6 Ways to Eat Healthy Over the Holidays

Family with children eating turkey Christmas dinner at fireplace and decorated Xmas tree. Parents, grandparents and kids at festive meal. Winter holidays celebration and food. Kids open presents.

By Dr. Adrienne Youdim

Holidays can often cause us to “fall off the wagon” of healthy eating. But we just need to reframe our mindset around the season. Yes, it is about food and communing around the table but it is also about family, friends, time off and leisure. Placing an emphasis on the totality of the holidays- and not just eating- will take some pressure off potential holiday weight gain. 

We can also reframe our mindset around the food we eat. Is comfort food really providing comfort?  Yes, we get a rise in dopamine and immediately feel good, but then we crash, feel bloated and irritable. You need to think about how the food serves or doesn’t serve you and how it makes you feel not just in the moment but later in terms of energy and mood.  Align it with your wellbeing and you’ll be much more likely to stay on track. A celebration doesn’t have to be synonymous with indulgence. We can be mindful about food choices and eat foods that really increase our enjoyment.

Here are 6 ways to eat healthy over the holidays:

Fill up on protein to curb your hunger hormones.

Studies show that 20-30 grams of protein per meal helps suppress hunger hormones so don’t skimp on protein!

Make half your plate green (nutrient-dense foods).

Not only are veggies low in calories but they are super dense in nutrients. Consider this: one cup of arugula (one of my faves, is only five calories but has nearly 30 vitamins, minerals and antioxidants).

Limit alcohol and drink sparkling water.

Alcohol makes us disinhibited so we eat more. It affects hunger hormones so we eat more. It disrupts our sleep and sleep architecture causing a rise in hunger hormones so we eat more and while sedating in the short term increases stimulatory neurotransmitters making us anxious so we eat more! Manage your alcohol use and consider switching over to a sparkling water after your fist glass.

Drink a hot beverage, like tea, after your meal to mentally cue that you are done.

A nice herbal hot tea not only is soothing and helpful for digestion but also slows you down giving your body time to produce and receive the signals in response to food that shuts off the hunger switch in our brain. It also helps us not overeat. Instead of going for seconds, mark the end of your meal with a hot tea.

Don’t starve yourself before a big meal or go into a big meal hungry.

In the interest of “saving calories,” some may skip meals so they can eat more at the holiday meal. And eat more they will! Often much more than intended. Skipping meals causes dysregulated hunger cues and prevents us from making good choices or even enjoying the meal that we are now scarfing down. If anything, I suggest eating something small before you leave the house if you are already hungry. Then you have the wherewithal to choose what to eat instead of being triggered.

Build resilience so you don’t over-eat: practice self-care, creativity, connect with others, get out in nature, move your body, get enough sleep.

Find out what you are really hungry for. Maybe it is for something soothing other than food. Take care of your mind, body and soul with respite, leisure activity, engaging with friends and family or pets, time in nature, movement and sleep. These things all affect our diet in practical and spiritual ways. By paying attention to your personal needs, you may find that your hunger may be satisfied without food.

Mindless eating not only contributes significantly to calories consumed and weight gain, but here’s the real bummer – we are not even enjoying what we eat. In fact, we are not even registering that we are eating! Slow down to savor your food. Did you know that you have taste buds all over your tongue, soft palate, back of your throat and even in your gut? When you slow down long enough to truly allow your food to mingle with all these taste buds, you can get more out of your meal, to truly savor your meal. 

Think about the last time you watched kids playing, with a set of Legos, for example. They are fully present, fully engaged with those building blocks and what they are creating. And that presence, in a way, slows down time. You lose track of time, because you are truly savoring what you’re doing.

Consider food as a mirror. When we are present and mindful in our eating, we really are able to better savor the experience and our food. Just like when we are mindful and present in our relationships. We do the same. Our relationship with food is really a mirror for our relationship with ourselves and others. Making changes or shifts in the way in which we engage with food and with our hunger can have transformative effects in other aspects of our lives as well. 

Adrienne Youdim, MD, FACP is an internist who specializes in medical weight loss and nutrition. She is author of Hungry for More: Stories and Science to Inspire Weight Loss from the Inside Out.

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1 thought on “6 Ways to Eat Healthy Over the Holidays”

  1. I think your tip “Don’t starve yourself before a big meal or go into a big meal hungry” is key! Too often people reserve or save their calories for a big holiday event or meal, often to overeat and end up feeling poorly after.

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