Healthy holiday eating tips: How to avoid the January lifestyle setback

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If you are working on building a healthier lifestyle, the holiday season can feel overwhelming and tough.

Just as you are building your confidence with your new habits – drinking less alcohol, adding more color to your plate, planning your snacks to manage your appetite, moving more – you come up against seasonal situations for which you do not have enough practice with your new behaviours…several Christmas parties, platters of Christmas baking, drink after drink of Christmas cocktails…

Healthy holiday eating is not about being on or off a diet, being on or off track.  It is about designing a lifestyle of balanced, soulful eating, including physical movement, and self-care for your mind, body and soul. It is about building your own personalized lifestyle that you can sustain and enjoy, even through seasonal holidays. And yes, this can include your favourite holiday baking.

So how can you have your cake and eat it too, while also staying focused on building healthier habits? Read on for tips to avoid the January lifestyle setback.

 

18 Tips to avoid the January lifestyle setback

Tip #1: Decide on your holiday intention for this season.

What will be your holiday lifestyle non-negotiables? What will be your minimum self-care this holiday season?

For me, my holiday lifestyle non-negotiables include purposeful exercise and movement. I will hit a few fitness classes at my community gym. I do this because I enjoy how I feel and how it helps to keep my muscles toned and strong. I also enjoy seeing my “gym buddies”. I will go out for at least one snowshoe and go for walks outside. The benefits I feel from these outdoor activities extend WAY beyond weight management. These activities give me fresh air, a way to connect with nature, and a tech-free way to connect with my family.

Tip #2: Focus on keeping your weight mostly stable during the holiday season (rather than weight loss).  Keep things realistic for yourself.

Tip #3: Don’t bank your calories. Continue to eat 3 regular meals and planned snacks (not grazing). When people skip meals as a strategy to manage their calories before a big Christmas party, they set themselves up to overeat, partially because they get overly-hungry. Our body’s physiological drive to eat will always win…always.

Tip #4: Don’t go to parties hungry. Plan a snack to help manage your appetite. Enjoy a cup of soup, some veggies and dip, or fruit and yogurt before your party.

Tip #5: Take advantage of mealtime helpers Stop by your local grocery store and pick up some mealtime helpers…pre-chopped veggies, a veggie platter, eggs, a salad kit, Greek yogurt, frozen fruit, frozen fish, a bag of frozen meatballs + pasta sauce, a deli chicken…with some planful shopping (either in-store or online), you can put together a balanced meal in minutes.

Tip #6: Spot your loopholes. Gretchen Rubin, author of Better than Before, describes loopholes as those justifications we use to justify breaking a good habit. She describes the “tomorrow loophole” – it doesn’t matter what I eat today because I will eat great tomorrow. Or the “one-coin loophole” – what difference will one cooking make? Or the “lack of control loophole” – someone brought in baking to the meeting. All of these loopholes serve to weaken your healthy habits.

Tip #7: Set up the visual cues in your environment to support you. Have a bowl of festive oranges or grapes out on the table, or a veggie platter on the middle shelf in your fridge. Whatever you want to eat more of, set yourself up to see those foods more often in your environment.

Tip #8: Adjust your proximity to food. The closer you stand to the food table, the more you will eat. Stand a little farther away so that your focus is on more than just the food.

Tip #9: Limit the variety of foods and baking that you are exposed to. My Christmas memories includes lots of “special foods” – chips, pic-a-pop, my mom’s amazing baking (cookies and squares), hard candies, Christmas jellies, Polish garlic sausage. We also had large family get togethers with my aunts, uncles and cousins. Now, I live away from some of my family and we don’t have large family get togethers.  As a result, I need to be picky about which of these foods I bring into my house. If I bring them all in, and I don’t have much company to help me eat this up, I know I will overeat these foods, and I will not feel good.

Tip #10: Limit alcohol and be mindful about other special holiday drinks. Choose your holiday beverages wisely. It is not just the energy in alcohol – it is all that comes along with drinking. When you drink alcohol, what kind of foods do you tend to reach for? I doubt it is veggies and dip! Most people’s inhibitions get lowered and they don’t eat the way they had planned or hoped for. Aim for more lower calories drinks and moderate how many holiday drinks you have.

Tip #11: Make your plate colorful! Put your colorful veggies first on your plate. Then protein then starch. Think bright pomegranates, fresh leafy greens, fresh mint, lemon!

Tip #12: Keep your hands busy at parties. This tip comes from dietitian and weight management expert Helene Charlebois. Find something to hold at a party to keep your hands busy. Try holding a drink, a napkin, a straw or some other object to keep your hands busy.

Tip #13: Say NO to foods that you don’t really love and yes to those you do. In a season of plenty, decide what seasonal foods you want to have around. Even though it is a family tradition to have this fruit cake around, I don’t enjoy it. Say no to the foods that you don’t really love, and yes to those you do. Leave the foods you can have any time of the year.

Tip #14: Try the “plate on plate” method as a way to manage your portion sizes. This tip also comes from dietitian and weight management expert Helene Charlebois. She recommends that protein and starch go on a small plate, and that we use a large plate for veggies. Decide what you will put on your plate, eat and enjoy!

Tip #15: Be active every day. Throw away your all-or-nothing thinking (for example, if I cannot do a 60 minute workout, I may as well not do anything), and build in what you can.

  • Go walk the +15’s at lunch.
  • Do a lap around your office.  I recently had a client share with me that she walks a few flights of stairs at work as one way to build in movement to an otherwise sedentary day. She said she feels more energized. She even noticed that her appetite felt more manageable. Just like you brush your teeth each day, find a way to build in some movement. You know you will feel better.

Tip #16: When one tire is flat, don’t go and slash all your other tires. If you believe that because you have overeaten, you may as well eat the rest of the tray of holiday baking, you are “slashing your tires”. Just because you have one flat tire, doesn’t mean that you should go slash all your tires. This kind of thinking pattern is not helpful or in service to you or your goals.

Tip #17: Damage control –After a day of over-eating, make sure to add in fiber-rich and protein-rich foods to help increase your satiety the next day. And add in some movement to your day. You’ll feel better.

Tip #18: Manage your expectations and respond with kindness. Building healthier habits requires time and effort. You can’t boil the ocean. Just like there are blips in home renovation, there are lifestyle “blips” when you are renovating your lifestyle. Respond to these more challenging days with self-kindness and reflect on what you learned:

  • When was it easier for you to incorporate your new behaviours?
  • What worked better?
  • What barriers to your lifestyle popped up that you hadn’t thought about?
  • What situations are more challenging for you?

Reflecting on your day is part of your learning journey.

The Christmas season comes but once a year. Know that your investment in your lifestyle, even over the holidays, will pay off in dividends.

What tips do you have? Leave a comment about your healthy holiday living tips.

Kristyn Hall
Kristyn Hall
Kristyn Hall MSc, RD, Food, Nutrition & Culinary Coach, Registered Nutritionist and Calgary Dietitian, Calgary, AB.

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