate these foods into your holiday meals and snacks to promote better portion control – and stop seconds and definitely thirds.

As mentioned earlier, make half your plate fruits and vegetables and a quarter of the plate whole grains. This creates a fiber-full plate filled with nutrient-dense foods, which will leave you feeling full and healthful.

12. Get Plenty of Sleep

Colleen is an advocate for sleep, saying “not getting 7-8 hours of sleep can send the body into overeating mode the next day. According to the National Sleep Foundation, a lack of sleep increases eating by stimulating more of the hunger hormone ghrelin. At the same time, the fullness hormone leptin decreases, signaling to the body that more food is needed.”

Another factor that may not be widely known is “Endocannibinoid, a lipid in the human body, increases in the blood when there is poor sleep. Like cannabis, endocannabinoid increases the desire for high-fat foods like cookies and cheese,” says Colleen. Finally, “a third factor is also at play when a person loses sleep. There are simply more hours in the day to eat,” Colleen states.

13. Manage Stress

The holidays can be a stressful time for many, which can lead to emotional eating and poor food choices. While in some, stress can cause over-eating and in others under-eating. What happens to you? Do you reach for food, whether healthy foods or poor food choices? Or do you simply let the stress overtake your hunger and you push food away,whether conscientioulsy or not?

Knowing what you do in relation to food when stressed is key. Second, practicing stress management techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga to help you stay calm and in control is important. If you are not making the progress you desire on your own, you are not a failure for reaching out for professional help in the form of a counselor or therapist.

14. Listen to Your Body

One of the most important things you can do during the holidays is to listen to your body. You know yourself better than anyone else. Pay attention to hunger and fullness cues, and honor them. If you need to take a break from the chaos to gather thoughts and feelings, step away into a quiet, safe place. If you are not following your health plan during the holidays and coming year, pause and re-evaluate. 

Seek professional help from the specific area you need additional guidance in; for nutrition, hire a Registered Dietitian – from preventing chronic disease and managing them to accountability with goals and tools to stay on track – they know how to empower, guide, encourage, and set you up for success. I can be your Dietitian!

Enjoy your holidays to the fullest without sacrificing your health and well-being. By following these tips for a healthy and mindful lifestyle, you can savor the flavors of the season without the guilt. Remember that the holidays are about more than just food; they’re about creating cherished memories with loved ones. So, go ahead, enjoy your holidays, and savor every moment – both on your plate and in your heart.

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