The holidays are here, and for many of us, this is the time of year where we tend to eat a little bit more unhealthily to reward ourselves after a year of sticking to healthy eating and activity routine. Even though we encourage not depriving yourself of all the delicious foods during this time, we also have a few tips that can help you enjoy this holiday time but in a healthier manner so that you don’t overindulge and undo all of that hard work you’ve put in throughout the year.
Here are the strategic tips that you can utilise during the holidays to balance enjoyment while still working towards your health goals:
1. Try to plan your meals and snacks ahead of time
- Remember it’s easy to snack mindlessly, especially in a busy social situation. So make sure to bring healthy snacks or fruit with you when you leave the house so that you’re not tempted to reach for (often unhealthier) convenience options like crisps or chocolates.
- If you’re attending a dinner party with family or friends, why not cook up some hearty vegetable dishes or your favourite colourful salad to take along with you and share. This ensures that you have at least one healthier dish to include when dishing up. Bringing nutritious food you will enjoy can also motivate you to stick to your eating plan, because if healthy options are there, then you’re more likely to eat them. We recommend that when you plate up, start with what you brought first before you lightly dig into any of the other rich holiday foods and treats on offer. That way you’re not eating from an empty stomach, thus reducing the likelihood of overindulging in unhealthy foods.
2. Stay mindful and present
- Being mindful and present can ensure that you are self-aware so you don’t risk mindlessly overeating or drinking too much alcohol. Pay attention to your body for signals of fullness, hunger, or thirst. This is more important for people who tend to be emotional eaters, as the holidays can be a very emotional time for many people. So make sure you’re eating because you are indeed hungry, rather than as a way to manage your emotional state.
- It’s also important to slow down your pace when eating by chewing slowly and taking a break in between bites. Join in the conversation and set your cutlery down in between bites, to also help slow down the pace at which you eat. According to research, this can give you enough time to experience pleasure and satiety from all those special holiday foods.
- Make sure that you take time to actually enjoy the food you're eating - research suggests that eating too fast is a major reason why people overeat. It can take up to 20 minutes for the signals from your stomach to reach your brain to let it know that you’re full and you need to stop eating (1). And if you are not careful and you’re rushing through your meal then you can cram an awful lot of food into your stomach during that time period.
3. Remember “everything in moderation”
- This means you should make sure you have control over your portion sizes as well. Think twice before going back for seconds on that casserole. We do think it’s important to give yourself guilt-free permission to eat and enjoy eating during the holidays, but everything should be done in moderation. We don’t encourage starving yourself all day in anticipation of eating a huge holiday meal or party food. It’s best to keep to your usual eating routine, even during the holidays.
4. Stay hydrated
- It’s a good idea to drink a glass or a bottle of water before attending a holiday get-together. And then to drink another glass or bottle of water again before eating. Don’t substitute water with high-calorie and sugary drinks like energy drinks. According to some observational studies, people who drink mostly water have roughly a 9% lower calorie intake, which is on average about 200 calories (1, 2).
- It’s also important to drink water in between consuming alcoholic drinks. As easy as it is to want to try all the foods in front of you, it’s equally easy to want to sample different alcoholic beverages: eggnog, punch, wine. Remember, alcohol can sabotage your self-control and trick you into thinking you still have room in your stomach for a few more slices of pie (1). So stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water!
5. Increase your activity levels
- Even though it’s colder now, we recommend increasing your activity levels to burn the extra calories you might be picking up from all the holiday indulgences. You can turn it into a family or friend social occasion. Add some hiking or cycling dates with your loved ones at least once a week to make staying active fun.
Happy Holidays, we hope this helps you navigate the holidays, guilt-free.