Food is a huge part of the holiday season. But those who are mindful of health or weight management might worry about those salt- or sugar-laden foods that are less than nutritious. If you want to enjoy the special treats available this time of year without overdoing it, how can you find a good balance?
To help you answer that question, below are five good tips to take with you into the holidays. Use these to strike a healthy balance in your eating without stressing about it too much.
#1 Eat a Good Meal First
At many holiday get-togethers, the salty and sugary festive goodies are brought out long before the main meal. There are two problems this can cause:
- Holiday desserts contain a lot of sugar and very little nutritive value, which can cause a large spike in blood sugar followed by a crash soon after. It’s even worse if you’ve hardly eaten anything else in the day before these indulgences. Not only is this hard on the body, it can also cause crazy mood swings, irritability and more cravings throughout the day that disrupt your enjoyment of the festivities.
- If you’re already hungry and ready for a meal, you might end up eating these foods to fill that hunger. This can make you feel full yet never truly satisfied because they don’t provide the nutrition of a real meal.
If you can, try to wait until you have a good meal in your belly before enjoying sweets — or at least have a more substantial snack first like cheese and crackers or nuts. You’ll feel better and enjoy the festivities more.
#2 Eat Nutritious Sweets First
Most hosts will have some sort of fruit or veggie tray available. (If you’re the host, include one!) Indulge your sweet tooth with nature’s candy first. Snack on some fruit or sweet vegetables like carrots to give your body fiber and vitamins and minerals. Then, enjoy some desserts if you still want them.
#3 Make Your Own Upgraded Dessert
There are lots of ways to make traditional holiday desserts healthier. You can try:
- Reducing the total amount of sugar by 25% or subbing part of it for a healthier option like stevia.
- Using healthier flours like whole wheat pastry flour.
- Using unsweetened applesauce puree instead of butter or oil to reduce total calories.
It’s best to do a trial run of these variations first to make sure the recipe still turns out okay. Or avoid the extra work and just type the name of your favorite dessert into a search engine with the word “healthy” in front of it.
You’ll likely find many healthier versions of your dessert. Some even include nutrition from whole foods, like this healthy cookie dough dip that uses chickpeas but still tastes like the original!
#4 Enjoy Sweets, But Do So Mindfully
Don’t let holiday food be a source of stress. It’s okay to enjoy everything that comes with the season, including the sweets. But what we challenge you to do is this: eat them mindfully.
- Give yourself time to breathe and set the intention to fully enjoy the dessert you have.
- Slow down and notice its texture, taste and how it feels when you chew it.
- Check in with yourself every few bites to see if you still want more.
- Let yourself enjoy the flavor and only eat what’s satisfying. Don’t give into pressure to eat foods you don’t want.
So often, we end up eating sweets or other “off limits” foods because we feel guilty if we don’t taste Aunt Tillie’s chocoholic coma truffles. Let go of the guilt and replace it with mindfulness and awareness. Notice how you feel when you have the food and recognize when your body might need something more substantial.
This will help you maintain a state of balance in your holiday eating, rather than stressing about it.
#5 Take Care of Yourself
Try to get enough sleep, stay active and give yourself time to sit and breathe for a few minutes each day. These might seem unrelated to eating, but self-care has a big impact on how we approach food.
We’re much more likely to reach for refined sweets and salty snacks when sleep-deprived or stressed, so caring for physical and mental health during the holidays can help you naturally regulate your food choices.
The Bottom Line
Overall, keep your mind mostly on what matters to you about this season. Enjoy the time with those you love and know that the better the balance of what you put in your body, the better you’ll feel … and the more you’ll enjoy being present with all the merriment of this time. Happy Holidays!