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The holiday season kicks off with an entire day dedicated to food, and Thanksgiving is only the beginning. Between the peppermint chocolates lingering in the office, the festive cocktails out with friends, and the buffet line at family gatherings, food is on the forefront this time of year.
And no sooner do we polish off a slice of our favorite pie are we then bombarded with ways to quickly drop the “holiday weight” come the new year. It’s easy to see why we seem to approach the holidays – and all the food that comes with it – with equal parts excitement and dread.
Here are some ways you can nourish yourself this holiday season, so you feel happy and healthy by the time the New Year rolls around.
If we enter the season with the anticipation of restricting ourselves when it’s over, that sets ourselves up for overeating and tuning out of our hunger and fullness cues. The focus on dieting “steals joy from the eating experience and creates stress around the holiday meals,” advises Willow Jarosh, MS, RD, intuitive eating expert. “This pulls us further from being able to listen to our body’s cues regarding what we actually want to eat and how much feels good.”
How many times have you anticipated a large meal and “saved up” all day just to end up wolfing down your plate and feeling overstuffed and uncomfortable? Or, how many times have you been so busy during the day you’ve forgotten breakfast, skipped lunch, and made up for it (and more) at dinner time? On days when you’re expecting an opportunity to enjoy a large holiday meal, aim to eat meals and snacks throughout the day as you normally would.
When you arrive at a holiday dinner or party, make it a priority to eat what you really want first. If you try to “be good” and avoid the cheesy casserole, you’ll most often eat your way around it (first the salad, then the green beans, then the turkey…). Ultimately, you’ll end up eating the cheesy casserole anyway because it’s what you really wanted in the first place. So, eat what you really want. Sit down and intentionally enjoy every delicious bite.
Although food inevitably plays a starring role during the holidays, it doesn’t have to be the central focus of each event. Enjoy a walk with the family to look at the lights or have a game night with your friends. And when it comes to conversations, you can help to shift the focus on that, too. “I recommend my clients make two lists before heading into holiday get-togethers: one of the things they’re interested in or have done (travels, favorite books or shows, classes they are taking, fun pet stories, etc.) and one of non-appearance related things they can say to others,” says Jarosh.
Boundary setting can be challenging, and the holidays give us a good opportunity to hone in on this skill. Remind yourself that it’s okay to decline an invitation if you’re overly tired or ask someone not to comment on your body or your food choices. “It’s also okay to say, “No, thank you” if someone makes something special for the meal, but you are full or don’t want to eat it,” affirms Jarosh.
If you feel as though you overdid it one day or one meal, try not to sweat it. Your health is not determined by one meal – it’s the whole picture that counts. Some days, you’re probably going to eat too much. And some days, you may eat too little. It’s all part of life. Each eating experience gives you the opportunity to show yourself some kindness.
What’s in season? For starters: apples, pears, oranges, grapefruit, pomegranates, cranberries, beets, Brussels sprouts, squash (acorn and butternut), sweet potatoes, pumpkin, broccoli, and even garlic. Plus, this time of year is a perfect excuse to turn up your favorite holiday music and get cooking in the kitchen!
In fact, these festive recipes below are the perfect ones for you to try:
Have a happy and healthy holiday!
McKenzie is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, nutrition writer and communicator, who truly loves meeting and connecting with people. Grounded in science with an integrative and holistic approach, she aims to make the world a healthier, happier place by helping people feel their best from the inside out and encouraging others to restore a judgment-free relationship with food. McKenzie has been a contributing editor for the award-winning publicationEnvironmental Nutrition and her numerous articles, nutrition tips, and recipes can be found in publications such as The Chicago Tribune, Today’s Dietitian, Food and Nutrition Magazine, and more.
McKenzie graduated magna cum laude from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo with a degree in Nutrition and completed her dietetic internship at Bastyr University in Seattle. She is a member of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and a member of the dietetic practice group, Dietitians in Integrative and Functional Medicine. When she’s not dishing out nutrition tidbits, you can find McKenzie cooking in her sunny kitchen, hiking along with her favorite Southern California trails, or packing her bags and heading out for her next adventure.