By Kristina Swanson, RDN, LDN
The holidays are a time filled with good food and family time. As we approach a somewhat different holiday season this year, I encourage you to take the time to recharge, make some good food, and enjoy this time of the year! As a registered dietitian, I preach “everything in moderation”, which means you can (and should) enjoy your favorite holiday foods this year (no guilt attached – ever).
Here are 5 tips to a healthier holiday season:
- Continue your normal routine
Keeping a consistent exercise, sleep, and eating routine can not only help with managing stress, but also help regulate digestion, cravings, and mood. If you’re the kind of person who normally gets up early to workout, have a balanced breakfast, and snack on nutrient-dense foods throughout the day, keep those habits going. Not only will it provide you with some sort of sense of “normal” during the holiday craziness, but it will also help with weight maintenance and maintaining good habits during the holiday season. I think we all know how much harder it is to get BACK into habit than it is to break one. The holiday “season” can stretch to be about a month long, but in reality, most people really only do a few events throughout that time. If you keep your normal routine going on the days you don’t have events happening, you’re less likely to have drastic health changes happen during the holidays.
- Listen to your body’s hunger & fullness cues
There are two very important hormones to pay attention to: ghrelin and leptin. I always say, “when your stomach is growling, it’s ghrelin.” Ghrelin is important because it senses when your body is hunger (which is a natural sign it’s time to eat!) As you begin eating, your ghrelin levels decrease, and your leptin levels increase (your fullness hormone). I’m a big fan of a concept called intuitive eating, which means you eat when you’re hungry, and you stop when you’re feeling satisfied.
During the holidays, these two hormones are important because people often overfill their plate, or under-eat earlier in the day to “make up” for calories later. However, undereating earlier in the day can lead to binges later. Listen to your ghrelin levels and eat regular, nutrient-dense meals throughout the day, rather than skipping breakfast and lunch because you anticipate a big dinner and dessert. It’s important to fuel our bodies, and prevent feeling hangry around the holiday season!
- Enjoy your favorite foods
Holiday food brings back nostalgia and good memories of gathering, family time, and traditions. That being said, it’s important to enjoy those foods without diet culture’s guilt and shame that often gets placed on these foods. There should never be a reason to feel guilty about eating the foods you enjoy. As a dietitian, I’m a firm believer in “everything in moderation” – and yes, that includes the pie, ice, cream, mashed potatoes, and Christmas cookies that often come with the holiday season. Be mindful of quantities and make sure to include veggies on your plate, but enjoy your holiday meals. Have a few Christmas cookies and enjoy this fun season, just be mindful to still include nutrient-dense options in your day as well. In reality, your holiday meals are such a small fraction of the amount of meals you’ll eat all year and it’s not going to make or break your healthy lifestyle.
Instead of thinking what you SHOULDN’T eat this holiday season, think about ways you can optimize your health by ADDING to your diet. Increase how many servings of veggies you have. Eat more fiber and drink water to help with digestion, fullness, and stabilize blood sugars. Go for a walk with your family or dog to relieve stress and bring mindful movement to your body. Do something for your health that you enjoy!
Exercise and movement help with digestion, managing blood sugars, reduces stress, and it’s good for your mental health! Bundle up, grab a buddy or dog, and go for a walk! If you’re looking for some great online workouts, check out MPower Fitness for great classes! Keep your good routine going as much as you feel appropriate during the holiday season. Your health goals don’t have to be paused until January 1st. If you enjoy having exercise as your regular routine for your physical and mental health, that’s great!
- Stress management
The holidays can also be a stressful time for many. Financially, not being able to see family members, and stressing about decorations, presents, and meals can take a toll on your health. To help with reducing stress, I’m a big advocate of self-care and prioritizing sleep. I’ve found that listening to an encouraging podcast while walking, or kicking back on the couch with a book and your favorite doTERRA Blend diffusing in the background is a great way to unwind and decompress. Aim to get 8-9 hours of sleep so you can keep up your immune system and stay energized this holiday season!
There are so many pieces of the puzzle that contribute to a well-balanced lifestyle. Food choices, cravings, and portion sizes can all be affected by each of the things listed above. I wish you a very happy and healthy holiday season! For any nutrition inquiries, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Instagram for recipe ideas.
Kristina Swanson is a Registered Dietitian at Inspired Athletx in Plymouth, MN. She loves helping people build healthier, sustainable habits that improve their nutrition in a fun way! She works with clients individually on weight management, meal planning and recipe assistance, and can also help you lower your blood pressure, cholesterol, and manage blood sugars. Kristina is a firm believer in “everything in moderation” and loves helping others build a healthy relationship with food.