Eating to fuel your mind and body always takes a little more strategy and planning than eating the “Standard American Diet.” But the holiday season can make it feel like the whole world is out to tempt you with empty calories, over-eating, and excess salt, fat, and sugar. It’s no wonder many of us enter the New Year with vows to do better.
This year, let’s break that cycle by filling our toolbox with strategies to make merry, socialize and stay on track.
Here are 5 common problems and solutions to hit your nutritional goals and enjoy the holidays:
Problem: You’re tempted to order in to save time
Strategy: Use a few meal planning tricks to save time
Avoiding the excess fat, salt, and sugar of takeout food is tough when your schedule is full of extra parties, shopping, decorating, and holiday recitals. Take a look at the week and ahead and use your weekend time to employ a few of these meal prep strategies:
- Plan simpler meals like soups, sheet pan dinners, and one-dish meals that clean up quickly.
- Play weekend sous chef. Cook and dice your proteins or prepare and portion your ingredients so that meals come together in half the time all week.
- Consider a meal delivery service through the holidays. Subscription services let you cook with fresh ingredients, but eliminate all the planning and shopping.
- Cook for two meals: If you’re making tacos, cook double the meat and use the second portion to get ahead on a Mexican-style beef and veggie soup later in the week.
Problem: Unhealthy meal option at holiday parties
Strategy: Eat before you go
You may not be able to avoid eating at the company party or the family get-together, but you can employ several strategies to have more control of the situation.
- Before heading out, try eating a small healthy meal and drinking a big glass of water. This will leave you less tempted by the buffet options.
- If you’re treated to a plated meal in a restaurant, start with a clear soup and avoid sauces, fried entrees and anything with the word “candied” in its name.
- At pot-luck gatherings, be the one to bring the healthy crudité tray with hummus. At least you’ll know there’s one tasty, healthy option.
- Avoid the extra calories in alcohol by skipping it entirely or limiting yourself to a single, non-syrupy option.
Problem: I want to stuff myself with mama’s stuffing
Strategy: Choose your portions yourself
There’s nothing wrong with eating your favorite holiday foods, but these treats shouldn’t be the focus of your meal. Instead of letting mama wield the ladle, create a plate that’s two-thirds on track with your nutrition goals and has one third devoted to getting a taste of all your nostalgia-stirring favorites.
Problem: Social situations make you overeat
Strategy: Make a game of slowing down
Eating more slowly isn’t just satisfying, it’s a way to reduce calories and avoid that uncomfortable, overstuffed feeling. Studies show that eating slower may help you feel full faster. While you enjoy your time with friends and family, take bites here and there, but focus on the conversation. Make a game of it with yourself. For example, only take a bite of pie each time Uncle Dennis says, “stop me if I’ve told you this one before.”
Problem: Stress Eating
Strategy: Identify other coping methods in advance
Between all the extra social obligations and—let’s face it—time spent with extended family, it’s easy to feel stressed through the holidays. If you know eating has been a crutch for stress in the past, make plans early to use exercise, reading, and time alone as stress-fighting tools instead.
- Take your sneakers to Thanksgiving and go for a run in your Grandma’s neighborhood while everyone snacks and watches the game.
- Get outside on Christmas Day and help all the kids try out their new toys.
- Make an effort to exercise each morning before the craziness of the holiday can kick in. A good sweat early in the day has a calming effect that lasts for hours.
- Take breaks to go for a brisk walk—invite your favorite cousin if time spent socializing recharges you. Go alone if it doesn’t.
- Make active plans with visitors. Instead of drinks or dinner, go for a walk, play a game of racquetball, or grab a spin class together. Your friend will probably be in as much need of the stress relief as you are.
The holidays should be enjoyed, not endured. When you maintain your wellness goals, you’ll feel better though the entire experience and enter the New Year without the baggage of self-recrimination or a couple new pounds.