We’re entering that time of year again where everywhere we turn is another pumpkin’d out treat, adorably shaped sugar cookie, sweetened up sweet potato, and gluten free, sugar free, flour free, nut free, vegan, paleo, or just plain “healthy” chocolate maple pecan pie. With all these options of tastiness on overload, what’s a health conscious gal to do?! You want to enjoy holiday traditions, but don’t want those pesky 10 lbs to decide your New Years resolution for you.
Here are some of the common conventional (and most ridiculous) tips that we hear year after year:
1. Skip the eggnog. Or, if you really have to have it, make it with skim milk, egg substitute, and increase the alcohol amount since you shaved away the calories.
2. Exercise like crazy before the function so that you “earned” more calories.
3. Plan ahead for the party buffets and know what you’re going to choose before you go.
4. If you like to drink alcoholic beverages…you better not! Alcohol can lessen inhibitions. (“More pie? SURE!”)
5. Bring your own healthy food to a party. You can’t trust your friends, they’re trying to make you fat! (OK, I didn’t see that last part written anywhere.)
6. Use low-sodium, fat free chicken broth in your mashed potatoes instead of real butter.
7. Before you go to the party, make sure to have a small meal of whole grains, low fat dairy, fruit, or protein from peanut butter, so you can treat yourself guilt free later.
8. Eat lightly the week before a big party/event so you can budget for eating whatever you want at the party.
9. Don’t linger or hang around the food while you visit, as this usually leads to unnecessary snacking.
10. Follow the 3 Bite Rule- only have 3 bites of each thing unless you really love it.
11. Plop a slice of gum in your mouth after your meal so you won’t be tempted by the dessert table.
12. Exercise wherever and whenever you can. For example, see how many squats you can do while in line to pay at Nordstrom.
13. Don’t forget to chew at least 50 times per bite to slow down your eating.
14. Focus on munching away on plain raw vegetables for appetizers instead of the fancy, rich hors d’oeuvres.
15. Don’t get distracted by the food. Instead, focus on your beautiful friends and family.
Maybe some of those don’t seem that ridiculous to you. Exercise, make good food choices, don’t overeat. Seems reasonable. But here’s the thing. The holidays are, and always have been, surrounded by amazing food. Through cooking traditional festive foods, we can honor our heritage and nourish our family and ourselves. Food is never the after thought of a holiday function, nor should it ever be. I think celebrating of any sort with loved ones demands special meals. And while this doesn’t mean we should gorge ourselves on food that has been morphed from the original healthful real foods into junk foods, I do think we should give ourselves a chance to fully take part in enjoying every bit of holiday meals that we find to be nourishing and delicious. (This chick definitely has a few things right!)
To me, holidays are not an excuse to use a “free pass” into eating whatever or however much you’d like. I think it’s important for everyone to remember and respect their dietary choices even during the holidays. Isn’t it important to feel great during this busy, festive time of the year? For how long will that “normal” treat make you feel good? There are some things that I will never budge on because it’s just not a choice to me. Some things affect my health too much to be lenient on. But there are some things that I am flexible on because the pleasure I get from occasionally enjoying it outweighs the possible small consequences I might get from it.
So here’s my take on those tips:
1. If you’re going to have eggnog, drink real eggnog. Real milk and real eggs. You’re not doing your body a service by giving it fake, adulterated versions to skimp on a few calories. And if you’re going to have eggnog, don’t feel guilty. Enjoy it, or what’s the point?
2. If you have time, getting some exercise in before an event can be a really good idea for many different reasons, but this has nothing to do with earning calories. I hate everything about the earning mentality when it comes to food. Food is for nourishment and pleasure, and we always deserve that.
3. Don’t be that friend who calls the host right before the party to know exactly what will be served so they can make eating decisions beforehand. It’s stressful both for the host and for yourself. (Unless you have an extremely restrictive diet, in which case it’s nice to know that there’s at least one main dish that you can eat. And if this is the case, perhaps offering to provide other dishes that are safe for you to eat is a good idea.)
4. Of course alcohol lessens inhibitions, and this can really make sticking to a certain diet more difficult for those who are already having a hard time with it. And while I’m not going to enforce drinking, I’m not going to be the alcohol police, either. Depending on your situation, a couple drinks here and there isn’t going to be the end of the world. I usually choose that I feel better and have a better time both during and after the event if I don’t partake in drinking, but this isn’t always the case.
5. Offering to bring food that you feel good about eating is a great idea, especially if you’re worried that there wont’ be many options available to you. However, make sure to check with the host so that they’re not offended by your choice not to eat their food. Ask if there’s a type of dish in particular that would be helpful on their end, and let them know that there will be enough to share.
6. Always use real butter. Always. End of story.
7. There’s no need to snack before a party. Show up hungry and ready to enjoy the beautiful food. Or, if you need to snack for blood sugar issues, have a small amount of protein or fat from meat, nuts, or full fat dairy, and make sure to save room for the upcoming meal.
8. Again with the saving or budgeting of calories. Eat your normal diet the week beforehand. Don’t confuse your body or throw it into starvation mode just so you can feel “guilt free” after eating another slice of pumpkin pie.
9. If there are good choices at the appetizer table, enjoy them! Linger! Enjoy it all! Just save some room for dinner.
10. Restricting the number of bites of food seems like asking for obsessive eating methods if you ask me, and that’s no fun. This is not a healthy way to choose how much food to eat. Try listening to your body when it comes to what foods are right for you as well as how much, and give yourself a little freedom when you see fit.
11. Ahh, the dessert table. There’s no sin in partaking in a good quality dessert every now and then. I personally choose to never have refined sugar, so if there’s a dessert made from real ingredients and natural sweeteners, I will definitely enjoy it. I particularly love a good combination of dates, cocoa nibs, and ground nuts. Unless I’m on a sugar detox
12. Don’t do squats in line at Nordstrom. You will look very, very silly. If you think you could use more exercise, go for a jog or a long walk. But around the holidays, it’s likely you could use a nap instead.
13. If you tend to eat too fast, especially in social situations, practice setting down your fork in between bites. There’s no need to obsessively count bites. Anyway, it seems hard to have a conversation while counting.
14. If you can have the fancy, rich hors d’oeuvres, by all means. Pick one or two and enjoy. (I especially condone bacon wrapped dates.)
15. Lastly, yes- enjoy your friends and family. But never, ever, leave a party without fully enjoying and appreciating the beautiful food made for you as well. Food is, after all, both for nourishment and pleasure. Happy Holidays!