The holiday season is upon us, with all the joy, merriment, gatherings, and well, lots of other stuff that comes with it. I imagine that there are people who remain stress free in the face of all of the everything, but I will readily confess that I am not one of them. While I love seeing the people I care about, I am not really one for crowds, big gatherings. It’s fun to be with everyone, in the same place, but after a few hours my little introverted soul comes a little unglued.
In the past, one of my strategies for managing my little introverted soul in the face of big bruhahas, or bruHoHoHos in this case, was to slip away from the larger group for a few minutes into a quieter space and take a few really deep breaths; sounds pretty zen, right? What I didn’t mention is that those few deep breaths are typically between ginormous scoops from whatever nibble tray I can find lying about (usually shortly before or after a huge meal that will include a variety of desserts). THIS is not celebratory eating, folks, this is NOT food as nourishment or tradition. THIS is food as a crutch.
I can’t speak for anybody else, but my own personal holiday food crutch has, in years past, rewarded me with fluctuations in body weight, that oogie too full (“why did DO that”) feeling, and general lethargy that extends well into late winter (or until all the cookies are gone). While again, I can’t speak for everybody, I am secure in the notion that I am not the only one who gets a little mixed up about food during the winter holiday cavalcade and so I thought I’d share some suggestions for how to enjoy a healthier holiday season.
1) Remember That Each Meal Is A Decision - One of the things we’ve worked to focus on in our Baby Steps to Better Health series is that each time we eat, every meal, we are making a choice about what we put in our bodies. It is our decision, every single time. This choice can become more complicated during the holidays, particularly if you are traveling and playing guest more often than you are playing host, but the reality is that you are still in charge of what you eat.
When it comes to healthy eating, one Bad Apple Doesn’t Always Spoil the Barrel. So you went to Aunt Carol’s and ate stuff you wouldn’t even have considered putting in your mouth yesterday. So you had 13 cookies. So what. This is not a test of your character. It’s a decision. Come next meal time, make a different decision and you will (and probably your stomach will also) feel better.
2) Get The Good Stuff In – Be sure to give yourself opportunities to eat healthful foods. While you may be indulging in all manner of traditional and favorite foods that aren’t necessarily great for you, this doesn’t mean you can’t make sure you eat some broccoli. If you are staying with family or friends, offer to do some of the cooking so you can ensure that you are able to prepare and share healthful food that will make you feel well. A body that is well-nourished will crave less of the foods that are most likely to trip you up. Some tried and true strategies that fall into the get the good stuff in category:
- Eat before you go - If you aren’t sure what kind of fare will be served at a gathering OR if you know what it will be an it is something you have been trying to cut back on, eat before you go. Our first holiday party of the season was hosted by folks we’ve just started to get to know, rather than asking too many questions about food OR puttting myself in the position of being starving and not feeling great about my options, we chose to eat dinner before we left. The food we ate at the party became a treat – bites of things that looked really great and that we didn’t want to miss.
- Bring something you want to eat - If you feel it would be acceptable to your host, bring some food to contribute to the event. I often grab some dip and veggies (i.e. sunflower cheese, artichoke dip, baba ghanoush, baja hummus) as that way I can be sure there will be lots of veggies and something I REALLY enjoy that is also good for me.
- Load the plate with veggies first - If you are filling your own plate, stack the odds in your favor by helping yourself to the most healthful dishes first – load those veggies on and don’t leave as much room for the things that you can’t resist but probably should.
- Eat ONE – If there’s a food that IS the holidays to you, eat one. Eat some. Have it. Just make sure you don’t ONLY have that if it is something that isn’t particularly healthful.
3) Change Your Focus - While there’s no question that it can be delightful to prepare, serve, share and enjoy holiday foods, there are so many other aspects of these gathering that I know could benefit from my own attention. I’ve tried to choose a few folks that I don’t see as often and really try to spend some quality time talking with them, connecting with them, finding fulfillment in other people instead of craving fulfillment in a second piece of pie. Food is wonderful – you know I love it and I spend SO much time talking about it, but when it comes down to it, I’d rather spend my holiday sitting next to and talking to my sister in person than eating pie, really, I’m serious.