Five Ways to Stay Healthy During the Holidays: How to Indulge without the Guilt (or Weight Gain)

The holiday season is a time to indulge. It’s filled with family, friends, and food, and that’s not a bad thing. The struggle with the holidays is the ever-present abundance of rich, comfort foods –  from the turkey and stuffing to the pies and cookies, these foods surround us during the last few months of the year and it’s hard not to overeat…which can lead to feelings of guilt and weight gain. The guilt is what really hits you in the gut. I’m a big proponent of not feeling guilty for your food choices. That added stress doesn’t benefit you, mentally or physically! Food should make you feel good, not bad.

In an effort to counter the negative effects of over-indulging during the holidays, here are five steps that will help you partake in your favorite holiday foods without feeling guilty about it, and maintain, not gain, weight during the holidays.

  1. Fill your plate with real foods, mostly plants. I’m a huge proponent of the mantra coined by writer Michael Pollan: “Eat real food, mostly plants.” It’s a good rule to live by in general and a great strategy to employ during the holidays. Loading up on vegetables at a potluck or eating a salad before the rest of your meal is a great way to get nutrients and fiber to fill you up so you’re less likely to overeat the heavy, calorie-rich foods. And in general, if you fill your plate with real, whole foods like vegetables, fruits, good quality meats/fish, eggs, and legumes, you’ll eat less and get better nutrients than when you snack on highly sugared/salted processed food like chips, cookies and fried dough.
  2. Keep healthy snacks in your workspace. We all know the scenario: your co-worker makes a bunch of cookies and doesn’t want them at home, so she brings them into the office. That’s what I do! The problem is that you’re constantly surrounded by tempting, usually sugar-filled, treats. To avoid eating a tray of cookies or brownies, make sure to keep healthy sweet snacks in your workspace as an alternative. Keep fruit, dark chocolate or granola handy so if you’re craving something, you can have a little bit of a sweet treat, but not an entire monster cookie. And if you can’t resist the temptation, try to avoid the kitchen or breakroom when these treats are present. Proximity makes a big difference: if it’s out of site, it’s (more easily) out of mind. Another good alternative is to take a walk after lunch instead of lingering near the treats.
  3. Keep alcohol consumption in check. Alcohol and inhibitions have an inverse relationship: the more you drink, the less inhibitions you have. Meaning, you’re likely to make poor food choices when you drink. My advice is not to drink on an empty stomach since you’re likely to make better food choices without the influence of alcohol. Or just stick to one drink before eating. And try to drink alcohol with food – the booze will enter your bloodstream more slowly and have a lesser effect on decision making. Another good practice (to prevent overconsumption and an ensuing hangover) is to consume a glass of water after every glass of alcohol.
  4. Act like the French and savor it. This may sound silly, but I think the French do it right when it comes to eating rich, indulgent food. They do it regularly, but in moderation (i.e. small portions) and they savor it. It takes 20+ minutes for your brain to get the signal that you’re full, so by eating slowly and mindfully, you enjoy the flavors and are more likely to not overeat. The French don’t deprive themselves of butter, good bread, or chocolate; they merely eat a little of it, savor it, and enjoy the sensation. And they don’t feel guilty about it. The guilt associated with eating these foods will only add to your stress, which can contribute to weight gain. So eat mindfully, savor every bite, and let go of the guilt.
  5. Get physical. Staying active during the holidays is a great way to balance overeating. Whether it’s taking a walk after dinner or squeezing in a workout before heading to the office, that calorie burn will help make up for those extra helpings. Even if you only have 20 minutes, that’s enough time to increase your heart rate and boost your metabolism. Any time of day you can fit it in is fine – a lunch time walk is a great way to avoid treats at the office (as mentioned above) – but working out on an empty stomach, like in the morning, has been shown to have a greater effect on weight loss. It doesn’t matter when or how you do it though, just fit it in somehow.

If you follow this advice, but still end up gaining some pounds, don’t fret! January is a time for resetting and refocusing anyway. Talk to me about healthy ways to lose weight and get back to your comfort zone. Happy eating!