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Reconnect over the Holidays

MAC Nutrition - Thursday, December 21, 2017

Five Ways to Reconnect With Your Goals During the Holidays

In our last Nutrition Workshop at the Mount Auburn Club, we discussed the difficulty that the holiday season presents to anyone who is trying to eat well.

From Halloween all the way through New Year’s (and even Valentine’s Day), the fall and winter months are filled with candy, pies, cakes, gravies, stuffing, buttery mashed potatoes, and the other rich and heavy foods that so often accompany the celebrating that goes on this time of year. It can feel impossible to stick to any healthy nutrition and exercise plan that you may be trying to keep up with.

Even without the outside forces of holiday celebrations, healthy eating and exercise habits can be extremely difficult to stick to. It seems like every societal force out there is conspiring to keep us in our chairs and eating food that is sugary, salty, filled with unhealthy fat, and served to us in large portions. For people with busy schedules and any priorities other than their own health (such as work and family), getting to the gym, going grocery shopping, cooking healthy meals, de-stressing, and getting enough sleep can feel impossible. Throw in the busy holidays and the nutritional curveballs that this season brings us, and it feels like we’re set up for failure.

Luckily, as we discussed at the workshop, not all is lost. There are ways to re-connect with your goals even during the holiday season—you don’t have to wait until January or February to “get back on the wagon.” If we give up until the holidays are over, that could potentially mean forgoing the healthy habits that we know are good for us for two to four months of the year (depending on how February plays out for you—for many people, it means chocolate and fancy not-so-healthy dinners). If you have important health and fitness goals, this is valuable time that you should not have to throw out completely. So, keep reading for five tips on how to re-connect with your goals during the holiday season (just in time for New Year’s resolutions!).

1. Shift Your Mindset

One of the biggest culprits when it comes to overdoing it this time of year is the all-or-nothing mentality of “I can only have this food this time of year, so I have to have a lot of it!” This thought process can lead to having a lot more food in one sitting or at one event than you normally would, and a lot more food in general this time of year. If you shift your mindset regarding these foods, telling yourself that if you really want them any other time of year you can have them, then they no longer have an “off-limits” feeling to them and you will be less likely to eat too much of them. Chances are you won’t want to make your favorite pumpkin pie in July, but if you really want to, you can! And that means you don’t need to go back for that third piece at the next holiday party.

2. Listen to Your Body

One of the most important things to do when it comes to eating well at any time of year, but especially during these hectic holiday times, is to listen to your body’s cues. Many people have been ignoring their body’s cues for years, forcing themselves not to eat when they’re hungry in an effort to lose weight or “be healthy,” getting so busy that they forget to eat when they’re hungry, or eating so quickly that they can’t tell when they’re full. Throw in large family gatherings and the stress of holiday shopping, travel, family drama, and the looming New Year, and it can be even more difficult to give our bodies the listening ear they deserve. But listening to your body really is the key to giving it what it needs, in the quantity it needs, when it needs it. This can be done simply, even if you’ve never tried it: Before each meal or snack, take a moment to assess how hungry you are. We often overestimate our hunger, so when serving yourself (such as at a holiday buffet table), initially take less than you think you need, remembering that you do have the option of coming back for more if you’re still hungry. When putting food on your plate, think about how each food will make you feel after you’ve eaten it…satisfied? Stuffed? Slightly sick from too much sugar or butter? Make sure you’re putting each food on your plate because it will make your body feel good, not just because you feel obligated to take a sampling of everything. Leave off the foods you don’t like that much or that don’t make you feel great. Once you sit down to eat your meal, eat slowly, carefully chewing each bite and paying close attention to the aromas, flavors, and textures of the food. Putting your fork down between bites will keep you from rushing through your meal. Eating slowly will make you feel full with less food, and will give your body a chance to register its fullness, helping you to eat according to your body’s cues. Chances are, you’ll feel so satisfied that you won’t need to go back for seconds.

3. Build in Physical Activity

Family gatherings and holiday celebrations don’t need to be all about the food, and they don’t need to revolve around couch-bound or table-bound activities! Get creative when planning holiday gatherings. Take your sister who’s visiting from out of town to the gym with you. Plan a family hike or a walk around the neighborhood. Go skating. Plan physical activities into your celebrations to get everyone moving and having fun. Plus, light movement after a meal will help everyone digest their food better! If all else fails and physical activity is not possible during your celebrations, make sure you plan for your own workouts during the holiday rush. Sticking to your regular exercise routine will help you stick with your other healthy habits as well, and helps to reduce stress (which we all could certainly use less of this time of year)!

4. Engineer Better Health

There are some sneaky little health-promoting tactics that you can “build” into your kitchen and into your meals around the holidays. If you’ve done shopping and cooking for a holiday party and are feeling tempted by all the holiday food, consider clearing out a separate cabinet or shelf in the refrigerator (even better if you have a separate refrigerator) in which to keep all the party food so you’re not tempted by pie when you’re looking for your morning oatmeal. When serving food at a gathering or when bringing a dish of food to a party, use smaller serving utensils in order to encourage yourself (and everyone else!) to take smaller portions. Using smaller plates will also encourage smaller portions. Serve sauces and gravies on the side so that guests can drizzle a small amount on their plates rather than drenching the food in these salty and high-calorie toppings. Get creative with the order of foods at a buffet station, placing the salad first so that people load up their plates with veggies before they even get to the other foods. Engineering health into your kitchen and into your holiday party will trick yourself and everyone else into eating better!

5. Slow Down and Enjoy

Remember that the holiday season is a time to be enjoyed with family and friends. Leave the stress of malls, gift-giving, and traveling behind when you’re with your loved ones, and simply enjoy the meal with them. Savor the delicious food without feelings of guilt. Do deep breathing exercises and perhaps treat yourself to a massage to release the tension this time of year may have created in your body. Keep electronics out of the bedroom to promote a good night’s sleep on a regular basis, but especially during stressful times. Better sleep and less stress will put you in a better position to make the food and health choices that are best for you.

This month's blog contribution comes from Louisa Paine, Registered Dietitian at The Mount Auburn Club.

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The information presented here is for general educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or health condition. As always, please speak with your registered dietitian regarding any dietary modifications or nutrition-related questions.