7 Tips for Healthier Eating During the Holidays

A study in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that the weight you gain in the next three months can take over five months to lose. Holidays can be full of high-calorie food and drinks, more gatherings, added stress, and less sleep which all contribute to weight change and overall health. You can plan ahead and modify what you do during the holiday months. Here are some tips to survive (and thrive) during the holidays:

Choose wisely. Choosing not just the types of foods/drinks in which you decide to partake, but also the quantity and frequency of them is important.

This is not a time to deprive yourself of food that you really like but a time to be more mindful of which ones you prefer and how much you eat. For example, if there is a table full of desserts, you can scan all of them and then pick your 2 favorite ones. Then, you can eat them using portion control, like cutting a dessert in half or sharing it. This also includes high calorie drinks, like alcohol and eggnog. Use a smaller plate to put your food on in order to eat less, and step away from the buffet table once you’ve filled your plate. Eating slowly (which leads to eating less) also helps with eating less since it takes about 20 minutes for your stomach to feel full.

Plan ahead. If you know there is going to be a lot of food and drinks at a gathering, plan ahead by eating a filling, low-calorie food like fruit or salad, or drinking a full glass of water prior to the event.

You can bring something healthy to the event to share and eat yourself so you don’t have to rely on other foods that are less healthy. Eating a healthy meal before even going to the event, and drinking a full glass of water can help you eat less of the unhealthier foods and drinks at the gathering. Plan to converse with others (away from the food table) to distract yourself from eating more than you’d like.

Share. If you want to continue family traditions and bake several pies or dozens of cookies, you may want to consider sharing the desserts with community services like hospital staff, police officers, or firefighters who are working during the holidays. This way, others will feel remembered and you will not have high calorie foods in the house for weeks. You can also modify the ingredients by choosing lower calorie alternatives.

Manage your stress. Stress plays an important role in weight and overall health. Holidays are meant to be joyous and rejuvenating. You can manage stress by choosing a few of the gatherings you’d like to attend, and not feeling obligated to attend every event, which can be time-consuming and stressful, and possibly un-enjoyable. Chronic stress leads to the stress hormone cortisol being activated frequently. Cortisol holds on to body fat and stores it close to major organs, which increases health risks.

Move. Making time for regular exercise is an important part of managing sleep, stress and weight. Not only is it a good stress reliever, but exercise also burns calories, prevents disease, and can help with maintaining a healthy weight during the holidays. Research shows that exercise also contributes to better quality sleep. According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ASCM), even 10-minute bouts of exercise is effective for enhanced health. Start off with 10-15 minute increments of exercise at least 3 times a week, and you can gradually add duration and frequency to your exercise routine.

Sleep well. Getting quality sleep is essential for managing stress and weight. When we are tired, we tend to crave high fat, high carbohydrate (comfort) foods which can lead to weight gain. During sleep, your hunger hormones (ghrelin and leptin) are regulated. Lack of sleep dis-regulates these hormones and can cause increased hunger and appetite, also leading to weight gain. Feeling rested leads to better time management, mental clarity, and energy, making for a much smoother and enjoyable day.

Change the way you think about food. Think about why we are celebrating the holidays. Is it to spend time reconnecting with loved ones, creating memories and enjoying ourselves, or is it about overindulging in food and drinks? We don’t have to make the food a priority, instead we can see food as a way to nourish our bodies and make us feel healthier.