Despite my disdain for cold weather, the holidays are one of my favourite times of the year… That being said, it can be one of the most stressful times of the year if you’re trying to get into shape, or even just maintain a healthy lifestyle. Temptation is all around in the form of pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes and reduced gym hours. For many people, while they go into the holiday season with good intentions to be healthy, after a few small indulgences they reach the point of no return where they give up on their healthy aspirations for the year and decide to start fresh in January instead.
This “Holiday Downward Spiral”, as I like to call it, is usually caused by an all-or-nothing attitude- You think that you need to be 100% healthy, and as soon as you make one slip up you feel like a failure and conclude there’s no point in trying anymore. That, in combination with feeling like our dietary decisions are out of our control (especially true if you are visiting family), makes this time of year one of the hardest to navigate.
Here are 6 strategies to successfully navigate the holidays without throwing your health goals out the window:
1. Ditch the All-or-Nothing mindset
This one is probably the most important. Rather than going into the holiday season expecting yourself to be perfect, strive to reach a balance between choosing healthier options and allowing yourself a little bit of indulgence. Plan ahead and decide which treats are worth indulging in, and which you tend to just eat because they’re there. By setting your mindset up to expect some imperfection you’re much more likely to continue making balanced healthy choices on a daily-basis rather than falling down the Holiday Downward Spiral.
2. Let your loved ones know
This one might not work for everyone (depending on your family dynamics), but if you are trying to be healthy, lose weight, if you have special dietary restrictions, let people know beforehand, and let them know why it’s important to you that you stay on track. By letting people know ahead of time, they may be more supportive or accommodating towards your specific restrictions.
3. Contribute to the meal
If you are visiting family or friends, contribute to the meal by bringing a healthier version of a classic. You don’t even need to let people know that it’s “healthier” if you feel like it might be received with some judgement, and given that there are so many delicious (and free) healthy recipes out there, they probably won’t know the difference 😉 Some of my favourite resources are Nom Nom Paleo, Stupid Easy Paleo, and Oh She Glows.
4. Eat mindfully
While the holidays are about coming together with your loved ones, In Western culture this is often done around food. Take time to enjoy the company around you, and enjoy the food you’re eating. One of the most effective ways you can do this is by eating slowly, chewing your food thoroughly, noticing the different tastes, textures, smells, and taking time to participate in conversation rather than scarfing your meal back. It takes the brain about 20 minutes after we start eating to register that we are full (therefore when we eat faster than this we usually end up overeating), so try to slow down your meal and listen to your body’s natural hunger cues.
5. Take smaller portions
Most people tend to pile their plate high and scarf it down without paying attention to your body’s natural hunger signals. However, if you are eating slowly and mindfully, you will probably find yourself being satisfied with this smaller portion, without being over-stuffed (and in turn, lethargic, and bloated). Aim to take about 25% less food than you normally would, and don’t go for seconds until after at least 20 minutes when you can make a proper informed decision whether or not your body still needs more food. This strategy is one of my favourites because it allows you to still eat foods than you might consider an indulgence, without overdoing it…#balance.
6. Aim for a balanced plate
This is a perfect way to balance making healthier choices, while still allowing room for indulgence. Try to fill ½ of your plate with vegetables, ¼ with protein (meat or vegan option), and the last ¼ is free to have whatever you want.
Yes, the holidays may be stressful, but by going into it with a balanced mindset, and implementing the above strategies, you’ll be able to stay on track with your health goals while still enjoying yourself along the way.