Tips from a Registered Dietitian to have your Healthiest Holiday Season Yet
On October 27th, Tami Lyon, MPH, RD, Chief Nutrition Officer for MealEnders, held a live Q&A session on the MealEnders Facebook page. She discussed strategies for beating holiday temptations that will set you up to sail through the “season’s eatings” with no regrets, and no extra pounds to shed in the new year.
Tami’s overriding message in the Q&A is to plan ahead to avoid undesirable eating behavior. Whether it be to create healthy ready-to-eat snacks to munch on while preparing dinner during the hectic holiday season, or to make a list of the once-a-year holiday foods you absolutely want to indulge in, having a plan will set you up for success and make the holidays that much more enjoyable (and guilt-free)!
Tami discusses how to avoid stress eating during the holiday season, when we’re surrounded by rich foods and can experience added stress from houseguests, family gatherings and generally hectic schedules. To start, Tami suggests identifying which days you’ll want to indulge in holiday foods that aren’t on your standard meal plan. Count the number of days you have these celebrations and you’ll find that they only amount to 10% or so of the 65-day (give or take) stretch between Halloween and New Year’s Day. Doing this will put holiday eating into perspective and change your mindset from “deprivation” to “celebration.”
Now, put those occasions in a calendar with space for writing out your meal plan and goals for each. Strive to prioritize foods at each event by asking yourself, “Which foods aren’t available during the rest of the year and what am I most looking forward to?” This way, you’ll be able to include your Aunt Betty’s famous pumpkin pie, but forgo the cheese and crackers appetizer.
Now that you have your list of parties and meal plan, what tips can you utilize at the actual get-together? Tami recommends that you not arrive at the party too hungry, as you may be more inclined to reach for large portions of whatever delicious foods you see first, so eat something before you arrive. At meal time, strive to serve yourself the healthiest foods first. We tend to take more and eat more of the first food that we put on our plates, so start with a vegetable or a salad. And stick to one plate of food. If you’ve planned your indulgences beforehand (in your meal plan, as stated above), you’ll be able to comfortably pick your food items without taking a bit of everything, resulting in excess calorie intake. At the end of the night, if there are leftovers and you’re the host, give them away to guests; if you’re a guest, don’t bring any home.
Popular holiday beverages can be a challenge when you’re trying to follow a healthy eating plan. Having a hot cocoa, for instance, is part of the holiday tradition, but it can be high in calories or fat. One strategy Tami offers for making a lower calorie hot chocolate is steaming the milk. An espresso machine or a hand frother can thicken up nonfat milk to give it a creamy mouthfeel without the extra fat in a standard hot cocoa. Once your milk is frothy, Tami recommends stirring in plain cocoa (without added sugar), then sweetening to taste with Stevia or your preferred sweetener–even if you prefer sugar, you’ll likely add much less than a standard hot cocoa packet has.
During the holiday season, your schedule gets switched up and it’s harder to maintain your routine. Fighting off hunger and subsequent snacking during the before-dinner hour is a common dilemma. If you’re not eating enough during the day, you can find yourself feeling ravenous once you get home. This is especially true if you’re in the proximity of food around dinnertime. Thus, the solution begins earlier in the day. Check that you’re not only eating breakfast, but that you’re eating enough breakfast with a decent amount of protein. Have an egg, toast with nut butter, and berries followed by a lunch that contains lean protein, starch, healthy fats, and vegetables.
Another tip to stop pre-dinner snacking is to not go more than four hours between dinner and your last eating episode. Before you leave for work, throw an apple, cheese stick, and a MealEnder into your bag for a quick snack you can eat before you leave your desk or on the commute home. Bringing up your blood sugar will take you from feeling ravenous to just hungry, which puts you in a position to make smarter food decisions while you’re cooking dinner.
When you have an event at night where there will be an abundance of food, it might seem like a good idea to restrict your calories during the day so you can indulge more. However, this approach will prime you to overeat later in the day, perhaps at your event where the foods are more caloric. You’re better off having sensible meals during the day so that you’re moderately hungry at your event, which gives you much more control over how much food you eat and calories you consume.
At one point in the live broadcast, MealEnders founder & CEO Mark Bernstein brought up how challenging it can be to get back on track with your diet after you’ve slipped up. Missteps can engender an all-or-nothing attitude, which can negatively impact your eating habits. Tami’s advice is to remember that you’re looking to develop habits. No single eating episode is going to cause weight gain or take you fully off-track, but if you are upset about the episode, check in with yourself. Ask, “Why am I feeling upset?” Have a very empathetic conversation with yourself because developing these new habits is a skill that’s tested every day as well as a cumulative experience. View every misstep as an opportunity to learn.
This time of year, it can be particularly difficult to follow through on your healthy eating intentions, so it’s important to strategize and make a plan. The last thing you want to do is enter the new year feeling guilty about overindulging during the holiday celebrations. So use your plan to help you enjoy the season without actively avoiding every holiday treat, but still maintain a healthy balance.