As we approach the upcoming holiday season, many of us tend to “fall off track”. I know for myself, for many years, I struggled with "staying on track" during the holidays. This always ended up being a month-long binge, and a "fuck-it" mentality, which ultimately always ended up in rigid restricting and dieting once the new year came around. I also know for a great deal of people struggling with and recovering from eating disorders, this can be a very stressful time of year.
My goal is that upon reading this, you will be able to understand and bring awareness to your nutrition during the holidays, and carry that mindset forward throughout the rest of the year.
Here's to not having a New Year's resolution centered around weight loss and restriction, and instead focus on things that bring joy, and support a healthy mentality around food!
The stress of holiday meals may look different for everyone. For some, it might just be eating a little too much on Thanksgiving, for others, it may trigger certain anxieties and behaviors due to diagnosed or even undiagnosed eating disorders.
Common challenges we may face during the holiday season include:
Under-exercising or reduced daily activity
Increased alcohol consumption
Assuming a New Year's resolution or cleanse will save you
NOTE: When I use the term "overeating", I mean instances in which you are likely going over your maintenance calories, with a resulting feeling of uncomfortable fullness.
Now, it's important to note that MOST people overeat during this time! It is totally normal. And, some other things to keep in mind are:
1 or 2 days of "overeating" will unlikely hinder your progress
Many times, overeating is a sign that you might be undereating most other days
Enjoying food with your family has been shown to lower stress levels--it’s the mindset and guilt around overeating that increases the stress
10 Tips to Staying On Track
Here are 10 tips to help you stay on track, and avoid going off the rails with your nutrition during the holiday season (and beyond!):
Tip #1 - Plan Ahead
Most of us know more or less what we eat during holiday meals, so try to round out your nutrition to complement that. If you know you’re going to be loading up on sweet potatoes, bread, mac and cheese, etc., then try to focus on having more protein earlier in the day. This will round out your macronutrient profile, while also keeping you satiated.
Tip #2 - Avoid Skipping Meals Before Your Event(s)
One big issue I see is that people will fast prior to their dinner or holiday events in anticipation for this huge feast.
This mentality is actually more likely to result in your overeating, feeling like crap afterwards, and maybe even a little guilty. You might even eat more than you would have if you had just had planned ahead (Tip #1) and kept yourself fed throughout the day.
Our bodies know what they’re doing. If your body feels starved, it will attempt to compensate by releasing hunger hormones, increasing your appetite, and ultimately resulting in you being uncomfortably full and exhausted.
Tip #3 - Eat Slowly
Take your time! Enjoying your meal with your family and/or friends is a way to build memories and bonds. There’s no need to inhale your food -- it’s not going anywhere. Eat slowly, taking breaths and setting down utensils between bites. Savor your food, and practice mindfulness. Mindful eating has been shown to mitigate overeating, as hunger/fullness signals tend to be delayed from our stomach to our brain.
Tip #4 - Hydrate
Being sufficiently hydrated has been shown to combat feelings of true hunger. Try to consume water before your events, and again before you sit down to eat. This is especially important if you are drinking alcohol!
I would also suggest what I always suggest to my clients -- drink at least 24oz of water upon waking. If you’re like me, you don’t get up in the middle of the night to drink water. Going 6+ hours without water, while recovering and healing overnight can be dehydrating! Keep a large bottle of water on your nightstand so drinking water is the first thing you do!
Tip #5 - Eat More Veggies & Protein
Make sure to pair your yummy sides with vegetables and protein! This will not only pack a nutrient dense punch, but the fiber from the veggies and your protein source will help you stay full longer and round out your macronutrient profile, making you less likely to binge on everything else.
Tip #6 - Maintain a Sustainable Workout Schedule
The holidays can be a pretty busy time of year, and when we become busy, the first thing to go is our exercise regimen. It’s honestly the easiest thing we can put on hold to allow more time into our day. So, maybe you can’t dedicate 1-2 hours of strength training 5x a week -- can you reduce your training to 2-3x a week? Can you go for a 30 minute walk in the mornings or evenings? Can you dedicate 15 minutes of yoga flow on your lunch break? Moving even just a few minutes a day, wherever you can cram it (safely), is better than nothing. Make a plan that is sustainable, stick to it, and thank me later!
Tip #7 - Place a Limit on Alcohol and Stick to It
I know, this sounds like a bummer. But if you want to avoid hangovers, binges, dehydration, the works, you’ll have to limit your alcohol intake. That doesn’t mean it needs to be a complete buzzkill.
You know your limits -- if you normally can pound 5+ drinks but then usually feel like shit after, set your limit at 3 drinks per event. Something that is doable, but moderate, and also where you don’t feel like you’re restricting yourself.
With alcohol, it is important to ensure that you hydrate throughout the night. A good rule of thumb is 1 glass of water per 1 alcoholic beverage. This will help you avoid dehydrating which is usually the cause for morning hangover.
Tip #8 - Pack Nutritious Snacks When Traveling
If you’re traveling, make sure you pack yourself some nutritious foods for on-the-go snacking. Some of the things you can pack can be things like:
Protein bars (Clif bars are great for this)
Premade protein shakes (or pack your shaker and a container with protein powder--just add water!)
Nuts and seeds
Raw veggies and hummus
Tuna in a pouch
Hard boiled eggs
Tip #9 - Take a Diet Break
If you’ve been tracking macros for a bit, but still want to continue tracking to avoid completely going off the rails, have your macros recalculated or begin reverse dieting up to maintenance just before the holiday season.
Utilizing a planned diet break has been shown to promote sustainable body composition, while also helping to mitigate metabolic adaptation that can occur during prolonged periods of being in a caloric deficit.
A diet break can mean a variety of things. It can be a 1-2 week hiatus from a caloric deficit, or it can be a complete reverse diet to slowly creep back up to maintenance. This would be highly individualized to the person, their goals, and what they are ready, willing, and able to do given their lifestyle and support system.
The reverse diet properly, I highly recommend hiring a coach to help you through the process. Contact me for more information on my reverse dieting protocol.
Tip #10 - Know (And Set) Your Boundaries
Do you have a food pusher in the family? Or maybe a shitty family member that always comments on your weight? Boundaries are important here, and it’s important to set them in a way in which they are effective in getting your message across without making it awkward or hostile (who wants that energy during the holidays anyway?).
If comments from family members affect you, plan ahead of time what boundaries you are setting yourself. What comments you choose to respond to, or ignore, is entirely up to you.
NOTE: If you struggle with an eating disorder and you need help on setting boundaries with family members around food, weight, etc. I highly suggest you seek help from a licensed therapist or practitioner that is much more capable of helping you with this than I am.
Thanks for reading!
If you made it this far, I hope you learned a little bit more on ways you can incorporate some healthy habits during this holiday season. Remember, another New Year's resolution isn't going to save you (in fact, it just perpetuates the restrict-binge cycle). Start incorporating healthy habits now!
If you need more involved help on how to navigate nutrition and stay accountable anytime of the year, I encourage you to apply for coaching and schedule an initial consultation with me. I help women develop confidence and find freedom from food guilt by adopting a flexible dieting approach to reach their goals. Apply for coaching today!