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, inflammation, and an overall “yucky” feeling. It’s all about balance. All this, combined with travel, sleep disruption, and maybe your uncle who has a different worldview than you,
Healthy habits over the holidays can make the difference between an enjoyable season and a miserable one. Most of my patients know that I’m a believer in doing things imperfectly and harm reduction. Right now, a little self-restraint and moderation 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. Making decisions like “I won’t have any holiday cookies this year is a recipe for failure. “It’s easy to break unreasonable rules. Please, let’s agree to be realistic. If cookies are your downside, 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.
You won’t feel deprived, but you won’t overdo it. 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 seltzer mixed with a splash of juice instead of soda or a cocktail. Serve a large platter of crudites with hummus. 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.
- Avoid Hunger
The hungrier you are, the harder it is to make good food decisions. Eat a protein-filled breakfast. Eat a healthy snack 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.
- Keep up with 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.
- 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.
- 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. And don’t have seconds!
7. Partner Up
Get a healthy holiday eating buddy. 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 we’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 excuses to break your rules.
Now is an excellent time for an acupuncture tune-up. Managing the energy of the holidays is a lot! Acupuncture helps balance your body and calms the spirit, 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.