You probably don’t want to lose control and undo all the progress you've made this year. With the right mindset and a little planning, you don’t have to!
If you’ve been working hard all year on healthy eating habits, I know the holiday season can be a little challenging. Maybe you’ve been working on better food choices, weight loss goals, your relationship with food, or managing a health condition. With the many Christmas gatherings, alcohol, food gifts and dessert choices, it can be hard to navigate! You probably don’t want to lose control and undo all your progress. But with the right mindset and a little planning, you don’t have to!
Humans love routine, it gives us a sense of structure and safety. That’s part of the appeal of fad diets, they give us rigid rules to stick to so we can “be good,” feel in control, and often promise we’ll definitely lose weight along the way. The challenge usually starts when rules are too restrictive, and don’t allow for special occasions, favorite foods, or cultural foods. Fad diets often suggest an all-or-nothing attitude to eating, so if you fail, you are “being bad” and might as well start over after eating large amounts of the food you’re supposed to avoid. That often leaves you feeling out of control, too.
But that’s not how health works, and not how our bodies work. Because we are humans and not robots, we likely need to make some space for less nutritious foods too. Especially since we know that being out of our routine happens pretty often with birthdays, holidays, travel, and more.
So whether you have specific health goals or are just trying to feel as good as possible, flexibility can lead to more nourishment and a better attitude toward eating. Less stress around food is healthy too, and can help to reduce the all-or-nothing thinking. It doesn’t mean you are undisciplined or failing, but that you are adaptable. Overdoing it at one meal or missing one workout doesn’t mean you have to give up and start again in January. You definitely don’t need to eat perfectly to be healthy!
These are my top tips to eat well so you can get to January 2023 feeling your best both mentally and physically.
Eat and drink mindfully
When was the last time you actually noticed what you were eating, and how hungry or full you were? I don’t know many people who grew up with this skill, so it might be something to practice over time. Eating slower can help you tune in, and give your brain time to register that you are physically full and feel mentally satisfied. Especially with alcohol, ask yourself, do I really enjoy this, and does this serve my health goals? Staying hydrated, especially while drinking alcohol, can help you be more mindful of your body’s cues too.
Balance your plate
A balanced plate has 1/2 veggies and/or fruit, 1/4 protein, and 1/4 carbohydrate. This helps us get the nutrients we need in the portions that feel best for our body. I recommend eating this way as much as possible, but if you can’t, that’s okay! Focus on the meals you can control in other parts of your day, because one meal doesn’t ruin your health or your progress. If you know there won’t be veggies for dinner, can you have them at lunch instead? If you know your favorite dessert will be served, leave some space for it too!
Don’t save your calories
I still see people saying you should save your calories or appetite, even though we know that the easiest way to overeat is to arrive at your next meal when you’re starving. If you know you have a big dinner, your body still needs fuel throughout the day. Skipping breakfast and having a tiny lunch so you can go all out at dinner may not feel best for you or your body, even if you technically stay within your calorie limit. This also perpetuates the binge and restrict cycle, which is not the healthiest mindset to have around eating. Eating in your regular pattern can help your hunger feel more manageable, and keeps your body feeling good too when it gets the fuel it needs.
Keep up your other wellbeing practices Exercise and sleep can be the first things to go out the window when we’re very busy or tired. But the science is clear that these practices help us feel good and keep our stress levels in check. You’re more likely to prepare some healthy snacks and meals or choose nutritious foods if you’re not physically and mentally exhausted. A lack of sleep can increase appetite and cravings. And you can avoid a lot of stress eating if you have other ways to cope with stress. We know now that with health, everything is connected, so making some space for self-care goes a long way for healthy eating too. Enjoy your faves For most of us, the holidays are a time for connection, tradition, and celebration. Sometimes it is also a time of missing loved ones and feeling overwhelmed. It can be way more enjoyable to be nice to yourself and allow yourself to enjoy food instead of stressing over what and how much you’re eating. What do you want to remember when you look back? What memories are you making with the people you are with? When we’re extra tired, busy, or hungover, the last thing we need is more self-criticism and negative self talk. Remember the big picture this holiday season, and be nice to yourself, because that’s healthy too. If you struggle with the holidays, what’s one thing you can learn and practice this year? And don’t forget the big picture: learning an overall healthy eating pattern makes a bigger difference than a few holiday meals. Be flexible, and don’t let one day derail all your efforts so you can end the year on a high note instead of ruining it with food guilt. And don’t forget to recognize all your other forms of progress and celebrate yourself too to set yourself up for another happy, healthy year.
Chella Po, MS, RD is a New York City-trained US registered dietitian who can be found on Instagram as @betterbeing.ph. She uses science to back up her professional advice for clients seeking to create a sustainable, healthy diet without counting calories, restrictive plans, or stress! Contact her for a free discovery call today. Banner photo by Nicole Michalou on Pexels