Eating Healthy Over The Holidays
By Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD
Staci Gulbin is a registered dietitian with BumpVitamins.com. Staci is also a freelance writer, health editor, the founder of LighttrackNutrition.com, and the author of The High-Protein Bariatric Cookbook.
Staci has graduate degrees in Biology, Human Nutrition, and Nutrition Education from New York University and Columbia University, respectively. She has treated thousands of patients across many wellness areas such as weight management, fitness, long-term care, rehab, and bariatric nutrition.
The holiday season is a wonderful time to bring out your favorite recipes and enjoy savory and sweet treats while spending time with family, friends, and loved ones. However, if you want to try and eat healthier this holiday, then you may wonder how to best go about it, without ruining the holidays altogether.
Temptation is everywhere. Cookies and candy may be sitting around the office. The smell of baked goods may be traveling through the air wherever you go. These sights and sounds can bring about cravings that may steer you off your normal eating regimen. Read below to learn about how you can eat healthy around the holidays while still enjoying some of your seasonal favorites.
What is “eating healthy”?
Eating healthy can be different for everyone depending on your health goals, your medical history, and your food allergies or intolerances. A healthy eating regimen is one that helps you feel your best inside and out. For someone with diabetes, eating healthy may be limiting sugary foods. On the other hand, for someone with heart disease, eating healthy may involve reducing salt intake.
If you’re following a special diet to help you manage a chronic disease, then deviating from your healthy eating could have harmful consequences. However, if you’re simply trying to eat healthier, such as eating more fiber for healthier digestion, then a cookie now and then is not going to hurt you.
7 tips for healthy eating over the holidays
1) Modify recipes to meet your needs
If you choose, you can modify your favorite recipes to make them a bit more nutritious. For example, if you’re baking a cake or muffins, you could use unsweetened applesauce in place of some oil to reduce the fat content. Or for mashed potatoes, you could use low-fat or unsweetened plant-based milk instead of whole milk or cream. If you enjoy pie a la mode for dessert, then you could use frozen yogurt instead of ice cream for extra nutrition.
2) Reserve special treats to small portions
If there is a special pie that your aunt brings every holiday season, and you know you’ll want to eat a piece, then go ahead and enjoy. A small slice of a family recipe once a year is not going to make or break your health goals. And if macaroni and cheese is your absolute favorite holiday side dish, then enjoy a small portion along with your balanced plate of protein and veggies. There is nothing wrong with enjoying your favorite holiday treats in moderation.
3) Keep healthy snacks around during special events
To make sure you consume enough nutrients during the holiday season, keep some healthy dishes and snacks around during social events. This could include sliced vegetables and fruits with Greek yogurt dips, or roasted vegetable side dishes like olive-oil coated and roasted carrots or green beans, balsamic-vinaigrette roasted Brussels sprouts, or roasted red potatoes. You can enjoy these fiber-rich dishes with a protein-rich entrée like fresh-baked poultry, seafood, or grilled tofu.
4) Enjoy every bite more
Savor each bite of your holiday food while supporting digestion by eating slower. Try chewing each bite of food about 20-25 times and take smaller bites to make the most of your holiday meal.
5) Forgive yourself if you “go off track”
If you find yourself engaging in negative self-talk after enjoying a holiday meal or treat, then it’s time to change your thinking when it comes to food. There is no need to feel bad about enjoying a few treats during the holiday season. And when you start to name foods as “good” and “bad,” this can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food over time that can lead to restriction and disordered eating.
Restricting foods you deem “bad” can also sometimes lead to overeating those foods. This overeating is often your body’s response to severe restriction of foods. If you feel like your negative self-talk around eating runs deep, then it may be helpful to talk to a registered dietitian or psychologist that specializes in disordered eating to help you develop a healthier relationship with food.
6) Add extra movement each day
Adding exercise to your daily routine, especially during the holiday season, is a healthy way to aid digestion. It can also be a wonderful way to spend time with loved ones before or after meals and to enjoy the holiday season. Taking a walk around the local mall or your neighborhood can not only help you strengthen your heart but can also help you take in all the beautiful sights and sounds of the holiday season.
7) Take a daily multivitamin
If you feel like you aren’t consuming enough nutrients during the holiday season, then taking a daily multivitamin can put you more at ease. Such an addition to your daily routine can ensure you consume enough essential vitamins and minerals each day to keep your body healthy while you take time to enjoy the delicious foods served during the holiday season.
A final note on holiday eating
The holidays should be a time to enjoy the spirit of the season and spend quality moments with family and friends. If you need to eat healthy for chronic disease management, then do whatever feels right to you and helps you feel your best. Just know that it’s ok to enjoy some of your favorite holiday treats in moderation during the holiday season no matter your health goals.
Because even though eating healthy is important, it’s also important to have a healthy relationship with food. And that means reminding yourself that there are no “good” and “bad” foods, just certain foods that contain more nutrients than others. As long as you eat enough nutrient-rich foods each day, then allow yourself to enjoy some “sometimes” foods in moderation purely for the enjoyment of them.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (last reviewed December 14, 2020) “5 Healthy Eating Tips for the Holidays.” https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/library/features/holidays-healthy-eating.html
Michigan State University (December 2, 2020) “People with diabetes can enjoy holiday foods and still stay healthy.” https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/diabetics_can_enjoy_foods_associated_with_the_holidays_and_still_stay_healt
Cleveland Clinic health essentials (December 10, 2020) “Tips for Eating Healthy During the Holidays.” https://health.clevelandclinic.org/tips-for-eating-healthy-during-the-holidays/
National Institutes of Health News in Health (November 2016) “Healthy Holiday Foods and Fun.” https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2016/11/healthy-holiday-foods-fun
National Eating Disorders Association (accessed November 21, 2021) “How to Have a Healthy Relationship with Food.” https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/blog/how-have-healthy-relationship-food