Frosting-coated cookies, butter-drenched veggies, gravy on everything, and carb-filled casseroles derail the dietary habits of many healthy adults during the holiday season. Some people choose these foods because they like how they taste, while others eat them because they evoke memories of fun family festivities and the sense of tradition and good family times is comforting and defines the holidays.
Healthy habits often disappear during the hustle and bustle of the season, compounding the problem. But we're here to help with tips for staying on track while keeping the best of what makes the holidays fun. Try these three easy suggestions before you abandon your dietary goals this holiday season.
Eat Before Events
You may have heard the saying “Never go grocery shopping when you’re hungry.” Well, the same rule applies to holiday gatherings. If you arrive hungry, you may be more likely to overindulge in whatever hosts provide, from decadent desserts to high-calorie casseroles. Prevent this issue by fueling up with a fiber-filled, protein-packed food before you go. Try some almonds or a peanut butter sandwich, and for the best bang, sip a smoothie on the way there.
Also, don’t forget to practice healthy habits throughout the day to set yourself up for success. We're less likely to want to undo our hard work if we've already had a great healthy day.
Bring Your Own Food
Snacking in advance doesn’t help everyone resist their urges, especially for those who get hungry often or feel awkward avoiding food while others are eating. Instead of staring longingly at your cousin’s pile of gravy-drenched potatoes or cornbread stuffing, bring some healthy slats on old favorites and feast on your own foods. Bring a healthy meal that you like, not just something you tolerate — otherwise, you may still be tempted to feast on holiday fare. And be sure to bring enough to share when people tell you how good it looks.
Pay attention to the ingredients you use in case allergy-affected guests ask what’s in each dish and just to be safe, better avoid peanuts and other high-allergen foods. When you have a moment, thank the host for the invite, and explain that while you’re honored to attend, you have some dietary restrictions so you've come prepared. This lets your host know you aren’t avoiding her food because it tastes bad or looks unpleasant.
Enjoy Treats in Moderation
We don't necessarily have to avoid every unhealthy option during the holiday season — unless you want to, of course. In fact, saying “no thanks” to every treat may actually strengthen your willpower muscles and make it easier over time. Nonetheless, some experts do warn that placing excessive dietary restrictions on yourself can eventually lead to binge eating, which means you may end up devouring an entire red velvet cake instead of having a small slice. So choose your battles and build your strength with intention.
Some dieters benefit from a once-a-week cheat day where they eat pizza, candy, carbs or anything else they’ve been avoiding. Other adults find it easier to enjoy a small treat each day, such as a Christmas cookie or a scoop of cheese-covered casserole, alongside their otherwise healthy meals. It may take some trial and error, but you can find a moderation approach that works for you and lets you enjoy old favorites.
Keep Portions Tiny
Favorite foods are wonderful. Especially those we may not get to have very often. Like mama's green bean casserole or that turkey gravy of Uncle John's. And we should feel free to enjoy the things we love. But it helps to remember that three bites of something may be all we need to find the full enjoyment of that food. Any more may be what pushes us over the edge from "this is fine" into overindulgence.
Rework Old Favorites
Try a healthy twist on the dishes you love the most. Add extra veg into that stuffing or whiz roasted onions into the gravy. Add turnips into the mashed potatoes and you may not even notice the difference. Looking for ways to eat healthier while also having our favorites helps take the edge off of cravings and prevents feelings of deprivation while also keeping us healthier.
Resisting holiday treats may seem difficult, but remember, the season ends quickly and it's about so much more than food. Before you know it, you’ll be fighting for a treadmill at the gym when everyone kicks off their New Year’s resolutions.