The most challenging time of year for those striving for good nutrition habits is upon us. Temptation beckons with holiday parties, family gatherings and the ubiquitous cookie and candy trays seemingly around every corner.
This season of indulgence now stretches from Halloween to the New Year, and, to be sure, there is plenty to celebrate. Food and drink can be a part of that without completely upending healthy routines.
Mindful eating - a goal in any season – is particularly important now. Don't skip the things you love but rather take the time to savor them in moderation. The busyness of the season shouldn't follow you to the table.
Slow Down and Breathe
Focus on flavor and chewing thoroughly. Be present and engage all your senses in appreciating and enjoying what you're eating. Deep breathing can help. Take four deep breaths before eating to help relax your body and call to mind your priorities.
These techniques sound simple enough but can take some effort given all the distraction and temptation swirling around us during the holidays. There can be a lot of emotional attachments to holiday food – be mindful of that in approaching celebrations with restraint and appreciation.
If a holiday gathering looks to be too much of a nutrition minefield, plan to go late and leave early. Keep some distance from overwhelming buffet tables; the distance will give you time to think about what you really want to indulge in instead of diving in. Be vigilant when it comes to mindless grazing on holiday goodies left for the taking in the office break room.
The 80/20 rule is a good framework in giving yourself some latitude to enjoy favorite (if not healthy) holiday treats about 20 percent of the time, while otherwise sticking to a healthy regimen.
Reach for Veggies
Don't skip meals to save calories for the holiday party. Skipping often opens the door to over-indulgence later. “Volumize” your pre-party meal with non-starchy vegetables, which are high in fiber and nutrients and low in calories. This strategy will fill you up without adding to the caloric count of the day.
Make the effort to get more vegetables into your diet – the goal is five a day but start smaller if you need to: Keep a bag of fresh spinach, shredded carrots and cabbage in your fridge to toss into soups or garnish a sandwich. Frozen vegetables are both convenient and a nutritional win as they retain their nutrients. At your next holiday party gravitate away from the cookie tray and toward the crudité.
And don't fall into the trap of throwing caution to the wind during the holidays by planning to go on a highly restrictive diet on January 1. That time-worn strategy is usually a recipe for longer-term setbacks in your nutrition goals.
Cook More in 2020
Keep it simple for your New Year's resolution. Skip the strict and fad diets and instead make a simple promise to yourself to cook more. The more you cook at home, the healthier you'll be.
For those who don't think they have the time, there are plenty of short cuts available, such as now widely available meal kits and time-savers like pre-cooked brown rice. And for others who doubt their culinary aptitude, Julia Child said it best: “If you can read, you can cook.” Take advantage of the plethora of good easy recipes – and healthful food options -- just a click or tap away.
Debbie Bessen, MS, RD, CSO, is a registered dietitian specializing in oncology, food sensitivities, gastrointestinal health, and weight control.