It seems like these days there’s always an excuse to overindulge. Fourth of July BBQs, Super Bowl parties, “stealing” your kids’ Halloween candy… But no time of year is makes us more susceptible to stuffing our faces and drinking all of the drinks than the time from Thanksgiving to New Year’s, a five week period of complete gluttony most commonly referred to as simply “The Holidays.”
Though in theory, drinking glass after glass of eggnog and eating cookie after pie after chocolate might seem like a great idea, in practice, none of us actually wants to enter the New Year ten pounds heavier than we were in October. Which is why we called on Paige Smathers, a registered dietitian nutritionist on Thumbtack, to get her thoughts on staying healthy even when visions of sugarplums dance in our heads.
Here are her expert tips for navigating the holidays:
It’s a holiday, not a holi-month.
Thanksgiving is one day, Paige says. So approach it as such and eat breakfast and lunch just like you would any other day. She acknowledges that gets a little trickier in December when there are parties and neighbors are dropping off treats, but her advice is to treat this season like any other time of year. After all, if we’re being honest, she says: there’s always an excuse to overindulge, no matter if it’s the most wonderful time of the year or a Saturday in August.
It’s okay to overdo it… a few times.
Paige says if you indulge at Thanksgiving, one holiday party, and Christmas Eve dinner, you’re going to be fine. They problem is when people start to think in black and white. “I’m not on my diet anymore, so I’m going to eat whatever I want.”
Give yourself permission to eat.
If you tell yourself you’re just not going to eat any goodies, you’re likely setting yourself up for failure. Instead, Paige says, tell yourself you’re allowed to eat what you want, but that you’re not allowed to eat unlimited portion sizes. Rather than saying, “I won’t eat the fudge,” Paige suggests you say, “I’ll enjoy it and savor it, but I’m going to stop after one piece.”
Be satisfied with a smaller amount.
Paige recommends you try to learn that one slice of pie is usually enough. After all, she says, it’s not like the next slice is going to taste any better. Instead, be present in the moment. Enjoy the pie, savor it, and then move on with your life.
Try to sit down when you eat.
Obviously this isn’t always possible, like at cocktail parties, but the goal is to be more mindful and present and sitting down can help with that.
Eat balanced meals.
If you’re skipping meals to make up for eating too much, Paige says you’re going to throw off your blood sugar levels and that’s the first step to spiraling downward. You don’t make great decisions when you haven’t eaten, she cautions, which can lead to pigging out and getting off track.
You don’t have to take the treat.
It may sound harsh, but Paige says you don’t have to eat the plate of cookies your neighbor gives you or the toffee your co-worker brings to the office. If anything, she suggests, try a bite and decide it it’s amazing and worth it. If it’s not, don’t eat it. And if that means throwing or giving away those cookies, don’t feel bad about it. If it’s worth it, eat it, but don’t do it every day and don’t do it mindlessly.
Ask yourself: Does this really taste good?
Paige says if you start to pay attention to whether or not you’re really enjoying something, often you’ll realize you’re only eating it because you want something sweet, not because it’s delicious. When you’re going to indulge, indulge in something that’s worth it and tastes awesome.
Use the plate method.
Basic meal planning says that your plate should be four equal parts of protein, starch, fruit, and vegetables. Even if you’re at a party with a buffet, Paige suggests you take this approach. Don’t skip the salad in favor of a stack of Swedish meatballs. It’s a good way to keep your meal balanced and control portions.
Learn from your mistakes.
If you do overindulge, don’t beat yourself up, but also don’t ignore what happened. Paige says it’s easy for people to get discouraged and stop trying, but that it’s just important to recognize what went wrong (for a lot of people, free food is just too hard to pass up) and learn from it so that you’ll do better in the next situation.
Try to maintain your weight.
Regardless of your health and weight goals, the holidays going to be a challenging time, so don’t put so much pressure on yourself. Paige says during this time, weight maintenance, not weight loss, is a more realistic goal. Just don’t tell yourself you’re not even going to try to be healthy and that you’ll get on track later because that’s going to make “later” a lot more difficult.
Start new traditions.
Make traditions with family, friends, and neighbors that don’t revolve around food, Paige says. Go on a nature walk, play games, do puzzles, make ornaments instead of cookies… Just find activities that aren’t only about the food and learn to have fun and enjoy each other’s company that way.
Paige is a registered dietitian nutritionist who specializes in helping people heal their relationship with food. She is the mom to two lovely little girls and the wife to one amazing husband. Paige believes the mental side of food and nutrition is just as important as the physical side. She is the host of Nutrition Matters Podcast and has a private nutrition consulting business based in Salt Lake City, Utah. Follow her on Facebook or Instagram for recipes and more food for thought!
Ready for more? Here’s how to find a dietician nutritionist in your area.
Photos: All photos via Paige Mathers on Instagram