Celebrating with friends, family, and co-workers throughout the holidays is truly special. But it can also be a challenge if you’re trying to eat nutritiously. The truth is, you don’t need to avoid every indulgence in order to be healthy. After all, some of your favorite can’t-live-without treats may only be available this time of year. But being deliberate about how you approach your food choices is a savvy way to sail through this holiday season feeling both satisfied and balanced.
You’ve probably heard this before, but it bears repeating – don’t go to a party or get together hungry. Before you head out snack on something filling, like a quarter cup of nuts or a handful of raw veggies. The notion of “saving up” calories for a big meal backfires, because it’s counter to how your body operates. Much like how a car uses gasoline to fuel the miles to come, your body prefers evenly spaced out meals to best meet its energy needs. Starving all day then binging at night is like trying to drive your car on empty and then filling the tank after you arrive at your destination – it just doesn’t make sense.
A healthier approach is to eat normal, healthy meals throughout the day, then strategize at your party or special event. First, choose your splurge item. Of all the indulgent goodies, what’s really going to satisfy you? Whether it’s a slice of pecan pie or a buttery mound of mashed potatoes, enjoy it, and build the rest of your choices around your splurge. Aim to include a lean protein, like turkey breast or seafood, and a generous portion of veggies and/or salad. For other items, like rolls, starchy sides, and appetizers, rank before you reach. Think of a scale from 0 to 5, with 0 being meh and 5 being can’t pass up. If something doesn’t rate at least a 4, you’ll probably feel fine forgoing it.
If you aren’t sure if there will be lighter choices available, bring something to share. A veggie and hummus tray is always a good bet, or try our recipe for healthy but flavorful veggie stuffed mushroom caps. The idea is to end the meal feeling full, but not stuffed, satisfied, but also energized. This happy medium end point feels so much better, both physically and mentally, than either dieting or overdoing it.
Finally, slow down while you eat, and enjoy every morsel. Try to put your utensil down between bites, take breaths, and remain mindful of both your food and your fullness level. Eating while distracted can easily lead to losing track of how much you’ve even, or how full you feel. And this is interesting – groups who dine together tend to eat at the same pace. Try an experiment and consciously become the pacesetter. And when you feel you’ve had enough, stop eating, even if that means not cleaning your plate. Regardless of what anyone else is doing, you can empower yourself to enjoy the holidays in a way that feels just right for you, and that’s a real gift.