I’ve always seen rashon, both my website and my nutrition practice, being a practical guide to wellness. (I mean, it is my tagline for goodness sake.) You’re going to be seeing a lot of posts in this Practical Guide series – including challenges to make small changes (diet, lifestyle, environment) one at a time to positively impact your health. I’ll have a big launch for the challenge series because I want you to be excited and join in by sharing photos, comments, etc.
In the meantime, we are headed into the holiday season, which is a fun, busy, stressful, emotional, exciting time for most of us. It is really easy to get off-track, overeat, overindulge and end up feeling not so great by the time we hit the New Year. I want to say this: I don’t like saying “Everything in moderation.” That’s not really true – there are some things that some of us just shouldn’t be eating based on our current health issues. If you’re diabetic, I’m not giving you the green light to go eat every sugary dessert or super carb heavy casserole. If you’re sensitive to gluten or grains, don’t go eat a bunch of gluten and grain-filled foods. What I want to do with this post is give you some coping strategies for those holiday parties and dinners where you may not have control over the food or the environment.
Listen, I’ve spent 3+ years eating gluten free, and I’ve been in a lot of situations where I didn’t have any control over the food being served, but I’ve never gone hungry (ever!). I also want to remind you that eating healthy and/or avoiding foods that hurt your body is a positive thing that you’re doing. You’re choosing to treat your body well, and nourish it the best you can. Remember that food either nourishes your body or depletes it. Food does not complete you, it doesn’t fix your emotions, it doesn’t actually relieve stress (although sometimes we like to believe it does), it doesn’t solve all your problems, it doesn’t make or break a holiday or celebration. Don’t give food so much power over your life. Food can be powerful both in the positive and negative, and while much of our holidays revolve around food, it’s not the most important thing. Right? It’s imperative to remember what is important: you’re with your family and friends, you’re celebrating and making memories, following traditions. Take the focus off your food, and just enjoy the moments that you’re experiencing.
Let’s dive in to some basic tips and strategies you can use during the holidays to stay on track.
- If the host asks if you have any food allergies/sensitivities or dietary restrictions, don’t be afraid to tell the truth. If the host is asking, it’s because they want to accommodate everyone, and make their guests comfortable.
- Offer to bring a side dish, main course or dessert that fits into your eating plan. Even if the host says no, they will appreciate the gesture. Also, if you have serious food restrictions, don’t be afraid to bring something that you can eat. Most hosts (these are usually your friends/family) will understand, and be grateful they don’t have to worry about making you sick.
- Eat something before going to parties or dinners. I’m not saying you have to eat an entire meal before you go out, but have a snack that includes some protein and healthy fats. This well help you not walk into an event feeling hungry, so you can make better food choices. Some good pre-event snackage: a handful of nuts with some berries or a green apple, a green apple with some almond butter, walnuts or almonds with a few cubes of cheddar cheese, a scoop (1/4 cup) of guacamole or hummus with veggies (carrots, celery, cucumber or cherry tomatoes), a handful of pumpkin seeds or a serving of chia seed pudding.
- When you get to that party or dinner, survey the food choices – whether this is a buffet type situation or a menu – and start to make a plan. First, if there are questions about ingredients, don’t be afraid to ask. Then, assess which dishes you can eat, and which you need to avoid. Since I have to avoid gluten, I look for a protein without any mystery sauces, and load my plate up with salad or veggies. If there are a lot of casseroles, I either ask about the ingredients or just avoid them altogether. My body isn’t handling carbs very well right now, so I tend to stay away from casseroles or other high-carb foods. What you put on your plate is going to look different for everyone based on health goals or health issues, but loading up with the cleanest protein and salads or veggies is a pretty easy strategy for most of us. You may just have an entire plate of salad, and that’s okay. Do what works for your body.
- If there aren’t many food choices that work for you at the party, remind yourself that this is just a few hours of your life, and make a mental plan to eat afterwards. Enjoy the company, and then head home for a snack or light dinner.
- Keep a little snack in your handbag. I know this may sound a little…tacky, but a little package of nuts or a protein bar can be a lifesaver if you are out of other options – or just get caught out in the holiday crowds.
- If you are hosting over the holidays, look for ways to lighten the menu. Make sure that for every casserole you serve, you also have a salad or vegetable dish, so that you have a good balance of choices. If you’re baking holiday treats, look for recipes that use honey, maple syrup or a low-carb sugar substitute like Swerve or stevia. Avoid refined (white) sugar, corn syrup and Splenda.
- It’s really easy to overindulge with alcohol. Alcohol messes with our blood sugar and leads to weight gain. Set a 2 drink limit at each event, and always eat something when you drink alcohol – this helps to slow down the absorption, and will help prevent blood sugar spikes. Also, know your limits. If one drink leads to 4 drinks for you, then don’t have the first drink at all. Sparkling water/soda with a squeeze of lime makes a great alternative (and everyone will think it’s a vodka tonic if you don’t want people to know you’re not drinking).
- Don’t give in to peer pressure. If people are giving you a hard time about what you will or won’t eat, you may want to question your choice of friends. I’m kidding (sort of). But seriously, it’s okay to explain to people that you are choosing foods to nourish your body during the stressful holiday season, or that you have a food sensitivity/allergy and have to be careful of what you eat, or don’t explain at all (not everyone has to know/understand everything all the time).
- Give yourself a break. Allow yourself to celebrate and enjoy the season. Have a bite or two of your favorite casserole, or a small piece of pie. Just know your limits. Some people can have a few bites here and there, and for others, one bite leads to eating way too much of their favorite food. Know what works for your body and what doesn’t.
- Eat nourishing foods between parties and holiday meals. Load up on clean proteins, healthy fats and lots of leafy greens and crunchy veggies. Be kind to your body the majority of the time, and that will help your body handle those little celebratory bites/drinks along the way.
- Keep up your exercise routine, or if you don’t already exercise, get moving. Take a walk, play with your kids or dogs, do a little yoga or stretching. Just move every day. The holidays can be stressful (even if it’s good stress), so taking the time to exercise or move every day will help your body deal with the stress. It also helps to balance blood sugar, which may be a bit out whack depending on what you’re eating.
- Consider taking a high-quality probiotic or digestive enzymes. To be fair, probiotics are good all the time. Getting your digestion working properly is also important when dealing with health issues, and can help your body deal with your not-so-great food choices. I would work with your healthcare professional or Nutrition Consultant to determine which digestive enzymes might be helpful for you.
Again, this is not a license to go crazy or eat foods that don’t work for your body if you have serious health issues. No food is worth risking your health over. It’s just not, I promise.
Keep in mind that every time you eat, it’s an opportunity to nourish your body or deplete it. If you eat something not so great at one meal, that doesn’t mean your whole day has been ruined, just make a better choice for your next snack or meal. Be kind to yourself this holiday season. Your body will thank you for it.
What are your best tips for a healthier holiday season?