General health

A Dietitian's Guide to the Holidays


‘Tis the season to be jolly! What a magical time of year this is. Filled with festive spirit, endless holiday parties and an abundance of yummy food and drink, what’s there not to like?

Indulgence is okay. We all deserve a treat from time to time, and the Holidays provide the perfect opportunity to do just that. So enjoy yourself!

However, indulging for days on end can take a serious toll on both your physical and mental health. Dietitians love using the term 'eat in moderation’. Eating in moderation means eating healthy, nutritious foods most of the time, allowing us to indulge in pleasurable food on special occasions without any feelings of guilt.

But eating in moderation is especially challenging in the holiday season. With celebrations aplenty, unhealthy distractions are everywhere, and resisting them is even more challenging. This guide suggests seven healthy habits to develop that help combat temptation in the festive season and beyond.

How do I navigate my way through this food and booze-fuelled season?

1. Keep your goals in mind

If you've been working hard all year, it can be very tempting to let it go around the holidays, feeling like you've "earned a break”. This mindset can be very damaging and make you feel worse in the long run. Keep your nutrition and health goals in check, and don't allow the season to get the better of you. You are worth it, and your body deserves the same nourishment you've been giving it all year.

2. Utilise mindful eating

Mindful eating helps establish a mind-body connection that tells us when we’re hungry and when we’re full. It also allows us to make healthier food choices by helping us understand why we're eating, whether to satisfy desires such as hunger or the occasional indulgence. Maintaining that connection during the holiday season is critical in avoiding the unhealthy distractions seasonal events can bring about. The below tips will help you master mindful eating over the holiday season.

3. Avoid being hungry

Start your day with a healthy breakfast; it is the most important meal of the day after all. A great choice would be a bowl of porridge oats or any wholegrain breakfast cereal topped with ‘live’ yoghurt (such as Greek yoghurt) or milk, chopped fruit and a sprinkling of unsalted mixed nuts and seeds. If you can’t face food first thing in the morning, then turn it into a smoothie.

Plan ahead and avoid leaving home on an empty stomach. Before heading out to parties, make yourself a quick, nutritious snack. Turning up to a party hungry means you’re more likely to overindulge in unhealthy, high-calorie party foods. Eating a sensible snack will ensure you can indulge in a treat while knowing you're dancing is fuelled by wholesome, nutritious foods.

4. Pace your alcohol

Being mindful about what and how much you drink will help with those dreaded hangover blues. Not only does too much alcohol make you feel awful the next day, but it is also loaded with empty calories. To pace yourself when the booze is flowing, I have some suggestions:

5. Fill up on vegetables and protein
Aim to cover at least a third of your plate with a variety of vegetables. Uncooked or steamed vegetables are best but do the best with the options you're presented with. At parties and gatherings, this could be done by heading to the crudites and loading up. Or start your plate with brussels sprouts, carrots, and parsnips.

The favourite protein of the season, turkey, is a great choice as it's low in fat and high in protein. Remove the skin to reduce the fat even more. A side of salmon or any fish is an excellent alternative to meat.

6. Practice portion control

The temptation to pile your plate high might be strong but try using a smaller plate or only filling up half your plate at first. This will help with mindful eating and allow you to assess if you're full before going back for more.

And if you do want seconds? Try waiting at least 20 minutes before going back for seconds to give the brain time to register that your stomach is full.

Choose fruit-based puddings if possible; otherwise, opt for a smaller serving size for the more decadent puds.

7. Make water your best friend

Make sure you drink plenty of water; make it a priority.

A good way of keeping yourself hydrated is to drink 1 glass of water for every glass of alcohol. The benefits are enormous. Not only does water keep you hydrated, but it also dampens those hangovers, prevents you from overeating and contains zero calories per serving; you can’t go wrong.

Wishing you all a happy and healthy Holiday Season!

Caroline Gillies, Registered Dietitian

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