Enjoy Food This Holiday Season without Guilt, Shame or Gaining Weight

Written by: Sarah Kolman RN, MA, CHPN, INHC

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Ah, the holidays—‘tis the season for family gatherings, work parties, and get-togethers with friends. While it can be a festive and fun time, it also brings many opportunities to fall out of step with a whole foods, plant-based diet. Whether it’s eggnog or gingerbread, the temptations of the season can be endless. And even though we convince ourselves that “it’s only once a year,” the season can last as long as six weeks! I know I’m not alone when I say that more than once I’ve rolled into January feeling cranky, stressed out, and frustrated with my eating habits of November and December.

This year, I’m trying to do things a little differently. Here are some tips I’m going to follow so that I enjoy the holidays to their fullest without overindulging.

Eat three good meals a day. Make sure that each meal includes complex carbohydrates, healthy fat, and protein—this will help keep your blood sugar stable throughout the day and prevent the cravings that cause you to reach for sugary holiday treats. Avoid meals that are starchy, as they cause blood sugar crashes and promote cravings. Try to avoid simple carbs (like cereal or toast for breakfast) as they don’t make you feel full for long.

Plan ahead for parties. If you know you’re attending a holiday celebration in the evening, plan ahead by eating a healthy snack or meal before you go. If you eat when you get there, fill your plate with fruits, vegetables, and other whole foods before reaching for treats. This way, you can enjoy your favorite holiday dessert, rather than parking it by the tray for the whole evening and feeling like crap later.

Keep healthy snacks on hand. If you work in an office environment, then you know that treats have a way of just showing up at this time of year. A chocolate here, a handful of caramel popcorn there...it all adds up. Try keeping healthy snacks in your desk or purse for those moments. Also, proactively keep your blood sugars stable throughout the day so you don’t battle cravings. When blood sugars are stable we have greater choice in the foods we consume because our cravings aren’t calling the shots. When we choose treats wisely we set ourselves up to actually enjoy them without the guilt and shame that comes with making out of control decisions.

Beware of beverages... Holiday drinks are my personal kryptonite—they’re so delicious! Whether it’s the seasonal festive latte at my favorite coffee shop, hot chocolate with my kids, or mulled cider at a party, sharing a beverage is one of the most common ways to celebrate the season. And while they’re certainly tasty, they’re also often packed with empty calories and lead me to a sugar crash before too long. Choose drinks that are low in sugar when possible—I use stevia to make homemade hot chocolate as well as sweeten up cocktails in lieu of soda or simple syrup.

...and stay well-hydrated. We often confuse dehydration with hunger and tend to overeat when we haven’t filled our tank with enough fluid. Keeping hydrated throughout the day can help us make better decisions about unhealthy food and drinks. I notice that I often have cravings around 3-5 p.m. and this is usually a sign to me that I haven’t been drinking enough water all day. If I have a couple of glasses of water, I often ditch the craving.

Assess your social anxiety. I don’t know about you, but when I feel anxious in a social situation with family or friends, it often seems easiest to cozy up to the snack table or the (spiked!) punch bowl. I distract myself with treats or drinks and then I just feel crummy at the end of the night. I’m working on getting better about really listening to my body and sensing if I’m truly hungry or if I’m looking to comfort social anxiety. Our bodies have an amazing way of communicating their needs with us—like sending full or hunger signals based on the need for fuel. We get to slow down enough to LISTEN and to have the courage to ride the waves of fear, awkwardness, anxiety, worry, insecurity, etc that commonly arise during social events.

Keep (some of) your routine. Holiday travel can make it difficult, but if I can stay consistent with exercise, I find that I’m less prone to indulge when I don’t need to. The endorphins from exercise are also great for combatting the seasonal depression and social anxiety that many folks face this time of year. My kids—and my husband and I—are also happier when we get plenty of sleep, so we do our best amid the hectic holiday schedule to prioritize reasonable bedtimes. Keeping some semblance of our regular routine helps us all enjoy the special aspects of the season even more.

By keeping these tips in mind, I feel like I’m going into the holidays ready to focus on what I love most about the season: sharing love with family and friends, and gratitude for all the blessings in life.

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Sarah Kolman RN, MA, CHPN, INHC is an AIP Certified Coach, Registered Nurse, Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, and Contemplative Psychotherapist. Sarah’s unique one-on-one health coaching practice blends her nursing and psychotherapy experience with holistic and nutrition-based health concepts. A passionate student in the field of psychoneuroimmunology, she helps her clients heal by focusing on the brain-body connection and its profound impact on wellness. With Sarah’s support and guidance, clients learn to manage stubborn symptoms that have persisted through countless traditional treatments. Learn more about Sarah’s coaching services by visiting her website, www.this-one-life.com. Her book Full Plate: Nourishing Your Family’s Whole Health in a Busy World is available on Amazon. You can follow Sarah on Facebook.