3 Tips for Healthy(ish) Holiday Eating

Dinner parties, cookie exchanges, and chocolate gifts oh my!

‘Tis indeed a season full of tempting treats. This means three things for anyone who finds healthy eating to be a challenge at the best of times:

  1. It’s about to get a whole lot harder to stay on your healthy eating plan.
  2. Many of you are going to feel guilt about this, thus initiating a nasty spiral of negativity.
  3. That will be compounded by the “How to Earn your Holiday Treats” exercise memes that will start floating around facebook any day now, which can further accelerate that negative spiral.

How about this year, we choose a better option to enjoy the holidays? With that in mind, here are my 3 tips for enjoying a healthy-ish holiday:

  1. It’s the holiday season. Hopefully you’re going to go to parties and take part in feasts with family and friends. Accept it and plan to enjoy the holiday eating. Celebrations and connection are important. And throughout history, food has been a central part in celebrations. For those of you trying to follow healthy eating plans, adjust your expectation for the month. Instead of aiming for healthy, aim for healthy-ish. Is there cake for dessert? Have some. Are there cookies at your staff meeting? Have one. The world won’t stop orbiting around the sun if you do so, and your pants will probably fit almost as well at the end of it. Switch back to healthy in January, and by the end of January, you will be back where you are today.

    "Planets2013" by WP - Planets2008.jpg. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Planets2013.jpg#/media/File:Planets2013.jpg. Modified by E Vaino to include note about cookies.
    “Planets2013″ by WP – Planets2008.jpg. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons. Modified by E Vaino to include note about cookies.
  2. Seek out and say yes to vegetables every chance you get. This is my best tool for healthy-ish eating, and the best option I can suggest to stay healhty-ish and avoid jumping into the deep end of holiday indulgence. Going to a Christmas party? Seek out soup or salad for lunch that day. Is the dinner party family style (serving dishes on the table and you fill your plate), or buffet style? If so, go a bit heavier on the veggies and a bit lighter on the non-veggie options. Vegetables provide a fantastic one-two punch for healthy eating. They are low in calorie and chock-full of micro-nutrients, and they take up space on your plate that would otherwise be filled with lesser foods.
  3. Judge your indulgences before you enjoy them. My criterion is 8 out of 10 for indulgences. Sometimes it’s 7, if I’m in a “meh, calories-schmalories” mood. If my perceived Deliciousness Factor (DF) for a cookie, cake, pie, beer, or second serving of stuffing isn’t at least a 7 or 8 out of 10, then I pass. Don’t worry if you find yourself scanning and thinking “these are all 6s, but I want a treat!” Trust me when I say that this will either never happen, or if it does, your goal for next year should be to become friends with better cooks.

That’s it. Three simple tips to enjoying the holiday season without stressing about the food. It’s a celebration! Relax and enjoy!

Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., CSCS, is a personal trainer in Ottawa, Canada who apparently doens’t believe in spell check or re-reading blog posts to check for basic typos.

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