For most of us, the time period from Halloween through the New Year is all about sharing and celebrating—this year, Diwali kicks off on November 4, Thanksgiving falls on November 25, and, a few days later, on November 28, Hanukkah begins. Between all of the parties and gifts and filled-to-the-brim banquet tables, it’s important to acknowledge that this season can pose a major challenge for those of us who’ve been making progress on new eating habits and lifestyle changes.
As holiday traditions pick up full speed, social pressures to indulge pile on. And that’s not to mention the common stress that comes during this busy time of year—traveling, seeing far-flung family members, and rushing from party to party can take its toll. But holiday meals, and their seemingly endless food options, don’t have to mean overeating, especially when you make a plan for maintaining healthy habits.
By setting some boundaries ahead of time, you can feel confident and put yourself in the driver’s seat as you navigate the holiday scene. Here, Found coaches share their favorite tips and strategies for enjoying your favorite traditions and treats in a balanced way, all season long.
1. Don’t show up hungry
Skipping breakfast in order to “save up” calories on a celebration day might sound like a good idea. But chances are, that strategy will backfire. “It’s like walking into the grocery store hungry,” says Coach Lisa M. “Everything will look good and you’ll overspend.” When you head into a holiday meal hungry, you’ll only be more tempted to munch on less-than-healthy snacks, overfill your plate, or eat way past the point of being full. So eat as you normally would ahead of a big gathering. And instead of forgoing the most important meal of the day, enjoy a high-protein breakfast to help you feel satiated. We like plain Greek yogurt with berries and nuts, peanut butter overnight oats, and egg muffins.
2. Eat earlier
If possible, eat your big holiday meal earlier in the afternoon. This allows more time for movement after you eat, and may improve your digestion. According to one 2018 review of scientific literature, some small studies suggest that the timing of eating impacts weight and metabolic function—specifically, with regular nighttime eating potentially contributing to metabolic dysfunction and daytime eating having either no or beneficial effects.
3. Load up on veggies
An easy way to build a well-balanced plate? Fill half of it with whatever green veggie is available. This will help you stay full and satisfied, with zero consequence. It’s also a good idea to ask about the menu beforehand. If there are no great green options, take it as your opportunity to bring a dish to share (think salads and roasted veggies).
4. Get your protein
Protein keeps your blood sugar levels in check, which will help prevent intense sugar cravings after the main course. Put a healthy serving of protein on your plate and load up.
5. Avoid restrictions
Labeling certain foods as forbidden only makes them all that more tempting. Truly giving yourself permission to enjoy “bad” foods means you’ll be much less likely to stuff yourself during the holidays. “When guilt is involved, you may find yourself in an all-or-nothing scenario,” says Coach Lisa M. “If you mess up and eat one forbidden thing, like a cookie, then you may as well down multiple cocktails and eat as many appetizers as you can, right?” Wrong. “By genuinely giving yourself permission to eat the tasty foods your heart desires, it takes out the stress. After all, wouldn’t you rather have fun at holiday parties and family get-togethers?” she says.
6. Limit alcohol
Alcohol is not only full of sugar, but drinking too much can also trick us into thinking we’re hungrier than we actually are. The chances of overeating to the point of discomfort spikes whenever alcohol is in the mix, so be mindful about how many drinks you have.
7. Be selective about treats
Whether it’s Hanukkah, Thanksgiving, or Diwali, holiday menus inevitably include desserts. Take stock of the available offerings before you dive in. Then ask yourself which items should make it onto your plate and which drink you’ll have. According to Coach Lisa M., this practice is not about judging your food choices based on perceived calories, “Instead, your time spent surveying the spread will help you choose foods you’ll wholeheartedly enjoy eating,” she says. “Pay special attention to those dishes and treats you only get around the holidays.” Whatever you choose, grab a reasonable serving size, and allow yourself to fully enjoy every bite. That way you can indulge while also setting boundaries that will prevent you from going overboard and feeling sick.
8. Practice mindful eating
On that note, when you sit down to eat, go slow and savor every bite. Mindful eating is about paying attention to your body’s cues, so you eat until you’re satisfied but not miserably full. The key is to eat at a slow pace, take breaks, and really check in with yourself along the way. Before you start eating, take a moment to tune in and assess your hunger level on a scale from 1 (barely hungry) to 5 (very hungry)—and use that to guide your consumption. Coach Natalie M. uses a few extra tactics: “Putting my utensils down between bites as much as possible helps me eat slowly. Plus, I try to have a full glass of water before the meal and between helpings.” Remember to laugh and share stories with family and friends, too! These holidays only come around once a year, and it’s important to savor and celebrate all of it.
9. Prioritize joyful movement every day
According to the American Heart Association, among many other benefits, regular physical activity can help relieve stress, tension, anxiety, and depression. Take some time for yourself throughout the holiday season to get moving in any way that brings you joy—whether that’s yoga, walking, jogging, strength training, jumping rope, dancing, or playing tennis. Commit to 20 minutes of movement every day, including the day of the big celebration. Take a long group walk before or after the festivities, put together a flag football game, or do some squats, lunges, and push-ups together while you’re cooking in the kitchen.
10. Go easy on yourself
“We’ve all overdone it when it comes to eating,” says Coach Bailey B. “There’s no reason to shame yourself for overindulging during the holidays.” When things get stressful or overwhelming, it can help to have a personal mantra to recite to yourself, like I’m capable of mindfully choosing foods that I enjoy to help fuel my body, or I feel calm, centered, and proud of myself and where I am right now. Also take note of how you feel after eating past your limit. Then, carry this feeling with you to the next holiday season.” Taking a moment to reflect will help you practice mindful eating in the future.
11. Have a reset button
The best way to fully enjoy all the pleasures of the holidays—without guilt—is to know that you have the power to get back to your healthiest habits as the season winds down. Set yourself up for a successful reset by stocking up on healthy meal prep ingredients immediately after the celebrations end. “Triple your hydration, focus on whole foods, and eliminate sugar, alcohol, and processed foods for a couple of weeks,” says Coach Lisa M. “It’s important to get your body back into balance as quickly as possible, so you don’t lose any of that incredible progress you’ve made all year.”
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