Pie. Cookies. Cheese from across the world. Chocolate. Eggnog. Champagne. The holiday season is filled with good food and indulgence. We eat and drink with friends and loved ones to celebrate the holiday and friendship. But we all know that too much of a good thing is no longer good. Overly rich foods quickly lead to extra pounds, digestion upsets, mood swings, and an overall “yucky” feeling. It’s all about balance.
Good, healthy holiday eating can make the difference between an enjoyable holiday season and a miserable one. Most of my patients know that I’m a believer in doing things imperfectly and harm reduction. A little self-restraint and moderation right now will mean the difference between feeling OK- maybe not perfect- or feeling bad and then, badly about yourself. The trick is to enjoy treats without overdoing them. Make a healthy holiday eating strategy and plan to enjoy the holiday celebrations without feeling food hungover the next day.
In January, I’ll talk about some reasonable, healthful detoxification strategies that I enjoy.
Healthy Holiday Eating Strategies
Decide on a reasonable way to approach treats that are most tempting to you. Avoid brash decisions like “I won’t have any holiday cookies this year.” It’s easy to break unreasonable rules. Instead, make a moderate healthy holiday eating plan. For example, if cookies are your nemesis, allow yourself to eat 1 cookie at the holiday cookie exchange. If you can’t decide between your 2 favorite cookies, have a half of each. Either way, you won’t feel deprived, but you won’t overdo. Pick your battles to get maximum enjoyment with minimal deprivation. If you’re a person who can’t control your sweet tooth, then it might be best to avoid it totally.
Find healthy alternatives for fatty, high-calorie food. Substitute nuts and fruits (both fresh and dried) for cookies or candy. Drink juice instead of soda. Better yet, drink herbal tea instead of juice. Make eggnog with nut or coconut milk instead of cream. During a meal, eat mostly vegetables instead of potatoes and stuffing. And remember, sweet potatoes with brown sugar or marshmallows are closer to a dessert than a vegetable dish.
3. Avoid Hunger
The hungrier you are, the more likely you will binge on bad foods. Eat a protein-filled breakfast. Eat a healthy meal before you go to a party. Try starting every big meal with hot soup. Fill up with healthy food, so you don’t race to the bad stuff.
4. Maintain Healthy Routines
Don’t stop your healthy habits just because it’s a holiday. Continue to drink lots of water and get enough sleep. Make time to exercise. Spend meaningful time with your loved ones. Take time to meditate or pray. Get outside. Maintain the healthy habits that you already have. When you’re feeling good, you’ll be less inclined to eat foods that make you feel bad.
5. Stay Mindful
Take a breath. Before that cookie hits your mouth, just take one small breath and focus on the moment. Taste the food. Pay attention to the textures, flavors, and aromas. You’ll enjoy your food more and eat less. Keep track of what you eat and how you’re feeling. Write about your stresses and emotional upsets. Compose poems and short stories. Scribble and draw. Keeping a journal will give you an outlet to de-stress, and remind yourself how good it feels to be healthy, happy, and creative. There are lots of apps for this that many of my patients enjoy.
6. Trick Yourself
Trick yourself into thinking you’re eating a lot. Use small plates to make modest portions seem more substantial. Pour drinks into tall, skinny glasses to drink less. Fill your dinner plate with salad before adding the entrees. Full plates make small portions seem big.
7. Partner Up
You’re not the only one trying to stay on track. Get a healthy holiday eating buddy to help you both be accountable. Partners make it easier to keep your healthy commitments in the face of indulgences. They provide accountability and support. While you’re at it- buddy up for exercise. Lots of us, including myself, find it easier to keep on track when you’re accountable to another.
Look through this list of strategies and pick the ones that are the most helpful and the least difficult to implement. Write down your list of healthy holiday eating guidelines and post them where you see them several times a day. Commit to following them. Don’t allow yourself excuses to break your rules.
Now is an excellent time for an acupuncture tune-up. Acupuncture helps balance your body, so it’s easier to make healthy choices.
About Cara Frank, L.OM.
Cara Frank, L.OM., was raised by beatniks in a health food store in Brooklyn, NY. When she was 8, she cartwheeled 5 miles from Greenwich Village through Soho and Chinatown and across the Brooklyn Bridge. For nearly 40 years, she’s had the same crazy passion for Chinese medicine. At 17, she had her first acupuncture treatment. At 20, she enrolled in acupuncture school. In 1998 she went to China to study where she fell deeply in love with Chinese herbs. Since then, she has devoted her life to studying and teaching the topic.
Cara is the founder of Six Fishes Healing Arts in Philadelphia, where she maintains a busy acupuncture practice and acts as the head fish of warm and lively office. She is also the president of China Herb Company.